Artist Stephen Csoka was born in Hungary in 1897 and trained at the prestigious Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Budapest. In 1934, he moved to the United States with his new wife, Margaret, and over the next few decades his paintings and etchings won many awards. He taught art for many years, both at Hunter College and at the Fashion Institute of Technology, and today his work can be found in the permanent collection of over 34 museums both in the United States and abroad, including the Brooklyn Museum, The Met, The Whitney, and the Library of Congress.
And he was a resident of Woodhaven for over 30 years. Here is a conversation we had with Stephen's son, Frank. Also a longtime resident of Woodhaven, Frank reached out to us after reading this profile of Woodhaven in the New York Times last October.
Stephen Csoka was also a resident of Woodhaven for almost 30 years, creating many of his pieces in his home studio on 87th Street just north of Jamaica Avenue. Csoka’s work was the subject of a free lecture at the Woodhaven Cultural & Historical Society at 1 p.m. on Wednesday, April 27, at Emanuel United Church of Christ at the corner of 91st Avenue and Woodhaven Boulevard.
The lecture was given by his son Frank, who was also an art professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology and a longtime resident of Woodhaven. Frank compiled his father’s work together in a beautiful book entitled “Endless is the way leading home: The art of Stephen Csoka,” which can be purchased here.
Here, Frank Csoka stands with members of the Woodhaven Cultural & Historical Society, holding a portrait his father did of the Forest Park Carousel - after it was destroyed by fire in December, 1966.
One of the highlights of the presentation was seeing the variety of skills Stephen Csoka possessed. One for of art that he excelled at was these etchings on copper plates. Frank Csoka described the process of preparing the sheet and then covering it with a very thin layer of wax.
Using these very tools, Stephen Csoka would then etch the drawing he wished to create into the wax. Eventually, the plate would be submerged into acid where the wax would protect the portions of the plate that were not etched (basically, the white portions of the final product). Once the acid etched grooved into the plate, and it was cleaned, ink could be pressed onto the plate and once properly cleaned, prints on paper could be produced. These were generally limited editions, and numbered, making some of them rare and quite valuable.
Here is one etching that Stephen Csoka created and won an award for - and the remarkable thing is that it's about an inch wide! It's a chaotic street scene, complete with a hot dog cart, all created within that tiny space.
Here is a closeup of that scene, taken from the slide show (which is why it's a bit blurry). But you get the idea.
Mr. Csoka has put together a show of his father's work entitled Marital Milestones (click here for a great sampling), annual gifts from the artist to his wife Margaret, which will be displayed next year in a show. As soon as we have details, we will pass them along.
“He gave my mother a drawing or a watercolor painting every year on their anniversary,” his son explains. “And it would depict the important things that happened to them in the previous year of their marriage.” One of the anniversary gifts is from 1963 depicting the family’s move to Woodhaven (see below). In it, the family is shown working together on the new house, which needed plenty when they bought it. “When my father came from Hungary he was rather well-known there, he had won many awards,” he said. “But when he came to the United States, there was very little interest in looking at a foreign artist’s work. So for the first seven years that he was in this country he was actually a house painter.”
In it, you see the artist climbing up a ladder to paint their new home and a stork representing the pending arrival of their third grandchild, as well as son Frank graduating with honors. Starting in 1935 and continuing throughout their marriage of over 50 years, this collection is a unique visual autobiography that allows the viewer a very personal, and at many times humorous, glimpse into the life of an artist and his family.
Here is a very interesting depiction of one of the chariots on the original Forest Park Carousel - if you look closely, there was a carving of a dragon on the chariot!
Another piece of Csoka’s work is a fascinating representation of the Forest Park Carousel. In 1966, the original carousel burned to the ground and the artist, living just a few blocks away, used the charred wreckage as the subject of a painting. “This is my father’s oil sketch done on location,” Frank said. “The finished painting is quite large and you will be able to see how his mind worked and the changes he made to turn it into a painting.”
For over three decades, the Csokas lived in Woodhaven on 87th Street - here is a glimpse into their attic, where Stephen Csoka worked and stored his paintings.
We had a very nice turnout for the presentation, which was very well-received. One of the things that people liked about this presentation was the wide range of styles of Mr. Csoka's creations. Our members also appreciated the way Frank Csoka kindly reminisced about this mother and father, and his recollections of growing up with them. Woodhaven is still very much a family-based community and his words rang true to our members. Our many thanks to Frank Csoka for a great presentation - and also to his wife, artist Wendy Csoka, who donated two books to be raffled off at our 50/50. You can view some of Wendy Csoka's work here, and you can also order her book.
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Photos by Joey Wendell