The Becker family story begins in Germany the 1800s with Herman Macklett (1834 – 1884). An upholsterer by trade and violin maker by avocation, he was the first to show an interest in making violins.
Macklett immigrated to the United States and was a talented furniture upholsterer. He met Elizabeth Kahlert, whose brother made violins. Herman and Elizabeth moved to downtown Chicago to run a violin and upholstering store--Herman making instruments and Lizzy rehairing bows. Making violins from the 1860s-1880s, Herman would ultimately make about 150 violins, and they are a rare find these days.
Unfortunately, The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 destroyed their violin shop. They rescued the most valuable violins by stuffing them into large grain sacks and carrying them across the Chicago river.
Herman and Elizabeth had 5 children. One of their children, Adeline Macklett (1865 – 1959) was a well-known pianist. She would later marry a recent German immigrant, Carl Johannes Becker (1858 – 1921), a violinist and teacher.
In Germany, he attended the Stuttgart Conservatory, as well as studied under Edmund Singer and Joseph Joachim. Carl J. became a successful violin teacher, performer, and even concert master. In his lifetime, he became associated with leading professional organizations such as the Bismark Gardens Orchestra, the Chicago Civic Opera Orchestra, and Turner Hall Orchestra.
Adeline and Carl J. had a son, Carl G. Becker (1887 – 1975), whose active career spanned 73 years and encompassed every facet of the luthier’s art. After graduating grammar school at age 13, he apprenticed under a music store owner, William T. Lane, and made his first violin at 14 years old. Soon after, he began to work with Lyon and Healy, under the direction of John Hornsteiner. Once Hornsteiner opened his own violin shop in 1908, Carl G. joined him.
In 1924 he accepted an invitation from William Lewis & Son, a leading Chicago violin dealer, to become master luthier and instrument appraiser, with the understanding that they would allow him to spend summers up in Northern Wisconsin to make instruments...and to fish.
Successful fishing trip
Carl F. Becker, (December 16th, 1919 – January 30, 2013) was an American luthier and restorer. He had the reputation of “one of America's finest violin makers” and “the dean of American violin making”.
Carl Becker was a member of the International Association of Violin and Bow Makers (Entente Internationale des Lutheris et Atchetiers) and a founding member of the
American Federation of Violin and Bowmakers. Several important American luthiers trained under his guidance including his children, Jennifer and Paul Becker, Peter Beare, Eric Benning, Frederick Bethke, Rob Braun, Rafael Carabbas, Michael Lockwood, Michael McMann, Whitney Osterud, Daniel Prier, Charles Rufino, Jake Schultz, Sebastian Zens, and Samuel Zygmuntowicz.
Carl was the son of Carl G. and Elsa R. Becker, born in Chicago. He started apprenticing with his father at age 16, while still in school, making cello ribs. After graduating from high school in 1937 he worked for William Lewis & Son Co. under his father’s supervision.
In 1941 Carl was drafted into the Army. He ranked second in his Company in rifle marksmanship, with the rating of Expert Rifleman. He was selected, as one of eight men from his Company, for appointment to Officer Candidate School.
He wanted to fly, despite having just a high school diploma, which would generally make piloting aircrafts out of someone’s reach. After rigorous study and training, he was accepted by the United States Army Air Corps (USAAC) with the rank of Captain.
Carl trained pilots in the use of instrument panels. He finished his military career at the rank of Major.
When he completed his tour of duty, Carl F. continued returned to Chicago and the family tradition of violin making.
In 1948, he married Geraldine Smetana who would be his lifelong partner. They had four children. Two children, Jennifer and Paul, continued the tradition of violin making.
From 1946 to 1968 Carl Jr. worked with his father for William Lewis & Son. He worked there, under his father's supervision and quickly established a solid reputation for restoration.
The partners made their first Carl Becker and Son violin in 1948 In 1968 they opened their own shop in a multi-level building on Burling St. in Chicago. Their shop was offering new instruments, valuable old Italian instruments as well as repair and restoration services. The shop moved to Belmont Ave. in Chicago in 1972. With few exceptions, all Carl Becker and Son violins constructed between 1946 and 1975 were made jointly by father and son who divided the labor. Together they made over 770 instruments.
Carl Jr. made his first violin in 1946, after the death of his father in 1975, he by himself made 13 instruments. His time was spent in the restoration of fine instruments, serving musicians and training apprentices.
Much of his violin-making happened at a secluded cabin in Wisconsin, where he had a workshop built over the garage and enjoyed fishing. His time in Chicago was devoted to repairing and restoring violins. During 1970 and 1971 Carl Becker Jr. restored the famous Lady Blunt1721 Stradivarius Violin. Shortly after the restoration, the owner of the violin sold it at auction for the record amount of $201,600.This same instrument was again auctioned to raise money for the victims of the Tsunami in Japan – the auction price was$16,900,000.
The landmark recognition of Carl Becker’s skills marked one of the rare instances where a luthier is recognized for their restoration of an instrument.
After a life of love and dedication to his craft, Carl Becker passed away in January of 2013 at the age of 93, leaving behind a family legacy that would like on through his children.
Jennifer Becker was born on August 14th 1955, the third child of Carl F Becker and Geraldine Becker.
Crafting with her hands has been a lifelong passion. She started carving at the age of 8 and in 1966 she started in the violin business learning from her father and grandfather. Jennifer started her first violin in 1966 at age 11 and completed it at age 15. In 1970 (at the age of 16) she jointed the company full time.
By the age of 17, three violins were made and she had the honor of assisting her father on the restoration of a Stradivari violin, the first of many. Over the next few years she continued learning the details of restoration work and making fine instruments.
In April, 1978 she married Rom Jurewicz and moved to Minnesota. In between having three children - Eric, Stephanie and Alya - Jennifer dedicated time to collaborate with her father restoring fine instruments and making violins in the Wisconsin shop.
In 1986 Jennifer opened her shop in “Dinkeytown” located on the campus of the University of Minnesota.Rom passed away October of 2003 and the shop was closed two years later. For the next ten years Jennifer found it impossible to do much work “at the bench”. In 2014 she met Scott Blomgren at the Arthur Murray dance studio and married him in 2017.
Life after working in the shop is very busy with sewing, dancing, gardening, and playing the cello in the Golden Valley Orchestra. The new shop location in Saint Paul has been thriving and proved to be very productive.
Jennifer at age 16
Innovative ideas abound with Jennifer making a green colored violin cut like a gem that she calls “the Emerald”. Other colors and unusual shapes will be coming in the future. It has been a very full career filled with many fine instrument restorations, countless happy clients matched with their ideal instrument or bow, 33 violins finished and the latest #34 (the Falcon) delivered in December of 2020. At the age of 65 she hopes there will be another 20 years of making violins. She enjoys so much hearing the young up and coming musicians playing and learning on the instruments from the Becker Family Foundation, instruments that she worked on so many years ago.
Paul C. Becker joined his father (Carl F.) and grandfather (Carl G.) at the bench when he was 14. Paul worked with his grandfather to complete his first violin. Paul briefly left Carl Becker and Son, Ltd. to begin his own woodworking company specializing in custom furniture. He decided his heart was in violin making and he returned to the family business, although he continues to make custom furniture as a hobby.
Paul worked alongside Carl F. Becker managing the business until Carl F. passed in 2013. Paul now manages both Carl Becker and Son and Paul Becker violins.
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