Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Exciting Discovery!

Today was one of those days where I wanted to jump up and down with joy! Another piece of the puzzle...

Yesterday I emailed the Design Archives at U.C. Berkeley looking for any info they had on Sam. This morning I received an email from Miranda Hambro, the Assistant Curator. She was quite helpful. She didn't know of any mention of Sam in their Julie Morgan collection, but to my surprise, she said that he was mentioned in the book, Building for Hearst and Morgan: Voice from the George Loorz Papers, by Taylor Coffman, 2003. Sam is referred to on page 316 and pgs. 341-42 in the notes. I was elated! The first time I've seen his name published.

I've been having quite a hard time finding out exactly what work he did at Hearst Castle (there is a lot), so this was a great surprise. Something in writing. Needless to say, I purchased the book online (it's out of print, but still available) and came to find out that he's also mentioned in another book by the same author, titled, The Builders Behind the Castles: George Loorz and the F.C. Stolte Company, published in 1990. Purchased that as well and anxiously awaiting for them to arrive!

Next on the agenda is locating the author, Taylor Coffman. I'm sure he has a wealth of knowledge, as he is an authority on Hearst Castle. I'll keep you posted!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Grace Cathedral: Part Two

The exterior of Grace Cathedral, late 12th and early 13th century French Gothic in inspiration

As part of an ongoing exploration of my great-grandfather's wood carving, yesterday's visit was to the landmark Grace Cathedral, atop Nob Hill in San Francisco.

I had previously posted some early photos of Sam in the studio with the magnificent organ covers, but had never actually visited the church.

Renee on the steps before entering the cathedral
My friend Renee and I started out early in the morning with an appointment for a private tour with Michael Lampen, the church's archivist. Michael has been with Grace Cathedral since the 1950's, and is a wealth of knowledge. He even had information in his office about my great-grandfather and family.

"The Doors of Paradise" --main cathedral doors
The main cathedral doors are gilded bronze replicas of originals make for the Bapistry of the Duomo Cathedral inn Florence, Italy

Unfortunately, it was a dark, rainy day and my camera didn't work too well. I'm going to have to return with a professional photographer and add to this post.

Grace Cathedral, an Episcopal church, is nothing short of awe-inspiring, from its concrete exterior and gilded bronze cathedral doors, to the massive high ceilings and stained glass-laden sanctuary. It is the third largest Episcopal church in the United States.

carving by Sam Berger
Michael spent almost two hours with us touring this magnificent church, from special back rooms to the breathtaking sanctuary. He went over every detail including important artists' contributions such as Benjamin Bufano, Dirk Van Erp and Charles Connick.

In addition to the larger work, small pieces of Sam's work are all over the cathedral such as this detailed piece above.

detailed doors carved by Sam...
and some additional doors in the back of the cathedral...

Organ covers that Sam carved
I gasped as I looked up at the massive organ covers that my great grandfather carved. Speechless, I could hardly take out my camera. I can only imagine what these look like when the sun is gleaming through the 68 stained-glass windows and the cathedral is bright.

early photo of Sam in the Pacific Manufacturing Studio, S.F. where the carving was done

"An often overlooked aspect of Grace Cathedral's great organ are the two spectacular English oak screens (1935), designed by cathedral architect Lewis Hobart and carved by Romanian-American master carver Samuel Berger. Weighing a total of 14 tons and assembled without metal nails or screws, they rise on either side of the choir, enclosing the two organ chambers. Carved detail includes robed figures holding songbirds, angel musicians playing instruments, dragons, and a profusion of foliage wreathing the upper portions of the screens." - Michael Lampen

another archived photo of Sam and crew in front of the organ covers

So, that was our day at Grace Cathedral. Breathtakingly beautiful to say the least! Definitely going back for more photos. Special thanks to Michael Lampen for the most fascinating tour.

If you're visiting San Francisco, I highly recommend you going to see Grace Cathedral. It is truly magnificent! Again, thanks for joining me!

Grace Cathedral
1100 California Street
San Francisco, CA 94108
(415) 749-6300

Saturday, April 17, 2010

St. Cecilia Church, San Francisco

This is the second in my series of posts about the wood carving done by my great-grandfather, Samuel Berger. Sam Berger's work has not been recorded, and this is my attempt to chronicle some of his work in a series of postings. I'm hoping that this will be a helpful resource/reference for my family, as well as anyone interested in California/San Francisco history or wood carving.

This post is a little long (lots of photos), so bear with me as I go through!

Exterior: St. Cecilia Church, San Francisco

My Great-Grandfather, Samuel Berger emigrated to San Francisco in 1904 from Bucharest, Romania, where he learned his trade as a second generation wood carver. I was fortunate enough to have known him; he died in 1970 when I was ten years old. He was the sweetest, most humble man.

Sam's woodcarvings grace some of California's most beautiful public and private buildings. His works can be found in many churches in San Francisco including, Grace Cathedral, Basilica of Mission Dolores, St. Peter and Paul's, Star of the Sea, St. Anne's and St. Brigid's, to name of few. Some of his crowning achievements were at Hearst Castle at San Simeon where he did most of his wood carving. Sam collaborated with the renowned architect, Julia Morgan, on much of his work.

church exterior
Thursday's journey began with a visit to St. Cecilia Catholic Church in San Francisco. My friend Renee and I took the day off, and what a treat it was to see this church in person. It was spectacular! We were greeted by the lovely Mary Scanlan, a longtime staff member, who shared stories with us, such as the altar of the church being a smaller replica of the Basilica of Rome.

St. Cecilia church saw many different locations in San Francisco. The current St. Cecilia, Colonial Spanish in design, is breathtaking in person. Its construction is reinforced concrete and cast-stone trim, with a roof of variegated Spanish tile, random-laid. We were told that much of the church design was influenced by France and Italy.

main church interior

We were introduced to Alvin Martin, Parish Manager, who was so very helpful in showing us around and identifying some of my unidentified old family photos of Sam's work that matched with some of the pieces in the church. Being Jewish, I'm not that familiar with some of the names of the pieces and what they represent or symbolize. Alvin was quite helpful in explaining. The pieces of the puzzle were starting to come together.

It was overwhelming to see and touch the magnificent work that my great-grandfather did. I can't even imagine...all hand carved.

Photo I located of Sam's carving of the Baldacchino (canopy) and crucifix located on the main altar of the church

The magnificent altar. The Baldacchino, crucifix, ceilings and altar railings, all carved by Sam Berger.

These are amazing in person. Such intricate carving.

Sacred Heart of Jesus before being painted
This Sacred Heart of Jesus was in one of my photo albums, among many other random photos of Sam's work. I had no idea that this piece was from St. Cecilia Church.

Sacred Heart of Jesus after completion
Our Blessed Mother before completion

Our Blessed Mother after completion. Isn't she beautiful?

The main altar railings, also carved by Sam BergerChurch pewsnotice the detailed carvingThe Ambon

He also carved all of the Stations of the Cross

Magnificent confessionals carved by Sam

close-up of confessionals

stained glass windows grace the interior of the church

The Lady's Chapel outside the main chapel - so ornate in person. Sam carved much of the work in the chapel, including the magnificent ceilings...

It's difficult to show just how incredible the carving of these ceilings are in person. It's truly overwhelming.

I can't imagine how many months, years (?) it took my great-grandfather to carve these...

The Baptismal font with Sam's carving on the back wall, and quite possibly on the font itself

Renee and I outside of St. Cecilia

Exterior of St. Cecilia School

There is even an ocean view from the church (can you see it in the background?)

What a glorious day it was at St. Cecilia's. One I'll never forget. Next week we're off to Grace Cathedral to see more of Sam's work. Thanks for joining me on my journey!

St. Cecilia Church
2555 17th Avenue
San Francisco, California 94116

photo credits: most photos, Lynn Goldfinger, Ambon & Stations of the Cross: Peg Harrison, black & white photos: family archives