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

The Heartbeat of the Nation

In August 1989, Cranbrook became a National Historic Landmark. America’s highest designation for a place of outstanding historical significance, it was no small feat for Cranbrook to become Michigan’s twenty-second National Historic Landmark (there are only forty-two today). So, what exactly is a National Historic Landmark, and how did we become one?

National Register of Historic Places plaque on the Kingswood Campus. Photographs by Kevin Adkisson, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

Statutory provision for historic preservation began in America in 1906 with the Antiquities Act, which was further developed by the Historic Sites Act of 1935. Administered by the Department of the Interior, this Act was enacted to document and protect sites of national significance. In 1960, the National Park Service began administering the survey data from the Historic Sites Act, and the National Historic Landmark designation was introduced.

The National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 expanded the 1935 Act to local and state sites. This created the National Register of Historic Places, which began to identify, evaluate, and protect America’s historic resources. Many thousands of buildings have since been added to the National Register. In June of 1972, Cranbrook’s application was prepared by an Assistant Historian at the Michigan Department of State in Lansing, and the nomination was based on Cranbrook’s significance as a complete district of educational and architectural structures.

National Register of Historic Places plaque at Brookside.

To be eligible for designation on the National Register (a step below the National Historic Landmark status), the nominated site must have in its architecture, archeology, engineering, or culture integrity of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association.

National Register of Historic Places plaque at Cranbrook School.

In addition, sites on the National Register must meet one of four criteria: be associated with events in the lives of significant persons; embody distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction; represent work of a master and high artistic values; or have or be likely to yield information important to prehistory or history. Once these criteria are evaluated and met, the site may be listed.

National Register of Historic Places plaque at Cranbrook Institute of Science.

Cranbrook was added to the National Register in March 1973, and it was at this point seven National Historic Landmark signs were ordered to be placed at each of the original Cranbrook Institutions and on Cranbrook House. (Christ Church Cranbrook was included in the designation, even though it would formally split off as a separate entity later in 1973 with the formation of Cranbrook Educational Community.) In writing to inform us of the designation, Samuel Milstein at the Department of Natural Resources eloquently wrote that:

“The State of Michigan is very proud of the fact that the property is qualified for this designation. The National Register records the story of the Nation, and is a list of distinction identifying those properties by which present and future generations can sense the heartbeat of the United States.”

Letter from Samuel A. Milstein to Cranbrook Institutions, March 30, 1973. National Register for Historic Places Records.
Non-official National Historic Landmark plaque at Christ Church Cranbrook, on right. The official plaque was changed at some point.

This language echoes that of George Booth in speaking to Cranbrook School in 1928, in which he emphasizes the importance of finding the treasure at your feet, the building up of an ethos of service from the local to the national to the global:

“If we feel our first loyalty to our State and are determined in every way we can to enrich it; if we never fail to see that we must give; if we are resolved to strive only for that which is worth while, then will our State have a place in the Nation, of which we will all be proud. The stronger and more glorious each of the States may be, the stronger and more glorious the Nation; and hence, the better and finer our opportunity for service to the world.”

Address by George Booth given on “Founders’ Day” at Cranbrook School for Boys, October 26, 1928. Cranbrook Archives.

But of course, our story doesn’t end with the National Register. In June 1987, the Chief Historian of the National Park Service (NPS) wrote to Cranbrook’s president, Dr. Lillian Bauder, to inform her that they were studying the property to determine its potential as a National Historic Landmark. Only 3% of sites on the National Register of Historic Places receive the higher honor of becoming National Historic Landmarks.

National Register of Historic Places plaque at Cranbrook Academy of Art.

The designation process follows three steps: study, including a visit to the property; review by the NPS Advisory Board; and a decision of designation by the Secretary of the Interior. The study was completed in February 1989 and the Advisory Board made its recommendation to Secretary Manuel Lujan in May. Cranbrook was designated a National Historic Landmark in August 1989.

The Cranbrook House sign was swapped from a National Register of Historic Places sign to a National Historic Landmark sign, encompassing all of the Cranbrook district.

National Historic Landmark plaque for the entire Cranbrook Educational Community next to the front door of Cranbrook House.

The work of the Center for Collections and Research is embedded in the obligations of historic preservation in caring for and maintaining the community’s history, but also in articulating its meaning and value. Our mission nicely parallels the goals of the National Historic Landmark program. Even without such recognition, all who visit Cranbrook know it is a special place—but sometimes it is nice to have a plaque say so, too.

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

A Fireplace’s Journey

One of the most stunning examples of art-in-architecture at Cranbrook is the Pewabic Pottery fireplace in Saarinen House. This massive, shimmering display of handmade ceramic tiles is the focal point of the living room and perfectly completes Saarinen’s vision of the home as a Gesamtkunstwerk, or total work of art.

Yet the fireplace did not start at Cranbrook at all. It has a prestigious provenance one might not expect: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Eliel Saarinen’s 1929 fireplace, manufactured by Pewabic Pottery, installed in Saarinen House. James Haefner, photographer, 2015. Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

The Saarinen’s didn’t pick up the fireplace in The Met gift shop. Instead, it was designed and manufactured here in Michigan for a 1929 exhibition at the august New York museum: The Architect and the Industrial Arts—An Exhibition of Contemporary American Design. Under the direction of the Metropolitan’s Associate in Industrial Arts Richard F. Bach, Eliel Saarinen served as the principal designer for the exhibition.

The Met’s 1929 exhibition was a direct response to an earlier show: the 1925 Paris World’s fair, the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes. This fair launched several international design trends that would later be known as the Art Deco style (an abbreviation of the exposition’s name). The United States, however, was not represented in Paris—U.S. Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover declined to participate because, as he (incorrectly) explained, there was no modern art this side of the Atlantic.

But American visitors to the 1925 fair, including Cranbrook founders George and Ellen Booth and the Saarinen family, were transfixed by the new style on display in Paris. The show pushed American designers, museums, department stores, and manufacturers toward a modern aesthetic.

The Architect and the Industrial Arts at the Met was conceived four years later, in part as an American response to the Paris show. It was also intended to further advance an appreciation for modern taste in this country.

Entrance to The Architect & the Industrial Arts exhibition designed by Joseph Urban. Exhibition poster by W. A. Dwiggins. Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

For the Met’s exhibition, architects created a series of modern rooms. In addition to Saarinen, leading architects like Raymond Hood, Ely Jacques Kahn, Ralph T. Walker, and Joseph Urban participated. While quite elaborate and sumptuous compared to later iterations of modernism, the 1929 vignettes at the Met helped to educate the public about modern taste and décor. Although one of the goals of the show was to have the objects on display mass produced, the rooms remained luxurious, singular constructions.

Dining Room designed by Eliel Saarinen, featuring the fireplace produced by Pewabic Pottery, for The Architect and the Industrial Arts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, February-November 1929. Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Saarinen’s dining room was considered by critics to be one of the most successful. Executed in shades of brown and tan, he created a dignified, formal dining room with furniture and objects of his own design produced by leading American manufacturers. In addition to furniture, silverware, glassware, rug, and lighting by Eliel, a hanging designed by Loja Saarinen (executed at Cranbrook by Studio Loja Saarinen) and wallpaper designed by their daughter Pipsan Saarinen Swanson helped finish the room.

The entire display was anchored by a massive fireplace, consisting of some 500 tiles stretching more than ten feet across the rear wall of the room. Designed by Eliel, this fireplace—which would eventually be installed at Cranbrook—was executed by the Pewabic Pottery in Detroit under the direction of Mary Chase Perry Stratton. Stratton co-founded the pottery in 1903, and by the time Saarinen’s fireplace was produced, she had already completed commissions at Cranbrook including the Rainbow Fountain (1916-1917) and Christ Church Cranbrook Baptistry and floor tiles (1926-1927). The Saarinen commission was unusual for Pewabic in that it was designed by an outside architect and not by Stratton herself.

The 1929 ceramic fireplace and bronze andirons in Saarinen House, installed in 1930. PD Rearick, photographer, 2016. Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

The pottery described the color of the tiles as “deep raisin” and “silver,” a moderne colorway quite different from the mottled and iridescent glazes Pewabic was known for. Eight different tile molds (or shapes) were used to create the fireplace.

Detail of the Saarinen-designed fireplace, manufactured by Pewabic Pottery, 1929. PD Rearick, photographer, 2016. Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

The main surface of the fireplace is created from three tile shapes. The dominant tile is a six-sided polygon in the form of a 7” wide by 2¾” high equilateral triangle with each point cut off. The second shape is one-half of the polygon, used to create the straight vertical edges of the fireplace. Between each polygon is a small rectangle, just ½” by ¾” high, finished in a darker and more iridescent glaze. By laying the tiles in alternating directions, Saarinen created a series of zig-zag grout lines moving rhythmically across the fireplace. This zig-zag was picked up in Pipsan’s wallpaper at the Met, and later, in the Saarinen House furniture.

Detail of the L-shaped corner tiles with square depressions on the Saarinen-designed fireplace, manufactured by Pewabic Pottery, 1929. Kevin Adkisson, photographer, 2020. Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

Two more tile types form a silvery border around the fireplace. Circling the perimeter of the fireplace are darker, almost bronze, iridescent tiles 8½” long by 1¾” high and 1¾” deep. Along the front surface of each tile are eight repeating rectangular depressions.

At each corner of the border sit 3½” L-shaped tiles with three square depressions. These geometric motifs recall the work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh in Glasgow or the Jugendstil designs popularized by designers like Josef Hoffmann. Similar square motifs are seen in the earlier 20th-century work of Saarinen in Finland. This L-shaped tile, with seven finished sides, is used for both the four outermost corners of the fireplace and the four inner corners around the firebox opening.

Detail of the Saarinen-designed fireplace showing all six of the front-facing tile shapes. Tiles manufactured by Pewabic Pottery, 1929. Kevin Adkisson, photographer, 2020. Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

The plinth of the fireplace is formed from six much larger Pewabic tiles, each 9¾” wide by 7¾” high and 2¾” deep. These tiles display the subtle color range, metallic iridescence, and richness of Stratton’s glaze recipe.

The last tile shapes are the most pragmatic: 7¾” by 3” tiles leading into to the roman brick firebox opening, and 7½” by 2¾” tiles that create a return running perpendicular to the fireplace face. These tiles allows the fireplace to project 5″ from the wall and negate the need of an overhanging mantlepiece.

If The Metropolitan Museum hoped its show would highlight the best of American production, Stratton succeeded in showcasing the power of handmade American ceramics. The entire exhibition turned out to be a blockbuster. Scheduled to be open for just six-weeks, from February 11 to March 24, 1929, its run was extended to September 2, 1929 due to popular demand. In the end some 186,000 visitors saw Saarinen’s dining room and Stratton’s fireplace as part of The Architect and the Industrial Arts, and the show became a defining moment in American Art Deco design.

At the same time as the show was on display in New York, Saarinen was busy back in Michigan developing designs for Kingswood School for Girls and continuing work on the nascent Cranbrook Academy of Art. This included designing his own residence, where Eliel planned to incorporate items from the Met exhibition into the interior.

Sometime between September 1929 and September 1930, the fireplace was dismantled in New York and shipped to Michigan. Like much of the work in the show, the tiles were paid for by the manufacturer, in this case, Mary Chase Perry Stratton and Pewabic Pottery. Instead of keeping or reselling the fireplace, Stratton donated the work to Cranbrook. As Florence Davies reported in The Detroit News at the time of the house’s completion, Stratton gave the tiles to Cranbrook out of an interest in furthering “the modern movement toward the creative design in the field of decorative art in America.”

The Saarinen fireplace installed at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1929 (left), and at Saarinen House at Cranbrook in 1931 (right). Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

As installed at Saarinen House, the fireplace is 8” narrower than it was at the Met, or one polygonal tile narrower. Perhaps some of the tiles broke in transit, or Saarinen thought the original size was too large for the wall at Cranbrook? In addition to the fireplace and its bronze peacock andirons, Saarinen repurposed the rug from the Met exhibition in the Saarinen House dining room, and Loja Saarinen’s wall hanging was purchased by Booth for the Kingswood Headmistress’s office.

From New York to Bloomfield Hills, and from museum to private residence and back to a museum, guests continue to admire and appreciate the beauty of this fireplace and the unique collaboration between Saarinen and Stratton.

Kevin Adkisson, Associate Curator, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

Eds. Note: This Sunday, we’ll be offering a tour of Mary Chase Perry Stratton’s own house! Located in Grosse Pointe Park, this is the first of our new Virtual Day Away experiences. Join me to explore this incredible house and learn more about Stratton and her Pewabic Pottery. Tickets are on sale now until 1:00pm EST on November 15th. And if you want to see the Saarinen House fireplace in person, you still can: tours of Saarinen House run Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at 3:30pm EST through November 29!

One Competition, Many Designs: Ralph Rapson and the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial

Of the 5,000 plus architectural drawings in Cranbrook Archives, one of my favorite series is the work of Ralph Rapson. His drawings convey a seemingly endless stream of unique inspiration, and his letters to his friends and colleagues are always wonderfully lively and convivial. Rapson’s work covers diverse projects including residences, embassies, businesses, and competitions.

Today, I want to share some examples from just one architectural competition to showcase this creativity: Rapson’s studies for his entry into the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial competition.

Ralph Rapson’s preliminary study for a submission to the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial competition in 1948. This is very similar to his final submission.

A decade before the Memorial competition, Rapson had been invited to study architecture and urban planning at Cranbrook Academy of Art by Eliel Saarinen. Saarinen had been much impressed by Rapson’s submission to the George G. Booth Traveling Fellowship at the University of Michigan in 1938. After studying at the Academy between 1938 and 1940, Rapson collaborated on various projects with Saarinen and his associates before moving to teaching positions in Chicago during the early 1940s and at MIT in 1946.

Ralph Rapson, January 1943. Cranbrook Archives

In March 1947, the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Association announced an ‘Open Two-Stage Competition’ to design and execute a memorial located in St. Louis, Missouri. The first stage of the competition was open to all architects who were citizens of the United States and the second stage was limited to five competitors as selected by the jury in the first stage.

The competition brief was distributed to some 1,100 architects and students around the country. 172 entries were received by the September 1, 1947 deadline. Cranbrook Archives.

In the architectural drawing set for Rapson’s submission, there are nineteen conceptual studies. These have recently been digitized and added to the Ralph Rapson Projects in our Digital Collections online. Below is a selection of his studies that show the diversity and breadth of Rapson’s creative vision:

It is interesting to see Rapson work out his ideas in ink and colored pencil about what shape, materials, and structure might best serve as a memorial to Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase and America’s westward expansion.

In addition to Rapson, Cranbrook alumni and faculty including Charles and Ray Eames, Harry Weese, Gyo Obata, and both Eliel and Eero Saarinen submitted designs. Of course, it was Eero’s monumental stainless steel arch that won the competition and remains an iconic landmark to this day.

There is much to see and learn from Rapson’s drawings for just this one project. As we hold sets of drawings for another 87 of his projects, stay tuned to the Kitchen Sink—there is so much more to see and say about Ralph Rapson.

Laura MacNewmanAssociate Archivist, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

Eds. Note: On Tuesday, October 27, 2020, Associate Curator Kevin Adkisson will deliver our next Uncovering Cranbrook virtual lecture. This month’s lecture, Eero Saarinen and Yale University: Education and Architecture, will examine the younger Saarinen’s time at Yale as both a student of architecture and designer of three important campus buildings. Tickets are available now for the 10:00am and 7:00pm EDT lectures.

What’s in a Brick?

There are many beautiful bricks around Cranbrook’s campus. From the Roman brick details at Cranbrook School, the buckskin “Cranbrook brick” at the Academy and Institute of Science, or the beautiful green and gold bricks of Kingswood, Eliel Saarinen was a master of the ancient building material.

The richness of this legacy made architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien extremely diligent in specifying materials for their own addition to campus, the Williams Natatorium. Completed in 1999 and sited within the heavily wooded area adjacent to the Saarinen-designed Keppel Gymnasium, the 26,000-square-foot swimming facility features very few details that are not custom made. This includes the bricks.

The entrance to the Cranbrook Natatorium, showcasing purple Norman brick, glazed blue and green brick, concrete, and lead-coated copper. Courtesy Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

The architects wanted glazed bricks (a material famously used by Eero Saarinen at the General Motors Technical Center), but they couldn’t find any product available on the market that meet their needs. Project architect Martin Finio told Construction Association of Michigan Magazine (Fall 2000) that:

Typical glazing tends to resemble a painted surface. The glaze becomes the object of interest. The brick behind it could be anything. What we were interested in was trying to find a way of glazing brick in such a way that you can feel the body of the brick through it.

The architects turned to Endicott Clay of Fairbury, Nebraska to help craft custom glazed brick, with a base of ironspot brick the company already produced. In ironspot bricks, manganese in the clay creates dark spots when fired. The goal for Cranbrook was to have these spots remain visible behind the glaze.

After receiving dozens of sample test glazed bricks that weren’t what the architects wanted, Martin Finio, Billie Tsien, and project manager Gary Scheuren traveled to Nebraska to learn more about the process and to work on getting the Natatorium bricks just right. When they arrived, Tsien saw a stack of samples Endicott Clay had deemed failures, rejected, and never sent to the architects in New York. Within the trash pile was the exact finish the architects wanted. Endicott Clay simply reverse engineered the once-rejected bricks and made enough mottled blue and green glazed bricks for the building.

Beyond the colors’ ties to water and earth (appropriate for a pool in the woods), the specific shade of blue and green have special Cranbrook associations. The blue is the famed “Grotell blue” of Cranbrook’s longtime Head of Ceramics, Maija Grotell, while the green relates to the lovely shades of aqua used by Pipsan Saarinen Swanson inside Kingswood and that building’s great patinated copper roof.

The Norman bricks above the green glazed bricks. Notice the raked horizontal mortar lines. Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

Alongside the glazed bricks, the architects specified manganese ironspot Norman bricks in deep purple. Norman bricks are longer than standard bricks and enhance the horizontality of the building. Using a tradition made famous by Frank Lloyd Wright and also used by Eliel Saarinen at Cranbrook, the horizontal mortar is raked and the vertical mortar is flush, casting the horizontal joints in shadow and increasing the sense of compression across the façade.

This hinge joint of blue glazed and purple Norman bricks terminates the east-west axis running from George Booth’s office in Cranbrook House, past the Art Museum and Orpheus fountain, and to the Natatorium. Daniel Smith, photographer. Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

Other materials used on the exterior of the Natatorium include cast in place concrete (sandblasted to give it a warmer feel and richer texture), warm toned ground-faced concrete block (custom made in Grand Blanc), Honduran mahogany, Mexican river rock, and Pietra Cardosa Italian slate.

—Kevin Adkisson, Curatorial Associate, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

Getting a Green Roof

In the Architectural Forum of January 1932, an advertisement announced that 160,000 pounds of 16-ounce Anaconda Copper had been used for the newly opened Kingswood School Cranbrook. There are copper gutters, cornices, louvers, moldings, and chimney covers, but most impressive is the 90,000 square foot batten seam copper roof.

Kingswood Roof Construction Copyright Cranbrook Archives

Workers assembling the roof structure above Unit A, the classroom wing of Kingswood School for Girls. The copper roof behind them is already installed. No barrels of uric acid can be spotted in construction photos. c. 1931. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

There was just one problem with the new copper roof: it was installed with rolls of bright, new-penny-orange, sheet copper. Eliel Saarinen wanted a green roof, and I think he wanted it quickly.

Yes, he could have waited for the shiny new copper to patinate naturally from rain, humidity, and time. But who has the patience for natural aging when you have an architectural tour de force to complete? Instead, Saarinen turned to chemistry. Using a historic technique common in Europe, the contractor, A. C. Wermuth, directed his workmen to collect their urine in small jars and transfer it to barrels on site. These barrels were then hoisted to the ridge line of the roof, where the pungent catalyst was poured down the copper slope and then spread evenly with brooms.

Science did the rest, and Saarinen got his verdigris color which the Architectural Forum described as a “neutralized complement” to the warm tan brick and buff Mankato stone walls which “harmonized admirably with the heavy foliage of the location.”

Kingswood Early Slide c 1940 Copyright Cranbrook Archives

Color slide of Kingswood School for Girls showing the harmony between landscape, building mass, and materials. c. 1940-1945. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

The story of more than just rain tinkling on the roof is recorded in Archives as told to former archivist Mark Coir by Dominick Vettraino, who grew up at Cranbrook and served as our landscaper, fireman, superintendent, and jack-of-all-trades. I was asked about the story of peeing-on-the-roof this week by an Upper School chemistry teacher, who’d heard the rumor and is now using it in her lessons for students stuck at home. You, too, can run the experiment: you just need to have a glass, a penny, and be hydrated!

Just like rust develops on iron, patina develops on copper when left exposed to the elements. The copper sulfate on the surface reacts to oxygen in the environment. Unlike rust, the patina actually protects and preserves the copper. However, copper doesn’t turn green quickly: it can take twenty to thirty years for copper to become green! Uric acid can significantly speed up the process. The fact that the Kingswood roof is quite green in early color photos does reinforce the idea that they used a catalyst to age the roof.

The entire copper roof was recycled and replaced in two phases, from 1998 to 2002 and from 2005 to 2007. In the replacement, the copper patination was not accelerated. The fact that the replacement roof is still not green, seventeen to thirteen years on, is to be expected. The roof quickly changed from bright orange to dull brown, and then slowly toward the purplish black you see today. However, I am noticing this spring that when you look at the section of 2002 roof at an acute angle, it’s distinctly turning green at the seams!

05-Cranbrook-Kingswood-School-Copper-Roof-Replacement-HIstorical-Building-Renovations-by-CASS-Detroit-MI-500w

Progress on the new roof. Phase one, completed in 2002, is at the far left and already dull brown. The original (though urethane coated) roof is at right. The new copper roof is shining at the center. May 27, 2006. Courtesy of C.A.S.S. Sheet Metal Specialist, Detroit.

The current color of the roof disappoints many graduates, but in time, it will return to the beautiful green color Saarinen and Wermuth achieved through their very affordable, if not very polite, method. And if you were at Kingswood between 1988 and the new roof replacement: you weren’t seeing a green patina, but a mint-green urethane coating sprayed on the entire roof to (unsuccessfully) slow the leaks!

—Kevin Adkisson, Curatorial Associate

PS: Between the joined “Studio #3” and “Dorm # 2” at the Academy, built in 1932 and 1936 respectively, there is a visible difference between the color of the two copper roofs where the patination has never matched. This can be attributed to different batches of copper. In the new Kingswood roof, every delivery of copper sheeting and copper solder delivered to the site was tested for quality and composition: we wouldn’t want the roof to change color irregularly.

Christ Church Cranbrook Baptistry

To the north of the narthex at Christ Church Cranbrook stands the Baptistry, where infants are christened with the pouring of water over the head.

Holy Baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Body the Church. – The Book of Common Prayer

The whole Baptistry is a work of art, featuring an ornate wooden screen topped by the Lamb of God, a baptismal font with an ornate cloisonné cover that sits upon an exquisitely carved base, and a beautiful mosaic ceiling.

1992-16 Christ Church Baptistry

Christ Church Cranbrook, Baptismal Font, 1928. Peter A. Nyholm, photographer. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives, Oscar H. Murray Photograph Collection.

Today, I want to focus on the ceiling by Mary Chase Perry Stratton and her Pewabic Pottery.

As George G. Booth was constructing Christ Church, he looked for the best craftspeople. In a 1926 letter to Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue Associates, architects of the church, Booth states, “I should be pleased if we are able to have a piece of Pewabic work in the Church and have thought the most suitable location would be the vault of the Baptistry”

After a seven-year rift with his old friend Mary Chase Perry Stratton over not allowing her creative license on projects at Cranbrook House, Booth offered an olive branch by giving Stratton the artistic freedom to create the Baptistry ceiling in 1926. This included the mosaic’s material and size, and how to incorporate the symbols of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit into the work.

Baptistry ceiling

Christ Church Cranbrook, Baptistry Ceiling, 2015. P.D. Rearick, photographer. Copyright Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

The gifts of the Holy Spirit, which the initiant receives at baptism, are represented as follows: Wisdom is a Beehive (also a favorite symbol of the Booth family), Understanding is a Lamp, Counsel is the Star, Fortitude is an Oak, Piety is a Cross, Knowledge is a Book, and Godly Fear (Peace) is a Dove.

Baptistry ceiling 3

Christ Church Cranbrook, detail of Baptistry Ceiling, 2015. P.D. Rearick, photographer. Copyright Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

As former Cranbrook Center Collections Fellow Stephanie Kae Dlugosz-Acton wrote in the publication from her exhibition, Simple Forms, Stunning Glazes: “These symbols are centered on treetops resembling fleurs-de-lis. At the base of each of these saplings, a sea of blue tiles of varying shades surround two different animals, usually one mammal and one bird. All of the small tesserae tiles have the signature iridescence of Pewabic and create a glittering effect that shifts as one moves through the intimate and reverent space.”

Baptistry ceiling 2

Christ Church Cranbrook, detail of Baptistry Ceiling, 2015. P.D. Rearick, photographer. Copyright Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

What a wonderful gift to all families who share a Christening in this Baptistry, and to all the visitors to Christ Church Cranbrook.

Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar

A Michigan Mural

Metro Detroiters, out-of-town visitors, and architectural aficionados worldwide have long admired the Penobscot Building in Detroit’s Financial District. Like its close neighbor, the Guardian Building, and the Fisher Building further north in Midtown, it is one of the city’s finest examples of art deco architecture and one of the iconic structures that still make up Detroit’s skyline today. Designed by Wirt C. Rowland of Smith, Hinchman, & Grylls, when its 47 stories were built in 1928, it was the tallest building in the city and the fourth tallest in the nation.

The Penobscot, on the National Register of Historic Places, is perhaps best known architecturally for its tiered upper seventeen floors and the exterior ornament by sculptor Corrado Parducci, whose work can be seen on many other Detroit buildings. It’s also known to locals for the red-lit globe at the top (originally designed as an aviation beacon), the legendary Caucus Club (Barbara Streisand reportedly launched her singing career here), or the famed roof observation deck which offered an excellent panorama of the city.

But, what about the interior of the Penobscot? Well it just so happens there’s a Cranbrook connection!

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The original bank lobby. Courtesy Detroit Free Press Archives.

The Guardian Detroit Group was the first tenant of the two-story bank hall at 635 Griswold St. before they had their own skyscraper commissioned just a block away. A later occupant, Detroit City Bank, opened in the same space in February 1949. When they did, adorning one wall was a mural painted by Cranbrook Academy of Art graduate and Head of Kingswood School Art Department (1940-1956), Clifford B. West. Known as the “Mural of Michigan” the twenty-six-foot painting depicts scenes representing state commerce and industry. West, who studied under Zoltan Sepeshy, and with fellow muralist David Fredenthal, had already completed a bank mural in Alamosa, Colorado, as well as Detroit-area murals in the Rackham Building, Stockholm Restaurant, and Fox & Hounds Restaurant.

Following a meticulous process that involved a series of sketches at different scales, cartoons plotted to a numbered grid and traced on the wall, and painting in two steps (large blocks of color followed by detail work), the scenes were applied in casein tempera on canvas cemented to the wall. Joining in this process was West’s wife and fellow artist, Joy Griffin West, and several academy students. Fortuitously, each stage of work was captured in a series of photographs by Cranbrook photographer, Harvey Croze.

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Upon completion of the mural, West mounted an exhibit at Cranbrook Art Museum titled, Progress of a Mural in April 1949, detailing his process for the Penobscot mural, and featuring many of the preliminary sketches and cartoons.

It’s largely unknown whether the Penobscot mural exists today, since a drop ceiling was installed many years ago, completely obscuring West’s creation.

Deborah Rice, Head Archivist

From Concept to Cover

The General Motors Technical Center is one of Eero Saarinen’s most acclaimed projects. Dedicated in 1956, the “Corporate Cranbrook” was years in development, starting with initial designs by Eliel Saarinen and J. Robert F. Swanson (with Eero consulting) in 1945.

After a hiatus in the project by GM and reorganization of the Saarinen Swanson office, Eero completely redesigned the scheme in late 1948. The new design is high modernism at its finest: clean lines, experimental materials, and a lot of flat roofs. We can see Eero’s boxy proposal here, a treasured sketch from Cranbrook Archives:

Eero Saarinen GM Tech Center Sketch Small ad21-12

Eero Saarinen sketch of General Motors Technical Center, Warren, Michigan, 1949. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

As the son of a world-famous architect building for one of America’s greatest companies, the project drew lots of attention well before it opened. Architectural Forum, in fact, featured the Tech Center as its cover story in July 1949. But what to show of the yet-constructed campus?

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Glen Paulsen drawing depicting Eero Saarinen’s proposed General Motors Technical Center, Saarinen Saarinen and Associates, 1949. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

Eero turned to a talented young architect in his office, Glen Paulsen, to delineate the Tech Center for the magazine cover. Paulsen was known for his complex and sophisticated architectural renderings, and had worked for various firms as a renderer before coming to Saarinen’s office in 1949 as a design architect.  He sketched out several different options for Forum , and my favorite includes the entire layout of the cover, not just the buildings:

Arch Forum July 1949 Glen Paulsen rendering Eero Saarinen ad21-14

Concept art for cover of Architectural Forum by Glen Paulsen, depicting Eero Saarinen’s proposed General Motors Technical Center, Saarinen Saarinen and Associates, 1949. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

Finally, in June 1949, the magazine hit the presses with a crisp, color drawing by Glen Paulsen depicting Eero’s General Motors Tech Center.

Architectural Forum July 1949 Glen Paulsen cover for Eero Saarinen

Architectural Forum 91, no. 1 (July 1949). Cover art by Glen Paulsen of Saarinen Saarinen and Associates. Courtesy of Cranbrook Academy of Art Library.

—Kevin Adkisson, Curatorial Associate

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