Art helps shape history of Lyons Township High School

Art teacher Patrick Page’s lectures may be fast paced, but he can hit the high points from 125 years of Lyons Township High School history in less than an hour.

Page focused on the art and architectural highlights of the north campus building in La Grange during a presentation to community members April 1. Like a detective unraveling a mystery, he traced the hunt for information on intriguing artworks above the Reber Center foyer.

Latin teacher Laurie Jolicoeur and Page learned the foyer’s plaster casts of friezes were replicas of scenes sculpted in marble of the east wall of Athens’ ancient Parthenon.

The plaster casts were a gift from the school’s architect, Joseph C. Llewellyn, and were set as the crowning jewel on a large new public gathering space of the school’s 1928 addition, Page said.

The friezes were symbolic of the architect’s vision for the school not only as a seat of wisdom, but as a community center with the Reber Center auditorium and paneled Community Room across the foyer.

The Sunday Night Club met at LT for 30 years and hosted Admiral Richard Bird, Amelia Earhart, the von Trapp family singers and the Ebenezer Baptist Choir among many notables, Page said.

Research on the friezes led to the school’s fourth-floor storage space and archives of school newspapers and yearbooks, uncovering a trove of history.

Edith Murphy, the teacher in charge of LT’s arts club from 1924-45, spearheaded much of the school’s cultural development. Murphy organized student fundraising campaigns to buy artworks. Charles Vickery, noted seascape painter, was her student. She supervised students painting five murals for the cafeteria in 1937.

Some of the slides for Page’s talk showed treasures no longer at the school, such as a bronze bust of Lindberg and a bronze plaque of the Gettysburg address, which may have been sold and melted. Murphy’s murals were painted over in the 1980s.

The foyer, too, has been altered with one of the main friezes removed to make way for an extension of the auditorium wall. Beams in the foyer ceiling, intended to resemble a Greek temple, were covered with a drop ceiling.

But a number of historical pieces related to the school survived and were on display just for the evening from the Flag Creek Heritage Society in Burr Ridge and the Western Springs and La Grange Area historical societies.

A table from the LT Alumni Association showed a selection of school buttons, dance cards, a 1922 trophy, letter sweater and beanie. The also was the top portion of the Hobo Day Trophy, commemorating a school celebration through the 1940s.

“This was outstanding and so interesting going back so many years,” said Kathryn Lange of Countryside, who graduated in 1972. “I hope they take out the foyer ceiling and show the original beams.”

Lange said the program was particularly meaningful because three generations of her family have attended LT. Her mother, Rose Zdunich, graduated in 1943, Lange’s husband, Rick, graduated in 1975, their son, Ricky graduated in 2009, and their daughter, Karenna, will graduate in May.

“I definitely see the architecture of LT in a different way now,” Karenna Lange said. “Now I really want to go up and see what’s in that fourth floor.”

Her classmate, Paige Matusiak of La Grange, said she was looking forward to the presentation after helping Page with various projects, such as scanning old yearbooks and newspapers.

“It really is incredible how intricate everything is here,” Matusiak said. “It was interesting hearing how the community would come together to fund stuff of artistic value.”

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