A New Collection: The Carl and Annetta Wonnberger Papers

Cranbrook Archives is pleased to announce that the Carl and Annetta Wonnberger Papers are open for research. The collection contains biographical materials documenting their early life and education, a large series of personal correspondence between Carl and Annetta during their courtship, materials relating to Carl’s tenure as teacher and administrator at Cranbrook School, their involvement in establishing and directing the Cranbrook Theater School, as well as Carl’s involvement in outside organizations.

Performance Poster, 1950. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Carl and Annetta Wonnberger were fixtures at Cranbrook for well over half a century, raising two daughters on campus (Jo Anne and Nancy, Kingswood ’48 and ’53 respectively) and making significant contributions to Cranbrook School (Carl even wrote their fight song!) and community theater arts. They both received Cranbrook’s highest honor, the Founders’ Award, and Annetta had a day (July 17) named after her by the City of Bloomfield Hills.

They arrived at Cranbrook in September 1929 when Carl took the position of English teacher at Cranbrook School. The following year, Carl became the Head of the English Department, a position which he held until 1967 when he retired from Cranbrook and became Professor of English Language and Literature at Eastern Michigan University.

Carl and Annetta Wonnberger with Eva Le Gallienne and Joe Schildkraut. 1945. Harvey Croze, photographer.

Annetta helped Carl start Ergasterion (Cranbrook School’s drama club) in 1931. She created costumes, built and painted sets, applied make up, and played female roles in all boys’ productions. Annetta was also one of the founders, with Henry Scripps Booth and Brookside Schools Headmistress Jessie Winter, of St. Dunstan’s Theatre in 1932.

Together they founded Cranbrook Theatre School (CTS) in 1942 with the first season held in the Greek Theater. The mission of the school was to provide a full liberal education through theater training including voice and diction, phonetics and language, development and control of the body, literature, history, philosophy, design, and technical science. Carl and Annetta taught theatrical training so as to provide experience in teamwork, good sportsmanship, and dialog. They celebrated theatrical training as a wonderful developer of personality.

Carl and Annetta Wonnberger Papers (1991-14). Box 19 Folder 10. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

The bulk of the Wonnberger Papers relates to their involvement with Cranbrook Theatre School, comprising administrative materials as well as many scripts, announcements, and performance programs.

Alice Shaw, head director, discusses a staging problem with Carl Wonnberger. July 24, 1953. Harvey Croze, photographer. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Theater performances, themselves, are well documented by audio-visual formats including photographs, slides, and motion picture film. This collection provides a rich study of a fascinating facet of Cranbrook’s performing arts legacy, and a theater program that is still going strong today.

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

Documenting Art and Architecture (and Appointments) at Cranbrook Campus

I have mentioned in the blog before that I am working with Center Director Gregory Wittkopp and Center Curator Kevin Adkisson on reviewing all fourteen of our cultural properties collections (over 9,000 objects), reviewing the data already on file and adding as much additional information about each object as we can.

The most recent collection I have been working on is Cranbrook Kingswood Upper School – Cranbrook Campus (f.k.a. Cranbrook School for Boys). The current campus buildings, classrooms, and staff offices, all had the potential to contain cultural properties (historic objects). And many that we visited did!

When I researched the Cranbrook Kingswood Upper School – Kingswood Campus (f.k.a. Kingswood School for Girls), I was fortunate to have the “Kingswood School Cranbrook Inventory of Equipment and Supplies.” It recorded the purchases and payments made from 1930-1938 for the outfitting of the school. It proved invaluable in locating quantities and makers of objects.

There had to be an equivalent for Cranbrook Campus?! Unfortunately, not that I had yet seen.

I only had a 1952 Inventory which listed fixed items, like light fixtures; and “movable” furniture and fixtures, like chairs, tables, desks, artwork. This was a great resource, but it did not always give me the makers or artists. Undeterred, I started searching in Cranbrook Archives, the “little gem” at Cranbrook, to borrow a phrase from Frank Lloyd Wright.

In Box 43, Folder 11 of the Cranbrook Foundation Office Records were the “Building Costs for Cranbrook School from 1926-1946.” And then, I saw it. A small black book labeled “Cranbrook School Book.” Could it be what I was looking for?

“Cranbrook School Book.” Cranbrook Foundation Office Records, 1981-05. Cranbrook Archives, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

Inside were listed payments made to the builder Wermuth & Son and to the W. J. Sloane Company for furniture. It listed the artists who painted, carved, and outfitted the school, as well as contractors who installed various materials in the buildings.

These entries were great, but what else would it lead to? The answer: the “Cranbrook Schools” series in the Cranbrook Architectural Office Records.

Many of the folders were labeled “Cranbrook School correspondence, Wermuth & Son” with dates. The “Cranbrook School Book” had given me an idea of what to look for. Who Wermuth and the Cranbrook Architectural office (and sometimes George G. Booth himself) were corresponding with was the key. Inside were letters from vendors of tiles, furniture, stained glass, stonework, mirrors, mattresses, windows, everything needed to build a well-appointed school.

Here are just a few examples:

  • Copies of blueprints for furniture made by W. J. Sloane Company’s “Company of Master Craftsmen,” many of which were selected for Cranbrook.
  • A letter from L.A. Sielaff & Co. indicating it was contracted to carve the wood ornaments on the Geza Maroti-designed doorcases outside the Library
  • A letter from the Cranbrook Architectural Office to Wolverine Stone Company, awarding them the contract to carve the Maroti-designed overmantel in the Library
  • Letters, and a hand drawing to the Swedish Arts & Crafts Company, the American representatives of Orrefors, makers of the Dining Hall light fixtures
  • A note comparing costs for tiles from Pewabic Pottery verses Nemadji Tile & Pottery Co. (a new maker name for me)

Next up, Cranbrook Campus’ custom light fixtures! I can already hear Kevin’s words in my head . . .

. . . Cranbrook light fixtures are all around campus. There are multiple types of the light fixtures. These were designed by architect and former Head of the Architecture Department Dan Hoffman. He was the architect-in-residence who probably did more to revive the tradition at Cranbrook that was so such a passion project of George Booth and Eliel Saarinen . . .

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

p.s. For more on Cranbrook Campus, check out these videos by Center Curator Kevin Adkisson:

Indescribable Warmth: Underfloor Heating at Frank Lloyd Wright Smith House

Stepping into the Smith House on a grim and wintry day, one is instantly enveloped in warmth. The warm tones of brick and tidewater cypress walls, and the soft, textured furnishings help to create a cozy atmosphere, but the real effect is felt through radiant heat rising from the pigmented concrete floors.

Red concrete floors dominate this view of the Smith House Living Room, circa 1959. Melvyn Maxwell and Sara Evelyn Smith Papers, Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Underfloor heating was a frequent feature of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian houses. Concerned with elegant and efficient use of space, these modest buildings for middle-income families utilized radiant heating set into the concrete slab flooring. Warm floors prevented heat transfer from bodies to cold buildings and allowed the air to be kept at a cooler temperature than conventional radiator-heated homes. 

A worker rakes gravel over underfloor heating pipes during Smith House construction, 1949. Melvyn Maxwell and Sara Evelyn Smith Papers, Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s ideas about underfloor heating were adapted from the principles of the Korean heating system called ondol, literally ‘warm stone,’ that he encountered during his time in Japan. While working on the Imperial Hotel project, Wright was invited to visit the Tokyo residence of Baron Okura Kihachiro. After dinner in a freezing cold dining room, the party was invited for coffee in the Baron’s heated “Korean Room.” In his 1943 autobiography, Wright described the shift in temperature in rapturous terms: 

The climate seemed to have changed. No, it wasn’t the coffee; it was Spring. We were soon warm and happy again – kneeling there on the floor, an indescribable warmth. No heating was visible nor was it felt directly as such. It was really a matter of not heating at all but an affair of climate. 

Frank Lloyd Wright, 1943

Wright was instantly taken with this “indescribable warmth” and immediately specified electric heating in the Imperial Hotel bathrooms. On returning to the United States, he continued to explore the use of heating systems in both residential and commercial projects.

His first private home to incorporate underfloor heating was the Herbert Jacobs House, in Madison, Wisconsin, completed in 1937. The Jacobs House would become a model for Wright’s Usonian houses and an inspiration to architects and homeowners worldwide. By the time that Melvyn and Sara Smith began construction of Smith House in 1949, developers like William Levitt were popularizing the use of radiant heating in tract housing developments across the United States. 

Frank Lloyd Wright, Plot Plan and Heating Plan for Mr. and Mrs. Melvyn M. Smith, 1949. Melvyn Maxwell and Sara Evelyn Smith Papers, Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

The Smiths employed engineer Clarence Toonder to help implement the heating plan designed by Frank Lloyd Wright’s office. Blueprints show the copper tubing as it snakes through the L-shaped floor plan of Smith House, ensuring that every room would be warm and comfortable. 

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Welcome Back, Professor Isaacs!

Ken Isaacs was a veteran designer and educator, and it feels good to have his work back at Cranbrook again.

Researchers have been contacting Cranbrook Archives about Isaacs’ papers almost since they were donated in December 2020, and now there’s an easy way to see what we have: the Finding Aid to the Kenneth Dale Isaacs Papers is now online, along with a hearty online portfolio of more than 300 images and documents. These are two excellent entryways to a rich collection that includes drawings and sketches, journals, personal, business and press photographs, teaching and administrative documents, audiovisual materials, reference files, and correspondence of all types, from collaborations to fan mail.

Ken Isaacs holds a cigarette and peers into a Wiffle Ball in a Rhode Island School of Design classroom, 1961. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives, Copyright Joshua Isaacs.

Isaacs received his bachelor’s degree at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois, then completed his MFA at Cranbrook Academy of Art in 1954. (We’ve returned Isaacs’ 1954 master’s thesis back to the Cranbrook Academy of Art Library, where it lives in good company with other Academy theses. The Archives still has a typescript copy, with Isaacs’ equation, “Thought + Action = Design.”)

After his graduation, he established a design office in New York, but commuted back to Bloomfield Hills, Michigan to run the Academy’s Design program from the fall of 1956 until 1958. Freelance design work, short-term teaching gigs, and a significant grant from Chicago’s Graham Foundation kept him afloat financially (and physically on-the-move!) throughout the 1960s.

In 1970 he joined the faculty of the University of Illinois, Chicago architecture program, where he eventually rose to head the graduate program until his retirement in 2000. Of course, there were many projects, publications and collaborations during those years.

Isaacs was known for his portable, adjustable furniture systems called Living Structures and for the simple housing called Microhouses. The Living Structure offered his first break into national press coverage, in 1954, when Life magazine sent a photographer to shoot he and his first wife, Jo, assembling and the entertaining inside of a 6×6′ structure inside a Cranbrook studio. It was a forerunner of his Superbed.

Flier for the Superbed Living Structure made by Ken Isaacs Limited, featuring Isaacs (undated). Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

He was also known for his experimental audiovisual structures, including the design that would come to be known as the Knowledge Box. These structures, equipped with multiple slide projectors and speakers, show Isaacs’ interest in learning by experience.

As I was processing the Isaacs papers for the Archives, his often collaborative approach made the description of unsigned papers tricky: Does a series of photographs show structures designed by Isaacs, but built by students? Who made this maquette? Were Isaacs and the independent study student working collaboratively on the same project about vehicles, or were they working on separate, concurrent projects but sharing resources? I tried to answer these questions using the facts and files in the collection, but future scholars are sure to find even more information in the vast treasures of the Isaacs papers.

The Kenneth Dale Isaacs Papers: By the Numbers

-102 boxes

-9 series

-46.1 linear feet

-6.09 GB born-digital material

-Covering the years 1900-2018

-Donated: December 2020

-Digitized images: 379

-Current physical storage locations: 3

These papers document a career and body of work that defies easy categorization. Researchers will find Isaacs’ unique combination of philosophy and Midwestern pragmatism. Ken Isaacs’ work, his interests, and his relationships are reflected in his papers over the decades. It’s time for me to move on to the next collection that needs processing, but for those who visit our reading room and our inboxes, the fun has just begun. We’re so excited to see how our in-person and online visitors will engage with this splendid collection!

Flier for the Superchair Living Structure made by Ken Isaacs Limited, featuring Isaacs (undated). Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Meredith Counts, Archives Assistant

Eero Saarinen at School in Ann Arbor, Age 14

Welcome back! After a hiatus, the Center for Collections and Research team is excited to return to weekly blog posts here at Cranbrook Kitchen Sink. Look forward to more stories from Cranbrook’s rich past every Friday! As always, we appreciate your comments and suggestions here or via email, center@cranbrook.edu. We return with a special guest essay from Dr. Jeffrey Welch, Retired Faculty Member, Cranbrook Schools (1977 – 2015)

-Kevin Adkisson, Curator and Editor

Readers of this issue of the Cranbrook Kitchen Sink, please settle in for an excursion to Ann Arbor.

The architect of the original Cranbrook institutions, Eliel Saarinen, came to America from Finland in 1923, first to Chicago, then to Ann Arbor, and finally to Cranbrook. He had won $20,000 in an architectural competition to design “the most beautiful office building in the world.” Anyone who might want to compare the winning design with Saarinen’s striking drawing of a skyscraper for the Chicago Tribune newspaper competition would see instantly that Eliel Saarinen’s idea was the better idea.

He brought his family over in April 1923 after being invited to teach a short course in architectural design at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. At Michigan Saarinen discovered that he was an exceptional teacher. He moved from Evanston to Ann Arbor in 1924, settling in at 8 Geddes Heights, and he continued as a professor in the architecture program.

The Broadcaster (University High School, Ann Arbor) staff members, 1925. Eero Saarinen
is third from the right and three rows back. All images courtesy of Jeffrey Welch.

At just this time, the University opened an experimental school, called University High School (UHS), accommodating grades 7-10. Eero entered at grade level 8. His sister, Eva Lisa “Pipsan” Saarinen, could not join him, as she had been born in 1905, five years before him.

By February 1925, University High School students began publishing a periodical they called The Broadcaster: UHS Station. That “UHS Station” tag indicated the idea that these students saw their school as a station point in the big, wide world. Between February and June, UHS student staff members published six editions of The Broadcaster. In this group, Eero was the Art Editor, and it was the case that more 8th and 9th graders were on the newspaper staff than 10th grade students.

A quick riffle through the pages of The Broadcaster would reveal immediately the fact that Eero Saarinen, even at fourteen, was already a gifted artist. His drawings, whether carved from a linoleum block or a line drawing, expressed energy, psychological insight, and movement. They conveyed a clear narrative action, and they revealed a profound sensitivity to human endeavor, to creative engagement with the natural world, and to competitive behavior. Another insight into the youthful Eero can be found in the last issue for school year 1925, where all the students gave their favorite saying, their best subject and their hobby. Eero’s answers: “‘Oh, Yeah!’ Math. Swimming (but not in a bathtub).”

In May, the University alumni magazine, The Michigan Alumnus, published a story about The Broadcaster, singling out Eero for his artist’s contributions. The title of the article complimented the school and its ambitious young journalists: “The Youngest Adventurers in Campus Journalism: ‘The Broadcaster’ Published by Students of the University High School,” all of whom certainly deserved the recognition: “The keynote of the paper is originality.” But there were two indicators as to Eero’s impact on the editors of The Michigan Alumnus.

First, Eero’s portrait of President Marion LeRoy Burton was used as the centerpiece in a story about the recently deceased president. The article printed parts of President Burton’s last report on the State of the University: “President Burton’s Last Survey of the University: The President’s Report for 1923-1924 Covering the Final Year of his Active Administration.”

It is not widely known that President Burton conferred with George Booth, the founder of Cranbrook, about Cranbrook as a location for a world class art academy. The fact is, Dr. Burton and George Booth were very close friends. It is well known that Eliel Saarinen produced a design for the Burton Memorial Campanile (Bell Tower) at the request of the alumni who attended the University during the Burton years: 1920-1925. Eero’s linoleum cut portrait of President Burton closely resembled the official portrait of the man, but there is a subtle quality of emotion in what Eero has done. It is no wonder that the editors at The Michigan Alumnus used Eero’s portrait to illustrate their article on President Burton.

Secondly, Cranbrook Kingswood students and alumni/ae will see immediately the probable source of the Motto for Cranbrook School: Aim High. Eero brought this idea with him to Cranbrook, and during those fruitful years when his father was planning the Boys’ School, Eero’s enthusiasm and interest in the planning no doubt brought forward the suggestion of this inspiring phrase: Aim High, as a possible motto for the school. Furthermore, Eero studied with Géza Maróti, the Hungarian designer-architect of many cherished elements of the Cranbrook School architectural ambience, including the figure of Galileo, the door to the (then) Middle School science wing below it, the overmantel in the Cranbrook Library and wood carvings on the Library doors, the brilliantly windowed exterior at the Marquis entrance to the Cranbrook Dining Hall, and the design of the Gateway of Friendship.

Eero, who at the time was thinking of becoming a sculptor, was put to work designing the crane insert in the dining hall chairs, the animal forms in the gates between Marquis Hall and the Infirmary and at the Lone Pine Road entrance to the Infirmary, the grotesque faces on Page Hall and the abstract forms on the columns at the quadrangle entrance to Page Hall. Eero also designed the brown terra-cotta tiles, showing athletes in their poses, for the fireplace in the South Lobby of Hoey Hall. One of his South Lobby tiles, “The Wrestlers,” was included in the Second International Exhibition of Ceramic Art in New York in October 1928. The Pewabic Pottery in Detroit fired these tiles, and it included this one among representative objects for this American Federation of the Arts show, which also traveled to Philadelphia, Minneapolis, Cleveland, Baltimore, Detroit, Newark and Pittsburgh, closing on September 29, 1929.

Later, Eero designed furniture for his parents’ bedroom in Saarinen House, and, for Kingswood, he was given the contract to design all the furniture for the girls’ school, including for the public spaces, the dining hall, the auditorium, the classrooms and the dormitory. Mr. Booth included a special clause giving Eero rights to any income derived from the mass production of any of the pieces he had designed. Essentially, George Booth was turning Eero (at the age of 19) into an industrial designer. However, as it happened, the contract lapsed at the end of 1930, and soon after Eero was on his way to Yale.

The years of his extraordinary success as a designer-architect were in the future; now, looking back at his career, one can easily make the claim that he was the most important designer-architect of the 20th century. It is wonderful to see that his promise was already evident at the age of fourteen, through proven performance, and that those around him fostered and promoted the development of his talent with every instrument at their disposal.

– Jeffrey Welch, Retired Faculty Member, Cranbrook Schools (1977 – 2015)
©All Rights Reserved

Cranbrook Behind the Scenes: My Senior May Experience

Ms. Rice warned me that the first week of my Senior May Project would be hectic and slightly crazy, and it definitely was, but in the best possible way! Being a lifer at Cranbrook, I have learned a lot about our amazing campus over the years, but nothing could have prepared me for the intensely interesting and extremely entertaining Senior May opportunity I have encountered at the Center for Collections and Research.

Riya Batra on set in Saarinen House for the Susan Saarinen interview. Photo by Nina Blomfield.

I joined the department in the week prior to A House Party, the Center’s annual fundraiser, this year honoring Loja Saarinen. Within minutes I was fully immersed into the event preparation. From unboxing the beautifully printed mugs to sitting in on engaging interviews, I was able to experience and assist in a variety of tasks that made me feel like I was actually contributing, even though my contribution was likely quite small in the grand scheme of things.

Riya as Susan Saarinen’s camera stand-in. Photo by Nina Blomfield.

One moment I will never forget was driving Susan Saarinen back to her hotel, after her interview for the film, and seeing an actual dress created by her cherished grandmother Loja. Where else in the world would I ever get to experience something like this?

Leslie Mio packs up the dress by Loja Saarinen. Photo by Riya Batra.
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Traditions from the Weavers

Does your family have a certain pose that they always do for a family picture? My cousins and I always had to stand or sit by the same log at our cottage each summer to get a group picture. Even when the log had disintegrated, and we were all adults, we still stood in the same spot to take the picture.

The Swedish weavers of Studio Loja Saarinen were the same way. After every rug was completed, they would unroll it behind the studio, lay it on the lawn, and pose at the end. This not only documented their work, but also served as a record of who worked on each piece. In Cranbrook Archives, we have a few examples of these images.

Cranbrook Academy of Art Rug No. 14

This rug lay in the center of the Studio Loja Saarinen Weaving Room. A flatwoven rug with stylized meanders in the border, and an elegant color scheme of dark browns, blues, and beiges, in form, structure, color, and design it shows the contemporary style of Swedish weaving that would become the foundation of Studio Loja Saarinen’s work.

Cranbrook Academy of Art Rug No. 14, designed by Maja Andersson Wirde and woven by Lillian Holm for Studio Loja Saarinen, 1930. CAM 1955.2. Photographer James Haefner.

This was one of the first rugs executed under the “Design and Supervision” of Maja Andersson Wirde, who was Loja’s right-hand-woman from 1930 to 1933. The rug is actually a variation of a design Wirde made for the 1925 International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts in Paris (the “Art Deco” World’s Fair).

When Wirde wrote to Cranbrook’s secretary from Sweden before immigrating, she said she would bring along prepared designs and wool and linen yarns to be able to get started right away. She certainly did! Below, you can see Wirde and possibly Lillian Holm and Ruth Ingvarsson holding up the rug behind Studio Loja Saarinen just months after their arrival to Cranbrook.

Studio Loja Saarinen weavers with Rug No. 14 behind the Cranbrook Arts and Crafts Studios, 1930. Courtesy Smålands Museum, Sweden.
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Photo Friday: Life of the Party

Parties are a regular part of student life at Cranbrook Academy of Art, a tradition from its earliest years. Who doesn’t like a good party?

In the Archives we have many images from parties past, most of which involved themes and costumes. Those depicting the Mae West Party are some of my favorites. Held on February 16, 1934, just one day before the famous original Crandemonium Ball (are those the same murals in the background?), the party was the brainchild of Academy Executive Secretary and Vice President, Richard Raseman.

Eero Saarinen at the Mae West Party, February 16, 1934. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

The reason behind this theme is a bit of a mystery – the photographs are the only evidence of the gathering. Of course, Mae West had just starred in two smash hit films, She Done Him Wrong and I’m No Angel (both costarred a young Cary Grant). And, while West was a controversial figure for her unapologetic brazenness, she was wildly beloved by Depression era musicians, artists, and writers like Cole Porter, Frida Kahlo, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. So, a simple celebration of an iconic figure, or simply a convenient excuse for revelry? Whatever the case, the costumes were fabulous!

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

[NOTE: Join the Center at its next party, A House Party at Cranbrook Celebrating Loja Saarinen. Virtual tickets are available here.]

Let’s Beguine Again: A Syllabus for Music and Dance

This year the Center is celebrating the life and work of Loja Saarinen for our House Party fundraiser. Lynette Mayman’s post on 1930s fashion offered an excellent guide to dressing à la mode for this historically themed evening event, while highlighting Loja’s freedom and creativity in celebrating her own authentic style. Being curious about the events to which such attire might be worn, I looked to the Kingswood School records to explore its history of music and dance events during that era.

Kingswood School Annual Dance Book, 1932. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

From the abundance of programs and ephemera, it was clear that music and dance were a valued part of the curriculum and school life, and its purpose was elucidated by the educational philosophy in the school catalogs for the 1930s:

“Music and Dance, two of the greatest social forces, and most closely related in essential nature, are organized in the curriculum under the direction of one department for concurrent purposes… The program of work is such as to encourage the fullest and freest development of individual personality which is the basis for true dramatic and musical expression.”

Kingswood School Catalogs, Kingswood School Records (1980-01)

Formal classes in music theory and social dancing (taught in physical education classes under the direction of Luella Hauser) were augmented by extracurricular activities. These included the Glee Club and various kinds of themed and annual dances, which offered students a variety of ways in which they could learn through participation, as well as recitals by visiting performers, which offered learning through observation and listening.

Program for the Mothers’ Day Tea, May 1937. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

The Glee Club for girls was formed in 1932 for those interested in singing. They performed one concert per year, the first being held on March 11, 1932. The Club would also perform at other events throughout the year, such as the Mothers’ Day Tea and the ‘Carnival,’ which was an informal jamboree of themed gaiety and fun. The first Carnival, on December 10, 1932, was described as one of “grand vaudeville,” including a fashion show that embraced lovely old fashions and lively modern ones.

The 1937 Carnival was a Masque that traced the development of dance from the fourteenth century to the present time, including the Carole, Pavane, Sarabande, Minuet, Gavotte, Waltz, Schottische, Tango, and Fox Trot. The Glee Club sang songs typical of each period, while three jolly spirits, Dance, Play, and Song, presented the dancers.

Invitation to the Ypsilanti Madrigal Club performance, December 1931. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

The first visiting performance was held on December 11, 1931, when the Madrigal Club, a choir of men and women from State Normal College, Ypsilanti, under the direction of Mr. Frederic Alexander, performed as a Christmas gift from Mr. Alexander to Mr. George Booth. The concert of unaccompanied songs and compositions on harpsichord was described as “unusual in character and delightful in content,” and became an annual event at the school.

Other annual visitors included Mildred Dilling, the internationally known harpist, and Cameron McLean, the Canadian baritone who was accompanied by various local pianists, including Detroiter Gizi Szanto. There were also one-time visits by performers such as pianists Stanley Fletcher and Samuel Sorin, singer Marion Anderson, baritone Earle Spicer, and opera singer Alexander Kipnis.

Program of Music printed by Cranbrook Press, April 1932.

Kingswood School Records. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Celebrated teachers of modern dance were invited to give dance recitals including Ted Shawn, Ronny Johansson, and Martha Graham. Visiting in March 1936, Graham gave a comprehensive recital of her work, leaving us with an autographed program—an archival treasure!

Program for Dance Recital autographed by Martha Graham, March 1936. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

While Graham’s dance was reported in the Kingswood Newssheet as casting aside, “all old standards of beauty and grace,” through her use of angles and quick movements rather than the legato rhythm of conventional dancing, her philosophy of the dancer speaks poetically to the purpose of the 1930s Kingswood curriculum for music and dance—drawing out the essence of the individual through social artforms:

“You traverse, you come to the light, you work, you make it right… you embody within yourself as much curiosity, use that curiosity and avidity for life … and the body becomes a sacred garment – it’s your first and your last garment, and as such it should be treated with honor, and with joy, and with fear too, but always with blessing.”

Martha Graham, Martha Graham on Technique

As we celebrate the life and work of Loja Saarinen this year, we celebrate her as immigrant, entrepreneur, designer, and fashionista. Please join us for the Virtual Film Premiere as we support and acknowledge the work of the Center at our House Party, May 21, 2022.

Laura MacNewman, Associate Archivist, Center for Collections and Research

Beginning the Beguine

Before everybody buys, borrows, or burrows in a closet for something to wear for Cranbrook Center’s annual House Party, let us consider the fashions of the times. We’re going back to the 1930s, to celebrate the heyday of Loja Saarinen, doyenne of the Cranbrook art scene as designer of interiors, weaver, fashionista, textile designer, businesswoman, landscaper, and modelmaker. Between husband Eliel, daughter Pipsan, and son Eero, the Saarinen family had inventiveness, imagination, skill, and audacity all sewn up. With the Saarinens’ extensive network of friends, colleagues, and students, the atmosphere at the Art Academy must have been rarified indeed.

Small wonder, then, that when it came time for parties, Loja Saarinen could craft her own iconic evening attire for the Art Academy’s Crandemonium Ball of February 1934, including that of her consort, as you can find in the photograph on the flyer for the event of May 21, 2022.

Eliel and Loja Saarinen at the Cranbrook Academy of Art “Crandemonium Ball,” February 1934. Photography by Richard G. Askew, Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

Four our House Party, if you were thinking of the little black dress, Coco Chanel brought this simple concept to the public eye in 1926, with Vogue Magazine proclaiming it “Chanel’s Ford” in homage to the Model T which famously came in any color you wanted as long as it was black. Do note the chevrons (just visible in the Chanel dress) on the Saarinen dress also.

Coco Chanel–the Little Black Dress, as illustrated in American Vogue, October 1926. Source: Vogue.

Post WWI 1920s design was the big break away from the 19th century drapery which required all kinds of padding and corsetry. Chanel prided herself on getting women out of corsets, and they never went back into them. The fashions were shapeless, short, and sack-like at their extreme, with lots of embellishment for evening dresses to make up for their lack of pizazz. Think Fitzgerald and Gatsby.

At this time too, the tuxedo or dinner jacket was becoming acceptable for ordinary men who were not English royalty or American billionaires.

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