Artist Louis Grell: From Unknown to Icon

Learning to appreciate fine art can be a slow process. In the case of Richard Grell, who never paid much attention to the beautiful art he had been surrounded by since he was a child, it has evolved from a mild interest to a burning desire. Art has opened the doors to learn about his own family history.

Richard is the great-nephew of Louis Frederick Grell Jr., who was born on November 30, 1887 in Council Bluffs, Iowa. “Louie” was a child prodigy in art. By age eight, he was drawing detailed sketches and portraits. At age 12, his parents sent him to Hamburg, Germany to live with his grandparents and attend Europe’s finest art institutions. He studied in Hamburg, Munich and Paris, and then traveled Europe painting and exhibiting his works. With the onset of World War I, Louie returned to the US and designed stage sets on Broadway in New York City. In 1917, he was recruited to be an art instructor at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, the oldest and most prestigious art academy at the time. Louie exhibited his art 25 times at the Art Institute of Chicago from 1917-1941 and created an unknown number of murals all over the Midwest, including at the 1937 Chicago World’s Fair. He died in 1960.

Fifty years after Louis Grell’s death, Richard, a former Washington police detective, started a project to reclaim his great-uncle’s art. Dick Miller, the director of the Bluff’s Art Council, contacted Richard with articles and pictures of Louie Grell as a young man and it sparked his enthusiasm. After realizing the wide breadth of Louis’ art, Richard commenced putting together the clues of his great uncle’s legacy.

Richard has traveled extensively in Chicago and St. Louis looking for his great-uncle’s art and located many. When he walked into The Chicago Theater, his breath was taken away: there were entire murals painted by Louie throughout the theater. Richard later he discovered a similar mural in St. Louis and validated Louie as the artist. Richard created a website devoted to Louis Grell, you can visit his website at: http://www.louisgrell.bluffsonline.net/

In many cases he was not recognized for his great works of art, like the murals in the Chicago Theater. Through family stories, Richard learned he had a very humble disposition influenced by his German roots and did not seek fame and fortune during his lifetime. Not caring about getting credit for his work, Louis wouldn’t even do interviews. He believed the notoriety and acknowledgements took away from his artistic integrity.

Richard Grell contacted Holly Hackwith through the International Society of Appraiser’s website to inquire about appraising his great-uncle’s work. Appraisals are an essential tool to validate the merit of Louis Grell’s work to the public and professional world. Holly was able to guide the Grell family in the importance of not only documenting the art through appraisals, but also cataloging and showing it in public spaces to create awareness and a market for his work. Kenneth Be’ at the Ford Conservation Center restored many of the Grell artworks and arranged for the University of Nebraska at Omaha art department to produce Louie Grell’s art catalogue as a departmental class project, culminating with an exhibit. A public exhibit of Louis Grell’s work will be on display after Tuesday October 30, 2012 at the Pottawattamie County government building.

Louis Grell always told his sister Ruth he’d be famous after he was dead.  Thanks to Richard Grell, here’s his chance.

 

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