A woodcarver’s tale of Cleveland before the fall

The crown above the baptistry, once the altar, of the Rosary Cathedral in Toledeo, carved by Andrew Galloway of Cleveland. Jim Galloway, jgalloway@ajc.com

The crown above the baptistry, once the altar, of the Rosary Cathedral in Toledeo, carved by Andrew Galloway of Cleveland. Jim Galloway, jgalloway@ajc.com

Your television set is about to distill Cleveland down its momentary essence: Specifically, 5,000 Republicans bottled up with Donald Trump, surrounded by thousands more — protesters and cops included — pounding the sidewalks outside.

Should the cameras pan beyond, you might catch glimpses of other symbols and memes of the city – good, bad and disturbing: Skeletons of steel mills, LeBron James, Tamir Rice, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Euclid Avenue, pierogis, and freshly fried filets of walleye and perch out of Lake Erie.

You will hear the word “comeback” time and again in connection with Cleveland. But if a city is to recoup itself, some understanding of what once was is necessary. Digging is required. Over the last three or four years, my wife and I have made several trips up I-75, searching – in partnership with an Ohio cousin – for our artisan grandfather and his work.

What we found was Cleveland before the fall.christmascard

We discovered a churning, polyglot city of workers who were more skilled than educated, a pre-Depression haven for immigrants and others in need of second and third chances. A place for free enterprise on the fly, wealthy but fickle, where industries and jobs appeared and disappeared with regularity. We were required to concentrate on churches, a course I’ll explain, and discovered a city and region with a religiosity that might surprise Southerners who think they hold a patent on the topic.

Our quest had many starting points. One of the oldest was a 1958 Christmas card, sent by our grandparents to their seven sons. It featured the photo of a manger scene carved decades before in raw white oak, a beautiful bas relief of Joseph, Mary, the baby Jesus, and a pair of hovering angels. Where was the real thing? Did it still exist? Nobody knew.

***

Our particular branch of the Galloway family tree was saved at least twice by a chisel. Some years before 1914, a tool in the hand of a young Scottish woodcarver named Andrew Galloway slipped and severed the tendon that controlled his right forefinger. One result was that, for the rest of his life, Grandfather held his wooden mallet with a three-fingered grip.

Andrew Galloway, c. 1930

Andrew Galloway, 1934, from the Cleveland Press

A second consequence was a happy one for his descendants. A working stiff without a trigger finger is of limited use in a Great War. His brother-in-law, kilted in the photos we have of him, wouldn’t survive the Battle of the Somme. Grandfather would spend five years in the relative safety of the British home guard.

Andrew Galloway came of age as an apprentice in Glasgow, and would tell of carving much of the detailed woodwork in the lounges, libraries and bars of two sister passenger ships – the Mauritania and the Lusitania. Yeah, that Lusitania.

“A huge Scotsman from the John Brown shipyards,” was a description of Grandfather that my wife Judy, the researcher of our team, pried out of an obscure journal.

Uncles born before World War I would remember playing dress-up with the ship figureheads that littered the house. After the armistice was another matter. British ship-builders were sucked deep into the brutal recession that followed, and luxury woodcarvers became expendable. Icing is worthless without the cake.

Grandfather needed a new home for both his family and his skill. He hopped ships bound for New Zealand, Australia, even South Africa, we’re told. He settled on Cleveland. Ba-dum-bump.

For decades, I’ve considered that a punchline. I have now reconsidered. Ninety years ago, the destination made a world of good sense. Cleveland was the biggest city between New York and Chicago, a bubbling, boom-and-bust manufacturing center always in search of the next big thing. No one industry dominated, but nearly every industry had a stake.

According to the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History, economic stasis wasn’t Cleveland’s thing. A passage: “[S]eeking profits in the face of constantly changing competitive conditions, the city’s business leaders carried out major acquisitions, mergers, expansions, deaccessions, and bankruptcies in virtually every industry in every decade.”

So there was risk in Cleveland, but there was money, too. And there were churches.

We don’t know when Grandfather decided that religion was the last, best refuge for a woodcarver. Family lore says he made an initial foray to New York City and participated in a renovation of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. But we have not found the proof.

We do know that, at age 39, Andrew Galloway crossed over Niagara Falls into the United States on Aug. 6, 1923. His wife Georgina and their children stayed behind. A son would be born in his absence. A young daughter would die.

But Andrew Galloway was at work, carving churches, within two days of his arrival in Cleveland. He was hired by the Theodor Kundtz Co., the largest employer in the city. Kundtz was a German-speaking immigrant from Austria-Hungary, whose core business was making cabinetry for home sewing machines, according to his biographer, Christopher Eiben.

A sideline of that business was the making of church furniture. And a sideline of that sideline was a small stable of high-end, German woodcarvers who now had a huge Scotsman in their midst. This made sense in Cleveland.

“Until the Depression, the city had a vast amount of wealth, and it was continually growing in population booms. If you’re looking at churches, they are a growth industry. The ability to spend on ecclesiastical structures was fairly pronounced,” said John Grabowski, an associate professor of history at Case Western Reserve University and editor of the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History.

A baptistry sketch from the files of Andrew Galloway

A baptistry sketch from the files of Andrew Galloway

But it was more than population growth that made churches a hot market. Kundtz, a Catholic, was a prime example of how Cleveland developed. He served as migration pipeline for his hometown, just east of Vienna. Cleveland, in many ways, was Europe writ small. Dominant languages shifted from street to street: Polish, Italian, German, and more.

This presented a problem for Cleveland’s Catholic diocese in particular. One church per parish wouldn’t do. A local church was required for each language spoken, and each one needed to look something like the one that its congregants left behind. Grandfather, a Presbyterian by background, had found a new cake that required a great deal of icing. Gothic icing.

***

“[The diocese] ended up building numerous ones in a specific area, simply to meet the ethnic needs of the area. That provided a surfeit of churches, which worked at the time, but now has become problematic,” Grabowski said.

Old Cleveland and its ethnic neighborhoods are long gone. That “surfeit” of churches is now a burdensome surplus, a fact that has given some urgency to our search. Many churches are being cast off, along with everything inside them, and not just within the Ohio’s Catholic diocese.

Fire has claimed some. Others have succumbed to style. This spring, we barreled into a targeted Cleveland church, armed with a monopod and cameras, only to find it under renovation. A 70-year-old, hand-carved reredos – the ornamental screen behind the altar — had just been removed, and was being replaced by a massive TV screen.eviljester2

How do you conduct a hunt for a woodcarver’s lost work? In many families, a meticulous record-keeper rises up. Within our clan, that was my Uncle George, a lanky Garfield Heights postal worker who inherited many of his father’s 300 chisels (“gouges” is the current term) and all of his records – photos of items still on the workshop floor, newspaper clippings, some wonderfully detailed work sketches and one or two books on furniture that provided inspiration.

His daughter, Barbara Galloway Mudrak, a journalist-turned-English teacher, has done much of the Ohio legwork and most of the photography for our small team. But it is my wife who has filled several ringed binders with the names and details of more than 50 churches stretching from New York to Chicago.

We cousins grew up with an understanding of Grandfather’s ability to make wooden angels weep. Cherub faces were a specialty. But the real power of Andrew Galloway’s talent might be better found in the frame for a shaving mirror he carved for himself from a single block of wood, in the form of an evil jester. It has a face remarkably similar to his own.

We don’t know how old it is, but an evil jester is just the kind of thing a man might whittle at when he needs a break from weeping angels, or when his wife is an ocean away and thus has no say-so in the decor. Grandfather gave the jester to Uncle George shortly after the son married. It so unnerved his bride that it spent the next 60 years in an attic. It hangs on my home office wall now. (I ain’t skeered. Not really.)

***

As mentioned, Cleveland’s economy was volatile. Andrew Galloway had been in Cleveland two years when his employer, Theodor Kundtz, sold his company to the White Sewing Machine Co. (Which is worth noting if only because White had recently lost a top executive in its motor vehicle division. Robert Woodruff had left to take the helm of a struggling soft-drink company in Atlanta.)

Yet the work continued, and within five years Grandfather was able to save enough money to reunite the family, and to meet his youngest son, my father, for the first time. They would have a year of prosperity together before the Depression hit.

Andrew Galloway was a stately family man of 47 when he found himself out of a job in 1931.

This is where Grandfather’s Cleveland adventure truly began. Unemployment would peak at 50 percent in the city, and would reach 80 percent in nearby spots like Toledo. “Starving artist” wasn’t a catchy cliché. It was a stark probability.

The other woodcarvers were let go as well, and all might have all faded into the soup lines. But they didn’t. They would hang together, and in the midst of the Depression, led by a huge Scotsman, would do the best work of their lives. Their chisels would save them.

Perhaps it was a Cleveland thing, but a small church-building network gathered around the carvers. At the urging of a local author and historian, Fredrick Webber, the carvers organized themselves as the Liturgical Arts Guild of Cleveland. Profits were to be shared among all. A designer, Fred Eckhart, was president. Andrew Galloway was vice president and chief woodcarver.

A workshop photo of carved but unfinished work. Note the organ pipes in the background.

A workshop photo of carved but unfinished work. Note the organ pipes in the background. We tracked it down to St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Bronx, N.Y.

A place to work was of the utmost importance. The carvers found refuge in the Holtkamp Organ Co., then headed by Walter Holtkamp Sr. At least some of the rent was paid in carved cabinetry required for the massive pipe organs built there. Walter Holtkamp Jr., then a boy of six or so, may be the last non-family member in Cleveland with a memory of Andrew Galloway. He found Grandfather at work at his bench.

“I watched for a few minutes and asked him what the tool he was using was called. He told me it was a chisel. I thought about that for a bit, and then said that he must be a ‘chiseler,’” Holtkamp Jr., now 87, wrote in an email last year. “He was not very taken with that name, but the men in the shop who were working nearby thought it was wonderful.”

The organ factory is still there, exactly where it was 80 years ago and largely unchanged. Chris Holtkamp, grandson of the man who took in our grandfather, runs it. His masters degree in organ performance comes from Auburn University, but he is a fine gentleman nonetheless.

Then and now, the most essential feature of the Holtkamp workshop was the portion with a ceiling perhaps 40 feet high, essential for constructing an organ with tall pipes, some of which had the circumference of a man’s thigh. The raised ceiling was also crucial for massive towers of carved wood.

***

In an economic downturn, high-end production is usually the first to suffer, which is no doubt why the carvers were laid off. Grandfather and his team were betting against this assumption. And in this case, the bet paid off.

Church-building in the region shifted from a mark of prosperity to an essential jobs program. Including, perhaps especially, two expansive cathedrals whose construction had begun during good times.

The reredos at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Fort Wayne, Ind. Barb Galloway Mudrak/ AJC special

The reredos at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Fort Wayne, Ind. Barb Galloway Mudrak/ AJC special

Grandfather was something of a showman. In late 1932, an article and photo in the Cleveland Plain Dealer told of a hand-carved, 28-foot high reredos that had just been completed by the Liturgical Arts Guild. It would be on public display at the organ factory for several days – then taken apart and reassembled behind the altar of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Fort Wayne, Ind.

The wooden screen is still there, topped by a crucifix, with apostles and angels scattered throughout — though the white oak has aged into a deep shade of brown.

Other work flowed in, large and small. But it may have been a Spanish-style cathedral in Toledo that did the most to keep food on the Galloway family table.

This was the first line in a Plain Dealer article from Sept. 17, 1937:  “Two men who licked the Depression yesterday were relishing the sweets of a job well-conceived and executed after eight months’ work.”

A Plain Dealer clipping from 1937 of "two men who licked the Depression."

A Plain Dealer clipping from 1937 of “two men who licked the Depression.”

In the accompanying photograph were Fred Eckhart, the guild’s designer, and Andrew Galloway. The work was a massive, seven-foot high, 22-piece crown that would top the altar of the Queen of the Most Holy Rosary Cathedral, located in what was then a plush part of Toledo. Not so much today.

Other sources put Grandfather’s name to even more intricate works at the Rosary Cathedral, pieces that must have kept his family fed for years. The staff has been most helpful on our many visits, and receptive to our efforts to insert Andrew Galloway into the cathedral’s official history.

It was on our third visit up I-75 to Toledo that we showed Monsignor Charles Singler one of the many bas reliefs that Grandfather photographed before he allowed them to leave the workshop. “I know where that is,” Singler said.

And so, last April, Judy, Barb and I led a two-car caravan of three generations of Galloway cousins to Toledo. We were able to show them where that carved manger scene, the one in the Christmas card mailed nearly 60 years ago, had finally ended up – above an oak door separating the cathedral entryway from the soaring nave.

It was one of more than a dozen similar panels, above door after door after door, intended to tell the story of Mary. Most are probably Grandfather’s work, and they are in good hands.

Andrew Galloway died less than a year after he mailed that Christmas card. My life and his overlapped a short four years.  I think he would get a chuckle out of having his picture in a newspaper again, after 57 years beneath the sod. But I know he would agree that it’s never about the fall. It’s all about the comeback.

***

Postscript for RNC attendees: Trinity Cathedral on Euclid Avenue, seat of the Episcopal diocese of Ohio, is within walking distance of your gathering. It is a beautiful example of the work discussed above. We know the woodcarving was done by the Theodore Kundtz Co., though it may pre-date Andrew Galloway’s arrival in the U.S. Nonetheless, it will take your breath away.

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