Now Showing: “Spirit of Llano”

WRITTEN FOR THE LLANO NEWS IN LLANO TEXAS

It’s been said that a picture is worth a thousand words.

(intentional run-on sentence follows — creative freedom)

If that’s true, the newly discovered, framed bas-relief, art-deco, high-sheen, gilded-sculpture, entitled “Spirit of Llano”, that now hangs centrally and prominently featured in a place of restored honor, on the main wall of the newly revived and renovated lobby of the LanTex Theater, must be worth all the printed words on every gilded-leaf page of the entire volume collection of a circa-1930s (art-deco’s heyday) special-edition set of Encyclopedia Texicana.

Spirit of Llano

Spirit of Llano

The bas-relief sculpture depicts an agile buck leaping free-form, in a graceful ascent, over both the town of Llano, symbolized as a rising star, and the Llano river, the town’s source of life — both of which are shown situated upon the heart-core of Texas, the Llano Uplift of the Texas Hill Country.  To one side of this buck is a nopal cactus, whence come nopales, the very manna of Central Texas.  To its other side is an agave cactus, whence comes tequila, the semi-official beverage of Texas and, some would say, the perfect accompaniment to a nopales taco.  The entire piece constantly reminds that, Llano is “the deer capital of Texas”.

These artfully-collaged images also show-off a glistening polish that reflects the polished-work that took place in the theater’s lobby over an exhaustive three day period last week — even as that labor-of-love, performed by a group of civic-hearted volunteers, reflects the giving spirit of this amazing community.  This work, commenced under the inspired orchestration of Llano Main Street Manager, Terry “Tex” Toler, turned the LanTex lobby itself into a work of art.  At the same time, the aptly-titled “Spirit of Llano” bas-relief artwork, on which the larger lobby volunteer work centers, indeed expresses the spirit of the land.

Tex explained the impetus behind this community volunteer effort while working in the lobby himself last week.  In fact, he did so while further polishing that piece of sculpted artwork.  “Movies transport viewers, especially young viewers, allowing their imaginations to take flight.  A good movie experience will stay with you the rest of your life.  There are those still living in Llano today, who remember those experiences from the first days of the LanTex, a theater that is still viable today and deserving of honor as a symbol of Llano’s heritage.  The goal for the LanTex is to return it to a realistic and artistic rendition that is consistent with how a theater, with Central Texas roots, must have appeared in 1927— in the Golden Era of Hollywood — when the theater was first opened.”

Tex had then picked-up a sponge and had moved across the room to touch-up a faux-painted golden doorway before continuing.  “My goal, as Main Street Manager, is to help keep the Lantex Theater viable and profitable for the community by booking conferences, workshops, seminars and a wider variety of performing arts events. In order to effectively execute this plan, the LanTex must look and function her best.  It’s also important because this town is about to truly emerge on the stage of Texas.”

Llano is indeed, by all accounts, on the verge of renaissance — and in the fullest sense of that term.  Tex had then turned back to the sculpture to check its leveling and centering on the wall, as if to emphasize its iconic role in this new emergence of Llano.  The story of the origins of that piece of bas-relief art-deco does indeed speak to this now palpable sense of Llano’s fast-approaching renaissance.

Frank Rowell’s discovery of the framed-sculpture beneath the stage of the LanTex theatre, along with its inspired name-christening by Rich Houston, epitomizes these times for the community of Llano.  It also quite literally encapsulates “the way Texas used to be” in a piece of “what-was-once-old-is-now-new-again”, gilded-theater glitz.  A time-capsule of Llanoan-vogue from nearly a century ago, is suddenly the “new/now” icon par excellence for the current Llano experience.  Like any good Texas tale, the story of the discovery of this communal gift may be tall on legend and short on fact.  It matters not.  As already noted, the mythic piece itself speaks truth in volumes — while its discovery mirrors the rediscovery of this town, river and land by those who live here.

LanTex Lobby

LanTex Lobby

The sculpture’s artist, who failed to make him/herself known by signing the work, seems to revel in the buck’s leaping ascent over Central Texas.  And, the bas-relief’s preeminent display within the lobby, along with the diffused golden-glow of the lobby itself, provides a warm, subdued-elegance to welcome visitors to the theater — a theater suddenly poised as the ready, media-oriented chronicler of Llano’s own imminent and shining ascent.  This Llanoan-ascent is already hinted at throughout the LanTex lobby by the art-deco themed light-rays emanating from a center found everywhere and extending to a circumference found nowhere, almost enwombing all who enter.  “This,” the LanTex itself seems to say, “is the place from which Llano’s immediate future will be birthed — a future that will unfold Llano’s own Central Texas preeminence.”  Indeed, the very spring of the deer, itself surrounded by these rays of light upon the sculpture, seems to take this buck from Llano’s past to its future via an eastward leap, toward a rising sun.

As Llanoites gather together in the new-old lobby of the LanTex, a great re-membering is inevitable — a remembering that this is a “land of legend and lure”.  And there’s now a knowing, that what has always been true, is even more true today.  To step into the lobby of the LanTex Theater now is to simultaneously step into Llano’s gilded past and today’s dawning Llanoan golden-age.  To experience this theater now is to simultaneously experience a moment in time and a moment outside of time.  From here, one may look both to the past and to the future. In either direction, you will “see Texas from here”, because you’ll be catching glimpses of the Texas story from the perspective of an ascended Llano.

The LanTex Theater, itself a place of storied history, has now a new story of Llano to tell — and it’s a good one.  As the layers of time have been peeled back from the encasings of the LanTex lobby, this story has been revealed and made ready for a showing very near you.  It’s a vintage play that is being shared from an updated and polished script that gives expression to a new myth — one in which the Spirit of Llano has the starring role.  Each and every Llanoite is invited to the premier.  In fact, it’s an interactive performance and each has a part to play in this new story of Llano’s emergence.

Most have heard one of the town’s favorite mantras in relation to this emergence, the near-universal and constant refrain, “We don’t want to become another Fredericksburg.”  “Agreed,” says Tex, “we want to become the best Llano that we can be.”

That’s the “Spirit of Llano” — Now Showing at the LanTex Theater.

Hopefully, I’ve delivered that picture in a thousand words.

Gregory M. Klein

However, there’s yet a story to tell — the story of the core of volunteers who continue to bring this moving picture to the LanTex, in its first re-visioning since 2009.  And, these just happen to be many of the same folks who have been keeping the LanTex operational and performing for the community.

Frank Rowell is a major contributor of time and energy to the on-going work of renovating the LanTex.  He has also served as a valuable advisor to Tex.  While responsibility for the management of the LanTex has now been received by Tex, Frank and wife Patti Felts, had been managing most of the operations of the LanTex Theater since its management was first taken over by the Main Street Program in 2008.  Frank was the Main Street Manager at that time and had already been helping-out at the LanTex while it was under the previous management of Tony Griffith.  It was a natural progression for him to take over operations at that time.  In the years since, Frank has been greatly assisted in the management operation of the theatre by, not only his wife Patti, but also his friends, Ron Anderson and Steve Roberts.

Ron has focussed on handling the presentations of movies to the theater’s audiences, while Frank and Patti have focussed more on handling the presentation of theatrical and Opry performances.

Steve Roberts, who has often filled-in for Frank in the managing of operations, founded and manages the Llano Film Society which, in association with the Texas Independent Film Network, has been responsible for bringing independent Texas films to the LanTex Theater.  Sometimes these Texas film showings are even accompanied by in-person presentations at the LanTex, from these independent movies’ directors.  In fact, next month, Steve and the Llano Film Society will be bringing four or five short movies to the LanTex, along with an interactive discussion, involving the audience members and led by Texas movie industry players, focussing on the current state of movie-making in Texas.

Cheryl Crabtree, also known by her comedic Opry stage name, Bucille Snotgrass, has helped consistently throughout the on-going renovation.  She also has a long and consistent association with the LanTex in general, and is one of the town’s most knowledgeable experts on the theater’s complex history.  As part of the Llano Community Performing Arts Group, she helped re-open the theater after it had been closed for some time by the previous arts group — which had received its ownership of the theater from a church!  She also helped establish, a couple years later, the theater’s famous and popular Opry performances.  She then helped in the theater’s transfer to city ownership a year after that.  She too continues to act as a valuable advisor to Tex regarding the theater.

Marilyn Hale has also been putting in long hours at the on-going renovation project.  In fact, Marilyn has been a true champion of the LanTex and one of its most consistent and regular volunteers over the years.  She is also part of the Main Street advisory panel that was responsible for the recommended hiring of Terry “Tex” Toler to the position of Main Street Manager.  Marilyn can readily speak of the history and importance of the LanTex theater too, reminding the community that the LanTex has been instrumental in providing a neutral place for political forums, public-policy discussions and even educational programs — including the critical water education program during the worst year of the current drought.

Chris Slade is a seemingly tireless volunteer who helps-out with many projects around Llano.  While Chris likes to describe himself as “retired”, those who know him chuckle at this modesty.  Chris may have retired from a paid gig, but he never stopped working.  A Master Gardener, he regularly starts work early in the morning — whether building structures at the Visitor Center’s depot garden or leading the installation of the town’s new community gardens.  In addition to contributing long hours to the on-going renovation of the theater, Chris also played an important role in bringing a new state-of-the-art, wireless, remote-controlled digital projector and sound system to the LanTex!  He volunteered to take-on the arduous task of the technical research that was needed by the LEDC before the system could be ordered and built.  Though the LEDC still needs to be paid back for this purchase, delivery of the system, along with the week-long installation process, is expected to occur sometime in the next month.

Rich Houston is a rancher, craftsman/artisan and writer who is establishing himself as a master researcher.  He has been able to turn-up and share many obscure and intriguing facts about Llano in general and the LanTex Theater in particular.  As mentioned, Rich also came-up with the simply perfect name “The Spirit of Llano” for the bas-relief, art-deco sculpture that now hangs on the wall behind the counter in the LanTex lobby.  He and girlfriend Heather Kuhn have also been helping in the renovation.  Rich’s research has uncovered many interesting tidbits of LanTex trivia including the image of a poster for a 1927 LanTex showing of the film, “Damaged Goods” — a film about VD considered so “scandalous” (but “clergy approved”) that it required men and women to attend at separate showings, lest it incite impure feelings toward the opposite sex!

Janice Crenwelge, a patron of the LanTex, has also given of her time. Marcus Hammons has assisted the on-going renovation.  I too have helped.

Then, of course, there’s Terry “Tex” Toler, the City of Llano’s Main Street Manager, who is awed by the this town’s volunteer spirit.  “Every day I spend in Llano I’m impressed and amazed at the amount of passion the citizens have for their town. Everyone I meet seems to be a contributor to multiple causes, events and projects.  Here in Llano, I can merely mention an idea or proposal, and several folks speak up with ideas to make it better, offer solutions and sources, and commit to helping however they can. This has been the case with the LanTex Theater lobby’s quick, mini but extreme make-over — and I know it’ll be the same with the renovation work still to be done at the theater.  The Lantex will not only be a theater that holds fond memories, it can once again make fond memories for a new generation of Llanoites.  It will also be a catalyst for some exciting economic development for Llano, attracting more visitors and vitality into downtown and into the whole community.”

“Llano is a great place,” reminds Tex, “the last unspoiled town in the Texas Hill Country.”

Though the renovation of theater’s lobby is nearly finished, there is plenty of work still to be done.  There are renovation plans in place for the theater’s seating and stage areas.  The outside front face of the LanTex is also about to see a make-over.  If you’re inspired to volunteer, your help would certainly be appreciated!  Contact Tex at 325-247-4158 x209 or by email ttoler@cityofllano.com.

The LanTex Theater
113 W Main St, Llano, TX 78643
325-247-5656
http://www.lantextheater.com/

Story by: Gregory M. Klein