Edward Parker and Snickerfritz, His World of Pure Imagination
A trip to Snickerfritz, the Edward E. Parker Museum of Art, is an ascension into the mind of Edward Parker himself: his passions, his politics, and his process. Nestled in the heart of what was East Cleveland’s Millionaire’s Row and surrounded by a few of his rentals—including a bed and breakfast—this may be one of Northeast Ohio’s best-kept secrets. Every space is covered from wall to wall with one piece more remarkable—vexing, perplexing?—than the next. And the basement? A maze of works in process at every turn. Parker himself will take you on a tour, and it’s like a chocolate Willy Wonkaland if Willy worked with paint, pencil, and sculpture instead of candy and. But author Roald Dahl has nothing on Snickerfritz—just ask Parker himself. We sat down to talk about his legacy, drawing emotion from bronze and clay, and trust in the arts community. Michael Jackson. And kids.
JI: (sits down, extends hand) Good to see you Mr. Parker.
EP: (points to jimi’s face) Boy, where’s your MASK!? You need a mask!?
JI: Um. No. I’m vaccinated.
EP: (scowls, hands him a mask) SO WEAR A MASK.
JI: (puts it on, sits back, looks around the room) Now, how long you been in this building?
EP: (has a seat) Since I was 42.
JI: And you’re?
EP: I’m 80.
JI: So that’s a long [bleeping] time.
EP: Long time. This was East Cleveland Clinic before Cleveland Clinic.
EP: You wouldn’t believe what I paid for this building.
JI: (shrugs) Sure I would. Tell me.
EP: $20,000 cash. I didn’t know it was as big as it was, so I got a hair salon and bookstore, a couple of living spaces, apartments.
JI: Do you still have them here?
EP: Yeah. I’ve got a place on the third floor, two places in the lower level. My studio, a school, is in the lower level. I rent this out for various kinds of events. I got other real estate as well. But THIS is the home of Snickerfritz, and it’s called The Edward E. Parker Museum of Art.
JI: Yes. Snickerfritz was your nickname. Is that right?
JI: What does Snickerfritz … what does that mean?
EP: Sweetheart. Cutesy. My grandfather called me that—it’s a Pennsylvania Dutch German word.
JI: When did you start getting into art? How old were you?
EP: I started art school in the fourth grade. I was doing this every Saturday at the Toledo Museum of Art.
JI: Uh-huh (affirmative). And what kind of work did you do there, when you were that young?
EP: All kinds of pencil drawing, painting. I switched to sculpture when I got older and saw that there was a lot of painters.
JI: That’s a real transition from going from fine painting and pencil and paint which are your thing, to going from the tactile use of clay and clays to make sculpture. How did you do that and—
EP: (interrupts) There was a high school teacher in Toledo. I went to see him when I graduated, and he talked to me. He said, “You’re a pretty good painter, but if you take a sculpting class, it’d make you a better painter, because you’ll be thinking three-dimensional.”
JI: But that sounds too easy though. You can’t go from painting to sculpture without a lot of work.
EP: You got to do it every day. The more you do the better you will become.
JI: How do you draw emotion from clay?
EP: (shrugs) Work at it.
JI: And I remember, one of my favorite pieces is your Ben Vereen / Chicken George piece, which definitely speaks and emotes: it has its own presence. Making that transition from making a painting scene to making a sculpture scene, there’s secret sauce. Listen, you don’t have to tell me, although I would very much—
EP: (scoffs) The secret? (leans in, pauses) The technique is subordinate to the message. (draws back in his seat, long pause…smirks.) That’s heavy ain’t it?
JI: (blinks) Let me ask you, I mean, why create, why be an artist?
EP: Hell of a question. Why am I an artist? Because I know I can do one piece and make enough money to take me the rest of my life.
JI: Fair enough. What do you think about the next generation Black arts here in the city?
EP: I think they’ll do better than [the old guard] if they pay attention.
JI: Pay attention to what?
EP: To the people that come before them, how they did and what they did. You got to listen and learn and believe in a higher spirit.
JI: What is it that the arts community of Cleveland doesn’t understand?
EP: Trust. They don’t trust us, we don’t trust them, and we don’t even trust ourselves.
JI: Is there one piece, just one piece in this place that personifies Ed Parker and the life that he’s lived, and the legacy that he looks to leave behind?
EP: I got several.
JI: Maybe just your top two. (we saunter into the main gallery space)
EP: Well, Chicken George and then Michael Jackson are the two—they’re about love, life and the pursuit of happiness. (pauses) I just hope my kids appreciate my legacy.
JI: T’yeah. Kids don’t appreciate shit.
EP: You got kids!?
JI: I DO have kids.
EP: How many?
JI: I’ve got three.
EP: Their ages? What’s the oldest?
JI: 20, 22 and 32.
EP: (incredulous) You got a kid of 32?
JI: Yeah, man.
EP: (pauses) Damn.
JI: (sighs) Yeah, man.