Cranbrook, Way Back

When we consider historical records, even digital ones, our thoughts do not usually extend to websites. Yet, just like student newsletters or exhibition catalogs, Cranbrook’s website is a compendium of institutional information regarding the people, places, and things that make it unique.  As we ourselves shift evermore towards online existences, one focus of the Archives has been on how to ensure Cranbrook’s virtual legacy.

I’m sure everyone is familiar with the expression, “What goes on the internet, stays on the internet,” or some variation thereof. Cranbrook is no exception. Fortunately, there is the Internet Archive. A non-profit American digital library, it has been saving public websites since 1996. And, courtesy of its web archives, the Wayback Machine, Cranbrook’s evolving web presence has been captured over time from its beginnings in the mid to late 1990s to today. [Interesting aside: through the Internet Archives backup protocol, Cranbrook is a part of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, the current incarnation of the famed ancient Library of Alexandria!]

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Cranbrook home page as it looked in 1997. Courtesy of the Internet Archive.

One of the quickest ways to get a snapshot of what was going on at Cranbrook in the last twenty-three years is through its website.  Get lost in Cranbrook 1997 by clicking on the above homepage image and navigating through the still active links.

How about exploring Cranbrook 2007?

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Cranbrook home page as it looked in 2007. Courtesy of the Internet Archive.

There are only 1,450 more site captures to delve into, if you’ve got the time! While the interactive websites of Cranbrook’s past can be accessed in this way, it is important to note that the information and files used in their creation form part of the over two million items at the Archives. For example, the main homepage image from the 1997 website, the Woodward Entrance Feature, can be found in the Archives’ Architecture Slide Collection.

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View of the entrance feature from Woodward Avenue at sunset, 1996. Dan Hoffman, designer. Balthazar Korab, photographer. Copyright Balthazar Korab/Cranbrook Archives.

As increasingly digital files become the only documentation of Cranbrook activities or events, its websites are more integral to understanding the context of these records. The Archives continues to expand its digital capabilities to keep pace. In the near future, we hope to provide our own copies of Cranbrook’s various websites (with keyword search capability), side by side with the digital records from which they were created.

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

House of the Poet

In 1995 a project was initiated to create a living monument to honor Cranbrook’s dedication to poetic imagination. The project, House of the Poet, was to be built on the ridge overlooking Lake Jonah and would honor works of imagination in art, sciences, and letters. Architect and educator, John Hejduk (1929-2000), was commissioned to develop plans for the building.

Hejduk largely abstained from conventional practice, but is known for his drawings that were combined into poetic and often highly personal narratives. Despite completing relatively few buildings, Hejduk is considered one of the most influential architects and theorists of the twentieth century. In an essay about Hejduk, architect Andreas Angelidakis states, “His drawings and writings, his essential approach to architecture, continue to function as a blueprint for a practice without clients, commissions, or even realization. What he built was a world of images and words.”

Exterior drawing, House of the Poet. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Exterior drawing, House of the Poet. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Hejduk designed a house built on stilts that included a bedroom, bath, living room, dining room, and kitchen. The plan was to create a space where “esteemed visitors” to the campus could stay. The exterior consisted of stucco in green, red, blue, and gunmetal, with a zinc roof.

Sketch of Scheme 1: interior paneling.

Sketch of Scheme 1: interior paneling.

In the fall of 1995, architects Dan Hoffman and Jennifer Lee of the Cranbrook Architecture Office (CAO) worked towards the project’s completion. Faculty and students from the Academy of Art’s Department of Architecture would provide the majority of the labor for the construction of the building, continuing the tradition of the integration of arts and crafts in the original buildings on campus. The CAO created extensive cost estimations and budgets, and thoroughly researched available materials for the construction of the house.

Digital model of the House of the Poet - view from Academy Way with the sculpture of Jonah and Whale in the foreground.

Digital model of the House of the Poet – view from Academy Way with the sculpture of Jonah and the Whale in the foreground.

Project correspondence indicated plans to complete the building in time to coincide with a 1997 exhibition at Cranbrook Art Museum honoring the work of John Hejduk. The project seemed set to move forward, however, due to lack of sufficient funding, was canceled.

Gina Tecos, Archivist

Special thanks to Rebecca Kallen (CKU ‘08) who contributed to the research of this blog.

To Sit or Not to Sit

Chair design at Cranbrook has always had its own special niche and fascination among artists and patrons alike. George Booth altered chair designs for his own use at Cranbrook House. Eliel Saarinen designed unique chairs for Cranbrook School and Saarinen House. Ralph Rapson conceived of his chair design for what became known as the Rapson Rocker while a student here. Most of us are familiar with the famous chair designers, but what about projects by less famous designers?

During the war years, Academy of Art students were encouraged to experiment with modern design and new and unusual materials. In 1944, Academy students Gloria Bucerzan and Jean Roberts designed and constructed a chair born of war shortages, by eliminating the use of springs and creating webbing using “non-critical” materials.

Gloria (left) and Jean with woodworking instructor Svend Steen, 1944. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

Unknown student setting up work for Student Show, 1958. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

Unknown student setting up work for Student Show, 1958. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

Art Room, Early Childhood Center at Brookside School, 1997. Chairs designed by Dan Hoffman, Cranbrook Architecture Office. Photograph copyright Christina Capetillo.

Art Room, Early Childhood Center at Brookside School, 1997. Chairs designed by Dan Hoffman, Cranbrook Architecture Office. Photograph copyright Christina Capetillo.

For more on chair design in general, check out the 2012 Year of No-Chair-Design and the Guide to Great Chair Design which features links to chair blogs, the history of chair design, museums, galleries, and books that all feature what else? Chairs!

Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

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