-September, 2022 UPDATE-
A visit to Flint in September, 2022, to Factory One, Kettering University Archives was a huge success and wonderful time. We also visited the Sloan Museum of Discovery and found additional archives related to the Pick-Durant commissions by Grell. We now know that at least eleven Purple Cow murals were painted at the Durant by Grell who may have also painted another mural inside the Adams room; a larger eating establishment inside the Durant.
Beginning in June 1941, the Durant Hotel in Flint Michigan (named after William “Billy” Durant [1861-1947] co-founder of General Motors and founder of the Frigidaire brand) was renamed the Pick-Durant after Albert Pick acquired rights to the property and commissioned Grell to once again paint Purple Cow murals. At least eleven were created and installed in early 1941 and were later saved by a waitress in the 1970’s then acquired by Kettering University. The University selected two of the more locally themed murals to be restored and now hang on the walls inside its new GM Purple Cow cafe on the second floor. Seven others are in storage and awaiting conservation work. One Purple Cow mural ran away (YOUNG THING) and is currently held in a private collection. It was announced in August, 1942 that Albert Pick had purchased the property outright and had completed an entire remodel. The interior was redecorated under the supervision of Ursala Suerth, who worked closely with Grell on countless Pick hotel improvements. It was common for Grell to be commissioned to paint murals for the lobby, a restaurant and the Purple Cow shop all under one roof totaling as many as twelve or more individual murals for one hotel.
The ten known Purple Cow murals at the Pick-Durant are; HOW SHE CAN COOK, GM TECH, DIZZY HEIGHT, MISSED DRAFT, FAIR COMPLEXION, CHARMING DATE, RATHER SEE THAN BE, POSITIVELY MERRY, BE A TREAT and YOUNG THING (plus one unknown mural hidden around the cove). Unfortunately, the clouds were later removed from the three restored murals; How She Can Cook, GM Tech and Young Thing. Pictures of the other seven are coming soon.
YOUNG THING – Celebrating the gaiety of times while having fun with the Purple Cow ice cream and sandwich shop themes. The poems were a highly competitive selection process where members of the public submitted their creations as part of a public competition where one was selected, then later painted onto the bottom of one locally themed mural. Typically the winning entrant was paid $25 for the use of the jingle and often the event made the local newspapers. The GM Tech at the Pick-Durant was the one locally themed mural designed for Flint. The other murals likely were utilized at multiple locations. Notice that the poem was not drawn onto the GM Tech mural at the time the photo was taken indicating the contest was not over yet. Someone in Flint likely created those words that were later added to the bottom of the mural by a local artist. The other ten poems were most likely drawn on by Grell since they were reused in other locations as indicated by the 1940 ad. This salvaged fragment depicts a banjo playing bovine with her beautifully colored cooking attire hoofing away on the strings.
The included four watercolors were drawn by Grell during this period and also adopted into the 1940 ad for the Pick-Ohio in Dayton. It is estimated by the Foundation that as many as seventy Purple Cow murals were imagineered by Grell.
2018 – Many thanks to Kettering University and Gregory M. Miller, Director Special Collections and University Archives in 2018 for sharing the photos and the amazing story behind the murals’ survival.
2022 – Special thanks to Jonathan and Michelle with the Sloan Museum of Discovery for assisting in research and being so welcoming and accommodating.
2022 – Kettering University Special Collections and Archives / General Motors and specifically Melanie Bazil, Archivist and Dr. Dina Mein, University Librarian for taking the time to meet, provide a wonderful tour of Factory One and assisting in research.
YOUNG THING – Hotel Pick-Durant, Flint, MI: oil on canvas mural previously adhered to a wall, now stretched into a painting, 40.75″ x 53.5″, 1941, held in a private collection
The four watercolors are part of the Louis Grell family collection.
How She Can Cook and GM Tech on display at Factory One, GM Purple Cow Cafe, Flint, MI
*August 28, 1941 black & white photo of the six murals; courtesy of the Sloan Museum of Discovery, Flint, MI
**Flint Journal; June 21, 1942 cover article © 1942 MLive Media Group/The Flint Journal