Where in the World is Academy Graduation?

Today was a very exciting day at Cranbrook, with the Academy of Art Commencement taking place underneath a bright blue sky at Thompson Oval. Sixty-four students (now alumni!) were awarded their degrees. Artis Lane received an Honorary Master of Fine Arts and delivered an inspiring speech (on her 94th birthday, no less!), while Allie McGhee delivered a wonderful commencement address.

Susan Ewing, Director, speaking at the Cranbrook Academy of Art Class of 2021 Commencement, May 14, 2021 on the Thompson Oval at Cranbrook School. Photograph by Katie McGowan, CAA Photography ’22, Courtesy Cranbrook Academy of Art.

But as I sat in the newly restored bleachers of the Cranbrook School football stadium, I wondered: was this the first time the Academy’s commencement took place here, at the Thompson Oval?

A quick search in Archives revealed that, yes, it seemed to be. However, the same search revealed that graduation has taken place all around campus over the years.

The Academy dates back to 1932, but it first granted degrees in 1942. This was the same time Cranbrook Art Museum and Library opened. Early commencements took place in the Museum galleries, and, at least in the earliest years, the faculty and staff wore academic regalia.

Eliel Saarinen, President, confers degrees during the Cranbrook Academy of Art Class of 1943 Commencement, May 1943 at Cranbrook Art Museum. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Other early commencement ceremonies took place in the Academy’s Library next door. The reading room tables and chairs were replaced with rows of seating for students and guests. By 1945, it appears academic regalia had been abandoned.

A rather sleepy Zoltan Sepeshy, Director, at Cranbrook Academy of Art Class of 1945 Commencement, May 26, 1945 in Cranbrook Academy of Art Library. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

By midcentury, as the student body expanded, commencement moved to the Greek Theatre. This remained the location for many decades, and likely where commencement will return in a post-pandemic future.

Roy Slade, President, presides over a Cranbrook Academy of Art Commencement in the early 1990s at the Greek Theatre. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

And of course, what do you need if you’re planning an outdoor event in May in Michigan? A rain plan! Christ Church Cranbrook serves as the inclement weather site of commencement, as seen here in 2015.

Cranbrook Academy of Art Class of 2015 Commencement, May 8, 2015 at Christ Church Cranbrook. Photograph by Chris Schneider, Courtesy Cranbrook Academy of Art.

Fast forward to 2020, where commencement existed only in the virtual sphere: on Zoom. Not quite an architecturally interesting locale!

Susan Ewing, Director, presides over the Cranbrook Academy of Art Class of 2020 Commencement, May 8, 2020, on Zoom. Available here.

And then, today, commencement moved to the football field. It was a sunny day with perfect weather and high spirits as the community gathered, safely and in person, to celebrate the achievements of the Academy students.

Cranbrook Academy of Art Class of 2021 Commencement, May 14, 2021 on the Thompson Oval at Cranbrook School. Photograph by Kevin Adkisson.

Now, scroll back up and notice one thing that stayed the same across the years: the Academy Flag! It was behind President Eliel Saarinen in 1943, and behind Director Susan Ewing today.

Today’s ceremony will be uploaded to the Academy’s Vimeo page soon. Meanwhile, there are still a few days left to see the Class of 2021 Graduate Degree Exhibition at Cranbrook Art Museum, which closes on Sunday, May 16, and you can also see the (coronavirus delayed) Class of 2020 Graduate Degree Exhibition at Wasserman Projects in Detroit through June 19, 2021.

Congratulations from the Center to the Cranbrook Academy of Art Class of 2021!

Kevin Adkisson, Associate Curator, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

Photo Friday: Cranbrook Academy of Art Graduate Degree Show

In honor of Cranbrook Academy of Art’s Graduate Degree Show which opens this weekend, here are a few images from past degree shows.

Student Exhibition, 1959

Student Exhibition, 1959

Student Exhibition, 1960

Student Exhibition, 1960

Graduate Degree Show Invitation, 1998

Graduate Degree Show Invitation, 1998

Clay Temples Installation, Graduate Degree Show, 2002

Clay Temples Installation, Graduate Degree Show, 2002

Letters Left Behind: Advertising Local History

In pulling together the final selections for the Cranbrook Archives’ exhibition “Ephemera: Stories that Letterhead Tells,” I had many difficult choices to make. We have so many fantastic examples of letterhead that span 150 years. It was hard to choose which stories to tell in the exhibition!

That said, I have to say that some of my favorites are the ones that document Michigan history, and specifically, local area history. Numerous businesses including retail stores, restaurants, gas stations, hotels, industries and civic organizations, are no longer in existence and the letterhead is the last bit of evidentiary proof of existence. This post is an opportunity to spotlight a few of these.






Beginning this Thursday, the Archives, as part of the Center for Collections and Research, will be host to a lecture series about Michigan history. In each of the three lectures, the speakers will highlight letterhead from their own institution’s archival collections that relate to the stories they are telling. Please join us this Thursday October 16th for the first in the series: “Boom Town: Detroit in the Roaring ‘20s” by Joel Stone, Senior Curator of the Detroit Historical Society. The lecture will be held in DeSalle Auditorium, Cranbrook Art Museum, from 7-8:30pm and include a tour of the exhibition “Ephemera: Stories that Letterhead Tells.”

Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

Photo Friday: Art by Degrees

Young women take in the Annual Exhibition of Student Work at the Cranbrook Art Museum. The central painting is Untitled (1957) by student Frank Okada. June 1957. Harvey Croze/Cranbrook Archives.

Visitors take in the Annual Exhibition of Student Work at Cranbrook Art Museum. The central painting is Untitled (1957) by student Frank Okada. June 1957. Harvey Croze/Cranbrook Archives.

It’s that time of year again—the Graduate Degree Exhibition is up and running at Cranbrook Art Museum! Staged in some form or another since 1940, the Graduate Degree Exhibition is a celebration of work produced by Cranbrook’s graduating class of MFA students. This photograph from 1957’s Annual Exhibition of Student Work (an earlier name for the Graduate Degree Exhibition) shows a painting by Academy of Art graduate Frank Okada that might be familiar to eagle-eyed museum visitors—it was featured in the 2013 exhibition What to Paint and Why: Modern Painters at Cranbrook, 1936-1974.

For more information about the 2014 Graduate Degree Exhibition, check out Cranbrook Art Museum’s website. And be sure to check out the show while you still can—it closes May 11!

Photo Friday: Graduate Degree Exhibition

walter hickey thesis

Cranbrook Academy of Art student Walter Hickey’s model for a proposed development for the Detroit waterfront, 1935. Cranbrook Archives.

You know it’s April at the Cranbrook Art Museum when the building is overrun by graduate students from the Academy of Art, frantically putting together their final projects for the Graduate Degree Exhibition.  While the degree show (opening this year on April 22 and running until May 12) is a longtime tradition at Cranbrook (staged in some iteration since 1940!),  graduate theses date back to 1943— the first year the Academy was accredited as a degree-granting institution.   In 1935 Walter Hickey created this model as part of a larger project to redesign the Detroit waterfront helmed by Cranbrook Academy of Art director and famed architect Eliel Saarinen.

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