Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Their California Years….and The Afterglow

JUSTIN C. GRUELLE, 1889 – 1978

Outline for talk by Bill Smart, Alpine California Historical Society, February 17, 2014

Gruelle Family of Artists, living in their shadows

Richard B. Gruelle (1851 – 1914) Justin’s father and mentor, Hoosier Group of  Painters, 
The Canal – Morning, 1894, Indianapolis Art Museum,

                Author, Notes: Critical & Biographical, Collection of W. T. Walters

Johnny Gruelle (1880 – 1938) Justin’s older brother, creator of Raggedy Ann and Andy books and dolls. Justin added color to early drawings, painted doll faces, illustrated five books after Johnny’s death.

Prudence (Grue) Gruelle Brown (1884 – 1966) Justin’s older sister, author,

Meadow Folks Story Hour, vaudeville circuit, “Singing Cartoonist” 

Justin C. Gruelle (1889 – 1978)  See “Justin C. Gruelle” blogsite, The Indiana, New York and Silvermine, Connecticut Years, Bill Smart’s outline for talk at New Canaan Historical Society, February 26, 2010. 

October 1954, Recently retired and westward bound
Tired of Connecticut snow-bound winters, Mabel and Justin Gruelle drove to  Indianapolis to visit family and friends and on to Sedona, Arizona to visit grandchildren. 

November /  December, 1954
They rented an apartment in Altadena, California near international headquarters, The Theosophical Society and Press, Pasadena. Gruelle had earlier been president of their Silvermine  Connecticut lodge.  He created drawings in color, black and white for a children’s book, Once  Round The Sun, painted a portrait of Theosophical Society Leader Colonel Arthur Conger, and  printed a silk-screen image of their headquarters building.

January / June, 1955, Justin’s Early Birds mural moved to California
Gruelle’s history of early aviation mural, commissioned in 1940 by Clarence deGiers, for the lobby of Liquidometer Corporation, Long Island City, NY, was being presented to western headquarters, Institute of Aeronautical Sciences, Los Angeles.   DeGiers asked Gruelle to paint an additional panel for the mural and supervise its    installation. DeGiers and Gruelle had been friends since 1917 when they worked together in the advertising art department of Kelly-Springfield Tire Company, NY.

 June 20, 1955, Unveiling of mural and banquet
 Artist Justin Gruelle and wife Mabel were asked to extend their California visit for recognition at       Fifth International Aeronautical Conference Banquet, Los Angeles.   Executives of aviation-related companies praised his unique artistic and technical skills.

July to December, 1955        
“We went back to Connecticut and sold our Silvermine property.” Mabel's note card.

November 27, 1955, First awareness of Alpine, California
 At a farewell luncheon in New York Bill Smart encouraged his aunt and uncle to investigate Alpine where he had a memorable visit in 1946 after discharge from the U.S. Navy. 

January 1956, Their Move from Connecticut to Alpine
“We returned to California to find a home. In less than a week we had    decided on this place in Alpine which we love and were moving before the month was out”.  This is the view from the north side of our place and the whole underside is Justin’s studio, workshop and dark room.“                                                                                                                                                                                                   Mabel Brown Gruelle, Christmas card, 1956.

August 2, 1957, two murals, History of Naval Aviation   (Gruelle on the right)
“A pair of 7’ x 12’ murals were hung yesterday in the Institute of Aeronautical Sciences Building at 3380 North Harbor Drive. They depict early days of naval aviation.   They are being displayed as part of the national aviation week meeting here next week. The murals present a graphic picture of old naval aircraft and some of the pioneers. Gruelle painted both of the murals in a little more than six weeks.   He said it usually takes him about six months to paint murals of this size.”                                                                                                                          San Diego Evening Tribune
Building was later closed, murals moved to an unknown location, probably in California?

1957, The Mythology and History of Flight , sketches for proposed Air and Space Museum murals  
Executives of west coast aviation manufacturing companies were impressed with  Gruelle’s technical and artistic skills in creating the Early Birds and History of Naval Aviation  murals. They encouraged him to do research on the mythology and history of flight and  create designs for decorative mural panels for a proposed National Air and Space Museum, for Washington, DC or on the West Coast. Gruelle did extensive historical research and created pencil and chalk sketches for five mural panels for the proposed museum. 

August 29, 1958, portrait of Major Rueben H. Fleet unveiled
In May, 1918 Major Fleet was the first pilot to fly U.S. mail by air, from New York to Washington, DC. Gruelle’s portrait of Convair Corporation CEO was on view at Rueben H. Fleet Aeronautical Library, Institute of Aeronautical Sciences branch, North Harbor Drive, San Diego. When the San Diego building was closed, the painting was moved to San Diego Air and Space Museum, Balboa Park. 

1959, Stations of the Cross Paintings for Queen of Angels Catholic Church, Alpine
Justin Gruelle had strong religious and spiritual beliefs. Although not Roman Catholic, he and the local priest became good friends and had long discussions about how artists through the ages had interpreted Jesus Christ, his life, death and   resurrection. Gruelle painted near-life-size images of his version of the 14 stations of the cross as his contribution to the new community church. The priest contributed masonite  panels and paint. Family members and locals served as models.    

June 4, 1961, El Cajon Valley News                 
 These paintings picturing scenes in the life of Jesus have a depth of intensity and color not seen in the painter’s other work. They go from light to darkness and back again; they have no beginning and no end; they are limitless in time and space. This is beauty balanced with the quality of creation."     

Of all Gruelles self-termedimpersonal record keeping this is probably the portion of his work that will be remembered longest. It is his only venture into the field of religious art.                                                                                                                                      Jean Hedger 

1960 / 1965, serigraph / silk-screen printing, Mabel and Justin Gruelle cottage industry
Greeting note cards with views of Alpine include 2 views of Catholic Church, 2 of Community Church, downtown Alpine, Women’s Club and Victoria Rock. San Diego views include Balboa Park, Father Junipero Serra Mission Museum and his statue.

April, 1960, Annual La Mesa Foothills Art Association Membership Show
Justin Gruelle won first prize for a portrait painting.

June 12, 1960, Tea honoring Gruelle at La Mesa Fine Arts Center
The artist s work now on display includes landscapes and winter scenes painted near his former home in Connecticut and in mountain country near Alpine.  Watercolors, oils, and pastels are his media. Portraits are shown in the one man show and a self portrait is included.

May 10, 1967,  Letter from Justin Gruelle to Bill Smart
“In the last letter from Dr. Paul Garber (Assistant Director,  Smithsonian   National Air and Space Museum, Washington) he spoke of future decorations for the new Washington Air and Space Museum building. He mentioned the series of pencil sketches and research that I had done on the history of flight in 1957, which he liked extremely well.”

Gruelle’s original research and detailed pencil and chalk sketches were sent to the Smithsonian and their receipt was acknowledged. They were never used, never returned and there is no record that they existed. Photo copies and notes survived.

May 12th, 1970,  Gruelle's  Early Birds mural added to collection of Smithsonian National Air and Space  Museum, Washington  DC. Rolled-up canvas shipped by  Railway Express from California to DC.
“The transfer of ownership of the “Early Birds” panel has finally taken place and the        
painting is now in the National Air and Space Museum at the Smithsonian. That a piece of  Gruelle family ‘handiwork should become a part of the Smithsonian collection  is a pleasant thought."                                                                                                                                                                                                          Justin Gruelle

December 10, 1970, Letter from   E. W. Robischon, National Air and Space Museum
“At long last we have finished the restoration of your mural and placed it on display in   the National Air and Space Museum. The photograph is taken from a position under  Lindberg’s airplane while the Wright Flyer is suspended ahead of Lindbergh’s airplane and to the right. The Early Bird mural is therefore in the most prominent spot of the museum.”               

December 31, 1970,  Justin Gruelle letter to Bill Smart                  
“The Early Bird organization held their yearly reunion in Washington this year and a number of group pictures were taken in front of our “brain child.” We feel that all this is a  nice New Year’s present given to us.”                                                                                

September 16, 1971, Justin Gruelle Letter to E.W. Robischon, Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum
I have your letter with its thought of me doing some future panels to go along with the Early Bird painting. My physical capacity and artistic expertness for doing a   serious mural painting is no longer with me. What a wonderful project this would have been if I were twenty years younger! But I fear old father Time can’t lesson my eighty two years.”                                                       

1971 Removal of Mural to Storage                               
 After its 1970  - 1971 exhibition at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, the Early Birds mural was placed in storage awaiting Congressional appropriations to  construct a new Air and Space Museum on the Mall.

Grand Opening of new Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Washington
When it opened in 1975 the Early Birds mural was not on display. It had disappeared from sight and from their records. Repeated inquiries in person and in   correspondence confirmed that there was no record of its existence in the current museum collection or archives and no record of what had happened to it. 

1971, Sale of Liquidometer Corporation business and buildings in New York and Vermont
No information was available to Gruelle as to disposition of his three remaining   1940’s American Scientists and Inventors murals in the lobby of Liquidometer Corporation, Long Island City, New York.  An 18’ x 7’  photo copy of the Early Birds panel had replaced the  original canvas when removed in 1955. There was no information on the four 1950’s  landscape murals in Liquidometer’s manufacturing facility in Bellows Falls, Vermont.        

1974, Gruelle’s 8 Works Progress Administration 1936 – 1938 murals in schools and libraries of Norwalk, Connecticut  moved  to storage
Six Mark Twain murals, Aladdin and his lamp and Chinese Nightingale murals  awaiting funds for conservation, restoration and relocation.
1975, Little Red School House, New Canaan, CT closed.  Five WPA murals out-of-sight
Future disposition of Gruelle’s five Aesop’s Fables 1936 WPA murals in question.

1975,  Aristotle  Quotation WPA Mural in New Canaan High School Library
Removed for possible restoration and placement in a new building addition.

God’s Acre Mural, New Canaan Green, 25’ x 8’ 7”
Commissioned in 1952 by Union Trust Bank, later First Union Bank, and then a restaurant. Plans announced to close the bank, to be occupied by a restaurant, with removal of mural with unknown future.     

 May 1974, Death of Mabel Brown Gruelle in Alpine
Her hand-painted china is on view in museums and private collections.   Cremains interred in Gruelle Family plot, Crown Hill Cemetery, Indianapolis, Indiana, no marker.

January 2 – 3, 1978,   Final Visit with Justin in San Diego,  living near daughter Jayne                      
Smart had called from New York during the 1977 holidays to wish his uncle good health in the new year. Gruelle said that he would be reaching his 89h year in July, and added, “It will soon be time to pass-over.” Smart made an immediate air reservation to fly to California.
On January 2nd, 1978 they drove through Old Town to see the Mission and statue of Father Juniperro Sierra drawn on Gruelle’s silk-screen. Later he signed print 52 of the San Diego mission , “For Bill, With deep affection.”They visited San Diego  Air and Space Museum in Balboa Park to view the Major Fleet portrait. They drove along the Pacific Ocean and watched the lingering afterglow of colors from a beautiful sunset as the sky changed to reveal a galaxy of stars in the universe beyond.

Gruelle showed Smart his archival scrapbooks with photos, clippings and   recollections of a lifetime of creative works. Gruelle was disappointed that so many of  his murals and other works were “lost” or no longer on view. He emphasized his satisfaction that he had the vision and the pleasure of creating them. Smart  promised his uncle that he would make every effort to continue to search for his favorite Early Birds mural and other “presumed lost” art works. 

Before Smart left for NY Gruelle presented him with his last canvas, painted from his workshop / studio in Alpine, “Shadows in the Valley”  with mountain views.

February 22, 1978, Major Fleet Portrait destroyed in museum fire
Gruelle was saddened to learn that his prized portrait painting was “lost” in a devastating fire at San Diego Air and Space Museum in Balboa Park.

April 20, 1978, Death of Justin C. Gruelle in San Diego.
His cremains are interred with no marker at Crown Hill Cemetery, Indianapolis, Indiana in the Gruelle family plot next to his wife, Mabel and parents, Alice and Richard B. Gruelle.

AFTERGLOW: The Legacy Continues

1995, Early Birds mural, lost from view for 25 years, discovered at Dorchester  County Museum, Cambridge, MD by nephew Bill Smart and wife Diane.
It had  been de-accessed from the National Air and Space Museum  Collection and was located high on a wall of an old airplane hangar on the former Francis DuPont estate, now property of the University of Maryland.

2002, Early Birds presented to Smart
After several visits to photograph the mural President Dale Price and his Museum Board offered to give the mural to Smart in order to find an appropriate and more permanent home before the final closing of the museum. Smart contacted several museums. Indiana Historical  Society, Bruce Johnson, VP, agreed to pay for removal and shipping to Indianapolis for December 2003 exhibit of The First 100 Years of Flight.        
2003, exhibition at Indiana Historical Society, Indianapolis.

Exhibited in lobby during 100th anniversary celebration of Wright Brothers’ first flight, (Wilbur had been born in Indiana). It then went back to storage awaiting results of a fund raising campaign. cover story, Traces  magazine, Spring, 2003. Article had widespread distribution on internet.

McGaw Foundation, Seattle. WA requested IHS to loan or sell mural   for exhibition at Museum of Flight, Seattle. Smart agreed to transfer.

2006, extensive conservation and restoration at Indianapolis Museum, paid for by McGaw Foundation with shipment to Seattle.

November 2007,  permanently installed at Museum of Flight in Seattle
History of Aviation Gallery, Boeing Red Barn Wing.

1998  Justin Gruelle’s  archival scrapbooks viewed again by Smart 20 years later
Justin’s daughter, Jayne Gruelle Comerford, Bandon, Oregon   presented scrapbooks to her cousin to add to his JCG archives and collections. “You will know what to do with these.”

2001, Eight Justin Gruelle W.P.A. murals.
Restored and exhibited in Norwalk, CT City Hall Gallery and libraries.

2009, -  2010  New Canaan, Connecticut Historical Society Galleries.
Exhibit of Justin C. Gruelle and family art . Bill Smart invited to speak about the Silvermine years of the family. See previous blog entry.

80th Anniversary edition, A Mother Goose Parade,  written /  illustrated by JCG.
Facsimilie edition of original 1929 P. F. Volland Company children’s book published for distribution during New Canaan Historical Exhibit, September, 2009 until February, 2010. Gruelle’s original pencil drawings with color were on loan from Baldwin Library of Children’s Literature Collection, University of Florida, Gainesville. Books available from museum book stores or from nephew Bill Smart, pwmsmart@gmail.com

December, 2011, Donation of Diane and Bill Smart Collection of Justin Gruelle’s             Connecticut  paintings, illustrations  and silk screen prints to City of  Norwalk, Connecticut.
Now on exhibit in City Hall Galleries alongside Gruelle’s W.P. A. murals. See “Norwalk Thanks Bill Smart” interview, December 17, 2011                                       Justin C. Gruelle blogsite.           

2013, GRUELLE’S 25’ x 8’ mural of New Canaan Village Green,
Painted in 1952 for a New Canaan bank. Had been removed when  property sold and stored  at New Canaan Historical Society. Now restored and permanently installed at New Canaan High School.

Igor Sikorsky and the invention of his helicopter

Giant telescopes on Mount Palomar and the electronic microscope

American scientists and inventors
August 5, 2013,  Re-discovery of 3 of Gruelle’s Liquidometer 1940s  “lost” murals in New  York  State by Bill Smart and daughter Anita.
Igor Sikorsky and his invention of the Helicopter, Telescope on Palomar  Mountain and Electron Microscope, and American Inventors and Scientists. Awaiting decision of current owners of building purchased from Liquidometer in 1971 as to their future. A new entrance lobby had been opened on an adjacent street. Original lobby stairwell with four large murals functions as an interior stairwell, poorly lighted, between 3 floors of the building. Still missing are four Liqidometer landscape murals originally installed in their manufacturing plant in Bellows Falls, Vermont, believed to have been given to employees when building was sold in 1971.

February 17, 2014, Alpine Historical Society, California
Bill Smart was invited to talk, with power-point presentation, about later works of Justin and Mabel Gruelle during their California years, 1955 -1978.  It was a follow-up to Smart’s February, 2010 talk to New Canaan Historical Society about Gruelle’s Silvermine Years that ended in 1955 with   their move to California.

There are still lost pieces and the search for other works continues…  

for more information, contact Bill Smart at pwmsmart@gmail.com

Interview with Bill Smart

The Lost Gruelle - Found