A Century Ago: Travel to France with Messrs. Booth and Swanson

May 30, 2023, marks one hundred years since Henry S. Booth and J. Robert F. Swanson returned home from ten months of travel in Europe. Midway through their architecture studies at the University of Michigan, the friends and classmates set off on August 1, 1922 for a “Grand Tour” through Norway, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Tunisia, Italy, France, and England to study and sketch European architecture.

In today’s post, I want to share moments from their journey through France, which is so beautifully documented by Henry’s letters and photographs, and by both of their sketches.

Eglise St. Pierre de Coutances, April 29, 1923, J. Robert F. Swanson. Courtesy of Cranbrook Art Museum.

Arriving in France in March 1923, Harry and Bob journeyed through Nice to Cannes, then through Lyon to the city of Bourges. Henry describes the scenery en route:

…mountains on the right and the “Cote d’Azure” on the other, flowers overhanging balustraded walls, old olives and tall but easily climbed palms, rocks and breaking waves, and then always the bluest of skies and sea to match, and dazzling sunlight–quite warm and ‘drowsy’.

At Bourges, they headed for the Cathedral, which they visited several times: at night by the light of gas lamps; in the afternoon sunlight; at dusk with a handful of worshippers on their knees; and then later that evening filled with the faithful.

Cathédrale St. Etiénne de Bourges, March 1923. Henry Scripps Booth, photographer. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

It was an inspiring sight—the nave packed, and both the inner and outer aisles (for there are two) on the north side filled also, and not a few on the other side of the church. The light was dim all during the sermon, and when that was over, a quantity of candles were lighted almost instantaneously about the “Host,” and all the electric candles down the nave came on, so that suddenly this great cathedral was changed from a imaginative forrest in the night, to a great cathedral church ablaze with the lights associated with a feast.

But I thought more of other things than of the architecture that night. The preacher talked too fast for me to understand his French, but I knew what he should have been saying even if he wasn’t…, I looked at the great number of long black vails [sic] everywhere, noticed the lack of men of middle age, and saw many young fellows who are now “heads” of their father’s family standing by their veiled mother’s side.”

They stopped in Tours before taking in the Chateaux of the Loire: from Loche to Langais, Ussé, Villandry and Azey.

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Step-back with a Peacock

From the moment I entered Saarinen House twenty-seven years ago to give my first public tour, to my upcoming presentation for the Kingswood Middle School for Girls Explore Cranbrook students, I remain . . . simply enthralled. No more so than by the vibrant Peacock Andirons gracing the living room hearth.

Eliel Saarinen’s cast bronze Peacock Andirons, 1928-29. Each 21-1/4” W x 22-3/8” H x 27-1/4” D. Collection of Cranbrook Art Museum, CAM1985.2 a-b. Robert Hensleigh, photographer.

Designed by Finnish-American architect Eliel Saarinen and produced by Sterling Bronze Company, New York between 1928 and 1929, these cast bronze andirons were paid for by the Cranbrook Foundation and entered in the 1928-1930 Arts & Crafts Building ledger on pages 40-41 (third line from the bottom)—Date: 1-7-30; No.: 515; Name: Sterling Bronze Co; Remarks: 1 pair/ Andirons for Saarinen Res[idence]; Amount: $152.50 (the equivalent of $2,631.50 in 2023).

Arts & Crafts Building ledger, 1928-30. Laura MacNewman, photographer, 2023. Cranbrook Archives.

The pair of birds are fabulous. Ready and alert, they face each other, ankles bent, balanced upon splayed toes.

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