Let’s Beguine Again: A Syllabus for Music and Dance

This year the Center is celebrating the life and work of Loja Saarinen for our House Party fundraiser. Lynette Mayman’s post on 1930s fashion offered an excellent guide to dressing à la mode for this historically themed evening event, while highlighting Loja’s freedom and creativity in celebrating her own authentic style. Being curious about the events to which such attire might be worn, I looked to the Kingswood School records to explore its history of music and dance events during that era.

Kingswood School Annual Dance Book, 1932. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

From the abundance of programs and ephemera, it was clear that music and dance were a valued part of the curriculum and school life, and its purpose was elucidated by the educational philosophy in the school catalogs for the 1930s:

“Music and Dance, two of the greatest social forces, and most closely related in essential nature, are organized in the curriculum under the direction of one department for concurrent purposes… The program of work is such as to encourage the fullest and freest development of individual personality which is the basis for true dramatic and musical expression.”

Kingswood School Catalogs, Kingswood School Records (1980-01)

Formal classes in music theory and social dancing (taught in physical education classes under the direction of Luella Hauser) were augmented by extracurricular activities. These included the Glee Club and various kinds of themed and annual dances, which offered students a variety of ways in which they could learn through participation, as well as recitals by visiting performers, which offered learning through observation and listening.

Program for the Mothers’ Day Tea, May 1937. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

The Glee Club for girls was formed in 1932 for those interested in singing. They performed one concert per year, the first being held on March 11, 1932. The Club would also perform at other events throughout the year, such as the Mothers’ Day Tea and the ‘Carnival,’ which was an informal jamboree of themed gaiety and fun. The first Carnival, on December 10, 1932, was described as one of “grand vaudeville,” including a fashion show that embraced lovely old fashions and lively modern ones.

The 1937 Carnival was a Masque that traced the development of dance from the fourteenth century to the present time, including the Carole, Pavane, Sarabande, Minuet, Gavotte, Waltz, Schottische, Tango, and Fox Trot. The Glee Club sang songs typical of each period, while three jolly spirits, Dance, Play, and Song, presented the dancers.

Invitation to the Ypsilanti Madrigal Club performance, December 1931. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

The first visiting performance was held on December 11, 1931, when the Madrigal Club, a choir of men and women from State Normal College, Ypsilanti, under the direction of Mr. Frederic Alexander, performed as a Christmas gift from Mr. Alexander to Mr. George Booth. The concert of unaccompanied songs and compositions on harpsichord was described as “unusual in character and delightful in content,” and became an annual event at the school.

Other annual visitors included Mildred Dilling, the internationally known harpist, and Cameron McLean, the Canadian baritone who was accompanied by various local pianists, including Detroiter Gizi Szanto. There were also one-time visits by performers such as pianists Stanley Fletcher and Samuel Sorin, singer Marion Anderson, baritone Earle Spicer, and opera singer Alexander Kipnis.

Program of Music printed by Cranbrook Press, April 1932.

Kingswood School Records. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Celebrated teachers of modern dance were invited to give dance recitals including Ted Shawn, Ronny Johansson, and Martha Graham. Visiting in March 1936, Graham gave a comprehensive recital of her work, leaving us with an autographed program—an archival treasure!

Program for Dance Recital autographed by Martha Graham, March 1936. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

While Graham’s dance was reported in the Kingswood Newssheet as casting aside, “all old standards of beauty and grace,” through her use of angles and quick movements rather than the legato rhythm of conventional dancing, her philosophy of the dancer speaks poetically to the purpose of the 1930s Kingswood curriculum for music and dance—drawing out the essence of the individual through social artforms:

“You traverse, you come to the light, you work, you make it right… you embody within yourself as much curiosity, use that curiosity and avidity for life … and the body becomes a sacred garment – it’s your first and your last garment, and as such it should be treated with honor, and with joy, and with fear too, but always with blessing.”

Martha Graham, Martha Graham on Technique

As we celebrate the life and work of Loja Saarinen this year, we celebrate her as immigrant, entrepreneur, designer, and fashionista. Please join us for the Virtual Film Premiere as we support and acknowledge the work of the Center at our House Party, May 21, 2022.

Laura MacNewman, Associate Archivist, Center for Collections and Research

Beginning the Beguine

Before everybody buys, borrows, or burrows in a closet for something to wear for Cranbrook Center’s annual House Party, let us consider the fashions of the times. We’re going back to the 1930s, to celebrate the heyday of Loja Saarinen, doyenne of the Cranbrook art scene as designer of interiors, weaver, fashionista, textile designer, businesswoman, landscaper, and modelmaker. Between husband Eliel, daughter Pipsan, and son Eero, the Saarinen family had inventiveness, imagination, skill, and audacity all sewn up. With the Saarinens’ extensive network of friends, colleagues, and students, the atmosphere at the Art Academy must have been rarified indeed.

Small wonder, then, that when it came time for parties, Loja Saarinen could craft her own iconic evening attire for the Art Academy’s Crandemonium Ball of February 1934, including that of her consort, as you can find in the photograph on the flyer for the event of May 21, 2022.

Eliel and Loja Saarinen at the Cranbrook Academy of Art “Crandemonium Ball,” February 1934. Photography by Richard G. Askew, Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

Four our House Party, if you were thinking of the little black dress, Coco Chanel brought this simple concept to the public eye in 1926, with Vogue Magazine proclaiming it “Chanel’s Ford” in homage to the Model T which famously came in any color you wanted as long as it was black. Do note the chevrons (just visible in the Chanel dress) on the Saarinen dress also.

Coco Chanel–the Little Black Dress, as illustrated in American Vogue, October 1926. Source: Vogue.

Post WWI 1920s design was the big break away from the 19th century drapery which required all kinds of padding and corsetry. Chanel prided herself on getting women out of corsets, and they never went back into them. The fashions were shapeless, short, and sack-like at their extreme, with lots of embellishment for evening dresses to make up for their lack of pizazz. Think Fitzgerald and Gatsby.

At this time too, the tuxedo or dinner jacket was becoming acceptable for ordinary men who were not English royalty or American billionaires.

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Flora Leslie, Brookside’s Dietician and Food Director

With the Thanksgiving holiday almost upon us, it is time to begin planning and preparing one of the essential parts of any celebration: food. It seems timely, then, to highlight Flora Leslie, Brookside’s long-serving dietician and food director. I would like to introduce her to you in her own voice, recalling a memory of some precarious pumpkin pies:

Floral Leslie interview with Mark Coir, Archivist (OH1990.09.28), November 5, 1987.
Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Hearing this story in Flora’s voice brings the memory to life in a different way than simply reading it in written form. Cranbrook Archives’ Oral History Collection holds recordings of many voices that add dynamism and richness to their stories. Flora Leslie’s interview describes her life at Cranbrook and her experience of its people and places in the mid-twentieth century.

Flora Leslie (second from left) with cooking staff at Brookside School. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Born Flora MacFarlane in Alexandria, Scotland, in 1906, she made her way to the United States alone in December 1930. Journeying by ship on a very stormy sea, the passengers were required to stay below deck where they got to know each other more than they would have had they been able to wander on deck. Having worked in a photographer’s office in Scotland, Flora initially sought the same occupation in America.

But a fellow passenger Flora met aboard the ship told her that if she had no luck finding work, to contact her for employment. It is thus that Flora began to work for the Ward family in Pontiac, a family whose children were students at Cranbrook.

In 1932, Flora started working at Cranbrook, initially at Kingswood School. Flora married George Leslie in 1934, a landscaper and gardener, and later a superintendent of buildings at Cranbrook.

After several invitations from Jessie Winter, Headmistress of Brookside School, Flora became the dietician and food director at Brookside School, a position she held from 1934-1975. The position came with an apartment, and though at first Flora preferred to stay at Kingswood, which she describes as “light and bright and lovely,” Winter asked Flora and George back to Brookside one further time and had arranged the apartment beautifully. Most importantly, there was a brand-new Frigidaire refrigerator, a novelty in those days. As Flora recalled, seeing this small luxury she told the headmistress, “We’ll come!” The apartment was in the part of Brookside known as the ‘Ram’s House’ and had previously been occupied by Jessie Winter and by J. Robert F. Swanson.

View of the front of George and Flora Leslie’s apartment, known as the Ram’s House, circa 1935-1938. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

During the war years, when food was in short supply, George and Flora Leslie kept Brookside stocked with vegetables—he grew them and she canned them.

After feeding generations of students, Flora published many of her favorite and original recipes in the Brookside cookbook, Favorite Recipes, which are still enjoyed by alumni far and wide. Perhaps you might like to try one of Flora’s original recipes this Thanksgiving, or a dessert recipe from one of the faculty families?

Laura MacNewman, Associate Archivist, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

Fifty Years of Cranbrook Schools

Happy Fiftieth Anniversary, Cranbrook Schools!

But wait. Weren’t the schools opened in the 1920s and 1930s? If the Golden Anniversary milestone seems a little off to you, well, let me explain. 2020 does not mark the anniversary of the individual schools themselves—Brookside was established in 1922, Cranbrook School for Boys in 1927, and Kingswood School in 1931—but for the single entity, Cranbrook Schools.

Newly minted Cranbrook Schools students gather around a Dodge Charger, ca. 1972. Cranbrook Archives.

When the three schools were established by George and Ellen Booth, they were independent institutions loosely united by a shared estate and under the umbrella of the Cranbrook Foundation. But by and large, they were three distinct schools with three distinct heads, three distinct boards, and three distinct staffs.

In 1967, the Cranbrook Foundation centralized management of the three schools’ non-academic functions under the new Cranbrook Business Office. Each school head and the executive director of the Business Office met monthly to discuss mutual problems. New committees and professional staff began to work collaboratively between all three schools.

However, as reported in the Cranbrook Magazine (Summer 1970), this loose connection wasn’t much of an improvement from the old, independent model. There was a feeling that there was still too much redundancy, too little long-term financial planning, and too much untapped potential between Brookside, Cranbrook, and Kingswood.

In the twelve years before 1970, multiple solutions to what was, at its heart, an organizational problem had been put forward. Ultimately, the New York City-based management consultant firm of Heald, Hobson and Associates, Incorporated helped the Cranbrook Foundation develop the winning solution in late 1969: one Cranbrook Schools.

By the summer of 1970, the reorganization was complete. A single Board of Trustees replaced three separate boards and directors. The new board was responsible for the management of the properties and affairs, both academic and non-academic, of Brookside, Cranbrook, and Kingswood.

When students and staff returned in the fall of 1970, they were attending, for the first time, Cranbrook Schools. But very little of the student experience had changed. For instance, the upper school would not be made coeducational until 1985. Yet there was still worry about what this new “Cranbrook Schools” meant for the identity of three proud institutions.

The reorganization created the position of President of Cranbrook Schools. What was the president going to do? Who would fill this new, ambiguous but ambitious administrative role? Following a nationwide search by the new Board of Trustees, who narrowed down hundreds of applicants to thirty-two candidates, on July 1, 1971 Arthur H. Kiendl was installed as Cranbrook Schools President.

Arthur Kiendal, ca. 1970. Photographer: Benyas-Kaufman. Cranbrook Archives.

Art Kiendl (pronounced “Kendall”) came to Cranbrook Schools from the all-boys Mount Hermon School in Gill, Massachusetts, where, as headmaster, he coordinated its merger with the nearby girls school, Northfield. Prior to Mount Herman, Kiendl served as dean of students at the University of Colorado (1958-1963) and as an administrator and dean at Dartmouth College (1948-1958). He earned his bachelor’s degree from Dartmouth and a master’s in education administration from Columbia University.

On his installation, the heads and faculty of the new Cranbrook Schools gathered in the Cranbrook House Library. Kiendl told those gathered, “I think the whole concept is that the schools will merge in the sense of common purpose without loss of identity. They merge for strength and efficiency.” As he eloquently explained to his nervous audience,

I have lived through mergers, I know they are painful, I know they are traumatic, and I know that ultimately they are very exciting. We come together as a federation to be an exciting beacon, because such a beacon is needed, a beacon that believes in such things as humility, trust, honor, and humor for the freedom of the human spirit [. . .]

I hope I can leave you with a sense of rededication in the excitement that George and Ellen both brought to this place; the excitement that we can so trust each other that it can be said of us in the future, ‘they are not only people who dared and cared, but, you know, they loved each other.’

Interestingly, when Cranbrook Magazine reported on the union of the schools in 1970 it was careful to point out that “the reorganization program as evolved combines the strengths of three closely allied organizations. Yet it does not attempt to integrate dissimilar operations (the Institute of Science, Academy of Art, and Christ Church Cranbrook) into one large complex.” Those connections were still managed by the Foundation and the Business Office—until 1973, when, sans church, we became Cranbrook Educational Community. Kiendl was elected as the Community’s first president, a position he held until December 1978.

So, is it a little bit weedy to celebrate fifty years of Cranbrook Schools? Probably. Would it confuse our students and parents to launch a 50th birthday party now, when there’s already chatter about the 100th coming up? Maybe, but who doesn’t love an anniversary, even if it does take an asterisk and a seven-hundred-word blog post to explain!

Kevin Adkisson, Associate Curator, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

Eds. Note: Speaking of 50th anniversaries! This Sunday, the Center is joining in a national celebration with Docomomo, a modernist architecture preservation organization, to mark “the ’70s turn 50.” Head to our website for tickets, and join us (via Zoom) at 4:00pm for a very groovy virtual tour of the Smith House and Bowlero lanes!

A Tale of Two Chairs

When asked, late in life, about the furniture he designed for Kingswood School for Girls, Eero Saarinen referred to himself as “a child of my period.” Two chairs in particular show how the young, precocious designer was able to work in both traditional and modern modes. As designers in the 1920s and 1930s debated the merits of traditional and modern design, Eero worked with both.

Auditorium and Dining Hall chairs for Kingswood School for Girls by Eero Saarinen, 1929-1931. Cranbrook Art Museum.

He was just 18 years old when he began sketching designs for Kingswood in 1929.  Later that year, he departed for Paris to study sculpture for eight months. These two Kingswood chairs show an understanding of two major European designs trends of the era: the evolutionary Art Deco, with its roots in neoclassical design, and the revolutionary Modern movement, emerging most forcefully out of the German Bauhaus.

First, the Kingswood Dining Hall chairs. These birch wood chairs with painted coral-colored elements and linen damask upholstery are delicate adaptations of the ancient Greek klismos chair. The klismos form, which features curving splayed legs and a concave crest rail, became popular in late-18th-century Europe and America as part of the Greek Revival and the neoclassical style. The form again became a favorite among designers in the 1920s, when its clean lines and soft curves were used throughout Art Deco interiors. Kilsmos chairs were especially fashionable in Scandinavian modern design, with architects and designers like Aino and Alvar Aalto, Gunnar Asplund, Erik Bryggman, and Carl Malmsten producing versions of the chair. In fact, Carl Milles had a set of Malmsten-designed klismos chairs in his Cranbrook dining room. Eero Saarinen’s klismos chairs for Kingswood fit perfectly within the clean lines, rich materials, and Swedish Grace-styling of the light-filled dining hall.

Left: Klismos-stlye chair from Carl Milles House at Cranbrook Academy of Art by Carl Malmsten, manufactured by Firma David Blomberg, designed 1926. Right: Chair for Kingswood Dining Hall by Eero Saarinen, manufactured by Stickley Brothers Furniture Company, designed 1929-1931. Courtesy Cranbrook Art Museum.

Second, a chair that eschews historic forms for the avant-garde: the chrome plated, tubular steel Kingswood Auditorium armchair. Eero Saarinen’s cantilevered design recalls the furniture coming out of Germany in the 1920s, particularly the work of Marcel Breuer at the Bauhaus. Breuer was a twenty-three-year-old student at the revolutionary German design school when, inspired by bicycle handlebars, he ordered tubular steel from the bicycle manufacturer Adler and built the world’s first tubular steel chair in 1925. Architect and president of the Bauhaus Walter Gropius was so taken with the initial tubular steel chair he invited Breuer to design most of the furnishings for the school’s new modern buildings in Dessau.

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Weaving Lessons: Ruth Ingvarsson’s Manuscripts

Among the treasures in Cranbrook Archives is a manuscript that, although I can’t read anything written inside, is one of my favorite things at Cranbrook. Bound in handwoven cloth by the author herself, the cover hints at what’s inside. This is Ruth Ingvarsson’s weaving book.

Ruth Ingvarsson’s weaving manuscript, hand-bound in a cloth cover of her own design and execution, ca. 1932-1935. Rigid Swedish-style counterbalanced loom depicted on the front, “R I” on reverse. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

One of two manuscripts written in Swedish and assembled by Ingvarsson between 1932 and 1935, each of the more than 100 pages discuss different weave structures, materials, patterns, and techniques. Who was Ingvarsson, and how did these treasures end up at Cranbrook?

Rut “Ruth” Elisabeth Ingvarsson was born on October 1, 1897 in Glemminge, Skäne, Sweden. Like many Scandinavian girls, she learned weaving first from her mother and then at school, graduating from the Glemminge Folkskola in 1918. In 1922, Ingvarsson began studies at the celebrated weaving studio of Märta Måås-Fjetterström in Båstad, Sweden.

Ingvarsson continued working for Måås-Fjetterström until 1928, learning technical skills including knotted pile rya or flossa weaves, rölakan flatweave, and a discontinuous (or supplemental) weft style of tapestry weaving known as the MMF technique. Under Måås-Fjetterström, Ingvarsson developed great skill painting watercolor sketches on graph paper in the popular “Swedish Grace” (or “Swedish Modern”) style. She also befriended another young weaver, Lillian Holm, who entered into the Måås-Fjetterström studio in 1926.

Watercolor of a rug design in the “Swedish Grace” style by Ruth Ingvarsson in her untitled manuscript on weaving, ca. 1932-1935. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

In late 1929, Ruth Ingvarsson and Lillian Holm immigrated to America to start work that December at Studio Loja Saarinen, Cranbrook’s weaving workshop. Here, Ingvarsson executed designs from Loja herself and other members of the Saarinen family, as well as designs by the Studio’s shop supervisor and prominent Swedish weaving expert Maja Andersson Wirde.

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Photo Friday: Happy Fourth of July!

Henry Wood Booth and Harriet Messinger Scripps at a Fourth of July picnic on Kingswood School Grove, 1924. Cranbrook Archives.

In the earliest days of Cranbrook, Fourth of July picnics were held in the shade of a big oak tree on the site of the present Japanese Garden near Kingswood School. In his history, Henry Wood Booth reports that in 1910, George decided a well was needed so that drinking water would not need to be carried down from the house. After much digging, there was no water, and the new well remained dry. The family would need to come back to the project another day.

Later the same evening, Cranbrook Road was flooded with mud and water. The well, having burst through the last layer of mud, was shooting eight feet into the air! A fountain was placed there a few months later and it flowed for fifty or more years until the screen was clogged. In 1963, a new well was drilled nearby.

A Fourth of July Parade, Cuttyhunk Island, Massachusetts, 1935. Cranbrook Archives.

The family didn’t always celebrate the Fourth so close to home. Here’s a parade planned by Henry Scripps Booth in 1935 while vacationing on Cuttyhunk Island, south of New Bedford, Massachusetts, on Buzzard’s Bay. Daughter Cynthia Booth is in the carriage pushed by Henry, and sons Stephen and David are in the parade.

Happy Fourth of July, everyone!

Laura MacNewman, Associate Archivist, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

Getting a Green Roof

In the Architectural Forum of January 1932, an advertisement announced that 160,000 pounds of 16-ounce Anaconda Copper had been used for the newly opened Kingswood School Cranbrook. There are copper gutters, cornices, louvers, moldings, and chimney covers, but most impressive is the 90,000 square foot batten seam copper roof.

Kingswood Roof Construction Copyright Cranbrook Archives

Workers assembling the roof structure above Unit A, the classroom wing of Kingswood School for Girls. The copper roof behind them is already installed. No barrels of uric acid can be spotted in construction photos. c. 1931. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

There was just one problem with the new copper roof: it was installed with rolls of bright, new-penny-orange, sheet copper. Eliel Saarinen wanted a green roof, and I think he wanted it quickly.

Yes, he could have waited for the shiny new copper to patinate naturally from rain, humidity, and time. But who has the patience for natural aging when you have an architectural tour de force to complete? Instead, Saarinen turned to chemistry. Using a historic technique common in Europe, the contractor, A. C. Wermuth, directed his workmen to collect their urine in small jars and transfer it to barrels on site. These barrels were then hoisted to the ridge line of the roof, where the pungent catalyst was poured down the copper slope and then spread evenly with brooms.

Science did the rest, and Saarinen got his verdigris color which the Architectural Forum described as a “neutralized complement” to the warm tan brick and buff Mankato stone walls which “harmonized admirably with the heavy foliage of the location.”

Kingswood Early Slide c 1940 Copyright Cranbrook Archives

Color slide of Kingswood School for Girls showing the harmony between landscape, building mass, and materials. c. 1940-1945. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

The story of more than just rain tinkling on the roof is recorded in Archives as told to former archivist Mark Coir by Dominick Vettraino, who grew up at Cranbrook and served as our landscaper, fireman, superintendent, and jack-of-all-trades. I was asked about the story of peeing-on-the-roof this week by an Upper School chemistry teacher, who’d heard the rumor and is now using it in her lessons for students stuck at home. You, too, can run the experiment: you just need to have a glass, a penny, and be hydrated!

Just like rust develops on iron, patina develops on copper when left exposed to the elements. The copper sulfate on the surface reacts to oxygen in the environment. Unlike rust, the patina actually protects and preserves the copper. However, copper doesn’t turn green quickly: it can take twenty to thirty years for copper to become green! Uric acid can significantly speed up the process. The fact that the Kingswood roof is quite green in early color photos does reinforce the idea that they used a catalyst to age the roof.

The entire copper roof was recycled and replaced in two phases, from 1998 to 2002 and from 2005 to 2007. In the replacement, the copper patination was not accelerated. The fact that the replacement roof is still not green, seventeen to thirteen years on, is to be expected. The roof quickly changed from bright orange to dull brown, and then slowly toward the purplish black you see today. However, I am noticing this spring that when you look at the section of 2002 roof at an acute angle, it’s distinctly turning green at the seams!

05-Cranbrook-Kingswood-School-Copper-Roof-Replacement-HIstorical-Building-Renovations-by-CASS-Detroit-MI-500w

Progress on the new roof. Phase one, completed in 2002, is at the far left and already dull brown. The original (though urethane coated) roof is at right. The new copper roof is shining at the center. May 27, 2006. Courtesy of C.A.S.S. Sheet Metal Specialist, Detroit.

The current color of the roof disappoints many graduates, but in time, it will return to the beautiful green color Saarinen and Wermuth achieved through their very affordable, if not very polite, method. And if you were at Kingswood between 1988 and the new roof replacement: you weren’t seeing a green patina, but a mint-green urethane coating sprayed on the entire roof to (unsuccessfully) slow the leaks!

—Kevin Adkisson, Curatorial Associate

PS: Between the joined “Studio #3” and “Dorm # 2” at the Academy, built in 1932 and 1936 respectively, there is a visible difference between the color of the two copper roofs where the patination has never matched. This can be attributed to different batches of copper. In the new Kingswood roof, every delivery of copper sheeting and copper solder delivered to the site was tested for quality and composition: we wouldn’t want the roof to change color irregularly.

Marthe Julia LeLoupp

Marthe Julia LeLoupp, born October 10, 1898, in Plogoff, Finistere, France, was an original faculty member of Kingswood School, where she taught French from 1930-1956. Having completed the Diplȏme de fin d’études at the Lysée Brizeaux, Quimper, Finistere, France in 1917, LeLoupp then completed her BA at Macalester College, St. Paul, Minnesota in 1920. She later completed graduate work at the University of Chicago (1929-1931) where she worked on an MA Thesis: Influence du Breton sur le français régional en Bretagne. With teaching experience in schools and colleges in Minnesota, South Dakota, New York, New Jersey, and Indiana, LeLoupp arrived at Cranbrook in 1930.

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Marthe LeLoupp, 19 Feb 1952. Photographer, Harvey Croze. Cranbrook Archives.

Correspondence with LeLoupp in the Kingswood School Records is limited but suggests that she would return to France each summer. A letter from LeLoupp, written in Paris on September 17, 1939, tells how she left America in June with ticket safely tucked in her purse for a return September 6th on the Normandie. But, the declaration of war had made this impossible and her ticket had been passed, initially to the DeGrasse to sail on the 13th and then to the Shawnee, due to depart Bordeaux on the 22nd. The Shawnee, she explains, had been, “sent to the rescue of a few hundred thousand American citizens, who are anxiously waiting for transportation westward.”  On arriving to Bordeaux on September 22, 1939, Le Loupp writes that they were told, to their great dismay, that the Shawnee would not sail until the 26th. While LeLoupp’s letters were on their way to Cranbrook, Ms. Augur [Kingswood School Headmistress, 1934-1950] was searching for LeLoupp, first sending a telegram and then consulting the American Consul. LeLoupp’s mother returns Ms. Augur’s telegram with a letter explaining her daughter’s situation. Discovering this story recently, I wondered at the extraordinary resonance with current concerns for travelers, and for those unable to complete their journeys.

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Telegram, Ms. Augur to Mlle. LeLoupp, September 23, 1939. Cranbrook Archives.

Despite the harrowing circumstances, LeLoupp did eventually make it across the Atlantic. She continued to teach French at Kingswood School until July 1956, when she writes from Bénodet in France to request to be released from her 1956-57 contract due to poor health, ending the letter, “I find it impossible to express my regret in words.” Not much else is known about LeLoupp’s time at Cranbrook, except that she lived for twelve of her years at Cranbrook in the apartments above Kingswood School, which were converted in 1945 from the ballroom known as Heaven. In the KBC [Kingswood Brookside Cranbrook] Quarterly of May 1973, LeLoupp was remembered thus,

“a “beautiful person” with a “super smile”. She was “sweet and kind” and always beautifully dressed in classic tweeds. Peering over her bi-focals at her students and reciting in her strong French accent the terrible weekly dictes that no one could understand, she was one of those who inspired her girls to excellence or accomplishment in French that is still one of Kingswood’s greatest assets”.

Laura MacNewman — Associate Archivist

 

Lisa Frank’s Cranbrook Years

When I’m talking with visitors to Cranbrook about our many famous alumni, there is perhaps only one graduate whose legacy and name recognition so divides responses between “Who is that?” and “Oh-my-gosh, really?!”

If the visitor was born before 1982, they likely have never heard of her. If they’re born after 1982, they almost certainly know her—even if they don’t know she’s a real person: Lisa Frank.

Lisa Frank from Kickstarter A typical example of Lisa Frank’s art: unicorns, golden retrievers, pandas, and rainbows, c. 2005-2015. Copyright Lisa Frank, Inc.; courtesy of Pinterest.

Lisa Deborah Frank graduated from Kingswood in 1972. For kids in the 80s and 90s, her iconic neon designs decorated our backpacks, Trapper Keepers, pencils, folders, and stickers. Anything that you might possibly need for the daily rigors of preteen life, Lisa Frank could provide. Rainbow kittens and neon unicorns adorned practically everything, and you’d be forgiven if you chalked these creations up to the work of some anonymous office supply conglomerate with a cadre of slightly nutty illustrators.

But no. Lisa Frank is very much a real person and artist, and she has led her company, Lisa Frank, Inc., as a successful commercial art studio since 1979. Her Day-Glo depictions of flora and fauna were sensational, ubiquitous, and often imitated but never equaled. Despite her success at brightening elementary schools across the globe, as an artist and businesswoman she has been a reclusive figure. So who exactly is Lisa Frank?

In 2015, Cranbrook Kingswood alumna Carly Marks interviewed Lisa Frank at her Tucson, Arizona headquarters for the art magazine Foundations, one of the only in-depth interviews Frank has ever sat for. Frank had this to say about her time at Kingswood (1966 to 1972):

“They had real people teaching, accomplished artists. We sat in the original Saarinen chairs. I don’t think we realized what we were surrounded by. I can tell you I wouldn’t be who I am without that experience.”

There was also art at home: Lisa Frank’s father served on the board of the Detroit Institute of Arts and had an impressive collection in their Palmer Woods (Detroit) house, including works by Jasper Johns, Josef Albers, Richard Anuszkiewicz, and Jean Arp. One of Frank’s proudest moments was when her father hung one of her Kingswood-era paintings in the house—not because it was his daughter’s painting, but because he liked the work itself.

At Kingswood, Lisa Frank served on the Woodwinds yearbook staff as the advertising coordinator, among other activities. She also took advantage of the art opportunities, telling Foundations, “I had a senior show of the paintings I made…They were up on the wall, I sold out, and received a ton of commissions. Lee Iacocca, former president of Chrysler, bought a painting.”

Lisa Frank Kingswood Work Courtesy of Carl Marks Foundation MagazineUntitled. Lisa Frank, c. 1971-1972. Painted while Frank was a student at Kingswood School for Girls. Photo courtesy of Carly Mark for Foundations magazine, 2015.

Frank’s work at Cranbrook was abstract, using acrylic on Masonite or canvas, and sometimes incorporating paper on the canvas for additional texture. Although the work was nonrepresentational, the bright colors that would become her brand’s signature are present in these early paintings.

Lisa Frank Kingswood Work Courtesy of Carly Marks-Foundations MagazineUntitled. Lisa Frank, c. 1971-1972. Painted while Frank was a student at Kingswood School for Girls. Photo courtesy of Carly Mark for Foundations magazine, 2015.

Her success in the Kingswood senior show led to early independence: “I lived on those earnings forever. When I was in high school [my dad] was paying for all my materials. When I got the commissions he said, ‘You’re paying for all the supplies.’ Then when I told him I was going to the University of Arizona he said, ‘That’s fine and I love you all the same but I’m not going to support you.’”

In college, Frank supported herself by selling Native American art and jewelry. She noticed what sold and what didn’t, and she encouraged the artisans she represented to make certain pieces for commercial sale. Her knack for knowing what designs would sell extended into her own art.

As she recalls, “At first I didn’t want to do unicorns. The artist in me said no. Then I thought, wait a minute, this is commercial art. Let’s do what’s going to sell.”

She started a line of jewelry made up of plastic fruits assembled with hot glue guns. She sold this line, called Sticky Fingers, at gift shows, and its success led to the establishment of her eponymous business. She entered into the pin/button market, painting licensed figures like Felix the Cat or Betty Boop, along with her own colorful animals with big eyes. These buttons were mass produced in Asia and imported to the U.S. Her breakout moment came in 1982, when teen mall staple Spencer’s Gifts ordered a million dollars’ worth of colorful Lisa Frank-designed stickers. She was only 28 years old.

Panda Painter by Lisa Frank courtesy of Carly Marks-Foundations MagazinePanda Painter, Lisa Frank, c. 1982-85. Frank worked with markers, acrylics, and airbrush. By 1989, the production had shifted to computer design. Artwork was created by various artists (including Rondi Kutz, Senior Designer, and Frank’s then-husband James Green, CEO) but always approved by Lisa Frank. Courtesy of Carly Marks for Foundations magazine, 2015.

Her success skyrocketed, and her technicolor art expanded onto the menagerie of product I remember from my own elementary school bookstore in the late 1990s. Since the very beginning of the company, Frank has served as the art director and sole source of product approval. Even with so many thousands of products, she and her team spend hours making each piece of new art. One thing Lisa Frank does not want? Repetition.

To her, using the same imagery over and over is not only bad business, its insulting to the customer. As she notes, “believe it or not, the consumers with less money have a keener eye than the ones with more. Consumers with less money only have so much to spend. For this reason they are critical and want to buy the best of the best. I’ve always appealed to the masses because, I felt so lucky to grow up in a beautiful world, and believe just because someone has less money, why should they not be offered the best of the best, as well?”

Lisa Frank Trapper Keeper Today Show (2) Trapper Keeper depicting Markie (unicorn) in Airfluff Island, Lisa Frank, Inc., c. 1990-2000. Markie was one of the early characters from Lisa Frank. According to Frank, Markie enjoys butterflies, exploring, collecting starts, cloud hopping, and dreams. Courtesy of Today.

As for her unique, technicolor style? “I think the reason I made what I made is because I’m unconventional,” she explained. “I am who I am. You read stuff about me; people think it was all influenced by drugs. You couldn’t do what I did if I was on drugs. . . I was running my business. You can’t be just a creative; you have to be a businesswoman, too. You have to have the motivation to get there.”

Lisa Frank Panda Painter Scented Stickers Nicole Flickr Panda Painter Scented Sticker sheet, Lisa Frank, Inc. c. 1990-2000. Panda Painter is seen here surrounded by rainbows and gumballs. Gumballs are a common Frank motif, inspired by a childhood gift of an antique gumball machine from her father. Copyright Lisa Frank, Inc.; scan courtesy of Nicole on Flickr.

Even at the helm of a multi-national, billion dollar company, Lisa Frank is still focused on her art: “I feel like I’m fortunate enough to live my passion…There’s a big commitment to making beautiful quality work.” She continues, “I mean, yes, it’s a business but it’s more important that the art is beautiful.”

Lisa Frank Halloween Stickers Nicole Flickr Halloween sticker sheet, Lisa Frank, Inc. c. 1993-2000. The signature bright colors of Lisa Frank are printed using a proprietary four-color print process that keeps the colors from muddying. All licensees producing Lisa Frank, Inc. materials must sign confidentiality agreements as the ink mixtures are a closely-held secret. Copyright Lisa Frank, Inc.; scan courtesy of Nicole on Flickr.

While Lisa Frank’s heyday may be over (the 2000s were especially difficult), she has continued to put out new product. In this moment of 90s nostalgia, Lisa Frank continues to bring joy and brightness to the world. In fact, you can now stay in a Lisa Frank-designed hotel room!

Lisa Frank was awarded the Distinguished Alumna Award in 1994 from the Kingswood Alumnae Association. Perhaps one day we’ll even get an original Lisa Frank for Cranbrook Art Museum!

Kevin Adkisson, Curatorial Associate

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