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Slovenian Heritage in America


Article # : 17851 

Section : CULTURE
Issue Date : 3 / 1990  3,256 Words
Author : Edward Gobetz

       Elaborate crafts and arts have long flourished in the northern Yugoslavian republic of Slovenia, ranging from wrought-iron sculptures to carved and painted dowry chests and cribs to lace making, embroidery, and beehive painting. Immigrants from Slovenia naturally brought their crafts, hobbies, and artistic skills to America, where they have often been preserved and occasionally developed into higher forms of art.
       
       A glance at the four generations of the Prazen family in Utah illustrates continuity inherent in much Slovenian-American artistic endeavor. As Gary Prazen recounts, his father, Frank Prazen Jr., the son of immigrants from Slovenia, learned from his stepfather, Marko Havat, the trade of blacksmithing and welding. In time, Frank felt an urge to make metal art. He also became an inventor, creating the tandem axle equalizing device, which received a U.S. patent in 1941.
       
       Three of Frank Jr.s sons - Gary, John, and Richard have subsequently become world-renowned sculptors in their own right, as has Gary's son, Dan. While all the brothers are versatile in many forms of metal art, Gary has developed a special predilection for sculptures of cowboys and miners. John, fascinated with history and ethnicity, has created a sculpture series, "Family of Man" and a collection of the figures from the early American West. Combining a rigorous quest for historic authenticity with his artistic skills, he strives to convey the true pride and dignity of Native Americans. Richard, the youngest of the three brothers, is known for his masterful renditions of animals, in particular the American bald eagle.
       
       Like the Prazens, other Slovenian-Americans have displayed a particular interest in the arts. According to Gerald Govorchin, Leonard Volk, who organized the first art exhibition ever held in Chicago and helped found the Chicago Academy of Design, was of Slovenian descent. Volk's son, Stephen Arnold Douglas, in his turn, gained an international reputation as a painter. In the 1920s the Slovenian immigrant painter Harvey Gregory Prusheck was repeatedly referred to by American art critics as the best of the modernistic painters of Chicago. Another notable artist is Ivan Gosar, whose religious art has been preserved by the Smithsonian Institution.
       
       Professor France Gorse, a prominent refugee sculptor and painter from Slovenia, is represented in many American, Canadian, and European Churches, private collections and museums, including the Museum of the Vatican in Rome.
       
       Michael Lah, who learned cartooning as he made numerous posters for Slovenian events Waukeegan, Illinois, is the creator of "Tom and Jerry." One of America's foremost animators, he owns Quartet Films and is producer-director for both live action and animation television commercials.
       
       Steven Rebeck, the first sculptor graduate from the old Cleveland Institute of Art (in 1912), made portrait plaques of John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and created the Shakespeare monument for the Cleveland Cultural Gardens. Frank Wolcansek was art director for the award-winning film John Paul Jones and created the artistic backgrounds for the Oscar-winning Crunch Bird. Others who should be mentioned include cartoonist Donald Orehek; sculptor, painter, and printmaker Lillian Brulc; painters and restorers Joseph Vodlan and Miro Zupancic; sculptor Bogdan Grom; sculptor and designer John
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