Getting to Know Ken Isaacs at Cranbrook

Throughout this past spring and summer, I’ve been arranging and describing the recently donated papers of designer and architectural educator Ken Isaacs. Isaacs was an Academy of Art design student and faculty alumnus–his Superchair and a film by Barbara Isaacs are currently featured in the With Eyes Opened exhibit at the Art Museum and in the beautiful new book of the same title. Organizing his papers to ready them for researchers has led my learning about the environments Isaacs designed as well as the larger environments he navigated. These include Cranbrook, Manhattan, Chicago, and the rural acres of Groveland, Illinois where he designed and built a village of stylish, portable Microhouses, predating the current Tiny House movement by decades.

Portrait of Ken Isaacs, found tucked into his 1957 daybook. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

For example, while completing his MFA at Cranbrook from 1952-1954, Isaacs redesigned the interior of The Little Gallery, founded by Peggy DeSalle in neighboring Birmingham in 1949. DeSalle was a great supporter and benefactor of the Cranbrook community and the lead donor and namesake of Cranbrook Art Museum’s DeSalle Auditorium, so how wonderful to get a peek at The Little Gallery’s early years through Isaacs’ papers. I learned DeSalle was once married to Cranbrook President Zoltan Sepeshy, though long before Isaacs came to study here. I also learned, thanks to one of Isaacs’ presentation boards, that Peggy’s second husband and lifelong partner, Albert DeSalle, bought a 1955 couch Isaacs designed of steel and canvas.

During those same years, Ken Isaacs built the 18-foot-long, seven-foot-tall Matrix Drum environment. This large structure with its curving wall of graphic, black and white collage was stored here on campus until Zoltan Sepeshy persuaded Isaacs to return as faculty. (No wonder Isaacs was still on Sepeshy’s mind, having left a work larger than a Buick Roadmaster on the president’s turf).

I’ve recently foldered letters back and forth from Isaacs and Sepeshy. Their correspondence is a study in contrasts: Isaacs’ design stationery is mid-century modern with simple shapes in bold primary colors; one of Sepeshy’s handwritten notes has elegant, looping script that stands out against typed missives. They negotiated that Isaacs would retain and commute to his New York City design offices from Bloomfield Hills. The arrangement worked, for a while. The contract for the 1956-1957 school year included a residence for Ken and Barbara Isaacs in the “apartment in Guest House” on Academy Way and Isaacs headed the Design department from 1956 to 1958.

Isaacs regards a student’s work in an Art Academy studio. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Back at Cranbrook, photographs show Isaacs’ reuse of his Matrix Drum structure as a collaborative art project with Academy students who helped to collage its black and white pholage exterior. His notes detail how he redesigned the first Academy year to include field trips and visiting experts. They also explain how students designed a multimedia, immersive Matrix Drum lesson about the American Civil War using multiple slide projectors and moving pallets for participants to sit upon.

These are a few curiosity-rousing items in the Ken Isaacs Papers, from just his time at Cranbrook, with plenty more boxes of his writings and images left to go through. I’ll confess, his papers make it a real challenge for me to stay on task with processing duties, when there are so many things I want to know more about. Stay tuned for further finds!

Meredith Counts, Archives Assistant, Center for Collections and Research

Ted Luderowski: Head of Design, 1949-1957

When I was asked, last summer, to make an impromptu display about Theodore (Ted) Luderowski, I found an inspiring story that begins in Hell’s Kitchen in New York City and continues with a lasting contribution to the landscape at Cranbrook and its educational, artistic, and cultural ethos.

Luderowski first arrived at Cranbrook as a student in 1939 after being awarded a competitive scholarship to study architecture under Eliel Saarinen while also “delving into the problems of metalwork and ceramics.” Born and raised in New York City, Luderowski left high school in 1927 at the age of 17, later graduating in 1932 after taking evening classes. He continued to take evening classes at Columbia University, where he studied design, shades and shadows, and perspective. He also studied for three years at the Mechanics Institute (General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen of the City of New York), which was founded in 1785, where he was awarded the John E. Hoe Prize.

His initial instruction in architecture was through on-the-job training at firms, including the office of James Gamble Rogers. Luderowski was involved in designing schools, office buildings, residences, and institutional buildings, and in the planning of the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair.

Theodore Luderowski, November 1950. Cranbrook Archives.

Arriving in 1939, Luderowski entered many external design competitions during his studentship at the Academy. The documents around these competitions are always a rich resource for researching and understanding the relationships between student artists, their peers, and mentors. The documents held at Cranbrook Archives that outline the problem of the competition, who entered and with whom, the photographs of the submissions and participants, as well as personal letters, reveal the camaraderie between the participants—whether they were competing against each other or working on a submission together.

The competitions Luderowski participated in include the Radio Cabinet Competition (Fall 1939) with Edward Elliott and Vito Girone, in which Florence Schust and Christopher Chamales won 2nd prize; the Insulux Glass Brick Competition no. 4: A Newspaper Plant (with Elliott) (March 1939); and Insulux no. 3: A Dairy (August 1939), in which Ralph Rapson won 5th prize.

Aerial view of model for “A People’s Forum in Washington, D.C dedicated to the Bill of Rights.” February 1940. The team included Edward Elliott (architect), Theodore Luderowski (Landscape Architect), Tex Schiwetz (sculptor), and Margaret Garceau (Painter). This team won a second prize of $100. Richard G. Askew, photographer. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

More notably, Luderowski, with Edward Elliott, Ted Schiwetz, and Margaret Garceau, won Second Prize in the 14th Annual Rome Collaborative Competition of Spring 1940 (Jan 6 to Feb 10). The competition for students of architecture, landscape architecture, painting, and sculpture presented the problem of ‘A People’s Forum dedicated to the Bill of Rights’. It was hosted by the Association of the Alumni of the American Academy in Rome and the President was Paul Manship, whose work can be seen in the Quad at Cranbrook School, and the Secondary Vice President was Francis Scott Bradford, whose work can be seen at Christ Church Cranbrook.

After his studies, Luderowski worked as designer in the architectural offices of Eliel and Eero Saarinen before a period of service in the U.S. Navy as a Chief Petty Officer stationed in New York. He was stationed there with his wife, Ulla Ugglas, who had entered the Academy as a weaving student in 1940. Ulla, the daughter of Baron Gustaf Ugglas of Sweden, studied with Marianne Strengell and won first prize in rug design at the Fairchild Publications Weaving Competition in January 1941.

The newlyweds traveled in Scandinavia, Belgium, France, and England, where Luderowski studied architecture and design production methods, before returning to Cranbrook to work in the Saarinen offices again.

Ted Luderowski, left, with students in the design studio, February 1952. Cranbrook Archives.

In 1949, he became Head of the Department of Design at the Academy, which had been established in 1936 with instructor William W. Comstock under the supervision of Saarinen. While the initial emphasis was placed on design of interiors and their furnishings, after 1939, when Charles Eames was instructor, the courses became focused on “preliminary training in design for all branches of work.”

As an architect and furniture designer, a painter, and an exhibition designer, Luderowski brought a breadth of interests to the department which allowed the cultivation of a diversity of design problems, including his supervision of fifteen students in the redesign and mural decoration of the Academy recreation room.

Gate designed by Ted Luderowski, 1952, with Eliel Saarinen’s Nichols Gate, 1941, behind. Kevin Adkisson, Courtesy Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

In 1952, he was asked to design and create wrought iron gates to be placed on the steps leading to Shoe Falls, which are at the far end of Triton Pools opposite the Arts and Crafts Courtyard. In a letter dated January 3, 1952, Henry Scripps Booth suggests that the design should, “be thoroughly practical and discourage youngsters from climbing over the gates, we should also make use of the opportunity to embellish the grounds with an interesting piece of iron work.” Luderowski’s design for the gates is held in our architectural drawing collection and the gates remain in situ on campus providing a wonderful continuance of the founding principle of beautiful and useful.

While within Cranbrook Archives we do not have a discrete collection for Luderowski, who passed away in 1967, he is heavily documented through photographic materials and with supporting information in the Cranbrook Academy of Art Records and Publications. It turned out the impromptu display I was asked to make about Theodore Luderowki last summer was for his son, who lived along Academy Way with his parents as a child and had returned, decades later, as part of a group tour.

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

[Editor’s Note: This post has been edited to add information on Luderowski’s study at the Mechanics Institute.]

Adler/Schnee: A Detroit Institution

Today is Black Friday, but did you know tomorrow is Small Business Saturday? Started nine years ago to encourage patronage of locally owned and operated shops, this Saturday after Thanksgiving event isn’t the first attempt to attract shoppers to help sustain a neighborhood economy. In Detroit in the 1960s and 70s, few did it with more aplomb and civic mindedness than Edward and Ruth Adler Schnee.

While assisting Cranbrook Art Museum staff with preparation for their upcoming exhibit Ruth Adler Schnee – Modern Designs for Living, I had the opportunity to learn more about Ruth and Edward’s Detroit retail business. Started in 1948 as a fabric design and silk screening business on 12th Street, it was their flagship store (and final location of four) that especially caught my interest. It was this store that uniquely illustrates Edward’s business acumen, Ruth’s design talent, and the couple’s dedication to the city of Detroit.

 

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Flyer for Harmonie Park store opening, 1964. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

When Adler/Schnee moved its operation of sixteen years from Northwest Detroit to Harmonie Park in 1964, its owners had more than just profits in mind. In form letters found in their collection, Ed Schnee writes to announce the official opening of their new location:

Since your interest and concern in the future of ‘Downtown Detroit’ is well known and ably evidenced, you may be interested to know that … we have recently moved. Mrs. Schnee and I have watched the growth of the central city with great interest for the past several years and now feel that we can make a contribution to this growth and participate actively in the new manifestation of vitality in Downtown and confidently link our future to this area. It is our earnest desire to so conduct our specialty shop that it will be a stimulating force in the Central Business District and in particular, Harmonie Park, which we feel has the potentiality of a charming little Parisian Square.

That December, Adler/Schnee had already banded with local merchants in events designed to create interest in the neighborhood and its businesses. As the November 11, 1964 Downtown Monitor stated: “It begins to look as though the wise merchants of Harmonie Park are going to create a stir among less aware business men [of] the downtown area. Watch for their latest combined effort, “Holiday Lark on Harmonie Park” – complete with a rolling chestnut roaster, popcorn wagon, gay holiday decorations and maybe even a choral concert by the Club Harmonie itself.”

Adler/Schnee’s advertisement  for the event demonstrates their enthusiasm, “Adler/Schnee FUN FAIR: Fabulous Fripperies, Frivolous Fantasies, Functional Furnishings from far-flung lands. For family – friends – home – office – etc.” A version of ‘Holiday Lark’ was still going strong in 1976, as evidenced by a Detroit Free Press headline: “A Languorous Experience – Harmonie Park in Tune with the Season” and this flyer:

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Christmas Walk event flyer with logo designed by Ruth Adler Schnee. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

These holiday events were just one of many Harmonie Park happenings, and until the business was sold in 1977, the Schnee’s ‘modern general store’ was an important part of Detroit’s economic and cultural history. A mainstay in an enclave of art-related commerce, also anchored by the Detroit Artists’ Market, Ruth and Edward’s retail store became a destination. The many clippings, correspondence, and advertisements in their collection are testament to a business philosophy that encompassed their immediate surroundings, with such efforts as the Harmonie Park Improvement Plan, and the purchase of their building in 1971 to preserve its 1901 architecture and utilize its seven floors to create a design center. Throughout a period that would span both civil and economic upheaval, Adler/Schnee was a bright spot (literally and figuratively) in the city’s landscape.

Read more about the Schnee’s retail business or learn more about the remarkable designer, Ruth Adler Schnee, in the Edward and Ruth Adler Schnee Papers, or in the upcoming Schnee exhibition at Cranbrook Art Museum, December 14th through March 15, 2020.

Deborah Rice, Head Archivist

Cranbrook’s Other Kahn

What many people do not know is that Albert Kahn had a famous daughter, Lydia Kahn Winston Malbin (1897-1989). She was not an architect, nor a famous actress or TV personality, but was referred to as the “First Lady of Modernism” in a 1984 Detroit News magazine article by art critic Joy Hakanson Colby. Malbin, a lifetime trustee and honorary curator of the DIA, chairman of the Detroit Artists Market, and a member of the Detroit Arts Commission, was also a student at Cranbrook Academy of Art in 1934 and then again from 1940-1944 when she received her MFA in Ceramics. (Malbin took additional ceramics classes with Maija Grotell and painting with Zoltan Sepeshy through 1950.)

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Lydia Malbin in her Manhattan apartment, 1984. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

But what she was best known for was her vast collection of modern art, an interest that began for her in the 1930s and continued throughout her lifetime. This week I received a query from an art auction house in London, England. They have a work by German-American painter, Lyonel Feininger, that had once been in Malbin’s collection and was on display in a 1951 exhibition at Cranbrook Art Museum called “The Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Harry Lewis Winston.” (Winston was Lydia Kahn’s first husband.) As auction houses often do, they wanted to verify that Feininger’s painting “Becalmed” had indeed been in this exhibition. As I researched this work, it reminded me of Malbin’s additional connections to Cranbrook.

 

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Exhibition Catalog, 1951. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Not only was Malbin a student at the Academy of Art, she was also one of the six Cranbrook-related artists who contributed to the Saarinen-Swanson Group, an affordable, coordinated line of modern home furnishings, which debuted in 1947. Malbin designed the oven-ware pottery, manufactured by Frankoma Pottery Company, and china with glazes meant to “simulate the quality and color of semi-precious stones” manufactured by Glenco Porcelain Company. She also designed ash trays and vases – a line of “red ware” – which featured clay and glazes from Ferro Enamel in Cleveland, Ohio.

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Detroit Free Press, September 1948. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Malbin began collecting modern art in the 1930s. Though her father, Albert Kahn, couldn’t stand modern art, he did instill in all of his children the lesson that they should be independent thinkers. So, Malbin sought out what SHE liked – “tough, off-beat things” rather than popular artists or “pretty pictures.” She and her first husband, Harry Winston, were an art collecting team until Harry’s death in 1965, and Malbin’s second husband, Barnett Malbin, while not a collector himself, supported her collecting activities and even made photographic records of her art for her archives.

For more on Malbin’s collecting interests, check out the Lydia Winston Malbin Papers at Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library and the Barnett and Lydia Winston Malbin Papers, 1940-1973 at the Archives of American Art.

Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

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

Photo Friday: Plans Set Sail!

The Alura II from the James Scripps Booth and John McLaughlin Booth Papers. Cranbrook Archives

The Alura II from the James Scripps Booth and John McLaughlin Booth Papers. Cranbrook Archives

As the new Collections Fellow for the Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research, I was charged with coming up with a theme and writing today’s Photo Friday blog, a daunting task as it is only my first week. Lucky for me, a few of our archivists were working in our reading room pulling documents and photographs for a display this weekend for Cranbrook Art Museum’s PNC Bank Family Day and a few of them jumped out at me.

In 1928 James Scripps Booth, eldest son of Cranbrook’s founders George and Ellen Booth, designed a plan for a boat called the Alura II. Today’s photo includes a Booth’s original design for the bureau-book cases, mirror and window to the cockpit and a photograph of the “screened door companion-way from enclosed bridge area.” Although some of the plans were changed during manufacture, you can see the resemblance to Booth’s original design especially in the drawers and shape of the window shape. The Alura II was a fifty four foot long motor cruiser, with two 275 horsepower engines, so it could go as fast as 16 mph on the water! The boat included electric lights and toilet facilities, a four burner gas stove, and a gas water heater, as well as a Fridgeair ice box. The Alura II was completed in 1929. James and his wife Jean cruised in the boat for most of the summer that year, closing their home to take to the water.

Today’s photo is a sneak peak at some objects you can see on display in the Cranbrook Archives during PNC Bank Family Day this coming Sunday September 28th from 11am to 5pm. Many documents and photographs like today’s Photo Friday will be available to view and learn more about Cranbrook, the Booths, and boats! Learn more about the day’s nautical themed activities, tours, and lecture on the Cranbrook Art Museum’s website.

– Stefanie Dlugosz, Collections Fellow, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

 

Old Words, New Sounds: Oral Histories from the Cranbrook Archives

For the past nine months I have been working on a project to breathe new life into an oral history initiative at Cranbrook that began as early as 1964 as a collaborative project between Cranbrook School and the Cranbrook Foundation. These oral histories give us an intimate view of life here at Cranbrook over the past half century with interviewees spanning across the entire community. They range from Dr. Lee Dice at the Institute of Science, to Cranbrook Academy of Art painter Zoltan Sepheshy, as well as interviews with members of the Vettraino family, whose time living on the grounds spanned several generations. These interviews give us the kind of glimpse into the past of Cranbrook that is difficult to find anywhere else.

Cranbrook’s oral histories are found in the archives in analogue sound formats, namely on magnetic tapes. In order to preserve these interviews and provide access to a wider audience, the Archives is implementing a plan to digitize all of the content. Each oral history is digitized in real time and then transcribed, with each hour of audio taking anywhere from 8 to 10 hours to transcribe, depending on sound quality.

One of the latest gems to be uncovered is a recording of a conversation with brother and sister James and Doris Smith who worked as model makers and production designers from the mid-1940s for many of the artists and architects associated with Cranbrook. James began working with the firm of Saarinen, Swanson, and Saarinen in 1943, while Doris joined them in 1946. Both had their hands on many of the largest projects, such as creating the models for the General Motors Technical Center, and their insight into the daily work and life in the office is unmatched and cannot be forgotten.

In the following clip you can listen to James Smith discuss events and the atmosphere that surrounded the winning entry from Eero Saarinen & Associates for the Gateway Arch in the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in St. Louis, Missouri–better known as the St. Louis Arch.

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Construction of TWA model at Eero Saarinen & Associates taken by Claude de Forest, 1957.Cranbrook Archives.

Justine Tobiasz– Archives Assistant

Dispatch from the Archives: All Things Modernism

Mid-century Modernism has taken over my life!  I eat, sleep, and even dream Modernism these days.  In my role as Head Archivist, I wear many hats – the most recent being to assist the Michigan Modern curatorial team by locating all the cool “stuff” in our Archives related to the upcoming exhibition, which will be opening at the Cranbrook Art Museum on June 14, 2013.  This includes photographs, of course, but the most fun for me is finding correspondence, articles, and ephemera that when put together create a mosaic of a time or place. Continue reading

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