The Art of Simplicity: Bonawit’s Grisaille

The clerestory windows designed by G. Owen Bonawit in the nave of Christ Church seem to be one of the least described elements of the church’s artwork. The work was negotiated and subcontracted through architect Oscar H. Murray at Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue Associates rather than commissioned directly through George G. Booth. Consequently, there are few documentary vestiges of the artist’s process in our records.

The windows can be studied through other materials held by the Archives, including architectural drawings, photographs, and the records of a window restoration project which commenced in 1993. In 1995, the Thompson Art Glass company made rubbings of the window for the purposes of identifying their care and preservation needs.

There are seventeen grisaille clerestory windows in the nave and chancel at Christ Church, which were analyzed as part of this stained-glass restoration project. They are made of clear antique glass upon which minute floral detail is painted and accentuated by the addition of small amounts of colored glass. In the chancel, there are two lancets and tracery of nine panels supported by T-bars including one ventilator panel. In the nave, they are comprised of three lancets and tracery with eight panels, with ventilator panels making up the bottom row.

Detail from Architectural drawing of Christ Church Cranbrook, North Elevation. April 30, 1925. Drawn by J.E.M./Oscar H. Murray, Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue Architects. [AD.10.33]. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Grisaille, literally meaning ‘to grey,’ is a type of stained glass that is mostly monochromatic, with a silver or grey tone being painted onto the finished glass. The purpose of the plainness of grisaille is twofold: they let more light into the space both literally and metaphorically in that they were intended to limit distraction from meditation.

The grisaille stained glass style is thought to have originated in French Cistercian abbeys after a prohibition on colored glass issued by St. Bernard of Clairvaux in 1134 in accordance with their charism of simplicity. St. Bernard, the master of paradox, also banned the use of figurative decoration according to the First Commandment of no graven images. Under his guidance, the Cistercians seek the face of God, a theological anomaly that produces an exquisite spiritual discipline and religious practice through which the monk contemplates holiness by virtue of continually recognizing the poverty of their thoughts and feelings when weighed down by seeking to satisfy worldly desire. The style often employs natural or geometric patterns, much like a labyrinth.

The windows can best be observed by sitting in the aisle stalls of the nave, which are in themselves an unusual feature otherwise only found in Oxford college chapels. The walls of the nave were originally intended to display memorials and artwork, but the latter idea was revised due to the objection that it would bring a museum feel to a house of worship.

Aisle stalls in left side of sanctuary. June 23, 1946. Photographer, Harvey Croze. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Added in 1930, the aisle stalls offer a fine perspective from which to observe the grisaille, and Bonawit’s elegant craftmanship brings with it a history of monastic inspired light. Since a life without beauty is only half lived, the artistic eclecticism of Christ Church offers all those who enter the opportunity to embrace the other half both in its resplendency and in its simplicity.

Laura MacNewman, Associate Archivist, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

The Actresses, or Three and a half Women

With Laura MacNewman’s Kitchen Sink blog entry of May 2019 serving as an excellent guide to the Women’s Window of Christ Church, Cranbrook, it seems worthwhile to take a more detailed look at the individual panels.

Panel 16, Actresses: Sarah Siddons (English, 1755-1831); Sarah Bernhardt (French, 1845-1923); Mary Anderson (American, 1859-1940); Ellen Terry (English, 1848-1928). Tom Booth, photographer. Copyright Christ Church Cranbrook 2010.

Though the window was the gift of Florence Booth Beresford and her husband James, the choice of women to be included was made by the Reverend Samuel S. Marquis, the first rector of the church. What is intriguing is how or why the Rev. Marquis chose the women who appear.  Since no documentation has yet come to light, we can only look at who the women are as well as how they are depicted. Marquis aimed to cover mostly western culture through the ages up to his present day, the 1920s, and clearly was choosing exemplary members of the categories. Thus, we find that the actresses under study here, except for one, are well-known to this day in the French and English-speaking world.

The profession of actress almost until the present has had a bad reputation. A woman was not supposed to put herself on display or seek approval.  Odd then that the quotation from Proverbs 31:28, 31 enters the window as the dedication to women: Her children rise up and call her blessed … and her works praise her in the gates.  These works would not include appearing on stage or screen.

Shakespeare’s women were played by young men who aged out of the roles into male leads if they were lucky.  The comedic role where the young female lead must disguise herself as a man then becomes an interesting part to watch, especially if the young actor, appearing as a young woman, must pretend to be man playing a woman as in As You Like It.

The first woman to appear on the English stage in her own right was reputedly Margaret Hughes in the role of Desdemona in 1660 after the restoration of Charles II. Our window’s first actress (from the left) is the Welsh actress Sarah Siddons, born 1755, older sister of the great John Kemble and aunt of also great Fanny Kemble.  Siddons was a tragic actress, scorning comedy as buffoonery beneath her talents. Her great roles were Lady Macbeth and Volumnia from Coriolanus. These are two of Shakespeare’s nastiest ladies, beloved of actresses everywhere.  As critic William Hazlitt said of Siddons, “Passion emanated from her breast.”

Stuart, Gilbert; Sarah Siddons, nee Kemble; National Portrait Gallery, London.

She was possibly the first actress superstar of the modern world, so famous she was painted by all the great portraitists including Gainsborough and our own Gilbert Stuart. All the paintings, even the stained-glass version, show off her famous Kemble nose.

The next actress is Sarah Bernhardt born in 1844 in Paris to the Dutch mistress of an aristocratic lover who sent young Sarah off to the Paris Conservatoire, then a partly government-sponsored school of acting. Bernhardt graduated into becoming a member of the Comédie-Française, where she found the techniques old-fashioned. Always a tearaway, she was dismissed for slapping a senior actress.

Bernhardt did not need the national theater to become one of the most famous actresses of all time.  She was an exceptional self-promoter and entertained all the society men of her age, numbering the future Edward VII of England and Victor Hugo amongst her lovers. She had a mass of wild hair, big blue eyes, perfect teeth, and with her good looks and purity of diction and a voice variously described as silvery or golden she attracted enormous crowds to any theater. She made Victor Hugo cry in a performance of one of his own plays.

Sarah Bernhardt as Hamlet, June 1899, by James Lafayette, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.

Her roles were again mostly tragic playing Cordelia in Le Roi Lear, Hamlet, Desdemona, Joan of Arc, Racine’s Phèdre. Her offstage behavior was just as spirited; she slept in a coffin to prepare for roles and abandoned the corset.

She founded her own theaters, toured the United States nine times, toured the world, built and worked in a hospital in World War I, played a young man of twenty when she was fifty-five, took on all the great tragic roles, faced, fought and surmounted anti-Semitic slurs all her life, appeared in silent films and melodramas. She lost a lung, a kidney, a leg but still trod the boards.

Bernhardt incarnated the French wife of an English artist in Detroit in the play The False Model on November 25, 1916, but there is no record of any Booths attending.

Next is English actress Ellen Terry, born in 1847, contemporaneous with Sarah Bernhardt, but not the quite the world player. Beautiful Terry, teenage actress and the artist’s model, married pre-Raphaelite painter G.F. Watts but went off to live with architect-designer Edward William Godwin where she caught the eye of renowned actor Henry Irving. Irving sought luxurious stage settings and a beautiful actress to complement his own great talent.  In addition to appearing in all the great female roles of Shakespeare and more humble parts, Terry entered into a lively correspondence with George Bernard Shaw who cast her in roles he had written for her.

Ellen Terry as Portia in ‘The Merchant of Venice’ by Window & Grove, 1879. {NPG x16988) © National Portrait Gallery, London

The unrivaled team of Irving and Terry lasted 24 years. Even today, to be able to say that your great-great grand relatives had seen them onstage together is still impressive. Terry and Irving appeared in Detroit 25 through 27 January 1900. We find in Ellen Scripps Booth’s diary for Friday, January 26: “I went to see Irving and Terry tonight in Robespierre.” Mrs. Booth makes no comment on Terry’s performance of loving wife Clarisse, but the Detroit Free Press of the next day praised Terry for her “characteristic grace” and “personal charm” in a not very demanding role. There were many curtain calls.

The “half” actress who owns the little face inserted between Bernhardt and Terry is Mary Anderson, born 1859, the American tragedian here, who also took on comedic roles. Her claim to fame was playing two parts (Perdita and Hermione) in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale which bought her great acclaim. Audiences raved over her, while critics appreciated her beauty but found her lacking in feeling. By contrast with the others her star burned for a much shorter time. She toured extensively but withdrew from the public eye in 1889 due to exhaustion and the offer of marriage and a home in England.

Mary Anderson (Mrs de Navarro) by Herbert Rose Barraud, 1880s (NPG x67) © National Portrait Gallery, London

Stained-glass artist James Hogan’s pre-Raphaelite influence can be seen in the depictions in the window, but he is not copying from any standard image. Siddons appears in one of her classical roles, Bernhardt as Phèdre, and Terry in her signature red lawyer’s robes as Portia from the Merchant of Venice playing a man.

What unites these women is their ability to stand up and be counted as women of talent at a time when they were more regarded as curiosities. Of the three greats, not one of them had a happy love life.  Two of them famously had children out of wedlock and all three were regarded as unworthy by the men who should have revered them. All three nineteenth-century actresses played the roles of men. Considering their unconventional lives, it is surprising perhaps that Rector Marquis chose them, but then all the women in the window were unusual because they stood out as pioneers in some way. Who was the most famous? From the 1870s on there were two well-known women: Queen Victoria and Sarah Bernhardt, in no particular order. 

Lynette Mayman, Collections Interpreter, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

Handwork and Symbolism in St. Dunstan’s Chapel

In Cranbrook Archives’ Christ Church Cranbrook Records, there is a binder on two needlepoint projects undertaken between 1957 and 1964, the first of which focuses on replacing the cushions and kneelers in St. Dunstan’s Chapel. It gives insight into the design process, symbolism, and handwork, as well as providing much information that would be of interest to the sociology of gender roles and art.

St. Dunstan’s Chapel, Christ Church Cranbrook. The Chapel’s first service was Easter Sunday 1926; the current configuration of the Chapel dates to 1934. Photograph by Kevin Adkisson, August 2021. Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

The project, a collaboration of the Women’s Auxiliary and the Altar Guild, began in June 1957 when a Needlepoint Committee was convened to oversee the project through its planning, implementation, and dedication. The project was inspired by a similar project at Washington Cathedral where women across the nation contributed 461 pieces of needlepoint to the Cathedral, including altar pieces for Bethlehem Chapel which were worked by women of Michigan.

Twenty designs from the Washington Cathedral project were displayed in the Exhibition of Ecclesiastical Needlepoint at the Detroit Institute of Arts in February 1958 prior to their dedication at the Cathedral. Rt. Rev. Richard S. Emrich commended the idea to all churches in Michigan.

Catalog for the Exhibition of Ecclesiastical Needlepoint at the Detroit Institute of Arts, February 1958. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

St. Dunstan’s Chapel was selected as the most appropriate place for the women of the church to use their handwork for its adornment, since St. Dunstan is the patron saint of Arts and Crafts. St. Dunstan, born in Glastonbury, Somerset, in the tenth century, is commemorated in St. Dunstan’s Chapel with a stone from Glastonbury Abbey where he served as abbot.

Initially, the Committee decided to seek designs for the project by opening a contest for Cranbrook Academy of Art students, with Henry Scripps Booth, Pipsan Saarinen Swanson, Ken Isaacs, and Marion Leader as judges. Harry Soviak (Painting 1957/MFA 1959) won the competition. However, there were problems in implementing the design in terms of types and quantities of wool, and the Committee sought to consider more traditional designs before making a final choice.

Henry Scripps Booth, Ken Isaacs, Pipsan Saarinen Swanson (seated), and Marion Leader judging entries from Academy of Art students to the needlepoint contest for St. Dunstan’s Chapel at Christ Church Cranbrook. April 19, 1957. Photograph by Harvey Croze. Cranbrook Archives, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

Rachel T. Earnshaw of the Needlework Studio, Inc., of Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania was contacted for information on how to proceed. Earnshaw had won first place for her designs for the Chapel of the Holy Spirit at Washington Cathedral. Having been sent some information and images of St. Dunstan’s Chapel, she advised on symbolism as well as offering guidance on canvas, wool, and stitches.

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All’s well that ends well

This is a story about a wonderful discovery and a trial of patience. A few years ago, I processed the F. Shirley Prouty Collection on Johannes Kirchmayer, which documents the life and work of her great uncle and contains many years of meticulous research. It was a wonderful collection to work with, and a trove of information on architects and craftsmen of the American gothic revival.

Two of the most outstanding of these are architect Ralph Adams Cram and woodcarver Johannes Kirchmayer, who worked together on many projects. This week I made a wonderful new discovery of another product of their hearts, minds, and hands: a silver and gilt portable font initially commissioned as a gift for the Detroit Museum of Art (now the Detroit Institute of Arts) by George Booth. Cram designed it and Kirchmayer created the sculpture models and chasings for it; then, the piece was executed by silversmith James T. Woolley and decorated by enamellist Elizabeth Copeland.

Silver gilt font completed in 1920 for Detroit Museum of Art. Ralph Adams Cram, Johannes Kirchmayer, James T. Woolley, and Elizabeth Copeland. Cranbrook Archives.

In February 1918, Cram designed the font, which George Booth hoped to have ready for display at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, to be held in Detroit for the first time in October of 1919.

The making of the font did not follow the anticipated timeline, but rather than a story of delay and disappointment, it becomes a story of patience and its reward.

During the spring, Booth visited Boston and left the Cram blueprint with Woolley. On May 1st, he enquired to know Woolley’s interest in executing the design and an estimate of cost, to which Woolley replied positively, quoting $450 excluding the enamel parts. Giving the commission to Woolley, Booth advised him to confer with Cram or his assistant, Mr. Cleveland, and that Copeland will complete the enameling work.

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I Heard the Bells

What you might think at first look is simply a bell tower at Christ Church Cranbrook is actually much, much more. The tower holds a carillon, a musical instrument consisting of cast bronze bells in fixed suspension, tuned in half steps (chromatic order). It is played from a clavier (keyboard) containing wooden leavers and pedals wired to clappers.

South view of Christ Church Cranbrook, 1932. Photo by Max Habrecht. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

The Christ Church Cranbrook carillon is known as the “Booth-Wallace Carillon” as the instrument was a gift to the church from Grace Booth Wallace, her husband Harold Lindsey Wallace, and their five children, Elizabeth, Ellen, Richard, Shirley, and Catherine. It originally consisted of forty-six bells made by the Taylor Bell Foundry in Loughborough, England.

The largest bell (bourdon) is 6,700 pounds, five-feet eight-inches in diameter, and rings a low B-flat. The carillon was later expanded in 1978 with smaller treble bells to its current total of fifty bells, or four complete octaves. The carillon is in concert pitch, meaning it sounds the notes implied by the keyboard arrangement. To play the large instrument, the clavier is struck with fists and feet. The carillon requires physical exertion as the clappers can weigh several hundred pounds–however, the instrument is balanced for ease of use.

Nellie Beveridge at the clavier of the Booth-Wallace Carillon in May 1946. Note the use of her fists to play the instrument. Beveridge also served as nurse and companion to George and Ellen Booth. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

The Booth-Wallace Carillon was dedicated on Sunday, September 30, 1928. The first carillonneur to play the instrument was Anton Brees, at the time one of the world’s leading carillonneurs and famously the carillonneur of the Singing Tower at Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales, Florida. He would return to Christ Church for several summers to play, beginning what is now called the Summer Carillon Series.

Article from the June 8, 1930 the Detroit Free Press regarding Brees and the Christ Church Summer Carillon Series.

The 2020 Summer Carillon Series at Christ Church Cranbrook has already begun. You can listen to the July 5th concert below and go to the church’s Facebook page to learn more about future concerts.

Christ Church Cranbrook has had a number of carillonneurs or carillonists throughout its history.

Carillonist Beverly Buchanan preparing the instrument to play, February 1970. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

Beverley B. Buchanan played the carillon at Christ Church from 1964-1988. Beverly was a graduate of the University of Michigan, School of Music where she majored in organ and carillon. She was a long time member of the American Guild of Organists and the Guild of Carillonneurs in North America. She concertized on the carillon throughout North America, Europe, and Australia.

Dr. Maurice Garabrant playing the carillon, September 1956. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

Other carillonneurs of Christ Church include Dr. Maurice Garabrant (1949-1959), Dr. Don Cook (1988-1991), and Dr. Phillip Burgess (1991-mid 1990s). The current carillonist at Christ Church is Jenny L. King, who has been at Christ Church since the mid-1990s..

We hope that you will be able to enjoy more of the Christ Church Cranbrook Booth-Wallace Carillon this summer, whether in person or online. I think sitting on the wide lawn in front of the church enjoying a concert sounds like the perfect socially distant activity! For the complete program for the Summer Carillon Series, click here.

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

Christ Church Cranbrook Baptistry

To the north of the narthex at Christ Church Cranbrook stands the Baptistry, where infants are christened with the pouring of water over the head.

Holy Baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Body the Church. – The Book of Common Prayer

The whole Baptistry is a work of art, featuring an ornate wooden screen topped by the Lamb of God, a baptismal font with an ornate cloisonné cover that sits upon an exquisitely carved base, and a beautiful mosaic ceiling.

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Christ Church Cranbrook, Baptismal Font, 1928. Peter A. Nyholm, photographer. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives, Oscar H. Murray Photograph Collection.

Today, I want to focus on the ceiling by Mary Chase Perry Stratton and her Pewabic Pottery.

As George G. Booth was constructing Christ Church, he looked for the best craftspeople. In a 1926 letter to Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue Associates, architects of the church, Booth states, “I should be pleased if we are able to have a piece of Pewabic work in the Church and have thought the most suitable location would be the vault of the Baptistry”

After a seven-year rift with his old friend Mary Chase Perry Stratton over not allowing her creative license on projects at Cranbrook House, Booth offered an olive branch by giving Stratton the artistic freedom to create the Baptistry ceiling in 1926. This included the mosaic’s material and size, and how to incorporate the symbols of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit into the work.

Baptistry ceiling

Christ Church Cranbrook, Baptistry Ceiling, 2015. P.D. Rearick, photographer. Copyright Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

The gifts of the Holy Spirit, which the initiant receives at baptism, are represented as follows: Wisdom is a Beehive (also a favorite symbol of the Booth family), Understanding is a Lamp, Counsel is the Star, Fortitude is an Oak, Piety is a Cross, Knowledge is a Book, and Godly Fear (Peace) is a Dove.

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Christ Church Cranbrook, detail of Baptistry Ceiling, 2015. P.D. Rearick, photographer. Copyright Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

As former Cranbrook Center Collections Fellow Stephanie Kae Dlugosz-Acton wrote in the publication from her exhibition, Simple Forms, Stunning Glazes: “These symbols are centered on treetops resembling fleurs-de-lis. At the base of each of these saplings, a sea of blue tiles of varying shades surround two different animals, usually one mammal and one bird. All of the small tesserae tiles have the signature iridescence of Pewabic and create a glittering effect that shifts as one moves through the intimate and reverent space.”

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Christ Church Cranbrook, detail of Baptistry Ceiling, 2015. P.D. Rearick, photographer. Copyright Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

What a wonderful gift to all families who share a Christening in this Baptistry, and to all the visitors to Christ Church Cranbrook.

Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar

Of Provenance and Harmony

This is a story about the mistaken attribution of a quote, as told through the lens of archival provenance, that further deepened my own understanding and appreciation of the Cranbrook story. A researcher, referring to Cranbrook’s founder George Booth, once asked, “How did he do it? All of this! How do you motivate the finest artisans and craftsmen to come and help build a center for art and education?” It is a marvelous question, and surely one in which each inquirer may draw a different conclusion. When I get similar questions about how Cranbrook came to be, I always turn first to the words of George G. Booth himself, whether they be formalized in a trust document or business letter, crafted for a speech, or in the informal fluidity of a personal letter. Booth always acknowledged, in both his words and artistic compositions, the contributions of many, both contemporaneous and historic, in the building of Cranbrook . The image below shows a document included in the folders containing ‘Talks, 1902-1942’ in the Biographical series of the George G. Booth Papers. At some point during their administrative or archival custody, the talks were enumerated and this one is identified as number 21 with a circa date of 1936. Naturally, I have wondered exactly when and where he gave this talk.

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The Laying of a New Foundation for Cranbrook Institutions, a document included among the talks of George Gough Booth. Cranbrook Archives.

In my work at Cranbrook Archives, I have observed many times that the answers we find depend upon the phrasing or precision of the questions we ask. I have also learned to remain attentive to questions when I think I have exhausted the search, as oftentimes I have found an answer when I am no longer looking for it. I recently quoted from this talk to emphasize the trajectory from vision and ideal, through words, drawings, and activity to a tangible object or building:

“… the Cranbrook Foundation, dealing with things material and visible, rests in turn upon another foundation made up of things invisible – that is, of thought, vision, and ideals… No product of human hands exists which was not a thought before it became a thing.”

Shortly thereafter, I was researching two reference requests that took me into the Cranbrook series of the Samuel Simpson Marquis Papers, wherein I discovered the original version of the talk with pencil edits to truncate it for publication in The Cranbrook News Bulletin, September 1936. It was identified as a Commencement Address to Cranbrook School by Dr. S. S. Marquis on June 6, 1936. Along with it was a typescript version, the same as the one in Booth’s papers, and a letter from the Executive Secretary of the Cranbrook Foundation, William A. Frayer, which tells us that Marquis had encouraged Frayer to digest the talk for its publication.

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The Cranbrook News Bulletin, Vol. I, No. I, September 1936. Cranbrook Archives.

Although I had found my quote in a talk among those of George Booth, given to the Archives as part of his papers, here was definitive proof that it was actually part of an address given by Marquis! This discovery highlights the important, but sometimes misleading, concept of provenance of an archival collection, and how archivists continually refine understanding of their collections, even long after they are opened to researchers. In an archival setting, provenance relates to the administrative origin of a collection and ensures that the collection remains intact so that the records accumulated by one person or office are not intermingled with those of another. From an archival standpoint, the talk still belongs in Booth’s Papers, but will now be understood as something he collected rather than created. The principle of provenance dictates that it shall remain there, albeit with a note to advise future archivists and researchers of its authorship. We cannot know for certain how and when and by whose hand it came to be in his papers, but this new knowledge simply adds another layer to the relationship between Booth and Marquis, and the harmony of their thinking.

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Rev. Dr. Samuel Simpson Marquis, circa 1906-1915. Cranbrook Archives.

Booth had first met Marquis as the Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral and subsequently as visiting clergy when missionary services were conducted by Henry Wood Booth in the Meeting House (1918-1923). In October 1923, when the Meeting House began to be used for Bloomfield Hills School (later Brookside School Cranbrook), it was to Marquis that Booth turned with the idea of building a church and school. Moving to Bloomfield Hills the following year, Marquis remained part of the Cranbrook story as rector, teacher, trustee, and friend until his death in 1948.

Laura MacNewman, Associate Archivist

 

 

Birds of a Feather …

“… the Cranbrook Foundation, dealing with things material and visible, rests in turn upon another foundation made up of things invisible – that is, of thought, vision, and ideals… No product of human hands exists which was not a thought before it became a thing.”
Rev. Dr. Samuel Simpson Marquis, “The Laying of a New Foundation for Cranbrook Institutions,” Commencement Address to Cranbrook School, June 6, 1936

The thought, vision, and ideals of George and Ellen Booth endure in the cultural community and architectural landscape that we enjoy today. One of the great joys of working in the Archives is witnessing the documentary heritage which traces the stories of the people, places, and things that contribute to Cranbrook’s history. All record types — from correspondence, financial records, and reports to written and oral memories and reflections — provide a different insight into the process of making an idea a reality.  I am particularly fond of architectural records, because it is possible to see the built campus in its earliest form. Cranbrook Archives holds a large collection of architectural drawings for the entire Cranbrook Educational Community, as well as for  projects of Cranbrook affiliated firms and architects. The drawings are arranged by division or creator and housed according to their format. One format that is housed separately are detail drawings, which include millwork details and decorative designs. They are pencil on tissue drawings preserved folded in their original envelopes, many for almost a century. I would like to share with you an example of this type of drawing, one that documents the birds sitting atop of the columns of the aisle wall stalls at Christ Church Cranbrook.

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View of the aisle wall stalls at Christ Church Cranbrook. Center for Collections and Research.

Finding sources in an archives depends upon the arrangement and description of the collections. Because of their very nature, sometimes a fair amount of detective work is required when the material being described is a visual format. Architectural drawings that have been catalogued are searchable using the Cranbrook Academy of Art library catalog, so the search most often begins there. In my case, a search for the wall stalls at the church returned seven results, none of which refer to the birds specifically. Yet, one of the descriptions suggested that there was great potential that it would include a drawing of the birds and, indeed, that is what I discovered.

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Architectural drawing (AD.10.659) Variants for Wall Stalls in Aisles and Paneling at Door #128 and Window #128, March 1930. Cranbrook Archives.

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Architectural drawing (AD.10.659), detail of the owl. Cranbrook Archives.

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Architectural drawing (AD.10.659), detail of the American robin. Cranbrook Archives.

The discussion between George Booth and Oscar Murray about the design and contract for the stalls began in early December 1929 and the stalls, carved by Irving and Casson, arrived for installation in August 1930. Booth left it to Murray’s judgment as to whether to have a continuous row of the same model for the columns or whether to include the variation. As you can see, this drawing includes two variants of tracery, four variants of corbels, and six of seven variants of birds, including the swallow, quail, dove, cat-bird, owl, and American robin. The seventh bird yet remains a mystery, leaving us something to discover in the future. Discoveries like these, and helping others achieve similar ones, make the job of a Cranbrook Archivist both enjoyable and rewarding.

– Laura MacNewman, Associate Archivist

[Editor’s Note: When this post was first published, the quote was attributed to George Gough Booth. Subsequent research has revealed that it is from an address by the Rev. Dr. Samuel S. Marquis.]

Hidden Carvings: Misericords

Of the many beautiful works of art and ornament at Christ Church Cranbrook, I have noticed one type is much less documented than others: the misericords. I set out to explore the story behind these little hidden carvings. Misericords are hinged wooden seats that swing up to provide a supportive ledge in the choir stalls of churches and cathedrals—the choir, in the architectural sense, is situated within the chancel between the nave and the sanctuary.

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Christ Church Cranbrook choir stalls in the chancel taken from the south aisle of the nave, ca. 1946. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

The seat appears to be quite ordinary until you lift it up to reveal its carved underside. Traditionally, they were carved with mythological or real animals, foliage, or humorous scenes.

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The history of misericords goes back to the monastic churches of the middle ages, when the monks spent many hours praying in the choir. Their name comes from the Latin ‘miserericordia’ meaning ‘mercy’ or ‘compassion,’ stemming from ‘misereri’ (to have pity) and ‘cor’ (heart). Misericords were introduced into churches and cathedrals around the thirteenth century, so that elder monks could lean on them and didn’t have to stand unaided for the entire service.

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Architectural Drawing for Misericords in Choir Stalls Nos. 1-4 depicting pride, envy, gluttony, and covetousness, January 10, 1928. Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue Associates/Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

The misericord carvings for Christ Church Cranbrook were drawn by a designer with the initials ‘TCM’ at Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue Associates, who were also the architects of the church itself. The carvings for choir stalls 1-7 depict the seven deadly sins (pride, envy, gluttony, covetousness, anger, sloth, and lust). Choir stalls 8-16 depict more contemporary images reflecting life in 1927, including charlatanism in art, politics, machinery, jazz and prize fighting (8-12) and building the church, speed, big business, and prohibition (13-16).

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Misericord depicting “Speed,” represented by different modes of transportation (choir stall 14), the metal braces are a later repair. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

The misericord design for ‘building the church’ (choir stall 13) is particularly noteworthy for its representation of Oscar Murray and George Gough Booth extending the church by pulling it apart and adding another bay:

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Misericord depicting Oscar H. Murray and George Gough Booth lengthening the church (choir stall 13). Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

In George Gough Booth’s correspondence, I found this letter, which is instructive in discovering the creative process from idea to design to finished object:

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Letter from Oscar H. Murray to George Gough Booth regarding the misericord showing the building of the church, July 3, 1928. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

The letter tells us that the carver used a photograph of George Gough Booth (depicted on the right side of the misericord) to help with the details of the carving.

The misericords were carved by Irving and Casson of Boston, who also carved the screen between the narthex and the nave and the canopied vaulting above the choir stalls. However, the name of the carver is not recorded. Christ Church Cranbrook is celebrating its 90th anniversary on September 29. Also stay tuned for our ‘Ecclesiastical Structures of Detroit’ Day Away trip in the fall.

-Laura MacNewman, Associate Archivist

“His Heart and Soul into each Madonna, Saint, Commoner, or Angel”

Johannes Kirchmayer, also known as John Kirchmayer, was born March 31, 1860, in Oberammergau, Bavaria. Oberammergau is known for its Passion Play, something the whole town participates in every year it is performed. As a young man, Kirchmayer had the role of Joseph (of many-colored-coat fame) in the play. “We have the statement from John, himself, that the ‘Passion Play’ was a great influence in his early life.” (Prouty, p. 18). It meant Kirchmayer was well versed in biblical history, which would serve him well later in life.

The village of Oberammergau is also known for its long tradition of woodcarving. After he learned to carve from his grandfather, and later his Uncle Georg, a professional carver, Kirchmayer spent a number of years taking classes in Augsburg and Munich, Germany, and in London and Paris perfecting his craft. In 1880, at the age of 20, Kirchmayer moved to Boston, Massachusetts. There, he found work creating mantels, stairways, home decorations, and furniture. However, his greatest passion seems to have been ecclesiastical works, perhaps influenced by the Oberammergau Passion Plays of his youth.

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Undated portrait of Johannes Kirchmayer (1860-1930). Courtesy Cranbrook Archives

Kirchmayer’s friend Stanford White, an architect, introduced him to a number of other architects. He soon found work with cabinetmaking and decorating firms that were working on commissions in churches, businesses, institutions, and private homes. Kirchmayer had close working relations with a number of prominent architects and artisans and was, in 1907, a founding member of the Society of Arts and Crafts, Boston.

After 1898, working for the Boston furniture and architectural woodworking firm Irving and Casson, Kirchmayer worked on the buildings of the noted American Gothic-revivalist Ralph Adams Cram, a prolific architect of collegiate and ecclesiastical buildings.

Kirchmayer’s notable work around Boston include carvings in The Church of the Advent; All Saints’ Church; the Second Church; and Unity Church. He also designed part of the Anderson Memorial Bridge over the Charles River.

His work outside the Boston area includes carvings in Christ Church Cathedral, Springfield, MA; the Church of Saint Mary the Virgin, West 46th Street, New York City; St. Mary’s Anglican Church, Windsor, Ontario; the Church of the Saviour, Syracuse, New York; and the James J. Hill House, St. Paul, Minnesota.

Shirley Prouty, his biographer, wrote that “John Kirchmayer did not use drawings, charts, or schematics to immortalize his saints; He studied and planned and started with a block of wood. On this piece of oak, mahogany, boxwood, cherry (he used many kinds of wood), he would draw the nude figure. He had studied anatomy as a student in Augsburg, thereby learning to proportion arms and hands, legs and feet, and an overall balanced subject. This preliminary sketch on wood was in charcoal. Then he would draw the draperies in color as they would appear in the final rendition.” (p. 27)

George G. Booth made Kirchmayer’s acquaintance through their Arts and Crafts activities and soon became one of his most ardent patrons. Booth commissioned Kirchmayer to produce carvings for Christ Church Cranbrook, Cranbrook House, and the Booth Collection of decorative arts at the Detroit Museum of Art.

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1918 carved portrait of George G. Booth, in Cranbrook House Library, by Kirchmayer. Courtesy Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

It is said that Kirchmayer “put his heart and soul into each Madonna, saint, commoner, or angel he was carving.” (Prouty, p. 29). He also followed the old Bavarian custom of leaving one’s visage somewhere in your work.

At Christ Church Cranbrook, Kirchmayer’s works include the “Doubting Thomas Door,” which features images of the craftsmen who worked on the church, including Kirchmayer; the ornamental screen covering the wall at the back above high altar with “Triumphant Christ” at the top; the Lectern; the Chapel Doors and Lectern in the Resurrection Chapel; and a Madonna in Parish House.

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“Doubting Thomas Door,” Christ Church Cranbrook. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

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Kirchmayer left his visage as the woodcarver on the “Doubting Thomas Door”. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

At Brookside School, Kirchmayer created corbels (projections jutting out from a wall) of the four Evangelists.

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Corbel representing St. John the Evangelist at Brookside School. Courtesy Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

At Cranbrook House, Kirchmayer carved many works. The largest commission was the impressive paneling of the Library, including the “Personification of the Arts (Religion Inspiring the Arts)” overmantel, which featured Kirchmayer as the woodcarver.

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Kirchmayer’s “Personification of the Arts (Religion Inspiring the Arts)”over-mantel in Cranbrook House Library. Photograph by P.D. Rearick, Courtesy Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

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Detail of Kirchmayer’s “Personification of the Arts (Religion Inspiring the Arts)” over-mantel in Cranbrook House Library. Note that the woodcarver (behind the bishop) is depicted as Kirchmayer himself. Photograph by P.D. Rearick, Courtesy Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

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Detail of Kirchmayer’s “Personification of the Arts (Religion Inspiring the Arts)” over-mantel in Cranbrook House Library. Photograph by P.D. Rearick, Courtesy Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

He also created items like a reading desk and bench; linen-fold paneling in Oak Room; a blanket chest; four carved Gothic finials in the corners of the Library; and a small figure of himself for the Booths. George G. Booth particularly enjoyed his reading desk and bench, which Kirchmayer created for the Booths’ library in 1919 from a sketch that Booth had supplied. (Prouty, p 100).

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Snapshot of Johannes Kirchmayer in front of the New Silver Beach Hotel in North Falmouth, MA, circa 1928. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Kirchmayer’s work can be found in many prominent cities: from Minneapolis-St Paul, to Detroit, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Columbus and Quincy, Ohio, Baltimore, Washington D.C., New Haven, New York City, Providence, Boston, Concord and Peterborough, New Hampshire, Portland, Maine, as well as in The American Church in Manila and in Walkerville, Ontario, Canada. Perhaps his prolific work across the globe is the reason why, shortly before his death, Kirchmayer received the “Craftsmanship Medal for Distinguished Achievement in Wood Carving” by the American Institute of Architects. It is the only time the award has been given for woodcarving.

Johannes Kirchmayer died at his Cambridge, Massachusetts home in 1930.

– Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar

Sources:

Johannes Kirchmayer from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johannes_Kirchmayer

Mark A. Coir, Cranbrook Art Museum: 100 Treasures (Bloomfield Hills, MI: Cranbrook Art Museum, 2004)

Shirley Prouty, Master Carver, Johannes Kirchmayer, 1860-1930: From Germany’s Passion Play Village to America’s Finest Sanctuaries (Portsmouth, N.H. : Peter Randall Publishers, 2007

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