The Art and Architecture of Christ Church Cranbrook

Inspired by a previous Cranbrook Kitchen Sink blog on the embroidery in St. Dunstan’s Chapel, Curator Kevin Adkisson gave a virtual tour of Christ Church Cranbrook, part of the Center’s award-winning “Live at Five” series, on Wednesday, September 1, 2021. It was too great not to share with our Cranbrook Kitchen Sink followers as well.

Check out these other blogs about Christ Church Cranbrook:

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

Photo Friday: Nash-Healy Pinin Farina

In honor of the Woodward Dream Cruise, happening in front of Cranbrook’s Woodward Entrance as I write, I thought we’d look back at this fabulous photograph of an unknown woman and a beautiful 1950s Nash Pininfarina parked in front of Cranbrook School for Boys’ study hall. This photograph is part of Cranbrook Archives’ Floyd Bunt Papers.

Nash-Healy Pinin Farina parked next to Cranbrook School for Boys, ca. 1956. New Center Photographic, Inc., photographer. Cranbrook Archives.

Toronto-native Floyd Bunt joined the faculty of Cranbrook School in 1944 and taught Chemistry and Engineer Science. He also was the faculty advisor for the Rifle Club and taught auto mechanics classes to the boys, quite possibly using this Nash-Healy Pinin Farina. He eventually served as chairman of the Science Department at Cranbrook from 1964 to 1969.

The Nash-Healy is a two-seat luxury sports car, made between 1951 to 1954. It was one of the first sports car sold in America after World War Two, launched two years before the Corvette. The 1951 models were built in Britain, and the redesigned 1952 through 1954 models built in Turin, Italy by Pinin Farina. There were only 506 of this chic little cars made, and it looks like our photo shows a 1953 roadster. I do wonder who owned it, and why this photo was taken!

Perhaps you’ll be venturing out to Woodward Avenue this weekend for the Dream Cruise. I’ve been enjoying the historic cars that are already cruising; perhaps there’s even a Nash-Healy Pinin Farina out there! Send us a picture if you see one!

Kevin Adkisson, Associate Curator, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

Where in the World is Academy Graduation?

Today was a very exciting day at Cranbrook, with the Academy of Art Commencement taking place underneath a bright blue sky at Thompson Oval. Sixty-four students (now alumni!) were awarded their degrees. Artis Lane received an Honorary Master of Fine Arts and delivered an inspiring speech (on her 94th birthday, no less!), while Allie McGhee delivered a wonderful commencement address.

Susan Ewing, Director, speaking at the Cranbrook Academy of Art Class of 2021 Commencement, May 14, 2021 on the Thompson Oval at Cranbrook School. Photograph by Katie McGowan, CAA Photography ’22, Courtesy Cranbrook Academy of Art.

But as I sat in the newly restored bleachers of the Cranbrook School football stadium, I wondered: was this the first time the Academy’s commencement took place here, at the Thompson Oval?

A quick search in Archives revealed that, yes, it seemed to be. However, the same search revealed that graduation has taken place all around campus over the years.

The Academy dates back to 1932, but it first granted degrees in 1942. This was the same time Cranbrook Art Museum and Library opened. Early commencements took place in the Museum galleries, and, at least in the earliest years, the faculty and staff wore academic regalia.

Eliel Saarinen, President, confers degrees during the Cranbrook Academy of Art Class of 1943 Commencement, May 1943 at Cranbrook Art Museum. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Other early commencement ceremonies took place in the Academy’s Library next door. The reading room tables and chairs were replaced with rows of seating for students and guests. By 1945, it appears academic regalia had been abandoned.

A rather sleepy Zoltan Sepeshy, Director, at Cranbrook Academy of Art Class of 1945 Commencement, May 26, 1945 in Cranbrook Academy of Art Library. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

By midcentury, as the student body expanded, commencement moved to the Greek Theatre. This remained the location for many decades, and likely where commencement will return in a post-pandemic future.

Roy Slade, President, presides over a Cranbrook Academy of Art Commencement in the early 1990s at the Greek Theatre. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

And of course, what do you need if you’re planning an outdoor event in May in Michigan? A rain plan! Christ Church Cranbrook serves as the inclement weather site of commencement, as seen here in 2015.

Cranbrook Academy of Art Class of 2015 Commencement, May 8, 2015 at Christ Church Cranbrook. Photograph by Chris Schneider, Courtesy Cranbrook Academy of Art.

Fast forward to 2020, where commencement existed only in the virtual sphere: on Zoom. Not quite an architecturally interesting locale!

Susan Ewing, Director, presides over the Cranbrook Academy of Art Class of 2020 Commencement, May 8, 2020, on Zoom. Available here.

And then, today, commencement moved to the football field. It was a sunny day with perfect weather and high spirits as the community gathered, safely and in person, to celebrate the achievements of the Academy students.

Cranbrook Academy of Art Class of 2021 Commencement, May 14, 2021 on the Thompson Oval at Cranbrook School. Photograph by Kevin Adkisson.

Now, scroll back up and notice one thing that stayed the same across the years: the Academy Flag! It was behind President Eliel Saarinen in 1943, and behind Director Susan Ewing today.

Today’s ceremony will be uploaded to the Academy’s Vimeo page soon. Meanwhile, there are still a few days left to see the Class of 2021 Graduate Degree Exhibition at Cranbrook Art Museum, which closes on Sunday, May 16, and you can also see the (coronavirus delayed) Class of 2020 Graduate Degree Exhibition at Wasserman Projects in Detroit through June 19, 2021.

Congratulations from the Center to the Cranbrook Academy of Art Class of 2021!

Kevin Adkisson, Associate Curator, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

Photo Friday: A Working Honeymoon?!

From left: Lars Eriksson, Florence Knoll, Hans Knoll, Tom Bjorklund, and Elias Svedberg, 1946. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

This photo was taken sometime in August or September 1946 during Florence and Hans Knolls’ honeymoon to Sweden. The newlyweds, who met in New York where Florence was an architect and Hans ran his eponymous furniture company, traveled throughout Sweden on a “working honeymoon.”

The Knolls were there to make arrangements and agreements with Nordiska Kompaniet (NK, or The Nordic Company), a large Stockholm-based department store, and other companies to import Swedish furniture and textiles into the United States.

Florence “Shu” Knoll, née Schust, (1917-2019) is, of course, one of Cranbrook’s most distinguished alumna (Kingswood School Cranbrook 1934, Cranbrook Academy of Art student 1934-1937, 1939), and Hans Knoll (1914-1955) was the son of a German furniture maker associated with the Bauhaus. While we couldn’t find much information on the Swedes the Knolls are pictured with here, Elias Svedberg (1913-1987), on the far right, was an architect and designer with a long career at NK, starting in the mid-1940s. His midcentury modern Swedish furniture certainly would have appealed to the fashionable and modern Knolls!

This week at the Center, we’ve had Knoll (the company) on our mind since Monday’s important announcement of the merger of Knoll, Inc. and Herman Miller, Inc. into one company; we’ve also had Sweden on our mind as we gear up for our grand Swedish-themed fundraiser coming up on May 22, 2021:  A Global House Party at Cranbrook and Millesgården. Of course, there’s a photo in Cranbrook Archives for every occasion!

Leslie Mio, Associate Registrar, and Kevin Adkisson, Associate Curator, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

PS: Don’t forget to purchase your tickets to House Party today so you don’t miss out on our special Carl Milles film premiere!

Photo Friday: Weaving an Artist’s Tale

Loja Saarinen showing Eliel a cartoon of their hanging, The Sermon on the Mount, April 1941. Photograph by Betty Truxell. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research. 

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:

Studio Loja Saarinen Showroom, September 13, 1933. Photograph attributed to Richard Askew. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research. 

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.

While you can see a complete directory of Historic Artists’ Homes and Studios sites on the program’s website or in their guidebook (Saarinen House will be in the second edition, eventually!), you’re also invited to hear about the program from its founding director, Valerie Balint, in a special talk coming up next month. Sign up now for the Center’s next event, Genius Loci: A Tour of America’s Historic Artists’ Homes and Studios on Sunday, March 14th, 2021, at 3:00pm ET. You won’t want to miss Valerie’s presentation of the program, overview of its member sites, and discussion about why (Loja) Saarinen House is the perfect addition to this special group.

Kevin Adkisson, Associate Curator, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

Le Corbusier Comes to Cranbrook

On November 21, 1935, celebrated French architect Le Corbusier arrived in Detroit and promptly demanded to be taken to Henry Ford’s River Rouge Complex. That one of the world’s leading modernist architects wanted to visit Ford’s factory shouldn’t have been too surprising, as for the previous two decades Le Corbusier—born Charles-Édouard Jeanneret—had been advocating for a revolution in architecture like Ford’s revolution in transportation.

In his groundbreaking 1923 book, Toward an Architecture (or, as it was titled in its first English translations, Towards a New Architecture,) Le Corbusier made the famous claim, “A house is a machine for living in.” As he believed, “Machines will lead to a new order both of work and of leisure.”

Le Corbusier told reporter Florence Davies of the Detroit News that “Detroit is the logical city for the production of the houses of tomorrow, the pre-fabricated efficient mass-production house.” He went on to claim that it would be automobile manufacturers, not architects, who would “undertake the production of the homes of tomorrow” because they understood the problems of mass production.

But while Ford may have attracted Le Corbusier to visit Detroit during the his one and only trip to America, it was Cranbrook Academy of Art and its president Eliel Saarinen that played host to the great architect.

Le Corbusier, with pipe, and Eliel Saarinen at Cranbrook, November 1935. Richard G. Askew, photographer. Cranbrook Archives.

After seeing the Ford complex and a making a few stops downtown, Le Corbusier wound his way up to Bloomfield Hills. On display in the Cranbrook Pavilion (now St. Dunstan’s Theater) were twenty-four enlarged photographs, a selection of movies, fourteen building and city plans, and a single model documenting his work. These items were part of a small show on the architect open from November 19 to November 22. But the main event was Le Corbusier’s lecture at 8:00pm on November 21, 1935.

Delivered in French and translated by his American associate Robert Jacobs, Le Corbusier enthralled an at-capacity audience with his theories of architecture. He spoke of his work in Europe, including the recently completed Villa Savoye in Poissy. The focus, however, were his theories of city planning and mechanization. Le Corbusier used a sheet of tracing paper some 8- to 12-feet-long and pinned along the wall to execute large, colorful pastel sketches that illustrated his ideas of architecture and planning. This drawing was saved by the Academy, though it has since, sadly, been lost.

Installation view of Modern Architecture:
International Exhibition
at the Museum of Modern Art with Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye at center and in photographs on left, February 9–March 23, 1932. While no photographs of Le Corbusier’s lecture or exhibition at Cranbrook survive, it was likely similar to this installation. MoMA Archives.

Le Corbusier lectured throughout most of his career as an architect. As he told an interviewer in 1951:

I never prepare my lectures…Improvisation is a wonderful thing: I draw, and when you draw and speak at the same time, you create something new. And all my theory—my introspection and retrospection on the phenomenon of architecture and urbanism—derives from my improvisation and drawings during these lectures.

After the Cranbrook lecture, Le Corbusier was the guest of the Academy of Art’s Executive Secretary Richard Raseman and Instructor in Interior Design Rachel DeWolfe Raseman. The couple had both studied architecture at Cornell (Rachel Raseman was Cornell’s first woman architecture graduate) and resided at Academy Residence #3 across Academy Way from Saarinen House. In the morning, Le Corbusier continued by train to the next stop on his cross-country journey.

As the Detroit Free Press reported November 22, “With a few deft strokes Thursday, Le Corbusier, the famous French modernist-architect…sketched the vision that he sees through what is perhaps the most ponderous pair of eyeglasses ever fabricated.”

Le Corbusier in his famous eyeglasses at Cranbrook, November 1935. Richard G. Askew, photographer. Cranbrook Archives.

Alongside an earlier lecture in April 1935 by Frank Lloyd Wright, the visit to Cranbrook by Le Corbusier was one of the highlights of the Academy’s first decade. Reflecting in his Annual Report to the Cranbrook Foundation, Richard Raseman wrote that:

The Le Corbusier lecture, although delivered in French, was a good show, and as he is a world figure we were well satisfied…the public must have agreed with us as these lectures [by Wright and Le Corbusier] were by far the best attended of any of our functions…men of this caliber are rare indeed.

To learn more about Le Corbusier and his visit to Cranbrook, sign up for the Center’s History of American Architecture: Cranbrook Visitors Lecture Series! For the next five weeks, I will be discussing visitors, like Le Corbusier, who have lectured at Cranbrook since the Academy opened in 1932. From Le Corbusier, Wright, and Alvar Aalto in the 1930s through to Jeanne Gang, Greg Pasquarelli, and David Adjaye in the 2010s, I will tell the story of American design through architects who’ve spoken at Cranbrook. Learn more and sign up on our website. “See” you Monday at 11:00am or 7:00pm EST for our first virtual lecture!

Kevin Adkisson, Associate Curator, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

Photo Friday: Cranbrook House, 1909

As the temperature dips and the days get shorter, it sure would be nice to end the week reading a book next to a roaring fire. The Booths likely had the same idea their second winter at Cranbrook House, where they could have curled up by the fire…on their new polar bear rug!?

Cranbrook House Living Room, ca. 1909, with one incredible rug. Photo from the collection of Carol Booth. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives, CCCR. Copyright Cranbrook Educational Community.

Elsewhere in the cozy Living Room of 1909, we see objects that are still in Cranbrook House today: the Ships at Sea painting by Robert Hopkin; the bust of Edgar Allen Poe (1898) by George Julian Zolnay; and even the mahogany desk chair, by W. & J. Sloane Company. Some objects are no longer at Cranbrook—the registrar and I can’t quite match the rocking chair, that exact easy chair, the lamp, or the candlesticks to things in the collection. The painting above the fireplace, The Penitent Magdalene after Carlo Dolci, is also no longer here in the house.

Where did these things go? Well, George and Ellen Booth lived in this house for another forty years after this photo was taken! They constantly added to, gifted away, and sold pieces from the collection.

But not everything in this photograph that left the house went entirely off campus. You may notice one piece on the mantle: Recumbent Lioness by Eli Harvey. Booth purchased this sculpture in 1909 from Tiffany & Company in New York. In the 1930s, he gave this lioness to the new Cranbrook Art Museum, where it was assigned the first accession number in the collection: 1909.1. (It’s not actually on campus at the moment: it’s currently on display in Switzerland!)

Recumbent Lioness, Eli Harvey (born 1860, Ogden, Ohio; died 1957, Alhambra, California). Foundry: Pompeian Bronze Works, New York. Bronze; 7.5 x 5 x 21.5 inches. Gift of George Gough Booth and Ellen Scripps Booth, CAM 1909.1. Photograph by R. H. Hensleigh and Tim Thayer. Courtesy of Cranbrook Art Museum.

Using photographs like the one from 1909, as well as diary entries, books, and other records in Cranbrook Archives, I’ve spent the past week re-arranging Cranbrook House’s first floor back to this early aesthetic. On Sunday, the Center is partnering with Cranbrook House & Gardens Auxiliary to present a very special virtual tour: Home for the Holidays at Cranbrook House. I’ll be your host and guide, and will be joined (virtually) by volunteers from the Auxiliary to help share stories from holidays past. I think you’ll really enjoy this tour—there are lots of beautiful things I’ve placed back on display, and we are all very excited to share them with you!

Kevin Adkisson, Associate Curator, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

PS: You’ll need to join our tour Sunday to see if the polar bear rug has made a reappearance!

A Fireplace’s Journey

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.

Eliel Saarinen’s 1929 fireplace, manufactured by Pewabic Pottery, installed in Saarinen House. James Haefner, photographer, 2015. Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

The Saarinen’s didn’t pick up the fireplace in The Met gift shop. Instead, it was designed and manufactured here in Michigan for a 1929 exhibition at the august New York museum: The Architect and the Industrial Arts—An Exhibition of Contemporary American Design. Under the direction of the Metropolitan’s Associate in Industrial Arts Richard F. Bach, Eliel Saarinen served as the principal designer for the exhibition.

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.

Entrance to The Architect & the Industrial Arts exhibition designed by Joseph Urban. Exhibition poster by W. A. Dwiggins. Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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.

Dining Room designed by Eliel Saarinen, featuring the fireplace produced by Pewabic Pottery, for The Architect and the Industrial Arts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, February-November 1929. Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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 Baptistry and 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 1929 ceramic fireplace and bronze andirons in Saarinen House, installed in 1930. PD Rearick, photographer, 2016. Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

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.

Detail of the Saarinen-designed fireplace, manufactured by Pewabic Pottery, 1929. PD Rearick, photographer, 2016. Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

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.

Detail of the L-shaped corner tiles with square depressions on the Saarinen-designed fireplace, manufactured by Pewabic Pottery, 1929. Kevin Adkisson, photographer, 2020. Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

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.

Detail of the Saarinen-designed fireplace showing all six of the front-facing tile shapes. Tiles manufactured by Pewabic Pottery, 1929. Kevin Adkisson, photographer, 2020. Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

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.”

The Saarinen fireplace installed at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1929 (left), and at Saarinen House at Cranbrook in 1931 (right). Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

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!

Fifty Years of Cranbrook Schools

Happy Fiftieth Anniversary, Cranbrook Schools!

But wait. Weren’t the schools opened in the 1920s and 1930s? If the Golden Anniversary milestone seems a little off to you, well, let me explain. 2020 does not mark the anniversary of the individual schools themselves—Brookside was established in 1922, Cranbrook School for Boys in 1927, and Kingswood School in 1931—but for the single entity, Cranbrook Schools.

Newly minted Cranbrook Schools students gather around a Dodge Charger, ca. 1972. Cranbrook Archives.

When the three schools were established by George and Ellen Booth, they were independent institutions loosely united by a shared estate and under the umbrella of the Cranbrook Foundation. But by and large, they were three distinct schools with three distinct heads, three distinct boards, and three distinct staffs.

In 1967, the Cranbrook Foundation centralized management of the three schools’ non-academic functions under the new Cranbrook Business Office. Each school head and the executive director of the Business Office met monthly to discuss mutual problems. New committees and professional staff began to work collaboratively between all three schools.

However, as reported in the Cranbrook Magazine (Summer 1970), this loose connection wasn’t much of an improvement from the old, independent model. There was a feeling that there was still too much redundancy, too little long-term financial planning, and too much untapped potential between Brookside, Cranbrook, and Kingswood.

In the twelve years before 1970, multiple solutions to what was, at its heart, an organizational problem had been put forward. Ultimately, the New York City-based management consultant firm of Heald, Hobson and Associates, Incorporated helped the Cranbrook Foundation develop the winning solution in late 1969: one Cranbrook Schools.

By the summer of 1970, the reorganization was complete. A single Board of Trustees replaced three separate boards and directors. The new board was responsible for the management of the properties and affairs, both academic and non-academic, of Brookside, Cranbrook, and Kingswood.

When students and staff returned in the fall of 1970, they were attending, for the first time, Cranbrook Schools. But very little of the student experience had changed. For instance, the upper school would not be made coeducational until 1985. Yet there was still worry about what this new “Cranbrook Schools” meant for the identity of three proud institutions.

The reorganization created the position of President of Cranbrook Schools. What was the president going to do? Who would fill this new, ambiguous but ambitious administrative role? Following a nationwide search by the new Board of Trustees, who narrowed down hundreds of applicants to thirty-two candidates, on July 1, 1971 Arthur H. Kiendl was installed as Cranbrook Schools President.

Arthur Kiendal, ca. 1970. Photographer: Benyas-Kaufman. Cranbrook Archives.

Art Kiendl (pronounced “Kendall”) came to Cranbrook Schools from the all-boys Mount Hermon School in Gill, Massachusetts, where, as headmaster, he coordinated its merger with the nearby girls school, Northfield. Prior to Mount Herman, Kiendl served as dean of students at the University of Colorado (1958-1963) and as an administrator and dean at Dartmouth College (1948-1958). He earned his bachelor’s degree from Dartmouth and a master’s in education administration from Columbia University.

On his installation, the heads and faculty of the new Cranbrook Schools gathered in the Cranbrook House Library. Kiendl told those gathered, “I think the whole concept is that the schools will merge in the sense of common purpose without loss of identity. They merge for strength and efficiency.” As he eloquently explained to his nervous audience,

I have lived through mergers, I know they are painful, I know they are traumatic, and I know that ultimately they are very exciting. We come together as a federation to be an exciting beacon, because such a beacon is needed, a beacon that believes in such things as humility, trust, honor, and humor for the freedom of the human spirit [. . .]

I hope I can leave you with a sense of rededication in the excitement that George and Ellen both brought to this place; the excitement that we can so trust each other that it can be said of us in the future, ‘they are not only people who dared and cared, but, you know, they loved each other.’

Interestingly, when Cranbrook Magazine reported on the union of the schools in 1970 it was careful to point out that “the reorganization program as evolved combines the strengths of three closely allied organizations. Yet it does not attempt to integrate dissimilar operations (the Institute of Science, Academy of Art, and Christ Church Cranbrook) into one large complex.” Those connections were still managed by the Foundation and the Business Office—until 1973, when, sans church, we became Cranbrook Educational Community. Kiendl was elected as the Community’s first president, a position he held until December 1978.

So, is it a little bit weedy to celebrate fifty years of Cranbrook Schools? Probably. Would it confuse our students and parents to launch a 50th birthday party now, when there’s already chatter about the 100th coming up? Maybe, but who doesn’t love an anniversary, even if it does take an asterisk and a seven-hundred-word blog post to explain!

Kevin Adkisson, Associate Curator, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

Eds. Note: Speaking of 50th anniversaries! This Sunday, the Center is joining in a national celebration with Docomomo, a modernist architecture preservation organization, to mark “the ’70s turn 50.” Head to our website for tickets, and join us (via Zoom) at 4:00pm for a very groovy virtual tour of the Smith House and Bowlero lanes!

Photo Friday: Foaming Friendship

Prefects scrubbing the Gateway of Friendship plaque, Cranbrook School for Boys. September 18, 1944. Cranbrook Archives.

In the early 1940s, Cranbrook School students Pete Wilson and Tom Tyree wrote a modest suggestion in their “Cranium” column in The Crane student newspaper. The young men, both from the Class of 1943, suggested that students:

…refrain from walking on the plaque in the center of the gateway. It is inscribed “Gateway of Friendship” and it was pointed out that usually we do what we can to strengthen and propagate our friendships rather than trampling on them. The Crane feels this is a good point and a good example of a custom we might start.

The tradition stuck, and today students resist walking over the octagonal “Gateway of Friendship” plaque. One tradition that hasn’t stuck around, unfortunately: the annual scrubbing of the plaque!

Prefects scrubbing the Gateway of Friendship plaque, Cranbrook School for Boys. September 1953. Cranbrook Archives.

Meant to symbolize the importance of friendship among the Cranbrook community, Cranbrook School for Boys Prefects would clean the plaque at the start of each school year. It’s not clear, looking at the photographs, how clean they got the stone compared to how wet and soapy they got themselves, but it was an important symbolic gesture. In caring for the stone, the boys were demonstrating the spirit of the quotes carved into the archway. One, from James Fenimore Cooper, seems especially relevant:

Friendship that flows from the heart cannot be frozen by adversity as the water that flows from the spring cannot congeal in winter.

While the cleaning ceremony was described as a “sacred rite” in 1976 by Bruce Coulter in his history of the School, Forty Years On, I am not sure when or why the tradition stopped.

Gateway of Friendship plaque, unscrubbed. September 2020. Design attributed to Eliel Saarinen, ca. 1927-1928. Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

Cranbrook Schools students returned to class this past Monday for a school year like no other, donning masks and sitting at desks spread six feet apart. Instead of scrubbing the plaque, the most important thing students can wash this year is their hands! Maybe the tradition will return for 2021?

Kevin Adkisson, Associate Curator, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

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