Magical Oven: The Frigidaire Flair

As part of its efforts to maintain safe distancing during classes, Cranbrook Schools has spread out all over campus. This includes the use of the Edison House, former home of visiting scholars to Cranbrook Institute of Science.

The history of Edison House and a look at some of its unique features have been explored already (see earlier Kitchen Sink blogs Edison House a Modern Icon and Photo Friday: Modern inside and Out). But one particular object in the house has a special Cranbrook, and a magical, connection.

1965 Frigidaire Imperial Flair oven installed in Edison House. Photos by Daniel Smith, CAA ’22.

In the Edison House kitchen is installed a 1965 model Frigidaire Imperial Flair range and oven in Honey Beige. Frigidaire was owned by General Motors when the Flair was introduced to the market in 1962. An electric range, the Flair has burners that roll in and out much like a drawer, hidden from view when not in use. The double ovens sit right at counter height, and the oven doors lift up instead of swinging out. As a Frigidaire advisement in Cranbrook Archives proudly pronounced, “Flair has every automatic feature you’ve ever wanted!”

Ideas for Living, 1960
An image from “Ideas for Living,” 1960. Copyright General Motors. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

First, the Cranbrook connection: Many aspects of the oven, including the mechanics of the lifting oven doors, were designed by M. Jayne van Alstyne. Van Alstyne, whose papers are held in Cranbrook Archives, studied ceramics at Cranbrook Academy of Art in 1941 and 1942 before going on to study industrial design at Pratt Institute and Alfred University in New York. From 1955 to 1969, she worked for General Motors, first with GM Frigidaire and later as one of Harley Earl’s “Damsels of Design” in the automotive division.

As Studio Head for GM Frigidaire, she led the research and development of appliances and oversaw product exhibitions, including the “Ideas for Living” show where the Flair debuted in 1960. Her signature oven and range (as well as many other modern electric appliances detailed in the dedication booklet) was installed at Edison House in 1966.

Kitchen in Edison House, “Cranbrook’s New Idea Home,” May 1966. Harvey Croze, photographer. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

Second, the magical connection: From 1964 to 1972, Actress Elizabeth Montgomery starred in the television sitcom, Bewitched. It told the story of Samantha, a witch, who marries a mortal, Darrin Stephens (Dick York). Samantha agrees to live the life of an ordinary housewife. Of course, things don’t go as planned and hilarity ensues. In their kitchen, the Stephens had a Frigidaire Flair, which appeared in a number of episodes.

Actress Elizabeth Montgomery on the set of Bewitched with her Frigidaire Flair. Photo Courtesy of Grace Kelly, Kitchen Designs by Ken Kelly, Inc.

Anyone who sees the Flair in Edison House will agree it is a marvel of design. While they won’t be whipping up lunch on the appliance, I hope the kids taking classes in the house will take a moment appreciate it. As Frigidaire promised in 1962, the Flair is “The happiest thing that ever happened to cooking… OR YOU!”

Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

Collections Highlight: Jayne Van Alstyne

A few months back, the Center staff was treated to a tour of the General Motors Design Archive in Warren, Michigan. It was a rare opportunity to exchange ideas with colleagues and peek at an amazing collection. Since that time, we have received several queries about collections here at Cranbrook with GM connections.

One of my favorite collections is the Jayne Van Alstyne Papers. Born in Delaware, Ohio in 1923, Martha Jayne Van Alstyne was an industrial designer, teacher, and ceramicist. The Van Alstyne family moved to East Lansing when Jayne was in high school and her father, Benjamin, accepted a coaching position at Michigan State University. Benjamin Van Alstyne coached basketball and golf at MSU, and her mother, Madeline Bliss Van Alstyne was an interior designer.

Jayne Van Alstyne, General Motors

Jayne Van Alstyne at work at GM, Oct 1956. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives, Jayne Van Alstyne Papers.

Jayne attended Cranbrook Academy of Art (1941-1942) and the Pratt Institute (1942-1945), where she received an Industrial Design Certificate. She completed her bachelor’s and Master of Fine Arts at the Alfred University in New York (1948-1950). Jayne’s ambition and passion for work and life are abundantly evident in the slides, photographs, correspondence, and portfolios we have here in the Archives.

While still a student at Alfred, Jayne developed an Industrial Design program and a Landscape Design course for Michigan State University. In 1949, she was recruited by Montana State University to develop an Interior and Industrial Design program. She loved Bozeman and stayed in this position until 1955 when she joined the design staff at General Motors Frigidaire.

Jayne worked at General Motors in the Appliance division and later in the Automotive division as one of Harley Earl’s famed “Damsels of Design” until 1969. She holds the patent for the first stackable washer/dryer, as well as 8 additional patents for GM. As the Studio Head for GM Frigidaire, she was responsible for research and development, including the “Ideas for Living” and the “Kitchen of Tomorrow” presented at the General Motors Motorama.

Ideas for Living, 1960

An image from “Ideas for Living,” 1960. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

In 1969, Jayne took her experience to the classroom, teaching industrial design at Cornell University. In 1972, she moved back to Bozeman to head the Department of Professional Design at Montana State University, where she remained until her retirement in 1985. During her tenure at Montana State, she designed the Danforth Chapel, including the stained-glass window and furnishings.

In addition to industrial design and teaching, Jayne loved skiing and fly-fishing. She was also an accomplished ceramicist and won numerous ceramic awards. Her work is in the permanent collections of Alfred University, Detroit Institute of Arts, Everson Museum of Art, and Michigan State University. Jayne passed away in 2015 at the age of 92.

Gina Tecos, Archivist

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