Finns and Hungarians, Part I

Mulling over the question of the Finnish-Hungarian language connection brought me somewhat circuitously to the Finnish and Hungarian people connection at Cranbrook, namely Géza Maróti and Zoltan Sepeshy. Early in Eliel Saarinen’s tenure, George Booth, interested in engaging a sculptor, took up Saarinen’s suggestion of Géza Maróti, already well known with works in the USA as well as Mexico and Finland. Maróti in turn suggested Zoltan Sepeshy because in his opinion Hungarians were better trained (in practically everything) than others.

Geza Maroti with glass ceiling of the mexican national theater 1909 Hungarian National Gallery archives

Maróti with his design for the glass Dome ceiling of the Mexican National Theater, 1909. Courtesy of the Hungarian National Gallery Archives.

Sepeshy doesn’t make it to Cranbrook until 1931, so we’ll begin with Maróti. Two years younger than Saarinen and knowing him since early days at the Saarinen villa/studio at Hvitträsk in Finland, Géza Maróti was a natural suggestion for a sculptor to work at Cranbrook. The Saarinens and Marótis were good friends, with Géza writing to Loja Saarinen in German in beautiful, clear handwriting. He sent letters and rhymes to little boy Eero, too. All Saarinen had to do was utter the magic words “arts and crafts” and Booth was sold. George Booth does comment in February 1927 that he has no personal knowledge of Maróti, taking the Saarinens’ recommendation as enough and adding somewhat opaquely “but of course [I] realized their point of view was partly foreign.”

Geza Maroti in his Cranbrook Studio Cranbrook Archives

Maróti with his design for the Cranbrook School for Boys library overmantel behind him in his studio, 1927. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Maróti was nevertheless a perfect fit for Cranbrook: he was another polymath like the Saarinens as architect, archaeologist, painter, designer, as well as sculptor. The Detroit News of March 1927 reported Professor Maróti’s conviction that “because architecture is the fundamental art the work of the sculptor and the painter is most valuable when it is architecturally conceived.” Professor Saarinen adds in the same article that it is one thing to model a figure, but “quite another thing to see that figure in relation to a building and to express that decoration architecturally rather than pictorially.” This in a nutshell is Maróti’s claim to fame.

At Cranbrook from early 1927 until early 1929, Maróti sculpts fireplaces, archways, and doors for Cranbrook School for Boys offering what the Bloomfield Hills Tatler of 1927 calls an “unforgettable visual education.” Most notable are the Galileo door at the base of the Cranbrook quadrangle tower, and the library doors.

The Galileo door really is an education. The tower was supposed to house a telescope and what better icon to choose than the “father of modern physics” born, incidentally, in the same year as Shakespeare. Maróti’s Galileo is masterly, floating above the door, clutching a telescope and gazing firmly aloft. Behind his head, in case viewers don’t remember the controversy, are the words “Ecco Muove” or “Here: it moves.”

His doorway is surrounded by learned cherubs offering tribute to other scientific pioneers: Linnaeus, Pasteur, Darwin, Curie, Ohm, Newton, Copernicus amongst others.

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View of the “Galileo” door by Géza Maróti at Cranbrook School’s main academic building, now known as Hoey Hall. October 1936. Richard G. Askew, photographer. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

The Library doors take another tack altogether with the fruits of learning unexpectedly represented by stylized gifts of the good Michigan earth such as squash, beans, cherries, pears, corn, and wheat carved in rich, burnished oak.

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“Door of Knowledge” by Géza Maróti at entrance of Cranbrook School for Boys Library. c. 1985. Richard Hirneisen, photographer. Copyright Richard Hirneisen/Cranbrook Archives.

Maróti is also busy fitting in his work elsewhere with, among others, Albert Kahn’s Fisher building in Detroit. There you can see the Maróti sculpted allegorical renderings of peace, flight, and other industrial arts as well as his signature eagles, mosaics, and his painted frescoes. A riot of color.

Fisher Building Ceiling by Geza Maroti Jack P. Johnson Copyright 2010

Fisher Building lobby ceiling by Géza Maróti. Jack P. Johnson, photographer. Copyright Johnson 2010, Courtesy of Detroit Architecture Book blog.

Unfortunately for Cranbrook, Géza and Léopoldine Maróti are not their happiest tucked away in remote Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, feeling cut off and not “agile enough to remain even partially in contact with music, art and life.” This does not say much for those who stayed, but the Marótis decide they have to leave.

After some time in Chicago and New York they are back in Budapest by 1930, just in time for WWII which their family survives. More sculpture follows, but Moróti’s abiding preoccupation until his death in 1941 is a cultural history of Atlantis which remains unpublished.

The burning question of Finnish and Hungarian? Many years ago, 5000 years ago to be approximate, Finnish or Finnic and Hungarian or Ugric, both at that point Uralic languages, had a common ancestor, which linguists call proto-Uralic. After that point, they diverge, as is typical of language groups. So the simple answer is they are not much alike at all, are not mutually comprehensible.  Finnish has a few Swedish and German words but doesn’t resemble any other language. Finnish and Hungarian are as alike as English and Farsi.­­­­­­­­­­­ Luckily for Géza and his lovely wife Poldi, they spoke German.

–Lynette Mayman, Collections Interpreter

Editor’s Note: If you would like to read more about Maróti’s work at Cranbrook, check out a new essay by retired Cranbrook Schools faculty member Dr. Jeffrey Welch with photography by Academy alum P.D. Rearick. Dr. Welch’s essay is titled “The Gift of Knowledge: A Witty History Puzzle for Growing Youth,” and concerns Maróti’s fascinating, monumental fireplace overmantel in the historic Cranbrook School for Boys Library.

Operation Mercy and an Academy of Art Sculptor

In January 1957, members of the Academy of Art’s Student Council came across an article in Newsweek magazine about the plight of Hungarian refugees to the United States following the 1956 Hungarian revolt against Soviet domination. Moved by the story of the artist featured in the article, the students decided to act and conceived and executed a plan to finance a semester of study at the Academy for one of the artist refugees. During the weekend of January 19-20th, Academy students held a sale of their own artwork, and supplemented by their own meager cash funds, raised $2,600 for a fund administered entirely by the Student Council. The Academy of Art added enough funds to present an artist with a scholarship for one year of study.

Members of the student council wrote to various organizations including the American Hungarian Federation and the Central Department of Church World Service in order to identify an artist who might qualify for the scholarship. Under the provisions of the 1953 Refugee Relief Act, from November 1956-June 1957, the U.S. government processed over 31,000 refugees at Camp Kilmer in New Jersey through a program called “Operation Mercy.” Most refugees stayed an average of twelve days before a resettlement location was found for them.

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Detroit News, 18 May 1958, Courtesy Cranbrook Archives

The artist sent to Cranbrook was Laszlo Ispanky (1919-2010), a 38-year old sculptor whose interest in art started at a young age. His father owned a restaurant in Budapest near a large sand mine, which soon became Ispanky’s canvas. His sand art was recognized by a man who suggested that he become a sculptor, so Ispanky eventually graduated from the Hungarian Fine Art Academy. In November 1956, during the Hungarian revolt, Ispanky and a friend escaped to Vienna where they sought asylum in the United States.

 

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“Two Sisters,” Laszlo Ispanky, c. 1958, bronze, 17 1/2 x 9 x 6 inches, CAM 1984.45, Gift of Peggy de Salle. Image courtesy Cranbrook Art Museum.

Ispanky had been unable to work creatively under Communist rule. He once commented “In a Communist country, you have to be a Communist to be supported as an artist.” Described as a “romantic European,” Ispanky was grateful for the total freedom he was allowed at Cranbrook – “the most fantastic thing . . . a huge studio, and you do whatever you want.” While at Cranbrook, Ispanky sculpted over 32 works in terra cotta, bronze and plaster and was given the nickname “Speedy Gonzalez” by his fellow students.

 

Lazlo Letter001

Correspondence from Ispanky to Cranbrook Academy of Art, 1957. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

While he did not receive a degree at Cranbrook, Ispanky was eternally grateful for the chance to study here. In his letter, he expresses his heartfelt sentiments and poetic nature. “My thanks to you for reaching out to me with something that is inherent in the sacred name of freedom and for lending me hope. It feels good! I have waited with anxiety to hold the clay with which to give birth to the flowers blooming in my heart – to the hidden music which lives within me; to turn the material into form and into a million statements.”

After Cranbrook, Ispanky moved to New Jersey where he lived his life as a successful sculptor, specializing in the portraiture that he developed while at Cranbrook.

– Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

Balthazar Korab and his Island of Serenity

A great portion of the time I’ve spent as an archivist at Cranbrook has focused on our photo collections. It would be impossible for me to choose a favorite photo, but I definitely find that one photographer in particular always comes to mind when I get a photo request or when I conjure up an image of campus.

Born in Budapest, Hungary, architect and photographer Balthazar Korab (1926-2013) documented life and work here at Cranbrook for several decades. His iconic images continue to be some of our most requested.

Korab at work at Eero Saarinen and Associates, 1957. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Korab at work at Eero Saarinen and Associates, 1957. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Korab studied architecture at the Polytechnicum Jozsef Nador in Budapest until he felt the necessity to escape his country’s communist regime in 1949. He opted for France, where he continued his education at the École des Beaux Arts in Paris, and received his degree in architecture there in 1954. During this time, Korab worked throughout Europe as a journeyman with notable architects, including Le Corbusier.

In 1955 he came to the United States and was hired by Eero Saarinen to work at Eero Saarinen and Associates (ESA). While Korab was worked there, he saw how Saarinen built models of his designs. Korab volunteered to use his knowledge of photography to develop techniques for dramatic photos of the models. This took him off the drawing board and he soon began to get assignments from other architects. What followed was an illustrious career photographing the works of many of the most significant architects world-wide, including: Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Gunner Birkerts, Minoru Yamasaki, Frank Lloyd Wright, and many others.

Yamasaki's model of the U.S. Pavilion at the World Agricultural Fair, India. Photograph by Balthazar Korab, ca 1959.

Yamasaki’s model of the U.S. Pavilion at the World Agricultural Fair, India. Photograph by Balthazar Korab, ca 1959.

Korab was introduced to Cranbrook during his time at ESA. In an interview for the Observer and Eccentric in June 1995, he said: “Arriving from a war-torn Europe, I soon was involved with Eero Saarinen’s GM Tech Center, a marvel of the dynamic, brash, wining face of America. It left me in awe and admiration. But my love went for the other Saarinen marvel, a then-middle-aged beauty, Cranbrook. It became a place of refuge and comfort, a source of nutrients for my severed roots to take hold in this strange soil. Its radiant aura was my inspiration.”

Oriental Garden bridge, Fall 1980. Copyright Balthazar Korab/Cranbrook Archives.

“Oriental Garden” bridge, Fall 1980. Copyright Balthazar Korab/Cranbrook Archives.

In the early 1980’s Korab was hired as one of several contract photographers here at Cranbrook. Over the next three decades, his images provided breath-taking panoramas, as well as minute details of the grounds, art, and architecture of this campus. The beauty of his work cannot be over-stated.

Gina Tecos, Archivist

Editor’s Note: In an July 1998 article in ambassador magazine, Korab referred to Cranbrook Educational Community as his “island of serenity.”

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