Taste, Grace, and Elegance: The Cannon Returns

Today, Cranbrook Art Museum opens its newest show, With Eyes Opened: Cranbrook Academy of Art Since 1932, surveying the history of the Academy since its founding. For the exhibition, the Center for Collections and Research worked closely with the Museum, researching in the Archives, contributing essays for the 600-plus page publication that chronicles the history of this storied institution, and coordinating the restoration and reinstallation of the Academy’s cannon.

Yes, I said cannon.

From 1966 to 1971, Julius Schmidt, Artist-in-Residence of the Sculpture Department (1964-1970), and his students, designed, sculpted, and cast a working cannon. Before Schmidt arrived at Cranbrook, there had not been a forge on campus for students to use. It was constructed in 1964, in the open space east of Carl Milles’s large studio. (You can read more about the forge in a previous Kitchen Sink blog: Photo Friday: Iron Pour.)

How do you move a cannon? Very carefully–and with a lot of assistance from a hydraulic arm! Steve Kerchoff, the Cranbrook Mechanic, hooks the cannon to the backhoe for placement. June 15, 2021. Photograph by Kevin Adkisson, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

Titled simply Cannon, it is composed of a cast iron wheels, cast iron cannon body, and bronze field carriage. I should say, an extremely heavy carriage, cannon body, and wheels. It took a number of people to get Cannon reinstalled, including artist Scott Berels who restored the wheels with funds from Cranbrook Art Museum, Cranbrook Facilities, who helped move and install the piece, the Center’s Associate Curator Kevin Adkisson, and the Art Museum’s Head Preparator Jon Geiger and Registrar Corey Gross. Vital to the reinstallation was the heavy equipment and sturdy straps of the Facilities team—it isn’t often we use a John Deere backhoe to move art!

We are excited to have Cannon back on campus in time to celebrate the history of the Academy in the Art Museum exhibition. Associate Curator Kevin Adkisson marked the cannon’s its return in his most recent Live at Five presentation on Facebook:

Associate Curator Kevin Adkisson takes you on a tour of Cannon on June 16, 2021. Courtesy Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

Cannon features a lot of imagery, including a number of protest-related images, which is in keeping with the times in which it was forged. One line I especially like: beneath the cannon’s trunnions (where it connects to the carriage) is the (perhaps ironic) inscription: “TASTE GRACE AND ELEGANCE.” Indeed!

Inscription on the interior of the cannon carriage.

There is still so much to learn about Cannon. We are excited to look into the iconography on the piece, and research the many student artists whose names are seen on the cannon. If you have a cannon-related story, or were involved in its construction or casting, please let us know! Look for more blogs in the future about this heavy, heavy part of the Cranbrook campus.

Congratulations to the team at Cranbrook Art Museum on the opening of the new exhibition. Book your tickets today on the Museum’s website, and don’t forget to walk over to experience Cannon while you’re here!

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

Photo Friday: Iron Pour

As the fountains around Cranbrook are drained and the chilly air sets in, I thought we could warm up with a little molten iron.

In 1962, Julius Schmidt was appointed artist-in-residence after the departure of Berthold “Tex” Schiwetz from the Sculpture department. Schmidt received his BFA from Cranbrook in 1953 and his MFA in 1955, working under Schiwetz. Schmidt worked almost exclusively with iron, a rough and difficult material previously unexplored at the Academy. Early in his tenure, he set about raising money from Detroit-area tool and die companies to build Cranbrook a foundry.

Iron pour in the new foundry, November 1965. Paul Reuger, photographer.

Constructed in the open space to the east of Carl Milles’ large studio, the concrete block and glass curtain wall forge building was the first physical addition to the Academy campus since Saarinen died in 1950.

Julius Schmidt, Head of Sculpture, (center) with students at commencement, May 1966. Harvey Croze, photographer.

As reported in the 1964 Cranbrook Academy of Art News Letter, the new foundry featured six furnaces capable of casting up to 1,000 pounds of molten iron or bronze. The foundry also included electric hoists, a bridge crane, grinder, mueller, electric oven, acetylene and arc welding equipment, and pneumatic grinding and finishing tools.

Schmidt and some students used the forge extensively for their work, perhaps to the disadvantage of students who didn’t want to work with iron. In 1966 students working under Schmidt designed, sculpted, cast, and then fired a cannon featuring a caricature of Zoltan Sepeshy’s nose and mouth. Schmidt left Cranbrook in 1970, and I can’t find evidence of iron pours after his departure (today, students who wish to cast their own iron participate in an annual pour at the College for Creative Studies.) In the forge now is the Academy’s metal shop as well as equipment for 3D printing, laser cutting, and vacuum forming–all situated around the forge equipment.

Cannon being fired out of the foundry, May 1966. Paul Rueger, photographer.

If you would like to visit the foundry, join me on the Behind-the-Scenes tour: Saarinen House: Presidents/Residents, next Saturday, October 27th. This is the final date for this tour that includes a visit to the exhibition at Saarinen House, the studio space of Wallace Mitchell, the foundry, Cranbrook Archives, as well as several other stops. Click here for more information.

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

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