Barbara Nakles’ Legacy


Arielle Teppert

Mrs. Nakles is captured telling the story of her previous neighbor, Ms. Hager to Mrs. Stallings in the entryway of the high school.

Seeing Through Different Avenues

Whenever a person thinks of art, they might think of the vibrant colors interchanging perfectly to create a story. However, at Greater Latrobe Senior High School, art has a much deeper meaning. This year’s Art Gala honoree, Barbara Nakles, has a powerful story that resonates with her. “I have no art ability. I don’t see in vision; I see in words. The lowest mark I ever got in school was in art, just a passing grade. We had no art. The only art in my house was a church calendar that would have pictures on it,” she explains. 


Where the Story Begins

Although art was scarce during the Great Depression and World War II, an individual made it her undertaking to bring art into Greater Latrobe’s Senior High School. “Mary Martha Himler was the art teacher at the high school and was always so upset that her students never could see quality original art. She was a member of The Associated Artists in Pittsburgh and every year they had a big exhibit and so she arranged to borrow paintings from that exhibit. She had a little two-seater car and she would pile all the paintings into the back and brought them to the school. But she didn’t just show them to her art class, she determined that all the students should see original art, and that’s where the assembly began,” Nakles stated. 


Introduction to Art

Annually the elementary students would march to the high school where Ms. Himler would showcase the paintings she received from The Associated Artists in Pittsburgh. As a 1952 graduate of the Greater Latrobe School District, this assembly was the first thing that exposed Nakles to different types of art. “For most kids, that was the only course in art appreciation that we had. I’ve been part of it from the beginning. I grew up with this art collection without knowing anything about it except somehow these paintings,” said Nakles.


Partner in Crime

Ms. Himler knew that she would need help to secure art as a priority in high school. Nakles states, “She then got Mr. Beatty involved who was just as bad as she was, I had him for Problems of Democracy. The two of them got together and they fought each other back and forth. He told me she was the most stubborn woman he had ever met. She had a few words about him. But they worked together.”


Continuing the Legacy

Ms. Himler and Mr. Beatty’s dream became a reality. The student council raised countless dollars at football game concession stands and knocking on neighbors’ doors outside of the high school. The people within the Latrobe community gave the student council a dollar in exchange for membership with the 100 Friends of Art. 


The Transformation of Tradition

As time went on, the art collection transformed along with the individuals involved. “When Mr. Beatty was 90 years old, Ms. Himler died. He was very worried about the art collection; it was his baby. My husband Ned was the solicitor for the school district and Mr. Beatty called him and said, ‘Ned you have to do something,’” Nakles expressed. Ned did something indeed.


Preserving the Admiration of Art

After careful consideration, Mr. Ned Nakles reached a solution. “He went to the school board and he said “You have to do something about this”, and they said, “Good Ned, we appoint you: a committee of one.”


The Board of Helpers

During the second school board meeting, Ned brought The Art Conservation Trust for approval. After he went out into the district and found people that were willing to contribute, he started to form the trust. “Ned was very smart about the people he chose in the beginning. The first thing he did was put three foundations on his board: The McFeeley-Rogers Foundation, the McKenna Foundation, and then he brought in the Mellon Foundation,” Nakles explained. Even though the foundations were tremendous in helping contribute to the art trust, community members and the school board president were also involved. “They did so much and promoted so much,” she stated.


Getting Her Feet Wet in Art

“In our family, if somebody gets involved everybody is involved no matter what. That’s how I got started,” Nakles exclaimed. Barbara loved stories and how they told the tale with words. She soon found out, that within every painting is a story. 


Putting in the Work

“Once I got the stories of the paintings, it just went on and on. We would go out to every organization and church and put on a slideshow. But these people weren’t interested in how the paintings were made. They were interested in the stories behind the paintings,” Nakles explained. 


Hard Work Pays Off

Through hard work and perseverance, during the year 1991, the trust raised $60,000 for the first conservation. With Barbara’s sophisticated writing skills, The Art Trust gave her the opportunity to write for the catalog A Unique Vision of Art. “I knew that I needed to research the artists and the paintings. Among the things I did was to go back to 1936 and read all The High Post editions because there were always stories every year about the art collection,” Nakles stated. In 1996 the first edition sold out followed by the 2007 and 2022 editions. Each edition was bought by individuals for members of their households to enjoy. “I wanted people to read the small description and then look back up at the painting and find something that they have not seen before,” she exclaimed. 


Nakles’ Love for Art

Not only did Barbara attend every Art Gala since 1991, but she left her mark on each individual who attended. “Up until we started using student docents to talk about the paintings, I would do that at the gala. Then we chose to have student docents because this is so student-focused and that made it very important that they do that instead,” she explained. 


The Stories Behind the Art Work

One of Barbara’s favorite ways to get involved is by giving art tours at the high school. “First, I am enthralled by the stories, thinking words, to begin with but the whole wonder of The Art Collection is the people. The art is wonderful but that’s the result. It’s the people,” Nakles stated. Each story she tells is unique to each piece of art. Through each detail she portrays, the people on the tour take home a new vision of art. 


The People

Nakles said that she loves “the effect that those stories have on the people on the tour”. Everyone has a favorite piece of art within the collection. Whatever that piece may be, each person is brought together by one thing, art. “Drawing the people into it is such a warm feeling,” Nakles explained.


Nakles’ Legacy

Even though many individuals have contributed to The Art Conservation Trust and the Art Galas, Barbara Nakles has left her legacy in the halls and on the walls of Greater Latrobe. From the catalogs to the tours, and the galas, Nakles has dedicated her livelihood to providing art for each student. For all of these reasons, Barbara Nakles has been chosen as the honoree of the Art Gala. Her recognition will take place on November 3rd, 2022 in the Center for Student Creativity within the walls of the Greater Latrobe Senior High School. For art is a beautiful thing, we should honor those who narrate the story behind the delicate strokes of paint.