Getting to Know Ken Isaacs at Cranbrook

Throughout this past spring and summer, I’ve been arranging and describing the recently donated papers of designer and architectural educator Ken Isaacs. Isaacs was an Academy of Art design student and faculty alumnus–his Superchair and a film by Barbara Isaacs are currently featured in the With Eyes Opened exhibit at the Art Museum and in the beautiful new book of the same title. Organizing his papers to ready them for researchers has led my learning about the environments Isaacs designed as well as the larger environments he navigated. These include Cranbrook, Manhattan, Chicago, and the rural acres of Groveland, Illinois where he designed and built a village of stylish, portable Microhouses, predating the current Tiny House movement by decades.

Portrait of Ken Isaacs, found tucked into his 1957 daybook. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

For example, while completing his MFA at Cranbrook from 1952-1954, Isaacs redesigned the interior of The Little Gallery, founded by Peggy DeSalle in neighboring Birmingham in 1949. DeSalle was a great supporter and benefactor of the Cranbrook community and the lead donor and namesake of Cranbrook Art Museum’s DeSalle Auditorium, so how wonderful to get a peek at The Little Gallery’s early years through Isaacs’ papers. I learned DeSalle was once married to Cranbrook President Zoltan Sepeshy, though long before Isaacs came to study here. I also learned, thanks to one of Isaacs’ presentation boards, that Peggy’s second husband and lifelong partner, Albert DeSalle, bought a 1955 couch Isaacs designed of steel and canvas.

During those same years, Ken Isaacs built the 18-foot-long, seven-foot-tall Matrix Drum environment. This large structure with its curving wall of graphic, black and white collage was stored here on campus until Zoltan Sepeshy persuaded Isaacs to return as faculty. (No wonder Isaacs was still on Sepeshy’s mind, having left a work larger than a Buick Roadmaster on the president’s turf).

I’ve recently foldered letters back and forth from Isaacs and Sepeshy. Their correspondence is a study in contrasts: Isaacs’ design stationery is mid-century modern with simple shapes in bold primary colors; one of Sepeshy’s handwritten notes has elegant, looping script that stands out against typed missives. They negotiated that Isaacs would retain and commute to his New York City design offices from Bloomfield Hills. The arrangement worked, for a while. The contract for the 1956-1957 school year included a residence for Ken and Barbara Isaacs in the “apartment in Guest House” on Academy Way and Isaacs headed the Design department from 1956 to 1958.

Isaacs regards a student’s work in an Art Academy studio. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Back at Cranbrook, photographs show Isaacs’ reuse of his Matrix Drum structure as a collaborative art project with Academy students who helped to collage its black and white pholage exterior. His notes detail how he redesigned the first Academy year to include field trips and visiting experts. They also explain how students designed a multimedia, immersive Matrix Drum lesson about the American Civil War using multiple slide projectors and moving pallets for participants to sit upon.

These are a few curiosity-rousing items in the Ken Isaacs Papers, from just his time at Cranbrook, with plenty more boxes of his writings and images left to go through. I’ll confess, his papers make it a real challenge for me to stay on task with processing duties, when there are so many things I want to know more about. Stay tuned for further finds!

Meredith Counts, Archives Assistant, Center for Collections and Research

A World of Opportunity: Ellen Scripps Booth Memorial Scholarships

In preparation for the Center’s upcoming seminar, featuring research on weaver Nelly Sethna, I became curious about an Academy of Art scholarship established in honor of Cranbrook founder, Ellen Scripps Booth.

Sethna had been a recipient of this financial award, which had allowed her to study abroad (Sethna was a citizen of India) at Cranbrook for one year, 1958-1959. Though it was Sethna’s artistic ability, not financial need, that earned her the award, she would never have made it to Cranbrook without this assistance, as indicated in letters to Weaving Department Head, Marianne Strengell.

Nelly H. Sethna, circa 1958. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Sethna’s subsequent successful career in textile design demonstrated the value of providing assistance for artists to attend the Academy. I wondered how many other similar stories there were in the Archives. I did not need to look past the first decade of memorial scholarship awardees to find plenty.

While the scholarship was granted to deserving artists in metalsmithing, painting, ceramics, and weaving in the ten years between 1951-1961, it was two fellow weavers of Sethna’s that caught my eye. They, too, had proven themselves worthy of distinction through their artistic accomplishments, but they, too, had financial needs that would have prohibited their attending the Academy otherwise.

Dixie Roto Magazine article featuring Katherine Choy, Sept. 14, 1952. Copyright The Times-Picayune, New Orleans States. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

The first recipient of the scholarship was Katherine P. Choy, a Chinese expatriate and graduate of Mills College in Oakland, California. Choy came to Cranbrook in 1951 to study ceramics for one year as a non-degree student. She would spend near equal time in both the ceramics and weaving departments, under the dual tutelage of Maija Grotell and Marianne Strengell.

Upon leaving Cranbrook, she would enjoy success in both fields, first heading up the legendary Newcomb College Ceramics Department at Tulane University and later joining the design team at Isabel Scott Fabrics in New York. With fellow artist Henry Okamoto, Choy also founded The Clay Art Center in Port Chester, New York, which still exists today. Choy’s ceramics can be found in the collections of the Cooper-Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, the Museum of Arts and Design in New York, as well as the New Orleans Museum of Art.

Tsuneko Yokota, circa 1955. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Another scholarship winner, and weaver, in the first decade of the award was Tsuneko Yokota (Fujimoto), for the academic year 1957-1958. A graduate of the Design Department at Tama College of Fine Arts in Tokyo, Yokota distinguished herself in fabric dying, winning several awards and a scholarship for an additional year at Tama as an honor graduate. At the suggestion of one of her instructors, and with a recommendation from Marianne Strengell, who knew her instructor, Yokota came to Cranbrook to further her studies in weaving and textile design. Unlike Sethna and Choy, though, Yokota stayed an additional year at the Academy and earned her MFA in Weaving.

By all accounts, Yokota lived up to Strengell’s confidence that she, “will most certainly have ample chance and desire to spread our particular brand of education and design in Japan,” working with celebrated modernist interior designers like Isamu Kenmochi.

Cranbrook Academy of Art scholarship announcement, 1960. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

The Ellen Scripps Booth Memorial Scholarship was established in 1951 along with the George Gough Booth and Eliel Saarinen Memorial Scholarships by the Academy of Art Board of Trustees. Academy faculty, under the leadership of Director Zoltan Sepeshy, recommended these scholarships be granted based on unusual merit of work submitted rather than financial need. Academy administrative documents indicate that the Ellen Scripps Booth Scholarship Fund had wide support from not only Academy faculty and staff, but also many at the Foundation, Press, Central Committee, and House. Scholarship award amounts varied somewhat from year to year, (in 1953 they were evenly split between two awardees), but the scholarship continued to be granted until at least 1965. While these named scholarships are no longer awarded (and I was unable to deduce exactly why or when they stopped), scholarships and financial aid for talented students are still vital to the success of the Academy and its artists.

—Deborah Rice, Head Archivist, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

Editor’s Notes: On Tuesday, June 22 the Center broadcasts live from Cranbrook and India for scholar Vishal Khandelwal’s examination, using materials from Cranbrook Archives, of a fascinating connection between mid-century textile design in the United States and India, as seen through the work of Nelly Sethna. Register here for this illuminating virtual event. 

Along with Nelly Sethna (1958-59), find early scholarship winners, such as Paul R. Evans (1952-53) and Howard William Kottler (1956-57) featured in Cranbrook Art Musuem’s new exhibit and companion publication, With Eyes Opened. Find details and purchase advance tickets to the exhibit on the Museum’s website.

Read a recent exciting announcement about new scholarship and financial opportunities for students on the Academy’s website.

Where in the World is Academy Graduation?

Today was a very exciting day at Cranbrook, with the Academy of Art Commencement taking place underneath a bright blue sky at Thompson Oval. Sixty-four students (now alumni!) were awarded their degrees. Artis Lane received an Honorary Master of Fine Arts and delivered an inspiring speech (on her 94th birthday, no less!), while Allie McGhee delivered a wonderful commencement address.

Susan Ewing, Director, speaking at the Cranbrook Academy of Art Class of 2021 Commencement, May 14, 2021 on the Thompson Oval at Cranbrook School. Photograph by Katie McGowan, CAA Photography ’22, Courtesy Cranbrook Academy of Art.

But as I sat in the newly restored bleachers of the Cranbrook School football stadium, I wondered: was this the first time the Academy’s commencement took place here, at the Thompson Oval?

A quick search in Archives revealed that, yes, it seemed to be. However, the same search revealed that graduation has taken place all around campus over the years.

The Academy dates back to 1932, but it first granted degrees in 1942. This was the same time Cranbrook Art Museum and Library opened. Early commencements took place in the Museum galleries, and, at least in the earliest years, the faculty and staff wore academic regalia.

Eliel Saarinen, President, confers degrees during the Cranbrook Academy of Art Class of 1943 Commencement, May 1943 at Cranbrook Art Museum. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Other early commencement ceremonies took place in the Academy’s Library next door. The reading room tables and chairs were replaced with rows of seating for students and guests. By 1945, it appears academic regalia had been abandoned.

A rather sleepy Zoltan Sepeshy, Director, at Cranbrook Academy of Art Class of 1945 Commencement, May 26, 1945 in Cranbrook Academy of Art Library. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

By midcentury, as the student body expanded, commencement moved to the Greek Theatre. This remained the location for many decades, and likely where commencement will return in a post-pandemic future.

Roy Slade, President, presides over a Cranbrook Academy of Art Commencement in the early 1990s at the Greek Theatre. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

And of course, what do you need if you’re planning an outdoor event in May in Michigan? A rain plan! Christ Church Cranbrook serves as the inclement weather site of commencement, as seen here in 2015.

Cranbrook Academy of Art Class of 2015 Commencement, May 8, 2015 at Christ Church Cranbrook. Photograph by Chris Schneider, Courtesy Cranbrook Academy of Art.

Fast forward to 2020, where commencement existed only in the virtual sphere: on Zoom. Not quite an architecturally interesting locale!

Susan Ewing, Director, presides over the Cranbrook Academy of Art Class of 2020 Commencement, May 8, 2020, on Zoom. Available here.

And then, today, commencement moved to the football field. It was a sunny day with perfect weather and high spirits as the community gathered, safely and in person, to celebrate the achievements of the Academy students.

Cranbrook Academy of Art Class of 2021 Commencement, May 14, 2021 on the Thompson Oval at Cranbrook School. Photograph by Kevin Adkisson.

Now, scroll back up and notice one thing that stayed the same across the years: the Academy Flag! It was behind President Eliel Saarinen in 1943, and behind Director Susan Ewing today.

Today’s ceremony will be uploaded to the Academy’s Vimeo page soon. Meanwhile, there are still a few days left to see the Class of 2021 Graduate Degree Exhibition at Cranbrook Art Museum, which closes on Sunday, May 16, and you can also see the (coronavirus delayed) Class of 2020 Graduate Degree Exhibition at Wasserman Projects in Detroit through June 19, 2021.

Congratulations from the Center to the Cranbrook Academy of Art Class of 2021!

Kevin Adkisson, Associate Curator, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

Christmas Greetings for Marianne Strengell

Correspondence, including special occasion cards, are not uncommon in archival collections, but sometimes you find remarkable standouts such as the panoramic handmade masterpiece in the Marianne Strengell Papers. Measuring 5 x 24 inches, I invite you to click on the image below and zoom in to see all of the amazing details.

Titled, “This Way to the Strengell-Hammarstrom Gallery,” the card depicts a wall of portraits of Strengell family members, each complete with a short anecdote.

First portrait in the gallery. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

At the end of the gallery is an abstract portrait of “Marianne Strengell Hammarstrom ‘Our Birthday Gal’” (curious, since she was born in May!). The card is signed, “love from your Weavers.”

Portrait and greeting detail. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Since no real names are used and the card is not dated, the origins and meaning behind the drawings and greeting remain as yet unknown. So far, research has not yielded any definitive answers. What we do know, however, is that Strengell enjoyed a wonderful relationship with her students and developed many deep friendships with both students and colleagues such as Wallace Mitchell and Zoltan Sepeshy. The wry, irreverent humor that imbues the card certainly suggests the close-knit, sociable atmosphere Marianne experienced at the Academy. “In all a very happy studio and many wonderful, now famous students. For me, 25 marvelous years.” (Marianne Strengell, 1989)

Last portrait in the gallery. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Strengell’s students included Nelly Mehta Sethna, Ed Rossbach, Robert Sailors and Jack Lenor Larsen, but she also had students from other departments study with her. These ‘Minors’ as Strengell dubbed them included Charles Eames, Benjamin Baldwin, Harry Bertoia, and Harry Weese.

Letter to Mark Coir, Archives Director, 1995. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Strengell, in fact, highly encouraged interaction between the departments, establishing Open House Days in the weaving studio, as well as Weavers Parties, which were very popular.

Revelers at a Weavers Party, 1959. Harvey Croze, photographer. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Marianne Strengell was a weaving instructor (1937-1942) and head of the Department of Weaving and Textile Design (1942-1961) at the Academy of Art. She often worked closely with her second husband, Olav Hammarstrom, architect and furniture designer, whom she married in 1948.

Farewell dinner for Marianne Strengell in the weaving studio, 1961. Strengell is shown middle left. Harvey Croze, photographer. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

There are several other examples of holiday greetings in the Archives’ collections from Strengell’s contemporaries, but, in my opinion, none as witty as the one created by her Academy admirers.

May your holiday season be as merry and bright!

Deborah Rice, Head Archivist, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

“Crime, it seems, sometimes does pay”

Actor Edward G. Robinson is often remembered for playing gangsters and wise guys, or, my person favorite role, as Dathan in Cecil B. DeMille’s epic film The Ten Commandments (1956). What most people do not know is that Robinson was an art collector.

Edward G. Robinson as a gangster in Little Caesar (1931). Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

That is not exactly true. According to Robinson, at the time of the exhibition Forty Paintings from the Edward G. Robinson Collection at the Museum of Modern Art in 1953, “I am not a collector. I’m just an innocent bystander who has been taken over by a collection . . . I am just a lover of paintings. I do what I do for the sheer joy of it!”

Robinson continues, “If I hadn’t become a movie gangster, it is highly probable that not one of my paintings would have had the chance to collect me. Here is a paradox: Turn killer and you have the means to satisfy your thirst for beauty . . . Crime, it seems, sometimes does pay.”

Edward G. Robinson’s home. View of living room, October 3, 1944. Dorothy Liebes papers, circa 1850-1973. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Unfortunately, in February 1957, Robison was forced to sell his art collection as part of the divorce settlement with his first wife Gladys Lloyd Cassell Robinson. Immediately after, he began to collect again. This second collection would be even bigger than the first.

Unlike film moguls or actors who pay experts to place a couple of easily recognizable masterpieces above their fireplaces, Robinson selected his artworks himself. He bought on instinct and impulse, guided by what he loved. As he said, “You don’t collect paintings – they collect you.”

You may say, this is all very interesting, but what is the Cranbrook connection?

In December 1957, Robinson was in a play “Middle of the Night” at Cass Theatre in Detroit. According to the Sunday, December 15, 1957, Detroit Free Press, “A distinguished art lover, Edward G. Robinson, the actor, dropped in at Cranbrook Academy of Art Tuesday to chat with an old friend, Zolton (sic) Sepeshy, director of the Academy.”

Cranbrook Archives holds the “proof” of this visit, by way of wonderful images from our campus photographer, Harvey Croze.

I did some digging, and Robinson’s personal archives at Boston University have no mention of Cranbrook or Sepeshy. I also could not confirm if Robinson had any of Sepeshy’s art in his collection; none appear in the 1953 exhibition or in the coffee table book about his second collection, Edward G. Robinson’s World of Art (1971).

I imagine it was simply his love of art that brought Robinson out to Cranbrook in 1957, the same reason so many of us are drawn to campus today.

Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

Mail Matters: Another Michigan Mural

On the eve of World War II, while Americans continued to suffer from the economic fallout of the Great Depression, the United States Treasury Department’s “Section of Fine Arts” commissioned Zoltan Sepeshy, the Head of the Painting Department at Cranbrook Academy of Art, to paint a mural for a new post office in downtown Caro. At the same time, one of his star students, David Fredenthal, was commissioned to paint a mural for the new post office in Lincoln Park. (Having trouble placing Caro, if not also Lincoln Park, on a map of Michigan? For your first geography lesson, place your right hand, palm side up, next to you. Caro is located in the middle of your thumb, while Lincoln Park is closer to your wrist.)

Separate and distinct from the more extensive and influential WPA or Works Progress Administration’s “Federal Arts Project,” which essentially was a work-relief program for artists, the purpose of the Treasury Department’s “Section” program, as it came to be known, was “to secure for the Government the best art which this country is capable of producing, with merit as the only test.” Sepeshy and Fredenthal, with their recently minted Cranbrook credentials, fit the bill. Fredenthal even had some mural experience, having recently painted an octopus mural for the Academy’s now infamous Crandemonium Ball in 1936.

Octopus mural by David Fredenthal for Crandemonium Ball, March 1936. Cranbrook Archives.

Meanwhile, Jimmy Southers, Lincoln Park’s postal superintendent, was more than a little perplexed and worried about the mural David Fredenthal was to paint for his post office. The week of September 25, 1939, Southers received a letter from Washington notifying him that Fredenthal, who the government described as a “sensational young artist” from Cranbrook Academy of Art, had been named to paint the mural—a fresco no less. Southers, who more than likely had not paid a visit to the seven-year-old Academy in Bloomfield Hills, not only had no idea what a fresco painting was but was intimidated by the government’s suggestion that he was to confer with the artist about the subject matter. His big idea? He thought a mural showing all of Lincoln Park’s postal superintendents (no doubt with him in a position of prominence) would do just fine.

Fortunately for Southers, geography intervened. Pulling out his own map of Michigan, Sepeshy did some calculations (which I just repeated using Google Maps). Realizing that Caro was some seventy-two miles from his studio in Bloomfield Hills while Lincoln Park was just twenty-six, the Hungarian painter decided to pull rank. He had the commissions switched and assigned the Caro project to his student while he decided to paint the mural in Lincoln Park, a few miles south of Dearborn.

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A Michigan Mural

Metro Detroiters, out-of-town visitors, and architectural aficionados worldwide have long admired the Penobscot Building in Detroit’s Financial District. Like its close neighbor, the Guardian Building, and the Fisher Building further north in Midtown, it is one of the city’s finest examples of art deco architecture and one of the iconic structures that still make up Detroit’s skyline today. Designed by Wirt C. Rowland of Smith, Hinchman, & Grylls, when its 47 stories were built in 1928, it was the tallest building in the city and the fourth tallest in the nation.

The Penobscot, on the National Register of Historic Places, is perhaps best known architecturally for its tiered upper seventeen floors and the exterior ornament by sculptor Corrado Parducci, whose work can be seen on many other Detroit buildings. It’s also known to locals for the red-lit globe at the top (originally designed as an aviation beacon), the legendary Caucus Club (Barbara Streisand reportedly launched her singing career here), or the famed roof observation deck which offered an excellent panorama of the city.

But, what about the interior of the Penobscot? Well it just so happens there’s a Cranbrook connection!

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The original bank lobby. Courtesy Detroit Free Press Archives.

The Guardian Detroit Group was the first tenant of the two-story bank hall at 635 Griswold St. before they had their own skyscraper commissioned just a block away. A later occupant, Detroit City Bank, opened in the same space in February 1949. When they did, adorning one wall was a mural painted by Cranbrook Academy of Art graduate and Head of Kingswood School Art Department (1940-1956), Clifford B. West. Known as the “Mural of Michigan” the twenty-six-foot painting depicts scenes representing state commerce and industry. West, who studied under Zoltan Sepeshy, and with fellow muralist David Fredenthal, had already completed a bank mural in Alamosa, Colorado, as well as Detroit-area murals in the Rackham Building, Stockholm Restaurant, and Fox & Hounds Restaurant.

Following a meticulous process that involved a series of sketches at different scales, cartoons plotted to a numbered grid and traced on the wall, and painting in two steps (large blocks of color followed by detail work), the scenes were applied in casein tempera on canvas cemented to the wall. Joining in this process was West’s wife and fellow artist, Joy Griffin West, and several academy students. Fortuitously, each stage of work was captured in a series of photographs by Cranbrook photographer, Harvey Croze.

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Upon completion of the mural, West mounted an exhibit at Cranbrook Art Museum titled, Progress of a Mural in April 1949, detailing his process for the Penobscot mural, and featuring many of the preliminary sketches and cartoons.

It’s largely unknown whether the Penobscot mural exists today, since a drop ceiling was installed many years ago, completely obscuring West’s creation.

Deborah Rice, Head Archivist

Photo Friday: Academy of Art Graduation Day

Congratulations to the Cranbrook Academy of Art students who graduated with their MFA’s and MArch’s today! The ceremony was held in Christ Church Cranbrook, after too much rain water-logged the Greek Theater. Did you know the ceremony used to be held in the library?

Although the Academy welcomed students in 1932, it first granted degrees in 1942 after being chartered by the State of Michigan as an institution of higher learning.

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Cranbrook Academy of Art Convocation in the Academy of Art Library, May 1948. Harvey Croze, photographer. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

The first convocations were held in the Academy Library. Here, in 1948, we see Henry Scripps Booth speaking, with Zoltan Sepeshy seated to his far left and Carl Milles and Eliel Saarinen to Booth’s right. In the foreground of the image, bursting with blooms, is Maija Grotell’s blue and platinum vase of around 1943.

– Kevin Adkisson, 2016-2019 Collections Fellow, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

Photo Friday: Iron Pour

As the fountains around Cranbrook are drained and the chilly air sets in, I thought we could warm up with a little molten iron.

In 1962, Julius Schmidt was appointed artist-in-residence after the departure of Berthold “Tex” Schiwetz from the Sculpture department. Schmidt received his BFA from Cranbrook in 1953 and his MFA in 1955, working under Schiwetz. Schmidt worked almost exclusively with iron, a rough and difficult material previously unexplored at the Academy. Early in his tenure, he set about raising money from Detroit-area tool and die companies to build Cranbrook a foundry.

Iron pour in the new foundry, November 1965. Paul Reuger, photographer.

Constructed in the open space to the east of Carl Milles’ large studio, the concrete block and glass curtain wall forge building was the first physical addition to the Academy campus since Saarinen died in 1950.

Julius Schmidt, Head of Sculpture, (center) with students at commencement, May 1966. Harvey Croze, photographer.

As reported in the 1964 Cranbrook Academy of Art News Letter, the new foundry featured six furnaces capable of casting up to 1,000 pounds of molten iron or bronze. The foundry also included electric hoists, a bridge crane, grinder, mueller, electric oven, acetylene and arc welding equipment, and pneumatic grinding and finishing tools.

Schmidt and some students used the forge extensively for their work, perhaps to the disadvantage of students who didn’t want to work with iron. In 1966 students working under Schmidt designed, sculpted, cast, and then fired a cannon featuring a caricature of Zoltan Sepeshy’s nose and mouth. Schmidt left Cranbrook in 1970, and I can’t find evidence of iron pours after his departure (today, students who wish to cast their own iron participate in an annual pour at the College for Creative Studies.) In the forge now is the Academy’s metal shop as well as equipment for 3D printing, laser cutting, and vacuum forming–all situated around the forge equipment.

Cannon being fired out of the foundry, May 1966. Paul Rueger, photographer.

If you would like to visit the foundry, join me on the Behind-the-Scenes tour: Saarinen House: Presidents/Residents, next Saturday, October 27th. This is the final date for this tour that includes a visit to the exhibition at Saarinen House, the studio space of Wallace Mitchell, the foundry, Cranbrook Archives, as well as several other stops. Click here for more information.

Kevin Adkisson,  Collections Fellow, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

Harry and Nerissa Hoey’s Weekend Retreat

While cataloging some of the Ralph Rapson architectural drawings in our collection, archivist Gina Tecos and I discovered designs for “Longshadows,” a weekend retreat for Cranbrook School English teacher (and later Headmaster) Harry Hoey and his wife, Nerissa. Hoey came to Cranbrook in 1928, where he taught English until 1944 when he became Assistant Headmaster (1944-1950) and then Headmaster (1950-1964) of Cranbrook School. While the Hoeys lived on campus, first on Faculty Way, and later in the Headmaster’s House, they commissioned Rapson, along with fellow Cranbrook student Walter Hickey, to design a weekend vacation home in Metamora, Lapeer County.

Elevation by Ralph Rapson, 1939. The Ralph Rapson Collection, 1935-1954, Cranbrook Archives.

Coincidentally, I have been corresponding with the Hoeys’s granddaughter, Susan, regarding the disposition of her grandfather’s papers to Cranbrook Archives. In the course of this correspondence, I asked Susan about the home. While Rapson called the home “Longshadows,” the family called it “Hoyden.” According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, “hoyden” means “a girl or woman of saucy, boisterous, or carefree behavior” and the word is sometimes used to mean just “carefree.” As Susan stated, “Somehow, though I have no way to prove it, I am guessing this word was in my grandmother’s [Nerissa] vocabulary. Anyway, it seems to fit the bill for a weekend/summer place.”

Susan’s mother has fond memories of the weekend house – as a five-year old girl when she walked up the hill to the house behind her mother, the forty acre property looked endless. She remembers falling in the wild strawberry patch and staining her dress, and playing with the girl across the street whose father tended the property for the Hoeys.

“Hoyden,” 1940. The Ralph Rapson Collection, 1935-1954, Cranbrook Archives.

The summer the house was completed (1940), the Hoeys began hosting numerous Cranbrook guests who wanted to see the midcentury modern design. Guests included Dorothy and Zoltan Sepeshy of the Academy of Art, Henry and Carolyn Booth, and of course numerous Cranbrook faculty.

Page from the Hoyden Guest Book, 1940. Courtesy Harry and Nerissa Hoey Family.

In a letter to fellow Cranbrook student Ben Baldwin, Rapson described the house as clad in red wood, left natural, with a flat roof. The house had three bedrooms, two fireplaces, and even a basement for storage and a play room. The house still stands today, though it has had some minor additions and has been painted. It is one of Rapson’s only Michigan designs. Hopefully, we will soon have additional photographs of the house, and perhaps even more stories about the relationship between Hoey and Rapson.

NOTE: Harry and Nerissa Hoey were well-loved at Cranbrook. He also served on the vestry of Christ Church Cranbrook. Not only was Harry an effective administrator, but he was one who led the school with kindness and compassion. On the birthday of each boy in the school, Hoey would greet them with them a “happy birthday,” and shake their hand into which he pressed a shiny penny! On his 85th birthday, Hoey’s former students surprised him by mailing birthday cards – each one with pennies – he received over 500.

Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

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