Does your family have a certain pose that they always do for a family picture? My cousins and I always had to stand or sit by the same log at our cottage each summer to get a group picture. Even when the log had disintegrated, and we were all adults, we still stood in the same spot to take the picture.
The Swedish weavers of Studio Loja Saarinen were the same way. After every rug was completed, they would unroll it behind the studio, lay it on the lawn, and pose at the end. This not only documented their work, but also served as a record of who worked on each piece. In Cranbrook Archives, we have a few examples of these images.
Cranbrook Academy of Art Rug No. 14
This rug lay in the center of the Studio Loja Saarinen Weaving Room. A flatwoven rug with stylized meanders in the border, and an elegant color scheme of dark browns, blues, and beiges, in form, structure, color, and design it shows the contemporary style of Swedish weaving that would become the foundation of Studio Loja Saarinen’s work.
This was one of the first rugs executed under the “Design and Supervision” of Maja Andersson Wirde, who was Loja’s right-hand-woman from 1930 to 1933. The rug is actually a variation of a design Wirde made for the 1925 International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts in Paris (the “Art Deco” World’s Fair).
When Wirde wrote to Cranbrook’s secretary from Sweden before immigrating, she said she would bring along prepared designs and wool and linen yarns to be able to get started right away. She certainly did! Below, you can see Wirde and possibly Lillian Holm and Ruth Ingvarsson holding up the rug behind Studio Loja Saarinen just months after their arrival to Cranbrook.
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
Ruth, a 1946 graduate of Cranbrook Academy of Art’s Design Department, was known for her printed textiles, interior designs, and the store she operated with her husband, Edward, in Detroit from 1948 to the 1977. In Cranbrook Archives, we have the Edward and Ruth Adler Schnee Papers, which includes a wide variety of designs, notes, samples, and PR materials.
As I looked for materials related to Ruth’s work on the General Motors Technical Center—the subject of my lecture Monday—I came across this charming fold-out advertisement from the winter of 1966. Although it has nothing to do with my upcoming talk, it certainly brightened my mood, and I wanted to share it with you! The outside reads:
Sometimes it’s June in January…but at A/S it’s Bloomin’ February
The ad copy gets even better inside. Underneath a bright-pink line drawing of Scandinavian, Japanese, Danish, and Mexican home goods surrounded by Ferry-Morse seeds, a cat, birds, and flowers, it reads:
Stamp out snow with fake and fabulous flowers!
Put posies on everything—put posies in everything.
Color runs riot at Adler/Schnee Flower Fiesta
With kooky dried flowers ala Dr. Seuss; passionate pillows, dizzy dinnerware, palpitating papergoods, terrific totes and much marvelous more—all bursting with scintillating springtime.
Kick winter gloom and check Adler/Schnee, where even Harmonie Park itself is coming up new and exciting.
This pamphlet made me smile, and gets first prize in the alliterative Olympics. Based on other handwritten records in the Archives, it is possible Ruth herself wrote this little ditty (she wrote and designed much of the firm’s PR materials). Again based off other mailers, it seems likely the Schnees mailed out between 5,000 and 15,000 of these large fold-out advertisements.
Eliel Saarinen wasn’t much for philosophizing about his work. Cranbrook’s principal architect demonstrated his beliefs about architecture through the bricks and stones of his buildings, rather than through academic lectures or theoretical treatise.
When I give tours of campus, I often highlight the fact that in Saarinen’s buildings, a brick wall is a structural brick wall, and a stone column is a structural stone column. If that sounds obvious, well, it’s because architects are excellent at deception.
In the 1920s and 1930s (and straight through to today), it was much cheaper to build a wall of concrete block or wood and then cover it in a façade of brick, or to design a reinforced concrete column and then wrap it in thin stone veneer. Solid brick walls and true stone columns are more expensive and more limiting to the designer (you can build taller, wider, and cheaper in steel and concrete). Regardless of a building’s style, by the early 20th century most of our country’s institutional buildings were constructed of modern materials and wrapped in traditional ones.
This habit of facadism (a focus on the material appearance without regard to the structural reality) was abhorrent to devotees of modernism. In International Style modern architecture, then, architects simply did away with brick walls and stone columns—materials used in construction for millennia—in favor of concrete, glass, and steel. The structure and the appearance of the architecture were one in the same.
But at Cranbrook, with its deep roots in the Arts and Crafts Movement, Saarinen went the other direction. True stone and brick construction was integral to our founding ethos, and to Saarinen’s designs.
While many of Saarinen’s contemporaries were dealing with so-called ‘dishonest’ forms of architecture (steel and concrete frames clad in traditional styles rooted in masonry construction), Saarinen avoided the problem of ‘dishonesty’ by building modern buildings traditionally. Saarinen did use concrete vaults and floor slabs, as well as steel trusses, but he connected these to brick load bearing walls and stone columns.
Adding to the unusual fact that Cranbrook’s brick walls and brick vaults are structural, the beauty of Saarinen’s brickwork stands out. He achieved a special blend of true engineering and true artistry. This combination of beauty and utility was key to the Arts and Crafts Movement, and to the form-following-function ethos of Saarinen’s modernism.
More simply, the brickwork of Cranbrook is a visual delight.
In Edward Ford’s The Details of Modern Architecture (1996), the architecture historian and professor writes that:
“Few Modernists were less interested in industrialization and standardization than Eliel Saarinen, and it is more than ironic that fate was eventually to place him at its heart, Detroit, and that he was to spend the second half of his career…at Cranbrook, fifteen miles from Highland Park and twenty miles from River Rouge, designing schools for the children of auto executives.”
There is much more to say about Saarinen’s brickwork, and bricks at Cranbrook more broadly. On October 25, 2021, I invite you to join me for the Center’s next Uncovering Cranbrook virtual lecture: The Bricks of Cranbrook: Humble Material, Monumental Design. I’ll discuss the history of bricks, where our bricks came from and what makes them unique, and, most importantly, revel in the beauty of the billions of bricks on this campus. And, after the lecture, join me on campus for a special behind-the-scenes brick themed tour!
—Kevin Adkisson, Curator, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research
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:
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Fast forward to 2020, where commencement existed only in the virtual sphere: on Zoom. Not quite an architecturally interesting locale!
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.
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.
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!
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 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.
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.
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.”
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 VisitorsLecture 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