Traditions from the Weavers

Does your family have a certain pose that they always do for a family picture? My cousins and I always had to stand or sit by the same log at our cottage each summer to get a group picture. Even when the log had disintegrated, and we were all adults, we still stood in the same spot to take the picture.

The Swedish weavers of Studio Loja Saarinen were the same way. After every rug was completed, they would unroll it behind the studio, lay it on the lawn, and pose at the end. This not only documented their work, but also served as a record of who worked on each piece. In Cranbrook Archives, we have a few examples of these images.

Cranbrook Academy of Art Rug No. 14

This rug lay in the center of the Studio Loja Saarinen Weaving Room. A flatwoven rug with stylized meanders in the border, and an elegant color scheme of dark browns, blues, and beiges, in form, structure, color, and design it shows the contemporary style of Swedish weaving that would become the foundation of Studio Loja Saarinen’s work.

Cranbrook Academy of Art Rug No. 14, designed by Maja Andersson Wirde and woven by Lillian Holm for Studio Loja Saarinen, 1930. CAM 1955.2. Photographer James Haefner.

This was one of the first rugs executed under the “Design and Supervision” of Maja Andersson Wirde, who was Loja’s right-hand-woman from 1930 to 1933. The rug is actually a variation of a design Wirde made for the 1925 International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts in Paris (the “Art Deco” World’s Fair).

When Wirde wrote to Cranbrook’s secretary from Sweden before immigrating, she said she would bring along prepared designs and wool and linen yarns to be able to get started right away. She certainly did! Below, you can see Wirde and possibly Lillian Holm and Ruth Ingvarsson holding up the rug behind Studio Loja Saarinen just months after their arrival to Cranbrook.

Studio Loja Saarinen weavers with Rug No. 14 behind the Cranbrook Arts and Crafts Studios, 1930. Courtesy Smålands Museum, Sweden.
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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

Collection Highlight: Walter Hickey Papers

Cranbrook Archives is pleased to announce a new collection available for research. An intriguing collection, it comprises the personal and professional papers, photographs, realia, and architectural drawings of Walter Preston Hickey, a student of Eliel Saarinen. Yet, while traces of key life events and relationships—birth, parentage, education, marriage, friends, and employers—can be found in the collection, Hickey’s life after Cranbrook remains largely a mystery.

Walter Hickey working in the Architecture Studio, 1935. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

A native of Detroit, Hickey attended the University of Michigan School of Architecture (1926-1930), during which time he worked with architects Albert Kahn (1928) and Thomas Tanner, as well as being one of the first staff members of the Cranbrook Architectural Office.

A Transportation Building for a World’s Fair, circa 1926-1930. A University of Michigan Class Project by Walter Hickey. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

He applied to study architectural design with instruction in city planning at Cranbrook Academy of Art, starting in September of 1932. He became especially interested in highway traffic control, which formed the topic of his 1935 thesis on the Waterfront Development for the City of Detroit. Hickey submitted designs to various Academy competitions and won a $10 prize from Loja Saarinen for design No. 13 in the Cranbrook Academy of Art Rug Competition in 1934.

Drawing by Walter Hickey, undated. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

After leaving Cranbrook, Hickey worked for various architecture firms, including Smith, Hinchman, and Grylls, and Clair W. Ditchy. After a short time with the Federal Housing Administration, he returned to work with Eliel and Eero Saarinen on the Kleinhans Music Hall project. He also completed private architectural designs for residences, including work on Ralph Rapson’s Hoey vacation home, Longshadows, in Metamora, MI. Around this time, he went to work at the General Motors Technical Center and continued to live in Birmingham, Michigan. And here is where his story ends in the collection.

Jane Viola Shepherd. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

Although this is a very small collection, the diversity of content is rewarding for its ability to convey snapshots of his life in individual and unique items. It includes Christmas cards, such as one from “the Lorches” (Emil Lorch was the President of the University of Michigan Architecture School), a few letters from friends, and something of a typed love letter (on Cranbrook Academy of Art letterhead!) from Zoltan Sepeshy’s Secretary Jane Viola Shepherd to whom he was married on April 22, 1937.

A small series of photographs hold moments of his life and some of the people with whom he shared it, including his father, eminent roentgenologist (radiography) Dr. Preston Hickey; his wife, Jane; his teacher, Eliel; and his fellow Academy students. A series of snowy scenes of Cranbrook campus beautifully capture the quietness of falling snow with hints of sunlight upon the architecture and sculptures that were then in their infancy and are now historic.

The Walter Hickey Papers give insight into a short period in Hickey’s life and the Cranbrook of his time. It also gives us a lovely look into a life that was surely shaped by his experience at Cranbrook, but one that remains yet to be fully discovered.

Laura MacNewman, Associate Archivist, Cranbrook 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

Handwork and Symbolism in St. Dunstan’s Chapel

In Cranbrook Archives’ Christ Church Cranbrook Records, there is a binder on two needlepoint projects undertaken between 1957 and 1964, the first of which focuses on replacing the cushions and kneelers in St. Dunstan’s Chapel. It gives insight into the design process, symbolism, and handwork, as well as providing much information that would be of interest to the sociology of gender roles and art.

St. Dunstan’s Chapel, Christ Church Cranbrook. The Chapel’s first service was Easter Sunday 1926; the current configuration of the Chapel dates to 1934. Photograph by Kevin Adkisson, August 2021. Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

The project, a collaboration of the Women’s Auxiliary and the Altar Guild, began in June 1957 when a Needlepoint Committee was convened to oversee the project through its planning, implementation, and dedication. The project was inspired by a similar project at Washington Cathedral where women across the nation contributed 461 pieces of needlepoint to the Cathedral, including altar pieces for Bethlehem Chapel which were worked by women of Michigan.

Twenty designs from the Washington Cathedral project were displayed in the Exhibition of Ecclesiastical Needlepoint at the Detroit Institute of Arts in February 1958 prior to their dedication at the Cathedral. Rt. Rev. Richard S. Emrich commended the idea to all churches in Michigan.

Catalog for the Exhibition of Ecclesiastical Needlepoint at the Detroit Institute of Arts, February 1958. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

St. Dunstan’s Chapel was selected as the most appropriate place for the women of the church to use their handwork for its adornment, since St. Dunstan is the patron saint of Arts and Crafts. St. Dunstan, born in Glastonbury, Somerset, in the tenth century, is commemorated in St. Dunstan’s Chapel with a stone from Glastonbury Abbey where he served as abbot.

Initially, the Committee decided to seek designs for the project by opening a contest for Cranbrook Academy of Art students, with Henry Scripps Booth, Pipsan Saarinen Swanson, Ken Isaacs, and Marion Leader as judges. Harry Soviak (Painting 1957/MFA 1959) won the competition. However, there were problems in implementing the design in terms of types and quantities of wool, and the Committee sought to consider more traditional designs before making a final choice.

Henry Scripps Booth, Ken Isaacs, Pipsan Saarinen Swanson (seated), and Marion Leader judging entries from Academy of Art students to the needlepoint contest for St. Dunstan’s Chapel at Christ Church Cranbrook. April 19, 1957. Photograph by Harvey Croze. Cranbrook Archives, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

Rachel T. Earnshaw of the Needlework Studio, Inc., of Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania was contacted for information on how to proceed. Earnshaw had won first place for her designs for the Chapel of the Holy Spirit at Washington Cathedral. Having been sent some information and images of St. Dunstan’s Chapel, she advised on symbolism as well as offering guidance on canvas, wool, and stitches.

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She Walks in Beauty: The Life and Work of Helen Plumb

Helen Plumb, co-founder of the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts (DSAC) and its secretary from 1906 to 1928, was dedicated to the arts and crafts ideal of public service—encouraging an appreciation for beauty in everyday life and in the community. Surprisingly little is known of Plumb, but some evidence can be found in a few of the Archives’ collections.

During her tenure as DSAC secretary, Plumb saw the society through three distinct phases, each coinciding with a different physical location. The School of Design was established during the society’s first five years, when it was based at the Knowlson Building on Farmer Street (1906-1911). For the next five years, they were based at Witherell Street, during which time the society encouraged the production of theatrical masques, including the Masque of Arcadia, written by Alexandrine McEwen, and the Cranbrook Masque in 1916. The society moved to its third and final location at 47 Watson Street in October 1916. From then until 1922, they created the Little Theatre and expanded into Folk Handicraft and Lamp Departments. Once flourishing, by 1922 these programs were fading, causing Plumb to perceive a new era for the society and her future role in it.

Helen Plumb, secretary of the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts (1906-1928). Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

In a letter to George Booth in 1922, Plumb alludes to a choice between two paths: either “to go forward in a much larger, showier way, or to move into a closer, more restricted field,” which she felt would entail abandoning DSAC’s public and civic work. In this letter, she makes it very clear that if the second route were chosen, she would have no part in it. Her vision for the society’s future was to nurture more international connections, following the success of the Exhibition of British Arts and Crafts Assembled by the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts in 1920.

A miniature portrait of Helen Plumb of the Society of Arts & Crafts, Detroit, on ivory, by Alexandrine McEwen (1876 – 1955), in same outfit as above. Cultural Properties Collection, Founders Collection.

Plumb’s correspondence with Booth was always very professional and business-focused with a modest sprinkling of personal comment. Then, in October of 1924, she writes candidly, “I have not many friends in all that word means, and still fewer confidants. It so happens that you are one of those two or three who shares my deepest one.” Plumb is variously described as a tireless worker, but here she shares how much she has struggled with chronic health problems and that her vitality has diminished such that it has, “become a life and death struggle” for her to keep going at all. There is a chance that she will finally be well, but she is unable to negotiate a path to it with the society’s board and she is no longer able to endure as is. It is in this impasse that she turns to Booth to advise the best course.

Letter from Helen Plumb to George G. Booth, October 16, 1924. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.
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All’s well that ends well

This is a story about a wonderful discovery and a trial of patience. A few years ago, I processed the F. Shirley Prouty Collection on Johannes Kirchmayer, which documents the life and work of her great uncle and contains many years of meticulous research. It was a wonderful collection to work with, and a trove of information on architects and craftsmen of the American gothic revival.

Two of the most outstanding of these are architect Ralph Adams Cram and woodcarver Johannes Kirchmayer, who worked together on many projects. This week I made a wonderful new discovery of another product of their hearts, minds, and hands: a silver and gilt portable font initially commissioned as a gift for the Detroit Museum of Art (now the Detroit Institute of Arts) by George Booth. Cram designed it and Kirchmayer created the sculpture models and chasings for it; then, the piece was executed by silversmith James T. Woolley and decorated by enamellist Elizabeth Copeland.

Silver gilt font completed in 1920 for Detroit Museum of Art. Ralph Adams Cram, Johannes Kirchmayer, James T. Woolley, and Elizabeth Copeland. Cranbrook Archives.

In February 1918, Cram designed the font, which George Booth hoped to have ready for display at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, to be held in Detroit for the first time in October of 1919.

The making of the font did not follow the anticipated timeline, but rather than a story of delay and disappointment, it becomes a story of patience and its reward.

During the spring, Booth visited Boston and left the Cram blueprint with Woolley. On May 1st, he enquired to know Woolley’s interest in executing the design and an estimate of cost, to which Woolley replied positively, quoting $450 excluding the enamel parts. Giving the commission to Woolley, Booth advised him to confer with Cram or his assistant, Mr. Cleveland, and that Copeland will complete the enameling work.

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Weaving Lessons: Ruth Ingvarsson’s Manuscripts

Among the treasures in Cranbrook Archives is a manuscript that, although I can’t read anything written inside, is one of my favorite things at Cranbrook. Bound in handwoven cloth by the author herself, the cover hints at what’s inside. This is Ruth Ingvarsson’s weaving book.

Ruth Ingvarsson’s weaving manuscript, hand-bound in a cloth cover of her own design and execution, ca. 1932-1935. Rigid Swedish-style counterbalanced loom depicted on the front, “R I” on reverse. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

One of two manuscripts written in Swedish and assembled by Ingvarsson between 1932 and 1935, each of the more than 100 pages discuss different weave structures, materials, patterns, and techniques. Who was Ingvarsson, and how did these treasures end up at Cranbrook?

Rut “Ruth” Elisabeth Ingvarsson was born on October 1, 1897 in Glemminge, Skäne, Sweden. Like many Scandinavian girls, she learned weaving first from her mother and then at school, graduating from the Glemminge Folkskola in 1918. In 1922, Ingvarsson began studies at the celebrated weaving studio of Märta Måås-Fjetterström in Båstad, Sweden.

Ingvarsson continued working for Måås-Fjetterström until 1928, learning technical skills including knotted pile rya or flossa weaves, rölakan flatweave, and a discontinuous (or supplemental) weft style of tapestry weaving known as the MMF technique. Under Måås-Fjetterström, Ingvarsson developed great skill painting watercolor sketches on graph paper in the popular “Swedish Grace” (or “Swedish Modern”) style. She also befriended another young weaver, Lillian Holm, who entered into the Måås-Fjetterström studio in 1926.

Watercolor of a rug design in the “Swedish Grace” style by Ruth Ingvarsson in her untitled manuscript on weaving, ca. 1932-1935. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

In late 1929, Ruth Ingvarsson and Lillian Holm immigrated to America to start work that December at Studio Loja Saarinen, Cranbrook’s weaving workshop. Here, Ingvarsson executed designs from Loja herself and other members of the Saarinen family, as well as designs by the Studio’s shop supervisor and prominent Swedish weaving expert Maja Andersson Wirde.

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Discovering the University of Michigan in the collections of Cranbrook Archives

In October, the University of Michigan Osher Lifelong Learning group visited Cranbrook for a lecture, luncheon, and tours of our historic houses, the Art Museum, and Cranbrook Archives. In gathering materials related to the university, I found that my growing archival display began to tell a wonderful story of the early relationship between the Booth family and the University of Michigan, predominantly between 1918 and 1924. The story begins with the friendship of George Booth and Emil Lorch.

Born in Detroit in 1870, Lorch had studied at MIT and Paris, before graduating Master of Arts at Harvard in 1903. In 1906, he arrived at the University of Michigan to establish the School of Architecture, which remained a unit of the School of Engineering until 1931. The correspondence between Booth and Lorch covers a manifold of topics over many years.

 

On January 11, 1918, George Booth gave an address to the students of the departments of Journalism and Architecture at the university, entitled The Spirit of Journalism and Architecture which focused on the development of the Detroit News business and the new News building, which had been recently completed.

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Program for an address, The Spirit of Journalism and Architecture, delivered by George Booth at the University of Michigan, January 11, 1918. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

Later that year, in October, George’s son, Henry Scripps Booth began his studies in architecture at the university. It was there that he met J. Robert F. Swanson, with whom he traveled Europe for ten months beginning in June 1922, and later established the architectural practice Swanson and Booth between 1924 and 1926. Henry took with him letters of endorsement to help facilitate access to architectural treasures on their journey, including one from Professor Lorch:

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Letter of introduction for Henry Booth from Emil Lorch, July 17, 1922. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Eliel Saarinen arrived at the University of Michigan as a Visiting Professor at the invitation of Emil Lorch the next year, staying from September 1923 through 1925. To extend a warm welcome, Henry wrote, costumed, and performed in a pageant in honor of Saarinen. Many of Henry’s classmates performed in the pageant, including Ralph Calder and J. Robert F. Swanson, who also designed the program. The event took place on December 8, 1923, in the Michigan Union ballroom. Many of the members of the Michigan Society of Architects and the Michigan branch of the American Institute of Architects were present. During the dinner, George G. Booth made the principal address of welcome to Eliel.

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Program for A Pageant of Arts and Crafts, a Reception for Eliel Saarinen, program design by J. Robert F. Swanson, December 1923. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

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Interior of the program. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Henry and Robert graduated from the University of Michigan in 1924. Graduating with them was Ralph Calder, who was also one of the first two students to win the George G. Booth Traveling Fellowship, with which he traveled to England, France, and Italy. The fellowship continues to this day. Calder was among the original staff of the Cranbrook Architectural Office, working on Cranbrook School and Thornlea House. He later went on to design many buildings for colleges and universities in Michigan, including Michigan State University, Western Michigan University, Wayne State University, Hope College, and Hillsdale College.

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Letter concerning the Booth Traveling Fellowship from the first recipient Ralph Calder to George G. Booth, June 12, 1924. Notice the Michigan logo on the letterhead. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

In another Cranbrook connection, Ralph Rapson submitted a Fellowship entry in 1938, and, while he didn’t win, his submission impressed Eliel Saarinen so much that Rapson was given a scholarship to the Art Academy.

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Ralph Rapson’s submission to the George G. Booth Traveling Fellowship, AD.26.01.03. Ralph Rapson Architectural Drawing Collection, Cranbrook Archives. Gift of Rip Rapson.

There is much more in our collections about the University of Michigan; this post has selected items covering only the early years. In preparing for the Osher tour, I realized that, while the contents of processed archival collections remain the same, what we find in them depends on the question being asked. The collections of George G. Booth, Henry S. Booth, the Cranbrook Foundation, Swanson Associates, Inc. are among the most highly used and yet there is always something new to learn, something wonderful to discover.

— Laura MacNewman, Associate Archivist

Finns and Hungarians, Part I

Mulling over the question of the Finnish-Hungarian language connection brought me somewhat circuitously to the Finnish and Hungarian people connection at Cranbrook, namely Géza Maróti and Zoltan Sepeshy. Early in Eliel Saarinen’s tenure, George Booth, interested in engaging a sculptor, took up Saarinen’s suggestion of Géza Maróti, already well known with works in the USA as well as Mexico and Finland. Maróti in turn suggested Zoltan Sepeshy because in his opinion Hungarians were better trained (in practically everything) than others.

Geza Maroti with glass ceiling of the mexican national theater 1909 Hungarian National Gallery archives

Maróti with his design for the glass Dome ceiling of the Mexican National Theater, 1909. Courtesy of the Hungarian National Gallery Archives.

Sepeshy doesn’t make it to Cranbrook until 1931, so we’ll begin with Maróti. Two years younger than Saarinen and knowing him since early days at the Saarinen villa/studio at Hvitträsk in Finland, Géza Maróti was a natural suggestion for a sculptor to work at Cranbrook. The Saarinens and Marótis were good friends, with Géza writing to Loja Saarinen in German in beautiful, clear handwriting. He sent letters and rhymes to little boy Eero, too. All Saarinen had to do was utter the magic words “arts and crafts” and Booth was sold. George Booth does comment in February 1927 that he has no personal knowledge of Maróti, taking the Saarinens’ recommendation as enough and adding somewhat opaquely “but of course [I] realized their point of view was partly foreign.”

Geza Maroti in his Cranbrook Studio Cranbrook Archives

Maróti with his design for the Cranbrook School for Boys library overmantel behind him in his studio, 1927. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Maróti was nevertheless a perfect fit for Cranbrook: he was another polymath like the Saarinens as architect, archaeologist, painter, designer, as well as sculptor. The Detroit News of March 1927 reported Professor Maróti’s conviction that “because architecture is the fundamental art the work of the sculptor and the painter is most valuable when it is architecturally conceived.” Professor Saarinen adds in the same article that it is one thing to model a figure, but “quite another thing to see that figure in relation to a building and to express that decoration architecturally rather than pictorially.” This in a nutshell is Maróti’s claim to fame.

At Cranbrook from early 1927 until early 1929, Maróti sculpts fireplaces, archways, and doors for Cranbrook School for Boys offering what the Bloomfield Hills Tatler of 1927 calls an “unforgettable visual education.” Most notable are the Galileo door at the base of the Cranbrook quadrangle tower, and the library doors.

The Galileo door really is an education. The tower was supposed to house a telescope and what better icon to choose than the “father of modern physics” born, incidentally, in the same year as Shakespeare. Maróti’s Galileo is masterly, floating above the door, clutching a telescope and gazing firmly aloft. Behind his head, in case viewers don’t remember the controversy, are the words “Ecco Muove” or “Here: it moves.”

His doorway is surrounded by learned cherubs offering tribute to other scientific pioneers: Linnaeus, Pasteur, Darwin, Curie, Ohm, Newton, Copernicus amongst others.

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View of the “Galileo” door by Géza Maróti at Cranbrook School’s main academic building, now known as Hoey Hall. October 1936. Richard G. Askew, photographer. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

The Library doors take another tack altogether with the fruits of learning unexpectedly represented by stylized gifts of the good Michigan earth such as squash, beans, cherries, pears, corn, and wheat carved in rich, burnished oak.

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“Door of Knowledge” by Géza Maróti at entrance of Cranbrook School for Boys Library. c. 1985. Richard Hirneisen, photographer. Copyright Richard Hirneisen/Cranbrook Archives.

Maróti is also busy fitting in his work elsewhere with, among others, Albert Kahn’s Fisher building in Detroit. There you can see the Maróti sculpted allegorical renderings of peace, flight, and other industrial arts as well as his signature eagles, mosaics, and his painted frescoes. A riot of color.

Fisher Building Ceiling by Geza Maroti Jack P. Johnson Copyright 2010

Fisher Building lobby ceiling by Géza Maróti. Jack P. Johnson, photographer. Copyright Johnson 2010, Courtesy of Detroit Architecture Book blog.

Unfortunately for Cranbrook, Géza and Léopoldine Maróti are not their happiest tucked away in remote Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, feeling cut off and not “agile enough to remain even partially in contact with music, art and life.” This does not say much for those who stayed, but the Marótis decide they have to leave.

After some time in Chicago and New York they are back in Budapest by 1930, just in time for WWII which their family survives. More sculpture follows, but Moróti’s abiding preoccupation until his death in 1941 is a cultural history of Atlantis which remains unpublished.

The burning question of Finnish and Hungarian? Many years ago, 5000 years ago to be approximate, Finnish or Finnic and Hungarian or Ugric, both at that point Uralic languages, had a common ancestor, which linguists call proto-Uralic. After that point, they diverge, as is typical of language groups. So the simple answer is they are not much alike at all, are not mutually comprehensible.  Finnish has a few Swedish and German words but doesn’t resemble any other language. Finnish and Hungarian are as alike as English and Farsi.­­­­­­­­­­­ Luckily for Géza and his lovely wife Poldi, they spoke German.

–Lynette Mayman, Collections Interpreter

Editor’s Note: If you would like to read more about Maróti’s work at Cranbrook, check out a new essay by retired Cranbrook Schools faculty member Dr. Jeffrey Welch with photography by Academy alum P.D. Rearick. Dr. Welch’s essay is titled “The Gift of Knowledge: A Witty History Puzzle for Growing Youth,” and concerns Maróti’s fascinating, monumental fireplace overmantel in the historic Cranbrook School for Boys Library.

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