Welcome Nina!

Thanks to the Decorative Arts Trust, based in Media, Pennsylvania, the Center has a new Resident Collections Fellow—Nina Blomfield.

Recipient of the Decorative Arts Trust Marie Zimmermann Collections Fellowship, Nina joined the Center on July 26. We’re delighted to report that in just her first few weeks, Nina has jumped right into the work of the Cranbrook Center!

A native of New Zealand, Nina received her BA from Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, and earned her MA in History of Art at Bryn Mawr College, Pennsylvania, where her thesis focused on the use of Japanese decorative arts by middle-class American women. She is currently completing a PhD at Bryn Mawr that examines the material culture of domestic space and the global origins of Victorian home decorating. At Bryn Mawr, she curated the well-received exhibition “All-Over Design”: Lockwood de Forest between Ahmedabad and Bryn Mawr.

Nina has had formative collections-based experiences at the National Library of New Zealand, Bryn Mawr College, and the American Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Nina is the Center’s fourth Collections Fellow, and in her two years here she will be focusing her attention on the decorative arts in the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Smith House. She’s been hard at work researching the family and the home’s rich collection. Her efforts have already identified the artists behind a dozen previously unidentified objects in Smith House. Look forward to hearing from Nina on the blog soon, and join us in welcoming her to Cranbrook!

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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Out of the Ordinary: Cranbrook and the Chair

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.  

Florence Knoll in Eero Saarinen’s Grasshopper Chair in the Dallas Original Showroom, 1950. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives

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.

Cranbrook School Dining Hall, October 1936. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

The 1940s and 1950s saw a flourishing of chair design from Academy of Art graduates, including Florence Schust Knoll BassettRalph Rapson (the first Cranbrook-trained designer to work for Knoll), Charles Eames, Benjamin Baldwin, Harry Weese, and Ruth Adler Schnee. The Organic Design in Home Furnishings competition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1941 generated many of these designs, including collaborative entries from Baldwin and Weese, as well as Eames and Eero Saarinen. 

Interestingly, Eero’s later chair designs are all much inspired by nature—the Grasshopper chair, the Womb chair, and the Tulip Chair.  

Eero Saarinen sitting in the prototype of his Womb Chair at his Vaughn Road home. 18 June 1947. Photographer: Harvey Croze. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

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.

Bamboo Experimental “Basketchair” by Olav Hammarstrom. 10 February 1956. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

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.

Chair designed by Pipsan Saarinen Swanson. December 8, 1945. Photographer: Harvey Croze. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

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.

The “Stackable Chair” by J. Robert F. Swanson, 1957. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

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

Photo Friday: Summon the Heroes

Today marks the first day of the Games of the XXXII Olympiad in Tokyo, Japan. As the Olympic Creed reads:

The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.

The Olympic Symbols, International Olympic Committee.

In honor of the games, I wanted to share some athletic feats from Henry Scripps Booth’s classmates at the Asheville School. Like many schools and clubs do today, his boarding school in Asheville, North Carolina, staged their own version of the Olympics in 1918!

“The Olympian Team – Seneff, Fowler, French, Platt, and McLain,” Pleasures of Life, Album 3. Photo by Henry Scripps Booth, Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.
Henry Slaughter competing in long jump, Charlotte-Asheville Track Meet, 1918. Pleasures of Life, Album 3. Photo by Henry Scripps Booth, Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.
Henry Beatty competing in long jump, Charlotte-Asheville Track Meet, 1918. Pleasures of Life, Album 3. Photo by Henry Scripps Booth, Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.
The Quarter Mile, Charlotte-Asheville Track Meet, 1918. Pleasures of Life, Album 3. Photo by Henry Scripps Booth, Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.
Zo Walter wins the 220 yard dash, Charlotte-Asheville Track Meet, 1918. Pleasures of Life, Album 3. Photo by Henry Scripps Booth, Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.
Henry Slaughter competes in High Jump, clearing 5 feet, 4 inches in the Charlotte-Asheville Track Meet, 1918. Pleasures of Life, Album 3. Photo by Henry Scripps Booth, Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

So prepare your snacks, turn on NBC, play Summon the Heroes, and get ready to cheer! Best wishes to all the athletes competing in the Olympics and Paralympics in Tokyo this summer!

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

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

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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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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Spring is Here, and so are our Tours!

Here at Cranbrook, the flowers are blooming, the pollen is swirling, and the fountains are flowing. That can only mean one thing: Tour Season is here!

With our reimagined, in-person 2021 Tour Season, we invite you to book your tour of Saarinen House or the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Smith House today. Tours through these two distinguished landmarks will resume tomorrow, May 1, 2021, and continue through Thanksgiving.

Sara Smith and friends enjoy a dance in the Smith House dining room, circa 1970. Courtesy Melvyn Maxwell and Sara Evelyn Smith Papers, Cranbrook Archives.

Tours are now being offered of Smith House every weekend, taking place each Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at 1:00 pm and Saturday at 11:00 am. Saarinen House tours take place each Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at 3:00pm.

Of course, we’re taking lots of steps to ensure guest and staff safety, including shrinking tours to just six guests, requiring masks, and redesigning the route to ensure physical distancing between households. (You can read more about our safety policies on the tour website.)

Flying Teacups, 2021, Neva Gruver, CAA Metalsmithing 2021. Photography by Eric Perry, courtesy Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research. 

In addition to more tours and smaller group sizes, there’s also new art to see on your visit! As you may recall, in the spring, seventy-five Cranbrook Academy of Art students and artists-in-residence participated in the Center’s fourth intervention of new, site-specific work in our historic houses. The theme, Speculative Histories, encouraged the artists to produce objects and interventions that embrace, enlighten, uncover, or imagine histories for the Cranbrook, Saarinen, and Smith houses.

Atelier Primavera (Stressed), 2021, Cooper Siegel, CAA Ceramics 2022. Photography by Eric Perry, courtesy Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research. 

We are excited to continue to feature artwork from ten Cranbrook Academy of Art students and one artist-in-residence during the 2021 Tour Season. (To see all the art displayed during Speculative Histories, you can always visit the virtual exhibition on the Center’s website)

Peony Bush, Claire Thibodeau, Ceramics 2022. Photography by Eric Perry, courtesy Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research. 

Kevin and I have been busy cleaning the houses and getting everything set for a new tour season. We can’t wait for you to join the Center in experiencing these magical homes!

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

Observing Landscapes: Topography and Photogrammetry

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.

Cranbrook Map drawn by George G. Booth between 1904 and 1928.
Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives

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.

Aerial photograph of Cranbrook estate and environs, circa 1918.
Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives

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.

Letter from Keith A. Smith to Arthur B. Wittliff, November 1961.
Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives

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.

Aerial photograph ASP-5 taken by Abrams Aerial Survey Corporation on 6 December 1961.
Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives

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.

Aerial photograph ASP-10 taken by Abrams Aerial Survey Corporation on 6 December 1961.
Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives

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

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