Cranbrook-LIFE

2020 marks ninety years of temporary traveling exhibitions at Cranbrook Art Museum. Perhaps one of the best examples that brings to life this aspect of the Museum’s programs is Cranbrook’s brief but wildly successful partnership with LIFE Magazine.

The Cranbrook-LIFE Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting opened in 1940, ten years after Cranbrook Art Museum hosted its first traveling exhibition, organized by the American Union of Decorative Artists and featuring contemporary interior design. The idea of temporary traveling exhibits at Cranbrook began the same year as the permanent collection was established by founder George G. Booth. It furthered Booth’s commitment to presenting contemporary art as foremost a learning tool for Academy of Art students. It was intended “to remind our students that art is a living thing and that the record of our times is being created from day to day by the artists of this age, and in so doing perhaps to stimulate the creative spirit among those who work here.”

LIFE_judging

Judges examine paintings in New York, April 1940. Hansel Meith, photographer. Copyright Time Inc.

Cranbrook-LIFE was a celebration of contemporary U.S. art meant to symbolize “America’s increasing responsibility as a democratic world art center.” (Life, May 27, 1940) As such, LIFE invited sixty painters, living and working in America, to submit three paintings to be voted on by a jury of six. The painters included Edward Hopper, Charles Sheeler, and Cranbrook’s own Zoltan Sepeshy. The jury, comprised of Sepeshy, two leading art museum directors, an editor at LIFE Magazine, a representative from the Federal Works Agency Section of Fine Arts, and a well-respected American painter and educator, convened in a New York City warehouse where they spent four hours whittling down 180 submissions to the final sixty paintings shipped to Cranbrook for the show. One of these was Grant Wood’s American Gothic! Loaned by the Art Institute of Chicago, the already famous painting appears to be the only piece in the exhibition to come from another art museum.

5523-5

Opening night attendees arrive. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

If you’re at all familiar with LIFE, you may be asking yourself why a popular weekly magazine, known for its photographic general-interest stories, would make a foray like this into the art world? According to a 1940 TIME Magazine article, in the previous three years,  “the No. 1 U.S. source of popular knowledge of U.S. art has been LIFE, which has reproduced for the man-in-the-street’s weekly dime some 452 paintings (usually in full color) by U.S. artists.” Your next question might be why it was held at Cranbrook, as opposed to, say, the newly constructed Museum of Modern Art building in New York City? Florence Davies of the Detroit News may have answered that, when she wrote at the time: “Life Magazine picked Cranbrook not only because of the enchanting setting of the place as a whole, but more particularly because it found there ‘work in progress—an atmosphere of creative activity.’”

5523-11

Academy of Art students parade through the opening night gala reminding attendees of the student exhibition simultaneously on display at the Cranbrook Pavilion. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

The exhibition drew an estimated 2,500 national and international visitors in the short two weeks it was on display from May 17-June 2, 1940. Because of the size of the show, it could not be held in the current museum building on Lone Pine Road and Academy Way (Eliel Saarinen’s museum building began construction during the exhibition). And, as the Academy student exhibition was currently occupying the Cranbrook Pavilion, the decision was made to utilize the Academy’s Painting Department Studios. Opening night was a festive gala. Attendees, including George and Ellen Booth, Loja and Eliel Saarinen, Edsel B. Ford, Albert Kahn, and “1,000 Detroit socialites braved wintry winds” in formal attire. (Time, June 3, 1940)

5533-1

Marianne Strengell, Charles Eames, and Richard Reinhardt. Richard A. Askew, photographer. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Coming on the heels of the Great Depression and during the beginning months of the War in Europe, pro-American sentiment was high, as evidenced by the placement of potted American-grown tomatoes in windowsills as decoration. According to TIME Magazine, the music for the evening was by U.S. composers and refreshments included “Rhine wine flavored to taste like U.S. new-mown hay.” (!?)

Cranbrook-LIFE marks the beginning of the Cranbrook Art Museum Exhibition Records, which illuminate thirty-six years of temporary traveling exhibits, and are rife with names of renowned artists that have exhibited at Cranbrook throughout its history.

It’s not all in the past, though! Don’t miss Cranbrook Art Museum’s current traveling exhibition,  In the Vanguard: Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, 1950-1969, on view until March 8, 2020.

Deborah Rice, Head Archivist

Allurements of Flinch

Allurements of Flinch by James Ball Naylor*

There’s people down to Clovertown
whose only end an’ aim
Is jest to set an’ fiddle with some dern
fool, silly game
They used to play at tid’lywinks an’
authors – an’ I guess,
They hankered after dominoes, an’
crokinole, an’ chess:
An’ as fer checkers – goodness me! –
they said you couldn’t find
A better thing to cultivate the morals
an’ the mind
But now – by gum, it makes me laugh
– they wouldn’t give a pinch
Of salt, fer’ all them former games:
The only thing is “Flinch”

The Booths didn’t “give a pinch of salt” and had a number of copies of the game “Flinch.”  Henry Scripps Booth wrote, “The commonest social entertainment when we lived in Detroit was playing the card game of Flinch. It was also popular across Trumbull Avenue at the Scripp’s home. Later we also played it at Cranbrook.”

CECT277 (1).JPG

One of the Booth’s copies of the game Flinch (CECT 277)

Invented in 1901 by Arthur J. Patterson (1869-1948) of Kalamazoo, Michigan, “Flinch” is the card game that took America by storm in the early 1900’s. The object of the game is to stockpile and then get rid of all your cards.

According to the BoardGameGeek website,

Flinch is played with a deck of 150 cards numbered 1-15. Players can play cards in sequence (building up from 1 to 15) to piles formed in the center of the table. “1” cards must be played to start the piles, but others may be played or held at the player’s discretion. Cards may be played from several sources: a player’s hand (five cards to start), a player’s “game pile” (a stack of 10 cards of which only the top card is face up and playable), or a player’s “reserve piles” (whenever a player passes or completes a turn, they must add a card from their hand to their reserve piles – up to five reserve piles may be formed). Hands are continually replenished with new sets of five cards during the game. The object is to play all 10 cards from game pile to the center of the table.

– Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar

*”Allurements of Flinch,” Kalamazoo Gazette, 12 July 1903, page 14, column 4

Kitchen Sink Back to School Edition: Cranbrook’s Own Elizabeth Bennett

Although the legacy of Kingswood School English teacher, Elizabeth Bennett* (1904-1983) does not involve Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, it is certainly the story of a woman who inspired and captivated multiple generations of students. Bennett started teaching at Kingswood in 1936 after completing her A.B. from Oberlin College and her A.M. from Radcliffe College. Prior to accepting the position at Kingswood, Bennett taught at the Hartridge School for Girls (Plainfield, NJ) and traveled in Europe and South Africa.

Portrait of Elizabeth Bennett, 1959. Photographer, Harvey Croze.

Bennett was born in New York City to William and Mary Umstead Bennett. Her father was a lawyer and a member of the New York state senate and her mother was a professor emeritus who taught pianoforte at Oberlin College. As a student at Oberlin, Bennett was an officer of the Women’s League – described in the campus yearbook as an organization for women to govern themselves and administer their affairs. She was later a member of the League of Women Voters and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

During her more than thirty years at Kingswood, Bennett taught English, History, Bible, and Creative Writing. Although she was a tough critic, she was known to be fair, and gained great admiration from both students and fellow teachers. In an anthology of memories, Elizabeth Bennett: A Word Portrait (1983), one former student states: “who could ever forget Elizabeth Bennett, who never raised her voice or lowered her standards for our work; who like Michelangelo, helped us chip out the readers and writers buried within us; who gave us all the charge of language? The light in her room did not all come through the windows or from the ceiling” (Carolyn Faulkner Peck, ’52).

Bennett with students, ca 1963.

Bennett or “Benny” as she was known by friends, was beloved not only by her students, but by her fellow teachers at Kingswood. During her summers off she regularly corresponded with Kingswood headmistress, Margaret Augur, and later Marion Goodale. Fellow faculty member, Gertrude M. White said of Benny, “Elizabeth Bennett: an unfashionable woman, a private woman, with unfathomable riches of mind and character and personality. Kingswood was lucky in her. We who knew her were lucky. Simply by being what she was, she enriched her world and ours.”

Summer correspondence from Bennett to Augur, 1948. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Inspired by Bennett and her passion for writing, several former students established the Bennett Fund in 1984 to honor a faculty member who is distinguished as a nurturer of writing and writers. In the Fall, the award recipient reads from recent works at the annual “Elizabeth Bennett Reading.” This year, the event takes place on Tuesday, September 19th at 6:30 PM in the Cranbrook School Library Reading Room.

With a new school year right around the corner, I enjoyed learning about this beloved teacher whose legacy lives on here at Cranbrook.

Gina Tecos, Archivist

*Editor’s Note: It should be noted that the spelling of Elizabeth Bennett’s name varies from the fictional character in Jane Austen’s novel, Pride and Prejudice.

Website Powered by WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: