The stories behind the stories on the walls
Detail from one of Louis Jambor’s murals in the Latchis Theatre in Brattleboro.

The stories behind the stories on the walls

Hidden In Plain Sight celebrates the vision of the Latchis family, and the artist that brought that vision to life

BRATTLEBORO — The murals on the walls of the Latchis Theatre are beautiful to behold. but there's so much more to them than meets the eye, believes Jon Potter, Executive Director of Latchis Corporation/Latchis Arts.

“Painted by renowned artist Louis Jambor for the Grand Opening of the Latchis Memorial Building in 1938, the murals have been there for Brattleboro audiences to enjoy for nearly 80 years,” says Potter.

He discovered that many people in Brattleboro had seen them but never really thought much about them, or regarded them as merely decorative. Potter also found others who noticed them and were mystified by what they saw and wondered what they could mean. Some even made up stories to explain them.

“Whatever you've thought, there's so much more to them than you can imagine,” Potter continues. “In that sense, the murals have been hidden in plain sight.”

On Friday, October 16, Latchis Arts presents Hidden in Plain Sight, an event to decipher, analyze and enjoy the Jambor murals.

“It will be a night of celebration, revelation and education, but, above all, it will be a night of stories,” says Potter. “The walls of the Latchis hold stories as old as human telling and ones that still reverberate today. They reflect history and mythology, commerce and creativity, immigration and deep roots, Main Street and Ancient Greece, The Tower of the Winds, and Tropical Storm Irene.”

Hidden in Plain Sight also will be the occasion to unveil a newly restored sculpture and bring it back to its rightful place on the pedestal to the left of the big screen in the Latchis main theater.

That story began last January when Walter Nicolai of Westminster, a restorer and artist who teaches in the Architecture Department of Keene State College, walked into the Latchis Theatre in Brattleboro looking for a broken statue.

“Walter brought a ray of sunshine into a dreary winter,” says Potter.

Nicolai had done the restoration on the Hebe fountain in the theater and, now on sabbatical, he was interested in working on another Latchis statue that needed to be restored.

Potter had at that time been with the Latchis less than a year and did not know what statue he was talking about. However, with just a little searching in the labyrinth of the Latchis complex, they indeed found the statue hidden in the women's dressing room: a sculpture of Clio, muse of History, that had one arm and the head missing.

Nicolai offered to to restore Clio. Delighted, Potter gave the go-ahead to a project he whimsically labeled, “On with her head.”

Nicolai has devoted the last five months to the restoration.

Latchis Arts will present the unveiling of this newly restored piece of its history as part of Hidden in Plain Sight. Nicolai will join Potter for a discussion that will explore his process of restoring the formerly headless sculpture with no right arm.

Other highlights of Hidden in Plain Sight will include a discussion by an esteemed art historian; a look into the life of Jambor; a talk on the history of the Latchis Family and more, all accompanied by powerful visual illustrations on the big screen.

The idea to explain to the public the Jambor murals originated with a visit with Latchis Arts board president Gordon Hayward by his wife's niece Angeliki Alexandri, who is Greek and works at the National Gallery in London.

The Haywards showed her the Jambor murals because of the mythological images and her own Greek heritage. Alexandri was impressed by what she saw and began telling them the stories they depicted, which were all about love.

“The main love story depicted in the main mural is the love between Psyche and Cupid,” she explained.

This struck Hayward as very interesting since the building of the Latchis itself by Dimitri's four sons as a tribute to their father was a labor of love.

At Hidden in Plain Sight, Anne Latchis will talk about the history of the Latchis family and the theater complex built 1937-1938, near the end of the Great Depression. The Latchis was erected as a testament to the life and work of Demetrius P. Latchis, who had come from Greece in the early 1900's and had made a successful life for himself and his family in his adopted country.

“His was really the classic immigrant rags to riches story,” says Potter.

The Latchis was a creation of artistic beauty and value to the community. Billed as “A Town Within a Town―All Under One Roof,” the 60-room hotel and ballroom, 1,200-seat motion picture palace, coffee shop, dining room, and gift shop were touchstones in the lives of many area residents.

The Lachis sons commissioned Jambor to do the murals for the theater. A busy man, the artist only agreed to take on the job because he related to the passion of the enterprise.

Potter will speak briefly about Louis Jambor at Hidden in Plain Sight.

A prolific artist, Jambor was known for his religious paintings, public murals and book illustrations. Born in Nagyvarad, Hungary in 1884, Jambor attended the Royal Art Academy in Budapest. After graduating, he received many awards and accolades and was elected to the Royal Academy of the Society of Art before he moved to the United States in 1923.

Once in America, Jambor's career flourished. He painted dozens of murals in private homes, public buildings, and churches, including 26 for the Hotel New Yorker, large panels above the proscenium in the Atlantic City (N.J.) Municipal Auditorium, murals for St. Theresa's in Providence, R.I., and in the Sister's of Mercy Chapel in Marion, Pa.

Jambor was especially known for his illustrations for the 1947 edition of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women and 1949 version of Jo's Boys. He also created fantastical backgrounds for the animated film version of Gulliver's Travels for which he received screen credit.

Following Potter's talk on Jambor, there will be the showing of a five minute video made several weeks ago of Katharine Alexander, an 82-year-old granddaughter of Louis Jambor who lives in California. In it, she thanks the people of Brattleboro for looking after the Latchis Theatre, and also tells of memories of her grandfather in New York City.

Then Angeliki Alexandri's colleague Albert Godycki, an art historian for The National Gallery, London, will give a half hour presentation on the content of the Greek-mythology depicted in the murals.

Finally, the evening will end with Latchis Arts board member Riley Goodemote performing Greek music.

As a special treat, Charles Mallory of The Four Columns Inn will be bringing to the event an historic car made in 1938, the year the Latchis opened its doors. It will be parked near the Latchis for everyone to see and will be meant to evoke the late 1930's.

The Graham is a 1938/9 Hollywood Coupe, one of six known to exist, and famous for its frontal styling which looks like a “shark's nose.” The car is considered by scholars to be among the most iconic American art deco automotive designs. Graham went out of business in 1941.

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