In the victorious after glow of WWII popular design turned bold, colorful, flamboyant- an era ripe for the creativity of Sascha Brastoff.
It was almost twenty years ago at a Beverly Hills estate sale that I first discovered Sascha Brastoff. I collect art pottery and became intrigued by a ceramic rooster plate displayed prominently on the living room wall. The plate was signed Sascha B.
The plate was not for sale. The owner, a frail, wizened, white haired lady, explained emphatically, "I can't sell that! I've had it for over 20 years. It was given to me by Sascha himself."
Fascinated, I listened to her speak affectionately about Sascha Brastoff and his great talent for shape and design. As one of the originators of '50s functional design, Sascha lead an amazing life. Best known for his extensive ceramic work, he also delved into watercolor, metal and ceramic sculpture, enameling, charcoal, pastels, resin and fabric.
Sascha B. has been described as a 'modern Celline: for the great number of interests and talents he possessed. At an early age, he was awarded an art scholarship to the Cleveland Art School, where he studied ballet and art. He danced several seasons with the Cleveland Ballet.
In 1940 at age 22, Sascha moved to New York City, and joined the Clay Club. He worked feverishly at his art, while working as a window dresser at Macy's for his "day job". Sascha's work was well received in New York art circles. All of his 37 piece exhibit sold at his first showing in the Clay Club Sculpture Gallery, May of 1941.
Just as a four page spread touting his engaging new designs was printed in the December 1941 issue of Live Magazine, America entered WWII.
It was the quirky, loud, and boisterous Carmen Miranda that moved Sascha from New York to Hollywood by way of the Air Force. In 1942, Sascha enlisted in the Air Force and was sent to Miami, where he languished miserably for several months as a mechanic. He finally won a transfer to the Special Services Events Division, where he designed costumes and scenery for USO shows. Sascha created GI Carmen Miranda, a character he impersonated to entertain the troops. The 1945 play 'Winged Victory' introduced the country to Carmen Miranda, and Hollywood to Sascha Brastoff.
Zanuck, the head of 20th Century Fox Studios, commissioned Sascha to design costumes for Betty Grable in Diamond Horseshoe. Fox was impressed with Sascha's designs and in 1946 signed him to a seven year contract as a costumer.
Within two years Sascha was negotiating his release to set up a Quonset hut ceramics plant in West Los Angeles, Sascha Brastoff Product's Incorporated.
Millionaire industrialist, Winthorpe B. Rockefeller, took an avid interest in Sascha's work, serving as a financial backer, and social circle promoter. With Rockefeller's support, Sascha moved into a much larger shop on Compton Avenue in West LA.
After several expansions, Sascha opened a state of the art factory and studio on W. Olympic Blvd. in West LA in 1953. At the Grand Opening such Hollywood luminaries as Edward G. Robinson, Zsa Zsa Gabor and Mitzi Gaynor made it the party of the year. Sascha counted Joan Crawford, Donna Reid and many other prominent stars as customers. His work commanded high prices for the period. Statues sold for up to $500.00, while chargers and lamps went for between $200.00- $300.00.
In the mid '50s, Sascha was very busy, designing meal sculptures, producing one of a kind commissioned pieces for Rockefeller and others, as well as design pieces for TV shows. He made public appearances at fine department stores to promote his lines, and appeared on television decorating and talk shows. Sascha even had exposure in the movies; an elaborate metal fish sculpture of his was prominently featured in the in the Sci-Fi classic, Forbidden Planet. Sascha was Hollywood's darling.
1961 found Sascha renegotiating his "deal" with his company's financial backer, Rockefeller. Sascha demanded a percentage of profits rather than his lucrative salary. At the end of the year, he was presented with a bill for over $10,000- his share of the company's losses.
In 1963, under severe pressure, Sascha suffered a nervous breakdown. The previously gregarious Sascha became a recluse, debilitated by his condition and afflicted with agoraphobia. Until 1965, he barely left the house.
In 1965, friends convinced Sascha to produce again. The hiatus bred some of his most recognized pieces. It was after 1965 that he produced works of Styrofoam and resin.
In 1966, he won a commission to create a 13 foot gold plated cross to adorn the St. Augustine by the Sea church in Santa Monica, California. The project included for altar candleholders and altar railings.
During Sascha's absence, his company reissued some popular designs and registered Sascha B. as a trademark name. In 1964, the plant moved to Hawthorne, CA in an attempt to reduce overhead. The company continued to produce designs until 1973, when the factory shut down. Sascha authorized the sale of his name to a variety of companies, including Royal Haegar to produce ceramics, and Marilyn Watoon to create costume jewelry. Marina Metal Arts and Merle Norman Cosmetics used his designs under an agreement with Sascha.
In a 1976 co-venture with the Franklin Min, Sascha designed a six piece sterling miniature circus. The six piece set featured The Performing Seal, Clown, Butterfly Girl, Ringmaster, and Circus Lion. The limited edition set originally sold for $1,400.00.
In the late '70s, other manufacturers used Sascha's name, including American Bisque Porcelains, and California Jewelsmiths of Beverly Hills.
Sascha battled cancer in the '80s, and did not effectively produce any new pieces. He died in 1993, leaving an endearing legacy of function, vision, and design.
Sascha B. gives the collector much to search out; his designs varied from fanciful carousel horses, to geometric abstract design, to stylized Alaskan scenes.
Until several years ago, prices for Sascha were a fraction of original cost. Now prices are increasing dramatically [as of publication in 1995]. It's not unusual for a teapot to sell for $400.00 or a resin animal for $300.00. Ashtrays, a most popular '50s product, generally are modestly priced ranging from about $20.00.
A new book [still available currently] has created real excitement
the field of Sascha collecting. Sascha Brastoff by Conti, De Wayne
& Seay, includes history, extensive illustrations, and a price