Carl Milles Gems from the Cutting Room Floor

Cameras started rolling Monday for the Center’s new film celebrating Swedish American sculptor Carl Milles, premiering May 22nd at A Global House Party at Cranbrook and Millesgården. Centering on materials in the Archives, the day’s shoot featured handwritten correspondence, photographs, sketches, scrapbooks, and oral history recordings that help illuminate the story of the man behind the many iconic sculptures dotting Cranbrook’s campus.

The film production crew captures closeups of materials featured in the film.

In preparation for the day, I mined several collections in the Archives that document Milles’ twenty years as artist-in-residence at Cranbrook and his work in America during that time. In the process, I made a few delightful discoveries. While most of these treasures were expertly captured by the film production crew (Elkhorn Entertainment), there were a few that just could not be accommodated in Associate Curator Kevin Adkisson’s masterful, but already dense script.

One of these items is a notebook from the Nancy Leitch Papers. A student of Milles’ in the early 1940s, Leitch, like many of Milles’ students, became friends with both him and his wife Olga while at Cranbrook. The brief diary-like entries in Leitch’s pocket-sized book date from 1945, and are an intimate glimpse of daily activities, remembrances, and artist philosophies recounted from shared experiences and conversations with Carl and Olga. A loose paper tucked inside and titled “Carl” is a bonus, containing hasty notes recording his birthday, recommendations of where to visit in Italy (Café Greco in Rome, the cathedral in Orvieto), and words of wisdom, such as, “It is better to be an artist even though you are poor.”

Part of an entry made by Nancy Leitch in her notebook. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.
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Cranbrook Gets the Royal Treatment

Not once, but twice, Cranbrook has pulled out the figurative red carpet and with appropriate fanfare welcomed Swedish royalty to its campus. Anyone who knows and loves Cranbrook might not be all that surprised by this revelation. After all, Cranbrook is a very special place—the home of dozens of sculptures by Sweden’s celebrated sculptor Carl Milles, who lived and worked at Cranbrook for twenty years, as well as many tapestries woven by Loja Saarinen’s renowned Swedish weavers. But the larger Detroit community has also boasted a significant Swedish cultural presence.

While most Michiganders might be familiar with the role that Swedish immigrants played in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula mining and lumber industries, Swedes also played major roles in Detroit’s development, from the auto industry to the fine and performing arts. Not least of all were the contributions made by Milles, including his sculpture The Hand of God, which has stood in front of the city’s Frank Murphy Hall of Justice since 1970. The founding in 1963 of the Detroit Swedish Council by Charles J. Koebel (who, decades earlier, had commissioned Eliel Saarinen to design his family home in Grosse Pointe Farms), saw a concerted effort to promote Swedish culture in the area. It was likely the unique combination of Cranbrook’s artistic works and Detroit’s vibrant Swedish community that attracted visits from Sweden’s royal family on two separate occasions.

Program for the day’s activities. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

So it was that on October 26, 1972, Princess Christina of Sweden set foot on Cranbrook grounds as part of her two-week tour of the States. And sixteen years later, her brother and his wife, King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia, followed suit on April 18, 1988. Both visits focused largely on Carl Milles’ Cranbrook legacy, directly involved the Academy of Art and Art Museum, and were the result of collaborations between Cranbrook and the Detroit Swedish Council. Yet each visit had its own unique activities and sense of purpose.

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De Profundis: Olga Milles’ Drawings of the Soul

Olga Milles lived in the very depths. In her art, almost exclusively devoted to portrait painting, she sought to draw out the character from the depths of her models and to find the soul behind the façade. Using a variety of techniques including charcoal, crayon, pastel, watercolor, tempera, and oil in her work, Olga was considered an artistic prodigy and developed her talent from a young age, yet her art is largely unknown. In 1988, twenty-one years after her death, Cranbrook Art Museum hosted an exhibition in collaboration with Millesgården, Olga Milles Emerges, to exhibit examples of her art from both museums’ collections.

In the foreword to the exhibition catalog, Staffan Carlén, former Director of Millesgården, describes her as having an intuitive talent that produced factual character studies of extreme precision, with an “overwhelmingly melancholic” tone. In reading Inger Wahlöö’s account of Olga’s life, based on correspondence at Millesgården, Carlen’s interpretation of Olga’s artwork can almost be read as a profile of Olga herself:

“Sparseness of shadowed areas and stretched areas disrobe the faces and make them appear in a serious, introverted nakedness. Her efforts are primarily directed towards interpreting the character of the soul. This she did with great coloristic refinement, and with tenderness in the form. In her drawings, there is consistently a sensitive enlargement of the mouth, sometimes in interaction with the dreaming mood of the eyes, sometimes as a tension-filled contrast of unconscious sensuality.”

Staffan Carlen, Olga Milles Emerges
Print of Drawing of Carl Milles by Olga Milles, 1917. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Born Olga Granner in 1874 in Leibniz, Austria, she had two brothers and two sisters. She had a deep loyalty to her family, whom she visited for several months every year, except during World War II. Having been born and raised in the Catholic church, she initially aspired to become an art teacher in a convent. However, in early adulthood, Olga questioned what it meant to be disobedient to the church and broke away, while cultivating an increasingly ascetic life.

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Swedish Sculptors-in-Arms: Soderlind and Milles

The Nona Bymark Soderlind archival collection consists solely of one scrapbook, yet its contents provide an intriguing glimpse of the woman to which it is dedicated. In doing so, it also illuminates a brief but prolific period in the history of the Academy of Art and reveals a personal side to one of Cranbrook’s most celebrated Artists-in-Residence, the sculptor Carl Milles.

Nona Bymark Soderlind, circa February 1936. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Born Eleanora Maria Bymark on July 16, 1900 in a small Swedish immigrant community just outside of Minneapolis, Minnesota, Nona attended the Minneapolis School of Art (1920-1922) on a full scholarship, where she studied sculpture under Charles S. Wells. She later attended the University of Minnesota where she studied under the painter Samuel Chatwood Burton. In 1927 Nona returned for a semester at the School of Art, around the time she had her first child with husband Dr. Ragnar Soderlind. The Soderlinds had three young boys (two, eight, and nine years of age) when in 1936 Nona boarded a train to Detroit to study under Carl Milles.

Nona Bymark Soderlind works on a sculpture in Carl Milles Studio, 1936. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

A February 13th letter from Richard Raseman, Academy of Art Executive Secretary, confirms Soderlind’s visit to campus and includes details of associated tuition and living costs required for the minimum period of study with Milles. Cross-referenced with items in her Academy student file, it is evident she had been invited by Milles to study for a month and arrived on the 18th. Perhaps it was Milles’ 1936 commission for Vision of Peace, in St. Paul, Minnesota that had first brought them in touch with each other?

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A Tale of Two Harriets

One was from Detroit; one was from Pittsburgh. One attended Kingswood School; the other attended the Academy of Art. One was a writer and women’s rights activist; the other was a sculptor, photographer, and social worker. Both were named Harriet Cooper. Both were on Cranbrook’s campus in 1940.

This was the unusual story I uncovered working recently with the Archives’ digital collections. While tagging images with the names of Cranbrook’s staff photographers, who were responsible for the majority of photographs taken at Cranbrook between the years 1931-1970, I came across the name Harriet Cooper. As one of only two female photographers, I attempted to find out more, and in the process discovered a second Harriet Cooper who was also at Cranbrook around the same time.

What were the odds? And more importantly, which was my Harriet? I had to find out, not only for the sake of photographic description, but to satisfy intellectual curiosity about the lives of two seemingly individual Cranbrook women, who shared the same name and once lived in close proximity (temporal and geographic) to each other.

Senior picture of Harriet Cooper in the 1940 yearbook Woodwinds. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

Harriet Cooper Alpern was born in 1923. A Detroit native, she grew up on Chicago Boulevard in the Boston-Edison District. Attending Kingswood School (her twin brother attended Cranbrook School), she was active in theater and served as a reporter for The Clarion, graduating in 1940.  According to the yearbook, Woodwinds, she was the senior voted for having the perfect speaking voice and known for splitting sides with her “unconscious humor.” After Kingswood, Harriet attended the University of Michigan, where her future husband E. Bryce Alpern also attended.

Poem appearing in the 1940 yearbook Woodwinds. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

Aptly quoted in the Kingswood yearbook sighing, “Women’s work is never done,” Harriet spent a lifetime of active involvement in feminist social, economic, and political issues. Among her many accomplishments, she co-founded the Detroit chapter of the National Organization of Women (NOW) in 1969. A freelance writer throughout her life, Harriet used those skills to establish her own media company promoting the women’s movement.

She was not, however, a photographer.

Harriet “Betty” Cooper, 1938. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

Harriet Elizabeth (Betty) Cooper Lundquist was born in Valencia, Pennsylvania in 1916. She grew up in Pittsburgh, daughter of social workers and directors of Kingsley House, a settlement house. Betty attended both Antioch College and Yale University School of Fine Arts before coming to Cranbrook Academy of Art to study sculpture under Carl Milles from 1940 to 1942. While here, she also took classes in metalcraft, modeling, and design.

Untitled entry by CAA student Betty Cooper for the War Department Sculpture Competition, May 1, 1941. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

And, she also took a job with Cranbrook Foundation as a photographer!

Although unknown whether she’d had any previous experience, Betty kept the Photography Department afloat on her own for several weeks during February and March 1942, and then stayed on for another seven months as assistant photographer. After graduation, Betty continued to work as a photographer for the Farm Security Administration in Washington, D.C., where she met and married Oliver Lundquist.

Unattributed, this photograph of the interior of Milles House featuring Carl Milles’ sculpture collection was likely taken by Betty Cooper in February 1942. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

While raising three children during the 1950s and 1960s, Betty was active in civil rights causes, including being a founding member of Women Strike for Peace in 1961. In the early 1970s, she went back to school and earned a graduate degree in social work, practicing her parents’ profession for the next thirty years until retirement.

It just goes to show that even while performing routine (but necessary!) archival tasks, fascinating stories reveal themselves, which provide new depth and understanding of Cranbrook’s people.

– Deborah Rice, Head Archivist, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

Milles: “Please do not knock”

A research request put me in search of Carl Milles this week. In the process of research, I noticed again a short letter written by Milles to Richard Raseman, Executive Secretary and Vice President of the Cranbrook Academy of Art from 1932-1943, which demonstrates a wonderful sense of humor:

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Letter from Carl Milles to Richard Rasemen, September 12, 1938: “Richard, Please Print in your shop following, [Please do not enter without knocking/please do not knock]. Big letter, thick bristol paper. I need 6 such prints. Carl.” Cranbrook Foundation Records, Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

 

While Cranbrook Archives does not have a discrete collection of Milles’ papers, there are many letters written by him to his friends and colleagues within several collections. For those minds that become curious to know more about Milles (who served as Head of the Department of Sculpture from 1931 to 1951), we have a subject guide to help in finding his handwritten treasures hiding within our collections. Milles’ letters show a great sensitivity to the recipient of his writing and his descriptions of the ups and downs of circumstance reveal a man of great warmth and fortitude.

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View of various sculptures in side Carl Milles’ studio at Cranbrook Academy of Art, c. 1940. Harvey Croze, photographer. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

I am often inclined to read the letters of an artist or historical figure alongside a study of their work in the world–what a person writes and how they write it provides a wonderful glimpse into a person, and enhances an understanding of the context of their work and deeds.

Cranbrook has many offerings for things to do this summer–through the Center for Collections and Research, Cranbrook House and Gardens, Cranbrook Art Museum, and the Institute of Science. There is something for everyone, and while you are here you can use this guide to walk and view the Milles sculptures on the Academy’s campus.

– Laura MacNewman, Associate Archivist

Photo Friday: Academy of Art Graduation Day

Congratulations to the Cranbrook Academy of Art students who graduated with their MFA’s and MArch’s today! The ceremony was held in Christ Church Cranbrook, after too much rain water-logged the Greek Theater. Did you know the ceremony used to be held in the library?

Although the Academy welcomed students in 1932, it first granted degrees in 1942 after being chartered by the State of Michigan as an institution of higher learning.

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Cranbrook Academy of Art Convocation in the Academy of Art Library, May 1948. Harvey Croze, photographer. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

The first convocations were held in the Academy Library. Here, in 1948, we see Henry Scripps Booth speaking, with Zoltan Sepeshy seated to his far left and Carl Milles and Eliel Saarinen to Booth’s right. In the foreground of the image, bursting with blooms, is Maija Grotell’s blue and platinum vase of around 1943.

– Kevin Adkisson, 2016-2019 Collections Fellow, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

A Face Above Beauty

Sometimes we walk past something 100 times and see it but never really “notice” it. For me, it is the masque of “Art”  (left) in the Cranbrook School Quadrangle, near the dining hall. It is a woman’s face beautifully created by sculptress Elizabeth Palmer Bradfield, but, as always, there is more to the story.CR1588-2

Elizabeth Virginia (Palmer) Bradfield (1875-1954) was born in Port Huron and grew up in Pontiac. Her grandfather was Charles Henry Palmer (railroad and mining developer who established the Pewabic mine in the Upper Peninsula). The Palmer family was well known in Pontiac and their house still exists on Huron Street. In the months before her wedding, Elizabeth traveled to Paris with her parents, where she studied sculpture at the Académie Julian in Paris. In 1896, she married Thomas P. Bradfield.

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Elizabeth Palmer Bradfield with her mother, Mrs. Charles H. Palmer, Jr. Source

Thomas and Elizabeth Bradfield lived in Grand Rapids, Michigan, until 1904. The Bradfields and their two children (Virginia Palmer Bradfield Ward and Thomas Palmer Bradfield) later settled in Pontiac, Michigan, where Bradfield lived until her death in 1954.

In 1914, Bradfield began exhibiting her work — first paintings, then sculpture — in the Scarab Club’s Annual Exhibition at the Detroit Museum of Arts, alongside such artists as Myron Barlow, Katherine McEwen, and James Scripps Booth. The Scarab Club honored her sculpture “Myra” with their first presentation of the annual Scarab-Hopkin Prize for Sculpture. She exhibited again in 1915, 1916, 1917, and 1921. In 1921, she won “Honorable Mention” for her bronze sculpture “Baby’s Head.”

It is likely George Gough Booth met Bradfield at one of these exhibitions; correspondence between them began in 1926 when Booth purchased a small bronze of a dog from her.

Dog CEC 188

Dog, 1912, by Elizabeth Palmer Bradfield (CEC 188).

Booth then commissioned her to model “two large groups of Great Danes ready for plaster cast” to be displayed at Cranbrook School. These sculptures were to be approximately 6 feet high, by 2 feet wide, by 3 feet tall, but subject to Eliel Saarinen’s approval. Bradfield used the studio and architectural office, without expense to her. It is not known if Bradfield ever completed these large dogs, or if Saarinen negated the idea, but the sculptures were never realized in full scale. Milles’ “Running Dogs” probably replaced them on the Cranbrook Campus.

The masque of “Art” was purchased by Booth in October 1927. It was exhibited in two shows. One was in March 1929 – the annual exhibition of the Detroit Society of Women Painters. It was written up in the Detroit News, which said, “The masque has the imponderable quality we find in things of lasting beauty.”

It was then in the first Cranbrook Art Museum for several years before being installed over the “Beauty Arch” in Cranbrook School’s Quadrangle.

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The “Art” Masque, that “lasting beauty,” hangs over George Booth’s famous quote, “A life without beauty is only half lived” on the so-called “Beauty Arch” in Cranbrook School’s Quadrangle

Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar

Related links:

Clothing worn by Elizabeth Virginia (Palmer) Bradfield

Biographical information

The Mystery of Sven Hedin

Who was Sven Hedin? A Swedish explorer and geographer known for his expeditions to Central Asia, Dr. Sven Hedin created detailed maps in areas including Tibet, Turkestan, and northwest China. He is probably best known for his rediscovery of the buried Silk Road settlement of Khotan in 1896.

By 1910, Hedin had made acquaintance with fellow Swede Carl Milles and they became lifelong friends. Milles, who always admired Hedin, created a sculpture in 1932 to honor his friend.

“I made this at Cranbrook. For a long time I had wished to make a monument for him, and started it here. When Sven came to see it, he brought some other gentlemen with him. After looking at it he said ‘But Carl, this is wrong. I never look at the sextant when I am on the camel. I always get down from the camel, for the camel moves.’ Milles replied ‘But my dear friend. Do you think all skippers jump in the blue sea when they want to look at a sextant, just because the ship moves?'”

From 1927-1935, Hedin organized the Sino-Swedish Expedition (watch the video) during which he investigated the archaeological, geographical, and topographic features in Inner Mongolia, the Gobi Desert, and Xinjiang, China. He spent the remainder of his life occupied with a publication dedicated to his findings.

From the Carl Milles Papers, Courtesy Cranbrook Archives

Hedin – the sculpture, not the man – made another exploration – this time from the grounds of Cranbrook to Hazel Park, Michigan. In August 1945, the 500 pound bronze sculpture of Hedin disappeared from its pedestal at Cranbrook Institute of Science. Shortly afterwards, a janitor at Hazel Park High School discovered the sculpture embedded in cement and perched upon a large rock in front of the school! School officials did not know the sculpture had come from Cranbrook so two weeks after reporting it to the police, Hedin was chipped out of the cement and stored in the basement of the school. School Superintendent John Erickson commented “those culprits did a real job of cementing it to the rock. Our janitor had to work hard to free it.”

Fast forward to December 1946 when Alton Sheldon, a salesman of janitor supplies, overheard men at Cranbrook talking about the wayward sculpture. Sheldon told them he had seen the statue in the Hazel Park High School basement, and that Cranbrook had better hurry down to get it before the school sold “Hedin and his camel for junk!”

Needless to say, Hedin returned to Cranbrook, a little worse for wear – quite scratched and missing his telescope. The sculpture was ultimately shipped to Sweden for restoration. Upon its return, noted explorer Sven Hedin was once again mounted on his pedestal where he remains today.

– Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

Carl Milles, Just Like Us

Today I was preparing some materials for an upcoming visit from the staff of Millesgarden – the Swedish home of sculptor Carl Milles. As I gathered supplies for the visit, I was reminded of a fun picture I saw recently of Milles who served as Cranbrook’s sculptor in residence from 1931 to 1951.

Carl and Olga Milles at Carl’s 70th birthday celebration, Jun 1945. Photographer, Harvey Croze.

The picture is from Milles’ 70th birthday party, held in the Kingswood School Dining Hall. Milles seems to have been telling a joke and the photographer captured him mid-laugh. US Weekly, a bit of a “rag” magazine, has a section where they picture celebrities living “Just like Us.” Pictures of George Clooney buying batteries at the hardware store or Octavia Spencer waiting in line at Starbucks, living just like real people do. I thought of this Milles photo in much the same way; Carl Milles makes jokes at dinner, just like us!

Leslie Mio, Assistant Registrar

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