The von Engelhardt family was displaced from Estonia after WWI and sought refuge in Germany. Friedrich (Serge) von Engelhardt found employment in a mass-production ceramic factory, where he made models of animals and lamps for sale in gift shops. Because the owner was not able to pay him, he acquired a kiln in lieu of wages. He built a small studio behind his parents’ apartment building from trees that he felled himself.
After the war, von Engelhardt immigrated to northern Canada where he worked as a farmhand to support his wife and children. Life was dire; they built a house from an old pig barn and eked out a basic living. The von Engelhardt family moved to Edmonton a few years later. Serge worked at odd jobs to support the family and spent the rest of his time in a studio he built in the basement of their house. He taught himself to make ceramic and porcelain sculptures, and through trial and error he created 400 different glazes for his ceramic wares. He sold a few sculptures, but the public took little interest in his creations of fantasy worlds.
The most spectacular of von Engelhardt’s work is his Atlantis collection, with re-creations of buildings that he imagined on the lost island. He intended them to be illuminated, and they are usually displayed with back-lighting.