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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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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Photo (Album) Friday

Over the past decade, digital photo albums have become commonplace. Although I enjoy seeing photos in digital albums, there is something magical about peering into the pages of a book constructed by someone decades ago. Here in the Archives we have many scrapbooks – from oversized books with newspaper clippings to school scrapbooks with photographs and ephemera related to sporting events, dances, and awards ceremonies.

Scrapbooks are a fundamental part of many of our manuscript collections – documenting the work and life of artists, educators, and scientists. The four scrapbooks in the Saarinen Family Papers contain newspaper clippings of Eliel Saarinen’s work, as well as photographs of family and friends in the U.S. and Europe.

I find that photographs and scrapbooks document life in a way that is unique to written correspondence. A letter provides detail to the reader or researcher, but a captioned photo provides visual representation and the details that were important to the creator. The Archives recently accessioned the Smith House Records, which includes 20 albums. The albums include artwork that the homeowners valued, as well as photographs of people enjoying their home. These images show what a fun couple the Smiths were – and how much they loved entertaining guests in their Wright home.

Smith Family album

A page from one of the Smith family albums, Dec 1970.

Henry Scripps Booth, youngest son of Cranbrook founders George and Ellen Booth, elevated the scrapbook to a new level with his series of 14 albums, titled “Pleasures of Life.” These albums celebrate travel, as well as family life here at Cranbrook from 1911-1940. The carefully constructed pages in the “Pleasures of Life” series include captions for nearly all the photos (penned by Henry), including one of a house party at Cranbrook House in 1915.

Pleasures of Life, Vol II

“House Party, Cranbrook House,” Pleasures of Life, Vol 2, 1915.

Gina Tecos, Archivist

NB: This weekend, 103 years after Henry captioned his photo of “House Party, Cranbrook House,” the Center for Collections and Research is hosting a gala fundraiser A HOUSE PARTY AT CRANBROOK. It will celebrate the three historic houses under the Center’s care, and honor the legacies of the families who built and lived in them. Hopefully someone takes photos for an album to be appreciated in another 100 years!

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