Modern Living

Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending the Michigan Historic Preservation Network’s annual conference in Midland where in each session, I heard references to Cranbrook-related art, architecture and/or design. Naturally, I had to investigate some of these referrals when I got in to the office today! (Curiosity killed the archivist.) One of the sessions I went to, Ideal/Idea Houses: Modern Living in the 1950s sparked my interest since all of the homes were built in the metro-Detroit area and many of them are still standing today.

What exactly was an Ideal/Idea House? In late 1940, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis planned to exhibit a fully functional, completely furnished exhibition house called the Idea House in conjunction with an exhibition entitled “American Living.” The house was intended to showcase new ideas about home architecture and design. The exhibition opened in June 1941.

Fast forward to 1950 when the Builders Association of Detroit took this idea and turned it into an annual competition – first for practicing architects and by 1953, for Michigan architecture students. Originally called the Ideal Home, in 1956, the Builders Association changed the name to Idea Home. This was the same year that the winning entry of Academy of Art architecture student, George Zonars, was built and featured in the Detroit Builders Home Show held at the Michigan State fairground from February to April, 1956. Zonars turned over his preliminary drawings to the architectural firm of Palmquist & Wright, who prepared detailed working plans and specifications, and supervised the construction of the home.

Zonar's rendering of the 1956 Idea Home

Zonars’ rendering of the 1956 Idea Home. Royal Oak Daily Tribune.

Zonars’ Idea Home, like the ones that preceded his, was one of the earliest ranch-style homes in the area and accentuated modern outdoor living by featuring walls of glass windows and outdoor terraces. The exterior featured copper flashing and gutters, pierced brick screen walls, and a wide roof overhang. The interior was completely air-conditioned, had a built-in fire alarm system, and featured an “electronic precipitator” which filtered dust, pollen, bacteria, and germs from the air.

Exterior view of Idea Home

Exterior view of the large glass panel windows and the overhanging roof. Detroti Free Press.

Informality was stressed in the open floor plan of the interior which was decorated by Bette Wilson, assistant home furnishings coordinator for J. L. Hudson. The living room featured a mahogany plywood wall (stained with a walnut finish) and a copper fireplace and hearth. The color scheme was “soothing” with beige walls and carpet, accentuated by furniture in beige, green, rust and copper while accent cushions added splashes of bright turquoise and copper. The master bathroom featured wallpaper from Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Taliesin” line.

Snack Bar

The “snack bar” served as a room divider. The vinyl floor was turquoise with accent tiles in white and avocado. Detroit News.

The concept behind the Idea Home was to provide construction ideas and the use of new materials for builders, ideas for architects when designing future projects, and ideas for the “housewife” to decorate her current home. And perhaps the best part? Visitors to the home show could win the home by guessing the number of nails inside a large plastic model of the house! No idea who eventually won, but the house still exists at 29060 Lone Elm Lane in Southfield. I know what I’m doing this week-end. . .

Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

The Ramp of the Chinese Dog

For George Gough Booth, the vista from Cranbrook House to the Ramp of the Chinese Dog was a crucial one – he could see the Cranbrook Art Museum from his west wing office at Cranbrook House and the Chinese Dog guarding the entrance.

Though Cranbrook’s sculpture is commonly referred to as the “Chinese Dog”, the sculpture is actually a stone lion. In October 1940, George Booth purchased the lion from S. & G. Gump Co. in San Francisco and it is considered to be from the Wei Dynasty (386-557). A buyer for Gumps had acquired it in Beijing, China in 1938 where he was told that the lion came from the “Ta Fo Tze Temple in Chien Ting Fu Prefecture in Hopei.” Hebei (Hopei) Province is known for its stone and iron lions, and lion sculptures similar to the one at Cranbrook are still located at the entrance to the Ta Fo Tze Temple, now known as the Longxing Temple.


“Sacred Lion-Dog,” S. & G. Gump Co.’s showroom, San Francisco, ca 1940. Courtesy Cranbrook Art Museum.

During the Ming Dynasty, sacred guardian lions were placed in front of palaces, government buildings and temples as a symbol of bravery, power and good luck. In Western countries, the lions are often referred to as “Fu Dogs” as the word “fu” means Buddha or prosperity. George Booth placed another pair of Chinese stone lions at Cranbrook House, as well as several other stone lion sculptures around the grounds. In addition, he purchased two terracotta lions for the quadrangle at Cranbrook School, and numerous other objects with representations of lions in them including stained glass medallions, stone panels, and a gilt bronze lion sculpture by Carl Milles. As I write this, I am thinking that it would be an interesting project to research just what Booth’s interest or fascination (obsession?) with lions truly was.


One of two terracotta lions at Cranbrook School. Filmmaker Brad Mitzelfeld behind the camera, 1970. Harvey Croze, photographer. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

Happy Earth Day!

Even though Cranbrook experienced a few snow flurries today, the campus daffodils are also in bloom. It reminds me of what was known as “Daffodil Hill.” In 1953, in anticipation of Cranbrook’s Golden Jubilee celebration (the 50th anniversary of the year the Booths purchased the original 175 acres), Henry Scripps Booth led an effort to raise funds to plant daffodils at Cranbrook House.

The Cranbrook Foundation Daffodil Fund was established and enough money was raised to plant 10,000 daffodils in the fall. By 1955, visitors were flocking to the campus just to see them.

Birmingham Eccentric newsclipping, 1953

News clipping, The Birmingham Eccentric, 1953. Cranbrook Archives.

Detroit News, 1955

News clipping, The Detroit News, 1955. Cranbrook Archives.

Middle School girls planting daffodils for Earth Day, 1990

Middle School girls planting daffodils for Earth Day, 1990. Cranbrook Archives.

Daffodil Hill, 1985

Originally known as “Golden Glade,” the area soon became known as Daffodil Hill, Spring 1985. Ralph Mize, photographer. Cranbrook Archives.

Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

Six Degrees of Separation, Again

Every Sunday night I look forward to watching “Who Do You Think You Are?” A show that combines historical research, genealogy, and archives all in one? Perfect for a research geek like me. This past Sunday, actor Tony Goldwyn was the featured celebrity seeking to uncover his roots. I never realized that his paternal grandfather is THE Samuel Goldwyn! And even more surprisingly is that his maternal grandfather is Sidney Coe Howard. I bolted upright in my chair when I heard that name as, of course, Howard has a Cranbrook connection!

Howard (1891-1939) was the American playwright and screenwriter best known as the posthumous winner of the 1939 Academy of Award for adaptation of the screen play for Gone with the Wind. However, 23 years earlier, Howard penned the script for the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts (DSAC) production, The Cranbrook Masque. Commissioned by George Booth at the suggestion of director Sam Hume, Howard wrote the Masque as the dedication program for Booth’s new Greek Theatre at Cranbrook. Howard and Hume sought to utilize every part of the theatre in order to demonstrate its possibilities. Costumes were designed and made at Cranbrook by the costume department of the DSAC, led by Katherine McEwen, and were fitted to the actors onsite.

The Costume for Orpheus is part of Cranbrook's Cultural Properties collection.

The Costume for Orpheus is part of Cranbrook’s Cultural Properties collection.

The Cranbrook Masque tells the story of the conflict between romance and materialism, and was expressed through five episodes showing the development of drama throughout the ages – ancient Greece, medieval Europe, Elizabethan England, and 17th century Italy. Through research and travel in Europe, Howard was able to gather material to ensure the historical accuracy of both the scenes and the dialogue. A contemporary news critic wrote “the use of archaic words and the introduction of long-forgotten customs are said by experts to be flawless.” Howard also made use of the natural outdoor setting of the Greek Theatre for special effects. In the first episode, timed at sunset, Pan made his appearance silhouetted against the backdrop of the setting sun. As the light faded, a sophisticated artificial lighting system, designed by Hume, was gradually introduced.

Correspondence to Frederick Alexander

Correspondence to Frederick Alexander, music director of the Cranbrook Masque. Cranbrook Archives.

The performance ran for two consecutive nights in June 1916, and the theatre was filled to capacity with more than 500 guests. The Cranbrook Masque was the first public production of Sidney Coe Howard’s, yet he did not attend the performance. Though the Booths invited Howard to visit Cranbrook, he sailed for France in early June to serve as an ambulance driver for the duration of WWI.

  • Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

The Kingswood Riding Club (1939-1943)

Shortly after the opening of Kingswood School for Girls in the fall of 1931, headmistress Katherine Adams reported that horseback riding would be a part of the physical education program, due in large part to the cooperation of nearby Bloomfield Open Hunt Club.  Several of the girls already boarded horses in nearby stables, including the Hunt Club. The Kingswood Riding Club was officially established in 1939 and the school catalog outlined that girls would ride on the Hunt Club’s bridle paths in spring and fall, and in the covered ring during winter months.  Girls rode on Wednesday afternoons as part of “club day” but the sport quickly became so popular that they also rode on Sunday mornings.  In the spring of 1940, Cranbrook School boys joined the girls for the Sunday morning rides, during which they enjoyed breakfast at the Club House.

Kingswood Riding Club

Kingswood Riding Club, 11 Oct 1939. Cranbrook Archives.

By the fall of 1940, the club had grown to 26 members and met on Mondays and Wednesdays.  Katherine Unger, of Walled Lake, was hired to “teach the riding club the fine points of riding and horsemanship”, and in the spring of 1941, the Kingswood Riding Club held its first horse show.  Riding took place at nearby Bloomfield Hunt Club and at the Outland Riding Stables (located on 14 Mile Road) where there was an inside ring. The following spring, the Kingswood Riding Club held its first horse show.

In September 1941, Unger expressed hope that 1-2 indoor shows would be held during the winter, and that more girls would own horses. “The school horses are all right for beginners but as was so apparent at the show the girls who had their own mounts made the best showing.”  Headmistress Margaret Augur felt the school could not encourage horse ownership (due to the added expense for the girls) and worried that competitions would become a “rich girl’s sport” and thus, a bad tendency for the school.

Horse Show

The 2nd annual Kingswood Horse Show, 20 May 1942. Cranbrook Archives.

The second annual Kingswood Horse Show was held on May 20, 1942 at Outland Riding Stable with judged competitions and an awards presentation.  Virginia McCullough won first place in all of the classes she entered – Hunters Class, 3 Foot Jump, Horsemanship for Owners, Open Jumping 3’6” and Hunter Hacks. Phyllis Klinger took first in the Three-gaited Class and Anita Bray for Horsemanship for Non-Owners.  During the fall of 1942, the girls planned a spring horse show but by December, gas rationing due to World War II meant that the girls were unable to secure taxis to the stables.  By March 1943, taxi service was discontinued and even though riding continued to appear as a sport in the school catalog until 1947, the club was never reinstated.

Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist and Gina Tecos, Archivist

Anne Morrow Lindbergh: The Cranbrook Connection

The Archives has in its collection photographs of a sculpture modeled by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. How did Lindbergh come to study at Cranbrook? In April 1942, Charles Lindbergh, at the invitation of Henry Ford, came to metro-Detroit as a technical consultant to assist with retrofitting the Willow Run plant from auto manufacturing to bomber production. In July, the Lindberghs moved to Bloomfield Hills and signed a one-year lease for a furnished home then owned by Kathleen Belknap. Originally known as “Stonelea,” the home, designed by Albert Kahn in 1923, is located at the corner of Cranbrook Road and Woodward Avenue and is now known as Lyon House. The Lindberghs were quickly welcomed to the neighborhood by Carolyn Farr Booth (wife of Henry Scripps Booth). During the summer of 1943, Anne enrolled at the Cranbrook Academy of Art where she studied modeling and sculpture with sculptor Janet DeCoux, and art history with Ernst Scheyer. Since Charles was away much of the time, Anne asked Janet and her partner, Eliza Miller, to move in with her to help raise her four children. Thus began a friendship among the three women that lasted until the end of Mrs. Lindbergh’s life. (Approximately fifty letters, 1944-1952, from Anne Morrow Lindbergh to DeCoux can be found in the Janet De Coux Papers at the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art.)

Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Anne Morrow Lindbergh, 1943. Cranbrook Archives.

At the Academy, Anne was treated not as the wife of a celebrity or even as a grieving mother, but as any other student. In her diaries (published in “War Within and Without”) Anne wrote of the freedom she experienced at Cranbrook “where people take me on faith.” Work in the studio, exhibitions at the Art Museum, and parties with music and conversation about art, books, and writing allowed Anne the freedom to “give my true self as I have never done in a group of people before.” She developed social courage and friendships with Janet and Eliza, Carl and Olga Milles, Ernst Scheyer, and neighbors like Kate Thompson Bromley. Her work as a sculptor taught her to see the world through a different lens – she learned how to sketch the human figure and transpose her ideas into her sculpture and it both surprised and excited her that she could actually see beauty in a sculpture, especially one made of her own hands. She was inspired by the natural beauty of Cranbrook, cross-country skiing on the grounds, and writing in her brown trailer in the woods. (Anne wrote her novella “The Steep Ascent” while at Cranbrook.) She relished the time with her children, and often walked them down the hill to Brookside School. Dinners with the Saarinens were exhilarating where they talked of “cities of the future.”


Anne Morrow Lindbergh picnicking at the Greek Theatre at Cranbrook, Jun 1944. Copyright The Detroit News.

In August 1943, Kathleen Belknap decided to sell the home, then known as Belwood, and the Lindberghs moved into a home at 411 Goodhue Road, behind Christ Church Cranbrook, for the next year. The two years spent at Cranbrook forever changed Anne spiritually. She discovered self-confidence, and that people liked her for who she was. After the Lindberghs returned to the east coast in 1944, Anne missed her Cranbrook friends and the life she had discovered here and wrote that she felt “only half alive since I left Cranbrook.” The Lindbergh family continued to return to the Detroit area to visit Charles’ mother Evangeline at her Grosse Pointe residence until she passed away in 1954. In January 1974, at the request of the Class of 1974, Kingswood School headmaster Wilfred Hemmer invited Anne to be the school’s forty-fourth commencement speaker.

Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

Amelia Earhart at Cranbrook?

Although there is no documentation that Amelia Earhart ever visited Cranbrook, records of one of her visits to Michigan are housed in the Cranbrook Archives. The photographs and telegram illustrated here are from the Gliders, Inc. Records and help tell not only the story of Amelia Earhart, but also that of glider aviation in Oakland County, Michigan.


Telegram, 12 Feb 1929. Gliders, Inc. Records, Cranbrook Archives.

The first glider plane was designed in 1852, but it was not until September 1928 that Gliders, Inc. became the first company in the United States that exclusively manufactured motorless aircraft. Gliders, Inc. was founded by William E. Scripps, the younger brother of Cranbrook’s Ellen Scripps Booth. The factory, located in Lake Orion, Michigan, produced first and second class gliders, and the “Detroit Gull” became the glider of choice for many gliding clubs across the country. Gliders, Inc. was also called upon to do much of the early glider pilot training – over 800 men and women in 1929.

Group at Willow Run

Major Reed Landis, Amelia Earhart, Nina Downing Scripps, William Scripps, Don Walker, and Frank Blunk at Willow Run, Feb 1929. Photo by Detroit News. Cranbrook Archives.

In December 1928, Scripps invited Amelia Earhart to his estate, then known as Wildwoods. Earhart accepted and in February 1929, took her first glider ride at the “Scripps Field” in a Gliders, Inc. Primary Training Glider.

Primary Training Glider

Amelia Earhart flying the primary training glider, Feb 1929. Photo by Detroit News. Cranbrook Archives.

Additional female aviation facts:

In November of 1929, Earhart and 25 other women gathered at Curtiss Airport in New York to establish The Ninety-Nines, Inc. – an aviation organization for any woman who held a pilot’s license. Earhart was the first president.

Maxine Dunlap of San Francisco was the first woman to earn a glider license in 1929. Hers was a third-class glider license. Anne Lindbergh followed in 1930 with a flight that earned her third-class, second-class, and first-class licenses. She was the first woman in the US to earn a first-class glider license. Check back next week for a post about Lindbergh’s connection to Cranbrook, and yes, she DID visit here!

Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

The Amelia Elizabeth White Gift

In honor of Women’s History Month, we like to try to tell the stories of women that might otherwise go unnoticed. Thousands of women have stepped foot on the Cranbrook campus, or have been involved with Cranbrook in some way. One such woman was Amelia Elizabeth White (1878 – 1972), philanthropist, passionate champion for the rights of the Pueblo, and a collector and promoter of Native American Art. In 1937, she donated a very large collection of Native American art and artifacts to Cranbrook Institute of Science, where they remain today.

From the 1938 Cranbrook Institute of Science Annual Report.

From the 1938 Cranbrook Institute of Science Annual Report.

Born into an upper class family in New York City, White was educated at Bryn Mawr and traveled widely before she and her sister Martha served as volunteer nurses with the Red Cross in World War I. After the war, White, who had first traveled to New Mexico in 1913 to visit a friend, arrived in Santa Fe where she purchased a tract of land just south of the city. She soon built a home called “El Delirio” or “The Madness” (designed by William Penhallow Henderson) which quickly became a popular gathering place for writers, artists and intellectuals. By 1923, White had opened an art gallery called “Ishauu” in Manhattan ( run by Dolly Sloan), in order to promote southwestern Native American Art.

White was a member of the Eastern Association on Indian Affairs (EAIA) initially composed of men and women residing in and around the city of New York who shared an interest in the life and crafts of the Pueblo. She was instrumental in the organization of The Exposition of Indian Tribal Arts in 1931 and served as chairman of the Executive Committee. Along with other patron-philanthropists including Mary Cabot Wheelwright and Abby Rockefeller, White’s goal was to show Native American art as a traditional art form. The exposition included more than 600 pieces of pottery, jewelry, textiles, sculpture, paintings, beadwork, and basketry, many of which were from White’s personal collection.

Navajo necklace

Navajo necklace. Image courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

To continue her wish to “have the American Indian take his place in the museums for American art in this country,” White dispersed her collection of art and artifacts to numerous museums across the country including Cranbrook Institute of Science, Cleveland Museum of Art, the National Anthropological Archives at the Smithsonian, the New Mexico History Museum, and the Detroit Institute of Arts. White’s collection, which she donated in 1937, was the largest single accession of the Institute other than our founders, George and Ellen Booth. The donation included textiles, pottery, jewelry and artifacts from the Pueblo, Navajo, Kiowa and Alaskan Inuit.

Navajo wedding belt

Navajo wedding belt. Image courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

A fascinating woman in her own right, White’s contributions to the Institute’s anthropological collection has been nearly forgotten. In his letter to White on December 16th 1937, then Institute of Science Director, Robert T. Hatt, expresses his gratitude for the donation: “I hasten to assure you that no finer thing has ever happened to this organization than the bestowal which you have made.”

Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist and Gina Tecos, Archivist

The Case of the Bogdani

The other night I saw the most interesting show on PBS called “Fake or Forgery.” An investigative journalist and two noted art sleuths joined forces with cutting edge scientists to discover the truth behind a painting the owner thought to be a Degas. They thoroughly searched the provenance of the painting, and used scientific methods like X-ray fluorescence (XRF) to determine if the pigments used in the painting were compatible with Degas’ known palette. It made me think of the many works of art across the Cranbrook campus that could benefit from in-depth scientific research like this. And, it prompted me to relay the story of a discovery the archives staff made several years ago.

The painting we fondly refer to as “The Bogdani” was originally purchased by George Booth for Kingswood School for Girls, where it hung in the Domestic Science Dining Room. Purportedly painted by noted Hungarian Jakob Bogdani (1658-1724), the still life was found in a storage room badly in need of cleaning and restoration.

The painting was conserved by Ken Katz of Conservation & Museum Services in Detroit. During the several months of conservation, we were able to visit the studio in order to see the work in process, and the results were amazing.


During conservation.

As I looked closely at the work, my heart almost stopped beating. Bogdani’s signature was gone, and in its place was another name! My first thought was how hard I had lobbied to get the painting conserved and now it was a forgery!  However, after doing additional research, I discovered that the artist, Tobias Stranover (1684-1731) was actually Bogdani’s son-in-law and former student. Phew! Although this meant the still life was painted around 1810 instead of 1790, at least we still had an original painted by an artist who, with his father-in-law, provided the finest exotic bird and animal paintings in England. The painting currently hangs in the reading room of Cranbrook Archives.

Before conservation.

Before conservation.


After conservation, details in the painting can be seen can be seen more clearly, and the brilliance of the colors pop.


Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist


Naturalist & Photographer Walter E. Hastings

Often times in collections we discover materials that are unexpected, rare, or just plain fabulous.  The following images are all of the above.  Several years ago, when processing a set of negatives from the Institute of Science, I was pleasantly surprised to discover a set of photographic images of Native Americans, primarily Odawa/Ottawa from Leelanau County in northern Michigan.  They were taken by Walter E. Hastings (1887-1965) between 1928-1933.  Hastings was a naturalist, photographer, and lecturer, and was Michigan’s first conservation film-maker.


From “He Knows All About Michigan’s Birds,” Detroit Free Press, 12 March 1922

Hastings’s interest in nature began as a child when his mother put together a collection of stones, shells, and Native American artifacts for him with the hope that he might become a naturalist. Clearly, it worked!  His interest in photography began in 1918 when he received an inexpensive camera for Christmas from his boy scout troop. From 1921-1932, Hastings worked for the University of Michigan Museum as the “Custodian of Birds’ Eggs.”  In that capacity, he served as a collections manager, enlarging and arranging the collection, and took numerous photographs which documented the nesting habits of Michigan birds.  Employed as the photographer for the Michigan Department of Conservation from 1926-1951, Hastings was a pioneer of wildlife and conservation photography.


Johnny Willow Bird, age 3 yrs.  Taken at St. Ignace, Michigan, Oct 1933.  Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.



Native American Campsite, Horton’s Bay, Michigan, Jul 1933.  Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.


The Institute of Science has several Odawa/Ottawa and Chippewa objects, collected and donated by Hastings, from the same geographical region where the photographs were taken. It is likely that the photographs were donated to the Institute of Science along with the artifacts. The Institute of Science photograph collection was later transferred to Cranbrook Archives. The Walter E. Hastings collection is located at the Archives of Michigan (MS 88-27).

~ Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

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