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Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Wyoming Artist, Writer, Actor, Singer Pens Book About Her Prolific Muralist Grandfather

By Cynthia Smith

Many architects in the late 1800s to mid-1990s designed U.S. public buildings in the American Renaissance style, inspired by the ancient Greeks and Romans. Glenn Liston King, a “renaissance woman” in her own right, has recently completed a beautiful book detailing the murals that adorn many of these buildings, painted by her grandfather, Vincent Aderente.

Glenn, who has lived on Ritchie Avenue since 1965, is an artist, writer, actor, singer, mother of five, and grandmother of eight.

You could also call her a detective, because it took years of painstaking work to find and document hundreds of the murals, WWI posters, Baby Bond designs, portraits, bank note designs, magazine illustrations, and advertisements created by Aderente.

You don’t have to go far to see one of the pieces featured in Glenn’s book, entitled Vincent Aderente, American Muralist. A mural named Cross of Angels hangs at St. James of the Valley church on Springfield Pike.

Muralist Vincent Aderente was born in 1880.
From Child Prodigy to Master Muralist
Aderente, born in Italy in 1880, came to the United States with his family in 1889. At the public schools of Jersey City, New Jersey, he was soon recognized as a child prodigy, and began studying at the Metropolitan School of Art.

He later attended the New York Art Students League, where he won all four of the group’s prizes in one year. After graduating from the National Academy of Design in New York City in 1897, he became an assistant to one of the greatest muralists of the time, Edwin Howland Blashfield, with whom he continued to work for the next 31 years.

Aderente married Grace DiMartino from Scranton, Pennsylvania, in 1909, and they had two children, Olga (Glenn’s mother) and Vincent Carl.

By 1916, he was a member of the National Society of Mural Painters, in demand for his own commissions.

While many of Aderente’s murals in courthouses, state capitols, cathedrals, post offices, hospitals, and other public buildings in nineteen states have been lost to renovations, neglect, and even theft, Glenn has preserved over 200 for posterity in her glossy 170-page book, which features full-page color photos of the art, accompanied by interesting and often entertaining descriptions.
Aderente died at age 61, presumably poisoned over time by the lead in his oil paints. “While he cleaned his brushes well, he would often lick the ends to make a fine point,” explains Glenn. “There was probably paint residue on the brushes, which, over time, took his life.” Glenn was six when Aderente passed away, but she has fond memories of visiting his studio, playing with the costumes he designed for artists’ balls, and occasionally posing for figures in his murals.

Glenn posing for a mural for her grandfather.
American History, Values, and Religion Writ Large
What’s pictured in the murals, as large as 26’ x 50’, are images recording history, and celebrating the best of human endeavors, no doubt meant to inspire viewers to reach their own highest heights:

1.         Many use motifs from the past to symbolize American values such as nationalism, capitalism, honesty, resourcefulness, and imagination;
2.         Female figures in flowing robes personify characteristics such as Wisdom, Charity, Thrift, Fortitude, Knowledge, Power, Justice, Mercy, and Enlightenment;
3.         Human activities such as Electricity, Commerce, Mining, Science, Poetry, Prose, Music, Graphic Arts, Learning, Industry, and Physical Development are frequently included;
4.         Events such as the Westward Expansion, Washington Surrendering His Commission, The Landing of Father Marquette on the Shores of Lake Michigan, The Battle of Corinth during the Civil War, and Lincoln’s Gettysburg address are pictured in others; and
5.         Angels are seen in many of the works.

Aderente’s mural titled Constitutional Law is at the Queens General Courthouse in Jamaica,N ew York.
To browse through Glenn’s book is to travel through time. You will meet the visionaries who built communities such as Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, and Flushing, New York; stroll along the streets of New York City in 1827; learn about the life of Joan of Arc; and see historic figures such as Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Benjamin Franklin, along with Supreme Court justices, saints, and leaders of Native American nations.

While the breadth of subjects covered in the murals is extensive, the fine details, beautiful figures, and special color palette that set Aderente’s work apart are consistent throughout.

Where to Find Them
The murals can be seen in buildings accessible to the public from New York to Utah. Here are some in good condition:

           Denver, Colorado, in the Public Mint: Commerce, Mining, and Manufacturing
           Atlanta, Georgia, at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church: The Good Shepherd
           Chicago, Illinois, at the Union League Club (Patria) and the Elks National Veterans Memorial (Fraternal Justice, Fraternity, and Charity)
           Bloomington, Indiana in the Student Union: Alma Mater
           Des Moines, Iowa, in the State Capitol: Westward
           Baltimore, Maryland, in the Mitchell Courthouse: Washington Surrendering His Commission and Religious Tolerance
           Cambridge, Massachusetts, at MIT: Alma Mater, Ye Shall Be As Gods and Humanity
           Boston, Massachusetts, at The Boston Opera House: (ceiling and proscenium murals show angels with musical instruments and writing implements)
           Detroit, Michigan in the Public Library: The Joining of the Ways, Poetry, Prose, Music, and Graphic Arts

Making the Book
The book began with documenting Aderente’s work for the Smithsonian American Art Museum, which took ten years. The museum’s archivists encouraged Glenn to share the information through a pictorial book. She compares searching out the murals and writing about them to uncovering surprises under the Christmas tree. “It was definitely a labor of love,” she says, “but one I am proud to have completed. It allowed me to honor his memory and let the world see the amazing body of work he left behind.”

Glenn started with a pile of sketches and photos her grandmother had saved. Aderente had left a written list of some 30 of his over-200 works, but it was often challenging to match them to the unlabeled images. One mural at a time, she reached out to possible contacts to gather photos and information.

Glenn’s surviving daughters, left to right: Jeannine, Christienne, Germaine, and Sabrina.
Here’s an example of the process:
“Most of the murals I found were in the upper United States, except one in the Orlando Courthouse. That drew my interest and became my first call. No one had ever mentioned that he had done work in Florida.

“I discovered that a new courthouse had been built, but the original courthouse had become an historic museum, and had most of its original murals. Tana Porter, who answered my call, was noticeably upset when she heard who I was, and regretted telling me that the mural my grandfather had done in one of the old courtrooms was lost in an accidental electrical fire not long after having been restored.

“Fortunately, photos had been taken following the restoration, so Porter sent those and news articles defining the circumstances.

“I will never forget her parting words: ‘We are a relatively new community, not like Philadelphia or Boston; everything is new here. We need to cherish and treat our history and heritage with respect, for that will give us character and define who we are. We all miss Mr. Aderente’s mural.’”
Glenn spent over 200 hours on the phone, did countless computer searches, and also found people with information through art websites. Her journey logged thousands of miles to see murals in person and led to new friendships all over the country.

Some murals were impossible to document; they had never been photographed, or the murals and any photos of them had been lost. Four murals were simply missing, either stolen or mysteriously disappeared. Much information came from a book about Blashfield written by Blashfield’s wife Grace (Hall) in 1937. Some of Glenn’s cousins, who live in Michigan and Chicago, also helped by taking pictures of murals nearby.

Just when Glenn thought she had found all the murals, she would hear about another. “The process was like peeling an onion,” she laughs.

Funding the project herself, Glenn hired Howard Wells, whom she met at University of Cincinnati’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), to edit, and local graphic designer Jennie Hefren to design the book.

Cross of Angels is the Aderente mural at St. James of the Valley in Wyoming.
Not her First Rodeo
Vincent Aderente, American Muralist is not Glenn’s first book. She illustrated seven books about safety for Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, which the hospital has distributed nationally, and has written over 300 short stories, six of which have been published by the University of Cincinnati.

She decided to finish the book after her daughters were grown and her husband, Edward, passed away in 2015. “There was an uptick in interest in murals,” she says, “and I finally had the time to do it.”

The Kings moved to Wyoming in 1965 after living in Dallas, Cincinnati, and Sacramento. The permanent return to Cincinnati was for Edward’s job with P&G. They had five daughters, four of whom graduated from Wyoming High School. Their oldest, Adrienne, passed away at age 33.
The youngest daughter, Christienne, still lives in Wyoming on Oliver Road, with her husband, Cy Wilson, and son, AJ, who is a student at Vermont Primary School.

“We wanted good schools for the children,” remembers Glenn, ”and a smaller community. There were lots of P&G people here who recommended Wyoming. At first we lived in College Hill while Edward built our house on Ritchie.”

Memories of Wyoming
Glenn has fond memories of Wyoming when the girls, Adrienne, Jeannine, Germaine, Sabrina, and Christienne were growing up. “We always had a houseful of children, because each girl brought her friends here to play,” she says.

“We belonged to the Wyoming Swim Club, where I served on the board.” Glenn was also a room mother, was involved extensively in PSA, and was named Citizen of the Year in 1988. “I was always volunteering,” she recalls. Among other local art projects, Glenn created the logos for the Wyoming HS Alumni Association and the Cincinnati Civic Garden Center.

The girls went to Vermont Primary School. Two were cheerleaders, and all were in involved in swimming, field hockey, basketball, baseball, and soccer.

Glenn now has eight grandchildren: one in Wyoming, two in West Chester, three in Michigan, and two in St. Louis.

This Aderente painting was an advertisement for Baby Bonds, which were small denomination saving bonds with face values from $75 to $1,000 issued by the U.S. government from 1935 to 1941.
Inherited and Cultivated Talent
Following in Aderente’s footsteps, Glenn studied graphic art and sculpture, then became a graphic artist, first working as a draftsman for an oil company in Houston, and later freelancing. As an army brat, she lived in 15 of the United States, and Germany and Switzerland as a child. She speaks fluent French, studied sculpture at the L’Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, and murals at the Ciudad Universitaria in Mexico City. She modeled while living in Paris and for a time after college in Houston.

Glenn also sings, acts, and teaches. “I had sung with my sorority in college, then took lessons after joining the St. James choir in my 50s,” she says. “Their choir director suggested I audition for the musical Carousel with a community theatre group.

“After Carousel, I continued doing community theatre for 20 years, mostly with the Cincinnati Music Theatre Company. The director of Carousel and I became good friends; we still meet at Gabby’s once a month to catch up. I also sang in the Scottish Rite choir at The Masonic Temple downtown. It was the only Masonic choir in the country that included women at that time.”

Today, Glenn runs an entertainment group of 10 singers called The Martinaires, which does two-three shows a month, and more at Christmas for local community groups and retirement homes. She also teaches art and karaoke singing at OLLI. Glenn shows no signs of slowing down. I was lucky to catch her for this interview between trips to Maine and Europe!

Book Signing at Gabby’s
King will be doing signings of Vincent Aderente. Watch for news of one coming soon.

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