Sketching to Jazz and Judo: the Young People’s Art Center

Did you know that Cranbrook Art Museum’s educational partnerships with surrounding communities date back over sixty years? Long before the current museum trend of interactive educational programs for youth audiences, the Academy of Art and the Junior League of Birmingham had an idea:  the Young People’s Art Center (YPAC).

Young People’s Art Center logo, from the 1962 enrollment form. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

The year was 1958, and the Museum had recently changed names to the Academy of Art Galleries, shifting focus to feature more contemporary art practices. With that, came the desire to encourage young visitors to express their own artistic voices—participatory education, rather than simply art appreciation. Documenting the program’s first year, a June 1959 Detroit News Pictorial Magazine feature noted that YPAC “is fast gaining a national reputation for its lively approach to art education.”

In particular, it was Henry Booth (Academy Board of Trustees Chairman), Wallace Mitchell (Head of Galleries), and Zoltan Sepeshy (Academy Director) that approached the Junior League with a plan. In a 1957 report by Mitchell during the Center’s development phase, he states, “ The personnel of the Cranbrook Academy of Art has become increasingly aware of the growing country-wide interest in the visual arts and has long wished to more directly participate in the fostering and guiding of this interest as expressed in our community.” Seeking support from the Junior League, this “unique opportunity to bring to the children of Oakland County an integrated program in art education which concerns itself with the totality of the art experience” was green-lighted for the following year.

Children watch a judo demonstrator as part of a class exercise. Erik Strylander, photographer. From the article “Sketching to Jazz and Judo,” Detroit News Pictorial Magazine, June 28, 1959.

A perfect partnership was formed. The Academy would provide leadership, through the support of its trustees, director, and faculty; the Junior League would provide the necessary finances. Naturally, with so many talented artists on campus, there was no lack of creativity or helping hands! Junior League members were also heavily involved, providing volunteer docents to conduct gallery tours and assist with classes, both of which were located on the ground level of the Museum below the Academy Library.

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I Heard the Bells

What you might think at first look is simply a bell tower at Christ Church Cranbrook is actually much, much more. The tower holds a carillon, a musical instrument consisting of cast bronze bells in fixed suspension, tuned in half steps (chromatic order). It is played from a clavier (keyboard) containing wooden leavers and pedals wired to clappers.

South view of Christ Church Cranbrook, 1932. Photo by Max Habrecht. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

The Christ Church Cranbrook carillon is known as the “Booth-Wallace Carillon” as the instrument was a gift to the church from Grace Booth Wallace, her husband Harold Lindsey Wallace, and their five children, Elizabeth, Ellen, Richard, Shirley, and Catherine. It originally consisted of forty-six bells made by the Taylor Bell Foundry in Loughborough, England.

The largest bell (bourdon) is 6,700 pounds, five-feet eight-inches in diameter, and rings a low B-flat. The carillon was later expanded in 1978 with smaller treble bells to its current total of fifty bells, or four complete octaves. The carillon is in concert pitch, meaning it sounds the notes implied by the keyboard arrangement. To play the large instrument, the clavier is struck with fists and feet. The carillon requires physical exertion as the clappers can weigh several hundred pounds–however, the instrument is balanced for ease of use.

Nellie Beveridge at the clavier of the Booth-Wallace Carillon in May 1946. Note the use of her fists to play the instrument. Beveridge also served as nurse and companion to George and Ellen Booth. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

The Booth-Wallace Carillon was dedicated on Sunday, September 30, 1928. The first carillonneur to play the instrument was Anton Brees, at the time one of the world’s leading carillonneurs and famously the carillonneur of the Singing Tower at Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales, Florida. He would return to Christ Church for several summers to play, beginning what is now called the Summer Carillon Series.

Article from the June 8, 1930 the Detroit Free Press regarding Brees and the Christ Church Summer Carillon Series.

The 2020 Summer Carillon Series at Christ Church Cranbrook has already begun. You can listen to the July 5th concert below and go to the church’s Facebook page to learn more about future concerts.

Christ Church Cranbrook has had a number of carillonneurs or carillonists throughout its history.

Carillonist Beverly Buchanan preparing the instrument to play, February 1970. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

Beverley B. Buchanan played the carillon at Christ Church from 1964-1988. Beverly was a graduate of the University of Michigan, School of Music where she majored in organ and carillon. She was a long time member of the American Guild of Organists and the Guild of Carillonneurs in North America. She concertized on the carillon throughout North America, Europe, and Australia.

Dr. Maurice Garabrant playing the carillon, September 1956. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

Other carillonneurs of Christ Church include Dr. Maurice Garabrant (1949-1959), Dr. Don Cook (1988-1991), and Dr. Phillip Burgess (1991-mid 1990s). The current carillonist at Christ Church is Jenny L. King, who has been at Christ Church since the mid-1990s..

We hope that you will be able to enjoy more of the Christ Church Cranbrook Booth-Wallace Carillon this summer, whether in person or online. I think sitting on the wide lawn in front of the church enjoying a concert sounds like the perfect socially distant activity! For the complete program for the Summer Carillon Series, click here.

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

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