Each year, the Center staff does spring cleaning around the Cranbrook Community’s campus.
To kick off our spring cleaning this year, in collaboration with Meghan Morrow from Cranbrook Art Museum, Brookside’s Vlasic Early Childhood Center Pre K, JK, and multi-age classes helped us “awaken” the outdoor sculptures, covered for the winter, with a good-morning song. They helped remove the covers, check for any new cracks, and wipe and polish the sculptures.
We then needed to get the fountains and sculptures ready for our House Party fundraiser on May 20 (sorry, already sold out). Utilizing Graffiti Solutions’ “Elephant Snot,” we worked with Cranbrook House and Gardens Auxiliary volunteers to clean the Fountain on West Terrace and Mario Korbel’s Harmony.
Below are the results. This was just one day after the cleaning, and, typically, the sculptures look better and better as the weeks go on.
Look for an upcoming post about our ECC friends working with the Elephant Snot to clean more stonework in the garden!
The spring also means a new season of work in the Japanese Garden. Pulling vines, before the poison ivy blooms, was a fun, end-of-the-day task for our volunteers this week.
Not to be outdone, Saarinen House wanted to be part of spring cleaning as well. On location in the Art Museum vault for a photoshoot this past winter, the Saarinen House Studio rug was carried back to the house and reinstalled. As Greg Wittkopp, Center Director, said, “The room does look less Gesamtkunstwerk-ish without it.”
The best part about our spring cleaning is showing off the results. Come see Harmony in the Cranbrook House gardens on a warm day.
The Center’s 2023 Tour season is also beginning. In addition to our Saarinen House and Smith House tours, new tours have been added:
Japanese Garden Tours – Center staff-guided tours of the Japanese Garden have been added to the public tour calendar on one Sunday a month at 1:30pm, May through October.
Three Visions of Home tours – Join Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research as we take you inside three remarkable homes from across the twentieth century. There’s no tour quite like it, with a look into the distinct visions for American life from three internationally significant architects: Albert Kahn, Eliel Saarinen, and Frank Lloyd Wright. Your expert guide will take you through the architecture and innovations of each home, while also sharing the stories of the families who built and lived in these special places.
We hope to see you on campus this season!
– Leslie Mio, Associate Registrar, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Resarch
If you walked into Cranbrook House, Saarinen House, or Smith House this week, you might have noticed some surprising guests have arrived at the table. Your Center for Collections and Research team have been busy installing Brought to the Table, the fifth intervention of new work by Cranbrook Academy of Art students and Artists-in-Residence in our three historic homes.
This year’s virtual exhibition is a Cranbrook-wide collaboration that brings site-specific work from across the Academy’s eleven departments into conversation with objects from Cranbrook’s Cultural Properties, Art Museum, and Institute of Science collections.
Brought to the Table engages with the long tradition of functional art at Cranbrook and pairs new works of art with objects from the Cranbrook collections made for dining tables, coffee tables, desks, or side tables. Before the exhibition kicks off at the Virtual Opening and Lecture on March 27th, I’d like to give you a sneak peek at the exhibition process.
This was my first experience curating contemporary art and I was grateful to learn from my capable co-curators, Metalsmithing Artist-in-Residence (AIR) Iris Eichenberg and Center Curator Kevin Adkisson.
From planning with Kevin and Iris; coordinating with our wonderful Academy artists; selecting objects with colleagues at the Institute of Science and Art Museum; installing with the help of students; and assisting with photography, this exhibition took me all over the Cranbrook campus.
In 2021, the home of Loja Saarinen at Cranbrook Academy of Art, which she shared with her husband Eliel, was designated as a site in the Historic Artists’ Homes & Studios program. As the team at the Center were going through the process of researching Loja, the too-often-overlooked designer of textiles, gardens, and clothing, we were constantly reminded that the rugs created by Loja and her professional weaving studio, Studio Loja Saarinen, were poorly documented in our records.
Studio Loja Saarinen made rugs, window treatments, wall hangings, upholstery fabrics, and more at Cranbrook between 1928 and 1942. Many of the Studio’s largest rugs were made for Kingswood School for Girls between 1930 and 1932. Because of the fragility of the rugs, and through natural wear-and-tear, almost all of the original Studio Loja Saarinen rugs were put in storage at Cranbrook Art Museum in the 1970s and 1980s.
We have excellent archival records about the operation of the studio, including records of yarn orders and charts of the time spent weaving rugs (it was a lot!). But the rugs are very large, and often, we only had black-and-white photographs of the rugs on the floor in the 1930s. Color photographs were limited to poorly distorted slides, or photographs of portions of the rugs taken on early digital cameras while the rugs were half-rolled-up in storage.
We had almost no ‘born digital’ high-resolution photographs of Loja’s work–these are the best kind of photographs for sharing her work in slides, online, or in print. The lack of excellent, high quality images limited not only how we at Cranbrook understood and shared Loja’s legacy, but also made it difficult for students or scholars researching Loja Saarinen to get a complete sense of her artistic output.
On January 7, 2022, photographer James Haefner and his assistant Erik Henderson, with the help of Center Curator Kevin Adkisson, Center Associate Registrar Leslie Mio, Cranbrook Art Museum Registrar Corey Gross, Cranbrook Art Museum Head Preparator Jon Geiger, and Jon’s installation crew embarked on a very ambitious project: documenting all the Studio Loja Saarinen rugs in the Cranbrook collections.
First, we had to take the several-hundred-pound rugs down from racks where they are stored, rolled. Then, we covered the floor in clean plastic drop cloths. With a camera bolted via a vise-grip to the ceiling of the Cranbrook Art Museum Collections Wing, and controlled via computer from a remote workstation, we unrolled, photographed, and rerolled over forty works of Studio Loja Saarinen’s functional art.
No detail went undocumented, from weaver’s signatures knotted into the face of a rug, to maker’s labels written and sewn on by Loja herself.
Below is just a fraction of the forty-plus pieces photographed:
It was a joy to unroll and see these pieces up close after knowing many of them for years through black-and-white images. While even these photographs do not do justice to seeing their beauty in person, having such high-resolution photography of Studio Loja Saarinen’s rugs means that future scholars and fans of Loja Saarinen will be able to have a richer understanding of her, and Cranbrook’s, remarkable legacy.
For even more Loja Saarinen, join the Center in person or online on May 21, 2022 for A House Party at Cranbrook Celebrating Loja Saarinen. We’ll be premiering a new, thirty-minute documentary about Loja, produced by the Center, at the event–you don’t want to miss it!
– Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar, and Kevin Adkisson, Curator, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research
Across Cranbrook’s campus are eleven different spaces, including the Archives, that house book collections – some 110,000 physical items. Several of these spaces are typical school or academic research libraries, where students, faculty, and staff can check out the majority of these books. As a library and information science professional, I champion the importance of these lending libraries and the egalitarian access to information they provide.
In this post, however, I’d like to focus on Cranbrook’s non-circulating book collections – those rare, historic, or valuable tomes that, in many cases, hide in plain sight in public areas. With help from colleagues at the Academy of Art, Schools, Institute of Science, and Center for Collections and Research, I’ll highlight some of these gems that promise to delight the bibliophile, art appreciator, historian, or simply the Cranbrook curious.
Cranbrook’s special book collections are carefully preserved as both informational and evidential artifacts, and many are housed within cultural heritage areas. Valued not only for research purposes, they also serve as historical objects which help individually or collectively to tell the Cranbrook story.
The origin of book collecting at Cranbrook actually predates any of the current collection spaces and begins with Cranbrook founders George and Ellen Booth. George, in particular, was an enthusiastic collector, and started acquiring volumes in 1900, commissioning purchases of William Morris works and other fine books in London. As George explained, “I am not a millionaire and cannot pay the big prices now prevailing in New York.” His strategy allowed him to accumulate 1,000 books by 1916, effectively seeding the Cranbrook House Library Collection when construction of the library wing was completed four years later.
How many high schools can lay claim to hosting a performance of the legendary Detroit band, the MC5? In 1967, Cranbrook School joined a handful of Metro Detroit high schools as a venue for arguably one of the most influential rock bands of all time.
Known the world over today for their groundbreaking music, and as progenitors of the subsequent 1970s punk rock movement, the MC5 (Motor City Five) were relatively unknown outside the Detroit area when they played the Cranbrook School Little Gym on April 28, 1967.
Billed as a Jazz Psychedelic, the concert featured fellow Detroit musicians, the Charles Moore Octet and the Joseph Jarman Quartet, both avant-garde jazz groups. Trumpeter Charles Moore’s band had already played earlier that year at Cranbrook (their musical repertoire including poetry by John Sinclair) and had developed a following among students and faculty. Accompanying the music at the April concert was a light show by the Magic Veil, which consisted of several sheets placed around the gym, a large number of lenses, watercolors, and an overhead projector. Open to Cranbrook and Kingswood students, faculty, and the area’s interested general public, tickets cost $3.25.
The event was sponsored by the revamped Jazz Society, a student club formed in 1966 with a goal of exposing students to different forms of jazz (including a trip to the Masonic Temple in Detroit to see Count Basie). Under their new name, REAL (Revolutionary Enjoyment Authenticity and Love), they continued to arrange musical experiences both on and off campus, providing tickets and transportation to venues such as the Fisher Theater, Meadowbrook, and the Grande Ballroom. A trip to this last venue, “home base,” if you will, of the MC5, included a concert by the Eric Clapton band, Cream.
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.
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.
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
Last week, I was happy to welcome a small group tour into the reading room to view archival materials about chairs. After the tour request appeared in my inbox, I learned a lot about chairs in a short time and found a new appreciation for this commonplace object.
As I searched and gathered materials for the display, I began to see how imagination and inspiration can transform an ordinary thing from complete obscurity to one of curiosity and sometimes great celebrity.
The chair has been creatively reinvented time and again according to the social context of its use, the cultural meaning imbued in it, or the inspiration from which its design sprang. Just think throne, pew, sofa, deck chair, chaise-lounge, and so on.
Take one of Cranbrook’s most iconic chairs – Eliel Saarinen Cranbrook School dining hall chair. Designed to withstand use by teenage boys, it combines durability with sophistication and has stood the test of time as they are still in use after 94 years. At the back of each chair is a bronze crane insert, a symbol that subtly gives identity to the community using the chair.
Interestingly, Eero’s later chair designs are all much inspired by nature—the Grasshopper chair, the Womb chair, and the Tulip Chair.
Inspired by nature in a different way, Finnish architect and furniture designer Olav Hammarstrom has a variety of designs that are born of the possibilities to which natural materials lend themselves. Hammarstrom worked with Alvar Aalto and Eero Saarinen and Associates, working on projects such as the Baker House dormitory at MIT and the furnishings at the GM Tech Center. Married to Head of the Weaving Department Marianne Strengell, he designed their house in Wellfleet on Cape Cod, as well as houses for friends and colleagues, along with chairs to go in them.
Furniture design was also the focus of another Academy affiliated designer, Pipsan Saarinen Swanson. Working in partnership with her husband, architect J. Robert F. Swanson, Pipsan typically designed the interiors while he designed the structure and exterior.
But Robert Swanson also designed furniture. Perhaps the most surprising thing I learned was that Swanson invented a ‘Stackable Chair,’ patented in 1957. A form we take for granted nowadays, these chairs can still be found in many buildings and classrooms on Cranbrook’s campus.
It was a great pleasure to share these archival stories with our guests and to explore Cranbrook’s part in the story of the chair. In the process I learned to see an everyday thing in a new light and how creativity can transform the ordinary into the extraordinary.
–Laura MacNewman, Associate Archivist, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research
In early June, the Center’s Assistant Curator Kevin Adkisson and Collections Interpreter Lynette Mayman hosted the Cranbrook Kingswood Middle School for Girls students and staff for Greek Day tours around the sculptures of Cranbrook Academy of Art. Today, Lynette explores one of the myths central to the sculpture of Carl Milles: Orpheus and Eurydice.
The tale of Orpheus and Eurydice has many versions, most of them adding and leaving out various details. As in all Greek myths everything has a back story, and everything is linked. If you start to retell one tale, then you end up telling many more, which is how you might have been invited to stay at the palace indefinitely, recounting the myths.
These days many of these myths are known only in part, the grimmer consequences and endings forgotten or deliberately omitted to make them less peculiar and frightening.
Ancient tellers of the myth include Plato and Virgil, but perhaps the best-known and longest version is from Ovid (43 BCE-17 CE) in books X and XI of his Metamorphoses. Ovid is renowned for relishing the lugubrious and not sparing the gory details in lightly tripping dactylic hexameters. He also gives us a rare glimpse into the how and why of tales which were well-known to his readers.
Ovid skips the early part of the myth where Apollo may or not be Orpheus’ father and how Orpheus plays his lyre and sings to the Argonauts to drown out the Sirens; he cuts to the chase, as it were.
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.)
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:
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!
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
One of my favorite items in the collections of Cranbrook Archives is George Booth’s hand drawn map of Cranbrook, which he created over a 24-year period between 1904 and 1928. It is the earliest topographical record of Cranbrook and visually documents his ideas and plans for developing the landscape. In 1951, George’s son, Henry, created annotations to accompany the map, which are useful both in deciphering the map and identifying locations. Henry’s notes on what was envisioned and what was implemented during those early years, are a good starting point from which to venture into the manuscript collections for verification.
As Cranbrook’s landscape evolved from a family estate into a center for art and education, the means of recording and viewing the topography was assisted by developments in aerial photography, known as photogrammetry. Talbert Abrams, a native of Michigan, is regarded as a key contributor to this field of photography, as he founded the Abrams Aerial Survey Corporation in 1923. The earliest aerial photograph of Cranbrook I could locate is from circa 1918.
In the Cranbrook Photograph Collection there are many aerial photographs taken by Abrams, as well as other photography firms, ranging from the 1920s through the 1990s. Since the purposes of aerial surveys are manifold, correspondence provides some insight into why they were commissioned and how they were specifically used, for example, as publicity and advertising. In 1932 Cranbrook’s public relations manager, Lee A. White, engaged Cranbrook School Headmaster William Stevens to select an image for the coming year’s brochure, and aerial views appear in all the early Cranbrook brochures. Aerial surveys have also been used to assess and understand the landscape prior to making a change to it. This was the case in 1961, when a topographic map and aerial photography were requested for the Off-Street Parking Study.
Correspondence between Arthur Wittliff, Secretary for the Cranbrook Foundation Board of Trustees, and Abrams Aerial Survey Corporation, provides intriguing details about the scale of the photography and the material base of the prints. The images below are from a December 6, 1961 set of 12 double weight velvet prints of aerials covering 1 square mile at a scale of 1 inch per 600 feet.
ASP-5 (above) shows the intersection of Cranbrook Road and Lone Pine Road, and includes Kingswood School and Lake, the Institute of Science, Cranbrook House, Brookside School, Christ Church Cranbrook, and the Academy of Art and Academy Way. ASP-10 (below) shows another view of Cranbrook and its environs, encompassing the Institute of Science, Academy of Art, and Cranbrook School.
When looking across the topographical history of Cranbrook from George’s map through aerial photographs, it is always fascinating to discern the changing landscape alongside the features that are unchanging. And, for me, the great inspiration of George’s map is that, although each individual project necessitated getting into the weeds and meticulous details, his ideas were always guided by situating them within a bigger picture.
—Laura MacNewman, Associate Archivist, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research