In this iconic Cranbrook image, we see our two heroes, Eliel and Loja Saarinen, posed before a cartoon (or drawing on paper) of their Sermon on the Mount weaving. This image was taken in the studio of Saarinen House on Cranbrook’s Academy Way. I’ve always liked the commanding pose of Loja as she confidently points out a detail within the cartoon to her husband. Her beautifully curled hair, dress with piped detailing, likely of her own design and making, and practical dark lace-ups show a woman with an eye for detail and style who’s also ready to work. Eliel, nattily dressed, looks admiringly on. Both stand in anticipation of this paper drawing’s impending conversion by the weavers of Studio Loja Saarinen into a monumental hanging of wool and linen.
Almost eighty years after this staged photograph was taken by photojournalist Betty Truxell, Loja and Eliel Saarinen and their studio are again in the news. On February 10, 2021, the National Trust for Historic Preservation added Saarinen House, along with three other sites, to its prestigious Historic Artists’ Homes and Studios (HAHS) program. Forty-eight sites form this national coalition of independent museums, including the homes and studios of Georgia O’Keefe, Winslow Homer, Frederic Church, Donald Judd, Daniel Chester French, Edward Hopper, Thomas Cole, and other canonical American artists. We are thrilled to be a part of this august group.
While Saarinen House is often identified with architect Eliel Saarinen, our site’s recent acceptance into the HAHS network celebrates the life and career of weaver, designer, and entrepreneur Loja Saarinen. This makes sense, both because the Historic Artists‘ Homes and Studios program is focused on artists (not architects), and because Loja Saarinen is a force of design talent all her own. It’s high time she gets her national spotlight!
I’ve always enjoyed comparing the photograph above to a study for one of Eliel and Loja’s great collaborations, the Festival of the May Queen Tapestry, hanging at Kingswood. In this weaving sample, we see another woman with the same grace, strength, style, and dark lace-ups as Loja Saarinen:
It’s in this picture that we see the beauty and variety of products from Loja’s commercial weaving enterprise: rugs, upholstery, drapes, tapestry hangings, pillows and poofs. And although the ‘pillow’ at right is actually the Saarinen House bathmat, styled as a pillow for this photoshoot, we get a sense of the design and quality of work for which Studio Loja Saarinen was known. It is a well-deserved honor that her home and studio now join the sites of other great American creatives in the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s HAHS program.
On a visit to Cranbrook House, Johannes Kirchmayer’s overmantel is one of the first things to catch your attention. Tours and blog posts have examined this chef d’œuvre and its iconography, and admirers tracing the quotation popping out from the carved eglantine find it a typical George Booth choice: art, nature, his love for both. The inscription reads:
“Nature I loved and next to nature art”
Cranbrook is the Booths’ creation, brimming with art and nature and George Booth quotes, but who wrote this line, and how did it end up in such a prominent spot?
It comes from the pen of Walter Savage Landor.
Born into minor aristocratic wealth in Warwick, England, in 1775, Landor was a wild child, quite possibly because he was sent away to school at 4 ½ years old and was a wonderment to his parents who didn’t know what to do with a child who wrote Latin as well as he wrote English and showed remarkable talent for not obeying rules of any kind.
Landor enjoyed such violent fights over political opinion that his parents banned him from the dinner table when guests were present. No school could hang onto him. Even Trinity College, Oxford had enough of his rebelliousness, his anti-government stance, his French Revolution republican garb. Landor fought back by writing nasty aphoristic poems about his critics in Latin and English, a practice he continued throughout his life. He was particularly vicious in Latin, partly because in England libel laws did not extend to texts in Latin. He was very clever and iconoclastic, favoring social reform and liberal nationalism. He felt himself superior to others and hated competition just in case it might prove him wrong. Hence his epigram, if not epitaph, written on his 74th birthday in 1849:
I strove with none, for none was worth my strife:
Nature I loved, and, next to Nature, Art:
I warmed both hands before the fire of life;
It sinks; and I am ready to depart.
He may have been ready to depart, but it would be another fifteen years before he got around to it.
Much earlier, in 1805, Landor inherited a huge amount of money from his father and determined to set up an estate in Wales, restore an abandoned priory on the property, build a large mansion, and reform the peasantry. Impetuous as ever, he flew off to Spain in 1808 to fight in the Peninsular War against Napoleon’s generals, raising his own regiment. Unfortunately, Landor couldn’t stop himself from quarreling with hosts, commanding officers, and his own troops whereupon he fled back to Wales to find building materials for his hoped-for mansion had trickled away much as had his regiment.
Here we enter into the realm of coincidence. Landor, an Englishman, building in Wales, found upon his return from Spain that the locals had run off with a lot of his bricks. In an 1809 letter to the local bishop, Landor cursed the Welsh in his inimitable manner insisting that they would demolish the tomb of famed poet Taliesin if they could get away with it. For those readers who are architecture buffs, the name Taliesin can only conjure up one image, not that of the 5th or 6th century Welsh bard, but that of Welsh-connected Frank Lloyd Wright who thus named his east and west architectural compounds, citing the translation as “shining brow.”
But, back to Landor. Once restored to the throne, the king of Spain sent Landor a flock of sheep in recognition for his services. When the sheep arrived at the English docks, they were assumed to be a gift for the king (George III), and try as he might, Landor could not get them back, and one couldn’t sue the king. He had to wait until George IV died before publishing his opinion, one of his most famous attacks:
George the First was always reckoned
Vile, but viler George the Second.
And what mortal ever heard
A good word of George the Third,
But when from earth the Fourth descended
God be praised the Georges ended.
Alas, even though Landor was able to persuade a lovely young woman, 16 years his junior, to marry him in 1811, all was not well. Quarrelsome as always and with no business sense, Landor fled again from Wales to Fiesole outside Florence in Italy where he fared slightly better. In spite of money troubles and a wife who loved to taunt him about his age, this was the period of his great creativity, writing the totally invented Imaginary Conversations between two famous historical people. Poets such as Byron and Robert Southey loved his work, Byron even doing Landor the honor of stealing the Greek name chosen for a young Landor love to apply to the principal lady in his Child Harold. Readers struggled through these long obscure works (or didn’t) and praised a beautifully succinct passage or two, and those are the excerpts along with his crusty aphorisms that made him famous.
And here is the second coincidence. The inscription in Cranbrook House inspired this blog on Landor, who deserved some recognition. Yet it was while idling in Saarinen House waiting for a COVID-safe tour for Cranbrook students that I found myself looking at the beauty spots of the house. My eye fell on the table in the book room. Upon it lay a couple of tastefully placed little books from the Saarinen collection. I peered at the spine and saw in gold capitals the name LANDOR. They were volumes one and two of his Conversation Pericles and Aspasia, his best-known conversation, first published 1836. The flyleaf revealed the occasion for a gift to Saarinen upon his 60th birthday in 1933, wishing him a happy life, signed G. G. Booth.
Pericles was the great Athenian general of the 5th century BCE Peloponnesian wars, and Aspasia his female companion. Their conversation by Landor is a series of letters between the lovers and their immediate companions with walk-on roles for Aeschylus, Pindar, Socrates, and Alcibiades.
The language is high-flown and not all that accessible; no wonder Landor is hardly known today.
He continued to quarrel with everyone, finally getting thrown out of his own house in 1835 at age 60 by wife, daughter and one son, and fled Italy after scurrilous Latin verses excited the authorities. Back in England, as irascible as ever, Landor continued to write conversations and poems and found himself the grand old man of letters as his fame grew. Carlyle, Tennyson, Browning, Trollope, and Dickens (Landor appears in Bleak House as Lawrence Boythorn) were admiring dinner companions when Landor wasn’t in too bad a temper.
His last six years were spent back in Italy. He died, escaping as usual, in a hotel in Florence in 1864. The villa was later bought by explorer Willard Fiske and renamed Villa Landor. The villa, altered over the years, is now the Fiesole School of Music, echoing no doubt to the rages and laughter of its most prominent owner. Llanthony Priory continued to decay until protected by the Welsh government cultural group, Cadw.
Even though Landor’s life can hardly have met his approval, it is not surprising, perhaps, that George Booth found a quote from the grand old man of the previous century to adorn his own masterpiece, though one might find the use of the word “strife” ambiguous. Just as well Booth chose only the line that suited his purpose: “Nature I loved, and, next to Nature, Art.” The grand old man has come to rest.
The topic of Cranbrook visitors has been a regular one in the Archives this winter as my colleague, Kevin Adkisson, prepares for his History of American Architecture: Cranbrook Visitors lectures. There have been many famous visitors to Cranbrook over the years, and while Kevin is focused on architects who came to the Academy of Art, many other interesting guests were associated with the Institute of Science.
The Institute has frequently welcomed scholars from near and far to present on the latest research in their field. These include paleoanthropologists, Mary and Louis S. B. Leakey; primatologist, Dian Fossey; archaeologist, J. Eric S. Thompson; father of ecology, Pierre Dansereau; biologist, Joseph S. Weiner, and professor of electrical engineering, Harold Eugene “Doc” Edgerton. I thought it would be interesting to take a look at the work of Dr. Edgerton, dubbed “Papa Flash” by Jacques Cousteau.
Edgerton, Professor of Electrical Engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, presented his lecture Seeing the Unseen at the Institute in 1950, and returned in 1979 to present Moments of Vision: an Inventor Speaks. His work was also included in an exhibition, Flash! The Invisible World Revealed in 1960. The Newsletter – Cranbrook Institute of Science of October 1979 reports that Edgerton invented the stroboscope, which made stop-action and high-speed photography possible.
The December 1960 CIS newsletter tells us that, “’stroboscope’ literally means ’whirling viewer’ and employs very rapid flashes from a strobostron, a gas-filled tube, in which light can be produced repeatedly by electrical discharges from condensers. A camera synchronized with the light can make photographs at speeds of less than one millionth of a second, stopping action which is much too fast for the human eye to see.”
Edgerton’s system of photography, first introduced in 1931, has revolutionized the way we see the world–and the way we see the moon! Edgerton adapted his invention to specialized instruments in many fields, including underwater photography, aerial reconnaissance, and nuclear-test measurement.
The stroboscope helped enable underwater photography, allowing us to see this otherwise unseen world. The CIS newsletter describes how “aquanauts” used his equipment to resolve underwater mysteries, such as finding the iron-clad Civil War vessel, Monitor, which was discovered off the North Carolina coast near Cape Hatteras, as well as searching for the Loch Ness monster. Edgerton also made ten voyages with Jacques Cousteau on the Calypso, and the 1960 newsletter reports that he had previously been on four deep sea explorations with Cousteau, capturing images of sea life as deep as four miles.
Edgerton’s association with the MIT began in 1926, when he entered as a graduate student, being awarded a Master of Science degree in 1927 and a Doctor of Science degree in 1931. He was appointed Professor of Electrical Engineering in 1934 and continued beyond his official retirement in 1977. His first public association with Cranbrook came in the December 1949 CIS newsletter, where his camera equipment’s ability to create photographic records of hummingbirds and bats in flight, circus performers in mid-air, and stroboscopic analysis of tennis and golf players was documented. Many of these images were displayed at the December 1960 photographic exhibition, which featured thirty years of Edgerton’s work, and included enlargements from his original negatives of ultra high-speed photography of the splash of a milk drop.
Cranbrook’s institutions have long played host to national and international leaders in science, the arts, and many other fields. It is wonderful that Edgerton shared the progress of his fascinating research and discoveries with the Institute of Science.
—Laura MacNewman, Associate Archivist, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research
Sources: The Newsletter, Cranbrook Institute of Science, Vol. 19, No. 4, December 1949. The Newsletter, Cranbrook Institute of Science, Vol. 30, No. 4, December 1960. The Newsletter, Cranbrook Institute of Science, Vol. 49, No. 2, October 1979.
In many of the posts we put up on Facebook or on the Kitchen Sink, the credit line “Photographer Jack Kausch” appears. Since he took so many iconic images of Cranbrook’s people and places in the second half of the twentieth century, I’d like to introduce you to Jack Kausch himself.
John William (Jack) Kausch was born in 1929, in Queens, New York. His family moved to Detroit shortly after he was born. Jack’s interest in photography began at age eight, when his mother gave him a camera and dark room set. He earned a scholarship to attend Cranbrook School for Boys, graduating in 1947. While a student at Cranbrook, he became a photographer for The Crane student newspaper and The Brook yearbook.
Jack went on to attend the University of Michigan. The Korean War interrupted his studies, and he joined the Air National Guard. Stationed on a base in New England, he serviced radar equipment and handled the base’s photography lab. When the war ended, the G.I. bill enabled him to return to the University of Michigan. He helped his mother run a construction firm while he attended night school, earning a bachelor’s degree in Physics in 1956.
In September 1957, Jack married Elizabeth (Betsy) Drake. He then took a job with General Motors Photographic in 1960, where he worked for the next seventeen years. During this time, he returned to the University of Michigan to earn a Master’s in Business Administration. He opened Jack Kausch Photography in 1976 in Birmingham, Michigan. It was around this time he returned to Cranbrook to again take photographs for various Cranbrook publications and events.
Shortly after his death in 2002, Jack was posthumously awarded the 2001-2002 Birmingham Bloomfield Cultural Arts Award’s Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2009, an exhibit about his life and work, Jack Kausch, A Photographer’s Retrospective, was presented by the Birmingham Museum.
I thought I would share some of my favorite Kausch photographs of Cranbrook’s people and places: