The son of a commercial potter in Sebring, Ohio, Viktor Schreckengost learned the craft of sculpting in clay from his father. In the mid-1920s, he enrolled at the Cleveland School of Art (now the Cleveland Institute of Art, or CIA) to study cartoon making, but after seeing an exhibition at the Cleveland Museum of Art he changed his focus to ceramics. Upon 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 saxophonist. A year later, at the age of 25, he became the youngest faculty member at the CIA. In 1931, Schreckengost won the first of several awards for excellence in ceramics at the Cleveland Museum of Art, and his works were shown at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco, and elsewhere.
By the mid-1930s, Schreckengost had begun to pursue his interest in industrial design. For American Limoges, he created the first modern mass-produced dinnerware, called Americana. Along with engineer Ray Spiller, Schreckengost designed the first-cab-over-engine truck for Cleveland's White Motor Company. By the end of the decade, he had designed the first Mercury Bicycle for Murray, Ohio. In 1939, the bicycle and "The Four Elements" in clay were displayed at the New York World's Fair.
In the 1940s, Schreckengost's designs for children's pedal cars (as well as bicycles and toys) helped Murray, Ohio become the world's largest manufacturer of pedal cars. His design and ceramic work was interrupted by World War II, when he was recruited by the Navy to develop a system for radar recognition that won him the Secretary of Navy's commendation.
After the war, Schreckengost resumed his industrial design career creating products for Murray, Sears, General Electric, Salem China Company, and Harris Printing, among others. Approximately 100 million of his bicycles were manufactured by Murray, making it the largest bicycle-maker in the world. He retired from industrial design in 1972, but continued teaching at the Cleveland Institute of Art.
In Lakewood, Ohio, he is most famous for his creation of an architectural sculpture for the exterior of the Civic Auditorium at Lakewood High School, which opened in 1955. The Early Settler, commonly and wrongly referred to as Johnny Appleseed, was commissioned by the Lakewood Board of Education. (The Lakewood Observer. March 22, 2011)
Biography from the Archives of askART
In June, 2006, Viktor Schreckengost celebrated his 100th birthday in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. Of him at this event, it was written: Viktor Schreckengost, a prolific designer whose works ranging from toys, ceramics and paintings to dinnerware and trucks, have touched countless lives, expects his next inspiration to come at any time. . . (he) always seemed to know what to create by responding to needs---like improving the ride of a child's wagon or making user-friendly tableware with an artistic flair."
He said he was always focused on function and that when beginning a project, he would as himself the question: "What makes it happen, stand out?" He first considered form and then color and texture followed by, in his words, "all the other stuff added to it."
To recognize his birthday, more than 130 galleries and museums featured his work the summer of 2006 in a "National Centennial Exhibition" that paid tribute to his legacy that "includes generations of students who became designers who shaped the output of industrial America in the post World-War II era."
Earl Bateman, an associate of Schreckengost, said: "Everything he has done over his entire career has been part of the popular culture. His work spans so many styles. He didn't focus on being a fine artist but he created fine art."
In February 2008, Victor Schreckengost died at age 101 at Tallahassee, Florida, where he was spending the winter.
Thomas J. Sheeran, "Viktor Schreckengost Turns 100, Awaits Next Design" Inspiration", Antiques and The Arts Weekly, July 7. 2006, p. 31
Margalit Fox, "Viktor Schreckengost, Master of Product Design, Dis at 101", The New York Times, 2/2/2008, obituary section
Biography courtesy the Cleveland Museum of Art