Cameras started rolling Monday for the Center’s new film celebrating Swedish American sculptor Carl Milles, premiering May 22nd at A Global House Party at Cranbrook and Millesgården. Centering on materials in the Archives, the day’s shoot featured handwritten correspondence, photographs, sketches, scrapbooks, and oral history recordings that help illuminate the story of the man behind the many iconic sculptures dotting Cranbrook’s campus.
In preparation for the day, I mined several collections in the Archives that document Milles’ twenty years as artist-in-residence at Cranbrook and his work in America during that time. In the process, I made a few delightful discoveries. While most of these treasures were expertly captured by the film production crew (Elkhorn Entertainment), there were a few that just could not be accommodated in Associate Curator Kevin Adkisson’s masterful, but already dense script.
One of these items is a notebook from the Nancy Leitch Papers. A student of Milles’ in the early 1940s, Leitch, like many of Milles’ students, became friends with both him and his wife Olga while at Cranbrook. The brief diary-like entries in Leitch’s pocket-sized book date from 1945, and are an intimate glimpse of daily activities, remembrances, and artist philosophies recounted from shared experiences and conversations with Carl and Olga. A loose paper tucked inside and titled “Carl” is a bonus, containing hasty notes recording his birthday, recommendations of where to visit in Italy (Café Greco in Rome, the cathedral in Orvieto), and words of wisdom, such as, “It is better to be an artist even though you are poor.”
One of the things I love about my work is that I never know what I will discover next. I go in search of one thing and find much more and, sometimes, the unexpected. This happened recently when I ventured into the Ellen Warren Scripps Booth Papers.
Ellen’s papers primarily record her personal life from the 1870s through 1948, with a preponderance on the years 1880-1910. They include drawings, maps, an autograph book from her school days, leaflets from the Epiphany Reformed Church and its reconstitution asTrinity Episcopal Church, letters from her mother, Harriet J. Scripps (letters written 1901-1927), and photographs.
But, the bulk of the collection are her diaries which cover 1880-1944, though the coverage is spotty after 1910. The research value of a diary is variable, depending much upon the focus and meticulousness of the author, and its intersection with the researcher’s interest. The dates in Ellen’s diaries are unquestionably reliable, as other documents in the archives verify their accuracy. Frequently recorded topics include the weather, who preached at church/other churches attended, what she was reading, her music and singing lessons, unwell family members, and who came for tea or dinner.
Her diaries not only tell her story, but also describe the life of the Scripps family and the appearance of the Booth family, particularly Alice and George, in the early 1880s. We can also see glimpses of Detroit history, such as Governor Pingree’s funeral in July 1901, and her visit to Barnum Wire Works with George in January 1887. On February 15, 1882, Ellen writes:
“Walked to and from school today. Went to social at Mr. Woolfenden’s with Theodore. Had a splendid time. Theodore asked me to go to hear Oscar Wilde Friday evening but I concluded not to go. I began reading Old Curiosity Shop this afternoon.”
Oscar Wilde! She notes in her Friday entry, that Theodore went to hear Wilde with Mr. Woolfenden instead. There are many mentions of “Mr. Woolfenden,” who otherwise has only been found mentioned in George Booth’s Memories (pp.53-55).
Frederick W. Woolfenden is one of two people that Henry Wood Booth met during his first visit to Detroit in 1880, the other being James E. Scripps. This story is quite widely known and the information about it, published in Arthur Pound’s book about George Booth, The Only Thing Worth Finding (pp.63-68), comes from George’s writings. Woolfenden had taken interest in Henry Wood Booth’s Ka-o-ka idea, and, after visiting him in St. Thomas, Ontario, convinced him to move to Detroit in 1881. Woolfenden was Assistant Postmaster of Detroit and a co-founder of the Dime Savings Bank, but he was also a Pastor at the Epiphany Church where Henry Wood Booth had first met him.
Ellen’s diaries record his deep involvement with the family as a friend and pastor who conducted the christenings, confirmations, funerals, and weddings of both families. It was Woolfenden who married George and Ellen in 1887.
Ellen’s diaries provide a complete record of her life until 1910 and so the earliest memories of Cranbrook are recorded. The story that we know and love so well, of George and Ellen purchasing the old farm from Samuel Alexander is captured in her hand and it was lovely to read as she describes, albeit briefly, the snow drifts as they visit the farm:
A few days later, on January 18, 1904, she writes, “Went down town to sign the mortgage for the farm. It is ours now, and we are all so glad.” All these years later, I am so glad too.
—Laura MacNewman, Associate Archivist, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research