“The Queen’s Feast”, 1948 | 30”x36” - oil painting on board
Ed Marecak prepares a feast for the eyes in “The Queen’s Feast”, dividing the flattened canvas into three sections, with a wine glass on the left on a small table, a bowl on a pedestal in the middle above a pink and red fish on a platter. To the right, notice a crowned queen in joyous colors of pink, violet, and blue. Multicolored penants sit below the queen, and on the upper panels. Marecak used themes from mythology and folk tales, and frequently painted the image of the powerful queen in his work.
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.
At the Fine Arts Center he met his future wife, Donna Fortin, whom he married in 1947. Also a Midwesterner, she had taken night art courses at Hull House in Chicago, later studying at the Art Institute of Chicago with the encouragement of artist Edgar Britton. After World War II she studied with him from 1946 to 1949 at the Fine Arts Center. (He had moved to Colorado Springs to treat his tuberculosis.) Ed Marecak also became good friends with Britton, later collaborating with him on the design of large stained glass windows for a local church.
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 andhis 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 ouevre, 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.
A devote of Greek mythology, he placed the figures of Circe, Persephone, Sybil, Hera and others in modern settings. The goddess in Persephone Brings a Pumpkin to her Mother, attired as a Midwestern farmer’s daughter, heralds the advent of fall with the pumpkin before departing to spend the winter season in the underworld. Train to Olympus, the meeting place of the gods in ancient Greece, juxtaposes ancient mythology with modernity creating a combination of whimsy and thought-provoking consideration for the viewer. Voyage to Troy #1 alludes to the ancient city that was the site of the Trojan Wars, but has a contemporary, autobiographical component referencing the harbor of the Aleutian Islands recaptured from the Japanese during World War II. In the 1980s Marecak used the goddess Hera in his painting, Hera Contemplates Aspects of the Art Nouveau, to comment on art movements in the latter half of the twentieth century
Marecak’s love of classical music and opera, which he shared with his wife and to which he often listened while painting in his Denver basement studio, is reflected in Homage of Offenbach, an abstract work translating the composer’s musical colors into colorful palette. Pace, Pace, Mio Dio, the title of his earliest surrealist painting, is a soprano aria from Verdi’s opera, La Forza del Destino (The Force of Destiny or Fate, a favorite Marecak subject). His Queen of the Night relates to a character from Mozart’s opera, The Magic Flute.
In addition to paintings and works on paper, he produced hooked rugs, textiles and ceramics. He likewise produced designs for ceramics, tableware and furniture created by his wife Donna, an accomplished Colorado ceramist.
Both of them generally eschewed exhibitions and galleries, preferring to quietly do their work while remaining outside of the mainstream. He initially exhibited at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center in 1948 receiving a purchase award. The following year he had his first one-person show of paintings and lithographs at the Garrett Gallery in Colorado Springs. In the 1950s and early 1960s he participated in group exhibitions at the Print Club (Philadelphia); Amarillo Public Library (Texas); annual Blossom Festival Show (Canon City, Colorado); Adele Simpson’s “Art of Living” in New York; Denver Art Museum; and the Fox Rubenstein-Serkey Gallery (Denver); but he did not have another one-person show until 1966 at the Denver home of his friends, John and Gerda Scott. They arranged for his first one-person show outside of Colorado held two years later at the Martin Lowitz Gallery in Beverly Hills and Palm Springs, California. That same year his work was featured at the Zantman Galleries in Carmel, California.
Thereafter he became an infrequent exhibitor after the 1970s so that his work was rarely seen outside his basement studio. In 1980 he, his wife and Mark Zamantakis exhibited at Denver’s Jewish Community Center, and four years later he had a one-person show at the Studio Gallery in Denver. In 1992 he was included in a group show at the Rule Modern and Contemporary Gallery in Denver, and a year later received a large, posthumous retrospective at the Emmanuel Gallery, also in Denver.
Museum Collections: Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center; Denver Art Museum; Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art, Denver.