Melik Finkle was a sculptor and graphic designer who lived from 1885 to 1976. He was born in Botosani, Roumania where at the age of ten he was apprenticed to his grandfather as a woodcarver. In 1900 his family emigrated to London where at the age of fifteen he had his own shop where he made and carved furniture and frames in the Rococo and Art Nouveau styles.
In 1904 at age nineteen, Melik Finkle emigrated by himself to America where he supported himself as an accomplished woodcarver. In 1907 he began his formal studies in sculpture at the Cincinnati Art Academy under the direction of the sculptor, Clement J. Barnhorn and later became his assistant. He also became friends with the painters, Frank Duveneck and L. H. Meakin. He studied architecture at the Ohio Mechanics Institute in the evening and during the summers taught decorative garden sculpture at the Academy and worked at the Rookwood Pottery. He also worked for the Cincinnati Museum restoring plaster casts, furniture and period rooms. Achieving recognition for his skilled craftsmanship and ornamental graphic design, he was commissioned by numerous prominent families and institutions to design bookplates for their libraries.
It was through this work that Melik Finkle came to the attention of the geologist and explorer, Max C. Fleischmann who commissioned him to design his book, After Big Game In Arctic And Tropic published in 1909. The intaglio designs on the front and back covers as well as the spine, rendered in white and gold on a blue background, are exquisite in their originality, combining realistic animal heads with symbolic ethnic forms suggestive of hunting.
Melik Finkle left Cincinnati in 1920, and after a year in New York City where he worked for the sculptors, Augustus Lukeman and A.A. Weinman, went to Europe for four years. He stayed in Paris for a year, and on the advice of Frank Duveneck, studied at the Academie Julian. He then went to Munich where he shared a studio with the sculptor, Hans Stangl. Although he was now 37 and an accomplished sculptor, he enrolled as a student at the Munich Academy in order to qualify for a residency permit. At this time Hans Hoffman was teaching drawing classes in his own studio in Munich so Melik Finkle became one of his students there. In a taped interview at the age of 88, he talks about how he learned a new concept of three dimensional space, depth and movement from Hoffman. His sculpture from this period, although still representational of human form, became more stylized and less realistic.
In 1925 Melik Finkle returned to New York where he rented a studio in Chelsea on the corner of 9th Avenue and 23rd street. He resumed his association with Augustus Lukeman, becoming his assistant on the Stone Mountain Project in Georgia and was primarily responsible for its design and execution. With his training in architecture and life-long experience in the making of architectural models, he also designed the grandiose lagoon and monumental temple which was to have been carved into the base of the mountain. Although a small portion of the heads of the Confederate army were completed, the Stone Mountain Project as Lukeman and Melik Finkle had designed it came to a standstill in 1928.
In 1928 as the plague of the Great Depression was about to descend, Melik Finkle had the good fortune of becoming known to the Ohio pottery companies for whom he put all his skills in ornamental design and expertise in plaster casting to work to create the original models for some of the most beautiful pottery dinnerware produced in the United States between 1928 and 1948. His best known works in pottery are the Washington Colonial design for Canonsburg, Provincial Ware for Crooksville, Geometric for W. S. George and Sheffield Ware for George H. Bowman Company.
In 1933 Melik Finkle married Gladys Stark who had lived in New York since emigrating from Galicia at the age of 3 with her mother and two sisters in 1903. Melik and Gladys continued to live in the studio on twenty-third street until a baby was expected. Thinking that Chelsea was not a good neighborhood in which to raise a child, they moved to a studio on West 65th Street within walking distance of Central Park. On June 10th 1936, Gladys gave birth to a boy who was named Robert Melik Finkle. Gladys Finkle was a milliner and was very active in progressive social causes in New York. In 1960 Robert Melik Finkle was graduated from Yale University with a master’s degree in architecture and in 1962 bought a farm in Vermont where Melik Finkle spent many creative summers.
In later years and until his death at the age of ninety-one, while experimenting with non-figurative sculptural forms in wood and paper, Melik Finkle produced a unique genre of work, for his own amusement, in the form of hundreds of small drawings on scraps of paper. These drawings spanning a period of twenty years begin with images of birds and forms inspired by nature, and were originally intended for sculpture, but eventually became works of art with their own reason for being. The drawings become more colorful and more imaginative and are often filled with fantastic creatures. The final drawings are bold forms of line and color drawn with such clarity and steadiness of hand which one would not expect from a man in his late eighties.
Among Melik Finkle’s best known works in sculpture are Head of an Old Man exhibited at the Palace of the Legion of Honor at the 1929 San Francisco World’s Fair, The Kentucky Mountaineer, Head of a Child, Blades of Grass, and the Trilobites bas relief, a WPA work at the Sylvania, Ohio, post office.
A large collection of the work of Melik Finkle spanning seventy-five years, including sculpture, early figure drawings, bookplate designs, late abstract drawings in color, jewelry in silver, and a large collection of pottery can be seen at The Melik Finkle Museum in Rochester, Vermont.
Submitted by Robert Melik Finkle, son of the artist and curator of The Melik Finkle Museum in Rochester, Vermont.