Stanisław Szukalski

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Stanisław Szukalski
5410 Szukalski wystawa w Krakowie 1936-3.jpg
Stanisław Szukalski in Kraków 1936.
Born(1893-12-13)13 December 1893
Died19 May 1987(1987-05-19) (aged 93)
NationalityPolish, American

Stanisław Szukalski (13 December 1893 – 19 May 1987) was a Polish sculptor and painter who became a part of the Chicago Renaissance.[1] Szukalski's art exhibits influence from ancient cultures such as Egyptian, Slavic, and Aztec combined with elements of art nouveau, from the various currents of early 20th century European modernism - cubism, expressionism, futurism and pre-Columbian art. During the 1920s, he was hailed as Poland's "greatest living artist". The style of his art was called "Bent Classicism".[2]

He also developed the pseudoscientific-historical theory of Zermatism, positing that all human culture was derived from post-deluge Easter Island and that humankind was locked in an eternal struggle with the Sons of Yeti ("Yetinsyny"), the offspring of Yeti and humans.


Between Poland and Chicago[edit]

Tooker Alley on map of March 2, 1921 in Chicago with "Szukalski" studio location across from the "Dill Pickle Club House and Chapel"

Szukalski was born in Warta, Congress Poland and was raised in Gidle. He arrived at New York with his mother, Konstancja, and sister, Alfreda, on June 27, 1907;[3] they then went to Chicago to join his father, Dyonizy Szukalski, a blacksmith.[4] A child prodigy in sculpture, he enrolled at age 13 at the Art Institute of Chicago.[5] A year later, Sculptor Antoni Popiel persuaded Szukalski's parents to send him back to Poland,[5] to enroll at Kraków's Academy of Fine Arts in 1910. There he studied sculpture under Konstanty Laszczka for three years.[5] He returned to Chicago in 1913.[6]

Back in the U.S., Szukalski joined the arts scene in Chicago,[1] becoming a vital part of the "Chicago Renaissance." In November 1914, he exhibited seven of his sculptures at the Annual Exhibition of American Oil Paintings and Sculpture in the Art Institute's galleries.[7] He had two solo exhibitions at the Art Institute, in 1916 and 1917, as well as one at the progressive Arts Club in 1919; he also exhibited regularly in the juried annuals at the Art Institute.[8] In 1922, he married Helen Walker, the artist daughter of Dr. Samuel J. Walker, a prominent member of Chicago society.[9]

Mickiewicz monument in Vilnius[edit]

The first design proposed for a monument of Adam Mickiewicz (a Polish poet, dramatist and political activist) to be built in the city of Vilnius, was promoted by Zbigniew Pronaszko of Vilnius University (then, Stefan Batory University in the Second Polish Republic). However, in May 1925, a contest was declared for the design of the monument.[10]: 53  The period for submitting designs was extended a number of times, with 67 designs ultimately submitted.[10]: 53  The jury consisted of Vilnius's municipal authorities and representatives of the arts scene, with General Lucjan Żeligowski at the helm.[10]: 54 

Szukalski won first prize in the contest. His design for the monument showed Mickiewicz, naked, lying upon a sacrificial altar. The sculpture was to be situated on a large pedestal in the shape of an Aztec pyramid.[10]: 55  A White Eagle, Poland's national symbol, was perched at the figure's side, where it symbolically drank blood from the poet's wound.[10]: 55 

Szukalski's design was highly divisive among Poland's intelligentsia, leadership, and art critics, as well as ordinary individuals.[10]: 56–66  The polarized atmosphere led the monument committee to arrange for a new contest, this time limited to concepts by artists who were invited to participate.[10]: 56–66  The winner was Henryk Kuna, whose proposal was then chosen to be built. However, due to a number of problems involving financing as well as a suitable location, the monument's construction dragged on.[10] With the outbreak of World War II and the incorporation of Vilnius into Lithuania, the project was abandoned.[10]: 56–66 

European travels[edit]

In 1925 Szukalski participated in the International Exhibition of Modern and Decorative Arts in Paris, where he won numerous awards. However, his success was criticized by the Polish press because Szukalski, representing Poland in the exhibition, did not even live in that country. On June 20, 1926, in Paris, Helen Walker Szukalski gave birth to Szukalski's only child, a daughter, Elżbieta Kalina (Kalinka) Szukalski.[11][12]

After traveling in Europe from 1926 to 1928, Szukalski went to Kraków, Poland, where he had a retrospective exhibition in 1929.[5] In 1929 he was a founder of an artistic movement called Tribe of the Horned Heart (Szczep Rogate Serce), centered on Polish artists who sought inspiration in the pagan or pre-Christian history of Poland.

In 1929, Szukalski published Projects in Design: Sculpture and Architecture, containing drawings that ranged from highly detailed ornamental architectural elements -fireplaces, doorways, and windows - to idealized city plans, bridges, tombstones and monuments befitting the heroes of Poland.[13] In 1932, he and Helen divorced.

Ben Hecht, who had met Szukalski in 1914, described Szukalski in his 1954 autobiography, A Child of the Century, "For twenty years my friend ... experienced disasters which would have killed off a dozen businessmen. Sickness, poverty and hunger yipped everlasting at his heels. ... during his struggles he heard only the catcalls of critics and the voices of derision. Yet when I saw him in 1934, I saw a man who had feasted on power and whose eyes smiled with triumph."[14]: 241–242 

In September 1934, in Hollywood, Szukalski married Joan Lee Donovan (b. 1910), who had been his daughter's kindergarten teacher in Chicago.[15]: 34  The wedding was at the home of screenwriter Wallace Smith, who was the best man.[16]

Return to Poland[edit]

In 1936, Szukalski returned to Poland, supported financially by the Minister of the Treasury. He completed several sculptures, most notably the monument of Bolesław Chrobry, and decorated the façade of the Silesian Museum in Katowice, as well a local government building in that city.[5] Poland declared Szukalski the country's greatest living artist.[17]: 240  The government gave him a studio, the largest in Warsaw, and proclaimed it the Szukalski National Museum.[14]: 242  It contained many of his intricate paintings and massive sculptures, notable for their dramatic mythological imagery;[18] Szukalski had brought much of his lifetime work with him to Poland.[17]: 240 

During the siege of Warsaw by the German army in September 1939, Szukalski was hurt in the initial bombing attack on Warsaw, which destroyed much of his studio. With two suitcases, Szukalski and his wife took refuge in the US embassy, since both were American citizens. By early November they were among about 100 Americans remaining in Warsaw.[19] The two eventually escaped from Poland and were able to make their way back to the United States.

Szukalski had come to Poland with all his unsold works, encouraged by the prospect of building a museum devoted to his art;[5] he left almost all of his work in Poland. Most of what had not been lost in the bombing attacks was destroyed by the occupying Germans.


In 1940, Szukalski and his wife settled in Los Angeles. Szukalski did odd jobs in film studios, designing scenery; occasionally sculpted; and did drawings. There he became friends with the family of George DiCaprio, Leonardo DiCaprio's father.

During the last years of his 75-year-long career Szukalski's major projects as a sculptor were Prometheus (1943), designed for Paris in homage to the French partisans; the Rooster of Gaul (1960), a gigantic and complex structure that he wanted the U.S. to give France to reciprocate for the Statue of Liberty;[5] Katyn (1979), a monument to commemorate the death of more than 20,000 Polish officers and intellectuals killed by the Soviets during World War II; and a monument intended for the city of Venice (1982), featuring the Polish pope John Paul II.[15]: 61  None of these projects went much further than Szukalski's immediate friends.

In 1971, Glenn Bray, a publisher who had previously specialized in the work of Mad Magazine artist Basil Wolverton, befriended Szukalski, and introduced many of his friends to Szukalski. Bray published a book of Szukalski's art and philosophy, A Trough Full of Pearls / Behold! The Protong, in 1980, and a second volume of his art, Inner Portraits, in 1982. Those books led others, including George Di Caprio, to contact Szukalski; Di Caprio immediately became a close friend of Szukalski and his wife.[4]

Szukalski's second wife, Joan, died in 1980.[18] Following Szukalski's death in 1987, a group of his admirers spread his ashes on Easter Island, in the rock quarry of Rano Raraku.

Zermatism & Protong[edit]

Beginning in 1940, Szukalski devoted most of his time examining the mysteries of prehistoric ancient history of mankind, the formation and shaping of languages, faiths, customs, arts, and migration of peoples. He tried to unravel the origin of geographical names, gods, and symbols that have survived in various forms in various cultures. Through his research in these subjects, Szukalski claimed to have discovered Polish origins for various ancient places and people, in a language called Protong. According to Szukalski, Protong could be seen in phenomena ranging from the apparent Polish origins of Babylon to Jesus's Polish identity. The culmination of this work was a massive book called "Protong" (in Polish, "Macimowa"), its writing continued uninterruptedly for over 40 years. He wrote a manuscript of 42 volumes, totaling more than 25,000 pages, and including 14,000 illustrations.[4] The volumes covered a variety of issues; his pen drawings of artifacts, which he considered "witnesses", were done to confirm his theories.

Zermatism, Szukalski's concept of world history, postulated that all human culture derived from post-deluge Easter Islanders who settled in Zermatt (hence the name) and that in all human languages one could find traces of the original, ancient mother-tongue of mankind (one with archaic Polish origins). In his view, humanity was locked in an eternal struggle with the Sons of Yeti ("Yetinsyny"), the offspring of Yeti and humans, who had enslaved humanity from time immemorial. He claimed that the figures of the god Pan on Greek vases depict creatures that actually existed, the product of Yeti apes raping human women. Szukalski used his considerable artistic talents to illustrate his theories, which, despite their lack of scientific merit, have gained a cult following largely on their aesthetic value.

Artistic legacy[edit]

Bray and his wife Lena Zwalve maintain Szukalski's estate and the great bulk of his existing art under the name "Archives Szukalski." In 1990, they published The Lost Tune: Early Works (1913-1930), a collection of photographs taken by Szukalski of his own work in that period.[20]

Among Szukalski's admirers are Leonardo DiCaprio, who sponsored a retrospective exhibition entitled "Struggle" at the Laguna Art Museum in 2000;[6] the Church of the SubGenius, which incorporates the Yetinsyny elements of Zermatism;[21] Rick Griffin,[22] Richard Sharpe Shaver, Robert Williams, H. R. Giger[23] the band Tool[24] and Ernst Fuchs,[25] who said "Szukalski was the Michelangelo of the 20th century. And probably also of an age to come."[25]

Szukalski's works are on permanent display at the Polish Museum of America in Chicago. None of his work in Warsaw survived the destruction during WWII. In addition to the Laguna retrospective, notable exhibitions of his work include "The Self-Born" at Varnish Fine Art, San Francisco, in 2005, and "Mantong and Protong," where Szukalski is paired with another unorthodox theorist of earth history, Richard Sharpe Shaver, at Pasadena City College in 2009.

In 2018, Leonardo DiCaprio produced a documentary entitled Struggle: The Life and Lost Art of Szukalski,[6] which was released on Netflix as of December 21, 2018.[18]


  1. ^ a b Duffey, Bernard I. (1954). The Chicago renaissance in American letters: A critical history. Michigan State College Press.
  2. ^ Jen Rogers & Kerri Stephens. "Varnish Fine Art & Archives Szukalski". Stanislav Szukalski (1893-1987) fused the movement and energy of Futurism, the emotion of Impressionism and the geometric configurations of Cubism into a single poetic form referred to as Bent Classicism.
  3. ^ See “List or Manifest of Alien Passengers for the United States Immigration Officer at Port of Arrival”, New York, June 27, 1907 (Ellis Island Foundation, ); cited in ARCHIWUM EMIGRACJI, 2007 - (p. 171)
  4. ^ a b c Gliński, Mikołaj (16 May 2016). "Polishness as Religion: The Mystical Delirium of a Nationalist Artist". Adam Mickiewicz Institute. Retrieved 26 December 2018.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Szubert, Piotr (February 2013). "Stanisław Szukalski". Adam Mickiewicz Institute. Retrieved 26 December 2018.
  6. ^ a b c Hubert, Craig (December 19, 2018). "Who Is Stanislav Szukalski, the Obscure Artist Leonardo DiCaprio Is Trying to Make Famous?". Observer. Retrieved December 26, 2018.
  7. ^ ARCHIWUM EMIGRACJI, 2007 - (p. 172)
  8. ^ "Stanislaw Szukalski | Artists | Modernism in the New City: Chicago Artists, 1920-1950". Retrieved 26 December 2018.
  9. ^ "Sculptor Wants Pig Farm; Szukalski Will Take His Bride to the Country to Make Money" (PDF). The New York Times. 30 May 1922. p. 22. Retrieved 26 December 2018.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i Lameński, Lechosław (2007). Stach z Warty Szukalski i Szczep Rogate Serce. Lublin: Wydawnictwo KUL. ISBN 978-83-7363-554-8.
  11. ^ Slotbower, Laurie (31 Mar 1986). "Conversations: Kalinka Szukalska." Santa Cruz (CA) Sentinel.
  12. ^ Swissair flight 836 manifest (11 Oct 1961) for Kalinka S. Pierce,
  13. ^ "Projects in Design: Sculpture and Architecture". Chronicle Books (reprint). Retrieved 26 December 2018.
  14. ^ a b Hecht, Ben (1954). A child of the Century. New York, New York: Simon and Schuster.
  15. ^ a b 1893-1987., Szukalski, Stanisław (2000). Struggle : the art of Szukalski. Bray, Glenn., Laguna Art Museum (Laguna Beach, Calif.). San Francisco: Last Gasp. ISBN 9780867194791. OCLC 47196542.CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  16. ^ "Sculptor Szukalski Weds". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Associated Press. 16 September 1934. Retrieved 27 December 2018.
  17. ^ a b The old guard and the avant-garde : modernism in Chicago, 1910-1940. Prince, Sue Ann., University of Chicago Press. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. 1990. ISBN 0226430669. OCLC 1030550064.CS1 maint: others (link)
  18. ^ a b c Kinsella, Eileen (December 20, 2018). "Why Leonardo DiCaprio and His Father Produced a New Netflix Film About an Obscure Polish Artist". artnet News. Retrieved December 26, 2018.
  19. ^ "Life Normal in Warsaw: 100 Americans are Unable to Leave Poland". Biddeford Daily Journal (Associated Press). 7 November 1939. p. 2. Retrieved 28 December 2018.
  20. ^ 1893-1987., Szukalski, Stanisław (1990). The lost tune : early works (1913-1930) as photographed by the artist. Polish Museum of America (Chicago, Ill.) (1st ed.). Sylmar: Archives Szukalski. ISBN 0962623008. OCLC 22863279.CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  21. ^ Szukalski: God King of the Kook Nation – excerpt written by Rev. Ivan Stang from The Happy Mutant Handbook
  22. ^ The Rick Griffin Story
  23. ^ "R.F. Paul. "Baphomet's Lament: An Interview with H.R. Giger". Esoterra: The Journal of Extreme Culture 9 (fall/winter 2000)
  24. ^ "The Official Tool Newsletter".
  25. ^ a b Stanislaw Szukalski: The Master Who Fell Through the Cracks, “When I saw the works of Szukalski. This was astonishing you know. What a sense of beauty and spiritual eroticism… Szukalski was the Michelangelo of the 20th century. And probably also of an age to come.” said Ernst Fuchs.

Further reading[edit]

  • Gambon, Blanche. “Stanislaw Szukalski: Painter, Sculptor, Architect, Philosopher.” The New American: A Monthly Digest of Polish-American Life and Culture, Chicago, September, 1935; Vol II, No. 10

External links[edit]