Photo Friday: Greetings from Thornlea

The holiday season is upon us once again, and hopefully you and yours had a wonderful and safe Thanksgiving celebration.

Holiday gatherings were important to Cranbrook founders’ son, Henry Scripps Booth and his wife Carolyn, as evidenced by this card given to Henry by Carolyn in 1971. Although one of few Thanksgiving cards, it is an example of the many greeting cards included in the Henry Scripps and Carolyn Farr Booth Papers. Among those the couple gave to each other are cards which send greetings to family and friends from their home, Thornlea.

As we look forward to the holidays ahead, I leave you with the photo below, showing patriarch Henry Booth at his home, Thornlea, bringing in the turkey for what surely was a fabulous Christmas feast!

Henry Scripps Booth at Thornlea House, December 25, 1956. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Similar items from the Archives will be on display during the Center’s upcoming Behind-The-Scenes-Tour, The Treasures of Thornlea House, taking place next week. As of this writing, a few tickets are still available for Thursday, December 2nd – we hope you can join us!

Deborah Rice, Head Archivist, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

Inspired by a Chap Named Storm

‘A smooth sea never made a skilled mariner,’ says the English proverb. This lovely little saying is quite apt for a story that I discovered in the papers of Henry Scripps and Carolyn Farr Booth.

In a folder of correspondence, I came across two letters to Henry Booth from a man named Brad Storm, a Bloomfield teenager who had sailed around the world solo in a boat, a journey which took him four years to complete. While there is little documentation on the story, it’s possible to piece together an inspiring tale of challenge, adventure, tenacity, and discovery.

An article in The Detroit News on October 24, 1983 (p. 3) tells us that Storm had planned the trip since he was 13. After working jobs and saving throughout his high school years, he bought a 27-foot cruising sloop named Dream Weaver. The initial voyage started disastrously in a shipwreck only three days after setting sail, on Friday, October 13th, 1979. Storm, determined and wiser, set sail again and successfully voyaged through Pacific Islands, Oceana, Australia (where he stayed for a year), the Indian Ocean, Mauritius, South Africa, the Caribbean, and home via the Panama Canal.

In the article, Storm describes the marvels and the struggles of his voyage, and recounts that his only companionship was a supply of classic books. As he deliberates his future voyages, he is certain of one revision: “Man wasn’t meant to sail alone. I’ll always go with a crew now so there’s someone to share the experience with.”

From Booth’s diary and History for 1983, I learned that upon reading about Storm’s journey in the newspaper, Booth phoned him up and invited him to visit Cranbrook. A couple of days later, Storm came to talk about his experience to Dr. Jeffrey Welch’s English class at Cranbrook School. He also spent time with Alice and Warren Booth (third child and second son of George and Ellen).

The first letter to Booth is dated December 1983, and Storm had sailed again in search of a place to settle and look to the future. He was writing from the coast of New Zealand to thank Booth for a poem, Inspired by a Chap Named Storm, that he had sent to Storm’s parents. Storm was considering how he could help and inspire others from the lessons he had learned through his experience and said that it was meaningful to him to receive Booth’s poem.

Inspired by a Chap Named Storm, a poem by Henry Scripps Booth. November 2, 1983. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

The second letter describes how Storm had arrived in Honolulu in June 1984 and planned to stay there to write about his journey and to pursue higher education. He writes,

“I’ve spent so much time at sea alone it’s terrific with friends all around me and other things I’ve denied myself for so long. Just walking to the shop and buying a pint of milk is still a pleasure. The sea showed me not to take things for granted so I’m not and enjoying life immensely… Writing is a very strange and new voyage to me with an unknown end, but I’m enjoying the challenge it’s bringing me. A lot of new challenges in a new life, I wake every morning enjoying the anticipation of the new day.”

Letter from Brad Storm to Henry Scripps Booth, July 2, 1984

Like Booth, I felt inspired by this chap named Storm, whose persistence in following his dream led to a great discovery. In searching the world for life, he discovered his relationship to it, giving him a most wonderful gift—the gift of taking pleasure in simple things.

Laura MacNewman, Associate Archivist, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

Dining with the Smiths: Dinnerware from Tokyo and Taliesin

Melvyn and Sara Smith filled their Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home with a fascinating mixture of objects. Over three decades in the house, they collected everything from finely crafted ceramics, handwoven textiles, and original sculpture to the kinds of reproductions one might find in a museum gift shop. This eclectic blend of mass-produced décor and unique art objects can be seen on the hallway shelves, where two sets of plates demonstrate two very different engagements with the artistic legacy of Frank Lloyd Wright.

Gallery shelves in the Smith House hallway, November 2021. Photograph by Nina Blomfield, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

The center shelf displays a reproduction of the dinnerware used in the cabaret of the Imperial Hotel, Tokyo. The Imperial Hotel was a monumental project, commissioned in 1916 and completed in 1923. Frank Lloyd Wright conceived the hotel as a total aesthetic environment, a space in which all decoration was unified: from the carved Oya stone of the exterior structure all the way down to the coffee pots and sugar bowls on breakfast tables. Famously, the structure survived the Great Kantō earthquake of 1923, although it was not completely undamaged as Wright proclaimed.

Frank Lloyd Wright, manufactured by Noritake Porcelain Company, Place Setting for the Imperial Hotel, 1979 (designed c.1922). Photograph by Nina Blomfield, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

The porcelain cabaret service was designed by Wright and manufactured by Noritake Porcelain Company. Its pattern served both an aesthetic and practical purpose. The floating bubbles not only reinforced the festive atmosphere of informal cabaret dining (Wright had designed more conservative gilt porcelain for the banquet hall), the red circle at the lip of the teacup would also conveniently disguise any inelegant lipstick marks. Noritake produced replacement pieces for the hotel while the service was in use and continued to reissue the original designs for sale to consumers.

Books from the Smith Collection, from left: Frank Lloyd Wright, The Japanese Print: An Interpretation. New York: Horizon Press, 1967; Cary James, The Imperial Hotel: Frank Lloyd Wright and the Architecture of Unity. Rutland, VT: Tuttle, 1968; Newspaper clipping of Ada Louise Huxtable, “Anatomy of a Failure,” The New York Times, March 17, 1968, p.35. Photograph by Nina Blomfield, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

By 1968, the original design for the hotel had been significantly compromised and the building was demolished to make space for an expansion. Cary James captured the hotel in its final years in his book The Imperial Hotel: Frank Lloyd Wright and the Architecture of Unity. The Smith House library includes this volume and, slipped inside the front cover, a clipping from Ada Louise Huxtable’s New York Times article “Anatomy of a Failure,” a lament of the hotel’s destruction.

Imperial Hotel teacup showing “The Oak Park Collection 1979” mark. Photograph by Nina Blomfield, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

In the late 1970s, architect and Frank Lloyd Wright scholar Thomas Heinz began selling Wright furniture designs and reproductions of the Imperial Hotel porcelain. Although produced by Noritake, the original manufacturer, the legitimacy of the reissued dinnerware was contentious, and the service was the subject of lengthy legal disputes between Heinz and the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. The Smith Noritake is from “The Oak Park Collection,” dated to 1979. As a mass-produced reproduction issued a decade after the Hotel’s demolition, the acquisition of the service gives a small glimpse into the Smiths’ devotion to everything Frank Lloyd Wright. Along with copies of work by Marc Chagall and Auguste Rodin in the Smith House collection, the Imperial Hotel dinnerware speaks to a mode of collecting that was perhaps less concerned with authenticity than with aesthetic appeal and personal taste.

Val M. Cox, hand-painted teak plate, 1982. Photograph by Nina Blomfield, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

On the shelf above the Imperial Hotel dinnerware, a painted teak plate tells a very different story. This plate is one of a set of twelve that were designed and hand-painted for the Smiths by artist Val M. Cox. Each plate features a unique design of rhythmic arcs, segments, and overlapping circles in gold leaf, red and green enamel, and dark stain.

The geometric forms belong to a tradition of abstraction developed by Frank Lloyd Wright and the community of architects and artists that gathered around him at his homes in Wisconsin and Arizona. This community was formalized as the Taliesin Fellowship in 1932, an educational program for those interested in furthering Wright’s theories of organic architecture and “learning by doing.”

Books on the Taliesin Fellowship from the Smith House Library. Photograph by Nina Blomfield, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

The Smiths maintained a lifelong connection with the Fellowship. It was a Taliesin apprentice who invited Melvyn and Sara Smith to first meet Frank Lloyd Wright. Members of the Fellowship aided in the 1950 construction of the house, designed the 1968 Garden Room addition, and continued to correspond with the Smiths about future projects (including an unbuilt teahouse and jacuzzi). The Smiths brought the set of undecorated plates with them on a visit to Taliesin in 1982 and asked Cox, then a fellow, to develop an original design for their table.

Val M. Cox, hand-painted teak plates, 1982. Photograph by Nina Blomfield, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

Although the geometric patterns of the teak and the porcelain plates harmonize, the circumstances of their production are quite different. One, a personal commission from an artist with an intimate connection to Taliesin, represents the meaningful artistic relationships that the Smiths cultivated throughout their lives. The other, a mass-produced reproduction from one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s most well-known designs demonstrates the breadth of their lifelong interest in the work of Frank Lloyd Wright. These two sets of plates symbolize the varied ways that the Smiths acquired art and filled their home with beauty.

—Nina Blomfield, The Decorative Arts Trust Marie Zimmermann Collections Fellow for Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research, 2021-2023

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