William Grundke

   William (Bill) Grundke was born on December 13, 1906, the oldest son of a painting contractor, in what was once East Germany. He worked most of his life as a house painter following in his father's footsteps, learning his trade in Europe, before moving to Illinois in 1927. Through his many years of mixing colors to satisfy critical interior decorators and homeowners, he had a remarkable sense of color, which has carried over into his many avocations.

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   He began his artistic career working with oil paints while a young man recuperating from rheumatic fever, but had little time for this activity while working for a living at his trade. He built his own house during the slow winter season. He constructed another house, sold both, and purchased an apartment building, which he also managed. In 1930, he married a beautiful blond girl he had met in a bakery. She was the former Elfriede Wiese of Germany, noted by her friends for her baking and cooking skills. After their only son left home to serve in the Korean War, the couple bought a motel in Redding, California. They later retired to Carmel, where Bill took up woodcarving. In 1971 they moved to Leisure World retirement community in Laguna Hills, California. There, he once again had the opportunity to work with oil paint, and soon filled the walls of his home with paintings.

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   In an effort to find something that did not result in such a plethora of completed works, he took a Lapidary and Intarsia class in 1972 from Russ Hind, who was the instructor in the Adult Education Program and eventually a professor at the Emeritus Institute of Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, California. The lapidary shop in Leisure World, one of the finest in the country, is where Russ Hind taught classes for over 25 years. He was instrumental in introducing hundreds of individuals to this art form.
   Bill Grundke was his most enthusiastic and prolific student. He spent 12 hours a day in the lapidary shop, maintaining the machinery, helping to teach, and solving the many problems which plagued other commesso artists. His original works of art were seen and praised by thousands of people. Some were purchased by museums; others found their way to private collections throughout the world. He taught other people the inventive techniques he developed, which have been used by many contemporary artists. His unique methods have been documented in "Introduction to Lapidary" by Pansy Kraus. His series of articles in "Gems & Minerals" magazines in the early 1980's has the most complete description of how to make a commesso (intarsia) that exists to this day.

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   He completed 80 original commessi, mostly about 14"-16", and composed of high quality materials in superbly chosen colors. For over 16 years he was the most prolific artist in the country, especially when one realizes that the average time to complete a commesso like his, is three to four months. Among Bill's favorite subjects were portraits of our country the way it used to be; nostalgic pictures such as "The Sleigh Ride", "Tranquility", and the "Town Clock".

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   Unfortunately Bill had deteriorating eyesight and had not been able to work on a commesso since 1989. His enjoyment then came from reminiscing with his son Connie, passing on the knowledge that he had developed over the years. In 1995, William Grundke was elected into the National Rockhound & Lapidary Hall of Fame at the Pioneer Museum in Murdo, South Dakota. His big win was due to his meticulous craftsmanship, his originality, his patience and generosity, and his leadership in the challenging art of Commesso di pietre dure e tenere. Bill passed away in January of 1999 followed by Elfriede a year later. This database is dedicated to his memory.

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