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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Naturalist & Photographer Walter E. Hastings

Often times in collections we discover materials that are unexpected, rare, or just plain fabulous.  The following images are all of the above.  Several years ago, when processing a set of negatives from the Institute of Science, I was pleasantly surprised to discover a set of photographic images of Native Americans, primarily Odawa/Ottawa from Leelanau County in northern Michigan.  They were taken by Walter E. Hastings (1887-1965) between 1928-1933.  Hastings was a naturalist, photographer, and lecturer, and was Michigan’s first conservation film-maker.

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From “He Knows All About Michigan’s Birds,” Detroit Free Press, 12 March 1922

Hastings’s interest in nature began as a child when his mother put together a collection of stones, shells, and Native American artifacts for him with the hope that he might become a naturalist. Clearly, it worked!  His interest in photography began in 1918 when he received an inexpensive camera for Christmas from his boy scout troop. From 1921-1932, Hastings worked for the University of Michigan Museum as the “Custodian of Birds’ Eggs.”  In that capacity, he served as a collections manager, enlarging and arranging the collection, and took numerous photographs which documented the nesting habits of Michigan birds.  Employed as the photographer for the Michigan Department of Conservation from 1926-1951, Hastings was a pioneer of wildlife and conservation photography.

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Johnny Willow Bird, age 3 yrs.  Taken at St. Ignace, Michigan, Oct 1933.  Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

 

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Native American Campsite, Horton’s Bay, Michigan, Jul 1933.  Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

 

The Institute of Science has several Odawa/Ottawa and Chippewa objects, collected and donated by Hastings, from the same geographical region where the photographs were taken. It is likely that the photographs were donated to the Institute of Science along with the artifacts. The Institute of Science photograph collection was later transferred to Cranbrook Archives. The Walter E. Hastings collection is located at the Archives of Michigan (MS 88-27).

~ Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

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