Edward Guglielmi -- Italian Master Stonecutter and Architect -- My grandfather
- Isernia, Italy - a Third Century B.C. City 65 km from Rome
See Isernia, Italy, a city built 300 years BC and the birthplace of my grandfather. It is only an hour car drive from Rome, Italy.
The Maestro - the teacher
To me he was just Grandpa Guglielmi. I remember the family dinners with all my aunts, uncles, and cousins and all that great Italian food and grandpa sat at the head of the large, large, dining room table. I grew up having a wonderful grandpa from Isernia, Italy. He came to America in 1920 to visit his aunt in Philadelphia, PA. He met my grandmother, Theresa Feola, and fell madly in love. They were married in 1923, and he never returned to Italy except to visit. He lived in Pennsylvania for the rest of his life, became an American citizen, and he and my grandmother had four children: Cosmo, Kathryn, Alliene, and Norma. I am Kathryn's eldest daughter.
Edward Guglielmi was born on January 18, 1900 in Isernia, Italy approximately 120 miles southeast of Rome. Isernia is a city that is an educational center which has attracted scholars from great distances for advanced studies and it still does today. At age 14 he had completed designing and architectural school and graduated the equivalent of an architectural engineer. He then moved on to Florence, Italy and studied more architecture and design. His final exam was to design and reproduce the brass doors as Ghilberti had done on the Florence bapistery. He passed his final with a grade of "sobresaliente" - A, Then, he served in the Italian Army during WWI, finally coming to America in 1920.
While in Philadephia, he met Charles T. Eastburn, a prominent stone dealer and quarry owner. The two men developed a long lasting friendship and Eastburn was able to persuade my grandfather to move to Curwensville, PA to become superintendent of the Roaring Run Quarry which Eastburn owned. The quarry was one of the best in the east coast and was a sandstone quarry. Eastburn produced and shipped stone for numerous projects through out the eastern region of the U.S.
My grandfather spent a lifetime building with stone, first as the superindendent at Roaring Run Quarry, and then in his later years self-employed as an architect and stone mason. He left his hallmark on numerous churches, bridges, state and federal government buildings, museums, colleges and university campuses and municiple and private projects throughout Pennsylvania.
He worked on Princeton University's Chapel. Here the chaple's architect climbed scaffolding to observe my grandfather's work and commented: "I don't know what I'm doing here. This man already knows more than I could ever tell him." My grandfather also worked on the chapel at Pennsylvania State University in State College, PA and yes, he knew the infamous Joe Paterno.
During the 1960's my family was living in New Jersey just across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, PA. I was fortunate to have my grandfather working in Philadelphia at the time. He was doing reconstruction work on Independence Hall, Elfreth's Alley, Betsy Ross' house, and the Ben Franklin Printing Shop. When I was in the fourth grade I organized a field trip for the class to Independence Hall and my grandfather gave my class a lesson on how to lay brick. It was very cool and interactive. My grandfather let a couple of the boys put the mortar on and then lay the bricks along the string keeping them straight. I was heroine for the day because I got us out of school and on a field trip. It is one of the best memories I have of my grandfather.
One time, during the summer when my sister and I were back in PA visiting with my grandmother (my grandfather was deceased), she dragged my cousins and my sister and me, to the movies one night to see "Rocky." I say "dragged" because, except for the boys, we didn't want to go see a boxing movie. I thought, how awful and boring. Well, the reason she took us all to the movie was to show us the stairs Rocky Balboa runs up in triumph at the Philadelphia Art Museum. My grandfather had poured those stairs. Suddenly, I loved that movie. And in the back of my foggy mind, I did remember my grandfather mentioning that when we lived in NJ. He did pour those stairs in the 1960's sometime. He also worked on the Philadelphia and Washington, DC Mints on the outside construction.
Edward Guglielmi had a great love working and building with stone and it was his passion for six decades. I kid you not, many of his colleagues and peers called him "the Michelangelo of the New World." He could take a block of stone and cut it into any shape or finish. He was an artist and a sculptor who could carve letters or designs in stone with a chisel and mallet as fast or faster than the machines designed to do that. He was also a perfectionst that attacked his work.
This story about my grandfather and great-uncle is true and my grandfather became famous for this incident. My great-uncle Frank is the one who would always tell it, so there were never any hard feelings. One day at the Roaring Rock Quarry my great-uncle Frank (my grandmother's brother) had spent considerable time cutting a block of stone. He triumphantly showed it to my grandfather saying it was finished. My grandfather took one look at it, picked up the nearest sledge hammer and with mighty blow smashed it to pieces. "Now it is finished," he declared. Needless to say, my great-uncle Frank perfected his stone cutting skills.
There are many more stories about my grandfather and his years as a stone cutter. But, this last one I'm sharing is the most precious one to me. In his later years my grandfather had a stroke. He would sit me down and tell me stories upon stories of growing up in Italy, his schooling, becoming an architect and stone mason, and his work on buildings and bridges. I think he knew he was going to die soon and wanted me to know all this about him.
One day he took me to the basement of their house and took me under the stairs. There he moved some other items and pulled out an old, dusty brown portfolio. Inside, was all his artwork and sketches he has done as a young man in Italy. I was amazed at his work. It was really good. He told me I could pick one drawing from the portfolio to have for myself. I picked the portrait of the girl you see on this page. He then put the portfolio back in its place under the stairs and told me I was not to tell anyone about the portfolio. But, when he died, I was to go to the basement and get the portfolio. He wanted me to have it and all the contents as a rememberance of him after he had died. When that fateful day came in 1976, I did as he instructed. When I showed the portfolio to my mom and grandmother they were stunned. No one had ever seen the portfolio and no one had known it even existed.
I told my grandmother he had allowed me to pick a sketch when he first showed me the portfolio and I have always kept that one. It now hangs on the wall in my living room. But, I gave the portfolio to my grandmother. I thought she really should have it. We could all share in his art and sketches then. And we all have. We all have copies of all his sketches from the portfolio, but I am the only grandchild that has one of his originals. I guess it is because I was the one that would listen to his Italy stories and all about his work. Of course, when I became older I traveled to Isernia, Italy many times and met all his brothers and sisters.
My grandfather died in 1976 from complications of another stroke. But, he left behind a permanent legacy, not only to his family, but to everyone in the U.S. from all the buildings and bridges he worked on, designed and built over the many years he was an architect and stone mason. When I walk on the campuses of Princeton and State College I recognize the PA sandstone and his work. I had a cousin that held his wedding in the Princeton Chapel and another cousin that held her wedding in the Penn State Chapel in reverence to my grandfather and his work. We are all so proud of Grandpa Guglielmi and his legacy!
Copyright (c) 2012 Suzannah Wolf Walker all rights reserved