Playing our Part

As performance venues prepare to reopen in Michigan today, I thought it timely to take a look at the storied history of a group that’s nearly as old as Cranbrook itself: St. Dunstan’s Theatre Guild of Cranbrook. With ties to Cranbrook’s founding family, staff, and the physical Cranbrook campus, combined with its enduring cultural role in the surrounding community, this nearly ninety-year-old institution has a rich history. Allow me to share with you a few fascinating details from its early years.

View of St. Dunstan’s Playhouse from Lone Pine Road looking east. Balthazar Korab, photographer. Copyright Korab and Cranbrook Archives.

“The worst thing about it, it’s named for a saint. But don’t think it’s holy, ‘cause it certainly ain’t.”

Sheldon Noble, an early and active Guild member

The Theatre Guild was indeed named after St. Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury in the ninth century and patron saint of the arts. As St. Dunstan lived in Kent, England, from where Cranbrook founder George Booth’s family hailed, the Guild’s name was fittingly suggested by his son and founding member, Henry Scripps Booth. Shortly after the Guild began in 1932, members were writing and producing their own one-act plays. In an April 1933 letter announcing an informal evening  of a “Home Talent programme,” for the 100 Guild members and their guests, Jessie Winter, Guild Secretary and Brookside School Headmistress, implores them to “Be kind, be understanding, be generous . . . give the actors and authors the warm reception which such offerings warrant.” One such author was Henry Scripps Booth. Billed as Thistle, his play, Sedative Bed, was one of four being performed that April 28th evening at Brookside School for just $1. It was the tail end of the Great Depression, after all!

The first public performance of St. Dunstan’s Theatre Guild took place at the Greek Theatre with The King and the Commoner. Taking supporting roles were the likes of Annetta Wonnberger (Cranbrook Summer Theater School), Pipsan Saarinen Swanson (daughter of Cranbrook architect Eliel Saarinen), and Henry Scripps Booth, among others.

A scene from The King and the Commoner. Henry Booth on right. Detroit newspaper rotogravure clipping. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

The cast and crew of the 1940 production of The Last of Mrs. Cheyney again reads like a who’s who of Cranbrook, including Harry Hoey (Cranbrook School Headmaster), Templin Licklider (Cranbrook School Faculty), Dorothy Sepeshy (wife of Cranbrook Academy of Art President, Zoltan Sepeshy), Rachel Raseman (wife of Richard Raseman, Cranbrook Academy of Art Executive Secretary and Vice President), the aforementioned Annetta Wonnberger, and various members of the Booth Family. Henry Scripps Booth, part of the Guild’s Scenic Design Committee, and his wife Carolyn, the production’s stage manager, created the sets.

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It’s a New Collection!

The Archives to Launch Our Poster Collection Online!

Over the coming summer, Cranbrook Archives will release a brand new collection into its online digital database! While building our digital archive is a perpetual process, we are working steadily to upload images and manuscripts so that you, our remote users, can browse and search through our collections no matter where you live. This summer we will be celebrating a new addition: the Cranbrook Poster Collection!

Over the past eight months, my colleague, Laura MacNewman, and I collaborated to upload this collection for online access. The posters date back to the early 1900s with topics covering the scope of the entire Cranbrook Educational Community, emphasizing exhibitions from the Academy of Art and the Institute of Science, and theatrical performances from Cranbrook Kingswood Schools, St. Dunstan’s Guild, and the Summer Theatre.

Cranbrook Institute of Science poster, n.d. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Cranbrook Institute of Science poster, n.d. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

We created nineteen different series for the Poster Collection based on locations or departments on campus. We identified nearly 500 unique posters in our collection, and each one was given a distinct identifying number. Once the unique identifiers were established, we merged all the various poster inventories  into one master inventory spreadsheet, and arranged them in chronological order by series.

The next step was sorting through the physical posters folder by folder in order to take a reference photograph of each one for the database, record their dimensions, and describe them  in the master inventory spreadsheet. This was the longest stage of the process, lasting several weeks. After the data was entered into the spreadsheet, we renamed the individual images to match the posters’ unique identifiers in order to match the photograph.

Exhibition poster, 1973. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Exhibition poster, 1973. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

While every step has been a learning process, my favorite part was working in Thornlea Studio and physically handling the poster collection for measurements and photographs. Laura and I were able to take a previously unorganized collection and make it discoverable online, which was rewarding and gave me a sense of accomplishment. I loved the huge diversity of the posters, too. Not only were they historically valuable, they were also aesthetically stunning. I can’t wait for the collection to be released for everyone to enjoy!

Danae Dracht, Archives Assistant

Editor’s Note: Thank you Danae and Laura for your hard work on this project! Congratulations also to Danae who recently graduated from Wayne State University’s School of Library Science! We wish you all the best as you embark on the next journey of your archival career.

“The Last Minstrel” at Cranbrook

Richard Dyer-Bennet poster

Troubadour, poet, and composer Richard Dyer-Bennet (1913–1991) was among the best known and most respected folk singers in America during the 1940s and 1950s. He became the first solo folk musician to appear in Carnegie Hall and on December 7, 1941, NBC radio broadcast Richard Dyer-Bennet singing “The Ploughboy” when the broadcast was interrupted with the announcement of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Richard Dyer-Bennet performs at Cranbrook, Feb 1954. Harvey Croze, photographer.

Richard Dyer-Bennet performs at Cranbrook, Feb 1954. Harvey Croze, photographer.

Brought to Cranbrook by the Cranbrook Music Guild in February 1954, Dyer-Bennet presented “The Voice of Minstrelsy,” a program of traditional folk songs which spanned six centuries and included old-world European songs as well as American folk ballads.  A year later, Dyer-Bennet founded his own record label in order to maintain artistic control over the sound quality, repertory, and style of his performances.

To see the poster featured in this blog, as well as numerous others from our collection, visit the Archives’ exhibition Designs of the Times: 100 Years of Posters at Cranbrook.

Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

Photo Friday: Posters Tell a Story

The Cranbrook Archives exhibition, Designs of the Times: 100 Years of Posters at Cranbrook, opens this weekend. The exhibition documents events and performances that have enhanced and enriched the Cranbrook community for more than a century. The image below is just one of many that will be on display through March 20th, 2016.

yeoman

Performing Arts poster, 1955

This poster, signed “M.W.” was  designed by Michael Justin Wentworth (Cranbrook School ’56). In addition to designing posters, Wentworth was the art editor for both the Brook and the Crane, and designed the sets for the Ergasterion productions and the scenery for the bi-annual Operettas. He received his MA and MFA from University of Michigan, and his PhD from Harvard where he wrote his dissertation on the artist James Tissot, a lifelong interest.

The posters in the exhibition represent all areas of campus – we hope you come check it out!

Gina Tecos, Archivist

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