A New Kiwi at Cranbrook

Since joining the Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research in late July as the new Collections Fellow, I’ve been busy exploring. These last weeks have been spent learning the Cranbrook story, taking long walks through the beautiful grounds, and getting to know Melvyn Maxwell and Sara Stein Smith, whose Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home will be the primary focus of my two-year fellowship.

Nina Blomfield with Eleen Auvil, Bird [Kiwi], c.1960s, in the Cranbrook Art Museum Collections Vault. Photograph by Kevin Adkisson, September 2021.

While there is much that is new and exciting to discover, I have been surprised to meet some familiar figures around campus.

I am originally from Auckland, New Zealand, but I come to Cranbrook directly from Bryn Mawr College, near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where I’ve been a graduate student in History of Art since 2015. This historically women’s college and the six institutions founded by George and Ellen Booth have much more in common than one might first imagine.

Like Cranbrook, Bryn Mawr College was conceived as a total work of art: an aesthetic environment that would foster learning and mold young scholars into thoughtful and productive members of society. Major transformations of the College campus were undertaken in the first decades of the twentieth century, just as the Booths began building their vision for Cranbrook. Both institutions were founded on a deep engagement with the Arts and Crafts Movement and a shared belief that art and education were intrinsically entwined.

Christ Church Cranbrook under construction, 1927. Photograph by Oscar H. Murray. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives, Oscar H. Murray Photograph Collection.

Driving along Lone Pine Road, the architecture of Cranbrook forms a first point of connection between Bloomfield Hills and Bryn Mawr. The stone exterior and ornate windows of Christ Church Cranbrook transport the viewer to the same Gothic past that architects Cope & Stewardson imagined for their Collegiate Gothic Great Hall at Bryn Mawr.

Old Library Great Hall, completed 1907. Undated photograph, Bryn Mawr College Photo Archives, Bryn Mawr College Special Collections.

Further into campus, the organization of Cranbrook into quadrangles and cloisters, the use of hand-hewn materials, and the style of ornament make direct references to historical models. Through their architecture, both Cranbrook and Bryn Mawr, very new American institutions, ground themselves in the traditions of medieval and early modern Western Europe.

At Cranbrook House, the monumental entrance gates seemed even more welcoming when I learned they were fabricated under the direction of celebrated ironworker Samuel Yellin, whose stunning lanterns and wrought iron door handles were a highlight of my daily commute past Goodhart Hall at Bryn Mawr.

George Gough Booth and Samuel Yellin, Cranbrook entrance gates, 1917. Photograph by Kevin Adkisson, September 2021.
Samuel Yellin, lantern, c.1927-1929. Goodhart Hall, Bryn Mawr College, Pennsylvania. Photograph by Nina Blomfield, August 2019.

Inside Cranbrook House, there are even more connections. Attending a meeting in the Oak Room, I was astonished to be seated in front of a beautiful fireplace surround designed by Henry Mercer of the Moravian Pottery and Tile Works.

Moravian Pottery & Tile Works, “Bible in Tile” fireplace detail, c. 1920. Oak Room, Cranbrook House. Photograph by Kevin Adkisson, September 2021.

Bryn Mawr is located close to Moravian’s headquarters in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, and each of the College’s buildings is home to Mercer tiles arranged in a unique pattern. The little dragons in the photograph are adapted from fourteenth-century wyverns and recall the Welsh origins of Bryn Mawr’s name. The figurative tiles are sprinkled throughout the Old Library halls, where they often go unnoticed by busy students rushing between classes.

Moravian Pottery & Tile Works, floor tiles, c.1905-6. Old Library Vestibule, Bryn Mawr College, PA. Photograph by Nina Blomfield, August 2019.

Given the historical associations of these institutions with the Arts & Crafts, the artistic affinities between Cranbrook and my adopted home of Bryn Mawr are not wholly unexpected. But I was less prepared to be welcomed to Cranbrook by not one, but two compatriots from much farther afield!

Walking into Cranbrook Institute of Science for the first time, I was greeted by an adorable Apteryx haastii, the Great Spotted Kiwi, displayed in the ornithology case near the museum entrance. This fuzzy flightless bird is endemic to New Zealand and has become a moniker both for the country’s citizens and its most famous fruit. The Institute’s specimen has rare leucistic or dilute-colored plumage and entered the collection sometime in the 1950s.

Great Spotted Kiwi. Cranbrook Institute of Science. Photograph by Kevin Adkisson, September 2021.

Then, on my first visit to Cranbrook Art Museum I encountered another wee kiwi: a small bronze sculpture by Eleen Auvil, a 1961 graduate of the Academy’s Fiber department. Though dwarfed by the other Cranbrook creatures in the menagerie gallery of With Eyes Opened: Cranbrook Academy of Art Since 1932, Auvil’s tender modeling of the little bird instantly caught my eye.

Eleen Auvil, Bird, c.1960s. Photograph by Kevin Adkisson, September 2021.

As the Institute and the Museum both have their own kiwis, it is exciting that now the Center has one too!

I have enjoyed my first few weeks exploring, living, and working at Cranbrook. Even though this is my first time living in the Midwest, the connections between Cranbrook and my past homes—Bryn Mawr and New Zealand—have made me feel so welcome here. I look forward to making many more discoveries and to sharing them with you on the Cranbrook Kitchen Sink blog in the near future.

—Nina Blomfield, The Decorative Arts Trust Marie Zimmermann Collections Fellow for the Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research, 2021-2023

Welcome Nina!

Thanks to the Decorative Arts Trust, based in Media, Pennsylvania, the Center has a new Resident Collections Fellow—Nina Blomfield.

Recipient of the Decorative Arts Trust Marie Zimmermann Collections Fellowship, Nina joined the Center on July 26. We’re delighted to report that in just her first few weeks, Nina has jumped right into the work of the Cranbrook Center!

A native of New Zealand, Nina received her BA from Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, and earned her MA in History of Art at Bryn Mawr College, Pennsylvania, where her thesis focused on the use of Japanese decorative arts by middle-class American women. She is currently completing a PhD at Bryn Mawr that examines the material culture of domestic space and the global origins of Victorian home decorating. At Bryn Mawr, she curated the well-received exhibition “All-Over Design”: Lockwood de Forest between Ahmedabad and Bryn Mawr.

Nina has had formative collections-based experiences at the National Library of New Zealand, Bryn Mawr College, and the American Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Nina is the Center’s fourth Collections Fellow, and in her two years here she will be focusing her attention on the decorative arts in the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Smith House. She’s been hard at work researching the family and the home’s rich collection. Her efforts have already identified the artists behind a dozen previously unidentified objects in Smith House. Look forward to hearing from Nina on the blog soon, and join us in welcoming her to Cranbrook!

We’d like to welcome the newest collections fellow to our team, Kevin Adkisson. Kevin received his undergraduate degree in Architecture from Yale University and a Master of Arts degree from the Winterthur Program in American Material Culture.  He has had a number of interesting internships and job experiences along the way, including one at the Royal Institute of British Architects in London, the Yale University Art Gallery, and at Robert A. M. Stern Architects in New York.

Kevin spent his first two weeks touring the buildings and outdoor spaces on campus with his colleagues. He brings vitality and enthusiasm to our team and we are looking forward to seeing what projects he sinks his teeth into while here. Oh, and he will definitely be contributing to the blog in the VERY near future! Welcome, Kevin!

 

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