“The Warning Came at About 10 P.M.” The Birth of George Booth

September 24 is the birthday of Cranbrook’s co-founder George Gough Booth. Trying to decide how best to commemorate his 157th birthday, I landed on the idea of sharing the story of the day he came into the world.

Portrait of George when he was around twelve years old. Photographer W. E. Lindop, Elgin Gallery, St. Thomas, Ontario. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

In 1864, Henry Wood Booth and Clara Louise Irene Gagnier Booth were living in Canada. Clara had already given birth to three children: Charles, Alice, and Grace. Baby Grace had, unfortunately, died at seven months. Clara would go on to have six more children—Edmund, Theodora, Adelaide, Ralph, Roland, and Bertha—for a total of nine children to live past infancy.

Clara Louise Irene Gagnier Booth in 1857. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.
Henry Wood Booth in 1862. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

George Gough Booth arrived on September 24, 1864, at 8 Magill (now McGill) Street in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Henry Wood Booth recalled that George was, “Born in the house at the East end of row on the South side of Magill St. about the middle of the block from Younge St. at 11.30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 24, 1864.”

The terrace house at No. 8 Magill Street, the birthplace of George G. Booth in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, as it looked in 1902. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

In a missive written much later about the night of George’s birth, Henry recalled “the time when, on opening the front door, I heard your sonorous voice for the first time, while your grandmother, coming down the stairs, assured me ‘it’s a fine boy.’”

But why was Henry out so late on the night George was born? Shouldn’t he have been home with Clara?

Henry Wood Booth’s recollection of the birth of George Gough Booth in 1864. George Gough Booth (1864-1949) Papers (1981-01), Box 1 Folder 1, Cranbrook Archives.

Distraught during Clara’s labor—”The warning came at about 10 p.m.” Henry recalled—the father-to-be was ushered out of the house to get help. His first stop was the home of Mrs. Cavie, across Magill Street, “who was in bed but promised to ‘dress and go over at once,’ which she did.” Henry then ran to Mother Gagnier’s house. She lived a mile away. “She also promised to go at once, and did.”

His final stop was the home of Dr. James Ross, who lived almost three miles away. Dr. Ross, however, took his time, dressing while a nervous Henry waited. He regretted waiting for the doctor, “I should have hurried home and told them there that the doctor was coming.”

George, “being a lively one,” commented Henry, “and his mother equal to the task,” had already made his entrance into the world, with the assistance of the experienced Grandmother Gagnier, before the doctor and Henry had reached the house.

George Gough got his first name from his great-grandfather as well as his uncle, both named George Booth. Gough came from two sources. Henry’s grandmother Elizabeth Dann Gough Booth had been a member of the influential Gough family back in England, and Henry’s father’s name was Henry Gough Booth.

In addition, Henry and Clara enjoyed the work of the famous temperance orator John Gough. Henry had once heard Gough lecture in 1849, where Henry signed “the pledge” to stop drinking, and became a champion of temperance. The Booths sought to dedicate George to “the sacred cause of temperance” and thought the strong middle name would help.

George Gough Booth did maintain a temperate life, so Henry and Clara’s goal was achieved.

Another thing Henry and Clara passed on to their son George: a tradition of honoring the family ancestry through names:

  • George’s second son’s name was Warren, his wife Ellen Scripps Booth’s middle name
  • His first daughter was named Grace Ellen, after his sister who died in infancy and his wife
  • His youngest son was named Henry after his father, grandfather, and a long line of Henrys before him
  • His youngest daughter Florence’s middle name was Louise, his mother’s middle name
  • All three of his sons’ middle names were Scripps, his wife’s maiden name
Ellen Scripps Booth and George Gough Booth with their children on their 50th wedding anniversary in 1937. The Booths are, from front row, from left: James Scripps, Henry Scripps, Warren Scripps. Second row from left: Ellen Scripps, George Gough, Grace Ellen, Florence Louise. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

And George and Ellen’s home, estate, and community they founded was, of course, named for the town in Kent, England, where Henry Wood Booth was born: Cranbrook.

And with that, I’d like to wish a very Happy Birthday, Mr. Booth!

Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

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Welcome Nina!

Thanks to the Decorative Arts Trust, based in Media, Pennsylvania, the Center has a new Resident Collections Fellow—Nina Blomfield.

Recipient of the Decorative Arts Trust Marie Zimmermann Collections Fellowship, Nina joined the Center on July 26. We’re delighted to report that in just her first few weeks, Nina has jumped right into the work of the Cranbrook Center!

A native of New Zealand, Nina received her BA from Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, and earned her MA in History of Art at Bryn Mawr College, Pennsylvania, where her thesis focused on the use of Japanese decorative arts by middle-class American women. She is currently completing a PhD at Bryn Mawr that examines the material culture of domestic space and the global origins of Victorian home decorating. At Bryn Mawr, she curated the well-received exhibition “All-Over Design”: Lockwood de Forest between Ahmedabad and Bryn Mawr.

Nina has had formative collections-based experiences at the National Library of New Zealand, Bryn Mawr College, and the American Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Nina is the Center’s fourth Collections Fellow, and in her two years here she will be focusing her attention on the decorative arts in the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Smith House. She’s been hard at work researching the family and the home’s rich collection. Her efforts have already identified the artists behind a dozen previously unidentified objects in Smith House. Look forward to hearing from Nina on the blog soon, and join us in welcoming her to Cranbrook!

Getting to Know Ken Isaacs at Cranbrook

Throughout this past spring and summer, I’ve been arranging and describing the recently donated papers of designer and architectural educator Ken Isaacs. Isaacs was an Academy of Art design student and faculty alumnus–his Superchair and a film by Barbara Isaacs are currently featured in the With Eyes Opened exhibit at the Art Museum and in the beautiful new book of the same title. Organizing his papers to ready them for researchers has led my learning about the environments Isaacs designed as well as the larger environments he navigated. These include Cranbrook, Manhattan, Chicago, and the rural acres of Groveland, Illinois where he designed and built a village of stylish, portable Microhouses, predating the current Tiny House movement by decades.

Portrait of Ken Isaacs, found tucked into his 1957 daybook. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

For example, while completing his MFA at Cranbrook from 1952-1954, Isaacs redesigned the interior of The Little Gallery, founded by Peggy DeSalle in neighboring Birmingham in 1949. DeSalle was a great supporter and benefactor of the Cranbrook community and the lead donor and namesake of Cranbrook Art Museum’s DeSalle Auditorium, so how wonderful to get a peek at The Little Gallery’s early years through Isaacs’ papers. I learned DeSalle was once married to Cranbrook President Zoltan Sepeshy, though long before Isaacs came to study here. I also learned, thanks to one of Isaacs’ presentation boards, that Peggy’s second husband and lifelong partner, Albert DeSalle, bought a 1955 couch Isaacs designed of steel and canvas.

During those same years, Ken Isaacs built the 18-foot-long, seven-foot-tall Matrix Drum environment. This large structure with its curving wall of graphic, black and white collage was stored here on campus until Zoltan Sepeshy persuaded Isaacs to return as faculty. (No wonder Isaacs was still on Sepeshy’s mind, having left a work larger than a Buick Roadmaster on the president’s turf).

I’ve recently foldered letters back and forth from Isaacs and Sepeshy. Their correspondence is a study in contrasts: Isaacs’ design stationery is mid-century modern with simple shapes in bold primary colors; one of Sepeshy’s handwritten notes has elegant, looping script that stands out against typed missives. They negotiated that Isaacs would retain and commute to his New York City design offices from Bloomfield Hills. The arrangement worked, for a while. The contract for the 1956-1957 school year included a residence for Ken and Barbara Isaacs in the “apartment in Guest House” on Academy Way and Isaacs headed the Design department from 1956 to 1958.

Isaacs regards a student’s work in an Art Academy studio. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Back at Cranbrook, photographs show Isaacs’ reuse of his Matrix Drum structure as a collaborative art project with Academy students who helped to collage its black and white pholage exterior. His notes detail how he redesigned the first Academy year to include field trips and visiting experts. They also explain how students designed a multimedia, immersive Matrix Drum lesson about the American Civil War using multiple slide projectors and moving pallets for participants to sit upon.

These are a few curiosity-rousing items in the Ken Isaacs Papers, from just his time at Cranbrook, with plenty more boxes of his writings and images left to go through. I’ll confess, his papers make it a real challenge for me to stay on task with processing duties, when there are so many things I want to know more about. Stay tuned for further finds!

Meredith Counts, Archives Assistant, Center for Collections and Research

The Art and Architecture of Christ Church Cranbrook

Inspired by a previous Cranbrook Kitchen Sink blog on the embroidery in St. Dunstan’s Chapel, Curator Kevin Adkisson gave a virtual tour of Christ Church Cranbrook, part of the Center’s award-winning “Live at Five” series, on Wednesday, September 1, 2021. It was too great not to share with our Cranbrook Kitchen Sink followers as well.

Check out these other blogs about Christ Church Cranbrook:

Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

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