Cleveland Topics, July 5, 1919
Cleveland’s Greatest Sculptor Resumes Studio
By Norma K Stahle
The path of Cleveland’s greatest sculptor was not strewn with any more roses than New York’s great success nor Paris’ sensation, nor any of the gods of fortune who have waited patiently for favor.
Jo Davidson’s years as messenger boy, the struggles of sculptors too numerous to mention, cannot surpass the vicissitudes through which the unflagging ambition of Steven Rebeck traveled to arrive in art. Born in Cleveland and having lived here most of his life, known to many but not as widely as he deserves, Steven Augustus Rebeck has been recognized by New York art critics as one of America’s coming young sculptors. Cleveland art circles, however, are not unaware of the talent of this young sculptor, so the parallel of “last to be appreciated at home” cannot be drawn.
At sixteen Steven journeyed to Chicago to find something to do while attending the Art Institute there. But romance and enthusiasm lessened when, on finding the Art Institute doors closed except by admission fee, he turned away thinking, “tomorrow will be a free day,” and, standing on the curb wondering what roof would shelter him for the night, a horse as unfriendly as the streets of Chicago, added to his hardships by tearing his coat. Seeking redress from the corner policeman, Steven was immediately sent back to Cleveland pronounced too young to travel alone.
With the ambition of an art training still strong within him, Rebeck began work in a mechanical shop and finally an opportunity came to do night work and odd jobs so that he could attend art school. With endless tasks, but with a great amount of fortitude he completed his course at the Cleveland School of Art, receiving an inspiration he likes to dwell upon from his instructor, Mr. Matzen. After completing the course he went to New York for further training, working around the studios until ability told and he was taken as protégé by Carl Bitter. While working for this great sculptor, who was a grilling master, Rebeck gained invaluable instruction. Here he aided on a fountain called “The Goose Girl,” for John D. Rockefeller’s residence at Pocantico Hills, New York, of which a replica is in the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum of New York City. To assist him in this work Mr. Bitter sent Rebeck out on numerous excursions to study the goose, always to model it upon his return, until finally the anatomy was pronounced correct. At the death of Mr. Bitter his protégé again returned to Cleveland and, with Joseph C. Motto, established a studio at E. 118th St. and Euclid Ave. Here he attracted the interest of many prominent Clevelanders who took up modeling at their studio. The young sculptor received a number of private commissions, and first evoked his originality in the beautiful fountains made for Mrs. J.E. Ferris and for Mrs. John Newell, and later in a bust of Shakespeare, modeled for the Shakespeare Gardens of the city, which for a man so young were most creditable.
One Success was followed quickly by another and he worked feverishly with many themes, developing himself in his profession. It was at this period of his advancing career that war was declared and the studio was discontinued. Rebeck and Motto dropped everything and went to war. After Rebeck’s discharge from the aviation department of the service he contributed to the Triumphal Arch in New York City, working under the sculptor C. A. Heber. And then once more he returned to Cleveland, and with Mr. Motto, who has been instructor in modeling at the Hawken School, the studio has been resumed this time at 10017 Euclid Ave.
When the Art Association of Cleveland wanted a sculptor for the medal of award for the late Exhibition of Cleveland Art, the medal having been given by Mr. John A. Penton, of this city, Rebeck was chosen.
In this first work done since his return to Cleveland, the artist’s work has undergone a change that may logically be traced to his overseas experience. His medal shows a keener appreciation of beauty—a depth of feeling that is the product of an awakened thought. He has recognized beauty as the essential in art, the note which, more than anything else, finds the artist’s niche.
The medal’s observe side shows a figure symbolic of art, holding the torch of knowledge in her right hand and a laurel in the other. To the right of the figure are the symbols of art, formerly three jars, but latterly changed to shields. Just inside the circumference of the medal in print appears, “The Penton Medal for Excellence, Cleveland.” The reverse side contains a tablet on which is engraved the name of the person receiving the award and the department, whether painting, sculpture or handicraft, and the date. Two sprigs of laurel are crossed underneath the tablet and in print the words, “Awarded by the Cleveland Art Association.” The fine modeling of the figure, the beauty of the laurel and the delicacy and refinement of the medal as a whole indicate the splendid character of the sculptor who believes are to be a divine gift.
Rebeck is one of the modern sculptors who are intensely interested in the world about them. Small of stature and bristling with enthusiasm, he says he wants to get to work. He is a man with a vision, always looking forward, thoughtful, optimistic, In his art he leans toward the ideal rather than to portraiture, and has characterized his work with an individuality that is unique and effective.
Sculpture being one of the oldest arts, there is often a tendency among moderns to revert for models to the famous old sculptors of the past who had gained popularity. But with Rebeck, the promising and important fact which makes his work so vital and strong, is that when he has reverted to the old masters he has chosen the weightier ones to imitate—never the faddist of any age. He has made use of the set forms of the past, but has imbued them with a vigor that creates a new and more intense interest in this form of art expression. There is nothing ultra about Rebeck—his art lies between the extreme of imitation or too close adherence to old masters and the abandon of the independents.
Rebeck has taken the classic as his model and has combined strength and spiritual beauty so successfully that his place is assured in the art world. He has established a standard that will demand recognition throughout the country as well as in Cleveland and New York, and, while sensationalists may spring up and pass again into oblivion, the art of Steven Rebeck will go steadily on; there are no bubbles to burst, there is no disillusionment awaiting his sponsors—his art is of a firm foundation.