“It was like a gift from the past,” says Adamic’s boss, Ron Koenig. “He put his name up fifty feet off the ground where no one could see it, with the thought that someday someone would see his name.”
Many people know that Law School alum William Cook (class of 1882) gave the money for the beautiful Law Quadrangle. Historians are well aware that York and Sawyer, well-respected East Coast architects, designed the buildings. But until Adamic discovered Bock’s note, the artisans who decorated the building had remained uncredited.
A city directory of the time shows a Herman R. Bock and his wife, Elizabeth, living at 435 South First Street. His occupation is listed as “painter.”
“Decorative painters were the unsung heroes” of historic buildings, Koenig says. “They traveled from project to project and kept a low profile.” Although they’re rare, Koenig had previously run across a couple of other examples of artisans who have left their names to posterity. In the early 1990s, when he was working at the state capitol in Lansing, he found the name Frank Baumgras written on the top of a door frame. The door was poplar and pine, treated to look like walnut. Koenig did some research and discovered that Baumgras was only peripherally involved in the decoration—his brothers and nephews did most of it—so it’s possible he signed his work because he was unused to anonymity. The name was left intact, with a piece of Plexiglas to protect it.