Faith resident Dick Ludwig was a master stonecutter

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 27, 2011

By Kent Bernhardt
For the Salisbury Post
If he were alive today, Cohen Ludwig would cringe if he heard you call him an artist.
He thought himself to be a mere stonecutter, or stone craftsman at best. But an artist? He was far too humble to wear that title.
Forgive me Cohen, but you were an artist, and a good one at that.
Cohen Chester “Dick” Ludwig would turn 100 on Nov. 6 if we were still fortunate enough to have him with us. He was a fixture in the Faith community for many years, leaving behind much of the county’s beloved stone work that continues to grace our landscape.
I knew him as “Uncle Dick” in my younger days, the man of boundless energy who lived next door to my grandparents. On school mornings while waiting for my grandfather to give me a lift, I’d watch him stride to his truck, lunch pail in hand, ready to take on the new day. “There goes Uncle Dickum in the truckum” a young cousin of mine was fond of saying.
His oldest daughter, Patty June Jung, now a resident of Buies Creek, remembers him as a man who struggled with the effects of the Great Depression; a creative, sensitive dreamer who was always planning and wondering how to support a family through difficult times.
“He was a natural, self-taught, no pretense person,” she recalls. “He always encouraged others to find what they enjoy doing, and get paid to do it.”
So in the 1950s when America was dreaming of rockets and going to the moon, “Dick” Ludwig was dreaming too.
“He would spend his days at the rock quarry dreaming of the beautiful works that could ooze from a simple chunk of granite, the very granite beneath our feet. He would carve roses so real, you would declare that there was a fragrance to their solid form.”
His dreams had to be tempered with reality along the way. He had mouths to feed, so he would sell insurance, transport people who did not have cars to work destinations, and for a while he even measured people for tailor-made suits working for the Progress Tailoring Company.
At the end of the day, there was his hammock. His beloved hammock.
“There he would relax and dream of the heavens, UFOs, satellites, travel, and of course, how to cut stone more efficiently,” Jung recalls.
She remembers that during the family’s early suppers, held around 4:30 each day, his place at the table contained silverware and a pencil.
“He would explain and diagram his day’s work for us. I, with my knees in my chair, would lean across the table to admire his upside-down sketches of roses, crosses, ivy leaves and religious symbols; the very items he would later preserve in stone.”
He was able to procure some land from Ray McCombs to build a small office and work area for cutting stone. The building still stands in Faith today beside the Faith Legion building.
“It wasn’t unusual for daddy to play hooky from Sunday School at Shiloh Reformed Church to go over to the office and draw for 45 minutes before he took his place in the church choir for worship service.”
Most of his regular work was done for Salisbury Stone Industries by contract to be sent to various places throughout the United States. The little shop, which he called “Art in Stone,” made it possible for him to do works for the local community.
With special arrangements with his employer, he would use a larger space at his day job to accommodate large pieces of stone, like the big John figure high atop the bell tower at Rowan Memorial Gardens.
In August of 1957, his niece, Marcia Kaye Hess Austin and her 8-month-old son were killed in an automobile accident. Ludwig was so touched and saddened by the event that he wanted to do something special for the gravesite.
The “Austin Angel” became his introduction to the local scene. Many other works would follow, including the “Christ on the Wall” rendering for the Shiloh Reformed Church Educational building, and the “Woman at the Well” at Wittenburg Lutheran Church.
His talents became well-known, and in the ’60s when the state of Georgia took over the work of art that was to grace the side of Stone Mountain, his phone rang. The designers were in need of skilled artists and quarriers who could complete this major undertaking.
Ludwig felt he was destined to try, even though he suffered severely from acrophobia, a fear of heights.
To prepare himself for his task, he went to the mountain for a week and sat high above the ground on a catwalk, a permanent platform built on the side of the mountain.
“After concluding that he could do it, and with the promises of crew members to help him with safety, he agreed to go.” It was his dream come true.
Even though the project received much publicity, including an article in Southern Living Magazine where he was referred to as “a genius,” Ludwig received no recognition for his work on the project at the May 1970 official dedication. “It was like he never worked there,” Jung sadly remembers.
Through the efforts of his children, he was finally officially recognized just as Atlanta began preparing for the 1996 Olympic games. Ludwig, though, would not live to experience that honor.
“In the spring of 1970, we began to notice some neurological irregularities in his movements. By summer’s end, we had a diagnosis of metastatic brain tumors. Years of smoking and working in rock dust had taken their toll.”
Surgery would give him extra months, but gone was the vibrance and energy that produced his amazing art. Ludwig died quietly on a Sunday night, just before Valentine’s Day in 1972 at the age of 60. He left behind four adoring children and the love of his life, wife Ida Ruth, the woman he fell in love with when she was ten years old and he was eleven.
Most of us dream of leaving behind something of worth; something that says we were not only here but we lived, we dreamed, and we accomplished our goals.
Cohen Ludwig did that and much more. He left his dreams in their most enduring form for us to enjoy. They’re carved in beautiful stone all around us, where they will live on hopefully for the next thousand years.
Legacies don’t get much better than that.