A Summer Education at Brookside

Summer school. Those two words usually make most children cringe—who wants to spend their summer vacation studying and attending classes? Sheer morbid curiosity made me explore further a few folders in Brookside School Records, a collection just opened for research last month. What I found was not the usual story.

The Brookside summer school program, AWAKE, had a different purpose than remedial education for elementary students. Developed in 1968 by Pontiac Elementary Principal Jim Hawkins and Brookside Headmaster John P. Denio, it was designed to promote harmony and understanding amongst young children who might not otherwise share life experiences due to racial, social, and economic segregation.

AWAKE followed on the heels of the “long hot summer” of 1967, which saw civil unrest in Detroit and cities across Michigan, including Pontiac, due to long-standing racial inequalities for Black Americans. Instituted in 1968, AWAKE’s purpose was to “bring together young children in essentially two segregated school areas,” in some ways foreshadowing the desegregation of Pontiac and Detroit schools in the early 1970s.

Roughly fifty children split their time equally between the Bloomfield Hills and Pontiac schools for five mornings a week, over a four-week period in July and August. Co-sponsored by Cranbrook’s Brookside School and Pontiac Public Schools’ Bethune and Whittier Elementary Schools, the program included art projects, field trips, swimming, reading, and other enrichment activities for kindergarten-age children in both communities. Directed at young children because of their natural receptiveness at that age, Denio believed that,

With AWAKE, children four through six, through work and play activities and through simple, open contact with each other may perhaps develop the knowledge and understanding necessary to reinforce their acceptance of each other as human beings.

Governed by a Board comprised of community members and Pontiac Public School administrators and teachers, the program was self-sustained through tuition fees (waived in cases of need), financial contributions, and community support. Christ Church Cranbrook, for example, played a significant role through both donations and parishioners’ participation in the program. Familiar Cranbrook names, such as Cranbrook School teacher and Horizons-Upward Bound founder, Ben Snyder, and his wife Margot were also regular advocates of the program.

Borrowing lyrics from Rogers and Hammerstein and with photographs by Jack Kausch, poster displays sum up AWAKE’s ethos: “Getting to know you … Getting to know all about you … Getting to like you … Getting to hope you like me.” Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

A grass roots experiment in creative problem-solving of the urban crisis faced by cities across the country, AWAKE only lasted for five years (1968-1972). Because of its short duration, the effectiveness of the program was never fully appreciated, despite a 1969 study conducted by a University of Michigan Ph.D. student in education and social sciences and regular solicitation of teacher and parent feedback. Ultimately, rising costs and a lack of grant money; shortages of staff; and dwindling enrollment, undoubtedly due in part to the integration of Pontiac schools and the unsettling atmosphere of anti-busing protests, prohibited the continuation of the program.  

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

Cranbrook Gets the Royal Treatment

Not once, but twice, Cranbrook has pulled out the figurative red carpet and with appropriate fanfare welcomed Swedish royalty to its campus. Anyone who knows and loves Cranbrook might not be all that surprised by this revelation. After all, Cranbrook is a very special place—the home of dozens of sculptures by Sweden’s celebrated sculptor Carl Milles, who lived and worked at Cranbrook for twenty years, as well as many tapestries woven by Loja Saarinen’s renowned Swedish weavers. But the larger Detroit community has also boasted a significant Swedish cultural presence.

While most Michiganders might be familiar with the role that Swedish immigrants played in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula mining and lumber industries, Swedes also played major roles in Detroit’s development, from the auto industry to the fine and performing arts. Not least of all were the contributions made by Milles, including his sculpture The Hand of God, which has stood in front of the city’s Frank Murphy Hall of Justice since 1970. The founding in 1963 of the Detroit Swedish Council by Charles J. Koebel (who, decades earlier, had commissioned Eliel Saarinen to design his family home in Grosse Pointe Farms), saw a concerted effort to promote Swedish culture in the area. It was likely the unique combination of Cranbrook’s artistic works and Detroit’s vibrant Swedish community that attracted visits from Sweden’s royal family on two separate occasions.

Program for the day’s activities. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

So it was that on October 26, 1972, Princess Christina of Sweden set foot on Cranbrook grounds as part of her two-week tour of the States. And sixteen years later, her brother and his wife, King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia, followed suit on April 18, 1988. Both visits focused largely on Carl Milles’ Cranbrook legacy, directly involved the Academy of Art and Art Museum, and were the result of collaborations between Cranbrook and the Detroit Swedish Council. Yet each visit had its own unique activities and sense of purpose.

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The Fashions of Ruth Adler Schnee

Sometimes it seems there are infinite possible discoveries within a single archives collection. Such is the case with the Edward and Ruth Adler Schnee Papers. Just over a year ago I wrote about the Schnees’ long-running Detroit retail business, Adler/Schnee, but I knew then that story was only the tip of the iceberg.  

And so I was happy to find myself returning recently to one of my favorite collections in the Archives. Replacing materials that had been on loan to the Cranbrook Art Museum for their exhibit, Ruth Adler Schnee: Modern Designs for Living, I was once again struck by her achievements as a high school student at Cass Technical High School in Detroit from 1940-1942. In particular, her skill at fashion design. Maybe it was the months of hearing about sweatpants and Zoom shirts, but it was so refreshing to spend a few moments remembering what real fashion means. 

Ruth Adler Schnee illustration, circa 1941. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Before Ruth Adler Schnee made a name for herself in interior design, including her iconic textile designs, she was interested in becoming a fashion designer. Attending Cass Tech afforded Ruth the opportunity to nurture her natural artistic talents, which are clearly evident in drawings from her primary school days. And, she had already shown an affinity for fashion design—out of necessity, Ruth had already been designing her own clothes since she was a 13-year-old Jewish girl in Nazi Germany (her family emigrated in 1939).

Amongst other documents in her collection, the story of Ruth’s high school years and her passion for fashion are perhaps best captured in three notebooks. One of my favorite boxes in the collection holds nothing but pages from a notebook entitled Dress Design VI. Labeled “hours 1-4″ it is clearly a class project, and one for which Ruth received high marks. Divided into four parts (Machine Attachments, Illustrative Material, Drafting Problems, and Analysis of Dresses), the book includes drawings, pattern pieces (not to scale), paper mockups of mainly women’s sportswear designs, samples of sewing technique (actual fabric pinned to the page), textile identification pages (with real fabric samples), and an essay on silk. 

Sleeve Form page, in “Notes on the Draping of Garments,” Ruth Adler Schnee, circa 1942. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.
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Sketching to Jazz and Judo: the Young People’s Art Center

Did you know that Cranbrook Art Museum’s educational partnerships with surrounding communities date back over sixty years? Long before the current museum trend of interactive educational programs for youth audiences, the Academy of Art and the Junior League of Birmingham had an idea:  the Young People’s Art Center (YPAC).

Young People’s Art Center logo, from the 1962 enrollment form. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

The year was 1958, and the Museum had recently changed names to the Academy of Art Galleries, shifting focus to feature more contemporary art practices. With that, came the desire to encourage young visitors to express their own artistic voices—participatory education, rather than simply art appreciation. Documenting the program’s first year, a June 1959 Detroit News Pictorial Magazine feature noted that YPAC “is fast gaining a national reputation for its lively approach to art education.”

In particular, it was Henry Booth (Academy Board of Trustees Chairman), Wallace Mitchell (Head of Galleries), and Zoltan Sepeshy (Academy Director) that approached the Junior League with a plan. In a 1957 report by Mitchell during the Center’s development phase, he states, “ The personnel of the Cranbrook Academy of Art has become increasingly aware of the growing country-wide interest in the visual arts and has long wished to more directly participate in the fostering and guiding of this interest as expressed in our community.” Seeking support from the Junior League, this “unique opportunity to bring to the children of Oakland County an integrated program in art education which concerns itself with the totality of the art experience” was green-lighted for the following year.

Children watch a judo demonstrator as part of a class exercise. Erik Strylander, photographer. From the article “Sketching to Jazz and Judo,” Detroit News Pictorial Magazine, June 28, 1959.

A perfect partnership was formed. The Academy would provide leadership, through the support of its trustees, director, and faculty; the Junior League would provide the necessary finances. Naturally, with so many talented artists on campus, there was no lack of creativity or helping hands! Junior League members were also heavily involved, providing volunteer docents to conduct gallery tours and assist with classes, both of which were located on the ground level of the Museum below the Academy Library.

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Science Projects

Cranbrook Institute of Science (CIS) has long held a special place in the hearts of many area schoolchildren. Field trips, weekend family outings, and onsite demonstrations in schools and community centers are a part of the fabric of the metro Detroit K-12 educational experience.

Elementary students visit the Cranbrook Institute of Science in 1935. Robert T. Hatt, photographer. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

A recent discovery in our collections furthered my appreciation of the Institute’s educational outreach and its commitment to ensuring access to the world of science for all its surrounding communities. It all started with the folder titled “Pontiac Area Urban League, 1988” in the Institute of Science Director’s Records.

The Pontiac Area Urban League (PAUL), was founded in 1950 as an affiliate of the National Urban League. An integral part of PAUL’s mission was to improve educational opportunities for underserved residents. Through its Education Committee, they partnered with Pontiac Public Schools in the 1980s to empower students of color to seek equity in science and math education by providing real-world role models and encouraging parent involvement. In 1988 this effort took the form of a project that focused specifically on middle school students and lead PAUL to approach Cranbrook Institute of Science. The resulting partnership formed the basis of CIS’s relationship with students in the School District of the City of Pontiac that continues to this day.

A visiting school group, 1966. Robert T. Hatt, photographer. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

Correspondence in the CIS Director’s Records suggests that CIS had already been considering educational outreach efforts to Pontiac residents. Janet M. Johnson, Director of Education, states in a 1988 memo to Director Robert M. West regarding the possible partnership with PAUL: “This may be another avenue for us to pursue interests with Pontiac.” West expresses his “delight” a few months later in a letter addressed to PAUL’s Interim Director, Jaqueline Washington:

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The Power of Knowledge

In commemoration of this significant day, Juneteenth, I thought we’d look back at one of many compelling stories in Cranbrook’s history. In the summer of 1970, Horizons-Upward Bound (HUB) offered four new electives that reflected the experimental nature of a project in its sixth year of operation. These electives allowed for innovation and creative thought around topics of particular relevancy to HUB students, investigating issues that still resonate fifty years later.

1969 HUB student photo used on the inside cover of the 1970-1971 annual report. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Black Creative Writing, taught by Highland Park Community College English instructor Stephen D. Chennault, involved readings, examinations of concepts, and self-directed writing. Students surveyed a Langston Hughes edited short story collection and works by the Black Arts Movement poet, Don L. Lee (later known as Haki Madhubuti). They also explored Black awareness, the role of the Black professional writer, and created skits centered on Black life, in what Chennault describes as a “careful observation of their niche in today’s America.”

The Black Contributions course was co-taught by Wayne State University interns, Ervin Brinker and Fred Massey, and grew out of the Black History course of the two previous summers. Refocused with a more contemporary slant, students studied organizations such as the Black Panther Party, the Student Non-Violent Coordination Committee, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Reporting on the course, Brinker and Massey observed that “both instructors and students were sensitized to the realization that solutions to racial problems are imbedded in institutional living patterns of long standing, protected by mazes of barrier that must be recognized and understood if they are to be nullified.”

George W. Crockett Jr., 1968. Courtesy of Walter P. Reuther Library.

Law was team taught by Detroit attorney Michael Brady and University of Wisconsin law student Norman Prance. Half of class time focused on criminal law, which included examination of Yale Sociology Professor Albert J. Reiss’ 1967 study of police brutality and discussion of the Wayne County Juvenile Court. The subject culminated in a field trip to the Detroit Recorders Courtroom of Judge George Crockett Jr., a civil rights advocate known for confronting the practice of race-based sentencing.

Ben Snyder and Horizons scholarship students, 1968. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

In the course, Power, developed by HUB founder and director Ben M. Snyder, students explored the idea of power through a combination of contemporary theory and current realities. Stemming from two works: Adolf Berle’s 1969 Power and Nathan Wright’s 1968 Black Power and Urban Unrest, the course addressed complicated regional situations, such as the redistricting of Detroit schools. When replying to a question regarding the value of the course to his future, one student remarked, “As long as I am more aware of the American way of working power, it should make me more alert.”

Cover illustration by David McMurray for The HUB 101 Literary Magazine, 4 (Summer 1970). Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

A tradition since 1967, the Literary Magazine, a sampling of writing and art produced by HUB students, is perhaps the most important summation of the student experience. Against the backdrop of the civil rights movement, national Vietnam War protests, and the beginnings of an economic downturn that would hit the Detroit metro area hard, the Summer 1970 issue reflects powerful emotions. It’s clear to see that these four thought-provoking electives left a profound effect on students’ views of American society and their role in it. With titles like Discrimination, Revolution, Black Power, Choice of Colors, The Man, The Militant, and Pride, the poignancy of their voices is striking and remarkably germane to events, both then and today.

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

A Michigan Mural

Metro Detroiters, out-of-town visitors, and architectural aficionados worldwide have long admired the Penobscot Building in Detroit’s Financial District. Like its close neighbor, the Guardian Building, and the Fisher Building further north in Midtown, it is one of the city’s finest examples of art deco architecture and one of the iconic structures that still make up Detroit’s skyline today. Designed by Wirt C. Rowland of Smith, Hinchman, & Grylls, when its 47 stories were built in 1928, it was the tallest building in the city and the fourth tallest in the nation.

The Penobscot, on the National Register of Historic Places, is perhaps best known architecturally for its tiered upper seventeen floors and the exterior ornament by sculptor Corrado Parducci, whose work can be seen on many other Detroit buildings. It’s also known to locals for the red-lit globe at the top (originally designed as an aviation beacon), the legendary Caucus Club (Barbara Streisand reportedly launched her singing career here), or the famed roof observation deck which offered an excellent panorama of the city.

But, what about the interior of the Penobscot? Well it just so happens there’s a Cranbrook connection!

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The original bank lobby. Courtesy Detroit Free Press Archives.

The Guardian Detroit Group was the first tenant of the two-story bank hall at 635 Griswold St. before they had their own skyscraper commissioned just a block away. A later occupant, Detroit City Bank, opened in the same space in February 1949. When they did, adorning one wall was a mural painted by Cranbrook Academy of Art graduate and Head of Kingswood School Art Department (1940-1956), Clifford B. West. Known as the “Mural of Michigan” the twenty-six-foot painting depicts scenes representing state commerce and industry. West, who studied under Zoltan Sepeshy, and with fellow muralist David Fredenthal, had already completed a bank mural in Alamosa, Colorado, as well as Detroit-area murals in the Rackham Building, Stockholm Restaurant, and Fox & Hounds Restaurant.

Following a meticulous process that involved a series of sketches at different scales, cartoons plotted to a numbered grid and traced on the wall, and painting in two steps (large blocks of color followed by detail work), the scenes were applied in casein tempera on canvas cemented to the wall. Joining in this process was West’s wife and fellow artist, Joy Griffin West, and several academy students. Fortuitously, each stage of work was captured in a series of photographs by Cranbrook photographer, Harvey Croze.

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Upon completion of the mural, West mounted an exhibit at Cranbrook Art Museum titled, Progress of a Mural in April 1949, detailing his process for the Penobscot mural, and featuring many of the preliminary sketches and cartoons.

It’s largely unknown whether the Penobscot mural exists today, since a drop ceiling was installed many years ago, completely obscuring West’s creation.

Deborah Rice, Head Archivist

The Skyline is a Promise

Cranbrook Archives houses an impressive collection of motion picture films, many of which offer depictions of student life at Cranbrook Schools. These films uniquely capture what it was actually ‘like’ to be on campus at a given moment in time, and potentially present perspectives not captured in official written documentation. One such film, The Skyline is a Promise, from the Horizons-Upward Bound Records, is an excellent example.

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Filming on Cranbrook School campus, 1966. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

The Horizons-Upward Bound (HUB) program, then in its 2nd year, was self-described as “An Experimental Enrichment Program.” In conjunction with representatives from Detroit Public Schools and Oakland County Schools, the program’s objective was to provide low-income Detroit area high school students with opportunities for future success in academics and in life. The creation of Cranbrook School teacher, Ben Snyder, who served as its director for twenty-four years, HUB was the only program of its kind at that time.

Skyline was produced, directed, and filmed by Wayne State University Audio-Visual Productions during the summer of 1966, and was intended both as a promotional piece and an educational aid. The 16-minute short film captured every aspect of the program. Raymond Maloney, a HUB English instructor from Cranbrook School, wrote of the experience in the 1966 Annual Report: “At times, the dining hall, classrooms or dormitories took on all the aspects of a movie set complete with eighty-eight willing actors.” Students not only were eager participants in front of the camera but also learned about what was involved behind the camera, thanks to one of the film’s producers.

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Wayne State University film crew, 1966. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

Funding for the film was provided by an anonymous donor, supplemented by funds from the program’s Ford Foundation grant. According to a May 25, 1966 letter, the script was written by George H. Bouwman, Director of Development, Horace Mann School, Bronx, NY. The soundtrack was a mix of guitar music, sound effects, and voice-overs from both the narrator and student interviews, also conducted by the film crew. The film’s title was taken from The Wanderer of Liverpool by John Masefield, Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom (1930-1967):

Go forth to seek: the quarry never found

Is still a fever to the questing hound

The skyline is a promise, not a bound.

Beginning in the Summer of 1967, the film was circulated for a $5 rental fee throughout the U.S. (with accompanying report) to other independent schools considering establishing a similar program. Made at the suggestion of the National Association of Independent Schools, it was shown in its first year at 36 member schools in 18 states, 6 school conferences across the country, and 14 other organizations including the Education Departments of Wayne State University and the University of Michigan.

That same summer saw a watershed moment in Detroit history: civil unrest with profound ramifications for the city’s inhabitants, which included sixty Horizon students and their families. A full page in HUB’s 1967 Annual Report expresses appreciation to those who particularly helped navigate the complexities of the situation, including Detroit educators, clergy, business leaders, and local figures, such as Detroit Tigers player Al Kaline. Cranbrook would continue to have ties to Detroit institutions through its HUB program, like the relationship it formed with New Detroit in 1968. This summer, HUB will celebrate its 55th anniversary, remaining an important link between Cranbrook and its Metro Detroit neighbors.

Fifty-four years later, Skyline transcends its original intent and gives us a window into the experiences of a specific group of students at Cranbrook during a tumultuous time in our region’s history. The film, like many others in the Archives, is currently undergoing review for reformatting to digital media for access and preservation of the originals, so that their stories are not lost to future generations.

Deborah Rice, Head Archivist

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

Revel in the Clutter of Edward Fella’s 1972 Cranbrook Map

On the inside cover of the 1973/1975 Cranbrook Academy of Art Catalog is a hand-drawn, fold-out map of the campus. I’ve always liked this map, with its witty labels like “Brookside School for Little Kids” and “Another Famous Statue.”

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Map of Cranbrook drawn by Edward Fella (CAA Design 1987), 1972. Printed on the inside cover of the 1973/1975 Cranbrook Academy of Art Course Catalog. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

On the top left, you’ll see “Athletic Fields (Detroit Lions practice here).” The map also documents the neighborhood: on the far right, “Houses of the Bloomfield Hills wealthy” and on the bottom left, “Used to be orchards here, now houses.” If you look nearby, you’ll see “Map drawn by Edward Fella 1972.”

There are other labels that help expand our understanding of Cranbrook in 1972. The Old Water Tower (a thorn in Saarinen’s side) is still standing, and Cranbrook House is listed as “Booth Estate, Cranbrook House, now Institute for Pastoral Studies.” There are still tennis courts where the New Studios and Middle School for Girls would be built. There’s no label for Saarinen House, instead, sandwiched between the “Foundry Studio,” “Architecture,” “Ceramics,” “Fabrics,” and “Metalsmithing” reads a label for “President’s House.” (Wallace Mitchell was the Academy’s president at the time). Although there are lots of cars and some people—I spy football players, an entrance guard, and a life guard—the only proper name I see is “McCoy Studio.” This makes sense: Ed Fella was a frequent collaborator with, and later a student of, Katherine and Michael McCoy.

Edward Fella is a native of Detroit who graduated from Cass Technical High School in 1957. There, he studied lettering, illustration, paste-up, and other commercial-art techniques. He went directly from high school into advertising work as a commercial artist, working primarily for automotive and health-care clients. He had a successful career in advertising for almost three decades in Detroit.

In the early 1970s, the period in which Fella drew our map, he was working on freelance work between more conventional assignments. These pieces were often whimsical collages of photocopied materials with hand drawing and lettering additions. In 1970, Fella met Katherine McCoy (future Artist-in-Residence at Cranbrook) at Designers & Partners, his employer, in downtown Detroit. As McCoy recalled to Design Traveler last year, “I interviewed with the senior design partner, Al Evans, who offered me a job that day and introduced me to Ed Fella as I left. I recall a 32-year-old Ed sitting at his drawing board smoking his usual cigarette in his studio space right by the studio’s front door. I was 25 and very impressed by his wall of books, stacks of magazines, and graphic ephemera pinned up everywhere.” She noted that Fella was “already a Detroit advertising design celebrity.”

McCoy only worked at Design & Partners one year, leaving in 1971 to head Cranbrook’s design department with her husband Michael. There, she would often invite Fella to present his work to students and offer critiques. As McCoy told the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA), “If anyone is meant to be a student and teacher in a rigorous educational environment, it’s Ed Fella. He was a powerful influence on our students.” It would have been around this time Fella was commissioned to produce the Cranbrook map for the 1973/1975 course catalog.

Cranbrook Academy of Art Cover for 1973 Catalog by Katherine McCoy

Cover, 1973/1975 Cranbrook Academy of Art Course Catalog, designed by Katherine McCoy. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

After over a decade “hanging out” in the “hippie” and “loosely structured” atmosphere of Cranbrook (Fella’s words), in 1985 at the age of 47 Fella entered into the MFA program at Cranbrook. Although older than his fellow students (and his department heads), Fella didn’t view his years of professional practice as an advantage: “At Cranbrook, I really was fortunate to be in such an amazing class dynamic…I used to say, experience never trumps a great idea; a 20-year-old can have one as easily as a 40- year-old…and it was certainly the case in that class!” He immersed himself into the era’s discussions about the postmodern movement. At Cranbrook, he also studied photography with Carl Toth and attended discussions with architect Daniel Libeskind (meanwhile, Fella’s two daughters babysat Libeskind’s young children).

Throughout his career, Fella produced work for local art cooperatives and events, like the Detroit Focus Gallery, Detroit Artist Market, and Cranbrook. Over 100 of these posters were donated in 2012 to Cranbrook Art Museum. It is in the experimental nature of these posters where we can see how Fella perfected his art of distorting text and collaging high and low imagery.

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Practice and Preach and Theorize and Teach! Edward Fella, American, 2004. One-color, offset-print on bond paper, 17 x 11 in. Gift of the Artist, Courtesy of Cranbrook art Museum.

In 1987 Ed Fella left Michigan to begin teaching design at the California Institute of the Arts. He recently retired from the school after a long career of mentoring and producing experimental works of graphic design. In 2014, he was awarded Cranbrook Academy of Art’s Distinguished Alumni Award. You can read and see more about Fella’s life, work, and education here in this excellent biography by Design Traveler.

Fella’s 2007 AIGA medal biography summarizes Fella’s career as: “prodigiously mashing up low-culture sources with high-culture erudition, Fella’s work—perhaps more than that of any other contemporary designer—makes visible the postmodern concept of deconstruction, which recognizes that behind every articulated meaning is a host of other, usually repressed meanings, some antithetical. By battering and mixing fonts, engaging in visual puns and generally violating the tenets of ‘good design,’ Fella lets a thousand flowers bloom. His designs don’t cut through the clutter—they revel in it.”

I think this quite aptly summarizes the joy I find in Fella’s Cranbrook map of 1972: reveling in the mashup of landscape, architecture, activity, and text. Fella captures the diversity and beauty of this unique assemblage we call Cranbrook.

– Kevin Adkisson, 2016-2019 Collections Fellow, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

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