Edward Marecak (1919-1993)
Born to immigrant parents from the Carpathian region in Slovakia, Marecak grew up with his family in the farming community of Bennett’s Corners, now part of the town of Brunswick, near Cleveland, Ohio. When he turned twelve, his family moved to a multi-ethnic neighborhood of Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, and Slovenians in Cleveland. His childhood household cherished the customs and Slavic folk tales from the Old Country that later strongly influenced his work as a professional artist. During junior high he painted scenery for puppet shows of “Peter and the Wolf,” awakening his interest in art. In his senior year in high school, he did Cézanne-inspired watercolors of Ohio barns at seventy-five cents apiece for the National Youth Administration. They earned him a full scholarship to the Cleveland Institute of Art (1938-1942) where he studied with Henry George Keller whose work was included in the 1913 New York Armory Show. In 1940 Marecak also taught at the Museum School of the Cleveland Institute.
Before being drafted into the military in 1942, he briefly attended the Cranbrook Academy of Art near Detroit, one of the nation’s leading graduate schools of art, architecture, and design. A center of innovative work in architecture, art and design with an educational approach built on a mentorship model, it has been home to some of the world’s most renowned designers and artists, including Eero Saarinen, Charles Eames, Daniel Libeskind and Harry Bertoia. Marecak’s studies at Cranbrook with painter Zoltan Sepeshy and sculptor Carl Milles were interrupted by U.S. army service in the Aleutian Islands during World War II.
Following his military discharge, Marecak studied on the G.I. Bill at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center from 1946 to 1950, having previously met its director, Boardman Robinson, conducting a seminar in mural painting at the Cleveland Institute of Art. Although he did not work with Robinson at the Fine Arts Center, who had become quite ill - retiring in 1947 - he studied Robinson’s specialty of mural painting before leaving to briefly attend the Cranbrook Academy in 1947. That same year he returned to the Fine Arts Center, studying painting with Jean Charlot and Mary Chenoweth, and lithography with Lawrence Barrett with whom he produced some 132 images during 1948-49.
In 1950-51 Marecak returned to the Cleveland Institute of Art to complete his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. A year later he was invited to conduct a summer class at the University of Colorado in Boulder, confirming his interest in the teaching profession. In 1955 he received his teaching certificate from the University of Denver. Vance Kirkland, the head of its art department, helped him get a teaching job with the Denver Public Schools so that he and his family could remain in the Mile High City. For the next twenty-five years he taught art at Skinner, Grove, East, George Washington and Morey Junior High Schools.
Prior to coming to Colorado, Marecak did watercolors resembling those of Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent and Charles Burchfield. However, once in Colorado Springs he decided to destroy much of his earlier oeuvre, embarking on a totally new direction unlike anything he had previously done. Initially, in the 1940s, he was influenced by surrealist imagery and Paul Klee and in the West by Indian petroglyphs and Kachinas. His first one-person show at the Garrett Gallery in Colorado Springs in 1949 featured paintings and lithographs rendered in the style of Magic Realism and referential abstraction. The pieces, including an oil Witch with Pink Dish, foreshadowed the output of his entire Colorado-based career, distinguished by a dramatic use of color, intricacy of execution and attention to detail contributing to their visual impact. He once observed, “Each time I start a new painting I always fool myself by saying this time keep it simple and not get entangled with such complex patterns, color and design; but I always find myself getting more involved with richness, color and subject matter.”
An idiosyncratic artist proficient in oil, acrylic, watercolor, gouache, and casein, he did not draw upon Colorado subject matter for his work, unlike many of his fellow painters in the state. Instead, he used Midwest landscape imagery, bringing to life in it witches and spirits adapted from the Slovakian folk tales he heard growing up in Ohio. A number of his paintings depict winter witches derived from the Slovak custom in the Tatra Mountains of burning an effigy of the winter witch in the early spring to banish the memory of a hard winter. The folk tale element imparts a dream-like quality to many of his paintings.