I Have a Crush on James Scripps Booth

After the second week of May, I readily began my Senior May Project, an intensive program that allows second semester seniors to explore a field of study for three weeks. Pulling open the imposing silver doors of the Cranbrook Archives on my first day, I had no idea what truly occurred on the other side. As I, with the fumbling hands of a novice, used fundamental archival tools such as finding aids, vertical and photo files, indexes, backlogs, and the digital image database over the course of the three weeks, I began to understand what an archivist does behind those argent doors.

Margaret Harney, CKU '15

Margaret Harney, CKU ’15

Honestly, it is a lot of filing. Archivists receive chaotic and often decaying papers, photographs, and other documents deemed worthy of being preserved, and they organize them into various categorizes and topics. Everything has a place, and that place is well recorded in differing indexes and inventories. As a person whose nickname as a child was “Messy Meg,” I inevitably struggled to learn the complex organizational system. Often, I would stand in a dim corner of the archives, afraid of disarranging the gray archival boxes like some omnipotent entropic force, or a two-year-old. Thus, in the second week when I was tasked with organizing three filing cabinets of photographs from Cranbrook Kingswood post-merger, I inwardly panicked. Once I removed the folders, I discovered that they were in complete disarray from the disinterested teenager who had supposedly organized the cabinets before me. While their quite arrogant lack of effort often made me want to pry my muscles from my bones, it also relieved my anxiety, for I knew no matter how badly I mismanaged the cabinets, it would never be nearly as appalling as it was prior.

Study for Blessed Damozel, 1920.  James Scripps Booth

Study for Blessed Damozel, 1920. James Scripps Booth

After finishing the cabinets, I helped Ms. Edwards rummage for posters in the metallic archive vaults, and there in James Scripps Booth’s yellowing, rigid pastels, I discovered why an archivist undertakes all that grueling and mind-numbing filing. Beneath the waxy paper shielding the drawings, nude female figures innocently and exquisitely revealed themselves among impatient pastel strokes. While I was beguiled by the striking beauty of the sketches, I was equally as captivated by their ability to reveal the whims of Booth. Thus, not only the women, but Booth as well lay exposed. Such drawings and degenerating documents that archivists strive to preserve are like little vitrines displaying various aspects of the past. Each frame depicts a story and when all the frames combine, a larger impression is formed. Like an ink blot, this impression allows the viewer to decide what the greater story is. The ability to interpret the past for yourself is a rare and remarkable privilege, and that was the greatest gift my time in the archives gave me.

Cranbrook House, 1917.  James Scripps Booth

Cranbrook House, 1917. James Scripps Booth

Margaret Harney, CKU ’15

Cranbrook’s Tenuous Connection to “Crime of the Century”

Birdwatcher. It sounds so benign, doesn’t it? And difficult to reconcile with the infamous names of Leopold and Loeb, perpetrators of the “Crime of the Century” in 1924.

While refiling some material in the Cranbrook Institute of Science (CIS) Director’s Papers recently, I came across a folder labeled “Leopold, Nathan F., correspondence, 1924-1974.” Imagine my surprise—the name leapt out at me! Leopold was half of an infamous pair of murderers in the early 1920s. The correspondence file deals with Leopold’s experience as an amateur ornithologist. While a student at the University of Chicago he authored a monograph called “The Kirtland’s Warbler in its Summer Home,” published in the now defunct The Auk (Jan. 1924). The Kirtland’s warbler is considered a rare bird because in the summer, the only place in the world that it nests is a few counties in northern Michigan (upper and lower peninsulas), in Wisconsin and in Ontario.

Jan. 1924 issue of The Auk. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives

Jan. 1924 issue of The Auk. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives

Leopold’s explorations in ornithology were cut short when he followed his friend Richard Loeb’s challenge to commit a murder, to “see how it felt.” The two boys, from wealthy Chicago families, thought they could commit the perfect crime. On Loeb’s initiative they kidnapped the 14-year old son of a Chicago millionaire, murdered him and dumped the body. The pair were quickly apprehended and prosecuted, and faced the death penalty. Their rich parents were able to hire Clarence Darrow who won them life in prison.

Nathan Leopold was released in 1958, moving to Puerto Rico where he worked in medical research until his death in 1971. He contacted CIS director Dr. Robert Hatt in 1964 to see if the Institute was interested in receiving his diorama of a family of Kirtland’s warbler. “The birds were collected by me with a 16 gauge, double-barreled shotgun … in the late morning of June 20, 1923 … timed [for] the arrival in Oscoda of the only daily train south as would allow for preparing the birds for shipment to Chicago,” he explained in a letter to Hatt. Leopold chose Cranbrook, over the Smithsonian or the New York Museum of Natural History because “ … I believe that this typical Michigan bird should remain in Michigan …” He also donated correspondence with another birder, Douglas S. Middleton, started when he was in prison, and with a friend, Kate Friedman.

leopold postcard2

Postcard sent to Leopold friend upon finding Kirkland's warbler. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives

Postcard Leopold sent to friend upon finding Kirtland’s warbler. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives

In a book called Life Plus 99 Years, Leopold explained that he was already in prison by the time the taxidermist completed the exhibit of the warbler. However, the warden allowed the Leopold family chauffeur to drive the exhibit to the prison for Leopold to view.

The diorama was part of a CIS exhibit called One Does Not Live Alone, under a section called “Conflict,” in June 19, 1967.

– Cheri Y. Gay, Archivist

Modern Living

Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending the Michigan Historic Preservation Network’s annual conference in Midland where in each session, I heard references to Cranbrook-related art, architecture and/or design. Naturally, I had to investigate some of these referrals when I got in to the office today! (Curiosity killed the archivist.) One of the sessions I went to, Ideal/Idea Houses: Modern Living in the 1950s sparked my interest since all of the homes were built in the metro-Detroit area and many of them are still standing today.

What exactly was an Ideal/Idea House? In late 1940, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis planned to exhibit a fully functional, completely furnished exhibition house called the Idea House in conjunction with an exhibition entitled “American Living.” The house was intended to showcase new ideas about home architecture and design. The exhibition opened in June 1941.

Fast forward to 1950 when the Builders Association of Detroit took this idea and turned it into an annual competition – first for practicing architects and by 1953, for Michigan architecture students. Originally called the Ideal Home, in 1956, the Builders Association changed the name to Idea Home. This was the same year that the winning entry of Academy of Art architecture student, George Zonars, was built and featured in the Detroit Builders Home Show held at the Michigan State fairground from February to April, 1956. Zonars turned over his preliminary drawings to the architectural firm of Palmquist & Wright, who prepared detailed working plans and specifications, and supervised the construction of the home.

Zonar's rendering of the 1956 Idea Home

Zonars’ rendering of the 1956 Idea Home. Royal Oak Daily Tribune.

Zonars’ Idea Home, like the ones that preceded his, was one of the earliest ranch-style homes in the area and accentuated modern outdoor living by featuring walls of glass windows and outdoor terraces. The exterior featured copper flashing and gutters, pierced brick screen walls, and a wide roof overhang. The interior was completely air-conditioned, had a built-in fire alarm system, and featured an “electronic precipitator” which filtered dust, pollen, bacteria, and germs from the air.

Exterior view of Idea Home

Exterior view of the large glass panel windows and the overhanging roof. Detroti Free Press.

Informality was stressed in the open floor plan of the interior which was decorated by Bette Wilson, assistant home furnishings coordinator for J. L. Hudson. The living room featured a mahogany plywood wall (stained with a walnut finish) and a copper fireplace and hearth. The color scheme was “soothing” with beige walls and carpet, accentuated by furniture in beige, green, rust and copper while accent cushions added splashes of bright turquoise and copper. The master bathroom featured wallpaper from Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Taliesin” line.

Snack Bar

The “snack bar” served as a room divider. The vinyl floor was turquoise with accent tiles in white and avocado. Detroit News.

The concept behind the Idea Home was to provide construction ideas and the use of new materials for builders, ideas for architects when designing future projects, and ideas for the “housewife” to decorate her current home. And perhaps the best part? Visitors to the home show could win the home by guessing the number of nails inside a large plastic model of the house! No idea who eventually won, but the house still exists at 29060 Lone Elm Lane in Southfield. I know what I’m doing this week-end. . .

Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

Photo Friday: Academy of Art Graduation Day

Congratulations to the Cranbrook Academy of Art (CAA) students who graduate today! In honor of today’s festivities we are posting a photo of the cover of the program for the first Honors Convocation (29 May 1943). Although the Academy had been educating students for ten years, it was not until 1942 that it became independent and chartered by the State of Michigan as an institution of higher learning with power to grant degrees. The class of ’43 was the first class to receive an accredited degree. Henry Scripps Booth presented the candidates and degrees were conferred by Eliel Saarinen.

CAA Honors Convocation, 1943

Cranbrook Academy of Art Honors Convocation, 29 May 1943. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Gina Tecos, Archivist

The Ramp of the Chinese Dog

For George Gough Booth, the vista from Cranbrook House to the Ramp of the Chinese Dog was a crucial one – he could see the Cranbrook Art Museum from his west wing office at Cranbrook House and the Chinese Dog guarding the entrance.

Though Cranbrook’s sculpture is commonly referred to as the “Chinese Dog”, the sculpture is actually a stone lion. In October 1940, George Booth purchased the lion from S. & G. Gump Co. in San Francisco and it is considered to be from the Wei Dynasty (386-557). A buyer for Gumps had acquired it in Beijing, China in 1938 where he was told that the lion came from the “Ta Fo Tze Temple in Chien Ting Fu Prefecture in Hopei.” Hebei (Hopei) Province is known for its stone and iron lions, and lion sculptures similar to the one at Cranbrook are still located at the entrance to the Ta Fo Tze Temple, now known as the Longxing Temple.


“Sacred Lion-Dog,” S. & G. Gump Co.’s showroom, San Francisco, ca 1940. Courtesy Cranbrook Art Museum.

During the Ming Dynasty, sacred guardian lions were placed in front of palaces, government buildings and temples as a symbol of bravery, power and good luck. In Western countries, the lions are often referred to as “Fu Dogs” as the word “fu” means Buddha or prosperity. George Booth placed another pair of Chinese stone lions at Cranbrook House, as well as several other stone lion sculptures around the grounds. In addition, he purchased two terracotta lions for the quadrangle at Cranbrook School, and numerous other objects with representations of lions in them including stained glass medallions, stone panels, and a gilt bronze lion sculpture by Carl Milles. As I write this, I am thinking that it would be an interesting project to research just what Booth’s interest or fascination (obsession?) with lions truly was.


One of two terracotta lions at Cranbrook School. Filmmaker Brad Mitzelfeld behind the camera, 1970. Harvey Croze, photographer. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

Photo Friday: Viva Mexico!

With Cinco de Mayo quickly approaching, we are thinking about Mexico. George and Ellen Booth visited Mexico for two months in 1939. The image below was taken by their travel companion, Nellie Beveridge. The Booths traveled by rail and visited Chichen-Itza,Vera Cruz, Merida, and the ruins of Uxmal.

Temple of Quetzalcoatl

Temple of Quetzalcoatl, 1939. George Gough Booth Papers, Cranbrook Archives.

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