The Viktor Schreckengost Collection

Poster for a 2016 exhibit of Schreckengost's work at the Michael Schwartz Library
Poster for a 2016 exhibit of Schreckengost's work at the Michael Schwartz Library


Schreckengost Collection Finding Aid

About Viktor Schreckengost

Viktor Schreckengost in 1939
Viktor Schreckengost in 1939

Viktor Schreckengost (1906-2008), famously called the "American DaVinci" was a Cleveland artist, teacher and industrial designer who reshaped the field of American design and influenced generations of students. Mr. Schreckengost combined artistic and functional brilliance in his designs for products ranging widely from streetlamps, printing presses, exhaust fans, lawn mowers and kitchen appliances to furniture, dinnerware, bicycles and pedal cars.

While Schreckengost was primarily known for his work with ceramics, sculpture, and industrial design, he was also a prolific watercolor painter. His subjects ranged from architecture and cityscapes - including some of Cleveland - to rural scenes, musical instruments, Mexican folk art, and animals.

The son of a commercial potter in Sebring, Ohio, Schreckengost enrolled at the Cleveland Institute of Art in the mid-1920's to study to be a cartoonist. His career trajectory shifted after he visited a ceramics exhibition there, and upon his graduation in 1929, he studied ceramics in Vienna, Austria, where he began to build a reputation, not only for his art, but also as a jazz horn player.

Jazz charger plate
Charger with "Jazz" design. Plate designed by Viktor Schreckengost for Cowan Pottery

Eleanor Roosevelt was an admirer of his work, and commissioned several of his "Jazz" bowls - one of which went with her and Franklin to the White House.

In 1930, he became a faculty member at the Cleveland Institute of Art, where he founded the first industrial design program in the nation. Often referred to as the "Father of Industrial Design", he instructed nearly 1,000 students during the course of a career spanning over more than 70 years. Schreckengost taught the first woman ever hired full-time by an American automotive company and the first African American to graduate from the Institute of Art. His students have gone on to produce successful products for American industry worth billions of dollars.

Schreckengost's industrial design career was wide-ranging. He created the first modern mass-produced dinnerware, called Americana, for American Limoges. Along with engineer Ray Spiller, Schreckengost designed the first-cab-over-engine truck for Cleveland's White Motor Company. As chief bicycle designer for Murray-Ohio, his first design, the 1939 Mercury Bicycle, was displayed - along with four of his sculptures - at the New York World's Fair. Approximately 100 million of his bicycles and pedal cars were manufactured by Murray.

His work is in the permanent collections of major museums, including the Art Institute of Chicago and the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, and his works have been exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco. His honors include a Gold Medal from the American Institute of Architects, and in 2006, at age 100, he received the National Medal of the Arts from President George W. Bush during a White House ceremony. Viktor Schreckengost passed away in 2008 at age 101.

Vinegar Cruet design for Salem China
Vinegar Cruet design for Salem China

About the Collection

The Michael Schwartz Library's Schreckengost Collection, dating back to the 1920s, consists of documents and items relating to his teaching career, design career, military experience, and his personal life, including personal photographs and correspondence, source material, sketches, and other items that reveal both his creative and intellectual process.

Pedal Car
A Schreckengost pedal car

The collection also includes digitized images of some of his paintings, including scenes that will be familiar to local history afficionados. These works, representing a variety of styles, were inspired by his many travels and reflect his wide interests.

Additional materials include extensive correspondence (interdepartmental and personal); awards; blueprints for many designs; sketches of artwork, newspaper clippings; naval assignments; exhibitions; greeting cards; travel information from all around the world; photographs, transparencies, and slides; materials and documents of the Viktor Schreckengost Foundation, and other ephemera.

The physical collection is housed in Special Collections at the Michael Schwartz Library, Cleveland State University.