Artist Interrupted | By Jason Tyson
05/01/2010 11:44AM ● Published by Anonymous
The S.S. Kristianiafjord arrived in New York Harbor on April 15, 1916, as it had done nine times a year since its maiden voyage in June 1913. As the first ship built by the Norwegian American Line, it stopped at three ports in Norway: Christiansand, Stavanger and Bergen before making its way across the Atlantic. It was at that final port of call, Bergen, that it picked up one George J. Novikoff who was fleeing his native country of Russia to start a new life in America. According to immigration records, he was born in the Russian city of Samara on Jan. 30, 1884. The ship’s manifest says he traveled alone though citizenship papers list a large family back home including a wife, Klavdia, born in 1885, and four children. (See timeline on Page 60.) Pittman and Parker family traditions told something more, the story of a soldier loyal to an ill-fated czar forced to flee his homeland. For 90 years, generations of the Pittman and Parker families owned and lived in the grand manor house overlooking downtown Fayetteville, handing down the story of George J. Novikoff along the way. But the facts were scarce, and despite hours of research, no records of a military career were located, just a clipping from a Baltimore newspaper describing Novikoff in 1933 as an emissary (and trained artist) sent to America to inspect munitions purchased by the Russian government. Novikoff remained in America where he applied to become a U.S. citizen and registered for the World War I draft. He took up residence in Philadelphia and was hired at St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church where his work is still visible today – almost all of the iconography in the sanctuary is attributed to Novikoff and his students from a nearby art school. We know that Novikoff stayed in Philadelphia until at least 1920 because he shows up in that year’s census, residing in a house occupied by the Martin family. He became a citizen just four years later, but by then, he had a Baltimore address in a neighborhood of row houses. His trail goes cold until 1933, the year he finished the two murals for the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore, both of which are still on display in the library’s Central Hall. By 1936 he had finished one of the larger murals at Stone Manor in Fayetteville and would finish another piece a year later. The artist never seemed to stay in one place long, bouncing between Philadelphia, Baltimore and Fayetteville. Novikoff’s World War II draft card for 1942 listed a Baltimore address, but he returned to Philadelphia that same year to touch up his work at the church. Then he was back in Fayetteville where he signed another mural in Stone Manor’s northwest bedroom on the second floor in 1947. The last 20 years of Novikoff’s life are a mystery, but thanks to Social Security records, his date of death and place of burial are now known. He died on June 1, 1967, and is buried in Parsons Cemetery in Salisbury, Md., 100 miles outside of Baltimore. Curiously, there is an Edith Novikoff buried next to him, but no further information was found. And what became of Klavdia and the couple’s four children? Possible records for Klavdia and one of Novikoff’s sons, George, appear in the 1930 census, which show them living in Palo Alto, Calif., she with a new husband. But while the names correspond, the birth dates do not. It is difficult to say for sure whether Klavdia even immigrated to the U.S. Did Novikoff ever see his wife and children again? Or did he remarry, explaining the Edith Novikoff buried next to him? We may never know. We also do not know how Novikoff met the Pittmans or if they were the reason he came to North Carolina. The artist’s life may or may not have turned out the way he imagined it. But his art and imagination have outlived him. Perhaps his dreams were realized in the art he created. It surely must have helped the Pittmans realize theirs. Next: The series concludes with a look at the history of the Pittman family and a look ahead at Stone Manor’s future.