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

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

Photographer Jack Kausch and Cranbrook

In many of the posts we put up on Facebook or on the Kitchen Sink, the credit line “Photographer Jack Kausch” appears. Since he took so many iconic images of Cranbrook’s people and places in the second half of the twentieth century, I’d like to introduce you to Jack Kausch himself.

Jack Kausch at work developing photographs while at Cranbrook School, The Brook 1947. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

John William (Jack) Kausch was born in 1929, in Queens, New York. His family moved to Detroit shortly after he was born. Jack’s interest in photography began at age eight, when his mother gave him a camera and dark room set. He earned a scholarship to attend Cranbrook School for Boys, graduating in 1947. While a student at Cranbrook, he became a photographer for The Crane student newspaper and The Brook yearbook.

Jack Kausch’s Senior entry in The Brook, 1947. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

Jack went on to attend the University of Michigan. The Korean War interrupted his studies, and he joined the Air National Guard. Stationed on a base in New England, he serviced radar equipment and handled the base’s photography lab. When the war ended, the G.I. bill enabled him to return to the University of Michigan. He helped his mother run a construction firm while he attended night school, earning a bachelor’s degree in Physics in 1956.

In September 1957, Jack married Elizabeth (Betsy) Drake. He then took a job with General Motors Photographic in 1960, where he worked for the next seventeen years. During this time, he returned to the University of Michigan to earn a Master’s in Business Administration. He opened Jack Kausch Photography in 1976 in Birmingham, Michigan. It was around this time he returned to Cranbrook to again take photographs for various Cranbrook publications and events.

Shortly after his death in 2002, Jack was posthumously awarded the 2001-2002 Birmingham Bloomfield Cultural Arts Award’s Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2009, an exhibit about his life and work, Jack Kausch, A Photographer’s Retrospective, was presented by the Birmingham Museum.

I thought I would share some of my favorite Kausch photographs of Cranbrook’s people and places:

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The Heartbeat of the Nation

In August 1989, Cranbrook became a National Historic Landmark. America’s highest designation for a place of outstanding historical significance, it was no small feat for Cranbrook to become Michigan’s twenty-second National Historic Landmark (there are only forty-two today). So, what exactly is a National Historic Landmark, and how did we become one?

National Register of Historic Places plaque on the Kingswood Campus. Photographs by Kevin Adkisson, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

Statutory provision for historic preservation began in America in 1906 with the Antiquities Act, which was further developed by the Historic Sites Act of 1935. Administered by the Department of the Interior, this Act was enacted to document and protect sites of national significance. In 1960, the National Park Service began administering the survey data from the Historic Sites Act, and the National Historic Landmark designation was introduced.

The National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 expanded the 1935 Act to local and state sites. This created the National Register of Historic Places, which began to identify, evaluate, and protect America’s historic resources. Many thousands of buildings have since been added to the National Register. In June of 1972, Cranbrook’s application was prepared by an Assistant Historian at the Michigan Department of State in Lansing, and the nomination was based on Cranbrook’s significance as a complete district of educational and architectural structures.

National Register of Historic Places plaque at Brookside.

To be eligible for designation on the National Register (a step below the National Historic Landmark status), the nominated site must have in its architecture, archeology, engineering, or culture integrity of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association.

National Register of Historic Places plaque at Cranbrook School.

In addition, sites on the National Register must meet one of four criteria: be associated with events in the lives of significant persons; embody distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction; represent work of a master and high artistic values; or have or be likely to yield information important to prehistory or history. Once these criteria are evaluated and met, the site may be listed.

National Register of Historic Places plaque at Cranbrook Institute of Science.

Cranbrook was added to the National Register in March 1973, and it was at this point seven National Historic Landmark signs were ordered to be placed at each of the original Cranbrook Institutions and on Cranbrook House. (Christ Church Cranbrook was included in the designation, even though it would formally split off as a separate entity later in 1973 with the formation of Cranbrook Educational Community.) In writing to inform us of the designation, Samuel Milstein at the Department of Natural Resources eloquently wrote that:

“The State of Michigan is very proud of the fact that the property is qualified for this designation. The National Register records the story of the Nation, and is a list of distinction identifying those properties by which present and future generations can sense the heartbeat of the United States.”

Letter from Samuel A. Milstein to Cranbrook Institutions, March 30, 1973. National Register for Historic Places Records.
Non-official National Historic Landmark plaque at Christ Church Cranbrook, on right. The official plaque was changed at some point.

This language echoes that of George Booth in speaking to Cranbrook School in 1928, in which he emphasizes the importance of finding the treasure at your feet, the building up of an ethos of service from the local to the national to the global:

“If we feel our first loyalty to our State and are determined in every way we can to enrich it; if we never fail to see that we must give; if we are resolved to strive only for that which is worth while, then will our State have a place in the Nation, of which we will all be proud. The stronger and more glorious each of the States may be, the stronger and more glorious the Nation; and hence, the better and finer our opportunity for service to the world.”

Address by George Booth given on “Founders’ Day” at Cranbrook School for Boys, October 26, 1928. Cranbrook Archives.

But of course, our story doesn’t end with the National Register. In June 1987, the Chief Historian of the National Park Service (NPS) wrote to Cranbrook’s president, Dr. Lillian Bauder, to inform her that they were studying the property to determine its potential as a National Historic Landmark. Only 3% of sites on the National Register of Historic Places receive the higher honor of becoming National Historic Landmarks.

National Register of Historic Places plaque at Cranbrook Academy of Art.

The designation process follows three steps: study, including a visit to the property; review by the NPS Advisory Board; and a decision of designation by the Secretary of the Interior. The study was completed in February 1989 and the Advisory Board made its recommendation to Secretary Manuel Lujan in May. Cranbrook was designated a National Historic Landmark in August 1989.

The Cranbrook House sign was swapped from a National Register of Historic Places sign to a National Historic Landmark sign, encompassing all of the Cranbrook district.

National Historic Landmark plaque for the entire Cranbrook Educational Community next to the front door of Cranbrook House.

The work of the Center for Collections and Research is embedded in the obligations of historic preservation in caring for and maintaining the community’s history, but also in articulating its meaning and value. Our mission nicely parallels the goals of the National Historic Landmark program. Even without such recognition, all who visit Cranbrook know it is a special place—but sometimes it is nice to have a plaque say so, too.

Laura MacNewman, Associate Archivist, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

Twelfth Night, Sixty Years Ago

With the holidays upon us and the observance of annual traditions in high gear it seems fitting to look back at one of Cranbrook’s most storied and festive occasions. Starting in 1950, every year at the beginning of December preparations would begin for the annual Twelfth Night Gala at Cranbrook House. Held on January 6th, the event was originally conceived as a small costume party in the 1920s by Cranbrook Founders’ son, Henry Scripps Booth. It eventually became an official Cranbrook gathering, with Henry at the helm.

The aim of Twelfth Night, as Henry stated, was “to recognize the contribution each employee and board member makes to Cranbrook by bringing them all together as participants in an enjoyable, annual, and ‘classless’ social event.” It was, in essence, a staff holiday party, but its magnificence was a far cry from the typical.

Joseph R. Scott Jr. practicing “piper’s piping” in Cranbrook House basement for the 1966 performance. Harvey Croze, photographer. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Not sure exactly what Twelfth Night signifies?  Perhaps you know the classic carol Twelve Days of Christmas: “On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me ….” A medieval English observance, Twelfth Night, as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, denotes “the twelfth and last day of Christmas festivities”—twelve days after Christmas, or January 6th. The Shakespeare play of the same name is thought to have been created as entertainment for a Twelfth Night celebration.

Inspired by his English heritage and impressed with a performance of the play at the Detroit Opera House when he was twelve years old, Henry Booth created a sixty-year tradition for Cranbrook staff, faculty, and supporters that revived the holiday’s twin themes of celebratory food and pageantry.

In Cranbrook Archives, the Twelfth Night Records meticulously document the planning and execution of the gala as it took place at Cranbrook House, through programs, scripts, invitations, guest lists, receipts, budgets, meeting minutes, photographs and more. These items bring the party alive–and what a party it was!  

Eggnog in the Oak Room, 1967: (left to right) Helen Hays, Warren Hays, Chet Hard, Anita Hard, and Don Hays. Harvey Croze, photographer. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Choosing the decade of the 1960s to epitomize the revelry of the long-standing event, I give you the opening lines from the 1960 program, spoken by Cranbrook School Headmaster Harry Hoey:

We’ve all found a welcome in this mellow house
Including, we trust, some young shivering mouse
The wassail is heady
The fellowship’s steady
The mummers are ready
So gay may this gala be in Cranbrook House
On with the tom foolery!

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The Monreale Fountain in the Quadrangle

In the center of the Quadrangle at Cranbrook School is a replica of a fountain which stands in the southwestern corner of the cloister of Duomo Monreale in Palermo, Sicily. Completed in 1182, the cathedral unites Arabic, Byzantine, and Norman architectural and cultural influences and is famed for its mosaics.

The inspiration for the fountain’s long-treasured presence on the Cranbrook campus dates back to 1922, when Henry Scripps Booth first saw the original in the cathedral cloister. This was a site that Henry seems to have particularly wanted to see while on a ten-month architectural study tour of Scandinavia, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Great Britain, and France, with his friend, J. Robert F. Swanson.

View of the Duomo Monreale, December 1922. Henry Scripps Booth, photographer. Cranbrook Archives.

Writing to his father, Cranbrook founder George G. Booth, on December 26, 1922, he describes the cathedral thus:

“Mosaic everywhere — luminous gold, and dull colors — with intricate geometric patterns in abundance and fine but rather arcaic [sic] representations of Biblical stories roofed over with a richly decorated trussed ceiling. The cloister in the cathedral’s shade is that delightful one with such delicate columns in pairs, decorated by mosaics, that is illustrated so frequently.”

View of the Duomo Monreale, December 1922. Henry Scripps Booth, photographer. Cranbrook Archives.

Henry laments that there isn’t time enough to study the monuments as closely as he would like, to measure them and draw them up, for if they did, they would end up knowing only one thing well but miss out on so many others. His letter includes this sketch of the fountain:

Letter from Henry Scripps Booth to George Gough Booth, December 24-26, 1922. Cranbrook Archives.

Several years later, George is in Naples, Italy, at one of his favored workshops, the Chiurazzi Foundry. On March 2, 1927, George wrote to Henry to tell him of numerous purchases he made at the foundry, all to be gifts to the new Cranbrook School for Boys. While the specific uses of the items might be determined later, as was characteristic of George he had a tentative plan for all of them. The most important was the replica of the Monreale fountain. Here, we can see George’s sketch of the replica fountain, showing its dimensions:

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The Power of Knowledge

In commemoration of this significant day, Juneteenth, I thought we’d look back at one of many compelling stories in Cranbrook’s history. In the summer of 1970, Horizons-Upward Bound (HUB) offered four new electives that reflected the experimental nature of a project in its sixth year of operation. These electives allowed for innovation and creative thought around topics of particular relevancy to HUB students, investigating issues that still resonate fifty years later.

1969 HUB student photo used on the inside cover of the 1970-1971 annual report. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Black Creative Writing, taught by Highland Park Community College English instructor Stephen D. Chennault, involved readings, examinations of concepts, and self-directed writing. Students surveyed a Langston Hughes edited short story collection and works by the Black Arts Movement poet, Don L. Lee (later known as Haki Madhubuti). They also explored Black awareness, the role of the Black professional writer, and created skits centered on Black life, in what Chennault describes as a “careful observation of their niche in today’s America.”

The Black Contributions course was co-taught by Wayne State University interns, Ervin Brinker and Fred Massey, and grew out of the Black History course of the two previous summers. Refocused with a more contemporary slant, students studied organizations such as the Black Panther Party, the Student Non-Violent Coordination Committee, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Reporting on the course, Brinker and Massey observed that “both instructors and students were sensitized to the realization that solutions to racial problems are imbedded in institutional living patterns of long standing, protected by mazes of barrier that must be recognized and understood if they are to be nullified.”

George W. Crockett Jr., 1968. Courtesy of Walter P. Reuther Library.

Law was team taught by Detroit attorney Michael Brady and University of Wisconsin law student Norman Prance. Half of class time focused on criminal law, which included examination of Yale Sociology Professor Albert J. Reiss’ 1967 study of police brutality and discussion of the Wayne County Juvenile Court. The subject culminated in a field trip to the Detroit Recorders Courtroom of Judge George Crockett Jr., a civil rights advocate known for confronting the practice of race-based sentencing.

Ben Snyder and Horizons scholarship students, 1968. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

In the course, Power, developed by HUB founder and director Ben M. Snyder, students explored the idea of power through a combination of contemporary theory and current realities. Stemming from two works: Adolf Berle’s 1969 Power and Nathan Wright’s 1968 Black Power and Urban Unrest, the course addressed complicated regional situations, such as the redistricting of Detroit schools. When replying to a question regarding the value of the course to his future, one student remarked, “As long as I am more aware of the American way of working power, it should make me more alert.”

Cover illustration by David McMurray for The HUB 101 Literary Magazine, 4 (Summer 1970). Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

A tradition since 1967, the Literary Magazine, a sampling of writing and art produced by HUB students, is perhaps the most important summation of the student experience. Against the backdrop of the civil rights movement, national Vietnam War protests, and the beginnings of an economic downturn that would hit the Detroit metro area hard, the Summer 1970 issue reflects powerful emotions. It’s clear to see that these four thought-provoking electives left a profound effect on students’ views of American society and their role in it. With titles like Discrimination, Revolution, Black Power, Choice of Colors, The Man, The Militant, and Pride, the poignancy of their voices is striking and remarkably germane to events, both then and today.

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

Clean as a Whistle

In the past, we have discussed how we cover our stone sculptures on campus to protect them in the winter. But what about the many bronze sculptures? Europe and the Bull? Persephone? The Centaurs?

These pieces are more robust and able to withstand what winter throws at them, but they still need some love each year.

Each spring since 1987, the Community has brought in Venus Bronze Works to recondition the bronzes across the campus. Venus Bronze Works is a member of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, which means all the cleaning they do is in accordance with AIC’s Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Practice.

All sculptures are inspected and cleaned by dusting them off with compressed air or wet down and washed with a mild detergent, sponges, soft bristle brushes, and fine cotton pads.

Terra Gillis of Venus Bronze Works gives Carl Milles’s Sunglitter (also know as Naiad and Dolphin, CAM 2002.1) a quick shower, 2020. Photo by Kevin Adkisson.
Harlow Toland of Venus Bronze Works gives one of Carl Milles’s Running Deer (CAM 1934.30) a good scrub, 2020. Photo by Kevin Adkisson.

When the works are dried, one or two thin coats of wax are applied and the sculptures are buffed. This wax can be applied directly from the container or applied to a hot surface (by heating the sculpture with a propane-fed torch).

Giorgio Gikas, founder of Venus Bronze Works, holds the torch while his assistants Harlow Toland and Sara Myefski help prepare Triton with Fishes in the Triton Pools at Cranbrook Art Museum to receive a hot wax treatment, 2020. Photo by Kevin Adkisson.

This wax acts as a barrier to the air and humidity on the bronze surface and prevents damaging oxidization or corrosion from developing. When deciding how each individual work is cleaned, we look back to the artist’s intent for each sculpture (was it meant to be patinated green? dark bronze? polished? gilded?) and treat it accordingly.

Venus Bronze Works cleans and waxes all the Milles sculptures at the Cranbrook Art Museum and Cranbrook Academy of Art and the Cranbrook Institute of Science. They also work on such sculptures as Brookside’s Birds in Flight; Kingswood’s Dancing Girls and Diana; Cranbrook House and Gardens’ Fortuna delle Tartaruga (Turtle Fountain); and Cranbrook School’s athletic sculptures. Check out a recent Instagram post about the athletic sculptures below:

We are excited to start welcoming visitors back to our campus this summer, so you can all see the beautiful sculpture in their freshened-up glory.

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

What’s in a Brick?

There are many beautiful bricks around Cranbrook’s campus. From the Roman brick details at Cranbrook School, the buckskin “Cranbrook brick” at the Academy and Institute of Science, or the beautiful green and gold bricks of Kingswood, Eliel Saarinen was a master of the ancient building material.

The richness of this legacy made architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien extremely diligent in specifying materials for their own addition to campus, the Williams Natatorium. Completed in 1999 and sited within the heavily wooded area adjacent to the Saarinen-designed Keppel Gymnasium, the 26,000-square-foot swimming facility features very few details that are not custom made. This includes the bricks.

The entrance to the Cranbrook Natatorium, showcasing purple Norman brick, glazed blue and green brick, concrete, and lead-coated copper. Courtesy Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

The architects wanted glazed bricks (a material famously used by Eero Saarinen at the General Motors Technical Center), but they couldn’t find any product available on the market that meet their needs. Project architect Martin Finio told Construction Association of Michigan Magazine (Fall 2000) that:

Typical glazing tends to resemble a painted surface. The glaze becomes the object of interest. The brick behind it could be anything. What we were interested in was trying to find a way of glazing brick in such a way that you can feel the body of the brick through it.

The architects turned to Endicott Clay of Fairbury, Nebraska to help craft custom glazed brick, with a base of ironspot brick the company already produced. In ironspot bricks, manganese in the clay creates dark spots when fired. The goal for Cranbrook was to have these spots remain visible behind the glaze.

After receiving dozens of sample test glazed bricks that weren’t what the architects wanted, Martin Finio, Billie Tsien, and project manager Gary Scheuren traveled to Nebraska to learn more about the process and to work on getting the Natatorium bricks just right. When they arrived, Tsien saw a stack of samples Endicott Clay had deemed failures, rejected, and never sent to the architects in New York. Within the trash pile was the exact finish the architects wanted. Endicott Clay simply reverse engineered the once-rejected bricks and made enough mottled blue and green glazed bricks for the building.

Beyond the colors’ ties to water and earth (appropriate for a pool in the woods), the specific shade of blue and green have special Cranbrook associations. The blue is the famed “Grotell blue” of Cranbrook’s longtime Head of Ceramics, Maija Grotell, while the green relates to the lovely shades of aqua used by Pipsan Saarinen Swanson inside Kingswood and that building’s great patinated copper roof.

The Norman bricks above the green glazed bricks. Notice the raked horizontal mortar lines. Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

Alongside the glazed bricks, the architects specified manganese ironspot Norman bricks in deep purple. Norman bricks are longer than standard bricks and enhance the horizontality of the building. Using a tradition made famous by Frank Lloyd Wright and also used by Eliel Saarinen at Cranbrook, the horizontal mortar is raked and the vertical mortar is flush, casting the horizontal joints in shadow and increasing the sense of compression across the façade.

This hinge joint of blue glazed and purple Norman bricks terminates the east-west axis running from George Booth’s office in Cranbrook House, past the Art Museum and Orpheus fountain, and to the Natatorium. Daniel Smith, photographer. Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

Other materials used on the exterior of the Natatorium include cast in place concrete (sandblasted to give it a warmer feel and richer texture), warm toned ground-faced concrete block (custom made in Grand Blanc), Honduran mahogany, Mexican river rock, and Pietra Cardosa Italian slate.

—Kevin Adkisson, Curatorial Associate, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

Cranbrook, Way Back

When we consider historical records, even digital ones, our thoughts do not usually extend to websites. Yet, just like student newsletters or exhibition catalogs, Cranbrook’s website is a compendium of institutional information regarding the people, places, and things that make it unique.  As we ourselves shift evermore towards online existences, one focus of the Archives has been on how to ensure Cranbrook’s virtual legacy.

I’m sure everyone is familiar with the expression, “What goes on the internet, stays on the internet,” or some variation thereof. Cranbrook is no exception. Fortunately, there is the Internet Archive. A non-profit American digital library, it has been saving public websites since 1996. And, courtesy of its web archives, the Wayback Machine, Cranbrook’s evolving web presence has been captured over time from its beginnings in the mid to late 1990s to today. [Interesting aside: through the Internet Archives backup protocol, Cranbrook is a part of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, the current incarnation of the famed ancient Library of Alexandria!]

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Cranbrook home page as it looked in 1997. Courtesy of the Internet Archive.

One of the quickest ways to get a snapshot of what was going on at Cranbrook in the last twenty-three years is through its website.  Get lost in Cranbrook 1997 by clicking on the above homepage image and navigating through the still active links.

How about exploring Cranbrook 2007?

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Cranbrook home page as it looked in 2007. Courtesy of the Internet Archive.

There are only 1,450 more site captures to delve into, if you’ve got the time! While the interactive websites of Cranbrook’s past can be accessed in this way, it is important to note that the information and files used in their creation form part of the over two million items at the Archives. For example, the main homepage image from the 1997 website, the Woodward Entrance Feature, can be found in the Archives’ Architecture Slide Collection.

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View of the entrance feature from Woodward Avenue at sunset, 1996. Dan Hoffman, designer. Balthazar Korab, photographer. Copyright Balthazar Korab/Cranbrook Archives.

As increasingly digital files become the only documentation of Cranbrook activities or events, its websites are more integral to understanding the context of these records. The Archives continues to expand its digital capabilities to keep pace. In the near future, we hope to provide our own copies of Cranbrook’s various websites (with keyword search capability), side by side with the digital records from which they were created.

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

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