Welcome Nina!

Thanks to the Decorative Arts Trust, based in Media, Pennsylvania, the Center has a new Resident Collections Fellow—Nina Blomfield.

Recipient of the Decorative Arts Trust Marie Zimmermann Collections Fellowship, Nina joined the Center on July 26. We’re delighted to report that in just her first few weeks, Nina has jumped right into the work of the Cranbrook Center!

A native of New Zealand, Nina received her BA from Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, and earned her MA in History of Art at Bryn Mawr College, Pennsylvania, where her thesis focused on the use of Japanese decorative arts by middle-class American women. She is currently completing a PhD at Bryn Mawr that examines the material culture of domestic space and the global origins of Victorian home decorating. At Bryn Mawr, she curated the well-received exhibition “All-Over Design”: Lockwood de Forest between Ahmedabad and Bryn Mawr.

Nina has had formative collections-based experiences at the National Library of New Zealand, Bryn Mawr College, and the American Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Nina is the Center’s fourth Collections Fellow, and in her two years here she will be focusing her attention on the decorative arts in the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Smith House. She’s been hard at work researching the family and the home’s rich collection. Her efforts have already identified the artists behind a dozen previously unidentified objects in Smith House. Look forward to hearing from Nina on the blog soon, and join us in welcoming her to Cranbrook!

Getting to Know Ken Isaacs at Cranbrook

Throughout this past spring and summer, I’ve been arranging and describing the recently donated papers of designer and architectural educator Ken Isaacs. Isaacs was an Academy of Art design student and faculty alumnus–his Superchair and a film by Barbara Isaacs are currently featured in the With Eyes Opened exhibit at the Art Museum and in the beautiful new book of the same title. Organizing his papers to ready them for researchers has led my learning about the environments Isaacs designed as well as the larger environments he navigated. These include Cranbrook, Manhattan, Chicago, and the rural acres of Groveland, Illinois where he designed and built a village of stylish, portable Microhouses, predating the current Tiny House movement by decades.

Portrait of Ken Isaacs, found tucked into his 1957 daybook. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

For example, while completing his MFA at Cranbrook from 1952-1954, Isaacs redesigned the interior of The Little Gallery, founded by Peggy DeSalle in neighboring Birmingham in 1949. DeSalle was a great supporter and benefactor of the Cranbrook community and the lead donor and namesake of Cranbrook Art Museum’s DeSalle Auditorium, so how wonderful to get a peek at The Little Gallery’s early years through Isaacs’ papers. I learned DeSalle was once married to Cranbrook President Zoltan Sepeshy, though long before Isaacs came to study here. I also learned, thanks to one of Isaacs’ presentation boards, that Peggy’s second husband and lifelong partner, Albert DeSalle, bought a 1955 couch Isaacs designed of steel and canvas.

During those same years, Ken Isaacs built the 18-foot-long, seven-foot-tall Matrix Drum environment. This large structure with its curving wall of graphic, black and white collage was stored here on campus until Zoltan Sepeshy persuaded Isaacs to return as faculty. (No wonder Isaacs was still on Sepeshy’s mind, having left a work larger than a Buick Roadmaster on the president’s turf).

I’ve recently foldered letters back and forth from Isaacs and Sepeshy. Their correspondence is a study in contrasts: Isaacs’ design stationery is mid-century modern with simple shapes in bold primary colors; one of Sepeshy’s handwritten notes has elegant, looping script that stands out against typed missives. They negotiated that Isaacs would retain and commute to his New York City design offices from Bloomfield Hills. The arrangement worked, for a while. The contract for the 1956-1957 school year included a residence for Ken and Barbara Isaacs in the “apartment in Guest House” on Academy Way and Isaacs headed the Design department from 1956 to 1958.

Isaacs regards a student’s work in an Art Academy studio. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Back at Cranbrook, photographs show Isaacs’ reuse of his Matrix Drum structure as a collaborative art project with Academy students who helped to collage its black and white pholage exterior. His notes detail how he redesigned the first Academy year to include field trips and visiting experts. They also explain how students designed a multimedia, immersive Matrix Drum lesson about the American Civil War using multiple slide projectors and moving pallets for participants to sit upon.

These are a few curiosity-rousing items in the Ken Isaacs Papers, from just his time at Cranbrook, with plenty more boxes of his writings and images left to go through. I’ll confess, his papers make it a real challenge for me to stay on task with processing duties, when there are so many things I want to know more about. Stay tuned for further finds!

Meredith Counts, Archives Assistant, Center for Collections and Research

The Art and Architecture of Christ Church Cranbrook

Inspired by a previous Cranbrook Kitchen Sink blog on the embroidery in St. Dunstan’s Chapel, Curator Kevin Adkisson gave a virtual tour of Christ Church Cranbrook, part of the Center’s award-winning “Live at Five” series, on Wednesday, September 1, 2021. It was too great not to share with our Cranbrook Kitchen Sink followers as well.

Check out these other blogs about Christ Church Cranbrook:

Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

Handwork and Symbolism in St. Dunstan’s Chapel

In Cranbrook Archives’ Christ Church Cranbrook Records, there is a binder on two needlepoint projects undertaken between 1957 and 1964, the first of which focuses on replacing the cushions and kneelers in St. Dunstan’s Chapel. It gives insight into the design process, symbolism, and handwork, as well as providing much information that would be of interest to the sociology of gender roles and art.

St. Dunstan’s Chapel, Christ Church Cranbrook. The Chapel’s first service was Easter Sunday 1926; the current configuration of the Chapel dates to 1934. Photograph by Kevin Adkisson, August 2021. Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

The project, a collaboration of the Women’s Auxiliary and the Altar Guild, began in June 1957 when a Needlepoint Committee was convened to oversee the project through its planning, implementation, and dedication. The project was inspired by a similar project at Washington Cathedral where women across the nation contributed 461 pieces of needlepoint to the Cathedral, including altar pieces for Bethlehem Chapel which were worked by women of Michigan.

Twenty designs from the Washington Cathedral project were displayed in the Exhibition of Ecclesiastical Needlepoint at the Detroit Institute of Arts in February 1958 prior to their dedication at the Cathedral. Rt. Rev. Richard S. Emrich commended the idea to all churches in Michigan.

Catalog for the Exhibition of Ecclesiastical Needlepoint at the Detroit Institute of Arts, February 1958. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

St. Dunstan’s Chapel was selected as the most appropriate place for the women of the church to use their handwork for its adornment, since St. Dunstan is the patron saint of Arts and Crafts. St. Dunstan, born in Glastonbury, Somerset, in the tenth century, is commemorated in St. Dunstan’s Chapel with a stone from Glastonbury Abbey where he served as abbot.

Initially, the Committee decided to seek designs for the project by opening a contest for Cranbrook Academy of Art students, with Henry Scripps Booth, Pipsan Saarinen Swanson, Ken Isaacs, and Marion Leader as judges. Harry Soviak (Painting 1957/MFA 1959) won the competition. However, there were problems in implementing the design in terms of types and quantities of wool, and the Committee sought to consider more traditional designs before making a final choice.

Henry Scripps Booth, Ken Isaacs, Pipsan Saarinen Swanson (seated), and Marion Leader judging entries from Academy of Art students to the needlepoint contest for St. Dunstan’s Chapel at Christ Church Cranbrook. April 19, 1957. Photograph by Harvey Croze. Cranbrook Archives, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

Rachel T. Earnshaw of the Needlework Studio, Inc., of Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania was contacted for information on how to proceed. Earnshaw had won first place for her designs for the Chapel of the Holy Spirit at Washington Cathedral. Having been sent some information and images of St. Dunstan’s Chapel, she advised on symbolism as well as offering guidance on canvas, wool, and stitches.

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Photo Friday: Nash-Healy Pinin Farina

In honor of the Woodward Dream Cruise, happening in front of Cranbrook’s Woodward Entrance as I write, I thought we’d look back at this fabulous photograph of an unknown woman and a beautiful 1950s Nash Pininfarina parked in front of Cranbrook School for Boys’ study hall. This photograph is part of Cranbrook Archives’ Floyd Bunt Papers.

Nash-Healy Pinin Farina parked next to Cranbrook School for Boys, ca. 1956. New Center Photographic, Inc., photographer. Cranbrook Archives.

Toronto-native Floyd Bunt joined the faculty of Cranbrook School in 1944 and taught Chemistry and Engineer Science. He also was the faculty advisor for the Rifle Club and taught auto mechanics classes to the boys, quite possibly using this Nash-Healy Pinin Farina. He eventually served as chairman of the Science Department at Cranbrook from 1964 to 1969.

The Nash-Healy is a two-seat luxury sports car, made between 1951 to 1954. It was one of the first sports car sold in America after World War Two, launched two years before the Corvette. The 1951 models were built in Britain, and the redesigned 1952 through 1954 models built in Turin, Italy by Pinin Farina. There were only 506 of this chic little cars made, and it looks like our photo shows a 1953 roadster. I do wonder who owned it, and why this photo was taken!

Perhaps you’ll be venturing out to Woodward Avenue this weekend for the Dream Cruise. I’ve been enjoying the historic cars that are already cruising; perhaps there’s even a Nash-Healy Pinin Farina out there! Send us a picture if you see one!

Kevin Adkisson, Associate Curator, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

Photo Friday: Coastal Life in Maine

Recently returned from a sojourn to the coastal towns of Midcoast and Downeast Maine, the sights, sounds, and rhythm of the ocean remain with me still.  For eight days many activities, particularly swimming and beachcombing, were often dictated by the tides. Twice daily the ebb tide revealed fascinating marine life – plant and animal – in tide pools, beaches, and on rocks, of which I attempted to capture with my iPhone camera to varying degrees of success.

One of the good ones! View of Spruce Head from Clark Island, Maine. July 2021.

Photographs taken by Institute of Science Exhibition Artist and Preparator, Dudley Moore Blakely, do much more justice to the varied species found in tidal pools along this majestic coastline. He, too, spent a part of his summer in Maine, traveling instead in 1948 to the southern beach towns just over the New Hampshire state line.

Blakely’s trip involved field studies for a permanent biological exhibit, Between the Tides, which would be mounted in 1949, after his departure for the Boston Museum of Science.

Blakely’s photographs helped him simulate in rubber mold casting the barnacle encrusted rocks, and exhibition staff members George Marchand the lesser algae and animals, Luella Schroeder the kelp, and Dorothy Olsen Davies the sea anemones. The exhibit’s purpose was to recreate the “zonal distribution of life in response to the rhythm of the tides.” (Cranbrook Institute of Science 1949-1950 Annual Report, Vol. 20, p.14)

A man of unique talents, Blakely also created a ripple pattern of lighting for the Tides exhibit where “light from a single source passes through actual waves on its way to the exhibit.” (Cranbrook Institute of Science Newsletter, October 1949, Vol.19:2, p.23)

Between the Tides exhibit, Alcove 5, Cranbrook Institute of Science, 1949. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Dudley Blakely oversaw the exhibition department at the Institute from 1936-1948 (except during the war years), where he designed and fabricated exhibits and provided architectural drawings and models for the Institute.

Deborah Rice, Head Archivist, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

Out of the Ordinary: Cranbrook and the Chair

Last week, I was happy to welcome a small group tour into the reading room to view archival materials about chairs. After the tour request appeared in my inbox, I learned a lot about chairs in a short time and found a new appreciation for this commonplace object. 

As I searched and gathered materials for the display, I began to see how imagination and inspiration can transform an ordinary thing from complete obscurity to one of curiosity and sometimes great celebrity.  

Florence Knoll in Eero Saarinen’s Grasshopper Chair in the Dallas Original Showroom, 1950. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives

The chair has been creatively reinvented time and again according to the social context of its use, the cultural meaning imbued in it, or the inspiration from which its design sprang. Just think throne, pew, sofa, deck chair, chaise-lounge, and so on. 

Take one of Cranbrook’s most iconic chairs – Eliel Saarinen Cranbrook School dining hall chair. Designed to withstand use by teenage boys, it combines durability with sophistication and has stood the test of time as they are still in use after 94 years. At the back of each chair is a bronze crane insert, a symbol that subtly gives identity to the community using the chair.

Cranbrook School Dining Hall, October 1936. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

The 1940s and 1950s saw a flourishing of chair design from Academy of Art graduates, including Florence Schust Knoll BassettRalph Rapson (the first Cranbrook-trained designer to work for Knoll), Charles Eames, Benjamin Baldwin, Harry Weese, and Ruth Adler Schnee. The Organic Design in Home Furnishings competition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1941 generated many of these designs, including collaborative entries from Baldwin and Weese, as well as Eames and Eero Saarinen. 

Interestingly, Eero’s later chair designs are all much inspired by nature—the Grasshopper chair, the Womb chair, and the Tulip Chair.  

Eero Saarinen sitting in the prototype of his Womb Chair at his Vaughn Road home. 18 June 1947. Photographer: Harvey Croze. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Inspired by nature in a different way, Finnish architect and furniture designer Olav Hammarstrom has a variety of designs that are born of the possibilities to which natural materials lend themselves. Hammarstrom worked with Alvar Aalto and Eero Saarinen and Associates, working on projects such as the Baker House dormitory at MIT and the furnishings at the GM Tech Center. Married to Head of the Weaving Department Marianne Strengell, he designed their house in Wellfleet on Cape Cod, as well as houses for friends and colleagues, along with chairs to go in them.

Bamboo Experimental “Basketchair” by Olav Hammarstrom. 10 February 1956. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Furniture design was also the focus of another Academy affiliated designer, Pipsan Saarinen Swanson. Working in partnership with her husband, architect J. Robert F. Swanson, Pipsan typically designed the interiors while he designed the structure and exterior.

Chair designed by Pipsan Saarinen Swanson. December 8, 1945. Photographer: Harvey Croze. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

But Robert Swanson also designed furniture. Perhaps the most surprising thing I learned was that Swanson invented a ‘Stackable Chair,’ patented in 1957. A form we take for granted nowadays, these chairs can still be found in many buildings and classrooms on Cranbrook’s campus.

The “Stackable Chair” by J. Robert F. Swanson, 1957. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

It was a great pleasure to share these archival stories with our guests and to explore Cranbrook’s part in the story of the chair. In the process I learned to see an everyday thing in a new light and how creativity can transform the ordinary into the extraordinary. 

Laura MacNewman, Associate Archivist, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

Photo Friday: Summon the Heroes

Today marks the first day of the Games of the XXXII Olympiad in Tokyo, Japan. As the Olympic Creed reads:

The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.

The Olympic Symbols, International Olympic Committee.

In honor of the games, I wanted to share some athletic feats from Henry Scripps Booth’s classmates at the Asheville School. Like many schools and clubs do today, his boarding school in Asheville, North Carolina, staged their own version of the Olympics in 1918!

“The Olympian Team – Seneff, Fowler, French, Platt, and McLain,” Pleasures of Life, Album 3. Photo by Henry Scripps Booth, Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.
Henry Slaughter competing in long jump, Charlotte-Asheville Track Meet, 1918. Pleasures of Life, Album 3. Photo by Henry Scripps Booth, Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.
Henry Beatty competing in long jump, Charlotte-Asheville Track Meet, 1918. Pleasures of Life, Album 3. Photo by Henry Scripps Booth, Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.
The Quarter Mile, Charlotte-Asheville Track Meet, 1918. Pleasures of Life, Album 3. Photo by Henry Scripps Booth, Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.
Zo Walter wins the 220 yard dash, Charlotte-Asheville Track Meet, 1918. Pleasures of Life, Album 3. Photo by Henry Scripps Booth, Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.
Henry Slaughter competes in High Jump, clearing 5 feet, 4 inches in the Charlotte-Asheville Track Meet, 1918. Pleasures of Life, Album 3. Photo by Henry Scripps Booth, Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

So prepare your snacks, turn on NBC, play Summon the Heroes, and get ready to cheer! Best wishes to all the athletes competing in the Olympics and Paralympics in Tokyo this summer!

Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

A Summer Education at Brookside

Summer school. Those two words usually make most children cringe—who wants to spend their summer vacation studying and attending classes? Sheer morbid curiosity made me explore further a few folders in Brookside School Records, a collection just opened for research last month. What I found was not the usual story.

The Brookside summer school program, AWAKE, had a different purpose than remedial education for elementary students. Developed in 1968 by Pontiac Elementary Principal Jim Hawkins and Brookside Headmaster John P. Denio, it was designed to promote harmony and understanding amongst young children who might not otherwise share life experiences due to racial, social, and economic segregation.

AWAKE followed on the heels of the “long hot summer” of 1967, which saw civil unrest in Detroit and cities across Michigan, including Pontiac, due to long-standing racial inequalities for Black Americans. Instituted in 1968, AWAKE’s purpose was to “bring together young children in essentially two segregated school areas,” in some ways foreshadowing the desegregation of Pontiac and Detroit schools in the early 1970s.

Roughly fifty children split their time equally between the Bloomfield Hills and Pontiac schools for five mornings a week, over a four-week period in July and August. Co-sponsored by Cranbrook’s Brookside School and Pontiac Public Schools’ Bethune and Whittier Elementary Schools, the program included art projects, field trips, swimming, reading, and other enrichment activities for kindergarten-age children in both communities. Directed at young children because of their natural receptiveness at that age, Denio believed that,

With AWAKE, children four through six, through work and play activities and through simple, open contact with each other may perhaps develop the knowledge and understanding necessary to reinforce their acceptance of each other as human beings.

Governed by a Board comprised of community members and Pontiac Public School administrators and teachers, the program was self-sustained through tuition fees (waived in cases of need), financial contributions, and community support. Christ Church Cranbrook, for example, played a significant role through both donations and parishioners’ participation in the program. Familiar Cranbrook names, such as Cranbrook School teacher and Horizons-Upward Bound founder, Ben Snyder, and his wife Margot were also regular advocates of the program.

Borrowing lyrics from Rogers and Hammerstein and with photographs by Jack Kausch, poster displays sum up AWAKE’s ethos: “Getting to know you … Getting to know all about you … Getting to like you … Getting to hope you like me.” Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

A grass roots experiment in creative problem-solving of the urban crisis faced by cities across the country, AWAKE only lasted for five years (1968-1972). Because of its short duration, the effectiveness of the program was never fully appreciated, despite a 1969 study conducted by a University of Michigan Ph.D. student in education and social sciences and regular solicitation of teacher and parent feedback. Ultimately, rising costs and a lack of grant money; shortages of staff; and dwindling enrollment, undoubtedly due in part to the integration of Pontiac schools and the unsettling atmosphere of anti-busing protests, prohibited the continuation of the program.  

Deborah Rice, Head Archivist, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

The Real Version of Orpheus and Eurydice

In early June, the Center’s Assistant Curator Kevin Adkisson and Collections Interpreter Lynette Mayman hosted the Cranbrook Kingswood Middle School for Girls students and staff for Greek Day tours around the sculptures of Cranbrook Academy of Art. Today, Lynette explores one of the myths central to the sculpture of Carl Milles: Orpheus and Eurydice.

The tale of Orpheus and Eurydice has many versions, most of them adding and leaving out various details. As in all Greek myths everything has a back story, and everything is linked. If you start to retell one tale, then you end up telling many more, which is how you might have been invited to stay at the palace indefinitely, recounting the myths.

These days many of these myths are known only in part, the grimmer consequences and endings forgotten or deliberately omitted to make them less peculiar and frightening.

Carl Milles’ Orpheus Fountain, well-described elsewhere, does not actually include the massive sculpture of Orpheus, though the model for it, once on display atop the column in the Arts and Crafts Court, is currently on display at Cranbrook Art Museum.

Carl Milles’ Sketch for Orpheus, circa 1926, on display in the Cranbrook Arts and Crafts Courtyard, July 17, 1945. Harvey Croze, photographer. Cranbrook Archives, Center for Collections and Research.

Ancient tellers of the myth include Plato and Virgil, but perhaps the best-known and longest version is from Ovid (43 BCE-17 CE) in books X and XI of his Metamorphoses. Ovid is renowned for relishing the lugubrious and not sparing the gory details in lightly tripping dactylic hexameters. He also gives us a rare glimpse into the how and why of tales which were well-known to his readers.

Ovid skips the early part of the myth where Apollo may or not be Orpheus’ father and how Orpheus plays his lyre and sings to the Argonauts to drown out the Sirens; he cuts to the chase, as it were.

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