Cranbrook’s Great Books (Part I)

Across Cranbrook’s campus are eleven different spaces, including the Archives, that house book collections – some 110,000 physical items. Several of these spaces are typical school or academic research libraries, where students, faculty, and staff can check out the majority of these books. As a library and information science professional, I champion the importance of these lending libraries and the egalitarian access to information they provide.

In this post, however, I’d like to focus on Cranbrook’s non-circulating book collections – those rare, historic, or valuable tomes that, in many cases, hide in plain sight in public areas. With help from colleagues at the Academy of Art, Schools, Institute of Science, and Center for Collections and Research, I’ll highlight some of these gems that promise to delight the bibliophile, art appreciator, historian, or simply the Cranbrook curious.

Cranbrook’s special book collections are carefully preserved as both informational and evidential artifacts, and many are housed within cultural heritage areas. Valued not only for research purposes, they also serve as historical objects which help individually or collectively to tell the Cranbrook story.

South end view of the newly completed Cranbrook House Library, 1920. John Wallace Gillies, photographer. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

The origin of book collecting at Cranbrook actually predates any of the current collection spaces and begins with Cranbrook founders George and Ellen Booth. George, in particular, was an enthusiastic collector, and started acquiring volumes in 1900, commissioning purchases of William Morris works and other fine books in London. As George explained, “I am not a millionaire and cannot pay the big prices now prevailing in New York.” His strategy allowed him to accumulate 1,000 books by 1916, effectively seeding the Cranbrook House Library Collection when construction of the library wing was completed four years later.

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Illuminating a Craftswoman

The work of British arts and craftswoman Jessie Bayes (1876-1970) has been described as ethereal, magical, and an “expression of things felt and seen.” Cranbrook has in its collection three of Bayes’s works, acquired by George Booth between 1920 and 1929. The illuminated manuscript “Hymns to the Elements” is one of her most stunning works.

Bayes was known for her work in woodcarving, painting, calligraphy, gesso and gilding, and stained glass, but is best known for her ethereal illuminated manuscripts inspired by Scandinavian, Celtic, and French poetry. She often wrote the texts which were dominated by themes of romance and mysticism and strove to beautify everyday life and “wed the physical and spiritual.” The art of illumination requires patience and laborious attention to detail, which is clearly evident in “Hymns to the Elements.” Bayes, who combined tempera with watercolor and gold gilt, developed her own sense of jewel-like color, often in blues and golds. She felt that the “idea of colour symbolizing love should be above all precious to an illuminator, since, in illuminating, colour can reach its intensest [sic] height of purity and radiance.”

Hymns to the Elements, ca 1923. One of Bayes’ largest and most elaborate illuminated manuscripts. Close-up of Athena, Mistress of the Air.

Jessie Bayes was raised in an artistic family where the four children were taught by their father Alfred, an etcher and book illustrator, to appreciate beauty at an early age. Her brother Gilbert became a sculptor, her brother Walter was a painter who also designed theatrical scenery, illustrated books, and lectured about art, and her sister Emmeline worked in enamel.

Bayes received art education from evening classes at London’s Central School of Arts and Crafts, which grew directly out of the Arts and Crafts Movement of William Morris and John Ruskin. There, Bayes learned to gild on wood and discovered a love for writing and illumination which she deemed among the strongest of the curriculum. She was also heavily influenced by her employment with Sydney Cockerell, an engraver and former librarian for William Morris. In this role, he had been responsible for completing the Kelmscott Press publications after Morris’s death.

Close-up view of Hephaistos, the Fire King.

Bayes exhibited widely with the Arts & Crafts Exhibition Society, and at the Royal Academy and the Baillie Gallery in London, alongside artists like Walter Crane, Arthur Nevill Kirk, and Omar Ramsden. In 1922, Bayes exhibited some of her illuminated books, as well as paintings on vellum, fans, and panels, at the Art Center in New York. Bayes gradually expanded her repertoire to include painted and gilded decoration on furniture as well as interior design and stained glass work. Jessie Bayes died in Paddington, Central London in 1970.

For Jessie’s personal views on family, life, and art, read The Bayes Saga (1970).

Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

New Center Logo & A Fond Farewell

The Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research has officially launched our new logo! What follows is a description of where each of the letters comes from in the history of Cranbrook or the location on the campus!

The (first) C in Cranbrook is from the logo George Gough Booth created for the Cranbrook Press in 1901, three years before he and his wife Ellen established their estate in Bloomfield Hills.

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The Cranbrook Press (1900-1902) was founded by George Booth in the attic of the Detroit Evening News Building.  Booth emulated the work of William Morris and his Kelmscott Press, not just in design but also in the level of hand-craftsmanship.

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