History Detective: Light Fixture Edition

Did you ever watch the show History Detectives on PBS? I loved the show; it is all about uncovering the story of an object.

As Associate Registrar for the Center, I am working with our Director Gregory Wittkopp and our Associate Curator Kevin Adkisson on an ambitious project. We are reviewing all fourteen of our cultural properties collections (over 9,000 objects), reviewing the data already on file and adding as much additional information about each object as we can. How do we do this, when the people who created, collected, or purchased the objects are no longer here? It requires being something of a history detective!

The collection we are currently working on is the Cultural Properties Collection at Thornlea. Thornlea was the home of George and Ellen Booth’s youngest son, Henry Scripps Booth, and his wife, Carolyn Farr Booth, from 1926 to 1988. It is filled with antiques, artwork, furnishings, and personal objects. In Cranbrook Archives, there are multiple helpful records about the home’s collections: insurance inventories, an index card file of objects created and maintained by Henry, and receipts for items purchased.

Light fixture over front door at Thornlea.

The one object I wanted to feature today is the unique light fixture over the front door to Thornlea. This custom and distinctive iron and glass fixture is important to the architectural character of the house, but I knew next to nothing about it. It appeared in early images of the house, so I knew it had been a part of the house from the earliest years, perhaps since the house was built.

Henry Scripps Booth peaks out the front door of Thornlea, circa 1935. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

To learn more about the fixture, I first looked at the insurance inventories and Henry’s index card file. Nothing there.

Next, I looked at the receipts under “Electrical” in the Henry Scripps and Carolyn Farr Booth Papers in Archives. Eureka!

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Ralph Rapson: New Archival Collection

Cranbrook Archives is excited to announce the opening of the Ralph Rapson Collection (1935-1954) for research. The collection focuses on the early years of Rapson’s work, including his time as a student at Cranbrook Academy of Art. Rapson’s later work is retained at the Northwest Architectural Archives at the University of Minnesota, where he was the Dean of the School of Architecture from 1954-1984.

Rapson was born in Alma, Michigan in 1914. He earned Architecture degrees at the University of Michigan (1938) and at Cranbrook Academy of Art (1940). Upon completing his studies at CAA, Rapson set up his studio and was invited to help Eliel Saarinen with a planning project, which was to provide an analysis of the site for a new State Capitol complex in Lansing, Michigan. Following this experience, Rapson decided to focus more on architecture than planning. Between 1938 and 1942, Rapson contributed designs and drawings, and built models, for various projects and competitions for Eliel Saarinen and his associates.

While at Cranbrook, Rapson collaborated on several competition drawings with Eero Saarinen, Frederick James, David Runnells, Walter Hickey, Harry Weese and others. Rapson established an early reputation for his experimental concept houses like the 1939 “Cave House” and “Fabric House,” (both designed at CAA with fellow student David Runnells) and the 1945 “Greenbelt House” or Case Study House #4, one of the experiments in American residential architecture sponsored by Arts & Architecture magazine.

Case Study House #4 for Arts & Architecture magazine, Jun 1944.

In the early 1940s, Rapson moved to Chicago where he taught under the Hungarian Bauhaus artist, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy. Rapson served as Head of the Architectural Curriculum at the Institute of Design (New Bauhaus) from 1942-1946. He left this position late in 1946, when MIT Dean of Architecture, William Wurster, invited him to relocate to Massachusetts where he taught architecture alongside Finnish architect, Alvar Aaalto.

In 1951, Rapson was hired by the U.S. State Department to design a series of American embassies in Western Europe with architect John Van der Meulen. Rapson worked on several embassy projects, as well as residential projects, in the mid-1950s. In the spring of 1954, Rapson and his family moved to Minnesota where Rapson served as the Dean of the School of Architecture at the University of Minnesota from 1954-1984. He continued to work in private practice in Minneapolis until his death in 2008 at the age of 93.

The Ralph Rapson Collection includes project files, research, correspondence, architectural drawings, and photographic material from many of Rapson’s embassy projects, as well as design competition materials and residential projects. In addition to the physical collection, a digital site (including drawings, photographs, and ephemera) is now accessible from our web site. The Archives staff will continue to add to this site, as more material is digitized.

Gina Tecos, Archivist

Sources:
Hession, Jane King, Rapson, Rip, and Wright, Bruce. Ralph Rapson Sixty Years of Modern Design. Afton, MN: Afton Historical Society Press, 1999.

Heyer, Paul, ed. Architects on Architecture. New York: Walker and Co. 1965.

Three Women and a Conservator

One of the interesting components of our jobs as collections managers, registrars, and archivists is that we get to interact and learn from conservators in our fields. On Friday, three of us went down to Detroit and met with Giogio Ginkas of Venus Bronze Works. A non-descript warehouse building sported a gray metal door which led us into the lobby gallery where Giorgio has displayed art from his personal collection of metro-Detroit artists, including Cranbrook’s Gary Griffin. Then we walked into the “shop” where his tools and equipment are interspersed with numerous sculptures (primarily metal) in various stages of repair, restoration, and conservation.

Giorgio Ginkas explaining the conservation process for the Wishing Well. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Giorgio Ginkas explaining the conservation process for the Wishing Well. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Currently, Venus Bronze Works has three of Cranbrook’s works in his shop – two are awaiting reinstallation on the grounds, while the metal “arch” from the Wishing Well at Cranbrook House is just undergoing restoration.

Parts of the Wishing Well “arch” removed for restoration. One element was missing so a replacement piece had to be fabricated. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Parts of the Wishing Well “arch” removed for restoration. One element was missing so a replacement piece had to be fabricated. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Orpheus figure, restored and waiting to be reinstalled at Cranbrook Academy of Art (CAM 1931.9). Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Orpheus figure, restored and waiting to be reinstalled at Cranbrook Academy of Art (CAM 1931.9). Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

For more on Venus Bronze Works, including Detroit’s own RoboCop statue, see: http://www.dailydetroit.com/2015/08/24/remember-robo-cop-statue/

Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

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