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!


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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

Photo Friday: Model Club

Gregg and Model Class

Cranbrook School’s Model Club, March 1952. From left: Faculty Advisor Richard Gregg, David Higbie, Don Young, David Morris, President Richard Gielow, Adams McHenry, Don Hart, Pete Dawkins, Dahmen Brown, and Jerry Phillips. Harvy Croze, photographer. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

This week’s Photo Friday shows the Cranbrook Model Club of 1952—a well-dressed group of Cranbrook School boys and their faculty advisor, Richard Gregg, who met to further their interest and skills at model making. Models, of course, interested Cranbrook’s founder George Booth and are integral to the architectural design process, so its fitting that Cranbrook School had a Model Club.

Model making as a middle-class hobby boomed after World War II, when boys and their fathers were encouraged to take up productive and wholesome pursuits in their leisure time. The broad affordability and availability of plastic model kits meant hobbyists didn’t have to have special tools or carving skills to produce a model—anyone could assemble a kit! Looking closely at the photograph of the Model Club (you can zoom in on the photo here), I believe these are airplanes assembled from such kits.

Gregg with Students cropped.JPG

Cranbrook School art class with instructor Richard “Dick” Gregg sculpting a bust, 1952. Harvy Croze, photographer. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

The model club’s advisor was Richard Gregg, a 1951 Academy of Art graduate. Born in Kalamazoo, Gregg studied sculpture at the Academy. While a student, he worked on various sets for productions by St. Dunstan’s Theater. Following his studies, he taught art at Cranbrook School for Boys during the 1951-1952 school year. After he left Cranbrook, his love of art and art education continued; Gregg went on to work in museums as a design instructor, a curator, and a director at various places across the Midwest and East Coast.

I don’t know that much about the Cranbrook Model Club, but on this hot, blue-skied Friday, I thought it was a nice moment for a photo of something as leisurely and enjoyable as model airplanes!

– Kevin Adkisson, Collections Fellow, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

Corajoyce Rauss (1925-2015): A Cranbrook Legend

The Archives was saddened to learn this week of the passing of Corajoyce Nancy Lane, of Bloomfield Hills, who worked at Cranbrook for over five decades. Raised by parents who taught her that women didn’t, and shouldn’t, work, Corajoyce (who was headstrong even at a young age!) tried to convince her parents to let her get a job. Her first thought was airplane pilot, followed by truck driver so that she could drive across the country! Instead, at the age of 20, without her parents’ permission, she responded to an ad in the Birmingham Eccentric for a photographer’s assistant at the Cranbrook Foundation. Corajoyce was offered the job by staff photographer Harvey Croze, and finally received consent from her parents. The job only lasted two months, which she followed with a job working for Margaret Auger, then headmistress of Kingswood School. In 1948, Corajoyce married Robert Rauss (they honeymooned at a dude ranch in Colorado) and two years later, left Cranbrook to become a stay-at-home mom to her daughter.

Corajoyce Rauss, Nov 1947.

Corajoyce Rauss, Nov 1947. Harvey Croze, photographer.

In 1961, Corajoyce returned to Cranbrook, this time securing a job as Henry Scripps Booth’s personal secretary. As she and Henry became lifelong friends, she was given more responsibility and became the manager of Henry’s personal estate. During her tenure at Cranbrook, Corajoyce met Carl Milles, Zoltan Sepeshy and Eliel Saarinen among others. George and Ellen Booth used to drop by Kingswood School, often unannounced, and Corajoyce also met visitors including Isaac Stern, Leonard Bernstein, and Princess Christina of Sweden.

Arthur Witleff and Corajoyce Rauss, Jan 1962.

Arthur Wittliff and Corajoyce Rauss, Jan 1962. Harvey Croze, photographer.

Soon after Henry’s death in 1988, Corajoyce began work at the Cranbrook Archives as the part-time bookkeeper. She volunteered additional time and took on the task of organizing, with the help of a core of volunteers, the Booth family photographs, creating photo albums that are housed in the Archives today. She worked tirelessly on compiling The Cranbrook Booth Family of America genealogy which required copious amounts of correspondence with various Booth family members. Her hard work and dedication earned her Cranbrook’s President’s Award for Excellence in 1990. Corajoyce remained a fixture at Cranbrook Archives until her retirement in 2007. She was once quoted as saying that she “lived a Cinderella life.” While Cranbrook has lost a dedicated employee, her love of Cranbrook and the work she accomplished here lives on in the Archives.

Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

Photo Friday: Wartime Conservation, Kingswood-Style

Kingswood students Blenda Isbey, Irene Bard, and Nollie Campbell collect waste fat after their Home Economics class at Kingswood School, 1944. Harvey Croze, Cranbrook Archives.

During World War II, students at the Cranbrook and Kingswood Schools became increasingly involved in homefront activities. Here, Kingswood students Blenda Isbey, Irene Bard, and Nollie Campbell collect waste fat after they’ve finished their Home Economics class. Fat could be used to make soap, in great demand because of wartime rations, but was also consolidated for use in explosives.

Poster advocating the re-use of waste fats in explosives. Henry Koerner, Printed by the Office of War Information, 1943. National Archives.

Poster advocating the re-use of waste fats in explosives. Henry Koerner, Printed by the Office of War Information, 1943. National Archives.

Shoshana Resnikoff, Collections Fellow

Website Powered by WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: