Carl Milles Gems from the Cutting Room Floor

Cameras started rolling Monday for the Center’s new film celebrating Swedish American sculptor Carl Milles, premiering May 22nd at A Global House Party at Cranbrook and Millesgården. Centering on materials in the Archives, the day’s shoot featured handwritten correspondence, photographs, sketches, scrapbooks, and oral history recordings that help illuminate the story of the man behind the many iconic sculptures dotting Cranbrook’s campus.

The film production crew captures closeups of materials featured in the film.

In preparation for the day, I mined several collections in the Archives that document Milles’ twenty years as artist-in-residence at Cranbrook and his work in America during that time. In the process, I made a few delightful discoveries. While most of these treasures were expertly captured by the film production crew (Elkhorn Entertainment), there were a few that just could not be accommodated in Associate Curator Kevin Adkisson’s masterful, but already dense script.

One of these items is a notebook from the Nancy Leitch Papers. A student of Milles’ in the early 1940s, Leitch, like many of Milles’ students, became friends with both him and his wife Olga while at Cranbrook. The brief diary-like entries in Leitch’s pocket-sized book date from 1945, and are an intimate glimpse of daily activities, remembrances, and artist philosophies recounted from shared experiences and conversations with Carl and Olga. A loose paper tucked inside and titled “Carl” is a bonus, containing hasty notes recording his birthday, recommendations of where to visit in Italy (Café Greco in Rome, the cathedral in Orvieto), and words of wisdom, such as, “It is better to be an artist even though you are poor.”

Part of an entry made by Nancy Leitch in her notebook. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.
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Cranbrook Gets the Royal Treatment

Not once, but twice, Cranbrook has pulled out the figurative red carpet and with appropriate fanfare welcomed Swedish royalty to its campus. Anyone who knows and loves Cranbrook might not be all that surprised by this revelation. After all, Cranbrook is a very special place—the home of dozens of sculptures by Sweden’s celebrated sculptor Carl Milles, who lived and worked at Cranbrook for twenty years, as well as many tapestries woven by Loja Saarinen’s renowned Swedish weavers. But the larger Detroit community has also boasted a significant Swedish cultural presence.

While most Michiganders might be familiar with the role that Swedish immigrants played in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula mining and lumber industries, Swedes also played major roles in Detroit’s development, from the auto industry to the fine and performing arts. Not least of all were the contributions made by Milles, including his sculpture The Hand of God, which has stood in front of the city’s Frank Murphy Hall of Justice since 1970. The founding in 1963 of the Detroit Swedish Council by Charles J. Koebel (who, decades earlier, had commissioned Eliel Saarinen to design his family home in Grosse Pointe Farms), saw a concerted effort to promote Swedish culture in the area. It was likely the unique combination of Cranbrook’s artistic works and Detroit’s vibrant Swedish community that attracted visits from Sweden’s royal family on two separate occasions.

Program for the day’s activities. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

So it was that on October 26, 1972, Princess Christina of Sweden set foot on Cranbrook grounds as part of her two-week tour of the States. And sixteen years later, her brother and his wife, King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia, followed suit on April 18, 1988. Both visits focused largely on Carl Milles’ Cranbrook legacy, directly involved the Academy of Art and Art Museum, and were the result of collaborations between Cranbrook and the Detroit Swedish Council. Yet each visit had its own unique activities and sense of purpose.

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De Profundis: Olga Milles’ Drawings of the Soul

Olga Milles lived in the very depths. In her art, almost exclusively devoted to portrait painting, she sought to draw out the character from the depths of her models and to find the soul behind the façade. Using a variety of techniques including charcoal, crayon, pastel, watercolor, tempera, and oil in her work, Olga was considered an artistic prodigy and developed her talent from a young age, yet her art is largely unknown. In 1988, twenty-one years after her death, Cranbrook Art Museum hosted an exhibition in collaboration with Millesgården, Olga Milles Emerges, to exhibit examples of her art from both museums’ collections.

In the foreword to the exhibition catalog, Staffan Carlén, former Director of Millesgården, describes her as having an intuitive talent that produced factual character studies of extreme precision, with an “overwhelmingly melancholic” tone. In reading Inger Wahlöö’s account of Olga’s life, based on correspondence at Millesgården, Carlen’s interpretation of Olga’s artwork can almost be read as a profile of Olga herself:

“Sparseness of shadowed areas and stretched areas disrobe the faces and make them appear in a serious, introverted nakedness. Her efforts are primarily directed towards interpreting the character of the soul. This she did with great coloristic refinement, and with tenderness in the form. In her drawings, there is consistently a sensitive enlargement of the mouth, sometimes in interaction with the dreaming mood of the eyes, sometimes as a tension-filled contrast of unconscious sensuality.”

Staffan Carlen, Olga Milles Emerges
Print of Drawing of Carl Milles by Olga Milles, 1917. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Born Olga Granner in 1874 in Leibniz, Austria, she had two brothers and two sisters. She had a deep loyalty to her family, whom she visited for several months every year, except during World War II. Having been born and raised in the Catholic church, she initially aspired to become an art teacher in a convent. However, in early adulthood, Olga questioned what it meant to be disobedient to the church and broke away, while cultivating an increasingly ascetic life.

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Swedish Sculptors-in-Arms: Soderlind and Milles

The Nona Bymark Soderlind archival collection consists solely of one scrapbook, yet its contents provide an intriguing glimpse of the woman to which it is dedicated. In doing so, it also illuminates a brief but prolific period in the history of the Academy of Art and reveals a personal side to one of Cranbrook’s most celebrated Artists-in-Residence, the sculptor Carl Milles.

Nona Bymark Soderlind, circa February 1936. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Born Eleanora Maria Bymark on July 16, 1900 in a small Swedish immigrant community just outside of Minneapolis, Minnesota, Nona attended the Minneapolis School of Art (1920-1922) on a full scholarship, where she studied sculpture under Charles S. Wells. She later attended the University of Minnesota where she studied under the painter Samuel Chatwood Burton. In 1927 Nona returned for a semester at the School of Art, around the time she had her first child with husband Dr. Ragnar Soderlind. The Soderlinds had three young boys (two, eight, and nine years of age) when in 1936 Nona boarded a train to Detroit to study under Carl Milles.

Nona Bymark Soderlind works on a sculpture in Carl Milles Studio, 1936. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

A February 13th letter from Richard Raseman, Academy of Art Executive Secretary, confirms Soderlind’s visit to campus and includes details of associated tuition and living costs required for the minimum period of study with Milles. Cross-referenced with items in her Academy student file, it is evident she had been invited by Milles to study for a month and arrived on the 18th. Perhaps it was Milles’ 1936 commission for Vision of Peace, in St. Paul, Minnesota that had first brought them in touch with each other?

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Carl Milles, Just Like Us

Today I was preparing some materials for an upcoming visit from the staff of Millesgarden – the Swedish home of sculptor Carl Milles. As I gathered supplies for the visit, I was reminded of a fun picture I saw recently of Milles who served as Cranbrook’s sculptor in residence from 1931 to 1951.

Carl and Olga Milles at Carl’s 70th birthday celebration, Jun 1945. Photographer, Harvey Croze.

The picture is from Milles’ 70th birthday party, held in the Kingswood School Dining Hall. Milles seems to have been telling a joke and the photographer captured him mid-laugh. US Weekly, a bit of a “rag” magazine, has a section where they picture celebrities living “Just like Us.” Pictures of George Clooney buying batteries at the hardware store or Octavia Spencer waiting in line at Starbucks, living just like real people do. I thought of this Milles photo in much the same way; Carl Milles makes jokes at dinner, just like us!

Leslie Mio, Assistant Registrar

Anne Morrow Lindbergh: The Cranbrook Connection

The Archives has in its collection photographs of a sculpture modeled by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. How did Lindbergh come to study at Cranbrook? In April 1942, Charles Lindbergh, at the invitation of Henry Ford, came to metro-Detroit as a technical consultant to assist with retrofitting the Willow Run plant from auto manufacturing to bomber production. In July, the Lindberghs moved to Bloomfield Hills and signed a one-year lease for a furnished home then owned by Kathleen Belknap. Originally known as “Stonelea,” the home, designed by Albert Kahn in 1923, is located at the corner of Cranbrook Road and Woodward Avenue and is now known as Lyon House. The Lindberghs were quickly welcomed to the neighborhood by Carolyn Farr Booth (wife of Henry Scripps Booth). During the summer of 1943, Anne enrolled at the Cranbrook Academy of Art where she studied modeling and sculpture with sculptor Janet DeCoux, and art history with Ernst Scheyer. Since Charles was away much of the time, Anne asked Janet and her partner, Eliza Miller, to move in with her to help raise her four children. Thus began a friendship among the three women that lasted until the end of Mrs. Lindbergh’s life. (Approximately fifty letters, 1944-1952, from Anne Morrow Lindbergh to DeCoux can be found in the Janet De Coux Papers at the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art.)

Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Anne Morrow Lindbergh, 1943. Cranbrook Archives.

At the Academy, Anne was treated not as the wife of a celebrity or even as a grieving mother, but as any other student. In her diaries (published in “War Within and Without”) Anne wrote of the freedom she experienced at Cranbrook “where people take me on faith.” Work in the studio, exhibitions at the Art Museum, and parties with music and conversation about art, books, and writing allowed Anne the freedom to “give my true self as I have never done in a group of people before.” She developed social courage and friendships with Janet and Eliza, Carl and Olga Milles, Ernst Scheyer, and neighbors like Kate Thompson Bromley. Her work as a sculptor taught her to see the world through a different lens – she learned how to sketch the human figure and transpose her ideas into her sculpture and it both surprised and excited her that she could actually see beauty in a sculpture, especially one made of her own hands. She was inspired by the natural beauty of Cranbrook, cross-country skiing on the grounds, and writing in her brown trailer in the woods. (Anne wrote her novella “The Steep Ascent” while at Cranbrook.) She relished the time with her children, and often walked them down the hill to Brookside School. Dinners with the Saarinens were exhilarating where they talked of “cities of the future.”

AnneLindbergh021

Anne Morrow Lindbergh picnicking at the Greek Theatre at Cranbrook, Jun 1944. Copyright The Detroit News.

In August 1943, Kathleen Belknap decided to sell the home, then known as Belwood, and the Lindberghs moved into a home at 411 Goodhue Road, behind Christ Church Cranbrook, for the next year. The two years spent at Cranbrook forever changed Anne spiritually. She discovered self-confidence, and that people liked her for who she was. After the Lindberghs returned to the east coast in 1944, Anne missed her Cranbrook friends and the life she had discovered here and wrote that she felt “only half alive since I left Cranbrook.” The Lindbergh family continued to return to the Detroit area to visit Charles’ mother Evangeline at her Grosse Pointe residence until she passed away in 1954. In January 1974, at the request of the Class of 1974, Kingswood School headmaster Wilfred Hemmer invited Anne to be the school’s forty-fourth commencement speaker.

Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

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