Stanislaw Szukalski – Zermatism

Stanisław Szukalski (13 December 1893 – 19 May 1987) was a Polish-born American sculptor and painter who became a part of the Chicago Renaissance. In 1930s Poland he enjoyed fame as a nationalist sculptor. He also developed the pseudoscientific-historical theory of Zermatism, positing that all human culture was derived from post-deluge Easter Island and that humankind was locked in an eternal struggle with the Sons of Yeti (“Yetinsyny”), the offspring of Yeti and humans.

Szukalski was born in Warta, Poland, and was raised in Gidle, a nearby village. He arrived at New York with his mother, Konstancja, and sister, Alfreda, on June 27, 1907; they then went to Chicago to join his father, Dyonizy Szukalski, a blacksmith. A child prodigy in sculpture, he enrolled at age 13 at the Art Institute of Chicago. A year later, Sculptor Antoni Popiel persuaded Szukalski’s parents to send him back to Poland, to enroll at Kraków’s Academy of Fine Arts in 1910. There he studied sculpture under Konstanty Laszczka for three years. He returned to Chicago in 1913.

Back in the U.S., Szukalski joined the arts scene in Chicago, becoming a vital part of the “Chicago Renaissance.” In November 1914, he exhibited seven of his sculptures at the Annual Exhibition of American Oil Paintings and Sculpture in the Art Institute’s galleries. He had two solo exhibitions at the Art Institute, in 1916 and 1917, as well as one at the progressive Arts Club in 1919; he also exhibited regularly in the juried annuals at the Art Institute. In 1922, he married Helen Walker, the artist daughter of Dr. Samuel J. Walker, a prominent member of Chicago society.

Bray and his wife Lena Zwalve maintain Szukalski’s estate and the great bulk of his existing art under the name “Archives Szukalski.” In 1990, they published The Lost Tune: Early Works (1913-1930), a collection of photographs taken by Szukalski of his own work in that period.

Among Szukalski’s admirers are Leonardo DiCaprio, who sponsored a retrospective exhibition entitled “Struggle” at the Laguna Art Museum in 2000; the Church of the SubGenius, which incorporates the Yetinsyny elements of Zermatism; and the band Tool, who recommended “any collection of works you can find by this man is well worth the effort”.

Szukalski’s works are on permanent display at the Polish Museum of America in Chicago. None of his work in Warsaw survived the destruction during WWII. In addition to the Laguna retrospective, notable exhibitions of his work include “The Self-Born” at Varnish Fine Art, San Francisco, in 2005, and “Mantong and Protong,” where Szukalski is paired with another unorthodox theorist of earth history, Richard Sharpe Shaver, at Pasadena City College in 2009.

In 2018, Leonardo DiCaprio produced a documentary entitled Struggle: The Life and Lost Art of Szukalski, which was released on Netflix as of December 21, 2018.