Original Oil Painting Back at the Park Theatre

Original Oil Painting Back at the Park Theatre

Posted by on Oct 3, 2006 | 4 comments

Oct. 3, 2006
Article and Photos by Bryce Mayer
North Vernon Plain Dealer & Sun

Hulda Reichenbach kept pinching herself to make sure she wasn’t dreaming.
“I can’t believe it. I can’t believe it. I can’t believe it,” she said as Wes Bradshaw and Scott Ramey carried a large oil painting into the Park Theatre Thursday.

After over 44 years away from the downtown North Vernon landmark, the painting, known locally as the “The Lady and the Lion,” is back home where it belongs. The painting hangs in a prominent place in the theater — at the top of the stairs looking down on the lobby.
“I’m a preservationist, so I’m glad the painting is where people can see it again,” said Paul Staublin, who finally agreed to sell the painting.

A former North Vernon man who now resides in Madison, Staublin cleaned, patched and repaired several small tears in the canvas and touched up the frame as part of his price — $3,000. Staublin said he is giving the painting to the Park Theatre. The three grand is to cover the cost of storage and maintenance over the last four decades.

Hulda Reichenbach, Paul Staublin and the painting "The Lion's Girl"

Hulda Reichenbach, Paul Staublin and the painting "The Lion's Girl"

Reichenbach was obsessed with finding the painting. She put out the word in this newspaper and finally got a tip that led her to Staublin. “I think it was either Harriett Huffman or Zella Matthews who called to tell me that Paul might have the painting,” Reichenbach said.

Tracking down Staublin was a chore in itself. With a background as an antique dealer, as well as innkeeper, accountant and professional gardener, Staublin was a bit elusive.

“I had the hardest time finding Paul,” said Reichenbach, who left numerous phone messages at several places that weren’t returned. In desperation, she visited the Columbus Inn, which Staublin owned at the time, and found him there. Staublin confirmed to Reichenbach that he indeed had the painting and possibly would be willing to part with it.

Try as she may, Reichenbach could not coax Staublin into specifying terms.
“I didn’t know what price to offer him,” she said. “Paul said the painting was worth $25,000. He also said, ‘The painting will be back in the theater.’ But we never could get any farther than that.”

Reichenbach was unable to procure the painting in time for the Park’s Sept. 27, 2003, grand opening but remained undeterred. She continued negotiating with Staublin off and on since then.

Another version of painting found

Then last July, Karen Gorbett Stalker, a friend of Reichenbach’s from North Vernon who now resides in Louisville, found another version of the painting at a Louisville antique store. This was the leverage Reichenbach needed. She immediately contacted Staublin and told him if he wouldn’t give the Park Theatre his painting that it would purchase the one in Louisville.
Staublin agreed, even allowing Reichenbach and Stalker to view the painting in storage at a home he owns in Columbus.

“We couldn’t believe how good of shape the painting was in,” Reichenbach said.
Nevertheless, Reichenbach had to keep pressing Staublin for two more months for the painting’s delivery, which she desperately wanted to happen before the theatre’s anniversary week of special events.

The 11th hour delivery occurred two days before the anniversary’s opening concert. Bradshaw volunteered his services and those of Ramey, an employee with Bradshaw Building Specialties, to take his truck and trailer to Columbus to get the painting and return it to North Vernon.

Hulda Reichenbach with The Lion's Bride

Hulda Reichenbach was excited to see The Lion's Bride on its journey to the Park Theatre

The painting was on display in all its glory in time for Saturday’s appreciation night concert with Brenda Williams. Considering the fact that the painting had been stored in a chicken house for two years, from 1962 to 1964, the painting is in remarkable condition. After Howard “Doc” Black closed the Park Theatre in March 1962, the painting came into the possession of Dorothy Sears, an antique dealer herself, according to Staublin.

“Mrs. Sears said she purchased the painting, but I suspect it was being pitched and she got it for nothing,” Staublin said. Staublin said he had some “things” that Sears wanted and a transaction was soon forged for the painting. “It was a trade and purchase,” he said.

Painting displayed at former North Vernon hotel

He brought the painting to the Century Inn, formerly known as the Metropole Hotel, that he owned in downtown North Vernon, just down the street from the then-closed Park Theatre.
He cleaned the canvas carefully using Ivory soap, a technique he learned from experts, then commissioned Judson Boykin, an artist and art museum curator, to restore the painting. Boykin worked in a third-floor room in the now long-gone hotel where Staublin said the early morning light was ideal for the undertaking.

Once the restoration was completed, the painting was displayed in the lobby of the hotel. Staublin also furnished the lobby with furniture that had carved lion heads.
In 1965, Staublin sold the hotel and moved his family to Columbus. He left an accounting position at Thompson Industries in North Vernon and took a similar job at Hamilton Cosco. The “Lion and the Lady” went into a garage converted into a family pool room at his home in the Donner Park area.

Frank Houppert, the operator of the Jennings Theatre, brought the painting from a “stylish barber shop” in Alabama to North Vernon according to an article in the Nov. 19, 1964, Plain Dealer. The painting apparently was hung in the theater near the time of its opening.

Painting’s real name, ‘The Lion’s Bride,’ discovered

Research by Zella Matthews revealed that the painting is actually a copy of “The Lion’s Bride,” which was painted by Gabriel Cornelius Ritter von Max in the late 1800s. Further research by Brian Perry found that the painting is based on a German fairy tale about a young girl who raises a lion cub to adulthood, but abandons it when she decides to marry. On her farewell visit, the lion, lying solemnly, suddenly flies into a rage and kills her. The story ends with the lion sadly at the girl’s side while her betrothed rushes up to the cage with a rifle to dispatch the lion.

“The painting is so big and imposing. It has a peculiar affinity for the Park Theatre,” said Richard Thompson of Indianapolis, whose father, Albert, owned and managed the theater from 1938 to 1960. Richard Thompson, his wife, Jean, and children, Sean Thompson and Amy Stehr, contributed the $3,000 to the Park Theatre to pay Staublin’s fee.

“It’s our family’s contribution to the theater,” Richard Thompson said proudly. “Everyone remembers that painting and it belongs in the Park Theatre.”

“It will look nice back in the theater,” said Claudine McIntire, Staublin’s wife of 48 years, as the painting was carried away from its storage site at her Columbus home.
Staublin, 70, said the painting evokes many memories for him and hopes it does the same for many others.

“I remember seeing it in the Park Theatre as a child. We didn’t get to go to the movies at the Park very often, maybe twice a year. Every time I did, I was always scared to look at the painting,” he said.

Staublin also remembers another painting that hung at the Park. “It was a smaller oil painting of a circus performer on a unicycle that was in the auditorium,” he said. “I don’t have any idea of what happened to it, but I’ll never forget it.”

Don’t expect Reichenbach to start a search for that painting. She doesn’t remember it and, besides, she is fully satisfied to have “The Lion’s Bride” back at its rightful home.
“I’m just in a daze,” she said. “I still can’t believe it’s here.”



  1. Ronald C. Nelson says:

    I have a 15×25 very old framed picture of “The Lion’s Bride” that hung in my grandmothers living room in W. Virginia. I was very young but remember it from 55 to 60 years ago. It’s in very good shape In a old frame with wood slate backing. I need to take it out of the frame to see if any thing is on the back of it. I would like to know if it is worth anything?

    Thank you

    • brianwperry says:

      Unfortunately, The Lion’s Bride that hangs on our wall is also a reproduction (albeit a very LARGE reproduction). It is “original” to us because this painting is the same one that hung in our theatre over fifty years ago, bringing back fantastic memories for those in and around our community old enough to remember the original theatre.

      We’ll keep our fingers crossed for you that an appraiser will find your version to be worth a small fortune. Give us a call if so, as we accept any and all donations! (we’re kidding, sort of).

      Brian Perry – Park Theatre

  2. Chris Hiser says:

    Hi Brian,

    My name is Chris. My wife ( also Kris) and I would love to come and see your painting sometime if thats possible. Its Kristals favorite painting!

    We live in north west Ohio but would be able to make the plans to visit the area if a viewing would be possible.

    Please let me know what we might be able to work out.

    Thanks Brian,
    Sincerely, Chris and Kris

    • brianwperry says:

      Chris & Kris – We are always happy to show off the painting anytime. One option might be to check out to calendar of upcoming events and join us for an evening, where we’ll have a volunteer give you a tour. I also live in Northwest Ohio (Ottawa Hills) but North Vernon is my hometown and I’ve been involved with the board for over 15 years. In my humble opinion, the Park Theatre is one of the most special buildings in the Midwest.


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