Cranbrook’s Other Kahn

What many people do not know is that Albert Kahn had a famous daughter, Lydia Kahn Winston Malbin (1897-1989). She was not an architect, nor a famous actress or TV personality, but was referred to as the “First Lady of Modernism” in a 1984 Detroit News magazine article by art critic Joy Hakanson Colby. Malbin, a lifetime trustee and honorary curator of the DIA, chairman of the Detroit Artists Market, and a member of the Detroit Arts Commission, was also a student at Cranbrook Academy of Art in 1934 and then again from 1940-1944 when she received her MFA in Ceramics. (Malbin took additional ceramics classes with Maija Grotell and painting with Zoltan Sepeshy through 1950.)


Lydia Malbin in her Manhattan apartment, 1984. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

But what she was best known for was her vast collection of modern art, an interest that began for her in the 1930s and continued throughout her lifetime. This week I received a query from an art auction house in London, England. They have a work by German-American painter, Lyonel Feininger, that had once been in Malbin’s collection and was on display in a 1951 exhibition at Cranbrook Art Museum called “The Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Harry Lewis Winston.” (Winston was Lydia Kahn’s first husband.) As auction houses often do, they wanted to verify that Feininger’s painting “Becalmed” had indeed been in this exhibition. As I researched this work, it reminded me of Malbin’s additional connections to Cranbrook.



Exhibition Catalog, 1951. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Not only was Malbin a student at the Academy of Art, she was also one of the six Cranbrook-related artists who contributed to the Saarinen-Swanson Group, an affordable, coordinated line of modern home furnishings, which debuted in 1947. Malbin designed the oven-ware pottery, manufactured by Frankoma Pottery Company, and china with glazes meant to “simulate the quality and color of semi-precious stones” manufactured by Glenco Porcelain Company. She also designed ash trays and vases – a line of “red ware” – which featured clay and glazes from Ferro Enamel in Cleveland, Ohio.


Detroit Free Press, September 1948. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Malbin began collecting modern art in the 1930s. Though her father, Albert Kahn, couldn’t stand modern art, he did instill in all of his children the lesson that they should be independent thinkers. So, Malbin sought out what SHE liked – “tough, off-beat things” rather than popular artists or “pretty pictures.” She and her first husband, Harry Winston, were an art collecting team until Harry’s death in 1965, and Malbin’s second husband, Barnett Malbin, while not a collector himself, supported her collecting activities and even made photographic records of her art for her archives.

For more on Malbin’s collecting interests, check out the Lydia Winston Malbin Papers at Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library and the Barnett and Lydia Winston Malbin Papers, 1940-1973 at the Archives of American Art.

Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

Upcoming Day Away: Albert Kahn and the University of Michigan

Henry Scripps Booth, photographer. Pleasures of Life, Vol. IV. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Henry Scripps Booth, photographer. Pleasures of Life, Vol. IV. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

In this 1919 photo taken by Henry Scripps Booth of his two friends and architecture classmates Fred Morse and Martin Lexen, they’re all hanging out (and almost off of!) the roof of the University of Michigan’s brand new General Library by architect Albert Kahn. I found this snapshot in volume four of Booth’s Pleasures of Life series, which has lots of great images of the Booths at Cranbrook and of his friends at the university (where Henry studied from 1918- 1924). The building they’re sitting on here, known as the Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library since 1971, figures prominently in the Center for Collections and Research’s next Day Away trip on October 28!

Henry Scripps Booth’s Scrapbook Album, Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Dedication of the new (Hatcher) library building, 1920. Henry Scripps Booth’s Scrapbook Album, Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

While we won’t be quite so daring as to dangle our feet off the roof, you are invited to join the Center as we explore Albert Kahn’s architecture at University of Michigan. Best known for his industrial architecture in and around Detroit (and of course Cranbrook House), this tour will introduce you to his academic buildings. The day includes morning lectures followed by in-depth tours of five Kahn structures (including rarely accessible spaces like the carillon in Burton Memorial Tower), all interspersed with narrated walks and drives.

I should mention, though, that the Day Away won’t just be about touring. We’ll stop for a delicious lunch at Taste Kitchen, an acclaimed new restaurant by owner and chef Danny Van. It came highly recommended by friends of the Center, and we’re very happy Van has designed a three course meal, with optional drink pairings, just for us.

Henry Scripps Booth, photographer. Pleasures of Life, Vol. IV. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Henry Scripps Booth, photographer. Pleasures of Life, Vol. IV. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

In this photo, we see Booth’s friend Fred’s “long, lankey and lean” body around a street sign—with assistance from the bottom-half of another Cranbrook luminary and friend of Henry, J. Robert F. Swanson.* The photo shows the two goofing around on a road outside of Ann Arbor. For this post’s purposes, I’ll imagine they’re on the very route we’ll be taking from Cranbrook to Ann Arbor on October 28! There shouldn’t be any dangerous curves on our trip, though it’s guaranteed to be informative, delicious, and fun. Call and get your tickets today!

*Did you know Booth and Swanson met studying architecture at U of M, where they also encountered a certain visiting professor, Eliel Saarinen?

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

Vitrolite: Better than Marble

At Saarinen House, the 1930 home of Eliel and Loja Saarinen at Cranbrook, the master bath is one of the best rooms in the house.

img_1580The bathroom is symmetrical, with his and hers sinks on either end of the room. The tile is off-the-shelf, not custom made for Saarinen, but deployed in an utterly unique way. In this post, I want to look specifically at the material of the countertops, Vitrolite glass.

Pigmented structural glass was developed at the start of the 20th century, and its first uses were in hospital, laboratory, and industrial food environments where its qualities of cleanliness, imperviousness, strength, and durability could be exploited. From institutional uses, structural glass took the next logical step into other places where sanitation mattered: bars, restaurants and restrooms.



Vitrolite trade catalog, c. 1922, Courtesy of the Hagley Library Digital Archives

The first structural glass came out in 1900, Sani Onyx by the Marietta Manufacturing Company, but it was under the brand name Vitrolite that structural glass achieved its greatest success. Vitrolite was manufactured from 1908 to 1947, first by the Vitrolite Company, and after 1935, by the Libby-Owen-Ford Company (both out of Toledo, Ohio).

At first, structural glass was manufactured only in black or white, colors befitting its promotion as an alternative to marble (Pittsburgh Plate Glass’ Vitrolite rival was called Carrara Glass, after Carrara marble, and Vitrolite’s sometime slogan was “Vitrolite: Better Than Marble.”) In its 1922 promotional material “Vitrolite Sanitary Tables and Counters,” the company claims that the products “delightfully cool, bright surface is just the place to serve palatable drinks and dainties. It keeps clean— nothing stains it and it just wears and wears.”

img_1585The sanitation and durability arguments likely appealed to Eliel Saarinen as he specified white Vitrolite for the master bathroom, but he was probably also drawn to its aesthetic potential: a single, seamless, and uniform surface for the countertop. It offsets the grid of the bathroom tile beautifully, providing a place to rest both your toothbrush and your eye.img_1590


Correspondence concerning Saarinen House Vitrolite bathrooms, from our Archives

Installed by the plumbing contractor Robert Purcell, the sink bowls are vitreous china set beneath the Vitrolite counter. It’s likely that the oval for the sink basin was cut out of the Vitrolite by hand by Purcell’s team, and if you look at the result, it’s not a perfect oval—this isn’t your machined Corian countertop! In a house (and on a campus) where craftspeople are often celebrated, it’s neat that the bathroom counter’s utterly modern material still reflects the hand of the maker.



Colors of Vitrolite from 1936, published in “52 Designs to Modernize Main Street with Glass,” Libbey-Owens-Ford Glass Co., Courtesy of the Winterthur Library, Printed Book and Periodical Collection

Once Vitrolite bcame available in an array of colors and patterns, its aesthetic potential boomed. After its purchase by Libby-Owen-Ford in 1935, the glass was heavily marketed towards architects for its use in building facades, particularly for remodeling storefronts. In many design competitions and promotional literature, Vitrolite was sold as a way of “Modernizing Main Street,” a quick way to freshen up old buildings. Its these flashy, Art Deco facades that stand out in structural glass history, but it’s nice to remember its humbler, utilitarian beginnings.

One final note on the Saarinen House countertops: where are the faucets?! Look inside the sink, the water came out of the small bump at the top of the bowl itself. I hope they had great water pressure.



Back cover of “Vitrolite Sanitary Tables and Counters,” c. 1922

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


Photo Friday: Good Things Come To Those Who Wait

In October 2014, archivist Cheri Gay, wrote a blog on the pet cemetery at Thornlea Studio and the love the Booth family had for their animals.

In the blog, Cheri states, “When Henry was growing up, the Booth family had beagles, Prince and Mike, and a great dane, Ginger. Mike, according to Henry, ‘… loved having a fuss made over him, one time going so far as being pushed around in a doll carriage while wearing a canvas hat.’ Oh to have a photograph of that!”

On this Photo Friday, the Cranbrook Kitchen Sink is proud to present:

Mike the beagle, being pushed in a doll stroller... wearing a canvas hat!

Mike the beagle, being pushed around in a doll carriage… while wearing a canvas hat!

Leslie S. Mio, Assistant Registrar

Photo Friday: Europa and the Bull

The year 1975 marked the centennial of the birth of Swedish sculptor, Carl Milles. In honor of this event, the Swedish Council Detroit held a reception at Cranbrook Art Museum on June 12, 1975. Those in attendance included the Swedish Counsel General, Karl Henrick Andersson, and Count Wilhelm Wachtmeister, Swedish Ambassador to the United States (1974-1989).

The Swedish Council Detroit places a wreath atop Milles' sculpture, Europa and the Bull. Henry Scripps Booth is holding the ladder and Cranbrook photographer, Harvey Croze, is in the foreground, to the left of the ladder. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

The Swedish Council Detroit places a wreath atop Milles’ sculpture, Europa and the Bull. Henry Scripps Booth is holding the ladder and Cranbrook photographer, Harvey Croze, is in the foreground, to the left of the ladder. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

In conjunction with the Jenny Lind Club of Detroit, they presented the Academy of Art with $1500 in support of the Carl and Olga Milles Scholarship Fund (which is still in existence today). It was part of $75,000 raised by Cranbrook as part of a Ford Foundation matching grant.

Dedicated to the preservation of Swedish cultural heritage, the Jenny Lind Club also participated in Cranbrook’s celebration of Carl Milles’s 75th birthday in 1945. The first vice-president at that time was Ingrid Koebel. The Koebel House, located in Grosse Pointe, was designed by J. Robert F. Swanson with interior decorations by Pipsan Saarinen Swanson.

Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

Balthazar Korab and his Island of Serenity

A great portion of the time I’ve spent as an archivist at Cranbrook has focused on our photo collections. It would be impossible for me to choose a favorite photo, but I definitely find that one photographer in particular always comes to mind when I get a photo request or when I conjure up an image of campus.

Born in Budapest, Hungary, architect and photographer Balthazar Korab (1926-2013) documented life and work here at Cranbrook for several decades. His iconic images continue to be some of our most requested.

Korab at work at Eero Saarinen and Associates, 1957. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Korab at work at Eero Saarinen and Associates, 1957. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Korab studied architecture at the Polytechnicum Jozsef Nador in Budapest until he felt the necessity to escape his country’s communist regime in 1949. He opted for France, where he continued his education at the École des Beaux Arts in Paris, and received his degree in architecture there in 1954. During this time, Korab worked throughout Europe as a journeyman with notable architects, including Le Corbusier.

In 1955 he came to the United States and was hired by Eero Saarinen to work at Eero Saarinen and Associates (ESA). While Korab was worked there, he saw how Saarinen built models of his designs. Korab volunteered to use his knowledge of photography to develop techniques for dramatic photos of the models. This took him off the drawing board and he soon began to get assignments from other architects. What followed was an illustrious career photographing the works of many of the most significant architects world-wide, including: Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Gunner Birkerts, Minoru Yamasaki, Frank Lloyd Wright, and many others.

Yamasaki's model of the U.S. Pavilion at the World Agricultural Fair, India. Photograph by Balthazar Korab, ca 1959.

Yamasaki’s model of the U.S. Pavilion at the World Agricultural Fair, India. Photograph by Balthazar Korab, ca 1959.

Korab was introduced to Cranbrook during his time at ESA. In an interview for the Observer and Eccentric in June 1995, he said: “Arriving from a war-torn Europe, I soon was involved with Eero Saarinen’s GM Tech Center, a marvel of the dynamic, brash, wining face of America. It left me in awe and admiration. But my love went for the other Saarinen marvel, a then-middle-aged beauty, Cranbrook. It became a place of refuge and comfort, a source of nutrients for my severed roots to take hold in this strange soil. Its radiant aura was my inspiration.”

Oriental Garden bridge, Fall 1980. Copyright Balthazar Korab/Cranbrook Archives.

“Oriental Garden” bridge, Fall 1980. Copyright Balthazar Korab/Cranbrook Archives.

In the early 1980’s Korab was hired as one of several contract photographers here at Cranbrook. Over the next three decades, his images provided breath-taking panoramas, as well as minute details of the grounds, art, and architecture of this campus. The beauty of his work cannot be over-stated.

Gina Tecos, Archivist

Editor’s Note: In an July 1998 article in ambassador magazine, Korab referred to Cranbrook Educational Community as his “island of serenity.”

Photo Friday: Back to School

From left to right: Charles Keppel (Chemistry), John M. Harlow (French), George T. Mickelson (English), Herbert Snyder, Elizabeth Bemis (Dietician), Estelle Adams, (Nurse), William O. Stevens, Unidentified, C. Warren Moore (Arts & Crafts), Howard Yule (Latin)

Cranbrook School faculty and staff in front of the Cranbrook School Main academic building (now known as Hoey Hall), ca 1928. From left to right: Charles Keppel (Chemistry), John M. Harlow (French), George T. Nickerson (English), Herbert Snyder, Elizabeth Bemis (Dietician), Estelle Adams, (Nurse), William O. Stevens (Headmaster), Unidentified, C. Warren Moore (Arts & Crafts), and Howard Yule (Latin)


Living among Gardens


Before starting at Cranbrook last month, I was a grad student at the Winterthur Museum in Delaware. At both places, buildings sit in and around gardens, and both Winterthur and Cranbrook consider landscape not as secondary to their missions of education, preservation, and scholarship, but as an integral piece in the character of the institution. It makes for two very enjoyable places to live and work.


The grounds of Winterthur Museum, on a walk I took last spring.

While I didn’t live on Winterthur’s thousand rolling acres, I did spend a lot of time traversing the grounds. Staff and students parked in the woods, with oak, poplar, and black gum trees providing a shady canopy over a bubbling stream running alongside the road. As you approached the house, the gardens became progressively more formal, with rolling lawns, specimen trees and shrubs, and eventually stone planters and flowering perennials ushering you into the museum.

Inside the museum (which was the home of Henry Francis du Pont, 1880-1969), are some one-hundred and seventy-five rooms chock-a-bloc full of American decorative and fine art from the 1640s to 1860s. One of the great joys of studying inside the house are the views out. Across the year, the views change. In winter, you might see all the way to the ponds and railroad station at the edge of the estate, in the spring, your view is foreshortened to just the snowdrop and daffodil covered embankment beneath the window.

Maple Room 1990

Winterthur’s Maple Bedroom in the fall, courtesy, Winterthur Museum

Mr. du Pont, who began collecting in the 1920s, was always concerned with color coordination in his period rooms, and when you enter certain rooms at the right moment in the year, the landscape becomes perfectly in tune with the décor. Walking through the house in the fall, the copious amounts of brown furniture sings alongside the rich colors of fall. The effect is subtle but sublime.

I’ve had much less time with the gardens at Cranbrook, but I’m already beginning to notice certain things. For one, there’s a lot more activity on Cranbrook’s 319 acre suburban campus than Winterthur’s country seat. Yet the many hands that have shaped Cranbrook have used the landscape to maintain the sense that the campus is a special place removed from the everyday.

On my walk to work, I pass from the row houses and dormitories of Academy Way to the monumental Art Museum peristyle and Orpheus Fountain, through the Ramp of the Chinese Dog and into a parking lot. (I appreciate the parking lot, it’s a reminder that even in the most beautifully designed spaces, there are still functional requirements).

But once I’ve crossed the lot, I get to my favorite spot: a long downhill path cut straight through the woods and paved in crumbling cast stone pavers. Its linearity is formal, but its worn state and its location in the woods make it feel as if one is walking down toward some long-abandoned city. At the bottom of the hill is a great swath of grass that flows toward the lake. Across the grass are stairs up and into the formal, Cranbrook House gardens.


The view from Mr. Booth’s old office in Cranbrook house, showing the path I take to work.

My office is in Cranbrook House, and these European-style gardens, paired to the Manor-house architecture, provide some pretty amazing office views. While Winterthur’s gardens relied on color, massing, and the passing of time for effect, the gardens of Cranbrook are most impactful in their vistas. From one side of the house, offices look down a series of terraces toward the campus lake, another side over the reflecting pool, and my own view looks out over the circular court and fountain at the front of the house. These views, of course, were planned and enjoyed by George Booth, Cranbrook’s founder who lived and worked in Cranbrook House.

At both Winterthur and Cranbrook, gardens and landscapes provide a context in which to study great collections and their histories. I don’t think the value of a beautifully designed approach to your school or workplace can be overlooked—something with which I know du Pont at Winterthur, Booth at Cranbrook, and their designers agreed.

I’m looking forward to seeing how the seasons change my understanding of Cranbrook and its grounds, but for now, I’m going to head out and enjoy the perfect weather in these lovely gardens.


Off I go to enjoy the grounds!

Kevin Adkisson Collections Fellow


We’d like to welcome the newest collections fellow to our team, Kevin Adkisson. Kevin received his undergraduate degree in Architecture from Yale University and a Master of Arts degree from the Winterthur Program in American Material Culture.  He has had a number of interesting internships and job experiences along the way, including one at the Royal Institute of British Architects in London, the Yale University Art Gallery, and at Robert A. M. Stern Architects in New York.

Kevin spent his first two weeks touring the buildings and outdoor spaces on campus with his colleagues. He brings vitality and enthusiasm to our team and we are looking forward to seeing what projects he sinks his teeth into while here. Oh, and he will definitely be contributing to the blog in the VERY near future! Welcome, Kevin!


Summer Break in the Archives

Giuliano working with the slide collections.

Giuliano working with the slide collections.

Reviewing primary source material in the Archives.


Volunteering in the Archives was a great experience! As a Cranbrook grad, it was really interesting seeing how things used to be at my old school. It was especially fun seeing photos from familiar events like the fifth grade December Program, taken decades before my own class’ production. There were also of course some less familiar things, like pictures of Brookside students at the Art with goats. Personally I think Cranbrook should consider bringing that back, but maybe that’s just because I’m a fan of goats. That was one of several things I enjoyed seeing, as were photos of Amelia Earhart and even… my dad’s yearbook! All in all, it made for a great three weeks. My thanks to all the great people I worked with!

Brookside School pet show, 1936.

Brookside School pet show, 1936.

Giuliano Stefanutti, CKU ’15

Editor’s Note: We are very grateful for the work Giuliano completed when he was here. He processed slide collections, sorted historic photographs, and inventoried a large audio-visual collection. We wish him well as he heads back to college!


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