I was named after my father’s older brother Eugene, who usually went by Gene. My dad was born in 1917 and Gene was born in 1913. Gene was born in Toronto (I believe my dad was born in Montreal), but my father’s side of the family came up from the United States, where, as my father told me, my grandpa played violin in “pit bands” in Chicago, made and repaired violins, and in a whole other side to his life, was in the glove-making business.
Most of my dad’s family played music. My dad played clarinet and sax, Eugene played violin and viola, I believe Billy played cello and my Uncle Harold was a piano prodigy. Uncle Eugene learned violin-making from Grandpa Louie. Maybe others in the family played as well – I’m not sure.
Gene moved to the United states as a young man. Gene and Harold married sisters Eleanor and Virginia. Gene moved to Chicago with Eleanor and Harold and Virginia moved to New York, then Paris, then back to New York (that’s a whole other story). Gene worked as a violin repairman in the Wurlitzer shop, where he met Kenneth Warren Sr. Later, after serving in the military, Gene worked with Kenneth “Bud” Warren Jr at the Kenneth Warren firm after World War II.
I should say that I knew little of Uncle Gene’s life in America, but found out more several months ago. I had watched on YouTube an interview with one of my favourite musicians, David Bromberg, in which he mentioned that he had become an authority on American-made violins, and in fact owned a shop dealing in violins and violin repairs. I decided to write to Mr. Bromberg at his shop to see if he knew of Uncle Gene’s instruments. Mr. Bromberg kindly wrote me back, saying that while he wasn’t familiar with Uncle Gene’s instruments, he was familiar with his name, having heard it on various occasions at the Kenneth Warren shop in Chicago. Mr. Bromberg passed on an email address, which put me in touch with Elaine Warren, who generously put together a package of information about Uncle Gene for me, including the picture above, pictures of Uncle Gene’s instruments and Aunt Eleanor’s sculptures, and photos of Kenneth Warren Jr in the Knapik home.
Gene and Eleanor lived in an apartment at Michigan Avenue and Roosevelt Boulevard, which is now occupied by the Columbia Condo Association. I learned that they had a cat, and that they were gourmet cooks. Gene and Eleanor moved to Chesterton Indiana to the original homestead of the Graham family after whom the Graham Woods subdivision was named. They had some acreage there, near the East Arm of the Little Calumet River. Mrs Warren recalled they had a huge cooking range in the house. Elanor was known for tiny pies she backed using wild grapes from their land. She also recalled Eleanor’s visual art displayed in their home.
Gene played in a string quartet with another violinmaker from the Warren shop, Ole Steffen Dahl, who also moved to Chesterton. After Gene’s death, Eleanor donated the contents of his workshop to the Stringed Instrument Repair Program at Indiana University that originated under Ole Dahl and has continued under the direction of Thomas Sparks. My uncle’s instruments were noted especially for his using linseed oil as a varnishing ingredient. As well as violins and violas, Gene also made cellos based on the “Lord Aylesford” Stradivari once used by the famous cellist Janos Starker.
I may have met my uncle when I was a young boy but I don’t remember doing so. A couple years before his death, my parents visited Gene and Eleanor in Chesterton. I understand at that time, Uncle Gene was quite ill. I’m thankful to have connected with Elaine Warren, who was able to give me a little bit of insight into my dad’s brother, after whom I was named. They’re all gone now, my father and his sister and all his brothers, but they’ve left some pretty interesting stories, and I’m sure it was from them that I received my own love of music.