Stuck in the Mud

As Michigan emerges from our lockdown and we slowly begin driving to more places and contemplating summer road trips, I thought we’d look back to a time before asphalt, air conditioning, and safety features.

Ellen Scripps Booth, Jean McLaughlin Booth and Henry Scripps Booth on Lahser Road with the 1908 Pierce-Arrow in the ditch, 1911. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Here, we see Ellen Scripps Booth, daughter-in-law Jean McLaughlin Booth, and young Henry stranded somewhere along Lahser Road. I love the ladies’ wide hats and wraps, intended to keep their hair in and dust out. Henry looks particularly pleased with the situation (sort of like me when my own mom got a speeding ticket—she didn’t appreciate my backseat smirking, either).

Instead of AAA, the family turned to their own skills. Here’s Henry Wood Booth, Ellen’s father-in-law, addressing the situation:

Henry Wood Booth works on the Pierce-Arrow on Lahser Road, 1911. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

The Booth family’s Pierce-Arrow Limousine was one of several cars they used to move about here in Michigan and in Europe (where they traveled with the Pierce-Arrow and chauffeur). Purchased for $7,750 in July 1908 ($215,984.08 in 2020), the seven-seater, 6-cylinder touring car came with two bodies: a closed limousine body for winter use and a sports-touring body for summer. As Henry Scripps Booth later wrote:

The original garage at Cranbrook House had a traveling crane in it so the Pierce-Arrow’s winter and summer bodies could be conveniently changed with the seasons.  The crane spanned the depth of the garage, having an iron track bolted to the east and west walls on which the crane with a hand operated hoist could be pulled to the spot where the two respective bodies could be removed or hoisted into place. 

The accident on Lahser Road wasn’t the first time Ellen had been betrayed by poor road conditions. In 1908, she wrote in her diary of a similar event that took place as the family traveled from Grand Rapids to Lake Michigan:

“Wed. Aug. 12. We decided to take the auto as far as Holland on the way to Ottawa Beach but I wish we hadn’t for it took us five hours to go the 25 miles—We got off the road and one place slid into a ditch. It took an hour & a half to get a team to pull us out. We later frightened a horse and it ran down this deep ditch and horse, top-buggy and all just lay right down flat. The old couple in it were not hurt at all.”

If you want to learn more about the history and social impact of cars, register for our free virtual Bauder Lecture this Sunday, June 28, 2020, at 3:00pm EST. Brendan Cormier, Senior Design Curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, will be speaking about his recent exhibition and publication, Cars: Accelerating the Modern World. Center for Collections and Research Director Greg Wittkopp will deliver an introduction about Cranbrook and cars, featuring more treasures from Cranbrook Archives relating to our place in automobile history.

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

Sunscreen for Smith House: UV Window Film

Sunlight is the enemy of artwork and textiles. As the sun’s rays filter through unprotected windows, they cause fading. In addition to colors changing, sunlight can cause holes in fabric, paper to become brittle, plastics to fall apart, and wood to warp.

Woven Tapestry by Urban Jupena.

You can see the effects of light and heat from the windows on the woven tapestry by Urban Jupena in Smith House. On the left is the part exposed to sunlight, and on the right (folded back) is the underside that has been protected.

Recently, the Center had a Conservation Assessment for Preservation (CAP) done for the Frank Lloyd Wright Smith House by ICA-Art Conservation. In the report, one of the recommendations was to protect the artifacts in Smith House from visible and UV light streaming in the wonderful floor-to-ceiling single-pane windows of the house.

Rear exterior view of Smith House.

Rear exterior view of Smith House.

To protect the house, we would either need to create storm windows to apply to the outside, put up shades on the inside, or apply a UV-blocking film to the windows. As you can imagine, the storm windows and shades would alter the look of the house, so they were rejected outright. The UV film, however, was something we could consider.

What we discovered is that not all films are created equal. There is dark film, light film, mirror film, frosted film – we needed a clear film that diffused 99.9 percent of the harmful ultraviolet light but still allowed natural daylight into the house. Every company promised theirs was the best and gave the most protection. How would we choose? This was a pretty long-term decision. We decided to turn to the experts.

When there is a question about the condition, the best environment for collections, or the damage caused by environmental factors, we turn to experts called conservators. We were able to find some studies of the effectiveness of window film by conservation experts published in the Western Association for Art Conservation (WAAC) Newsletter: UV-Blocking Window Films for Use in Museums and the follow-up Aging Properties of Select UV-Blocking Window Films.

After we got through all the scientific talk about procedures and data and met with product representatives at the house, we landed on a film. Aging Properties of Select UV-Blocking Window Films stated that “CPFilms (Llumar and Vista) performed well according to all criteria used. None of the films tested showed a significant change in UV absorbance . . . Because this brand easily met all our criteria, it can be strongly recommended with regard to optical performance”

Llumar/Vista films had performed well in the conservation studies, they had the clear film we were looking for (SpectraSelect VS61 SR CDF), and we had a distributor/installer in the area: SRF Enterprises, Inc. William Kish, the owner, stood behind his product with an excellent warranty, personally acting as the installer of the film, and proof that the product lasted, in some installations, for up to 40 years.

Bill Kish of SRF Enterprises, Inc. installing window film in Smith House.

Bill Kish of SRF Enterprises, Inc. installing window film in Smith House. Can you tell where he has put the film and where he has not?

Other benefits of the film: you can still clearly see in and out of the windows; there is reduced glare from the sun; the textiles will last longer and book jackets can stay on (they were beginning to crumble and fade); and the house will be cooler in the summer. Finally, the windows will be safer. When Smithy installed the windows, they were not safety glass. With the film on the windows they now function as safety glass should one ever break (heaven forbid).

Rear exterior view of Smith House after the installation of the window Film.

Rear exterior view of Smith House after the installation of the window film.

All of this research for Smith House served us well– we decided to use it in the Studio at Saarinen House to protect the textiles on display in our 2019 exhibition Studio Loja Saarinen.

Bill Kish of SRF Enterprises, Inc. installing window film in Saarinen House Studio.

Bill Kish of SRF Enterprises, Inc. installing window film in Saarinen House Studio.

To learn more about conservation, you can read “What is a Conservation?” on the American Institute for Conservation and the Foundation for Advancement in Conservation website or attend our free 2019 Bauder Lecture with Timothy Whalen, Director of the Getty Conservation Institute, this Sunday, May 5, 2019 in de Salle Auditorium. Whalen will discuss the Getty’s conservation work in the tomb of Tutankhamen, repainting sculpture by Louise Nevelson, restoring building of Louis Kahn and other modern masters, and the future of conservation and cultural preservation.

Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar

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