When Skotschau became Skoczów after 1918, my father and his older sister Helen were teen-agers. Even though they were living in a new country, their cultural orientation did not change. Their native language was German, their cuisine kept its decidedly Austrian flavor, and Vienna was still the city they went to for music, theater, art.
Theirs was the third generation to enjoy the comfortable life made possible by the success of the family enterprise and the first to harbor ambitions of cultural patronage. That desire was awakened by the artist Frederick Sinaiberger, the man Helen married in 1926. (They were later to change their name to Serger.)
“Fritz,” came from a wealthy manufacturing family in Ivancice, Moravia –a town in the new state of Czechoslovakia that had also once been part of the Austrian empire. On marrying Helen, he sold the shares he held in his family’s company, invested the money in the Skoczów tannery—known from then on as Spitzer-Sinaiberger—and improvised a life as a gentleman artist in his wife’s hometown. They enjoyed long stays in Paris where he participated in the Salon d’Automne and in 1936 had a one-man show at the gallery Bernheim Jeune. But when Helen and Fritz took on the role of patrons, it was Austria they turned to for inspiration.
I first began to piece together their circle when visiting Vienna with my mother in 1996. An exhibit of paintings by Sergius Pauser ( 1896-1970) was on view and she recalled that the Austrian artist had often visited Skoczów before the war. What surprised us both was the biographical description at the start of the show stating that Frederick Sinaiberger had been Pauser’s patron between 1934 and 1938. I now understood why several of his canvases had been among my uncle’s possessions. Pauser, it turned out, had been a regular summer visitor in Skoczów and the two artists had spent time painting together and sharing models. One of them was the raven-haired, green-eyed wife of the Czech architect Jacques Groag.( See Pauser above, Serger, below). Groag, in turn, designed my parents’ home after their marriage in 1937.
With the Groags, the Skoczów circle had a direct line to the Vienna avant-garde. Jacques Groag had been an assistant to Adolf Loos in the 1920’s and served as the director of construction for the Vienna town house designed by Ludwig Wittgenstein for his sister Margarethe Stoneborough (1926-28). Hilde Blumberger (later known as Jacqueline Groag), was a successful textile designer who had studied under Josef Hoffman at Vienna’s School for Applied Art. Her designs, which were much in demand in both Vienna and Paris, were given special recognition at both the 1933 Milan Triennale and the 1937 Paris World Expo.
As I began to find out more about the various participants in this “Vienna on the Vistula,” the Sinaibergers had created for themselves, I made another intriguing discovery. It will be the subject of the next post.