Christ Church Cranbrook Baptistry

To the north of the narthex at Christ Church Cranbrook stands the Baptistry, where infants are christened with the pouring of water over the head.

Holy Baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Body the Church. – The Book of Common Prayer

The whole Baptistry is a work of art, featuring an ornate wooden screen topped by the Lamb of God, a baptismal font with an ornate cloisonné cover that sits upon an exquisitely carved base, and a beautiful mosaic ceiling.

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Christ Church Cranbrook, Baptismal Font, 1928. Peter A. Nyholm, photographer. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives, Oscar H. Murray Photograph Collection.

Today, I want to focus on the ceiling by Mary Chase Perry Stratton and her Pewabic Pottery.

As George G. Booth was constructing Christ Church, he looked for the best craftspeople. In a 1926 letter to Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue Associates, architects of the church, Booth states, “I should be pleased if we are able to have a piece of Pewabic work in the Church and have thought the most suitable location would be the vault of the Baptistry”

After a seven-year rift with his old friend Mary Chase Perry Stratton over not allowing her creative license on projects at Cranbrook House, Booth offered an olive branch by giving Stratton the artistic freedom to create the Baptistry ceiling in 1926. This included the mosaic’s material and size, and how to incorporate the symbols of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit into the work.

Baptistry ceiling

Christ Church Cranbrook, Baptistry Ceiling, 2015. P.D. Rearick, photographer. Copyright Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

The gifts of the Holy Spirit, which the initiant receives at baptism, are represented as follows: Wisdom is a Beehive (also a favorite symbol of the Booth family), Understanding is a Lamp, Counsel is the Star, Fortitude is an Oak, Piety is a Cross, Knowledge is a Book, and Godly Fear (Peace) is a Dove.

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Christ Church Cranbrook, detail of Baptistry Ceiling, 2015. P.D. Rearick, photographer. Copyright Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

As former Cranbrook Center Collections Fellow Stephanie Kae Dlugosz-Acton wrote in the publication from her exhibition, Simple Forms, Stunning Glazes: “These symbols are centered on treetops resembling fleurs-de-lis. At the base of each of these saplings, a sea of blue tiles of varying shades surround two different animals, usually one mammal and one bird. All of the small tesserae tiles have the signature iridescence of Pewabic and create a glittering effect that shifts as one moves through the intimate and reverent space.”

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Christ Church Cranbrook, detail of Baptistry Ceiling, 2015. P.D. Rearick, photographer. Copyright Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

What a wonderful gift to all families who share a Christening in this Baptistry, and to all the visitors to Christ Church Cranbrook.

Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar

Look up! Studio Loja Saarinen Ceiling Murals

The Center for Collections and Research’s newest intervention in Saarinen House opens on Sunday, April 28: Studio Loja Saarinen: The Art and Architecture of Weaving, 1928-1942.

In researching the exhibition, Collections Fellow Kevin Adkisson has discovered many remnants of the Studio in the Archives, Art Museum Collections, and on the campus of the Cranbrook Academy of Art. One part of the Studio remains that you’re likely not familiar with: the weaving allegories by Katherine Sibley McEwen (1875-1957), one of the founders of the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts and a friend of George G. Booth. Her eight allegories and border elements were painted directly onto the ceiling of the former Studio Loja Saarinen Weaving Room — now the studio of Elliott Earls, Artist-in-Residence and head of the 2D Design Department at Cranbrook Academy of Art.

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Studio Loja Saarinen Weaving Room, 1930. Bouquets by Anne Frykolm (left), Cranbrook Rug No. 1 by Maja Andersson Wirde (floor), furniture by Eliel Saarinen (center), weaving allegories by Katherine McEwen (ceiling). Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

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Ceiling murals designed and executed by Katherine McEwen in what was once Studio Loja Saarinen. Each is an allegory of weaving. Photo by PD Rearick.

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Winding thread on the bobbin – detail of ceiling murals by Katherine McEwen in what was once Studio Loja Saarinen. Photo by PD Rearick.

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Collecting the thread – detail of ceiling murals by Katherine McEwen in what was once Studio Loja Saarinen. Photo by PD Rearick.

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Harvesting cotton and flax (linen) – detail of ceiling murals by Katherine McEwen in what was once Studio Loja Saarinen. Photo by PD Rearick.

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Harvesting silkworms and shearing wool – detail of ceiling murals by Katherine McEwen in what was once Studio Loja Saarinen. Photo by PD Rearick.

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Detail of the decorative borders by Katherine McEwen along the ceiling of what was once Studio Loja Saarinen. Photo by PD Rearick.

McEwen executed other works at Cranbrook, including the magnificent frescoes at Christ Church and a witty history of education series in the lower level of the Cranbrook School for Boys Dining Hall.

This Sunday, April 28, 2019 from 1-5pm visitors will have the very rare opportunity to see the Studio Loja Saarinen murals as part of the Academy’s Open(Studio) event–just follow the signs to the 2D Department. At the same time the Center’s special Studio Loja Saarinen show will be opening in Saarinen House, incorporating six historic Studio Loja Saarinen rugs and tapestries new to the house, dozens of archival and new color photographs, and a handful of small personal accessories from Loja Saarinen. And, the loom is up and running and Cranbrook Kingswood students will be giving hands-on demonstrations.

If you can’t make it to the opening, the Studio Loja Saarinen exhibition may be viewed on both public and private tours of Saarinen House during the 2019 Tour Season, Friday, May 10, 2019 through Sunday, December 1, 2019.

– Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar

The Green Lobby: A Cranbrook Gem

Cranbrook’s largest installation of Pewabic Pottery tile is at Kingswood School, boasting several fireplaces, and all of the dormitory bathrooms (forty-nine total), and most notably the infamous Green Lobby. Pewabic was not, nor was it ever intended to be a commercial manufacturer. And although the pottery was incredibly prolific, it was envisioned as an Arts & Crafts pottery, where each piece of tile was hand-molded.

As a result of its high quality craftsmanship, Pewabic had issues producing the amount of tile needed in the timeframe for the installation and completion of Kingswood School. The contractors responsible for installing the tile were forced to travel to Detroit twenty-six times for small batches of tile; in other words, as the pottery produced the tile batch by batch, the contractor would pick them up in an effort to maintain their scheduled completion date! Unfortunately this caused financial issues between Pewabic and the contractor due to the delayed production and inevitable delayed installation, not to mention the extra time and travel needed to obtain the batches which hindered the completion of the building.

Kingswood School Green Lobby, photographer PD Rearick, 2015

Kingswood School Green Lobby, photographer PD Rearick, 2015.

Despite these issues, the Green Lobby remains today as one of the gems of Cranbrook’s campus and is a favorite of students, faculty, and visitors alike. In 1931, the lobby featured a Pewabic fireplace, wainscoting, and flooring, as well as the staircase and railing to the second floor. However, when the lobby was restored in 1997, new floor tiles needed to be installed. Unfortunately, the floor tiles we see today are reproduction, not Pewabic though the original fireplace, wainscoting, and stairwell remain.

Green Lobby stairwell leading to the second floor, photographer PD Rearick, 2015.

Green Lobby stairwell leading to the second floor, photographer PD Rearick, 2015.

Stefanie Dlugosz-Acton, Collections Fellow, Center for Collections and Research

 

 

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