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 U.S. and abroad, including the Brooklyn Museum, The Met, The Whitney and the Library of Congress.
Respected in art circles around the globe, Csoka was also a resident of Woodhaven for almost 30 years, creating many of his pieces from the studio in his home on 87th Street, just north of Jamaica Avenue. He lived a long and fruitful life, passing away in 1989 at the age of 92.
One of his most amazing pieces of work is a personal series of paintings that formed a collection entitled “Marital Milestones,” annual gifts from the artist to his wife Margaret.
Frank Csoka, the artist’s son (and a talented artist in his own right), explained, “He gave my mother a drawing or a watercolor painting every year on their anniversary and it would depict the important things that happened to them in the previous year of their marriage.”
One of the anniversary gifts which will be on display is from 1963, depicting the family’s move to Woodhaven. In it, the family is shown working together on the new house, which needed plenty of work when they bought it.
“When my father came from Hungary he was rather well-known there, he had won many awards. But when he came to the United States, there was very little interest in looking at a foreign artist’s work,” Frank said. “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 you also see a stork representing the pending arrival of their third grandchild, and son Frank graduating with honors.
Starting in 1935 and lasting throughout their marriage of over 50 years, this collection is a unique visual autobiography which allows you a very personal and at many times humorous glimpse into the life of an artist and his family.
Stephen Csoka was a remarkable artist who possessed many other skills and created a wide variety of styles of art. One of the skills that he excelled at was the creation of etchings on copper plates. Once the copper plate was prepared, Csoka would cover it with a very thin layer of wax.
He 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 grooves 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.
One etching that Stephen Csoka created and won an award for was a detailed and chaotic street scene all created within the tiny space of a few inches. Some of his work that would be of special interest to residents of Woodhaven and surrounding neighborhoods in Queens would be his paintings of the landmarked Forest Park Carousel, both of which will be featured in an upcoming book by the Woodhaven Cultural & Historical Society.
One painting is a lovely depiction of the original carousel, the one that burned to the ground in December 1965. There are precious few photographs of this legendary carousel and this beautiful painting may end up being the best depiction of this long, lost amusement ride.
Another painting was created in the wake of that disastrous fire. Csoka lived nearby and took his camera up to the park a few days after the fire. The result of that visit would be a stunning painting showing the horror of a burned out carousel, the charred horses frozen in time, seemingly trying to escape.
These days, we don’t always take the time to get to know our neighbors. The shame of that is that one of your neighbors might be a very talented artist. For many years on 87th Street in Woodhaven, that artist and neighbor was Mr. Stephen Csoka.
* * *
If you have any remembrances or old photographs of “Our Neighborhood: The Way It Was” that you would like to share with our readers, please write to the Old Timer, c/o Ridgewood Times, 38-15 Bell Blvd., Bayside, NY 11361, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Any print photographs mailed to us will be carefully returned to you upon request.