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.
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.”
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.
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.
“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 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.