Ms. Rice warned me that the first week of my Senior May Project would be hectic and slightly crazy, and it definitely was, but in the best possible way! Being a lifer at Cranbrook, I have learned a lot about our amazing campus over the years, but nothing could have prepared me for the intensely interesting and extremely entertaining Senior May opportunity I have encountered at the Center for Collections and Research.
I joined the department in the week prior to A House Party, the Center’s annual fundraiser, this year honoring Loja Saarinen. Within minutes I was fully immersed into the event preparation. From unboxing the beautifully printed mugs to sitting in on engaging interviews, I was able to experience and assist in a variety of tasks that made me feel like I was actually contributing, even though my contribution was likely quite small in the grand scheme of things.
One moment I will never forget was driving Susan Saarinen back to her hotel, after her interview for the film, and seeing an actual dress created by her cherished grandmother Loja. Where else in the world would I ever get to experience something like this?
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
In Part I of this post, we explored Cranbrook’s love of the book, from its origins with founders George and Ellen Booth, to the existing special collections at the Archives and Academy of Art. I invite you now to learn of the many rare, valuable, and historical tomes whose existence may be unknown to most or simply overlooked in collections at the Schools, Institute of Science, and two historic homes cared for by the Center for Collections and Research: Saarinen House and Smith House.
Like the Academy of Art, although not at all on the same scale, books from George and Ellen’s Cranbrook House Library were dispersed to the Cranbrook Schools Libraries, now comprised of five separate spaces. Following the Booth’s example, Cranbrook School Headmaster Harry D. Hoey (1950-1964) and Latin teacher George Patch (1928-1944, Emeritus 1944-1950) donated 120 books from their personal libraries to the School’s library in the 1950s, forming one of several special collections. Known as the Hoey Patch Collection, all of the volumes focus on an aspect of Abraham Lincoln or the American Civil War.
Highlights include a First edition of The Life of Abraham Lincoln, the first full-scale biography of the President. Written by newspaper editor J.G. Holland, it was published shortly after Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. Also included is a first edition, two-volume set of the Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant. Ulysses S. Grant penned his autobiography shortly before his death in 1885 as a means of financial support for his family. It was published with the support of his friend Mark Twain by the Charles L. Webster Company (owned by Twain’s nephew).
Across Cranbrook’s campus are eleven different spaces, including the Archives, that house book collections – some 110,000 physical items. Several of these spaces are typical school or academic research libraries, where students, faculty, and staff can check out the majority of these books. As a library and information science professional, I champion the importance of these lending libraries and the egalitarian access to information they provide.
In this post, however, I’d like to focus on Cranbrook’s non-circulating book collections – those rare, historic, or valuable tomes that, in many cases, hide in plain sight in public areas. With help from colleagues at the Academy of Art, Schools, Institute of Science, and Center for Collections and Research, I’ll highlight some of these gems that promise to delight the bibliophile, art appreciator, historian, or simply the Cranbrook curious.
Cranbrook’s special book collections are carefully preserved as both informational and evidential artifacts, and many are housed within cultural heritage areas. Valued not only for research purposes, they also serve as historical objects which help individually or collectively to tell the Cranbrook story.
The origin of book collecting at Cranbrook actually predates any of the current collection spaces and begins with Cranbrook founders George and Ellen Booth. George, in particular, was an enthusiastic collector, and started acquiring volumes in 1900, commissioning purchases of William Morris works and other fine books in London. As George explained, “I am not a millionaire and cannot pay the big prices now prevailing in New York.” His strategy allowed him to accumulate 1,000 books by 1916, effectively seeding the Cranbrook House Library Collection when construction of the library wing was completed four years later.
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.
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.)
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.
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)
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
Not once, but twice, Cranbrook has pulled out the figurative red carpet and with appropriate fanfare welcomed Swedish royalty to its campus. Anyone who knows and loves Cranbrook might not be all that surprised by this revelation. After all, Cranbrook is a very special place—the home of dozens of sculptures by Sweden’s celebrated sculptor Carl Milles, who lived and worked at Cranbrook for twenty years, as well as many tapestries woven by Loja Saarinen’s renowned Swedish weavers. But the larger Detroit community has also boasted a significant Swedish cultural presence.
While most Michiganders might be familiar with the role that Swedish immigrantsplayed in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula mining and lumber industries, Swedes also played major roles in Detroit’s development, from the auto industry to the fine and performing arts. Not least of all were the contributions made by Milles, including his sculpture The Hand of God, which has stood in front of the city’s Frank Murphy Hall of Justice since 1970. The founding in 1963 of the Detroit Swedish Councilby Charles J. Koebel (who, decades earlier, had commissioned Eliel Saarinen to design his family home in Grosse Pointe Farms), saw a concerted effort to promote Swedish culture in the area. It was likely the unique combination of Cranbrook’s artistic works and Detroit’s vibrant Swedish community that attracted visits from Sweden’s royal family on two separate occasions.
So it was that on October 26, 1972, Princess Christina of Sweden set foot on Cranbrook grounds as part of her two-week tour of the States. And sixteen years later, her brother and his wife, King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia, followed suit on April 18, 1988. Both visits focused largely on Carl Milles’ Cranbrook legacy, directly involved the Academy of Art and Art Museum, and were the result of collaborations between Cranbrook and the Detroit Swedish Council. Yet each visit had its own unique activities and sense of purpose.
In this iconic Cranbrook image, we see our two heroes, Eliel and Loja Saarinen, posed before a cartoon (or drawing on paper) of their Sermon on the Mount weaving. This image was taken in the studio of Saarinen House on Cranbrook’s Academy Way. I’ve always liked the commanding pose of Loja as she confidently points out a detail within the cartoon to her husband. Her beautifully curled hair, dress with piped detailing, likely of her own design and making, and practical dark lace-ups show a woman with an eye for detail and style who’s also ready to work. Eliel, nattily dressed, looks admiringly on. Both stand in anticipation of this paper drawing’s impending conversion by the weavers of Studio Loja Saarinen into a monumental hanging of wool and linen.
Almost eighty years after this staged photograph was taken by photojournalist Betty Truxell, Loja and Eliel Saarinen and their studio are again in the news. On February 10, 2021, the National Trust for Historic Preservation added Saarinen House, along with three other sites, to its prestigious Historic Artists’ Homes and Studios (HAHS) program. Forty-eight sites form this national coalition of independent museums, including the homes and studios of Georgia O’Keefe, Winslow Homer, Frederic Church, Donald Judd, Daniel Chester French, Edward Hopper, Thomas Cole, and other canonical American artists. We are thrilled to be a part of this august group.
While Saarinen House is often identified with architect Eliel Saarinen, our site’s recent acceptance into the HAHS network celebrates the life and career of weaver, designer, and entrepreneur Loja Saarinen. This makes sense, both because the Historic Artists‘ Homes and Studios program is focused on artists (not architects), and because Loja Saarinen is a force of design talent all her own. It’s high time she gets her national spotlight!
I’ve always enjoyed comparing the photograph above to a study for one of Eliel and Loja’s great collaborations, the Festival of the May Queen Tapestry, hanging at Kingswood. In this weaving sample, we see another woman with the same grace, strength, style, and dark lace-ups as Loja Saarinen:
It’s in this picture that we see the beauty and variety of products from Loja’s commercial weaving enterprise: rugs, upholstery, drapes, tapestry hangings, pillows and poofs. And although the ‘pillow’ at right is actually the Saarinen House bathmat, styled as a pillow for this photoshoot, we get a sense of the design and quality of work for which Studio Loja Saarinen was known. It is a well-deserved honor that her home and studio now join the sites of other great American creatives in the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s HAHS program.
On a visit to Cranbrook House, Johannes Kirchmayer’s overmantel is one of the first things to catch your attention. Tours and blog posts have examined this chef d’œuvre and its iconography, and admirers tracing the quotation popping out from the carved eglantine find it a typical George Booth choice: art, nature, his love for both. The inscription reads:
“Nature I loved and next to nature art”
Cranbrook is the Booths’ creation, brimming with art and nature and George Booth quotes, but who wrote this line, and how did it end up in such a prominent spot?
It comes from the pen of Walter Savage Landor.
Born into minor aristocratic wealth in Warwick, England, in 1775, Landor was a wild child, quite possibly because he was sent away to school at 4 ½ years old and was a wonderment to his parents who didn’t know what to do with a child who wrote Latin as well as he wrote English and showed remarkable talent for not obeying rules of any kind.
Landor enjoyed such violent fights over political opinion that his parents banned him from the dinner table when guests were present. No school could hang onto him. Even Trinity College, Oxford had enough of his rebelliousness, his anti-government stance, his French Revolution republican garb. Landor fought back by writing nasty aphoristic poems about his critics in Latin and English, a practice he continued throughout his life. He was particularly vicious in Latin, partly because in England libel laws did not extend to texts in Latin. He was very clever and iconoclastic, favoring social reform and liberal nationalism. He felt himself superior to others and hated competition just in case it might prove him wrong. Hence his epigram, if not epitaph, written on his 74th birthday in 1849:
I strove with none, for none was worth my strife:
Nature I loved, and, next to Nature, Art:
I warmed both hands before the fire of life;
It sinks; and I am ready to depart.
He may have been ready to depart, but it would be another fifteen years before he got around to it.
Much earlier, in 1805, Landor inherited a huge amount of money from his father and determined to set up an estate in Wales, restore an abandoned priory on the property, build a large mansion, and reform the peasantry. Impetuous as ever, he flew off to Spain in 1808 to fight in the Peninsular War against Napoleon’s generals, raising his own regiment. Unfortunately, Landor couldn’t stop himself from quarreling with hosts, commanding officers, and his own troops whereupon he fled back to Wales to find building materials for his hoped-for mansion had trickled away much as had his regiment.
Here we enter into the realm of coincidence. Landor, an Englishman, building in Wales, found upon his return from Spain that the locals had run off with a lot of his bricks. In an 1809 letter to the local bishop, Landor cursed the Welsh in his inimitable manner insisting that they would demolish the tomb of famed poet Taliesin if they could get away with it. For those readers who are architecture buffs, the name Taliesin can only conjure up one image, not that of the 5th or 6th century Welsh bard, but that of Welsh-connected Frank Lloyd Wright who thus named his east and west architectural compounds, citing the translation as “shining brow.”
But, back to Landor. Once restored to the throne, the king of Spain sent Landor a flock of sheep in recognition for his services. When the sheep arrived at the English docks, they were assumed to be a gift for the king (George III), and try as he might, Landor could not get them back, and one couldn’t sue the king. He had to wait until George IV died before publishing his opinion, one of his most famous attacks:
George the First was always reckoned
Vile, but viler George the Second.
And what mortal ever heard
A good word of George the Third,
But when from earth the Fourth descended
God be praised the Georges ended.
Alas, even though Landor was able to persuade a lovely young woman, 16 years his junior, to marry him in 1811, all was not well. Quarrelsome as always and with no business sense, Landor fled again from Wales to Fiesole outside Florence in Italy where he fared slightly better. In spite of money troubles and a wife who loved to taunt him about his age, this was the period of his great creativity, writing the totally invented Imaginary Conversations between two famous historical people. Poets such as Byron and Robert Southey loved his work, Byron even doing Landor the honor of stealing the Greek name chosen for a young Landor love to apply to the principal lady in his Child Harold. Readers struggled through these long obscure works (or didn’t) and praised a beautifully succinct passage or two, and those are the excerpts along with his crusty aphorisms that made him famous.
And here is the second coincidence. The inscription in Cranbrook House inspired this blog on Landor, who deserved some recognition. Yet it was while idling in Saarinen House waiting for a COVID-safe tour for Cranbrook students that I found myself looking at the beauty spots of the house. My eye fell on the table in the book room. Upon it lay a couple of tastefully placed little books from the Saarinen collection. I peered at the spine and saw in gold capitals the name LANDOR. They were volumes one and two of his Conversation Pericles and Aspasia, his best-known conversation, first published 1836. The flyleaf revealed the occasion for a gift to Saarinen upon his 60th birthday in 1933, wishing him a happy life, signed G. G. Booth.
Pericles was the great Athenian general of the 5th century BCE Peloponnesian wars, and Aspasia his female companion. Their conversation by Landor is a series of letters between the lovers and their immediate companions with walk-on roles for Aeschylus, Pindar, Socrates, and Alcibiades.
The language is high-flown and not all that accessible; no wonder Landor is hardly known today.
He continued to quarrel with everyone, finally getting thrown out of his own house in 1835 at age 60 by wife, daughter and one son, and fled Italy after scurrilous Latin verses excited the authorities. Back in England, as irascible as ever, Landor continued to write conversations and poems and found himself the grand old man of letters as his fame grew. Carlyle, Tennyson, Browning, Trollope, and Dickens (Landor appears in Bleak House as Lawrence Boythorn) were admiring dinner companions when Landor wasn’t in too bad a temper.
His last six years were spent back in Italy. He died, escaping as usual, in a hotel in Florence in 1864. The villa was later bought by explorer Willard Fiske and renamed Villa Landor. The villa, altered over the years, is now the Fiesole School of Music, echoing no doubt to the rages and laughter of its most prominent owner. Llanthony Priory continued to decay until protected by the Welsh government cultural group, Cadw.
Even though Landor’s life can hardly have met his approval, it is not surprising, perhaps, that George Booth found a quote from the grand old man of the previous century to adorn his own masterpiece, though one might find the use of the word “strife” ambiguous. Just as well Booth chose only the line that suited his purpose: “Nature I loved, and, next to Nature, Art.” The grand old man has come to rest.
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.
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 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:
One of the most stunning examples of art-in-architecture at Cranbrook is the Pewabic Pottery fireplace in Saarinen House. This massive, shimmering display of handmade ceramic tiles is the focal point of the living room and perfectly completes Saarinen’s vision of the home as a Gesamtkunstwerk, or total work of art.
Yet the fireplace did not start at Cranbrook at all. It has a prestigious provenance one might not expect: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The Met’s 1929 exhibition was a direct response to an earlier show: the 1925 Paris World’s fair, the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes. This fair launched several international design trends that would later be known as the Art Deco style (an abbreviation of the exposition’s name). The United States, however, was not represented in Paris—U.S. Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover declined to participate because, as he (incorrectly) explained, there was no modern art this side of the Atlantic.
But American visitors to the 1925 fair, including Cranbrook founders George and Ellen Booth and the Saarinen family, were transfixed by the new style on display in Paris. The show pushed American designers, museums, department stores, and manufacturers toward a modern aesthetic.
The Architect and the Industrial Arts at the Met was conceived four years later, in part as an American response to the Paris show. It was also intended to further advance an appreciation for modern taste in this country.
For the Met’s exhibition, architects created a series of modern rooms. In addition to Saarinen, leading architects like Raymond Hood, Ely Jacques Kahn, Ralph T. Walker, and Joseph Urban participated. While quite elaborate and sumptuous compared to later iterations of modernism, the 1929 vignettes at the Met helped to educate the public about modern taste and décor. Although one of the goals of the show was to have the objects on display mass produced, the rooms remained luxurious, singular constructions.
Saarinen’s dining room was considered by critics to be one of the most successful. Executed in shades of brown and tan, he created a dignified, formal dining room with furniture and objects of his own design produced by leading American manufacturers. In addition to furniture, silverware, glassware, rug, and lighting by Eliel, a hanging designed by Loja Saarinen (executed at Cranbrook by Studio Loja Saarinen) and wallpaper designed by their daughter Pipsan Saarinen Swanson helped finish the room.
The entire display was anchored by a massive fireplace, consisting of some 500 tiles stretching more than ten feet across the rear wall of the room. Designed by Eliel, this fireplace—which would eventually be installed at Cranbrook—was executed by the Pewabic Pottery in Detroit under the direction of Mary Chase Perry Stratton. Stratton co-founded the pottery in 1903, and by the time Saarinen’s fireplace was produced, she had already completed commissions at Cranbrook including the Rainbow Fountain (1916-1917) and Christ Church Cranbrook Baptistryand floor tiles (1926-1927). The Saarinen commission was unusual for Pewabic in that it was designed by an outside architect and not by Stratton herself.
The pottery described the color of the tiles as “deep raisin” and “silver,” a moderne colorway quite different from the mottled and iridescent glazes Pewabic was known for. Eight different tile molds (or shapes) were used to create the fireplace.
The main surface of the fireplace is created from three tile shapes. The dominant tile is a six-sided polygon in the form of a 7” wide by 2¾” high equilateral triangle with each point cut off. The second shape is one-half of the polygon, used to create the straight vertical edges of the fireplace. Between each polygon is a small rectangle, just ½” by ¾” high, finished in a darker and more iridescent glaze. By laying the tiles in alternating directions, Saarinen created a series of zig-zag grout lines moving rhythmically across the fireplace. This zig-zag was picked up in Pipsan’s wallpaper at the Met, and later, in the Saarinen House furniture.
Two more tile types form a silvery border around the fireplace. Circling the perimeter of the fireplace are darker, almost bronze, iridescent tiles 8½” long by 1¾” high and 1¾” deep. Along the front surface of each tile are eight repeating rectangular depressions.
At each corner of the border sit 3½” L-shaped tiles with three square depressions. These geometric motifs recall the work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh in Glasgow or the Jugendstil designs popularized by designers like Josef Hoffmann. Similar square motifs are seen in the earlier 20th-century work of Saarinen in Finland. This L-shaped tile, with seven finished sides, is used for both the four outermost corners of the fireplace and the four inner corners around the firebox opening.
The plinth of the fireplace is formed from six much larger Pewabic tiles, each 9¾” wide by 7¾” high and 2¾” deep. These tiles display the subtle color range, metallic iridescence, and richness of Stratton’s glaze recipe.
The last tile shapes are the most pragmatic: 7¾” by 3” tiles leading into to the roman brick firebox opening, and 7½” by 2¾” tiles that create a return running perpendicular to the fireplace face. These tiles allows the fireplace to project 5″ from the wall and negate the need of an overhanging mantlepiece.
If The Metropolitan Museum hoped its show would highlight the best of American production, Stratton succeeded in showcasing the power of handmade American ceramics. The entire exhibition turned out to be a blockbuster. Scheduled to be open for just six-weeks, from February 11 to March 24, 1929, its run was extended to September 2, 1929 due to popular demand. In the end some 186,000 visitors saw Saarinen’s dining room and Stratton’s fireplace as part of The Architect and the Industrial Arts, and the show became a defining moment in American Art Deco design.
At the same time as the show was on display in New York, Saarinen was busy back in Michigan developing designs for Kingswood School for Girls and continuing work on the nascent Cranbrook Academy of Art. This included designing his own residence, where Eliel planned to incorporate items from the Met exhibition into the interior.
Sometime between September 1929 and September 1930, the fireplace was dismantled in New York and shipped to Michigan. Like much of the work in the show, the tiles were paid for by the manufacturer, in this case, Mary Chase Perry Stratton and Pewabic Pottery. Instead of keeping or reselling the fireplace, Stratton donated the work to Cranbrook. As Florence Davies reported in The Detroit News at the time of the house’s completion, Stratton gave the tiles to Cranbrook out of an interest in furthering “the modern movement toward the creative design in the field of decorative art in America.”
As installed at Saarinen House, the fireplace is 8” narrower than it was at the Met, or one polygonal tile narrower. Perhaps some of the tiles broke in transit, or Saarinen thought the original size was too large for the wall at Cranbrook? In addition to the fireplace and its bronze peacock andirons, Saarinen repurposed the rug from the Met exhibition in the Saarinen House dining room, and Loja Saarinen’s wall hanging was purchased by Booth for the Kingswood Headmistress’s office.
From New York to Bloomfield Hills, and from museum to private residence and back to a museum, guests continue to admire and appreciate the beauty of this fireplace and the unique collaboration between Saarinen and Stratton.
—Kevin Adkisson, Associate Curator, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research
Eds. Note: This Sunday, we’ll be offering a tour of Mary Chase Perry Stratton’s own house! Located in Grosse Pointe Park, this is the first of our new Virtual Day Away experiences. Join me to explore this incredible house and learn more about Stratton and her Pewabic Pottery. Tickets are on sale now until 1:00pm EST on November 15th. And if you want to see the Saarinen House fireplace in person, you still can: tours of Saarinen House run Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at 3:30pm EST through November 29!