A RARE FIND — This mural, which is titled “Man’s Confidence in Man,” was painted in the then-Citizens Bank of Springville in late 1935, by Louis Grell. The artwork is now partially covered by duct work and hidden by a dropped ceiling. Photos courtesy of Richard Grell and the Concord Historical Society.
SPRINGVILLE — Richard Grell’s quest to locate his late great-uncle’s murals led him to unearth a Springville painting that had been hidden, out of sight, for many years. His mission has taken him all over the United States and on a tour of several of the country’s oldest historic buildings.
Grell’s great-uncle, Lewis Grell, was born in Council Bluffs, Iowa, in 1887. His parents, Louis and Magdalena, recognizing the artistic talent in their son, sought to provide him with the best education available. He attended the Hamburg School of Applied Arts in Germany, as well as the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Munich and the University of Munich.
A FAMILY AFFAIR — Louis Grell (center) is pictured at his home in Chicago with his wife, Friedl (right) and sister Helen, in 1957.
After he spent time designing sets for stage productions in New York City, Grell was asked to join the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts as an art instructor. In 1917, Walt Disney, who was still a high school student, took evening classes at the academy, under Grell’s tutelage.
Grell was also commissioned to do murals of various sizes at theaters, historic hotels and banks, all over the United States. “That was his primary source of income, even during the depression,” Richard Grell said. Louis Grell completed his first mural, in Salt Lake City, in 1907, at the age of 19. That piece, a 10-foot by 275-foot depiction of Brigham Young’s introduction into the Great Salt Lake Basin, is titled “This is the Place.”
The muralist, a private individual whom his great-nephew called “very anti-publicity,” often did not sign his artwork and did not do many interviews, so it is currently unknown exactly how many Louis Grell murals are in existence.
A Council Bluffs historian recently approached Richard Grell with information and articles regarding his great-uncle. Grell, who had grown up, surrounded by his great-uncle’s paintings, became increasingly curious about the ancestor whose artistic influence can be seen all over the country. “I exhausted the entire Internet,” he said. Although his law enforcement background provided him with an extensive list of researching resources, Grell said he realized he would need to leave the office, to see these murals and paintings, in person.
“My dad had recently passed away and I decided to do this sort of as a tribute to him,” Grell said. Last year, which marked the 125th anniversary of Louis Grell’s birth year, Richard Grell and his girlfriend, Lena Johnston, hit the road, to document the Grell legacy. They have been pursuing this quest since January 2012.
CHECK IT OUT — An American Indian/pioneer-themed mural hangs above the vault in the Town of Persia City Hall in Gowanda.
The couple’s most recent trip brought them to the Western New York area, in search of Citizens National Bank, which research listed as being located in Gowanda. While Gowanda’s Persia City Hall does feature a 10-foot by 5-foot Indian and pioneer Grell mural, Richard Grell discovered that the Western New York area boasted a mural he had not known existed, prior his trip to Springville.
BACK IN TIME — Pictured is the former Citizens Bank of Springville, now the site of the current Springville Village office, as it was when Louis Grell arrived to paint his mural.
According to Concord Historian David Batterson, the former Citizens National Bank, which was actually located on Main Street in Springville, was sold, by HSBC Bank, to the village, for $1, several years ago. As renovations were done to that building, 10 years ago, in anticipation of the village office’s moving over from Franklin Street, a dropped ceiling was put in place, to hide duct work. The renovations also hid a 78-year-old, 10-foot by 10-foot Louis Grell mural, titled “Man’s Confidence in Man.”
After Richard Grell checked into the Springville Microtel last week, in anticipation of a trip to see his uncle’s mural in Gowanda, Springville Administrator Tim Horner tipped him off to the existence of the painting at the village office. “This is a rare find,” Grell said. “The painting shows two burly guys’ holding hands. I think he was trying to portray hard-working men. It was the middle of the depression, after all.”
PIECE OF HISTORY — Renovations done 10 years ago, to the Springville Village office, left Louis Grell’s mural hidden by a dropped ceiling and covered by duct work.
Grell said that, as happy as he was to discover another of his uncle’s paintings, he was disappointed that the mural is hidden, not only by a dropped ceiling, but by a heating duct. “If they re-exposed that, I would come back for the grand opening,” he said, with a laugh. “It was kind of off my track to come here, but then I found both of these.”
Following his trips to see the Springville and Gowanda murals, Grell and Johnston headed to Niagara Falls for the weekend, before their journey took them to Cleveland, Detroit and Bay City, Mich. Grell said that he has seen approximately 30 murals, total, on his trip. “It’s very important, historically,” he said.
FULL OF TALENT — Louis Grell is shown at the Tree Studios Art Colony in Chicago, surrounded by his depictions of the stations of the Cross.
Louis Grell completed murals at such locations as the Chicago Theater, the Northwestern Military and Naval Academy, the Paramount Theater in New York City, the Union Station in St. Louis, the Mayflower Hotel, the Rotary Club of Chicago and the Mark Twain Hotel. He also painted 58 life-sized figures at the Notre Dame de Chicago Church. “He was very versatile,” Richard Grell said. “He also did portrait work and illustrations.”
Approximately 20 – 25 percent of Louis Grell’s murals are religious art. He also often incorporated Greek and Roman mythology into his work.
While the Grell family is funding this quest, Richard Grell said that he is hoping to obtain grants to assist him in unearthing his uncle’s artwork.
He will be a consultant for an upcoming curatorial seminar at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, which will have a Louis Grell exhibit. In addition, a Newport News college will also feature Grell, in a seminar.
“As an individual becomes more well-known, his work becomes more attractive to the public,” Richard Grell said. “I have committed to this, hoping to educate people.”
Much of Grell’s research can be seen online at www.louisgrell.com
. Louis Grell died in 1960, leaving behind an artistic legacy for his family and the world to discover and appreciate.