Viktor Schreckengost was up on the ladder, beside one of his most recognizable masterpieces. A few years before, the now-legendary ceramicist, industrial designer and artist had been commissioned by the Cleveland Zoo to make a sculpture to adorn the new pachyderm building. By January, the massive clay mammoth and mastodon, housed in a warehouse on Cedar Avenue, were near completion.
The statues were heavy, weighing 32 tons after the terra cotta was fired and considerably more than that as Schreckengost finished sculpting. Telephone poles had to be used to prop up the warehouse wall and keep it from bowing, according to ICA Art Conservation’s Charles Eiben. When Schreckengost was done sculpting the figures’ 87 pieces, he sent them to the now-defunct Federal Seaboard Terra Cotta Corp. in New Jersey, where they were stained and fired, lending them distinctive, muted colors.
The sculptures stayed at the zoo until 2008, when the pachyderm building was torn down. They were moved to storage on the Cleveland Metroparks’ Garfield Reservation until 2014, when the Cleveland Museum of Natural History rented a downtown warehouse, now occupied by Noble Beast Brewing Co., for ICA to prepare them for installation. In 2016, they were hoisted onto a specially built, weight-bearing wall behind the museum.
Schreckengost died in 2008, but thousands of commuters, zooming to and from University Circle, still marvel at his work every day.