Birth of Electricity is a new discovery for the Louis Grell Foundation as of March 2014. This large painting was purchased…
Photos taken by Ali Peterson
The following article mentions Richard Grell and the Louis Grell art exhibition.
By Annemarie Mannion, Chicago Tribune reporter
Tucked in offices above the glowing bulbs of the York Theatre’s art deco-style marquee in Elmhurst, a tiny association works to document the history of movie palaces that once stood as focal points of Chicago neighborhoods and suburban downtowns.
The Theatre Historical Society of America, founded in 1969, relied on volunteers and one paid staff member for years. In the last 18 months, that has changed. Today, four professionals staff the facility, and research fellowships attract scholars from across the country to learn more about the history and cultural influence of movie houses.
The society, supported mostly by membership dues for years, was in danger of shutting down as interest declined.
“For a long time we were a nostalgia-based organization,” said Rick Fosbrink, executive director. “People were there to remember about their time as ushers.”
Some early society members, the ones who brought firsthand recollections of the local landmarks, died, leaving large bequests that kept the society going and helped support marketing efforts to increase membership. Those gifts also have reinvigorated the mission of the museum, which archives information about picture palaces that once thrilled audiences with exotic architecture, uniformed ushers, larger-than-life murals, crystal chandeliers, ornate plaster domes and velvet drapes.
“We had to shift away from just being a collector of stuff to an organization that educates the public,” Fosbrink said.
A renovated research center unveiled this month adds room for visiting scholars and staff who used to labor in cramped conditions to understand the impact of the movie palace and the film industry on American culture, history, commerce, architecture and decorative arts.
“Previously if someone was doing research, it was hard for staff to work. Everybody was in one room and everything (in the collection) was in other rooms,” Fosbrink said.
The 900-member society’s archive contains millions of items, some of which are still in boxes and have not been cataloged because of a lack of time and resources.
With information about 16,000 theaters, it is a treasure-trove for scholars and enthusiasts who seek architectural plans, blueprints, documents, photographs, news accounts, dioramas, ads, models, posters and artifacts.
“The reason the movie palaces stayed so popular is because of their indelible architecture that you can’t replicate or replace very cheaply,” said Ross Melnick, assistant professor of film and media studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara. “They are timepieces from the 1920s and 1930s. Once you tear them down, they are gone forever.”
As a recipient of a theater society fellowship, Melnick spent a week last year in Elmhurst researching a book about theaters built overseas in cities such as Havana and Kolkata, India. Those movie palaces thrived as American ones declined after an antitrust ruling in the 1940s that caused film companies to divest themselves of the theaters they owned.
The decline of movie palaces was hastened by the introduction of TV, but Melnick said they were an icon of American culture long after their heyday.
Theatergoers reveled in the structures that were often the most luxuriously appointed public places they could easily access in their town, whether it was in the flatlands of Nebraska or a palm tree-shaded street in Miami. The picture palaces promised escape.
“The fantasy was that you’d be queen or king for a night, for 25 cents,” Melnick said.
As the single-screen theaters fell into disrepair, some closed or were demolished. A few were restored and repurposed for live entertainment while others sit shuttered awaiting a similar transformation. A few continue to show movies.
“A community’s movie theater was often a social center for the community,” said Willis Johnson, owner of eight historic theaters. He bought his first one, the Tivoli in Downers Grove, in the 1970s and believes theaters keep business districts thriving.
The new research center is named in honor of Johnson and his wife, Shirley, funders of the renovation. They also own the Classic Cinemas chain, including the building where the society is located. Fosbrink declined to say how much the renovation cost but said it was significant.
The society’s archives, Willis Johnson said, are valuable for restoring those social centers that may have been altered or remodeled to the point that their original state is a mystery.
“It’s got both a historic and an economic benefit,” said Nancy Baker, city planner for Woodstock, where an ornate plaster dome was uncovered during renovation of the Woodstock Theater, also owned by Johnson.
She’s thrilled to have a theater that mixes old and new downtown.
“It has been on Main Street a long time, and it looks like it has. Visually, historically and aesthetically, it’s a landmark,” Baker said.
Founded by Ben M. Hall, a historian and author of a book commemorating America’s movie palaces, “The Best Remaining Seats,” the society’s collection was first kept in private homes. In the 1970s it was moved to the University of Notre Dame. In the early 1980s, it was sent to a church in Chicago and then in 1991 to Elmhurst.
The fellowships, launched last year, create research opportunities for people like Melnick and Richard Grell, who sought answers after a friend sent him information that indicated his great-uncle, Louis Grell, painted unsigned murals in the Chicago Theatre.
“The family rumors were that he was an art professor, that he painted the Chicago Theatre and that Walt Disney was one of his students,” said Richard Grell. “All of that was true, but there was so much more.”
The research yielded enough material for an exhibit and 25-minute documentary “Discovering Louis Grell: Vision and Versatility.” The exhibit and documentary were unveiled Jan. 17 at the University of Nebraska at Omaha Art Gallery.
“I came away with images — actual images of what he did,” said Richard Grell of his visit to the society. “Their collection was incredible. My days in Elmhurst were my most significant.”
See more at http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/suburbs/elmhurst/ct-movie-theater-museum-elmhurst-met-20140130,0,6707264.story
By KATIE SCHUBERT, KIOS News
An exhibition of works by a Council Bluffs native opens next Friday at UNO.
It’s called “Discovering Louis Grell: American Muralist.” Grell was born in 1887 in Council Bluffs and died in 1960. His murals appear in places such as the Chicago Theatre, Union Station in St. Louis, and the Times Square Paramount in New York City.
His grand-nephew, Richard Grell, says the paintings in the UNO exhibition are from the family’s collection.
“He was mostly known as a muralist, but you’re going to find family portraits there, you’ll see landscapes, fantasy-type paintings, and you’re going to see a lot of mural studies that ended up in our family, that he would send to our family over the years. So everything’s coming from the Louis Grell extended family.”
Grell hopes the exhibition will become part of a larger project showcasing his grand-uncle’s works.
The exhibition will be open at the UNO Art Gallery through February 20th. Richard Grell will also give a lecture on January 23rd about Louis Grell’s work. More information is available at www.unomaha.edu.
See more at http://kios.org/post/art-exhibition-features-works-council-bluffs-native-louis-grell
By Kirby Kaufman / World-Herald News Service
Six pieces by Louis Grell, an artist and Council Bluffs native, were moved last week from the Pottawattamie County Courthouse to be displayed at the UNO Art Gallery in Omaha.
Those works — which include three paintings, two drawings and one mural — will be a part of an exhibit at the University of Nebraska at Omaha that also will feature a student documentary about Grell. The display runs from Jan. 17 to Feb. 20. The pieces will return to the courthouse following the UNO exhibit.
Grell, who died in 1960, is known for his 20th-century murals that have been displayed in national landmarks such as the Times Square Paramount in New York City, the Netherland Plaza Hotel in Cincinnati and the Chicago Theatre.
The artist’s grand-nephew, Richard Grell, said his relative also emphasized art education.
“Louis was an art educator most of his career,” Richard Grell said.
Richard Grell, a member of the Louis Grell Foundation, actively searches for more information about his great-uncle in an effort to find undiscovered murals and paintings. The foundation was created to collect, archive, preserve and exhibit the work of Louis Grell.
In 1916, Louis Grell worked as an instructor at the Academy Fine Arts in Chicago. Six years later, he became a teacher at the Art Institute of Chicago where he taught various design and illustration courses.
Louis Grell won many awards including the Harry Frank and the Municipal Art League prizes. His work was exhibited 25 times at the Art Institute of Chicago.
For UNO students, the gallery was the result of a semester-long class that taught art curation, said Charley Reed, the university’s media relations coordinator.
The class cataloged more than 60 original works of Louis Grell and offered opportunities to work under the guidance of numerous professional art professors and curators in the Council Bluffs and Omaha metro area.
“It’s a great educational opportunity for students to learn about a nationally recognized artist,” Richard Grell said. “It helps students put together a show using his collection.”
See more at http://www.omaha.com/article/20140116/NEWS/140119057/1694#uno-students-learn-curating-bluffs-native-louis-grell-gets-his-due
By: Jobeth Devera, KETV
OMAHA, Neb. —University of Nebraska at Omaha students are helping people appreciate fine art by showcasing an unknown artist who has turned into a local icon.
The students are transporting some age-old artwork and setting up an exhibit to honor a world-reknown artist and Iowa native.
“My granduncle, Louis Grell, was born in Council Bluffs in 1887 and lived there until 1900 when he went to Europe to begin training to become an artist, then he was based out of Chicago until 1960 and painted murals all over the country,” said Richard Grell.
Louis Grell’s work didn’t quite hit the spotlight until after he died in 1960.
“He was a very private artist and didn’t like to promote his career,” said Louis Grell.
So the UNO students are showcasing his work for him.
“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity that we’re not going to be able to do again. The circumstances are just unbelievable to make something like this happen,” said Candace Berger.
Although his work has been featured in bigger art galleries, this is the first exhibit solely dedicated to Louis Grell.
“You get to come in and see a local artist who made it in the world,” said Jean Rowe.
Discovering Louis Grell American Muralist Art Exhibit will run Jan. 17 to Feb. 20 at UNO’s campus.
By Kate Howard Perry / World-Herald staff writer
The works of Council Bluffs native and muralist Louis Grell have never had a comprehensive exhibit. University of Nebraska at Omaha art students have never curated an exhibit from start to finish.
Both will happen in the UNO Art Gallery, where an exhibit of Grell’s paintings and drawings opens Friday.
Art majors researched, selected and even hung and labeled the works through a class designed around the creation of the exhibit. The students organized themselves into teams – research, curating, archiving material and writing the labels that would accompany the art at the gallery.
“This class is incredibly unusual,” said Amy Morris, assistant professor of art history at UNO, who led the seminar. “Most of our history classes are more academic — follow a textbook, look at certain images.”
But this class offered students the rare opportunity to look at a local artist who was commissioned for more than 100 murals in the early 20th century but hasn’t been heavily researched.
Morris brought in the curator from the Joslyn Art Museum to teach the basics of creating an exhibit and members of the Grell family to discuss their research. She also took the class on a field trip to the Grell family farm in Council Bluffs.
The project started a couple of years ago when Richard Grell, the late artist’s grand-nephew, brought some of his family’s paintings to the Gerald R. Ford Conservation Center to be conserved and mentioned that he hoped to display them someday. A staff member there suggested that UNO might be interested, and the idea of building a seminar around creating the exhibit was born.
Richard Grell visited with distant family members around the country to acquire more pieces on loan and formed a foundation in September dedicated to acquiring and keeping together the art of Louis Grell, who died in 1960.
Last fall, the class began its work.
Richard Grell attended almost every class and said just hearing other people discussing his grand-uncle was shocking, since everything he knew before he started his research — he has a mural in Times Square, he once taught Walt Disney at a Chicago art school — he heard from inside his family.
“To sit in the classes and hear other experts talking about Louis Grell’s style and technique, it blew me away,” Richard Grell said.
For students in the class, it provided an experience that’s hard to get as an undergrad, said Candace Berger, a senior art history major who was one of the curators of the exhibit. Berger has a work-study job in the gallery and hopes to work in a museum after graduation.
She and her classmates learned how much goes into an exhibit, including framing and measuring photos to hang at eye level and telling a story with the order of the pictures.
The class was a big time commitment; Berger didn’t really have a Christmas break as final preparations were underway. But as the class finished hanging the pictures this week, Berger said seeing the physical manifestation of their work was amazing.
“It was very rewarding that we could work together to do this instead of staring at pictures on a wall or a teacher’s PowerPoint,” she said.
Now she can add curating to her résumé, Berger said, which shouldn’t hurt when she starts looking for a museum job either.
See more at http://www.omaha.com/article/20140116/NEWS/140119057/1694#uno-students-learn-curating-bluffs-native-louis-grell-gets-his-due
Exhibit Dates: January 17th through February 20th at the UNO Art Gallery
The University of Nebraska, Omaha is taking on a significant challenge. A senior seminar will commence during the Fall Semester 2013, where an entire class will research, catalog then exhibit approximately 45 original works by Louis Frederick Grell. The plan is to research the artists’ prolific career, under the guidance of experienced art professors, select approximately 45 original compositions to be exhibited at the UNO fine art gallery in Omaha starting January 17, 2014 and finally catalog the works selected by the students.
The Grell family is very excited about this incredible opportunity for an exclusive selection of Louie’s works to be honored by the UNO faculty and students participating in the seminar.
The exhibit will begin January 17 at 4:30 PM and run through February 20, 2014.