Photo Friday: Cranbrook’s Gatescape


Close-up of the peacock for which Cranbrook School’s Peacock Gates are named. Designed and installed in 1927, restored in 2013. Cranbrook Archives.

Doors, entryways, gates – Cranbrook’s campus was designed with an eye towards points of transition.  Since its foundation 108 years ago, Cranbrook has maintained a long tradition of gate design and fabrication.  This close-up of a stylized peacock comes from Cranbrook School’s famous Peacock Gates; designed by Eliel Saarinen, they were produced by the metalsmith Oscar Bach in 1927.  Recently, a long restoration process culminated with their re-installation on the Cranbrook School campus.   This gate and many others are the subject of the second exhibition in the From the Archives series.  Drawing from the rich collection of the Cranbrook Archives, From the Archives: Forging Cranbrook’s Gatescape explores the history, design, and formation of Cranbrook’s historic and contemporary “gatescape.”

Experiencing the gates from within the walls of the Art Museum is nothing compared to seeing them in person.  With that in mind, Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist and exhibition curator, will be leading a walking and bus tour of the gates on Sunday, October 5.   The tour will take participants  to some of Leslie’s favorite gates, from beloved classics to the newest installations on campus.   More information on the exhibition and walking tour is available here.  Be sure to check it out, and get ready to see Cranbrook’s gates in a whole new light!

Old Words, New Sounds: Oral Histories from the Cranbrook Archives

For the past nine months I have been working on a project to breathe new life into an oral history initiative at Cranbrook that began as early as 1964 as a collaborative project between Cranbrook School and the Cranbrook Foundation. These oral histories give us an intimate view of life here at Cranbrook over the past half century with interviewees spanning across the entire community. They range from Dr. Lee Dice at the Institute of Science, to Cranbrook Academy of Art painter Zoltan Sepheshy, as well as interviews with members of the Vettraino family, whose time living on the grounds spanned several generations. These interviews give us the kind of glimpse into the past of Cranbrook that is difficult to find anywhere else.

Cranbrook’s oral histories are found in the archives in analogue sound formats, namely on magnetic tapes. In order to preserve these interviews and provide access to a wider audience, the Archives is implementing a plan to digitize all of the content. Each oral history is digitized in real time and then transcribed, with each hour of audio taking anywhere from 8 to 10 hours to transcribe, depending on sound quality.

One of the latest gems to be uncovered is a recording of a conversation with brother and sister James and Doris Smith who worked as model makers and production designers from the mid-1940s for many of the artists and architects associated with Cranbrook. James began working with the firm of Saarinen, Swanson, and Saarinen in 1943, while Doris joined them in 1946. Both had their hands on many of the largest projects, such as creating the models for the General Motors Technical Center, and their insight into the daily work and life in the office is unmatched and cannot be forgotten.

In the following clip you can listen to James Smith discuss events and the atmosphere that surrounded the winning entry from Eero Saarinen & Associates for the Gateway Arch in the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in St. Louis, Missouri–better known as the St. Louis Arch.


Construction of TWA model at Eero Saarinen & Associates taken by Claude de Forest, 1957.Cranbrook Archives.

Justine Tobiasz– Archives Assistant

Mary, Maija, and Toshiko: Re-Thinking Open Storage in the Collections Wing

Open storage.  Two words that mean nothing to the wider public, the phrase is a loaded one for museum professionals.  Love it or hate it (and I personally love it), open storage is an increasingly popular method of getting a museum collection—usually hidden away in the bowels of the institution—exposed to a wider audience.  Most museums only exhibit about 10% of their collection at one time, so building or retrofitting storage spaces to allow for public viewing of objects provides an opportunity to leverage museum storage and increase visitor-object interactions.  From the Luce Centers at the New York Historical Society and the Smithsonian American Art Museum to the open ceramics storage at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, more and more institutions are removing the physical barrier between their visitors and their objects—or at least replacing an opaque barrier with a glass one.

In 2008, Cranbrook Art Museum had the opportunity to redesign the museum’s storage from the ground up.  The museum chose to strike a balance between the all-access open storage model of a Luce Center or the new American Wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the traditional, old-fashioned model of closed-off storage with the rare “behind the scenes” mediated tour.  What resulted was the ceramics  vault in the new Collections Wing, a secure room with a glass wall that gives visitors—who enter the Collections Wing on one of the regularly scheduled weekly vault tours—a chance to look into storage and get a sense of the scope and depth of CAM’s holdings.  To add to the potential learning opportunities for visitors, no museum objects are assigned a permanent home on the first row of shelves in the vault.  Instead, the empty shelves serve as a miniature curatorial opportunity, with staff members changing out the objects on display there and tour guides serving as docents for “curated” shelves.

Ceramics vault in the newly built Collections Wing.  The first shelf is temporary shelving - it is used to curate within the collection. 2012. Jim Haefner/SmithGroup/Cranbrook Art Museum

The ceramics vault in the newly built Collections Wing. The first shelf is temporary shelving – Museum and Center staff use it to curate within the collection. Jim Haefner/SmithGroup/Cranbrook Art Museum, 2012.

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Photo Friday: Swedish Weavers, All in a Row

Studio Loja Saarinen weavers seated at one of the larger looms.  L to R: Elizabeth Edmark, Marie Bexell, Peggy Broberg, Gerda Nyberg.  May, 1935.  Cranbrook Archives.

Studio Loja Saarinen weavers seated at one of the larger looms. L to R: Elizabeth Edmark, Marie Bexell, Peggy Broberg, Gerda Nyberg. May, 1935. Cranbrook Archives.

Founded in 1928, Studio Loja Saarinen served as a commercial weaving studio at Cranbrook, producing rugs, curtains, table textiles, and tapestries for both the growing Cranbrook campus and outside clients.  Though it bore her name, Loja Saarinen was not the sole weaver at Studio Loja Saarinen—instead, the studio employed a staff of primarily Swedish women who immigrated to the United States during the 1920s and 30s.  At its largest size, the studio had 30 looms in use to keep up with production demands.  Here four of Studio Loja Saarinen’s Swedish weavers are posed at one of the large looms housed in the lower level of the studio.   From left, they are: Elizabeth Edmark, Marie Bexell, Peggy Broberg, and Gerda Nyberg.   Displayed before them is one of the giant rugs produced by the weavers.  Still in use, this rug is on view in Saarinen House today.

– Shoshana Resnikoff, Collections Fellow

Photo Friday: Modern, Inside and Out


Edwin O. George (left) of the Detroit Edison Company and others study a model of the Edison House. Harvey Croze/Cranbrook Archives.

Nestled into a hillside across from the Cranbrook Institute of Science is the Edison House, a low-profile modernist structure that blends in with its surroundings.  In 1965, however, that structure was a pretty big deal.  Conceived of as a partnership between the Institute of Science and the power company Detroit Edison, Edison House served as a spacious and elegant residence for visiting scientists and luminaries while also showcasing the cutting edge in electrical appliances at the time.   Detroit Edison’s influence was felt throughout the house, from heaters in the garage to help drivers warm up their cars on a cold winter’s day to an intercom system that could double as a microphone to pick up the sounds of wildlife outside.  Used primarily as temporary housing for scholars visiting CIS, Edison House became home to CIS director Daniel E. Appleman in the 1990s.  Appleman and his family left the house in 1998, and CIS has since used it for various administrative purposes.

-Shoshana Resnikoff, Collections Fellow

Happy Birthday, Sol LeWitt!

Sol LeWitt, Wall Drawings 790A and 790B: Irregular Alternating Color Bands (1995), currently on view at the Cranbrook Art Museum.  Photo, P.D. Rearick/Cranbrook Art Museum.

Sol LeWitt, Wall Drawings 790A and 790B: Irregular Alternating Color Bands (1995), currently on view at the Cranbrook Art Museum. Photo, P.D. Rearick/Cranbrook Art Museum.

Solomon “Sol” LeWitt was born in Hartford, Connecticut, on September 9, 1928, making today the 85th anniversary of his birth.   LeWitt died in 2007, but his groundbreaking work continues to be exhibited around the world.  If you’re interested, however, you can catch LeWitt closer to home at Cranbrook.

On exhibition at the Cranbrook Art Museum, LeWitt’s Wall Drawings 790A and 790B: Alternating Color Bands dominate the Hartmann Gallery.  These striking wall paintings are deceptive – though they seem permanent, they exist only for the run of the exhibition.  This short-lived existence reveals LeWitt’s important role in the conceptual art movement, in which the “idea” of the piece holds more significance than the physical manifestation of the concept.  Check out Sol LeWitt: Wall Drawings 790A and 790B: Alternating Color Bands on view at CAM now.

– Shoshana Resnikoff, Collections Fellow

Photo Friday: Twisted Sister

In the summer of 1911, the Booth clan left Cranbrook, headed for a European vacation.  The family traveled via New York, where they boarded the RMS Olympic, part of the White Star Line and sister ship to the Titanic. Designed as a luxury ship, many of the features on the Olympic were identical to the more famous Titanic The Olympic had its maiden voyage on June 14, 1911, arriving in New York on June 21, 1911.  The captain of its first voyage was none other than Edward Smith, who would lose his life aboard the Titanic one year later.  The ship’s return trip to England left June 28, 1911, carrying the Booths.  Another famous passenger on board was ship designer Thomas Andrews, who would also later perish on Titanic.

RMS Olympic

The RMS Olympic arrives in Southampton on July 5, 1911. Cranbrook Archives

In April of 1912, the Olympic was one of the ships that received the distress call from Titanic, but it was too far to help in the rescue.  The Olympic offered to take on survivors, but was turned down, as it was thought that passengers would panic at having to board a ship that was a mirror-image to the Titanic.

After the Titanic disaster, the Olympic had to be refitted, as it, too, did not carry enough life boats for all the passengers.

~Robbie Terman, Archivist

California to Cranbrook: What I Did on My Summer Vacation

Everyone who has endured a Michigan winter agrees that a Michigan summer is the universe’s way of making it up to you.  Having completed my first winter at Cranbrook, then, it seems a shame that I missed the glory of summer in the Mitten State.   I was called back to my home state of California to celebrate my mother’s birthday (a milestone year that she wouldn’t appreciate having publicized on the internet) and to enjoy a few solid weeks of family reunions, state-wide road trips, and delicious, delicious tacos.  I traded the sun and heat of Southeastern Michigan for the fog and chill of Northern California, but at the end of the day I still managed to find a little bit of Cranbrook in California. Continue reading

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