From Concept to Cover

The General Motors Technical Center is one of Eero Saarinen’s most acclaimed projects. Dedicated in 1956, the “Corporate Cranbrook” was years in development, starting with initial designs by Eliel Saarinen and J. Robert F. Swanson (with Eero consulting) in 1945.

After a hiatus in the project by GM and reorganization of the Saarinen Swanson office, Eero completely redesigned the scheme in late 1948. The new design is high modernism at its finest: clean lines, experimental materials, and a lot of flat roofs. We can see Eero’s boxy proposal here, a treasured sketch from Cranbrook Archives:

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Eero Saarinen sketch of General Motors Technical Center, Warren, Michigan, 1949. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

As the son of a world-famous architect building for one of America’s greatest companies, the project drew lots of attention well before it opened. Architectural Forum, in fact, featured the Tech Center as its cover story in July 1949. But what to show of the yet-constructed campus?

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Glen Paulsen drawing depicting Eero Saarinen’s proposed General Motors Technical Center, Saarinen Saarinen and Associates, 1949. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

Eero turned to a talented young architect in his office, Glen Paulsen, to delineate the Tech Center for the magazine cover. Paulsen was known for his complex and sophisticated architectural renderings, and had worked for various firms as a renderer before coming to Saarinen’s office in 1949 as a design architect.  He sketched out several different options for Forum , and my favorite includes the entire layout of the cover, not just the buildings:

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Concept art for cover of Architectural Forum by Glen Paulsen, depicting Eero Saarinen’s proposed General Motors Technical Center, Saarinen Saarinen and Associates, 1949. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

Finally, in June 1949, the magazine hit the presses with a crisp, color drawing by Glen Paulsen depicting Eero’s General Motors Tech Center.

Architectural Forum July 1949 Glen Paulsen cover for Eero Saarinen

Architectural Forum 91, no. 1 (July 1949). Cover art by Glen Paulsen of Saarinen Saarinen and Associates. Courtesy of Cranbrook Academy of Art Library.

—Kevin Adkisson, Curatorial Associate

Cranbrook’s Other Kahn

What many people do not know is that Albert Kahn had a famous daughter, Lydia Kahn Winston Malbin (1897-1989). She was not an architect, nor a famous actress or TV personality, but was referred to as the “First Lady of Modernism” in a 1984 Detroit News magazine article by art critic Joy Hakanson Colby. Malbin, a lifetime trustee and honorary curator of the DIA, chairman of the Detroit Artists Market, and a member of the Detroit Arts Commission, was also a student at Cranbrook Academy of Art in 1934 and then again from 1940-1944 when she received her MFA in Ceramics. (Malbin took additional ceramics classes with Maija Grotell and painting with Zoltan Sepeshy through 1950.)

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Lydia Malbin in her Manhattan apartment, 1984. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

But what she was best known for was her vast collection of modern art, an interest that began for her in the 1930s and continued throughout her lifetime. This week I received a query from an art auction house in London, England. They have a work by German-American painter, Lyonel Feininger, that had once been in Malbin’s collection and was on display in a 1951 exhibition at Cranbrook Art Museum called “The Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Harry Lewis Winston.” (Winston was Lydia Kahn’s first husband.) As auction houses often do, they wanted to verify that Feininger’s painting “Becalmed” had indeed been in this exhibition. As I researched this work, it reminded me of Malbin’s additional connections to Cranbrook.

 

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Exhibition Catalog, 1951. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Not only was Malbin a student at the Academy of Art, she was also one of the six Cranbrook-related artists who contributed to the Saarinen-Swanson Group, an affordable, coordinated line of modern home furnishings, which debuted in 1947. Malbin designed the oven-ware pottery, manufactured by Frankoma Pottery Company, and china with glazes meant to “simulate the quality and color of semi-precious stones” manufactured by Glenco Porcelain Company. She also designed ash trays and vases – a line of “red ware” – which featured clay and glazes from Ferro Enamel in Cleveland, Ohio.

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Detroit Free Press, September 1948. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Malbin began collecting modern art in the 1930s. Though her father, Albert Kahn, couldn’t stand modern art, he did instill in all of his children the lesson that they should be independent thinkers. So, Malbin sought out what SHE liked – “tough, off-beat things” rather than popular artists or “pretty pictures.” She and her first husband, Harry Winston, were an art collecting team until Harry’s death in 1965, and Malbin’s second husband, Barnett Malbin, while not a collector himself, supported her collecting activities and even made photographic records of her art for her archives.

For more on Malbin’s collecting interests, check out the Lydia Winston Malbin Papers at Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library and the Barnett and Lydia Winston Malbin Papers, 1940-1973 at the Archives of American Art.

Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

Dispatch from the Archives: All Things Modernism

Mid-century Modernism has taken over my life!  I eat, sleep, and even dream Modernism these days.  In my role as Head Archivist, I wear many hats – the most recent being to assist the Michigan Modern curatorial team by locating all the cool “stuff” in our Archives related to the upcoming exhibition, which will be opening at the Cranbrook Art Museum on June 14, 2013.  This includes photographs, of course, but the most fun for me is finding correspondence, articles, and ephemera that when put together create a mosaic of a time or place. Continue reading

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