Christmas Greetings for Marianne Strengell

Correspondence, including special occasion cards, are not uncommon in archival collections, but sometimes you find remarkable standouts such as the panoramic handmade masterpiece in the Marianne Strengell Papers. Measuring 5 x 24 inches, I invite you to click on the image below and zoom in to see all of the amazing details.

Titled, “This Way to the Strengell-Hammarstrom Gallery,” the card depicts a wall of portraits of Strengell family members, each complete with a short anecdote.

First portrait in the gallery. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

At the end of the gallery is an abstract portrait of “Marianne Strengell Hammarstrom ‘Our Birthday Gal’” (curious, since she was born in May!). The card is signed, “love from your Weavers.”

Portrait and greeting detail. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Since no real names are used and the card is not dated, the origins and meaning behind the drawings and greeting remain as yet unknown. So far, research has not yielded any definitive answers. What we do know, however, is that Strengell enjoyed a wonderful relationship with her students and developed many deep friendships with both students and colleagues such as Wallace Mitchell and Zoltan Sepeshy. The wry, irreverent humor that imbues the card certainly suggests the close-knit, sociable atmosphere Marianne experienced at the Academy. “In all a very happy studio and many wonderful, now famous students. For me, 25 marvelous years.” (Marianne Strengell, 1989)

Last portrait in the gallery. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Strengell’s students included Nelly Mehta Sethna, Ed Rossbach, Robert Sailors and Jack Lenor Larsen, but she also had students from other departments study with her. These ‘Minors’ as Strengell dubbed them included Charles Eames, Benjamin Baldwin, Harry Bertoia, and Harry Weese.

Letter to Mark Coir, Archives Director, 1995. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Strengell, in fact, highly encouraged interaction between the departments, establishing Open House Days in the weaving studio, as well as Weavers Parties, which were very popular.

Revelers at a Weavers Party, 1959. Harvey Croze, photographer. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Marianne Strengell was a weaving instructor (1937-1942) and head of the Department of Weaving and Textile Design (1942-1961) at the Academy of Art. She often worked closely with her second husband, Olav Hammarstrom, architect and furniture designer, whom she married in 1948.

Farewell dinner for Marianne Strengell in the weaving studio, 1961. Strengell is shown middle left. Harvey Croze, photographer. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

There are several other examples of holiday greetings in the Archives’ collections from Strengell’s contemporaries, but, in my opinion, none as witty as the one created by her Academy admirers.

May your holiday season be as merry and bright!

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

Twelfth Night, Sixty Years Ago

With the holidays upon us and the observance of annual traditions in high gear it seems fitting to look back at one of Cranbrook’s most storied and festive occasions. Starting in 1950, every year at the beginning of December preparations would begin for the annual Twelfth Night Gala at Cranbrook House. Held on January 6th, the event was originally conceived as a small costume party in the 1920s by Cranbrook Founders’ son, Henry Scripps Booth. It eventually became an official Cranbrook gathering, with Henry at the helm.

The aim of Twelfth Night, as Henry stated, was “to recognize the contribution each employee and board member makes to Cranbrook by bringing them all together as participants in an enjoyable, annual, and ‘classless’ social event.” It was, in essence, a staff holiday party, but its magnificence was a far cry from the typical.

Joseph R. Scott Jr. practicing “piper’s piping” in Cranbrook House basement for the 1966 performance. Harvey Croze, photographer. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Not sure exactly what Twelfth Night signifies?  Perhaps you know the classic carol Twelve Days of Christmas: “On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me ….” A medieval English observance, Twelfth Night, as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, denotes “the twelfth and last day of Christmas festivities”—twelve days after Christmas, or January 6th. The Shakespeare play of the same name is thought to have been created as entertainment for a Twelfth Night celebration.

Inspired by his English heritage and impressed with a performance of the play at the Detroit Opera House when he was twelve years old, Henry Booth created a sixty-year tradition for Cranbrook staff, faculty, and supporters that revived the holiday’s twin themes of celebratory food and pageantry.

In Cranbrook Archives, the Twelfth Night Records meticulously document the planning and execution of the gala as it took place at Cranbrook House, through programs, scripts, invitations, guest lists, receipts, budgets, meeting minutes, photographs and more. These items bring the party alive–and what a party it was!  

Eggnog in the Oak Room, 1967: (left to right) Helen Hays, Warren Hays, Chet Hard, Anita Hard, and Don Hays. Harvey Croze, photographer. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Choosing the decade of the 1960s to epitomize the revelry of the long-standing event, I give you the opening lines from the 1960 program, spoken by Cranbrook School Headmaster Harry Hoey:

We’ve all found a welcome in this mellow house
Including, we trust, some young shivering mouse
The wassail is heady
The fellowship’s steady
The mummers are ready
So gay may this gala be in Cranbrook House
On with the tom foolery!

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Christmas in San Remo

Henry and Carolyn Booth spent the Christmas of 1933 at the Villa Eveline in San Remo, Italy with their children Stephen (8), David (6) and Cynthia (10 months). In Henry’s letters home he writes about the traditions he and Carolyn tried to maintain while spending Christmas away from home. He also writes about the “rustle of palm trees” in their garden and the crowds of people gathering at the churches on St. Stephen’s Day – a national holiday in Italy.

Henry Scripps Booth carrying the Christmas tree with Stephen and Cynthia (in stroller), 1933.

In one of Henry’s letters to his parents, he writes, “greetings from our Christmas tree and it’s real candles, to yours of the electric bulbs.” He later describes the event of Christmas night as lighting the candles and sparklers on the tree, “I never expected to see that kind of illumination again, and probably the children never will in future.”

Holiday wishes from Henry Scripps Booth to his parents, Ellen and George Gough Booth, 1933.

The photos sent home are both formal and candid – very much like posed photos captured on photo cards today, as well as informal images of families and friends enjoying time together at the holidays. My favorite shows a very happy Cynthia following Christmas dinner!

Cynthia and Carolyn Booth, Dec 1933.

Gina Tecos, Archivist

 

 

Enduring Traditions: The Festival of Gifts

Next year will mark the 90th celebration of the Festival of Gifts at Christ Church Cranbrook – as the church also celebrates its 90th anniversary in 2018. Henry Scripps Booth wrote, produced, and participated in a nativity play at St. James Church in Birmingham prior to the building of Christ Church. With the establishment of the new parish, Booth suggested that the two combine efforts in a special Christmas program. According to documentation in the Henry Scripps and Carolyn Farr Booth papers, “the cooperation turned out to be in name only.”

Festival of Gifts order of procession and liturgy, 1928. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

The Festival of Gifts is an adaptation of the St. James play, with a procession of the entire congregation to the nativity tableau followed by the entrance of the Holy Family, shepherds, and wise men as the story of the birth of Christ is read. As the congregation proceeds to the altar they lay gifts at the manger, which are then distributed to local families in need.

Some of the original festival costumes were re-purposed from the 1916 Cranbrook Masque and others were purchased by Henry Scripps Booth in Tunisia in 1922. Originally a doll was laid in the manger, but at some point, the decision was made to cast an infant from the parish. Animals have also been a part of the event, however, according to Henry Scripps Booth, “Brighty” (star of Stephen Booth’s movie Brighty of the Grand Canyon) made the greatest impression!

Gina Tecos, Archivist

Booth and Birds

In a corner of George Booth’s Old Country Office, there is a door that opens into a blank wall. I became curious about this door to nowhere last year when I was setting up the Center’s holiday display, and so this year’s Christmas scene is inspired by the door’s original purpose.

Around 1919, Booth purchased a blue and yellow macaw and named him Mack. Mack, like all parrots, enjoyed chewing things—Booth’s picture frames, furniture, and the walls themselves. Booth thought getting a second macaw, which he named Jack, might calm Mack’s chewing, but alas, he simply doubled the trouble.

In early 1920, Booth added a flat-roofed glass walled aviary outside of his office to give Mack and Jack their own space (and save the furniture). It was bound by the exterior walls of the office, living room, and library. Accessed through a door left of the fireplace, Mack and Jack were joined by canaries in the aviary, and according to Henry Booth’s memories, every time the canaries sang or the telephone rang, the macaws’ squawk would fill the house.

This ca 1925 view of Cranbrook House shows the exterior window of the aviary, covered with a cabana striped awning, between the bay window of the office and the library wing. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Eventually, the Booth’s gave Mack and Jack to the Belle Isle Zoo. The canaries remained for a time, cared for by one of the maids, Harriet. When she retired, the aviary was disassembled and the window was reused as a kitchen window for Brookside School, where it remains.

For my holiday display, I’ve opened the door to the aviary and staged a scene as if Mack and Jack were just here: destroying a book and leaving their feathers all around. You can find the canaries enjoying themselves around the Christmas Tree.

IMG_0798Also on display in the office, is a series of birds that Booth could have seen on his many walks around the Cranbrook estate–hawks, cardinals, robins, and plenty of ducks (on loan to me from Cranbrook Institute of Science). All are native to Michigan, except for the pheasant which would have been introduced to the area by early settlers. Pheasants, however, love fallow fields and run-down farms—exactly what the land which became Cranbrook was when Booth purchased the property in 1904!

IMG_0799Alongside the taxidermy I’ve included pieces from the Cranbrook Archives: early copies of Institute bulletins on the Birds of Michigan, original artwork from an ornithogist working at Cranbrook in the 1930s, and photographs and short biographies of other bird-related Cranbrook people, like W. Bryant Tyrrell, Walter P. Nickell, and Edmund J. Sawyer.

Come and see the Office display this weekend (December 1-3) for the House and Gardens Auxiliary’s Holiday Splendor event (Friday, 10-4pm, Saturday 9-4pm, and Sunday 12-4pm), visit it with me next Wednesday before or after the Center’s Järnefelt Piano Trio: Jean Sibelius Concert, or at any of the other Cranbrook House events before January 8th.

Kevin Adkisson, 2016-2018 Collections Fellow, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

Holiday Inspiration

Last week a researcher came to look for holiday inspiration in the Archives. As I was putting the materials away, I came across this lovely card by Academy of Art student, Alice Warren. The card piqued my interest and I did a little digging to learn more.

Holiday card from Alice Warren to Margueritte Kimball, 1947. Margueritte Kimball Papers, Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Holiday card from Alice Warren to Margueritte Kimball, 1947. Margueritte Kimball Papers, Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Inside design of holiday card from Alice Warren, 1947.

Inside design of holiday card from Alice Warren, 1947.

Warren, born in 1921, came to Cranbrook to study architecture with Eliel Saarinen in 1943-44. Warren’s father (Don) was a genetics professor, and her mother (Mira) assisted him with his lab work. In 1920 Don Warren, with Mira’s assistance, published three scientific papers about his genetic research of the fruit fly. Professor Warren went on to become a pioneer in poultry genetics, earning several awards and distinction in this field.

Alice Warren, like her parents, was a trailblazer. In 1942 she graduated from the University of Illinois with a B.S. in Architecture. In May 1943, she wrote to Henry Scripps Booth expressing her desire to come to Cranbrook for a summer session to “further [her studies] under Eliel Saarinen.” She received a letter of acceptance in June.

While at Cranbrook, Warren studied Architecture and City Planning. As part of a team (Annette Kite, painter and Eliza Miller, sculptor), her work was entered in the 1944 Rome Collaborative – an annual competition conducted by the Alumni Association of the American Academy in Rome. She later worked for Saarinen, Saarinen and Associates. Warren also met her husband, Fred Dockstader, while studying at the Academy. Dr. Dockstader taught history at Cranbrook School from 1943-52, and designed ethnological exhibits at Cranbrook Institute of Science in 1951-52.

Alice Warren working on her city planning model for Plymouth, MI, 1944. Photographer, Harvey Croze. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Alice Warren working on her city planning model for Plymouth, MI, 1944. Photographer, Harvey Croze. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Warren and Dockstader married on Christmas day, 1951. Dockstader was an anthropologist, art professor, and a noted authority on American Indian art. The couple worked together on several publications and also at the Museum of the American Indian in New York, where Alice was a staff architect, and Fred was the museum director from 1960-1975.

Gina Tecos, Archivist

Author’s Note: While researching Alice Warren Dockstader, I came across the finding aid for the Frederick Dockstader Collection at the Arizona Archives. One of the content notes describes holiday cards designed by Alice and Fred that incorporate their interest in Kachinas. You can see one of these on the Cranbrook Archives Facebook page!

Putting on a Holiday Scene

Every year, the Center for Collections and Research decorates George G. Booth’s Office for the Cranbrook House & Gardens Auxiliary’s Holiday Splendor event. This year, we were inspired by the Booth children and grandchildren.

xmas_grandkids1

Some of the Booth grandchildren put on a play at George and Ellen Booth’s 50th wedding anniversary, 1937. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

All children enjoy playing “dress-up” – whether in a costume or in the clothes of a family member. For George and Ellen Booth’s family, especially their youngest children Florence (“Smike”) and Henry (“Thistle”), any occasion was an excuse to dress-up – a family picnic, a visit from family or friends, the arrival of a new boat for Glastonbury Lake.

xmas_marji

Marjorie Booth wearing her grandmother Ellen Scripps Booth’s wedding dress, on the occasion of George and Ellen’s 50th wedding anniversary, 1937. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives

For this year’s holiday installation, we imagined the Booth grandchildren playing dress-up with clothes from their grandparent’s closet—their grandmother’s dresses and hats, costumes from performances at the Greek Theater, and other items stored in the vast closets here at Cranbrook House. Perhaps they’re putting on a play, as they did for their grandparents’ anniversary in 1937, or maybe they’re simply celebrating and having fun, as Smike and Thistle were so fond of doing in their youth.

Accompanying the five outfits, the Center decorated a small tree and the mantle with iridescent, green, and silver ornaments, drawing out the colors of Florence Booth’s green dress and a beautiful Rene Lalique (1860-1945) glass vase (before 1930) we’ve set out on the desk. In the center of the mantle we’ve displayed Henry Scripps Booth and Carolyn Farr Booth’s Nativity (mid-20th century), sculpted by Clivia Calder Morrison (1909-2010). A Michigan native, Calder Morrison studied at the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts with Samuel Cashwan and later at the Art Students League in New York, and this small crèche featuring the three Magi with gifts, Mary holding Jesus, and Joseph was kept in the oratory at Thornlea. Oh, and the Santa bag and hat on display were part of Henry’s costume he donned for Christmas parties here at the House!

Our display will be up through the New Year.  If you are in Cranbrook House for the Center’s piano/violin concert & book launch, Carl Milles’s Muse: Ludwig van Beethoven on December 11, or a Holiday Tea, Luncheon, or just for a meeting, please stop by and visit.

-Kevin Adkisson, Center Collections Fellow; Leslie S. Mio, Assistant Registrar

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