Cameras started rolling Monday for the Center’s new film celebrating Swedish American sculptor Carl Milles, premiering May 22nd at A Global House Party at Cranbrook and Millesgården. Centering on materials in the Archives, the day’s shoot featured handwritten correspondence, photographs, sketches, scrapbooks, and oral history recordings that help illuminate the story of the man behind the many iconic sculptures dotting Cranbrook’s campus.
In preparation for the day, I mined several collections in the Archives that document Milles’ twenty years as artist-in-residence at Cranbrook and his work in America during that time. In the process, I made a few delightful discoveries. While most of these treasures were expertly captured by the film production crew (Elkhorn Entertainment), there were a few that just could not be accommodated in Associate Curator Kevin Adkisson’s masterful, but already dense script.
One of these items is a notebook from the Nancy Leitch Papers. A student of Milles’ in the early 1940s, Leitch, like many of Milles’ students, became friends with both him and his wife Olga while at Cranbrook. The brief diary-like entries in Leitch’s pocket-sized book date from 1945, and are an intimate glimpse of daily activities, remembrances, and artist philosophies recounted from shared experiences and conversations with Carl and Olga. A loose paper tucked inside and titled “Carl” is a bonus, containing hasty notes recording his birthday, recommendations of where to visit in Italy (Café Greco in Rome, the cathedral in Orvieto), and words of wisdom, such as, “It is better to be an artist even though you are poor.”
Another highlight are the photo scrapbooks in the Margueritte Kimball Papers. Kimball began studying painting at the Academy in 1942 and stayed for twenty-six years as financial secretary, developing strong ties with students and staff alike. Lucky for us, she was also a meticulous documentarian and handy with a camera. Her collection includes five photo scrapbooks covering 1942-1955. While the Archives benefits from the nearly forty years (1933-1970) of prolific output by Cranbrook’s staff photographers, it is the candid snapshots like those taken by Kimball that provide an insider’s look at what it really was like to live, create, and work at Cranbrook.
Last, but certainly not least, in the Carl Milles Papers is a curious cloth pouch bearing Milles’ monogram in the upper left corner. Measuring 4.5” x 8”, the pouch was part of a transfer of records to the Archives from the Academy of Art in 1989. Coming some thirty-eight years after Milles’ departure from Cranbrook for his native Sweden, the purpose and use of the pouch has yet to be ascertained. Simple in design, the pouch’s several threadbare patches suggest it was well used by the sculptor in some personal or professional capacity.
To see what Archives items made the final cut and experience the entire film in spectacular high-definition, including additional footage of Milles’ homes and sculptures, shot at Cranbrook and Millesgården in Sweden, sign up today on the Center’s website!
– Deborah Rice, Head Archivist, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research