Taste, Grace, and Elegance: The Cannon Returns

Today, Cranbrook Art Museum opens its newest show, With Eyes Opened: Cranbrook Academy of Art Since 1932, surveying the history of the Academy since its founding. For the exhibition, the Center for Collections and Research worked closely with the Museum, researching in the Archives, contributing essays for the 600-plus page publication that chronicles the history of this storied institution, and coordinating the restoration and reinstallation of the Academy’s cannon.

Yes, I said cannon.

From 1966 to 1971, Julius Schmidt, Artist-in-Residence of the Sculpture Department (1964-1970), and his students, designed, sculpted, and cast a working cannon. Before Schmidt arrived at Cranbrook, there had not been a forge on campus for students to use. It was constructed in 1964, in the open space east of Carl Milles’s large studio. (You can read more about the forge in a previous Kitchen Sink blog: Photo Friday: Iron Pour.)

How do you move a cannon? Very carefully–and with a lot of assistance from a hydraulic arm! Steve Kerchoff, the Cranbrook Mechanic, hooks the cannon to the backhoe for placement. June 15, 2021. Photograph by Kevin Adkisson, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

Titled simply Cannon, it is composed of a cast iron wheels, cast iron cannon body, and bronze field carriage. I should say, an extremely heavy carriage, cannon body, and wheels. It took a number of people to get Cannon reinstalled, including artist Scott Berels who restored the wheels with funds from Cranbrook Art Museum, Cranbrook Facilities, who helped move and install the piece, the Center’s Associate Curator Kevin Adkisson, and the Art Museum’s Head Preparator Jon Geiger and Registrar Corey Gross. Vital to the reinstallation was the heavy equipment and sturdy straps of the Facilities team—it isn’t often we use a John Deere backhoe to move art!

We are excited to have Cannon back on campus in time to celebrate the history of the Academy in the Art Museum exhibition. Associate Curator Kevin Adkisson marked the cannon’s its return in his most recent Live at Five presentation on Facebook:

Associate Curator Kevin Adkisson takes you on a tour of Cannon on June 16, 2021. Courtesy Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

Cannon features a lot of imagery, including a number of protest-related images, which is in keeping with the times in which it was forged. One line I especially like: beneath the cannon’s trunnions (where it connects to the carriage) is the (perhaps ironic) inscription: “TASTE GRACE AND ELEGANCE.” Indeed!

Inscription on the interior of the cannon carriage.

There is still so much to learn about Cannon. We are excited to look into the iconography on the piece, and research the many student artists whose names are seen on the cannon. If you have a cannon-related story, or were involved in its construction or casting, please let us know! Look for more blogs in the future about this heavy, heavy part of the Cranbrook campus.

Congratulations to the team at Cranbrook Art Museum on the opening of the new exhibition. Book your tickets today on the Museum’s website, and don’t forget to walk over to experience Cannon while you’re here!

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

Carl Milles Gems from the Cutting Room Floor

Cameras started rolling Monday for the Center’s new film celebrating Swedish American sculptor Carl Milles, premiering May 22nd at A Global House Party at Cranbrook and Millesgården. Centering on materials in the Archives, the day’s shoot featured handwritten correspondence, photographs, sketches, scrapbooks, and oral history recordings that help illuminate the story of the man behind the many iconic sculptures dotting Cranbrook’s campus.

The film production crew captures closeups of materials featured in the film.

In preparation for the day, I mined several collections in the Archives that document Milles’ twenty years as artist-in-residence at Cranbrook and his work in America during that time. In the process, I made a few delightful discoveries. While most of these treasures were expertly captured by the film production crew (Elkhorn Entertainment), there were a few that just could not be accommodated in Associate Curator Kevin Adkisson’s masterful, but already dense script.

One of these items is a notebook from the Nancy Leitch Papers. A student of Milles’ in the early 1940s, Leitch, like many of Milles’ students, became friends with both him and his wife Olga while at Cranbrook. The brief diary-like entries in Leitch’s pocket-sized book date from 1945, and are an intimate glimpse of daily activities, remembrances, and artist philosophies recounted from shared experiences and conversations with Carl and Olga. A loose paper tucked inside and titled “Carl” is a bonus, containing hasty notes recording his birthday, recommendations of where to visit in Italy (Café Greco in Rome, the cathedral in Orvieto), and words of wisdom, such as, “It is better to be an artist even though you are poor.”

Part of an entry made by Nancy Leitch in her notebook. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.
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Swedish Sculptors-in-Arms: Soderlind and Milles

The Nona Bymark Soderlind archival collection consists solely of one scrapbook, yet its contents provide an intriguing glimpse of the woman to which it is dedicated. In doing so, it also illuminates a brief but prolific period in the history of the Academy of Art and reveals a personal side to one of Cranbrook’s most celebrated Artists-in-Residence, the sculptor Carl Milles.

Nona Bymark Soderlind, circa February 1936. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Born Eleanora Maria Bymark on July 16, 1900 in a small Swedish immigrant community just outside of Minneapolis, Minnesota, Nona attended the Minneapolis School of Art (1920-1922) on a full scholarship, where she studied sculpture under Charles S. Wells. She later attended the University of Minnesota where she studied under the painter Samuel Chatwood Burton. In 1927 Nona returned for a semester at the School of Art, around the time she had her first child with husband Dr. Ragnar Soderlind. The Soderlinds had three young boys (two, eight, and nine years of age) when in 1936 Nona boarded a train to Detroit to study under Carl Milles.

Nona Bymark Soderlind works on a sculpture in Carl Milles Studio, 1936. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

A February 13th letter from Richard Raseman, Academy of Art Executive Secretary, confirms Soderlind’s visit to campus and includes details of associated tuition and living costs required for the minimum period of study with Milles. Cross-referenced with items in her Academy student file, it is evident she had been invited by Milles to study for a month and arrived on the 18th. Perhaps it was Milles’ 1936 commission for Vision of Peace, in St. Paul, Minnesota that had first brought them in touch with each other?

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A Tale of Two Harriets

One was from Detroit; one was from Pittsburgh. One attended Kingswood School; the other attended the Academy of Art. One was a writer and women’s rights activist; the other was a sculptor, photographer, and social worker. Both were named Harriet Cooper. Both were on Cranbrook’s campus in 1940.

This was the unusual story I uncovered working recently with the Archives’ digital collections. While tagging images with the names of Cranbrook’s staff photographers, who were responsible for the majority of photographs taken at Cranbrook between the years 1931-1970, I came across the name Harriet Cooper. As one of only two female photographers, I attempted to find out more, and in the process discovered a second Harriet Cooper who was also at Cranbrook around the same time.

What were the odds? And more importantly, which was my Harriet? I had to find out, not only for the sake of photographic description, but to satisfy intellectual curiosity about the lives of two seemingly individual Cranbrook women, who shared the same name and once lived in close proximity (temporal and geographic) to each other.

Senior picture of Harriet Cooper in the 1940 yearbook Woodwinds. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

Harriet Cooper Alpern was born in 1923. A Detroit native, she grew up on Chicago Boulevard in the Boston-Edison District. Attending Kingswood School (her twin brother attended Cranbrook School), she was active in theater and served as a reporter for The Clarion, graduating in 1940.  According to the yearbook, Woodwinds, she was the senior voted for having the perfect speaking voice and known for splitting sides with her “unconscious humor.” After Kingswood, Harriet attended the University of Michigan, where her future husband E. Bryce Alpern also attended.

Poem appearing in the 1940 yearbook Woodwinds. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

Aptly quoted in the Kingswood yearbook sighing, “Women’s work is never done,” Harriet spent a lifetime of active involvement in feminist social, economic, and political issues. Among her many accomplishments, she co-founded the Detroit chapter of the National Organization of Women (NOW) in 1969. A freelance writer throughout her life, Harriet used those skills to establish her own media company promoting the women’s movement.

She was not, however, a photographer.

Harriet “Betty” Cooper, 1938. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

Harriet Elizabeth (Betty) Cooper Lundquist was born in Valencia, Pennsylvania in 1916. She grew up in Pittsburgh, daughter of social workers and directors of Kingsley House, a settlement house. Betty attended both Antioch College and Yale University School of Fine Arts before coming to Cranbrook Academy of Art to study sculpture under Carl Milles from 1940 to 1942. While here, she also took classes in metalcraft, modeling, and design.

Untitled entry by CAA student Betty Cooper for the War Department Sculpture Competition, May 1, 1941. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

And, she also took a job with Cranbrook Foundation as a photographer!

Although unknown whether she’d had any previous experience, Betty kept the Photography Department afloat on her own for several weeks during February and March 1942, and then stayed on for another seven months as assistant photographer. After graduation, Betty continued to work as a photographer for the Farm Security Administration in Washington, D.C., where she met and married Oliver Lundquist.

Unattributed, this photograph of the interior of Milles House featuring Carl Milles’ sculpture collection was likely taken by Betty Cooper in February 1942. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

While raising three children during the 1950s and 1960s, Betty was active in civil rights causes, including being a founding member of Women Strike for Peace in 1961. In the early 1970s, she went back to school and earned a graduate degree in social work, practicing her parents’ profession for the next thirty years until retirement.

It just goes to show that even while performing routine (but necessary!) archival tasks, fascinating stories reveal themselves, which provide new depth and understanding of Cranbrook’s people.

– Deborah Rice, Head Archivist, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

Milles: “Please do not knock”

A research request put me in search of Carl Milles this week. In the process of research, I noticed again a short letter written by Milles to Richard Raseman, Executive Secretary and Vice President of the Cranbrook Academy of Art from 1932-1943, which demonstrates a wonderful sense of humor:

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Letter from Carl Milles to Richard Rasemen, September 12, 1938: “Richard, Please Print in your shop following, [Please do not enter without knocking/please do not knock]. Big letter, thick bristol paper. I need 6 such prints. Carl.” Cranbrook Foundation Records, Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

 

While Cranbrook Archives does not have a discrete collection of Milles’ papers, there are many letters written by him to his friends and colleagues within several collections. For those minds that become curious to know more about Milles (who served as Head of the Department of Sculpture from 1931 to 1951), we have a subject guide to help in finding his handwritten treasures hiding within our collections. Milles’ letters show a great sensitivity to the recipient of his writing and his descriptions of the ups and downs of circumstance reveal a man of great warmth and fortitude.

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View of various sculptures in side Carl Milles’ studio at Cranbrook Academy of Art, c. 1940. Harvey Croze, photographer. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

I am often inclined to read the letters of an artist or historical figure alongside a study of their work in the world–what a person writes and how they write it provides a wonderful glimpse into a person, and enhances an understanding of the context of their work and deeds.

Cranbrook has many offerings for things to do this summer–through the Center for Collections and Research, Cranbrook House and Gardens, Cranbrook Art Museum, and the Institute of Science. There is something for everyone, and while you are here you can use this guide to walk and view the Milles sculptures on the Academy’s campus.

– Laura MacNewman, Associate Archivist

Creativity and Experimentation: A Snapshot of the CKU Dance Department

A new collection that documents two decades of the Cranbrook Kingswood Upper School Dance Department is now open for research. The materials were donated to the Archives by the former Director of the Dance Department, Jessica Sinclair, and photographer Fred Olds.

Sinclair started teaching modern dance as part of Kingswood School’s physical education program in 1963. During her tenure, the program flourished, and Dance became its own department. Students performed throughout the year at the Performing Arts Winter Festival, the annual Evening of Dance concerts, and at events such as the Guy Fawkes Ball at Cranbrook Academy of Art (CAA).

Alexandra Ohanian in studio, ca 2000. Copyright Fred Olds/Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

In 1982, Sinclair invited Fred Olds to photograph her dancers in collaboration with a fiber installation by Gerhardt Knodel, who was Head of the Fiber Department at CAA at that time. This event led to a twenty-year collaboration between Olds and Sinclair. Olds photographed students in performance, in the studio, and at local and international events.

Dancers perform at the David Whitney Building in Detroit, 1985. Copyright Fred Olds/Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Between 1982 and 2002, the Dance department performed in Chicago, Toronto, and at the David Whitney Building in Detroit, where Sinclair choreographed “Dance in 4 Spaces,” with a grant awarded by the Michigan Council for the Arts. In 1989, Olds traveled with Sinclair and her dancers to the former Soviet Union to perform at the Children’s Palace in Moscow, the Choreographic Institute in Tblisi, and at the Rimsky-Korsakov Conservatory State Theatre in St. Petersburg. Olds remembers that the peak of applause at this concert came for a dancer in a 16-foot-tall dress designed by artist, Nick Cave (CAA ’89).

Susan Loveland in a costume designed by Nick Cave, 1989. Copyright Fred Olds/Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Throughout the years, Sinclair collaborated with a diverse group of fiber artists, sculptors, and architects to infuse creativity and experimentation into her work. The archival collection reflects this process in photographs, ephemera, and video.

– Gina Tecos, Archivist

The Mystery of Sven Hedin

Who was Sven Hedin? A Swedish explorer and geographer known for his expeditions to Central Asia, Dr. Sven Hedin created detailed maps in areas including Tibet, Turkestan, and northwest China. He is probably best known for his rediscovery of the buried Silk Road settlement of Khotan in 1896.

By 1910, Hedin had made acquaintance with fellow Swede Carl Milles and they became lifelong friends. Milles, who always admired Hedin, created a sculpture in 1932 to honor his friend.

“I made this at Cranbrook. For a long time I had wished to make a monument for him, and started it here. When Sven came to see it, he brought some other gentlemen with him. After looking at it he said ‘But Carl, this is wrong. I never look at the sextant when I am on the camel. I always get down from the camel, for the camel moves.’ Milles replied ‘But my dear friend. Do you think all skippers jump in the blue sea when they want to look at a sextant, just because the ship moves?'”

From 1927-1935, Hedin organized the Sino-Swedish Expedition (watch the video) during which he investigated the archaeological, geographical, and topographic features in Inner Mongolia, the Gobi Desert, and Xinjiang, China. He spent the remainder of his life occupied with a publication dedicated to his findings.

From the Carl Milles Papers, Courtesy Cranbrook Archives

Hedin – the sculpture, not the man – made another exploration – this time from the grounds of Cranbrook to Hazel Park, Michigan. In August 1945, the 500 pound bronze sculpture of Hedin disappeared from its pedestal at Cranbrook Institute of Science. Shortly afterwards, a janitor at Hazel Park High School discovered the sculpture embedded in cement and perched upon a large rock in front of the school! School officials did not know the sculpture had come from Cranbrook so two weeks after reporting it to the police, Hedin was chipped out of the cement and stored in the basement of the school. School Superintendent John Erickson commented “those culprits did a real job of cementing it to the rock. Our janitor had to work hard to free it.”

Fast forward to December 1946 when Alton Sheldon, a salesman of janitor supplies, overheard men at Cranbrook talking about the wayward sculpture. Sheldon told them he had seen the statue in the Hazel Park High School basement, and that Cranbrook had better hurry down to get it before the school sold “Hedin and his camel for junk!”

Needless to say, Hedin returned to Cranbrook, a little worse for wear – quite scratched and missing his telescope. The sculpture was ultimately shipped to Sweden for restoration. Upon its return, noted explorer Sven Hedin was once again mounted on his pedestal where he remains today.

– Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

The Devil Made Him Do It

In a grassy meadow (once called “Frisbee Valley”) at the bottom of Suicide Hill is a line of boulders – a sculpture colloquially known as Snake Rock. Actually titled “Lucifer Landing (Real Snake in Imaginary Garden)” or Lucifer Landing for short, the sculpture was designed by American artist Richard Nonas using thirty-nine boulders which zigzag in a serpentine line. One could describe the boulder with the sharp-angled end as resembling the head of a snake, while the rest of the boulders (relatively the same height as each other) taper to the tail section, which appear like rattles. While some think the boulders, which weigh a collective seventy tons!, were found on Cranbrook’s grounds, they were actually acquired in Clarkston, Michigan and represent a cross-section of the type of rocks deposited by the glaciers in Oakland County.

Richard Nonas, 1989. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives, Jane Knirr photographer.

Nonas was invited by Cranbrook Academy of Art’s Head of Sculpture, Michael Hall, to join other major artists like Alice Aycock, Mark DiSuvero, Dennis Oppenheim, and Robert Stackhouse in exhibiting temporary sculpture installations across campus. Funded by the Academy of Art Women’s Committee and Gilbert and Lila Silverman, Lucifer Landing was installed in 1989 – the first sculpture to be placed on campus since the 1970s. Twenty Academy of Art students helped put the boulders in place.

Trained as an archaeologist, Nonas was known for sitting abstract works in wood, stone, or metal directly on the ground. He said “it amused me to place something at Cranbrook that [Eliel] Saarinen might have seen as a child in Finland. There are prehistoric stone monuments near his boyhood home.” While working on the sculpture, Nonas developed a great respect for Cranbrook’s sense of place, and wanted to construct a small form that changed as you walked by and around it – a “sculpture that activates its space, that confuses you a little, keeps you involved in it as you walk past it.” A form that looked almost natural but really couldn’t be.

Lucifer Landing, October 2017. Photograph by the author.

The sculpture’s title suggests the relationship between man and not-man, man and nature, and nature as it was before man. Nonas described how Lucifer, the rebel angel who was expelled from heaven, came to Cranbrook and left an intrusive mark in the Cranbrook landscape, creating an “itch he [Saarinen] couldn’t scratch.”

NOTE: For an excellent article “A Mark of Place: Lucifer Landing Past, Present and Future” on the mistaken dismantling of the sculpture in February 1999, see The Crane-Clarion’s June 1999 issue. Cranbrook Kingswood senior and associate editor Erica Friedman discussed the Cranbrook landscape and how we must face the “problem of destruction passing for progress” – a topic many Americans, including those at Cranbrook, continue to face today.

Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

Operation Mercy and an Academy of Art Sculptor

In January 1957, members of the Academy of Art’s Student Council came across an article in Newsweek magazine about the plight of Hungarian refugees to the United States following the 1956 Hungarian revolt against Soviet domination. Moved by the story of the artist featured in the article, the students decided to act and conceived and executed a plan to finance a semester of study at the Academy for one of the artist refugees. During the weekend of January 19-20th, Academy students held a sale of their own artwork, and supplemented by their own meager cash funds, raised $2,600 for a fund administered entirely by the Student Council. The Academy of Art added enough funds to present an artist with a scholarship for one year of study.

Members of the student council wrote to various organizations including the American Hungarian Federation and the Central Department of Church World Service in order to identify an artist who might qualify for the scholarship. Under the provisions of the 1953 Refugee Relief Act, from November 1956-June 1957, the U.S. government processed over 31,000 refugees at Camp Kilmer in New Jersey through a program called “Operation Mercy.” Most refugees stayed an average of twelve days before a resettlement location was found for them.

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Detroit News, 18 May 1958, Courtesy Cranbrook Archives

The artist sent to Cranbrook was Laszlo Ispanky (1919-2010), a 38-year old sculptor whose interest in art started at a young age. His father owned a restaurant in Budapest near a large sand mine, which soon became Ispanky’s canvas. His sand art was recognized by a man who suggested that he become a sculptor, so Ispanky eventually graduated from the Hungarian Fine Art Academy. In November 1956, during the Hungarian revolt, Ispanky and a friend escaped to Vienna where they sought asylum in the United States.

 

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“Two Sisters,” Laszlo Ispanky, c. 1958, bronze, 17 1/2 x 9 x 6 inches, CAM 1984.45, Gift of Peggy de Salle. Image courtesy Cranbrook Art Museum.

Ispanky had been unable to work creatively under Communist rule. He once commented “In a Communist country, you have to be a Communist to be supported as an artist.” Described as a “romantic European,” Ispanky was grateful for the total freedom he was allowed at Cranbrook – “the most fantastic thing . . . a huge studio, and you do whatever you want.” While at Cranbrook, Ispanky sculpted over 32 works in terra cotta, bronze and plaster and was given the nickname “Speedy Gonzalez” by his fellow students.

 

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Correspondence from Ispanky to Cranbrook Academy of Art, 1957. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

While he did not receive a degree at Cranbrook, Ispanky was eternally grateful for the chance to study here. In his letter, he expresses his heartfelt sentiments and poetic nature. “My thanks to you for reaching out to me with something that is inherent in the sacred name of freedom and for lending me hope. It feels good! I have waited with anxiety to hold the clay with which to give birth to the flowers blooming in my heart – to the hidden music which lives within me; to turn the material into form and into a million statements.”

After Cranbrook, Ispanky moved to New Jersey where he lived his life as a successful sculptor, specializing in the portraiture that he developed while at Cranbrook.

– Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

Carl Milles, Just Like Us

Today I was preparing some materials for an upcoming visit from the staff of Millesgarden – the Swedish home of sculptor Carl Milles. As I gathered supplies for the visit, I was reminded of a fun picture I saw recently of Milles who served as Cranbrook’s sculptor in residence from 1931 to 1951.

Carl and Olga Milles at Carl’s 70th birthday celebration, Jun 1945. Photographer, Harvey Croze.

The picture is from Milles’ 70th birthday party, held in the Kingswood School Dining Hall. Milles seems to have been telling a joke and the photographer captured him mid-laugh. US Weekly, a bit of a “rag” magazine, has a section where they picture celebrities living “Just like Us.” Pictures of George Clooney buying batteries at the hardware store or Octavia Spencer waiting in line at Starbucks, living just like real people do. I thought of this Milles photo in much the same way; Carl Milles makes jokes at dinner, just like us!

Leslie Mio, Assistant Registrar

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