William Moulis was a world-renowned, accomplished artist for 48 years from 1941 to 1989. He was known for his mural paintings, as well as oils, watercolors, gouaches and collages. Most of his work featured flat, vivid colors reminiscent of French artist Henri Rousseau. As a world traveler, his subject matter was usually inspired by his surroundings and in turn, he had commissions all over the world. Moulis exhibited until his death in 1989.
Moulis was commissioned to paint public and private murals in many cities in the United States and abroad. At the height of his career, he was sought as a muralist to establish the design style for notable hotels and restaurants in Chicago, New York and Hong Kong. Moulis had one-man shows at the Government Pavillon in Morocco and at the U.S. Embassy in Manila. He was one of the few artists invited to display work in the exclusive 64th Annual American Show of Painting and Sculpture at the Art Institute of Chicago. He also served as resident artist for the Moroccan Cherifien Empire through the French Department des Beaux Arts in Rabat.
In 1937, William Moulis received a scholarship to attend the Art Institute of Chicago (AIC) and each year was awarded honorable mentions until his graduation in 1941. At AIC, he was mentored by Professor of Decorative Arts, Margaret Artingstall. While studying at AIC, he simultaneously attended the Institute of Design (now Illinois Institute of Technology’s Institute of Design) under the renowned architect Mies Van der Rohe. After serving in the United States Air Corps during World War II, Moulis returned to the Institute of Design and studied architecture under Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, founder of the New Bauhaus in Chicago and famed international, modernist artist.
In 1942, Moulis joined the United States Air Corps. While stationed at the San Bernardino Air Field, he was commissioned to paint murals in several buildings on the base, including a mural titled “Flight Through The Ages” in the American Red Cross Pilot’s Room Canteen.
William Moulis’s experience and work history began while he was a student at the Art Institute of Chicago. At that time, he was commissioned by Kate Raftery, notable owner of The Little Traveler at 404 South Third Street in Geneva, Illinois, to paint murals in various rooms of the business. This early commission flourished into a long-time friendship that lasted for the rest of their lives. Moulis marketed the ambiance of The Little Traveler through his design and authorship of The Little Traveler Almanacks, a quarterly promotional booklet mailed to customers around the world.
Following his service in World War II, Moulis moved into The Little Traveler. In 1952, he moved his art studio to his residence at 102 South Bennett Street in Geneva, where he lived out the remainder of his life.
As early as 1948, Moulis received his first major commission. He was awarded $100,000 from Chicago’s Hotel Stevens to redecorate the hotel’s Boulevard Room. It would become the largest hotel ice rink in the country featuring a big cast of skating stars and famous orchestras through the 1950s. Moulis painted large murals inside the room including the main scene behind the ice rink, which featured a modern Greek motif in gun metal, white and turquoise. This commission put Moulis on the map and was the first of many murals that he would complete for famous hotel chains including the Palmer House, Conrad-Hilton and Drake hotels in Chicago; Waldorf Astoria, Hotel New Yorker and Statler-Hilton Hotel in New York; Deshler-Hilton, Terrace-Hilton and Netherland-Hilton Hotels in Ohio; and the Mandarin Hotel in Hong Kong.
Moulis’s versatile creativity consisted of bold, contrasting colors with a semi-abstract method of painting that was sought after by large, successful businesses and organizations, as wells as private commissions. For the Chicago Men’s Club, he created a 40-by-26-foot mural of the Chicago Skyline featuring gray, white and black, with touches of gold in the building’s windows to give the feeling of a winter’s afternoon. Locally, Merchants National Bank in Aurora, Illinois, commissioned him to paint a 16-by-16-foot mural, titled “City of Lights,” depicting the city’s history. Moulis’s artistic style also became desirable for publicity and decor by elite organizations such as the Art Institute of Chicago, Symphony Orchestra of Chicago, Lincoln Park Zoo, Lyric Opera of Chicago and Shakespeare Festival at Ravinia.
In the 1950s and 60s, co-owners Ray Castro and Edison Dick opened over 15 upscale cafes and restaurants that were among Chicago’s most highly rated eateries. They chose Moulis as their primary designer for over seven of their restaurants. Moulis not only incorporated large scale murals, but also designed and developed the restaurants’ marketing style and menu designs.
William Moulis had a close business relationship with several well-known individuals in the architectural and interior design profession. Working for the Geneva architectural firm of Walter Frazier and Howard Raftery, Moulis provided murals for the famous Waldorf Astoria Starlight Roof in New York; the Rendevous Room at the Statler-Hilton Hotel in Buffalo New York; and the Mid-Day Club on the 56th Floor of the First National Bank of Chicago. Moulis also collaborated with noted American silk designer Jim Thompson to create jungle inspired patterns which Thompson applied to fabrics woven from Thai silkworms.
From 1972-1975, Moulis completed four major projects for legendary, New York designer, William Pahlmann, during the renovation of the Texas A&M University Memorial Student Center and Rudder Tower buildings. The motifs included sunbursts and floral designs, patterns taken from Native American pottery and blankets, and figurative work related to the history of theater. Additionally, his drawings depicting the flowers of Texas were the basis for a series of etched glass windows in the Student Center.
Many of Moulis’s paintings were adaptations of his travels in foreign countries. His oils and gouaches often incorporated collage by painting over native hand-woven materials or paper. The rich and famous purchased Moulis’s paintings for their collections, among those were Helen Hayes, Greer Garson, William Pahlmann, Arnold Maremont, Morehead Patterson, John R. Winterbotham, and Peter Wolkonsky. Among the Chicago elite that commissioned Moulis to decorate their homes with mural work were Brooks McCormick, John P. Kellogg, Kimball Salisbury, Elliott Donnelley, and John T. Pirie, Jr.
In addition, William Moulis painted and had over 20 one-man shows in Chicago, Paris, Bangkok, Marrakesh, and Rabat. His work was displayed in Chicago’s exclusive downtown art galleries and fulfilled a special role in the cultural life of the city. Some of the locations included Mandel Brothers in 1950, Watson & Boaler in 1953 and 1956, Main Street in 1960, the Chicago Public Library in 1967 and Fairweather-Hardin in 1957, 1963, 1966, 1974 and 1977. Locally, Moulis was chosen to exhibit within the Wayne Art League’s Show, the Community Hospital Geneva and Delnor Hospital St. Charles Benefit, the John Fordon Gallery of Aurora and the Norris Cultural Arts Center in St. Charles.
The Fox Valley Arts Hall of Fame gives public recognition to artists associated with the Fox Valley by birth, education, residence, or service who have achieved national or international acclaim. The artists honored with induction every other year represent the visual arts, performing arts, literary arts, media arts and educator/curator/benefactor. Each must have served at least twenty years in his or her profession. A second objective of the Fox Valley Arts Hall of Fame is to ensure a strong cultural legacy for future generations.
The Fox Valley Arts Hall of Fame will host an induction banquet celebration April 20 at Villa Olivia in Bartlett.