All’s well that ends well

This is a story about a wonderful discovery and a trial of patience. A few years ago, I processed the F. Shirley Prouty Collection on Johannes Kirchmayer, which documents the life and work of her great uncle and contains many years of meticulous research. It was a wonderful collection to work with, and a trove of information on architects and craftsmen of the American gothic revival.

Two of the most outstanding of these are architect Ralph Adams Cram and woodcarver Johannes Kirchmayer, who worked together on many projects. This week I made a wonderful new discovery of another product of their hearts, minds, and hands: a silver and gilt portable font initially commissioned as a gift for the Detroit Museum of Art (now the Detroit Institute of Arts) by George Booth. Cram designed it and Kirchmayer created the sculpture models and chasings for it; then, the piece was executed by silversmith James T. Woolley and decorated by enamellist Elizabeth Copeland.

Silver gilt font completed in 1920 for Detroit Museum of Art. Ralph Adams Cram, Johannes Kirchmayer, James T. Woolley, and Elizabeth Copeland. Cranbrook Archives.

In February 1918, Cram designed the font, which George Booth hoped to have ready for display at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, to be held in Detroit for the first time in October of 1919.

The making of the font did not follow the anticipated timeline, but rather than a story of delay and disappointment, it becomes a story of patience and its reward.

During the spring, Booth visited Boston and left the Cram blueprint with Woolley. On May 1st, he enquired to know Woolley’s interest in executing the design and an estimate of cost, to which Woolley replied positively, quoting $450 excluding the enamel parts. Giving the commission to Woolley, Booth advised him to confer with Cram or his assistant, Mr. Cleveland, and that Copeland will complete the enameling work.

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How a 19th Century Blog Led to a Museum

In 1881 James Edmund Scripps, founder of the Detroit Evening News (later the Detroit News) and father of Ellen Scripps Booth took a five-month trip to Europe with his wife Harriet Messenger Scripps and daughter Grace. As they traveled, Scripps wrote about his experiences and sent the blog-like entries back to his newspaper to publish. Detroit readers loved it.

James Edmund Scripps, ca 1870. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Because the response to his entries was so positive, Scripps compiled them into a book, Five Months Abroad: Or, The Observations and Experiences of an Editor in Europe, published in 1882. Scripps visited Italy, France, Germany, England, and the Netherlands exploring museums and churches. He wrote about art and culture and also sketched the details of many churches and cathedrals.

James Edmund Scripps bookplate from Five Months Abroad, ca 1882. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

William H. Brearley, the advertising manager for the Detroit Evening News, was so impressed with the response from Detroit residents about Scripps’ travel entries, that he decided to organize an art exhibit. Brearley gathered paintings, sculptures, etchings, and engravings (in all, 4,100 items) from collectors in Detroit, Boston, and Cleveland, and even a painting, “The Betrothal of St. Catherine,” from Pope Leo XIII.

 

 

Brearley’s “Art Loan Exhibition of 1883” was held in a temporary hall on Larned Street. The exhibition ran for 10 weeks and attracted more than 134,000 visitors at 25 cents each, covering the costs of the promoters and making a profit. With this success and a generous offer from Senator Thomas Palmer, Brearley and his associates undertook the task of raising money for a permanent museum of art.  A group of 40 Detroit citizens each gave $1,000, Sen. Palmer provided $12,000, and soon the group had raised $100,000.

In 1884, Brearley announced a $50,000 gift from James Edmund Scripps, and on April 16, 1885, the Detroit Museum of Art (later the Detroit Institute of Arts) was incorporated. The museum opened in 1888, and in 1889 Scripps bought and donated 70 European paintings. At a cost of $75,000 (roughly $2.1 million dollars today), this gift was among the first major accessions of European Old Master paintings for any American museum.

Gina Tecos, Archivist

Additional Sources:

Burton, Clarence, William Stocking and Gordon K. Miller. The City of Detroit, Michigan 1701-1922. S.J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1922.

Detroit Museum of Art Hand Book of Paintings, Compiled by James E. Scripps. John F. Eby and Co.,1895.

 

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