Currently off-site doing research at the Archives of American Art in Washington, DC, Cranbrook Art Museum’s Jeanne and Ralph Graham Collections Fellow Shelley Selim has been making her way through the Harry Bertoia papers there. She stumbled upon this delightful tidbit today:

A September, 1942, letter from artist and designer Bertoia to his fiance Brigitta Valentiner captures the awkwardness of eating on Cranbrook’s campus as an instructor at the Academy of Art: “We still go over to the boys’ school to eat. Excellent food is served with an overdose of etiquette which for me is hard to swallow.”

Harry Bertoia, 1942. Richard Askew/Cranbrook Archives.

Harry Bertoia, who began studying at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in 1937 and was enlisted as the head of the Metalsmithing Department by 1938, might have felt an extra level of discomfort at the dining experience at Cranbrook School—only 24 years old when he began his tenure as an instructor, he likely looked the same age as many of the high school students.

The formality captured in Bertoia’s letter is not overstated, however. Film footage of Cranbrook School in the 1930s shows a formalized dining experience that would be unrecognizable to today’s students, with uniformed maids delivering hot dishes to the young boys who line up at their tables in coats and ties, waiting to sit in unison.  The film is featured in the Center’s current exhibition Cranbrook Goes to the Movies, on view now at Cranbrook Art Museum.

Shelley’s Bertoia research, meanwhile, has proven productive, feeding into an exciting project that Cranbrook Art Museum is cooking up in honor of the 100th anniversary of Harry Bertoia’s birth in 2015. We can’t say more right now, but watch the CAM website as this project develops over the new few months. And, just because we love it, enjoy a photo of Harry Bertoia and Brigitta Valentiner at Cranbrook Academy of Art’s themed “Come as a Song” party in 1942! We featured it as a Photo Friday a while ago, but it is just too good to not post again.

"Come as a Song" party, 1942.  Cranbrook Archives.

“Come as a Song” party; Harry Bertoia and fiance Brigitta Valentiner speak with an unidentified man in a playing card costume, 1942. Cranbrook Archives.

Shoshana Resnikoff, Collections Fellow, and Shelley Selim, Jeanne and Ralph Graham Collections Fellow, Cranbrook Art Museum

One thought on “Dispatches from the Road: Bertoia Vs. Formal Dinner

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