Cranbrook Gets the Royal Treatment

Not once, but twice, Cranbrook has pulled out the figurative red carpet and with appropriate fanfare welcomed Swedish royalty to its campus. Anyone who knows and loves Cranbrook might not be all that surprised by this revelation. After all, Cranbrook is a very special place—the home of dozens of sculptures by Sweden’s celebrated sculptor Carl Milles, who lived and worked at Cranbrook for twenty years, as well as many tapestries woven by Loja Saarinen’s renowned Swedish weavers. But the larger Detroit community has also boasted a significant Swedish cultural presence.

While most Michiganders might be familiar with the role that Swedish immigrants played in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula mining and lumber industries, Swedes also played major roles in Detroit’s development, from the auto industry to the fine and performing arts. Not least of all were the contributions made by Milles, including his sculpture The Hand of God, which has stood in front of the city’s Frank Murphy Hall of Justice since 1970. The founding in 1963 of the Detroit Swedish Council by Charles J. Koebel (who, decades earlier, had commissioned Eliel Saarinen to design his family home in Grosse Pointe Farms), saw a concerted effort to promote Swedish culture in the area. It was likely the unique combination of Cranbrook’s artistic works and Detroit’s vibrant Swedish community that attracted visits from Sweden’s royal family on two separate occasions.

Program for the day’s activities. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

So it was that on October 26, 1972, Princess Christina of Sweden set foot on Cranbrook grounds as part of her two-week tour of the States. And sixteen years later, her brother and his wife, King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia, followed suit on April 18, 1988. Both visits focused largely on Carl Milles’ Cranbrook legacy, directly involved the Academy of Art and Art Museum, and were the result of collaborations between Cranbrook and the Detroit Swedish Council. Yet each visit had its own unique activities and sense of purpose.

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Brighty of Thornlea House

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Peter Jepsen, Brighty, cast bronze. 1966. Collection of Thornlea House, Cranbrook. Courtesy of Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

In the foyer of Thornlea, the home of Henry Scripps and Carolyn Farr Booth, sits this statue of a burro, Brighty, by Peter Jepsen. He was a gift from their son, Stephen, commemorating a movie project he spearheaded.

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Dust jacket of Brighty of the Grand Canyon. 1953 (first edition). Courtesy of Michigan eLibrary (MelCat).

In 1953, Newbery Award winner Marguerite Henry (1902-1999) published the novel Brighty of the Grand Canyon. It tells the story of a real burro named Brighty who lived in the Grand Canyon from 1890-1922. Brighty spent summers carrying water up the canyon to the North Rim. He was rewarded for his work with pancakes. Brighty became popular with visitors, and is said to have accompanied Teddy Roosevelt on one of his three visits to the Grand Canyon.

In 1963, Betty Booth bought a copy of Brighty of the Grand Canyon for her three boys, Douglas, Charlie, and Woody, to read on vacation. Betty was the wife of Stephen Farr Booth, who was a television producer at the time. Stephen read the book and loved it so much he decided to make it into a movie of the same name. The movie premiered in Detroit in 1967.

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Movie poster for Brighty of the Grand Canyon. 1967. Courtesy WikiCommons.

To promote the movie, Stephen had commercial artist Peter L. Jepsen (1921-1994) create a life-sized, 600-pound statue of Brighty to be placed in the Grand Canyon’s South Rim’s Visitor Center (it was later moved to the North Rim’s Grand Canyon Lodge, where it resides today and where visitors rub his nose for good luck). Stephen also had 100 small-scale versions of the sculpture made and distributed to various people who worked on the movie. Stephen also gave one to his parents, who placed Brighty right inside the door of their home Thornlea.

We don’t encourage visitors to rub Brighty’s nose for good luck, but he is a fun and memorable addition to welcome guests to Thornlea.

– Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar

Note: The book, movie, and statue have kept the legend of Brighty alive. Brighty even has his own Facebook page.

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