One of the few original “Jazz” bowls extant will be sold in Rago’s June 17th auction of Modern and Contemporary design. Signed by Schreckengost and stamped Cowan, the 11 1/2" x 16” bowl carries an estimate of $40,000-60,000.
“This could be the last of the original “Jazz” bowls in private hands,” said David Rago.
The first “Jazz” bowl was commissioned by Eleanor Roosevelt in celebration of her husband's reelection as governor of New York in 1931. Ceramicist Viktor Schreckengost was only in his mid-twenties when he created it, a worker at Cowan Pottery in Rocky River, Ohio and the youngest faculty member at the Cleveland Institute of Art.
A saxophonist as well as an artist, Schreckengost saw jazz as the perfect expression of the New York City’s excitement and drive. He caught its spirit in three-dimensions: tilting skyscrapers; Radio City Music Hall; the Cotton Club; cocktails; signage; stars; a drum head with the word “Jazz.” He built it large, in a simple shape he called “parabolic”. To evoke the light of a New York night, he covered the bowl with black engobe (watery clay mixed with glaze); scratched his design in a pattern of black and white; fired it; covered it with a glaze he called “Egyptian Blue”; and fired it again.
Mrs. Roosevelt was so taken with the bowl that she commissioned two more. Immediately after, a New York City gallery placed an order for approximately fifty. The handcraft was arduous; it took Cowan’s artisans an entire day to incise one bowl. A second version was made with a flared lip and then a third. The third version, known today as “the poor man’s ‘Jazz’ bowl,” was a production line. It is slightly smaller than the original, with a flared lip and raised, not sgrafitto, decoration. Bowls with other themes were also designed, as well as decorative plates.
The “Jazz” bowls were something less than a footnote in the history of design until the mid-1980s. With the resurgence of appreciation for Art Deco, the bowls began to be featured in museum exhibitions. Within a decade, the “Jazz” series was widely recognized as an icon of American design. The highest selling price to date is from a Sotheby's auction in December of 2002, when a bowl of equal size from a private collection sold for $254,400.
No one knows with certainty how many hand-incised “Jazz” bowls were made before Cowan folded at the end of 1931. Estimates range from twenty to fifty. Fewer than twenty are known, and which of these were made for Eleanor Roosevelt seems to be something of a mystery. The one to be sold at Rago’s in June is the latest to emerge. It may be the last.
· Saturday, June 16 at Noon: Early 20th C. Design
· Sunday, June 17 at Noon: Modern/Contemporary Design
· Telephone, absentee, online bidding available for those unable to attend.
· Friday, May 25: Catalogue online at ragoarts.com
· Saturday, June 9 through Thursday, June 13, 12–5 pm and by appointment. Friday, June 15, 12-7 pm.
· Doors open at 9 am the days of the sale.
· Rago’s is located midway between New York City and Philadelphia. Directions online at ragoarts.com.
Note for the Editor: High-resolution images available.
About Rago Arts and Auction Center
Since 1994, Rago's has served thousands of sellers and buyers with a singular blend of global reach and personal service. Originally specialists in 20th century design, today Rago's expertise covers centuries of fine art, decorative arts, furnishings, jewelry and ethnographic property. It is a world-class venue through which to buy and sell. It is also a destination for those who seek to learn and share knowledge about art, antiques and collecting, offering free valuations for personal property (from a single piece to collections and estates), appraisals and auction exhibitions in house and online. Rago's, the largest and leading auction house in New Jersey, is located midway between Philadelphia and New York.
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