My favorite thing about being an archivist is that sometimes a seemingly simply question turns into a new discovery. This happened recently when I was researching the artist of a ceramic vase located in Cranbrook House, a historic house on Cranbrook’s campus and the home of Cranbrook founders George and Ellen Booth. Finding the answer should have been a simple task: open the object file, locate artist’s name. A two-minute job.
Two-minutes turned into a two-week journey.
The vase in question, according to the object file, was made by a French artist named Auguste Heiligenstein Chattrousse. It took only a quick Google search to find Auguste Heiligenstein, but where did “Chattrousse” come from? A little more research revealed Heiligenstein was married to a woman named Odette Chattrousse. Could it be? Could a Frenchman in the early twentieth-century have taken his wife’s name?
I set off to find the original purchase invoice for the vase, hoping it would verify the artist’s name. What I uncovered sent my search in a whole new direction. Three pieces were purchased by George Booth: two made of enamel and glass, with the artist listed as “Mr. Heiligenstein,” and one ceramic vase, listed as the work of…Mrs. Heiligenstein?!?
My mission took a new turn. Instead of confirming the artist’s name, I had to prove which artist was responsible for the piece. I hopped back on the computer to learn about Mrs. Heiligenstein. Unfortunately, I hit a French roadblock (apparently, the Heiligensteins aren’t overly popular with the English-speaking set). Now, I’ve never had an ear for foreign languages and even after five years of German I only know three words (Ja, Nein, and rollkragen). After a fruitless search for colleagues who speak French, I came across a book (written in English!) that mentioned the Heiligensteins.
A week and half later, through inter-library loan, I received my next clue. In “The Art of Glass: Art Nouveau to Art Deco” by Victor Arwas, with contributions by Susan Newell, I learned several interesting tidbits. Heiligenstein had trained in glass and enamel and was working for an artist named Marcel Goupy. All items coming out of Goupy’s studio were signed by him; he refused to allow Heiligenstein to exhibit his own work under his own name. When Heiligenstein was introduced to a ceramic artist named Odette Chattrousse, she invited him to work in her studio. Within a few years, the two married.
The major break in the case came from Heiligenstein’s maker’s mark. Heiligenstein spelled out his name (as found on the two glass and enamel pieces still in the collection of the Cranbrook Art Museum). An excited group of Center staff rushed to Cranbrook House, flipped over the vase, and found not Heiligenstein’s mark, but the initials OCH. Odette Chattrousse Heiligenstein.
At one time, Heiligenstein had unhappily been denied the right to claim his work as his own; yet today, his wife’s work is commonly attributed to him. Perhaps they collaborated on this vase, but even so, Chattrousse deserves equal credit to Heiligenstein. And now she has.
By Robbie Terman, Archivist