Bernard Vonnegut, K’s father's father.
Clemens Vonnegut, the Free Thinker and founder of the Vonnegut Hardware Company, and his wife Katarina begat Bernard Vonnegut, who was from earliest youth artistic. He could draw and paint with skill. Bernard was extremely modest and retiring. He had no intimates, and took but little part in social activities. He was never a happy, extroverted personality, but was inclined to be reticent, shy, and somewhat contemptuous of his environment.
Thus, Bernard was a freak in the family for being able to draw and paint so well at an early age. He was also unsociable, and evidently unhappy in Indianapolis most of the time. Like his brothers, he attended the public schools, the German-English school, and then the Indianapolis High School then situated at Pennsylvania and Michigan Streets. Recognizing his talents as an artist, Alexander Metzger, a friend of his father, suggested that Bernard be given a higher education. He was then sent to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston, where he studied architecture. He later studied in Hannover, Germany, and then worked as draftsman, for a couple of years, with a leading firm in New York.
Returning to Indianapolis in 1883, he engaged in the practice of architecture, first in his own office and later with Arthur Bohn in what became the well-known firm of Vonnegut & Bohn, whose successors are in practice today. This firm designed and supervised construction of many fine residences and public buildings in Indianapolis, including the first Chamber of Commerce, the Athenaeum, the John Herron Art Museum, the L. S. Ayres store, the Fletcher Trust Building, and many others.
He read the poems of Heine with delight. He was highly cultivated in the arts, but his sympathies and inclinations were definitely Germanic. He and his family frequently lived abroad, and he sent his two sons to school in Strasbourg abroad, and he sent his two sons to school in Strasbourg when they were quite young. He fathered three children: Kurt, born in 1884; Alex, in 1888; and then Irma, in 1890.
Aside from his attachment to his profession, Bernard took little participation in the social or civic life of the community. He confined his activities to the arts.
Bernard's wife, Nanette, had a thorough training in and acquaintance with musical literature, but she did not share her husband's other interests. When their children attained an age to enable them to make objective judgment, they agreed that their parents' marriage was not a particularly congenial one. Kurt and Irma definitely identified with their father, while Alex identified with his mother. Unlike his brothers, Bernard was never robust physically. He suffered much with indigestion and headaches.
The family legend is that Bernard Vonnegut when a boy wanted to be an artist and then became stagestruck and wanted to be a theatrical designer, but learned that almost no one could make a living at that--so he became an architect instead.
The legend says that he was happy and productive and even sociable as a young architect in New York City. But then he was told by his family that it was time for him to come home to Indianapolis and to marry a woman from a nice German family. He was to surrender to the gravitational pull of the tremendous mass of respectability which his father and mother had amassed in the American wilderness in a little more than thirty years.
When he got back to Indianapolis, where the practice of the arts was regarded as an evasion of real life by means of parlor tricks, the things that made him happy or sad were equally meaningless to his relatives and neighbors. So, yes, he became as silent as a clam. He died. He died of intestinal cancer at fifty-three in 1908, so he did not see any of his grandchildren. He did not even see his children married.