Louis Grell Foundation

"Showcasing the Legacy of Artist Louis Frederick Grell"

A connection between Louis Grell and Walt Disney

Category : News ยท No Comments September 21, 2013

What is the connection between Louis Grell and Walt Disney?

The Grell Family is proud to announce the arrival of Mr. Walt Disney’s art school transcripts from the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts for the years 1917 and 1918.

After a four month request with the Illinois Board of Higher Education, Mrs. Diane Disney Miller, as legal heir, to Walt Disney authorized the release of Disney’s art school transcripts to the Grell Family. Thank you, Mrs. Diane Disney Miller and Byron Larson.

Ever since we can remember, our great Aunt Helen Grell Bellinger would tells us remarkable stories about our Uncle Louis, the famous artist. Dozens of Louis paintings were strewn about her home on Broadway in Council Bluffs, like an overcrowded museum. One story that sticks out, of course, is the one she would proudly tell about how Louis taught a young man by the name of Walt Disney. Aunt Helen was a very proud and old traditional German lady, not known for her exaggerated fairytale stories-she was an honest and sincere woman. She had many stories about Louis and each of her prized possessions hanging on the walls.

According to Aunt Helen Grell Bellinger(1898-1999), Louis was Walt Disney’s art instructor back in Chicago a long time ago. It turns out that Louis Grell was a very private artist and never wanted much attention and therefore it goes, that this story remained a family treasured secret-until now. Louie would talk about this to family on numerous occasions. He told Aunt Ruth Grell Applegate the same story. She remembers it well.

After doing a great deal of research, turning up many clues, we have been able to confirm that Louie did teach art, at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts from 1916-1922 and that Walt Disney did in fact take art classes at night, at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts in 1917 and 1918. According to Walt Disney Archives at Disney.com and emails, we can confirm this. Furthermore, the Disney Archives confirms that after World War I, “Walt returned to Kansas City, where he began his career as an advertising cartoonist.” According to American Art News, December 9, 1916, page 4, under the Chicago sub heading, the dean of the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts “engaged him (Louie) as instructor of decorative painting, to show how to make color a force in commercial illustrations and in advertising drawings.”

Is it safe to assume that Mr. Disney took advertising drawings courses before his first position as an advertising cartoonist-that is for you to decide?

We want to thank Byron Larson and Mrs. Diane Disney Miller for authorizing the release of Walt Disney’s art transcripts to the Grell Family.