Documenting Art and Architecture (and Appointments) at Cranbrook Campus

I have mentioned in the blog before that I am working with Center Director Gregory Wittkopp and Center Curator Kevin Adkisson on reviewing all fourteen of our cultural properties collections (over 9,000 objects), reviewing the data already on file and adding as much additional information about each object as we can.

The most recent collection I have been working on is Cranbrook Kingswood Upper School – Cranbrook Campus (f.k.a. Cranbrook School for Boys). The current campus buildings, classrooms, and staff offices, all had the potential to contain cultural properties (historic objects). And many that we visited did!

When I researched the Cranbrook Kingswood Upper School – Kingswood Campus (f.k.a. Kingswood School for Girls), I was fortunate to have the “Kingswood School Cranbrook Inventory of Equipment and Supplies.” It recorded the purchases and payments made from 1930-1938 for the outfitting of the school. It proved invaluable in locating quantities and makers of objects.

There had to be an equivalent for Cranbrook Campus?! Unfortunately, not that I had yet seen.

I only had a 1952 Inventory which listed fixed items, like light fixtures; and “movable” furniture and fixtures, like chairs, tables, desks, artwork. This was a great resource, but it did not always give me the makers or artists. Undeterred, I started searching in Cranbrook Archives, the “little gem” at Cranbrook, to borrow a phrase from Frank Lloyd Wright.

In Box 43, Folder 11 of the Cranbrook Foundation Office Records were the “Building Costs for Cranbrook School from 1926-1946.” And then, I saw it. A small black book labeled “Cranbrook School Book.” Could it be what I was looking for?

“Cranbrook School Book.” Cranbrook Foundation Office Records, 1981-05. Cranbrook Archives, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

Inside were listed payments made to the builder Wermuth & Son and to the W. J. Sloane Company for furniture. It listed the artists who painted, carved, and outfitted the school, as well as contractors who installed various materials in the buildings.

These entries were great, but what else would it lead to? The answer: the “Cranbrook Schools” series in the Cranbrook Architectural Office Records.

Many of the folders were labeled “Cranbrook School correspondence, Wermuth & Son” with dates. The “Cranbrook School Book” had given me an idea of what to look for. Who Wermuth and the Cranbrook Architectural office (and sometimes George G. Booth himself) were corresponding with was the key. Inside were letters from vendors of tiles, furniture, stained glass, stonework, mirrors, mattresses, windows, everything needed to build a well-appointed school.

Here are just a few examples:

  • Copies of blueprints for furniture made by W. J. Sloane Company’s “Company of Master Craftsmen,” many of which were selected for Cranbrook.
  • A letter from L.A. Sielaff & Co. indicating it was contracted to carve the wood ornaments on the Geza Maroti-designed doorcases outside the Library
  • A letter from the Cranbrook Architectural Office to Wolverine Stone Company, awarding them the contract to carve the Maroti-designed overmantel in the Library
  • Letters, and a hand drawing to the Swedish Arts & Crafts Company, the American representatives of Orrefors, makers of the Dining Hall light fixtures
  • A note comparing costs for tiles from Pewabic Pottery verses Nemadji Tile & Pottery Co. (a new maker name for me)

Next up, Cranbrook Campus’ custom light fixtures! I can already hear Kevin’s words in my head . . .

. . . Cranbrook light fixtures are all around campus. There are multiple types of the light fixtures. These were designed by architect and former Head of the Architecture Department Dan Hoffman. He was the architect-in-residence who probably did more to revive the tradition at Cranbrook that was so such a passion project of George Booth and Eliel Saarinen . . .

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

p.s. For more on Cranbrook Campus, check out these videos by Center Curator Kevin Adkisson:

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