House Calls are the Wood Doctor's Forté
Victor Galko is one doctor that makes house calls – he has to because that’s where all his patients are. Galko is the Wood Doctor and for six years now, he has been tending to this area’s finest furniture and artwork. He has found a specialty niche in the local construction scene that has put him to work at everything from trim touch-up to painting restoration. But it wasn’t construction that first brought Galko to this area. In fact, it was a far removed profession – mining.
Back in his home state, Galko worked for the New Jersey Zinc Company. “When the economy slowed, the best money was in mining,” he said. “It was dangerous, but the money was good “
When the East Coast economy continued to nosedive, Galko took off on a road trip that ended at the Eagle mine in Gilman – also operated by the New Jersey Zinc Company. He worked there for two years. “Then the mine closed and I went back into the building industry.”
Before he began mining, Galko had worked with the New Jersey Historical Society on various renovation projects. He saw a local need for someone to do custom interior trim work, so he decided to specialize in that area. His first job was the 1978 addition to the Vail Valley MedicalCenter, followed by Dobson Ice Arena. From 1979 to 1992 he ran his own trim business, building everything from custom hearths and mantels to hidden passageways.
Custom Interior Trim Carpentry
One Beaver Creek home had an assignment that tested both his skills and ingenuity.
“I had to build these custom doors that had to hold 1000 bottles of wine, but that looked like a wall when the doors were closed,” Galko said. “That whole thing was to hide the fur vault and the jewelry vault behind it.”
As time rolled on, Galko got tired of “the whole construction scene.” “So, I figured I’d get into cosmetically repairing wood,” he said. “I thought I would do this and it would be easier on the body and the mind. I thought it was going to be a hobby, a little extra money on the side.”
But within a year, Galko had retired from carpentry and the Wood Doctor was making house calls full-time.
The Wood Doctor
General contractors were among the first people to sign up for doctors appointments. They booked Galko to come in after all crews had left the scene to touch up those dings and scratches that naturally occur during construction. “Then what started happening was word got out and homeowners started calling me for repairs – both structural and cosmetic.”
Preventative Wood Medicine
From there it was a short step to preventative wood medicine. Galko started taking on annual restoration and moisturizing contracts. The dry mountain air of Colorado is good for the lungs, but it’s a bit hard on the furniture.
“People are bringing antiques over from England, France, Hong Kong, Texas, the Carolinas, California and such and our humidity can go from 100% when it snows to 0% with sunshine, the next day. That means furniture has a tendency to dry out and crack. That’s the reason for moisturizing, to prevent that.”
“The customers love it because we put new life into their pieces.” Galko stressed that moisturizing pieces is a lot more complicated than smearing a bunch of furniture oil around. Before he applies anything to the wood, he researches its original finish to determine the right compound. “We don’t want to do something that will take away from the value of the piece,” he said.
Artisan Wood Craft
Overtime, the loving care he lavished on healthy antiques expanded into care for ailing ones. “What started happening is we started going into these homes working on precious pieces of furniture and artwork and opportunities started arising for us to get more into the artisan stuff.”
It’s a bit of an understatement to call that part of his business “artisan stuff. ” Galko has done everything from restoring 16th century frames to fashioning new fingers for a 300-year-old Italian marble statue. “We have actually taken work away from the New York Museum of Natural History,” Galko said. “I’m not afraid to jump into anything. Between the group I have working for me, there’s nothing we can’t handle in the art world. With the talent we have on board we could take a Monet and put a rip right through it and we could restore it to museum quality.”
In fact, Galko himself is a bit surprised about the latest turn his business has taken. “I saw the need for wood treatment but I never saw the need for so much art creation and art touchup. I feel very fortunate to have fallen into a niche like this but it can be very stressful.”
Just because something is old and valuable doesn’t mean its been well cared for, but when a customer opts to fix something he or she runs the risk of lessening its value. Galko is extremely careful to make sure that doesn’t happen. That means he has to get creative and currently is working on just such a case – a large and ornately carved antique frame that is dirty and cracked and missing several figures.
The first step is the restoration will involve a lot of research. Galco will pour over books from the same period to determine the type of carving and finishes that were in vogue at the time the frame was made. From there, he will fashion custom molds and work with dental cement to fill in missing pieces. After meticulously piecing it all back together, Galko will hand finish the wood and detail it with gilding. And, he predicts when it’s all done the customer will be astounded by the transformation.
“We are the good guys, we go in and fix everybody’s mishaps so our customer relationships absolutely golden,” he said. And like gold, those relationships are precious. “I had to quit advertising five years ago because there was so much work. Everything I do is by word-of-mouth, by customer referrals,” Galko concluded.
Originally appeared in The Vail Daily, Sunday, October 25, 1998. Written by Pam Holmes Boyd.