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Why a woodworker part 2

Why a woodworker. Part 2.
Curly Ballou elementary school North Adams

Curly Ballou 1903
My maternal grandfather, Clarence. M. Ballou, was born in North Adams, Massachusetts. The Ballous were one of the earliest New England families. He graduated from Cornell in 1907 with a specialty in Mechanical Engineering. His working career in the steel and railroad industries began in Braddock, Pennsylvania, where he married my grandmother and started a family. In the1930s he became Vice President and General Manager of the Cleveland Railway Corporation, later President of the Steel Warehouse Association in Cleveland, and at the time of his death Vice President of the American Creosoting Company.

I’m lucky to be in possession of his college scrapbook when he was a Cornell student. It is filled with theater reviews and playbills of both college dramatic productions as well as items from the New York stage. He loved the theater and acquired the nickname “Curly Ballou”which was a take off on a leading actor of the day,  Kerle Bellew.

As I mentioned in the previous post, I never knew him, so all the anecdotal personal information about him I picked up from my grandmother and mother. In addition to his love of theater was a love of furniture. You’ll see in the following pictures very fine portraits of room settings in my grandparents’ home in Cleveland. According to my grandmother, he personally restored quite a number of old pieces, many of which he found being discarded on the curb, covered in paint.

(Click on any image to enlarge)

Ballou BedroomBallou Dining RoomBallou Dining 2Ballou ParlorBallou Parlor 2Ballou Parlor 3Maple chest of drawers showing paint

I have often considered what it was like to grow up in that time period in America. The exponential growth of post Civil War industrialization changed cities as well as rural landscapes to such an extent that, while there must have been great excitement about progress, there must also have been a sense of what was being lost, overlooked, and no longer considered to be of value. I imagine that Curly had a keen sensibility for the vanishing world of artisan made goods, contrasting so starkly with his professional world in the giant industries of steel and transportation. It would have been a tonic to spend time in a workshop bringing back to simple dignity these useful hand made objects.

He also took delight in making things, as can be seen in this Christmas present.
Curly's handmade Christmas
I’ll end this post with a photo of a cherry table that has come to me from my grandparents’ home. I can’t say for sure if he bought it pretty much as is or if he restored it. What I hope the picture shows are the hand plane marks on the top. It wasn’t sanded perfectly smooth and flat. It has a texture, an individual character that catches my interest. It ties in directly to one of my woodworking heroes, the recently departed James Krenov, who encouraged craftsmen to leave their “fingerprints”.
Cherry tilt-top table
Thanks, Curly, for saving the fingerprints.

Clarence Maturin Ballou 1886-1948

Clarence Maturin Ballou 1886-1948

9 comments to Why a woodworker part 2

  • What a treasure you have in these links with your family heritage. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and the images.

  • betsy

    Hi Tico,
    I LOVE these pictures ~aside from the beautiful furnishings it’s fun to see how the rooms are so carefully arranged and details around them. What a cozy abode! Do you know who the kids are in the Christmas picture?
    There is a gentleman from Mass. that I see at the Carriage driving shows all the time. He trains driving horses, his name is Charles Ballou. I wonder if it could be the same family??!!

  • Thank heavens for people like your grandfather who appreciated well made furniture and saved several pieces from an early demise. The cherry table is especially nice and reminds me of some Shaker tables I’ve seen. Your grandfather sounds like he was a very interesting man.

  • tico

    The children in the picture are my Uncle Tom and my mother, Frances. Here’s a link about the Ballou Family : Way more than you want to know. They are really extensive in New England. We have a portrait of one of the most famous, Hosea, a 19th century theologian. Courtney wont let it hang anywhere because he has such a forbidding countenance! If you recall the Ken Burns Civil War film, the very worked-up scene (“Ashokan Farewell” playing sentimentally in the background) with the “Dear Sarah” letter written just before the soldier’s death at first Bull Run- that was another relative, Sullivan Ballou.

  • tom ballou

    Tico, this is news I didn’t know and I’m Curly’s grandson too……….he died when I was 6 months old so like you had to rely on Mary (grande dame) for anecdotes.
    I see in the pictures my desk, your chairs, and assorted other things…….very cool

  • Elizabeth Reid

    This is great Tico… What a good thing to do for the kids’ sense of the history of your family.

  • tico

    Yes, if this blog is around for thirty years, they might read it!

  • Hey tico, wonderful job. you really did capture that sense of the moment in this. i had no idea curley was such an artisan. bravo to both of you. m

  • This article some creative! Keep up the worthy work!

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