Lane Laffoon designs Stewie for Rees

Lane Laffoon working on the first and original ’Stewie’ which will make its debut at the first annual ‘Rees Screen Test’ Event which will be held on Thurs., April 25.
Jamie Fleury
Staff Writer

Lane Laffoon is a local musician and artist commissioned by the Rees Theater Project Committee to create the ‘Stewie’ after Stewart Rees, builder and founder of the Rees Theater.

Rees Theater is having the first annual ‘Rees Screen Test’ on Thurs., April 25 starting at 6 p.m. The event is a quiz bowl style fundraiser for the Rees Theater. Teams of 4 can sign up for $200 per team and will be competing for the coveted ‘Stewie’ award, designed after Stewart Rees who opened the Rees Theater in 1940.

Members of the Rees Theater project committee developed the idea for the ‘Stewie’ together. Laffoon, who is well-known for his commercial art skills, was approached to manifest the vision. Laffoon has been instrumental in the reproductions of several historical art-deco pieces once embellishing the walls of the historical building.

Rees Theater Project Volunteer Dennis Bottorff shared the history of Stewart Rees. “Stewart Rees was the builder and founder of the Rees Theater. He had a Theater before that, but he started the Rees in 1939 and opened it in 1940. Everyone knew him as ‘Stewie’.”

According to Bottorff, Stewie’s father owned the ‘Gem Theater’ which was located on Garro Street. As a young man, Stewie bought the Theater from his father and had a vision for a bigger, better Theater experience. He purchased the building where the Rees now sits, and renovated it to become the Rees Theater.

Despite the war (though the United States did not enter World War II until December 1941) and the challenge of getting construction materials, the Rees was completed in 8 months. “Movies were depression proof. The decade that had the greatest movie attendance was the 1930’s. Which is amazing because when you think about it, that was the height of the depression. People still had a nickel or fifteen cents and would go to a movie. He saw that and noted that it was a depression proof business. He knew how to do it from his father so he made the investment. The Rees opened on February 1, 1940.”

The idea of awarding a ‘Stewie’ was inspired by several conversations among passionate Rees enthusiasts for which not one, but all members share the credit for the vision. Bottorff shared enthusiastically, “This is the Plymouth version of the Oscars. We think it’s going to be a lot better than the Oscars. We think this (Stewie) is a lot better looking than the Oscar.”

The team that wins the Rees Screen Test will be awarded the ‘Stewie’ trophy. Bottorff confirmed that the ‘Stewie’ will continue to be produced and used in other promotions to share the enthusiasm and continue to intensify support for the Rees Theater Project. “It’s going to be the Academy Awards for the Rees Theater. It has a great look to it and ‘Stewie’ is a great name for it!”

Laffoon shared that there are several stages to the process; make the clay, make a mold, let it set, let it dry, let it cure, pour the resin in the mold and let it cure, and do the finish work on the piece. He was given a historical photograph of Stewart Rees to refer to for the detail work.The piece has an ‘Oscar Academy Award’ essence combining the spirit of Stewart Rees with the soul of downtown Plymouth. Laffoon has paid meticulous attention to detail including the fabrication of tiny wire rimmed glasses to enhance the likeness of ‘Stewie’.

Laffoon used a coin in the design of the film can and fabricated tiny wire rimmed glasses to enhance the likeness of ‘Stewie’. The coin Laffoon used to design the film can was designed by his inspiration, Warner Williams of Culver. “This is actually a coin that I got from a friend when I was a kid. This is the Indiana Sesquicentennial Coin. Warner Williams of Culver sculpted this.”

Laffoon shared that including the coin in the design of the Stewie serves as a memorial to Williams, also. “He was really nice to me. My parents owned a coffee shop in Culver. Warner was down there with his geodesic dome. This is my own little memento to Warner.”

Laffoon was inspired by Warner and spoke very highly of him. Laffoon still uses a tool that Warner crafted for him. “When I was a kid I used to ride my bike down to his studio to watch him. That’s what got me hooked on this. Warner Williams was an old man and retired by the time I came along.”

Laffoon shared that the art-deco piece he made for the Rees Theater is cold-cast bronze. “The first couple of steps you can use resin or plaster. You could use wax and make a bronze from it. So the first steps are the same, no matter what medium you pour into it.” Bronze is costly, so Laffoon uses bronze powder embedded in plastic, called resin, to sustain the appearance of bronze while at the same time remaining economical. “Once I make the mold, you can do a number of different things with them.”

Laffoon is making a two-piece mold of ‘Stewie’ to facilitate an easier pour which will make the reproduction process more efficient. Laffoon has already dedicated over 80 hours to ‘Stewie’. Laffoon has modeled ‘Stewie’ in 1:8 scale. “This type of art is considered commercial art as opposed to fine art.” Laffoon specified. A two-piece mold offers versatile reproduction opportunities, “If you use only the front half of the cast, the back will be flat so you can hang it on a wall.”

Laffoon is one of many supporters of the Rees who have fond memories of the Theater. Laffoon shared with a smile, “When the picture of ‘Gone with the Wind’ was in the newspaper, my mother was standing in line with my grandmother.”

Laffoon is happy to be working on the project for the Rees. The collaboration was welcome both ways. “I talked to Randy one day about it. Randy and I were in the same class in school.”

“Most people in Plymouth don’t know that I even do this.” Laffoon’s art is not limited to commercial pieces. He restores vintage musical instruments, produces 3 dimensional works at the Fire Arts Studio in South Bend, and demonstrates his musical stylings during Jam Night at Wild Rose Moon.

Guests can purchase a ticket for $20 each to attend the ‘Rees Screen Test’ and cheer for their favorite team. Tickets are available at the Marshall County Historical Museum. The fee covers foodnd drinks. A cash bar will also be open. There are three categories for the trivia questions; History of Movies, Marshall County and the Rees Theater. Bottorff will proctor the show.

All are welcome to participate in the Facebook Marquee Quiz to win prizes. Periodically a challenge is posted on the Rees marquee and posted on FB. The first person to answer the trivia question correctly in the comment section wins that challenge. Winners names are entered into a drawing to be awarded Rees prizes the night of the event.

The Rees Project Committee has entered into ‘Act II’ to complete the capital campaign of their fundraising effort and put the plan into motion to restore the Rees as a multi-cultural event venue. The original structure was built in 1865. Renovations and restoration include a stage to be named ‘The Bob Pickell Performing Arts Stage’ in his honor.

Rees enthusiasts hope to raise enough funds to re-open in 2020 which would mark the 80th anniversary of the original opening in 1940. As stated on, ‘Our mission is to provide a catalyst for the promotion of artistic, educational and cultural events in the region as well as offer a venue to celebrate life and community milestones’.

Donations can be made through Marshall County Community Foundation through Custom made pendants created by Kari Chittenden are available for purchase at the Heartland Artist Gallery. Rees shirts are available for purchase at the Marshall County Historical Society and Museum. Support for the completion of the Rees is still needed and appreciated.
Shelley Heiden confirmed that teams are forming, but there is still room for more. Teams may register by contacting Lisa Miller at 574-780-6373. Teams are also encouraged to provide a name for their team. The event will be held at the Knights of Columbus Hall located at 901 E. Jefferson St., Plymouth. The contest will begin at 7 p.m. Doors open for food, fun and beverages at 6 p.m.

What machine kept knocking down Julie Andrews during the filming of the first scene of ‘The Sound of Music’? Find out by attending the ‘Rees Screen Test’ Thursday, April 25. Tickets are on sale now.