1907 – 1981

Chronology
by Douglas Dreishpoon

Theodore Roszak (standing at far right), with his father, brother, and sister in Chicago, before he left for Europe in 1929.

Theodore Roszak (standing at far right), with his father, brother, and sister in Chicago, before he left for Europe in 1929.

 

 

1907 1 May, born in Poznan, Poland.

1909 Family moves to the United States and settles in Chicago, where there is a large Polish community. Roszak later attends public schools and, with his mother’s encouragement, begins to make drawings.

1920 Wins the National Art Contest for Public Schools, sponsored by the Chicago Herald-Examiner, with a drawing of a fire engine.

1922 Attends evening classes at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

1924 Graduates from high school and becomes a full-time day student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Wins awards for oil paintings and lithographs.

 

 

 

My Violin Teacher, charcoal on paper, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

My Violin Teacher, charcoal on paper, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

 

1925 Produces My Violin Teacher, a charcoal study that establishes his proficiency as a draftsman.

1926 Travels to New York. Studies briefly with Charles Hawthorne at the National Academy of Design, then begins private instruction with George Luks. Enrolls in philosophy courses at Columbia University.

1927-28 Returns to Chicago and resumes studies at the Art Institute with John Norton. Joins faculty as a part-time instructor of drawing and lithography. Awarded an American Traveling Fellowship of $250 which enables him to visit museums on the East Coast and to practice lithography in Woodstock, New York. Upon his return to Chicago, appointed full-time instructor of drawing and lithography at the Art Institute.

1929-30 Supported by a $1500 Anna Louise Raymond Fellowship for European Study, spends eighteen months abroad. Paints out of a studio in Prague and visits Paris and other cities in Italy, Austria, and Germany. Discovers the work of Giorgio de Chirico. Attends the Exhibition of Contemporary Culture in Brno, Czechoslovakia. Introduced to Bauhaus ideology by Czech industrial artists and Moholy-Nagy’s The New Vision. Acquires an appreciation of Cubism, Surrealism, and Constructivism. Returns to New York and the Depression.

Florence & Theodore Roszak in the Staten Island Studio 1932

Florence & Theodore Roszak in the Staten Island Studio 1932

1931 Awarded the Tiffany Foundation Fellowship, which enables him to live and work for two months at the Tiffany Foundation in Oyster Bay on Long Island, New York. Marries Florence Sapir and settles in Staten Island, New York.

1932-33 Works out of his small Staten Island studio producing paintings, sculptures, and drawings. Takes a machine-shop course in making and using tools. Begins to photograph his work and himself, and models, in plaster, a series of free-standing and relief sculptures, which become the basis of some of his first constructions – Crescent Throat, Airport Sentinel, and Pierced Bipolar – in thin-gauged sheet metal, brass, copper, and aluminum. Exhibits in the First Biennial Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.

1934 Moves to 241 East Thirty-third Street in Manhattan, where he establishes a studio. Finds employment through government-sponsored projects instituted by the Works Progress Administration. Buys a lathe and begins to devote more time to sculpture, creating pristine objects and reliefs reminiscent of the polished metal constructions of Bauhaus artists such as Moholy-Nagy, Rudolf Belling, and Oskar Schlemmer. Receives the Eisendrath Award for Painting from the Art Institute of Chicago.

1935 Whitney Museum of American Art purchases Fisherman’s Bride (1934) Out of their Second Biennial Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting. Given a large one-man exhibition – paintings, drawings, and works on paper – at the International Art Center of the Roerich Museum, New York.

Theodore Roszak in his New York Studio circa 1938

Theodore Roszak in his New York Studio circa 1938

 

1938-40 Joins the faculty of the Laboratory School of Industrial Design, originally the Design Laboratory, a tuition-free school of design sponsored by the Works Progress Administration Federal Art Project and opened in September 1935 under the directorship of architect-designer Gilbert Rohde, with an advisory board that included Darwin Teague, Raymond Loewy, and Moholy-Nagy. Teaches two- and three-dimensional design and an experimental workshop in materials. In between the closing of the school and teaching at Sarah Lawrence College, Bronxville, New York, works as an assistant to Norman Bel Geddes at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, Flushing Meadows. Exhibits some thirty constructions in two simultaneous shows at the Julien Levy Gallery and Hugh Stix’s Artists’ Gallery. Hitler invades Poland.

1940-45 During the war, works at the Brewster Aeronautical Corporation, Newark, New Jersey, designing aircraft (including an experimental bomber) and teaching aircraft mechanics and at the Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey, as a navigational and engineering draftsman. Encounters the wartime work of Jacques Lipchitz in several exhibitions at the Buchholz Gallery, New York. Executes an extended series of about sixty-five gouaches that become a transition from constructivist to welded-steel sculpture. Begins to investigate mythic and atavistic themes of death and destruction, invocation, totemism, ritualistic violence, and rites of passage.

1941-55 Teaches two- and three-dimensional design and sculpture at Sarah Lawrence College. Early on, meets the mythologist Joseph Campbell, who also teaches at the college.

1945 World War II ends. Disillusioned by Bauhaus-Constructivist utopianism and the devastation of nuclear war. His shattered faith in science and technology is replaced by renewed faith in nature, in change and transformation, and in archetypal motifs that reaffirm basic values. Begins welding steel with oxyacetylene torch. Jettisons the slick chromium sheen and machine-tooled precision of earlier constructions for spiky steel forms.

1946 Some transitional welded-steel sculptures included in Dorothy C. Miller’s Fourteen Americans exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

1947 26 August, birth of daughter, Sara Jane.

1947-48 Spectre of Kitty Hawk (1946-47) – bought by Alfred H. Barr, Jr., for the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

1950 Exhibited in the Art Institute of Chicago’s Fifty-Eighth Annual Exhibition of American Paintings and Sculpture, organized around the theme of abstract and Surrealist American art. Awarded the Frank G. Logan Medal from the Art Institute of Chicago.

1951 Given first of several one-man exhibitions at the Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York. Receives the Purchase Award from the Museu de Arte Moderna, Sao Paulo, Brazil; the Frank G. Logan Medal from the Art Institute of Chicago; a Faculty Fellowship from Sarah Lawrence College.

1952 Executes maquette for “The Monument to the Unknown Political Prisoner,” which is exhibited in New York and later entered in international competition. Commissioned to design the bell tower for Eero Saarinen’s non-denominational chapel at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge. Receives the Purchase Award from the University of Illinois, Urbana; the American Award, International Competition, from the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the International Award from the Institute of Contemporary Art, London.

Theodore Roszak circa 1956

Theodore Roszak circa 1956

 

1956-57 Is given a major traveling retrospective organized at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis. Elected as a member of the Advisory Board of National Committee of Arts and Government (a position he holds until 1958). Receives the Widener Gold Medal Award for Sculpture from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia.

1959 Included in Peter Selz’s New Images of Man exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Receives Ford Foundation Grant.

1960 Commissioned by Eero Saarinen to fabricate a thirty-seven-foot, two thousand pound aluminum eagle for the front facade of the American Embassy in Grosvener Square, London. Executes another eagle for the Federal Court House, New York.

1961 Elected a member of Advisory Committee on Cultural Presentations Program, State Department, Washington, D.C. (a position he holds until 1967).

1962 Elected a member of Board of Trustees, Tiffany Foundation; a member of Board of Governors, Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, Maine; and a member of Fine Arts Commission, Washington, D.C. (a position he holds until 1966).

1964-65 Executes Forms in Space, installed in front of the Hall of Science at the New York World’s Fair, Flushing Meadows. Elected a member of National Institute of Arts and Letters, New York. Participates in a symposium on higher education in Lima, Peru.

1968 Receives commission for a major sculpture – Sentinel – installed in the forecourt of the Public Health Laboratory Building, New York.

1969 Elected a member of Fine Arts Commission, New York (a position he holds until 1975).

1970-71 Guest critic at Columbia University, New York. Elected a member of Board of Trustees, American Academy in Rome (a position he holds until 1972).

1978 Zabriskie Gallery, New York, presents an exhibition of his constructions dating from 1932 to 1945.

1981 2 September, dies in New York of heart failure.