Friday, October 22, 2010

JUSTIN C. GRUELLE, 1889 - 1978

Justin C. Gruelle was born in Indianapolis, July 1, 1889, the son of Alice Benton and Hoosier Group Painter, Richard B. Gruelle. The aspiring young artist painted portraits and landscapes with encouragement from his father and older brother Johnny, creator of Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy.  Justin received formal training in drawing, painting and photography at John Herron Art Institute and The New York Art Student's League. 

Between 1910 and 1955 the professional art career of Justin Gruelle centered around New York City where he was known for his detailed landscape paintings and colorful illustrations of products for advertising, magazine covers, movie posters, sheet music and books.  He was commissioned to create family portraits, and eventually large corporate murals that combined his many talents.  Justin's book Mother Goose Parade with fanciful illustrations was published in 1929 to great reviews. His home / studio was in Silvermine, the artist's colony along the river between Norwalk, New Canaan and Wilton Connecticut, where earlier he, his father and brother had been part of The Knockers, an artist's group that was the precursor of the Silvermine Guild of Art.

During the great economic depression Gruelle was commissioned to research and paint fourteen murals for the Federal Art Project of the WPA, Works Progress Administration, between 1935 and 1940. Six of these large murals are displayed outside the Mayor's office at Norwalk City Hall. One of his triptychs can be seen in the Norwalk Art Museum and another at Norwalk Public Library. There are five Gruelle WPA paintings in the Little Red Schoolhouse Museum, New Canaan Historical Society, and one large mural with twenty-four portraits in the library of New Canaan High School.

Wide acclaim for his large WPA paintings led to commissions for Gruelle to research and paint eight large murals for The Liquidometer Corporation, Long Island City, between 1940 and 1954.  The Early Birds, an 18' x 7' oil painting on canvas, features seventeen portraits of aviation pioneers including the Wright Brothers and over twenty early aircraft against a visualized background of how the earth might someday appear from outer space. The painting was formerly in the collection of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Washington, D.C.  After a three year exhibition at The Indiana Historical Society it has now been permanently installed at The Museum of Flight, Seattle, Washington.

In 1955 Gruelle and his wife Mabel moved to Alpine California in the mountains east of San Diego. They designed and printed a collection of silk screen prints and note cards to reveal the beauty of their new home town. Justin was fascinated with nature and created a series of oil paintings to capture the ever changing effect of light and shadows on the mountain landscape. Gruelle, a theosophist, created fourteen large paintings depicting The Way of the Cross for the new Queen of Angels Roman Catholic Church, his contribution to their Alpine community in 1959.

He died on April 20th, 1978; his ashes are interred in the Gruelle family plot at Crown Hill Cemetery, Indianapolis.

Paul William Smart, May 1, 2009 Ask/ART

JUSTIN C. GRUELLE, 1889 -1978

JUSTIN  C.  GRUELLE, 1889 -1978                                 

His Early Years         

July 1, 1889                
            Justin C. Gruelle was born in Indianapolis, the youngest child of Alice Benton and esteemed Hoosier Group Artist Richard B. Gruelle
            At an early age, I began to experiment with my father’s paints, canvas and brushes. This must have been a great nuisance for him, but I can't recall him ever complaining about this misuse of his precious art supplies.
            In addition to being taught the basics of painting in oil by his father, Justin learned drawing techniques from older sister, Prudence and brother, John, both successful illustrators and cartoonists.
            Justin attended Public School #15 and graduated from Arsenal Technical High School at age seventeen.    
1906 - 1907, The Gruelle Family’s Move to New York City
            Although not considered a permanent move Mr. and Mrs. Gruelle rented their Tacoma Avenue home for one year and moved to New York City so that Justin could experience the art world and Prudy could study music.

John and Myrtle had married and were living in Cleveland at the time of our move to the east coast. He was sport and political cartoonist for The Cleveland Press.
I can only conjecture as to why this move to New York was made. I believe that R.B.G. felt the need of a little artistic rejuvenation and that he realized a visit to Manhattan, with its art galleries and museums would contribute to my aesthetic development. For by this time, it was quite evident that I was going to follow the family tradition and become an artist. My father and I haunted the art galleries and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, uptown in Central Park.
Prudence had been taking vocal lessons for several years and no doubt our parents felt that New York would stimulate her future progress in music.
            The family occupied the spacious sky-lighted apartment and studio in a four-story walk-up building on 23rd Street, just west of Sixth Avenue, Manhattan.
            One of our neighbors who had a studio near us on Twenty-Third Street was Addison T. Millar. He was a native of Ohio and was an excellent painter and etcher. The Millars and Gruelles became good friends.
            The Millars bought some acreage in Silvermine, Connecticut and built a studio home there. It was through them that we heard of this beautiful area, forty five miles north of Manhattan.

1908,  Return to Indianapolis
The Gruelle Family returned to Indianapolis to enable Justin to have more formal training in photography and classes with Hoosier Group Artists Otto Stark and William Forsyth at The John Herron Art Institute, now part of Indiana University.
            My most interesting activity in Indianapolis during the next year was the months spent in William Forsyth's life drawing class at the John Herron Art Institute. Forsyth, while primarily a landscape painter, was a fine instructor in drawing from life, and it was a valuable experience.

1909 – 1910 school year in New York         
I spent the winter of 1909 again in New York and entered George Bridgeman’s life drawing class at The Art Students’ League. Bridgeman was a superb teacher and one of the best that the country has produced. Those months were invaluable to me.
Among the Hoosier artists living and studying in New York at the time was Albert Matzke, an early student of R.B.G. He later married Prudence and became one of the family. Albert had great artistic talent as a boy, and my Father had encouraged him to develop this latent ability. Albert spent several years studying at the Art Students League and later became an instructor at that venerable art institution.


Mr. Millar told us of some land next to his property in Silvermine that was for sale. Albert, Prudence and I went up to Connecticut the next weekend to inspect the place. Folks used their legs to get from one spot to the next. The old Blanchard mill was several miles from the end of the Winnepauk trolley and the long walk from there was expected and enjoyed. We were delighted with its possibilities, so in 1910, the Gruelle Family became the owners of this old New England home, mill and sixteen acres.
The one hundred year old house was typically New England with its small rooms and low ceilings, altogether a quaint and lovely place with a kitchen extension and storage shed. A narrow stairway led to the upper floor where there were three small bedrooms. The sixteen acres, on both side of the river were wooded with fine old trees.
Across the road from the house was the old Blanchard Furrier Mill, a substantial building of two stories plus the basement room. This contained the water turbine. A small steam plant was located on the right side in an extension to the building. We used the upper rooms as studios for R.B. G., Albert and myself.
The windows of the back rooms overlooked the mill pond and water fall. There was always the lovely sound of running water. At the end of the road was the crossroad to New Canaan on the left, and to Wilton on the right, over a small bridge.

July 1 to 4th, 1910
The Gruelle Family and friends of Justin C.Gruelle celebrated his twenty-first birthday with a picnic, swimming, fishing and fireworks at their newly purchased home and art studios along the Silvermine River. Johnny and Myrtle came from Cleveland for a vacation visit and later decided to move to Silvermine. They lived in the old mill studios while their new home was being built along the pond above the Wilton Road Bridge, where Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy were created.
1910-1917, "The Knockers at Silvermine
Justin, his father R.B.G. and later Johnny were part of a group of painters living and working in Silvermine, known as "The Knockers".  They gathered for weekly critiques of each other's work and held annual exhibitions, the precursor of The Silvermine Guild of Artists.

At Mr. Borglum’s studio each Sunday morning artists of the colony meet, bringing work of the week for mutual criticism. An annual exhibition attracts many visitors from neighboring cities.
In the last exhibit Mr. Gruelle’s youngest son, Justin Gruelle, had the honor of the first sale. His painting, “The Old Homestead,” was highly praised, and a great future is predicted for him as a landscape painter.                 
         The Indianapolis Star. March 6, 1911
1913, Mr. and Mrs. Richard B. Gruelle returned to their Indianapolis home.
           Following a stroke R. B. Gruelle died in November, 1914 at age 63
1917, Justin married Mabel Claire Brown, Indianapolis, Indiana
She studied art and graduated from Manual Training High School. She studied china painting and taught classes in Indianapolis, New York, and Norwalk, Connecticut.

1917 – 1926, Kelly Springfield Tire Company, Manhattan
Justin was an illustrator in the art department, doing magazine covers, posters and is known for a series of full page advertising illustrations used in Broadway Theater Playbills. The head of the art department was Clarence deGeirs, who later commissioned Justin to do eight murals for his Liquidometer Company.

1924    Daughter Jayne Hildegard born in New York City

1924 - 1925 Dream home / studio
Justin and his wife, Mabel designed and built their dream home / studio on Yew Lane Seir Hill overlooking Silvermine valley, where they  continued the annual July 4th picnic gathering of family and friends.
1927, son John Paul Gruelle born
           He studied photography and worked as a career baker with Pepperidge Farms.
1929, A Mother Goose Parade
This children's book was written and illustrated by Justin C. Gruelle, and published in 1929 by The P.F. Volland Company, Joliet, Illinois. The frontispiece illustration shows his wife Mabel, son John Paul and Jayne Hildegard holding a Raggedy Ann doll in front of their Yew Lane home with Mother Goose looking on. The book was well reviewed but never had a second edition because the company went out of business during The Great Depression.
            Original pencil drawings have been preserved at The Baldwin Library of Historical Children’s Literature, University of Florida, Gainesville. An 80th Anniversary facsimile edition has been published by the family to accompany The Gruelle Family Art Exhibit at The New Canaan Historical Society.
1932, Theosophical Society
            Justin and Mabel were students of Theosophy and Justin served as President of the Silvermine Lodge and Mabel taught instruction classes.
1933, Winter in Miami
Justin and Mabel and their children, along with Mrs. Gruelle, spent the winter with brother Johnny and Myrtle at their home on Miami Beach. Justin painted water colors, oils, a self portrait and an exceptional portrait of his mother with hand carved frame.
1934 -1936, Connecticut WPA Artist
Five large Mark Twain murals were painted in 1935 - 1936 under the auspices of The Federal Art Project of the Works Progress Administration for Norwalk public schools. They have been restored and are prominently displayed in the Norwalk City Hall lobby, as part of the nation's largest collection of WPA murals.
When the Great Depression struck the country in 1933 and the W.P.A. was established, I did three mural projects for the art section. The Aladdin and the Lamp painting was placed in the Children’s Room of the South Norwalk Library. The Chinese Nightingale triptych is in The Norwalk Public Library.

1936 New Canaan Schools
A large oil panel, 19’ x 4’, is on the wall of The Wagner Room of the New Canaan High School. It has twenty-one portraits of historic figures surrounding a teacher image and two students with the quotation from Aristotle, “All Who Have Meditated On The Art of Governing Mankind Have Been Convinced That The Fate of Empires Depends on Education of Youth.”
Five Aesop’s Fables were painted for the walls of the historic Little Red School. They have been restored and on view at New Canaan Historical Society.
Shortly after they were finished, my own art work picked up again and I was able to get off the government project.
1938, Death of older brother, Johnny
 Justin was hired by the publisher to illustrate five unpublished Raggedy Ann and Andy manuscripts, Raggedy Ann and the Golden Butterfly, Raggedy Ann and Betsy Bonnet String, Raggedy Ann in the Snow White Castle, Raggedy Ann’s Picture Book and Raggedy Ann and Mr. Hoppy Toad.
1939 - 1940 New York World's Fair
                In collaboration with New York celebrity artist Clara Fargo Thomas Justin helped paint three major murals for the U.S. Steel Corporation, IBM and Westinghouse Pavilions. He also collaborated with her in a large sailing ship mural for her home on Mount Desert Island, Maine.
1940, Lobby Murals for The Liquidometer Corporation
Clarence A. deGiers, President of The Liquidometer Corporation, Justin’s former boss at Kelly Springfield Tire Company, commissioned him to paint four large murals for the lobby of his Long Island City headquarters and four smaller murals for their manufacturing plant in Bellows Falls, Vermont. Only one of the eight is known to exist.
The Early Birds
This 18 feet x 7 feet mural on canvas has seventeen life-size portraits of some of the men who made aviation history and their aircraft. In the Spring of 1955 the canvas was removed from the lobby wall, replaced with a photomural and presented to the Western Headquarters of IAS, Institute of the Aeronautical Sciences, Los Angeles, later moved to San Diego.
 In November 1969 The Early Birds was presented to the National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. A letter from Mr. Robischon to Justin Gruelle stated, "The mural has finally come to its permanent resting place of honor beneath Lindberg's Spirit of St. Louis."

1970  to 1995, Out of Sight and Presumed Lost
When the National Air and Space Museum moved into its new building the mural, mainly because of its size, did not fit into any present or future exhibition plan nor any available storage facility. The Early Birds mural was loaned to Dorchester County Heritage Museum, Cambridge, Maryland and deaccessed to them in 1980. In 1995 its location in an airplane hangar was discovered by nephew Bill Smart. The mural was presented to him to find a permanent home, and is now installed at The Museum of Flight, Seattle, Washington.
Late 1940's to mid fifties
Justin worked in the art department of R.K.O. Pictures (United Artists) and Walt Disney Productions and commuted by train into Manhattan from South Norwalk. He Illustrated movie posters and cartoon stills. He painted a series of historical corporate portraits for Barnes and Nobel Book Company and had many other commissions for portraits from his Silvermne studio.
Mabel Brown Gruelle was a creative painter of sets of dinner china and taught china painting classes with her own kiln for use of her students. The Gruelles created a series of silkscreen Christmas and note cards and continued living and working in their Silvermine studio/home until 1956.

Part of the winter was spent near Sedona, Arizona, and Altadena, California, where Justin added new sections to The Early Bird mural and illustrated children’s books for the Theosophical Press.

1956  Sale of Silvermine Home and Move to California
Justin had painted a 6’ by 9 ½’ wall map of the historic Silvermine area surrounding their home mounted above the fireplace in their large living room studio with twelve foot ceiling. When the house was sold they left the mural for the new owners who later presented it to The Norwalk Art Museum. It is now permanently installed in the conference room and is used to illustrate talks about the history and development of Norwalk for tour groups.

His California Years. 1956 – 1978, Alpine, California

Mabel and Justin established their west coast studio/home on Lilac Lane, Alpine, CA, with majestic views of mountain valleys. Justin died in 1978, pre-deceased by Mabel. Their cremated ashes are interred at Crown Hill Cemetery, Indianapolis, in the Gruelle Family plot.

Outline for a presentation on February 26, 2010 at New Canaan CT Historical Society
during the Gruelle Family art exhibit