Online Exhibition: Saarinen House: Presidents/Residents, 1946-1994

This week, we’re proud to announce that the Center is launching its first online exhibition! With the tireless efforts of the Center’s Administrative Assistant and resident website guru, Alissa Seelmann-Rutkofske, we have adapted my 2018 exhibition Saarinen House: Presidents/Residents, 1946-1994 for the web.

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Installation view of Saarinen House: Presidents/Residents, 1946-1994. You can learn much more about the content of the show in the new online exhibition, or learn about the display system here. July 2018, Meng Li, photographer.

The show, which was on display in Saarinen House from April to November 2018, focuses on the first five Presidents of Cranbrook Academy of Art. These were the only five leaders to live in Saarinen House (built to be the President’s residence) and the only five who held the title “President” (we now have Directors of the Academy and a President of Cranbrook Educational Community).

In the online exhibition, you will learn about President Eliel Saarinen and the four subsequent presidents: Zoltan Sepeshy, Glen Paulsen, Wallace Mitchell, and Roy Slade. Each man’s page features a short biography, history of their artistic practice, and an account of the Academy under their leadership. Their tenure is documented through photographs from Cranbrook Archives, showing the presidents and their era of the Academy (including publications, Museum exhibitions, protests, parties, and other examples of student life and strife).

You’ll also find an Exhibition Checklist of the paintings and drawings from each president that were included in the show; click on the title of each work to see a larger image. Also online are photographs of the Exhibition Installation and information about the design and construction of our custom-made displays.

Exhibitions are a lot of research and work, and once they’re deinstalled it can feel like all the effort was for naught. Using the show’s text and images, documentary photography from P.D. Rearick, and with the encouragement of the Center’s Director, Greg Wittkopp, I am happy that Presidents/Residents and the efforts that went into its physical production will live on in digital form. Please go take a click around, and let me know what you think.

Kevin with the Drill

“My work here is done!” The curator in a moment of repose during the installation of Presidents/Residents. Seen sitting in a Platner chair that belonged to Roy Slade, and is currently back in use at the Academy administration offices, but was used in Saarinen House from 1977 to around 1990 and again during the exhibition. April 2018, Ashley Bigham, photographer.

Look for digital documentation of our other past exhibitions soon, and don’t miss your last chance to see this year’s show (in person): Studio Loja Saarinen: The Art and Architecture of Weaving, 1928-1942, on view with all Saarinen House tours through Thanksgiving weekend.

Kevin Adkisson, Curatorial Associate

From Drawing to Driftwood: The Artwork of Wallace MacMahon Mitchell

During the Archive’s Reading Room relocation at Cranbrook Art Museum, we have been digitizing negatives for preservation and access. This has enabled a new collection for CONTENTdm which highlights the artwork of Wallace MacMahon Mitchell (1911-1977). There are thirty images so far, with more being added soon. Five of Mitchell’s paintings can also be viewed during tours through Saarinen House: Presidents/Residents, 1946-1994.

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Wally Mitchell in his studio, early 1940s. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

The collection features images of the rich diversity of Mitchell’s artwork, from his early drawings and still life paintings to his later geometric abstract works and painting-constructions. Mitchell’s later works include many driftwood sculptures and Plexiglas paintings.

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Driftwood in Three Sections, 1965. Estate of Wallace MacMahon Mitchell/Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

In 1946, two of his paintings were included in the European Exhibition of the Guggenheim-funded Museum of Non-Objective Painting. These two pieces, with two other paintings added in 1948, are now in the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. Between 1950 and 1962, Mitchell’s work was frequently exhibited at the Bertha Schaefer Gallery in New York. He was also commissioned to design murals, such as one installed at the University of Kentucky in 1962, based on his painting Turnabout Number One from 1952.

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University of Kentucky Mural, installed in 1962 based on a painting ‘Turnabout Number One’ from 1952. Estate of Wallace MacMahon Mitchell/Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Mitchell’s archival collection will be available for research again when the Archives Reading Room reopens in July. Mitchell’s collection contains professional papers relating to his studentship and work as an instructor and administrator at Cranbrook. It also includes interviews and correspondence related to Joan Bence’s 1983 publication, The Art of Wallace Mitchell. There are also audio-visual materials including negatives, transparencies, slides and photographs.

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Villa-Neuve-Les-Avignons, 1938. Estate of Wallace MacMahon Mitchell/Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Mitchell was born in Detroit in 1911. After receiving his BA from Northwestern University in Chicago, Ill. in 1934, he studied with Zoltan Sepeshy for a year (1934-1935). He then toured Europe before returning to Cranbrook in 1936 as a painting instructor. His career at Cranbrook spanned 1936-1977, during which time he taught Arts and Crafts at Cranbrook School (1944-1947) while he was painting instructor (1936-1956), he was Registrar for the Academy of Art (1944-1956), Director of the Cranbrook Art Museum (1956-1970), and President of the Cranbrook Academy of Art (1970-1977). A retrospective exhibition of his work planned for his retirement at the end of the 1976/1977 academic year became a memorial exhibition following his death in January 1977.

-Laura MacNewman, Associate Archivist

Sources:

Wallace McMahon Mitchell Papers (1990-21)

Chad Alligood, What to Paint and Why: Modern Painters at Cranbrook, 1936-1974 (Bloomfield Hills, MI: Cranbrook Art Museum, 2013)

Joan Beehler Bence, The Art of Wallace Mitchell – Cranbrook’s Op Art Master Colorist (Unpublished, 1983, 1996)

Wallace MacMahon Mitchell, 1911-1977: a memorial exhibition of paintings and painting-constructions, 1936-1976 (Bloomfield Hills, MI: Cranbrook Academy of Art, 1977)

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