When I was asked to gather archival materials related to Cranbrook in Kent, England, a short series of correspondence in the Henry Scripps and Carolyn Farr Booth Papers particularly caught my notice. Written to Henry Scripps Booth, the letters discuss a stone from St. Dunstan’s Church in Cranbrook, Kent, and its overseas delivery to Christ Church Cranbrook. I became quite curious about it.
One handwritten letter in the correspondence was rather difficult to decipher, but once I got the pattern of it, it helped me begin to comprehend the story.
In July 1930, St. Dunstan’s Vicar, Rev. Swingler, acknowledged a request from Booth for a fragment of the church which could be placed in the chapel of the same name at Christ Church Cranbrook.
It was July 1931 before Rev. Swingler wrote again to inform Booth that the stone was ready for dispatch. He explained that the Church Council had welcomed the idea and directed the Fabric Committee to select a stone, which they had, but that the Secretary had forgotten to inform Booth until then, a year later, and it was already on its way!
The forgetfulness of the Secretary and finding appropriate shipping arrangements for such an unusual commodity had caused quite a delay, to which Rev. Swingler writes,
“I am sorry that the matter has not been dealt with more speedily but old Cranbrook has hardly yet learned modern methods of business, as perhaps you know.”
He goes on to describe the provenance of the stone, at least as far as he could tell. A fifteenth century carved coign (an architectural term for a “projected corner”), it once formed part of the string course (a projected band of stone) which runs at the base of the battlements of the church nave. The course includes a series of grotesque heads, some of which were pierced for waterspouts. A grotesque, common in medieval church architecture, is a decoratively carved stone used to ward off evil spirits and to signify the sanctuary and safety of the church. On inspecting an historic photograph of the church, I could identify similar stones at the top of the drainpipes and around the tower battlements.
Rev. Swingler had first seen it laying in the churchyard and surmised that it had not been replaced during past repairs. He doesn’t mention why they selected that particular stone, but one could conjecture that it was because it was no longer part of the fabric of the church building and hence was available to be gifted to Christ Church. He notes that it is probably of Hartley stone, which was quarried in the Parish.
Henry Scripps Booth contributed great efforts to building relationships between the old and new Cranbrooks by establishing and maintaining connections between the two churches. The grotesque that arrived at Christ Church more than 90 years ago is an artifact that tells just one story of his efforts. From St. Dunstan’s of old Cranbrook, known as the “Cathedral of the Weald,” to St. Dunstan’s of Christ Church Cranbrook, the carved coign continues to herald sanctuary and give confidence to those who enter.
–Laura MacNewman Associate Archivist, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research
I have mentioned in the blog before that I am working with Center Director Gregory Wittkopp and Center Curator Kevin Adkisson on reviewing all fourteen of our cultural properties collections (over 9,000 objects), reviewing the data already on file and adding as much additional information about each object as we can.
The most recent collection I have been working on is Cranbrook Kingswood Upper School – Cranbrook Campus (f.k.a. Cranbrook School for Boys). The current campus buildings, classrooms, and staff offices, all had the potential to contain cultural properties (historic objects). And many that we visited did!
When I researched the Cranbrook Kingswood Upper School – Kingswood Campus (f.k.a. Kingswood School for Girls), I was fortunate to have the “Kingswood School Cranbrook Inventory of Equipment and Supplies.” It recorded the purchases and payments made from 1930-1938 for the outfitting of the school. It proved invaluable in locating quantities and makers of objects.
There had to be an equivalent for Cranbrook Campus?! Unfortunately, not that I had yet seen.
I only had a 1952 Inventory which listed fixed items, like light fixtures; and “movable” furniture and fixtures, like chairs, tables, desks, artwork. This was a great resource, but it did not always give me the makers or artists. Undeterred, I started searching in Cranbrook Archives, the “little gem” at Cranbrook, to borrow a phrase from Frank Lloyd Wright.
In Box 43, Folder 11 of the Cranbrook Foundation Office Records were the “Building Costs for Cranbrook School from 1926-1946.” And then, I saw it. A small black book labeled “Cranbrook School Book.” Could it be what I was looking for?
Inside were listed payments made to the builder Wermuth & Son and to the W. J. Sloane Company for furniture. It listed the artists who painted, carved, and outfitted the school, as well as contractors who installed various materials in the buildings.
These entries were great, but what else would it lead to? The answer: the “Cranbrook Schools” series in the Cranbrook Architectural Office Records.
Many of the folders were labeled “Cranbrook School correspondence, Wermuth & Son” with dates. The “Cranbrook School Book” had given me an idea of what to look for. Who Wermuth and the Cranbrook Architectural office (and sometimes George G. Booth himself) were corresponding with was the key. Inside were letters from vendors of tiles, furniture, stained glass, stonework, mirrors, mattresses, windows, everything needed to build a well-appointed school.
Here are just a few examples:
Copies of blueprints for furniture made by W. J. Sloane Company’s “Company of Master Craftsmen,” many of which were selected for Cranbrook.
A letter from L.A. Sielaff & Co. indicating it was contracted to carve the wood ornaments on the Geza Maroti-designed doorcases outside the Library
Next up, Cranbrook Campus’ custom light fixtures! I can already hear Kevin’s words in my head . . .
. . . Cranbrook light fixtures are all around campus. There are multiple types of the light fixtures. These were designed by architect and former Head of the Architecture Department Dan Hoffman. He was the architect-in-residence who probably did more to revive the tradition at Cranbrook that was so such a passion project of George Booth and Eliel Saarinen . . .
– Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research
p.s. For more on Cranbrook Campus, check out these videos by Center Curator Kevin Adkisson:
Does your family have a certain pose that they always do for a family picture? My cousins and I always had to stand or sit by the same log at our cottage each summer to get a group picture. Even when the log had disintegrated, and we were all adults, we still stood in the same spot to take the picture.
The Swedish weavers of Studio Loja Saarinen were the same way. After every rug was completed, they would unroll it behind the studio, lay it on the lawn, and pose at the end. This not only documented their work, but also served as a record of who worked on each piece. In Cranbrook Archives, we have a few examples of these images.
Cranbrook Academy of Art Rug No. 14
This rug lay in the center of the Studio Loja Saarinen Weaving Room. A flatwoven rug with stylized meanders in the border, and an elegant color scheme of dark browns, blues, and beiges, in form, structure, color, and design it shows the contemporary style of Swedish weaving that would become the foundation of Studio Loja Saarinen’s work.
This was one of the first rugs executed under the “Design and Supervision” of Maja Andersson Wirde, who was Loja’s right-hand-woman from 1930 to 1933. The rug is actually a variation of a design Wirde made for the 1925 International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts in Paris (the “Art Deco” World’s Fair).
When Wirde wrote to Cranbrook’s secretary from Sweden before immigrating, she said she would bring along prepared designs and wool and linen yarns to be able to get started right away. She certainly did! Below, you can see Wirde and possibly Lillian Holm and Ruth Ingvarsson holding up the rug behind Studio Loja Saarinen just months after their arrival to Cranbrook.
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
When Frank Lloyd Wright visited Smith House in 1951, he affectionately referred to the home as “my little gem.” Over the years, Melvyn and Sara Smith filled up their “little gem” with many treasures of their own. As I continue my detailed research into the Smith House collection, I am learning that even the smallest of these objects has a rich story to tell.
One such detail is a yellow enamel butterfly. For over 50 years, the butterfly has rested its wings on an artificial ivy vine in a small corner between the Smith House living space and dining room.
The butterfly is in fact a brooch, manufactured by costume jeweler Albert Weiss & Co. Albert Weiss began his career as a designer for Coro Jewelry before breaking off to start his own firm in 1942. Better known for elaborate rhinestone creations, Weiss also produced jewelry featuring enameled flowers and animals. My research has revealed that the Smith House brooch was part of a 1964 collection described in the New York Times as “a flock of butterflies that are meant to settle – one at a time – on the neckline of a dress or coat.” An advertisement for the collection shows the brooches pinned, labeled, and framed as if specimens in a natural history display.
It is no surprise that the Smiths were drawn to the butterfly form, as these flying jewels have captivated artists as diverse as Vincent van Gogh and Damien Hirst. The Smiths’ collection no longer includes the Knoll BKF ‘butterfly’ chairs seen in family photographs, but there are still other butterflies in the house.
Silas Seandel’s sculptural butterflies were formed form torch-cut metal and their craggy brutalist forms are attached to flexible wire that give them movement and life. On a windowsill in the guest room, real butterfly specimens take flight in a Perspex cube. Given the dynamism of these other butterflies, it makes sense that the Smiths used the enamel pin to adorn their home rather than allowing it to languish in a jewelry box. Instead, this ivy-clad corner created a kind of habitat for the butterflies.
Family was central to the Booths, and Henry Scripps Booth and Carolyn Farr Booth immortalized themselves and their children in portraiture.
Carolyn Farr Booth (1902-1984), who married Henry Scripps Booth (1897-1988) in 1924, was a devoted mother and grandmother who served as a volunteer leader within the metro-Detroit community. Henry Scripps Booth commissioned this portrait in 1950 from artist John Koch .
In 1961, Henry Scripps Booth commissioned this portrait of himself, again from Koch. In addition to these portraits, Koch depicted Henry and Carolyn’s daughters Melinda and Martha.
Artist John Koch (pronounced “coke”) was one of the key painters of the American Realist movement in the mid-20th century. His early art training was minimal. In the summers of 1927 and 1928, he painted and studied in the artists’ colony at Provincetown, Massachusetts, where he was influenced by the work and theory of Charles Hawthorne. Otherwise, Koch was largely a self-taught painter. In 1928, he went to Paris, where he stayed for four years painting on his own, never under a teacher. “The Louvre was my master,” Koch once said. Koch counted among his sitters not only the Booths, but also Princess Margaret, sister of Queen Elizabeth II.
Henry Booth’s pose in his Koch portrait mirrors an earlier portrait from 1922 by Professor Ludwig Kühn. Booth had this portrait painted in 1922 while on his 1922-1923 Grand Tour in Europe with University of Michigan classmate J. Robert F. Swanson. The cost was $100. Henry assembled photographs of the portrait being painted in his scrapbook, Pleasures of Life #5, in Cranbrook Archives.
Professor Ludwig Kühn was especially known for his lithographs and etchings. In Germany, the title of professor is awarded as an honorary title to people who do not necessarily hold a teaching professorship; Kühn received the title in 1900.
And, for one more portrait: David Gagnier Booth (1927-2020), one of the sons of Henry and Carolyn. According to David, and corroborated by one of Henry’s photo albums, the family did not like the portrait of young David painted in 1928. The painting was subsequently cut into three pieces: David’s face and upper body, David’s feet, and some irises. Henry displayed David’s feet in Thornlea Studio. We don’t know what happened to the irises (if you know their whereabouts, please reach out!)
Charles Benell, the Russian artist who painted the portrait of David Booth, lived in Detroit in the late 1920s and early 1930s. He was a long-time friend of painter Ossip Perelma, who painted portraits of other Booth family members. Benell attended the École des Beaux-Arts and studied under Fernand Cormon, a French painter and teacher, who was also the teacher of Van Gogh.
Do you want more great stories about the Booth family portraits, and more? Come along as we open the doors to Thornlea, the home of Henry Scripps Booth and Carolyn Farr Booth for more than sixty years, for rare Behind-the-Scenes tours! Thornlea is full of architectural charm and artistic inspiration.
Led by the Center’s Curator, Kevin Adkisson, and featuring new research Kevin and I did over the past two years, the tour will explore the architecture of the home, examine its collection of fine and decorative arts, and reveal stories and photographs from the Booth family’s long life in the home. Used for a variety of purposes today, and rarely opened for public tours, the house will be specially staged for this event.
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
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
As part of its efforts to maintain safe distancing during classes, Cranbrook Schools has spread out all over campus. This includes the use of the Edison House, former home of visiting scholars to Cranbrook Institute of Science.
In the Edison House kitchen is installed a 1965 model Frigidaire Imperial Flair range and oven in Honey Beige. Frigidaire was owned by General Motors when the Flair was introduced to the market in 1962. An electric range, the Flair has burners that roll in and out much like a drawer, hidden from view when not in use. The double ovens sit right at counter height, and the oven doors lift up instead of swinging out. As a Frigidaire advisement in Cranbrook Archives proudly pronounced, “Flair has every automatic feature you’ve ever wanted!”
First, the Cranbrook connection: Many aspects of the oven, including the mechanics of the lifting oven doors, were designed by M. Jayne van Alstyne. Van Alstyne, whose papers are held in Cranbrook Archives, studied ceramics at Cranbrook Academy of Art in 1941 and 1942 before going on to study industrial design at Pratt Institute and Alfred University in New York. From 1955 to 1969, she worked for General Motors, first with GM Frigidaire and later as one of Harley Earl’s “Damsels of Design” in the automotive division.
As Studio Head for GM Frigidaire, she led the research and development of appliances and oversaw product exhibitions, including the “Ideas for Living” show where the Flair debuted in 1960. Her signature oven and range (as well as many other modern electric appliances detailed in the dedication booklet) was installed at Edison House in 1966.
Second, the magical connection: From 1964 to 1972, Actress Elizabeth Montgomery starred in the television sitcom, Bewitched. It told the story of Samantha, a witch, who marries a mortal, Darrin Stephens (Dick York). Samantha agrees to live the life of an ordinary housewife. Of course, things don’t go as planned and hilarity ensues. In their kitchen, the Stephens had a Frigidaire Flair, which appeared in a number of episodes.
Anyone who sees the Flair in Edison House will agree it is a marvel of design. While they won’t be whipping up lunch on the appliance, I hope the kids taking classes in the house will take a moment appreciate it. As Frigidaire promised in 1962, the Flair is “The happiest thing that ever happened to cooking… OR YOU!”
– Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research