The holiday season is upon us once again, and hopefully you and yours had a wonderful and safe Thanksgiving celebration.
Holiday gatherings were important to Cranbrook founders’ son, Henry Scripps Booth and his wife Carolyn, as evidenced by this card given to Henry by Carolyn in 1971. Although one of few Thanksgiving cards, it is an example of the many greeting cards included in the Henry Scripps and Carolyn Farr Booth Papers. Among those the couple gave to each other are cards which send greetings to family and friends from their home, Thornlea.
As we look forward to the holidays ahead, I leave you with the photo below, showing patriarch Henry Booth at his home, Thornlea, bringing in the turkey for what surely was a fabulous Christmas feast!
Similar items from the Archives will be on display during the Center’s upcoming Behind-The-Scenes-Tour, The Treasures of Thornlea House, taking place next week. As of this writing, a few tickets are still available for Thursday, December 2nd – we hope you can join us!
—Deborah Rice, Head Archivist, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research
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.
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.
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 Craftsin 1920.
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.
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
Did you ever watch the show History Detectives on PBS? I loved the show; it is all about uncovering the story of an object.
As Associate Registrar for the Center, I am working with our Director Gregory Wittkopp and our Associate Curator Kevin Adkisson on an ambitious project. We are 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. How do we do this, when the people who created, collected, or purchased the objects are no longer here? It requires being something of a history detective!
The collection we are currently working on is the Cultural Properties Collection at Thornlea. Thornlea was the home of George and Ellen Booth’s youngest son, Henry Scripps Booth, and his wife, Carolyn Farr Booth, from 1926 to 1988. It is filled with antiques, artwork, furnishings, and personal objects. In Cranbrook Archives, there are multiple helpful records about the home’s collections: insurance inventories, an index card file of objects created and maintained by Henry, and receipts for items purchased.
The one object I wanted to feature today is the unique light fixture over the front door to Thornlea. This custom and distinctive iron and glass fixture is important to the architectural character of the house, but I knew next to nothing about it. It appeared in early images of the house, so I knew it had been a part of the house from the earliest years, perhaps since the house was built.
To learn more about the fixture, I first looked at the insurance inventories and Henry’s index card file. Nothing there.
Next, I looked at the receipts under “Electrical” in the Henry Scripps and Carolyn Farr Booth Papers in Archives. Eureka!
I would like to introduce you to the “guardian angel” of Thornlea, the home of Henry Scripps Booth and Carolyn Farr Booth. She is a flying winged spirit guardian, sometimes called a cradle guardian or spiritchaser, made in Bali, Indonesia.
Spirit guardians have been used in Balinese temples and homes to ward off evil spirits for centuries. Typically, they are hung in a high location, looking down towards a door or window.
Thornlea’s guardian hangs high above the entrance hall to the house, gazing down on all who enter. The guardian is in the form of Dewi Sri, who, in Balinese mythology, is the goddess of rice, fertility, a successful harvest, and family prosperity and harmony.
Archival records point to Henry Scripps Booth purchasing the guardian in San Francisco, not in Bali, between 1978 and 1988 (Ed. note: per HSB’s grandson Charlie’s recollections in the comments below, the guardian was bought about 1984).
In June 2020, our Associate Curator Kevin Adkisson took visitors on a virtual tour of Thornlea House. Here is a clip featuring Dewi Sri:
The next time you visit Thornlea, make sure to look up and say “om swastiastu” to Dewi Sri and ask her for prosperity and harmony for your family!
– Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research
As performance venues prepare to reopen in Michigan today, I thought it timely to take a look at the storied history of a group that’s nearly as old as Cranbrook itself: St. Dunstan’s Theatre Guild of Cranbrook. With ties to Cranbrook’s founding family, staff, and the physical Cranbrook campus, combined with its enduring cultural role in the surrounding community, this nearly ninety-year-old institution has a rich history. Allow me to share with you a few fascinating details from its early years.
“The worst thing about it, it’s named for a saint. But don’t think it’s holy, ‘cause it certainly ain’t.”
Sheldon Noble, an early and active Guild member
The Theatre Guild was indeed named after St. Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury in the ninth century and patron saint of the arts. As St. Dunstan lived in Kent, England, from where Cranbrook founder George Booth’s family hailed, the Guild’s name was fittingly suggested by his son and founding member, Henry Scripps Booth. Shortly after the Guild began in 1932, members were writing and producing their own one-act plays. In an April 1933 letter announcing an informal evening of a “Home Talent programme,” for the 100 Guild members and their guests, Jessie Winter, Guild Secretary and Brookside School Headmistress, implores them to “Be kind, be understanding, be generous . . . give the actors and authors the warm reception which such offerings warrant.” One such author was Henry Scripps Booth. Billed as Thistle, his play, Sedative Bed, was one of four being performed that April 28th evening at Brookside School for just $1. It was the tail end of the Great Depression, after all!
The first public performance of St. Dunstan’s Theatre Guild took place at the Greek Theatre with The King and the Commoner. Taking supporting roles were the likes of Annetta Wonnberger (Cranbrook Summer Theater School), Pipsan Saarinen Swanson (daughter of Cranbrook architect Eliel Saarinen), and Henry Scripps Booth, among others.
The cast and crew of the 1940 production of The Last of Mrs. Cheyney again reads like a who’s who of Cranbrook, including Harry Hoey (Cranbrook School Headmaster), Templin Licklider (Cranbrook School Faculty), Dorothy Sepeshy (wife of Cranbrook Academy of Art President, Zoltan Sepeshy), Rachel Raseman (wife of Richard Raseman, Cranbrook Academy of Art Executive Secretary and Vice President), the aforementioned Annetta Wonnberger, and various members of the Booth Family. Henry Scripps Booth, part of the Guild’s Scenic Design Committee, and his wife Carolyn, the production’s stage manager, created the sets.
Light, temperature, and humidity can all harm a museum’s objects and artifacts. In a previous blog, I talked about what damage light can do and how we are combating that at the Frank Lloyd Wright Smith House. The battle for consistent temperature and humidity in the house is another issue.
In October 2018, we had a Conservation Assessment done at Smith House by ICA – Art Conservation. According to ICA,
Temperature can affect a collection in . . . significant ways. Elevated temperatures have the capacity to increase the rate of deterioration . . . [and] temperature affects relative humidity.
Relative humidity is the ratio of the amount of water vapor in a particular volume of air relative to the maximum amount of water vapor this same volume of air can hold at the same temperature.
As relative humidity fluctuates, the environment and the materials within it will seek equilibrium with one another . . . Within a museum or historic structure, the collection objects and building materials will act like a sponge to these fluctuations, which can cause irreversible mechanical damage.
In the museum community, it is recommended that the relative humidity be kept as stable as possible and the temperature as low as practicable. A relative humidity (RH) range between 55% to 35% is thought to be best for general conditions. However, it is the stability of the relative humidity that is more significant than the actual value. Temperatures below 72˚F and above 32˚F are considered acceptable when the relative humidity is controlled.
So, what was the Center to do? Equipment for monitoring (data loggers) was purchased. We started regular environmental monitoring throughout Smith House. Logs were created to record the environment ranges for temperature and relative humidity for the spaces.
Data loggers are devices equipped with sensors and a microprocessor to monitor and record data such as temperature and relative humidity. We chose Lascar’s EL-USB-2. This standalone data logger measures more than 16,000 readings and features a USB drive so data can be downloaded directly to a computer.
However, it is not always practical to carry a laptop around Smith House to download the data or remove the data loggers to download on my office PC. Instead, I use the EL-DataPad. It allows the configuration and download of temperature and humidity data loggers on the spot.
In the Smith House, the temperature and humidity is recorded every 30 minutes. I log this data and graph it, to see trends or issues in the house.
How will this documentation help conservation of objects in Smith House? The data will be useful for establishing achievable set points and ranges for the house environment. It will also be helpful for writing grants to help fund equipment or materials for further environmental management.
– Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research
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.
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).
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.
In the main hallway of Kingswood and in the living room of Thornlea, there are paintings by artist Myron G. Barlow (1873-1937). I love the look of these paintings and began to wonder about the artist. I’ve come to learn he was an internationally known Detroit-raised painter. As with all things Cranbrook, it seems, there is always a Detroit connection.
Two Women with a Bowl of Flowers on a Table, circa 1912 by Myron G. Barlow.
The Kingswood painting Two Women with a Bowl of Flowers on a Table depicts two peasant girls, one standing and one bending over a bowl of flowers. It was donated to Kingswood around 1970 by Herbert Sott in memory of his wife Mignon Ginsburg Sott, who was Kingswood Class of 1943.
Young Girl Braiding Her Hair, circa 1912 by Myron G. Barlow
The other painting, Young Girl Braiding Her Hair, is of a girl looking in a mirror braiding her hair. It was purchased by James Scripps Booth from the artist in 1912. James attended the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris and in 1911 had studied under Barlow; James’ painting “Onion Gatherer, Cote d’Azure” depicts Barlow’s cottage studio. James gave Young Girl Braiding Her Hair to his parents George and Ellen Booth. It originally hung in Cranbrook House’s main staircase. George and Ellen gifted the painting to Henry and Carolyn Booth, who hung it in their home, Thornlea.
Myron G. Barlow (1873-1937), son of Adolph and Fanny Barlow who were members of Temple Beth-El in Detroit. Courtesy Temple Beth El.
Myron G. Barlow was born in Ionia, Michigan in 1873 and raised in Detroit. As a teenager, he trained at the Detroit Museum School, where he studied under Joseph Gies, and then at the Art Institute of Chicago. He began his career as a newspaper artist. He eventually traveled to Paris and enrolled in the Ecole des Beaux-Arts where studied under Jean-Leon Gerome.
While copying paintings in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, Barlow discovered Johannes Vermeer. As stated in William H. Gerdts’ Masterworks of American Impressionism from the Pfeil Collection, “Like Vermeer, one of Barlow’s favorite artistic themes became the depiction of figures, often female and usually set in an interior; frequently isolated and motionless, surrounded by a dream-like atmosphere rendered in a single, dominant tonality, often blue.”
Barlow in his studio after 1900. Courtesy of Nancy Brett (Barlow’s great-niece) via Temple Beth-El.
Around 1900, Barlow moved to the French village of Trepied. There he transformed a peasant’s house into his studio. He would, however, make frequent trips back to Detroit and kept a home there as well.
He served as the Chairman of the Scarab Club around 1918. According to his Detroit News obituary, “Among his major achievements in Detroit are six large murals which he painted for the main auditorium of Temple Beth-El, which were completed in 1925.”
In 1907, he was the only American elected to the Societe Nationale des Beaux-Arts and in 1932 was made a Knight of the Legion of Honor by the French Government. He was recognized for his work with gold medals at the St. Louis and Panama Pacific Exhibition, and by having his works purchased by many international museums, including the Musée Quentovic in France, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and the Detroit Institute of Arts. The Detroit Cluband the private collection of Baron Edmond de Rothschild also included works by Barlow.
In May 1937, he left Detroit with the intention of selling his studio in France and returning to the city for the remainder of his life. Unfortunately, he died in his home in Trepied that fall.