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)

“His Heart and Soul into each Madonna, Saint, Commoner, or Angel”

Johannes Kirchmayer, also known as John Kirchmayer, was born March 31, 1860, in Oberammergau, Bavaria. Oberammergau is known for its Passion Play, something the whole town participates in every year it is performed. As a young man, Kirchmayer had the role of Joseph (of many-colored-coat fame) in the play. “We have the statement from John, himself, that the ‘Passion Play’ was a great influence in his early life.” (Prouty, p. 18). It meant Kirchmayer was well versed in biblical history, which would serve him well later in life.

The village of Oberammergau is also known for its long tradition of woodcarving. After he learned to carve from his grandfather, and later his Uncle Georg, a professional carver, Kirchmayer spent a number of years taking classes in Augsburg and Munich, Germany, and in London and Paris perfecting his craft. In 1880, at the age of 20, Kirchmayer moved to Boston, Massachusetts. There, he found work creating mantels, stairways, home decorations, and furniture. However, his greatest passion seems to have been ecclesiastical works, perhaps influenced by the Oberammergau Passion Plays of his youth.

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Undated portrait of Johannes Kirchmayer (1860-1930). Courtesy Cranbrook Archives

Kirchmayer’s friend Stanford White, an architect, introduced him to a number of other architects. He soon found work with cabinetmaking and decorating firms that were working on commissions in churches, businesses, institutions, and private homes. Kirchmayer had close working relations with a number of prominent architects and artisans and was, in 1907, a founding member of the Society of Arts and Crafts, Boston.

After 1898, working for the Boston furniture and architectural woodworking firm Irving and Casson, Kirchmayer worked on the buildings of the noted American Gothic-revivalist Ralph Adams Cram, a prolific architect of collegiate and ecclesiastical buildings.

Kirchmayer’s notable work around Boston include carvings in The Church of the Advent; All Saints’ Church; the Second Church; and Unity Church. He also designed part of the Anderson Memorial Bridge over the Charles River.

His work outside the Boston area includes carvings in Christ Church Cathedral, Springfield, MA; the Church of Saint Mary the Virgin, West 46th Street, New York City; St. Mary’s Anglican Church, Windsor, Ontario; the Church of the Saviour, Syracuse, New York; and the James J. Hill House, St. Paul, Minnesota.

Shirley Prouty, his biographer, wrote that “John Kirchmayer did not use drawings, charts, or schematics to immortalize his saints; He studied and planned and started with a block of wood. On this piece of oak, mahogany, boxwood, cherry (he used many kinds of wood), he would draw the nude figure. He had studied anatomy as a student in Augsburg, thereby learning to proportion arms and hands, legs and feet, and an overall balanced subject. This preliminary sketch on wood was in charcoal. Then he would draw the draperies in color as they would appear in the final rendition.” (p. 27)

George G. Booth made Kirchmayer’s acquaintance through their Arts and Crafts activities and soon became one of his most ardent patrons. Booth commissioned Kirchmayer to produce carvings for Christ Church Cranbrook, Cranbrook House, and the Booth Collection of decorative arts at the Detroit Museum of Art.

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1918 carved portrait of George G. Booth, in Cranbrook House Library, by Kirchmayer. Courtesy Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

It is said that Kirchmayer “put his heart and soul into each Madonna, saint, commoner, or angel he was carving.” (Prouty, p. 29). He also followed the old Bavarian custom of leaving one’s visage somewhere in your work.

At Christ Church Cranbrook, Kirchmayer’s works include the “Doubting Thomas Door,” which features images of the craftsmen who worked on the church, including Kirchmayer; the ornamental screen covering the wall at the back above high altar with “Triumphant Christ” at the top; the Lectern; the Chapel Doors and Lectern in the Resurrection Chapel; and a Madonna in Parish House.

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“Doubting Thomas Door,” Christ Church Cranbrook. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

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Kirchmayer left his visage as the woodcarver on the “Doubting Thomas Door”. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

At Brookside School, Kirchmayer created corbels (projections jutting out from a wall) of the four Evangelists.

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Corbel representing St. John the Evangelist at Brookside School. Courtesy Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

At Cranbrook House, Kirchmayer carved many works. The largest commission was the impressive paneling of the Library, including the “Personification of the Arts (Religion Inspiring the Arts)” overmantel, which featured Kirchmayer as the woodcarver.

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Kirchmayer’s “Personification of the Arts (Religion Inspiring the Arts)”over-mantel in Cranbrook House Library. Photograph by P.D. Rearick, Courtesy Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

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Detail of Kirchmayer’s “Personification of the Arts (Religion Inspiring the Arts)” over-mantel in Cranbrook House Library. Note that the woodcarver (behind the bishop) is depicted as Kirchmayer himself. Photograph by P.D. Rearick, Courtesy Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

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Detail of Kirchmayer’s “Personification of the Arts (Religion Inspiring the Arts)” over-mantel in Cranbrook House Library. Photograph by P.D. Rearick, Courtesy Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

He also created items like a reading desk and bench; linen-fold paneling in Oak Room; a blanket chest; four carved Gothic finials in the corners of the Library; and a small figure of himself for the Booths. George G. Booth particularly enjoyed his reading desk and bench, which Kirchmayer created for the Booths’ library in 1919 from a sketch that Booth had supplied. (Prouty, p 100).

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Snapshot of Johannes Kirchmayer in front of the New Silver Beach Hotel in North Falmouth, MA, circa 1928. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Kirchmayer’s work can be found in many prominent cities: from Minneapolis-St Paul, to Detroit, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Columbus and Quincy, Ohio, Baltimore, Washington D.C., New Haven, New York City, Providence, Boston, Concord and Peterborough, New Hampshire, Portland, Maine, as well as in The American Church in Manila and in Walkerville, Ontario, Canada. Perhaps his prolific work across the globe is the reason why, shortly before his death, Kirchmayer received the “Craftsmanship Medal for Distinguished Achievement in Wood Carving” by the American Institute of Architects. It is the only time the award has been given for woodcarving.

Johannes Kirchmayer died at his Cambridge, Massachusetts home in 1930.

– Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar

Sources:

Johannes Kirchmayer from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johannes_Kirchmayer

Mark A. Coir, Cranbrook Art Museum: 100 Treasures (Bloomfield Hills, MI: Cranbrook Art Museum, 2004)

Shirley Prouty, Master Carver, Johannes Kirchmayer, 1860-1930: From Germany’s Passion Play Village to America’s Finest Sanctuaries (Portsmouth, N.H. : Peter Randall Publishers, 2007

Creativity and Experimentation: A Snapshot of the CKU Dance Department

A new collection that documents two decades of the Cranbrook Kingswood Upper School Dance Department is now open for research. The materials were donated to the Archives by the former Director of the Dance Department, Jessica Sinclair, and photographer Fred Olds.

Sinclair started teaching modern dance as part of Kingswood School’s physical education program in 1963. During her tenure, the program flourished, and Dance became its own department. Students performed throughout the year at the Performing Arts Winter Festival, the annual Evening of Dance concerts, and at events such as the Guy Fawkes Ball at Cranbrook Academy of Art (CAA).

Alexandra Ohanian in studio, ca 2000. Copyright Fred Olds/Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

In 1982, Sinclair invited Fred Olds to photograph her dancers in collaboration with a fiber installation by Gerhardt Knodel, who was Head of the Fiber Department at CAA at that time. This event led to a twenty-year collaboration between Olds and Sinclair. Olds photographed students in performance, in the studio, and at local and international events.

Dancers perform at the David Whitney Building in Detroit, 1985. Copyright Fred Olds/Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Between 1982 and 2002, the Dance department performed in Chicago, Toronto, and at the David Whitney Building in Detroit, where Sinclair choreographed “Dance in 4 Spaces,” with a grant awarded by the Michigan Council for the Arts. In 1989, Olds traveled with Sinclair and her dancers to the former Soviet Union to perform at the Children’s Palace in Moscow, the Choreographic Institute in Tblisi, and at the Rimsky-Korsakov Conservatory State Theatre in St. Petersburg. Olds remembers that the peak of applause at this concert came for a dancer in a 16-foot-tall dress designed by artist, Nick Cave (CAA ’89).

Susan Loveland in a costume designed by Nick Cave, 1989. Copyright Fred Olds/Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Throughout the years, Sinclair collaborated with a diverse group of fiber artists, sculptors, and architects to infuse creativity and experimentation into her work. The archival collection reflects this process in photographs, ephemera, and video.

– Gina Tecos, Archivist

Photo Friday: Grotell & Himelhoch’s

In November of 1942, Maija Grotell displayed her wares among the latest fashions in the windows of Himelhoch’s department store in downtown Detroit. Grotell, Head of the Academy’s Department of Ceramics from 1938 to 1966, placed her vases, pots, and plates in a stage-set ceramics studio, replete with a painted kiln, bottles of glazes, and a potter’s wheel (made of what appears to be Papier-mâché).Grotell Himelhochs 1The clothes related directly to the vessels, with the sign reading: “Ceramics: Wonderful Muted Colors To Wear Under Winter Coats Inspired by Maija Grotell’s Ceramic Masterpieces.” Himelhoch’s sold the clothing, while the Grotell works were sold through the Detroit Artist’s Market.

The images are attributed to photographer Joseph Munroe, November 2, 1942.

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

NB: Himelhoch’s opened in 1907 and was on Detroit’s Washington Boulevard from 1923 to 1977. The lovely building is a National Historic Landmark and survives today as apartments.

Library Gets [New] Historic Look

Recently, after years of research and investigation, the carpeting in the Cranbrook House Library was restored to its original appearance.

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The previous rugs were donated to Cranbrook House in the 1990s but were not historically accurate.

By studying images of the Library in Cranbrook Archives, we could determine that in George and Ellen Booth’s lifetimes there was a large, solid carpet on the floor, not the oriental rugs seen in recent years.

A review of the Cranbrook House 1921, 1933, 1937, and 1949 inventories (itemized lists of the house’s contents for insurance purposes), as well receipts and historic images, revealed the style and color of the rug: Axminster mottled brown or taupe. This may sound boring, but monochromatic rugs were chosen by the Booths to draw visitors attention up to the furnishings, books, elaborate carvings, and tapestries in the Library.

Axminster was both a brand name and specific type of carpet. Axminster is cut pile carpet (a style of carpet where the woven loops are cut leaving straight tufts of carpet). It derives its name from the small town in England where the process of weaving its distinctive style was created. Looking for a modern, cost-effective equivalent, made in the same fashion as the original Axminster, led us to Bloomsburg Carpet Industries, Inc. They have woven wool broadloom Aximinster and Wilton carpets in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania using traditional methods since 1976. With the help of interior designer (and Cranbrook Academy of Art Board of Governor) Lynda Charfoos, we were able to select a color that both closely matched the description “‘mottled’ brown or taupe” and also looked great with the tones and colors of the Library.

On April 30, we cleared the Library so that on May 1, the rugs could be installed by Carpet Design Group, LLC.

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Workmen from Carpet Design Group fusing together the four sections of the carpet.

The Library was reinstalled the next day with a new floor plan based on careful examination of historic photographs and itemized lists of what sat where. Watch the slideshow to compare historic images to the reinstalled room:

We feel guests and staff alike will enjoy this return of the original look to the Library. It will allow the carvings to pop, the colors in the tapestries to appear stronger, and make for a more historically accurate room. Continuing to keep the Booth house looking its best is all part of helping to tell the Cranbrook story to guests from the neighborhood and around the world.

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Photograph by Jim Haefner. Courtesy of Jim Haefner and Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

The Center would like to thank the following, without whom this project would not have been possible: Cranbrook Educational Community, Cranbrook House and Gardens Auxiliary, Lynda Charfoos, Bloomberg Carpet, Carpet Design Group, and Chet’s Cleaning Service. Special thanks also to Jim Haefner for photographing the Library.

Come see the new look of the Cranbrook House Library this summer on a Cranbrook House and Gardens Auxiliary house tour.

– Leslie Mio, Associate Registrar

Curiosity and Wonder: Life at Cranbrook and Beyond

I recently processed the James H. Carmel Papers, a small collection that largely consists of correspondence between Carmel and Cranbrook Institute of Science Director Robert Hatt from 1973 to 1989. It is wonderful correspondence that conveys an enduring friendship across the miles as, after Cranbrook, they lived on opposite sides of the country.

James H. Carmel, ca 1950s

One of the delightful aspects of their correspondence is their enthusiasm for their work, and how the interests that drew them into their professional roles remained with them after retirement. They never lost their curiosity and wonder, or their sense of humor. On a similar note, their love of Cranbrook did not end when they left campus, as they kept up with and discussed new developments that are shared through bulletins and newsletters. I feel sure that many readers of this blog site are just the same.

Carmel mounting ant specimens, 1955

James H. Carmel was the Assistant Preparator at Cranbrook Institute of Science between 1939 and 1942 when he joined the Army Air Corps. He returned to Cranbrook after the war and remained as Preparator, Trustee, and Head of Exhibit Section until 1973, when he moved to California to work for the George C. Page Museum in Los Angeles.

Cowfish and Queen Triggerfish in a Bahaman Reef, Coral Reef Exhibit, 1959

A notable exhibit that was supervised and assembled by Carmel was the Coral Reef Exhibit (1959), which was a reconstruction of the Coral Reef at Nassau made up of approximately 5,000 painted beeswax models. He is the author of Exhibition Techniques: Traveling and Temporary (1962). He died on July 30, 2016, aged 97 years.

-Laura MacNewman, Archivist

A Final Reflection (2002-2018)

The “bananas went a-missing” and Kingswood School’s Chiquita Banana Scholarship. The thief who stole the (attributed to) Rembrant Peale portrait of George Washington and the mysterious return of Perseus on the porch of the Thornlea Studio Archives. Gates and andirons and architectural details like the lead conductors at Cranbrook House designed by New York metalsmith Oscar Bach. Cranbrook’s mid-century modern Edison House, the House of the Poet (never realized thank goodness!), Chanticleer Cottage (which used to be the chicken house), Walnut Cottage, Tower Cottage, and Brookside Cottage (also known as the Honeymoon Cottage or Stonybrook) which evolved from the original pump house.

Unidentified man on bridge (no, it is NOT George Booth) with the pump house in the background, ca 1915

And the people! The Italians who literally moved mountains of dirt and rocks, graded the roads, and built the stone walls and beautiful rock gardens that lined the campus.

Landscape architect Edward Eichstaedt, who designed the original planting plan around Jonah Pools and later worked on landscape design for Eero Saarinen’s General Motors Technical Center. The women who left their mark at Christ Church Cranbrook – Kathryn McEwen, Hildreth Meière, and silversmith Elizabeth Copeland. Cranbrook School’s art teacher John Cunningham and his mosaics (which can still be seen today) Kingswood School’s French teacher, Marthe Le Loupp, and Brookside’s dietician Flora Leslie.

Eichstaedt’s 1934 Planting Plan for the Lower basins

Notable national celebrities connected to Cranbrook: Leonard Bernstein, Dave Brubeck, Amelia Earhart, Henry Ford, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Anne Morrow Lindbergh to name just a few. But perhaps most interesting to me was learning the stories of those not so well known: Ebba Wicks Brown – the first registered female architect in the state of Oregon who came to Cranbrook to study architecture with Eliel Saarinen. Colonel Edwin S. George, a Detroit businessman and philanthropist who was affiliated with Cranbrook in a variety of ways – most notably for his contributions to the Institute of Science. Myrtle Hall – the first African American model at the Cranbrook Academy of Art and Cleo Dorman – another model who was infamous for collecting paintings of her done by famous artists. And so many, many more names still swirling around in my brain.

Curatorial scholars at work

Perhaps my greatest joy here has been to help researchers find the answer to their questions, and to guide them towards collections that they might not have thought of – which has often led to a change in the course of their research. I am very proud of the fact that Cranbrook Archives has an international reputation for exemplary service and for being so organized and easy to use. I will miss working with the many students, faculty, staff, researchers, and scholars as you have taught me as much, if not more, than I have taught you. Thank you for that.

And, thank you to the Cranbrook Kingswood Senior May students and the many archival graduate students who have worked on projects over the years, and a special thanks to the most amazing volunteers! We couldn’t have accomplished all that we have without you.

Graduate student (left) and dedicated volunteers at Thornlea Studio Archives

I will close my final Cranbrook blog post by doing what I have tried to do my entire 16 year career here – promote Cranbrook Archives. In the archival profession, one constant issue many of us face is how to demonstrate to our institutions and constituents the importance of an archives – why archives matter. I could wax on, but instead I leave you with this article in the hopes that all who read it will have a new appreciation for the work that archivists do every day to preserve institutional memory. History matters. Archives matter. I am proud that I played a small role in preserving Cranbrook’s rich history.

And on that note, I bid adieu.

Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist (2002-2018)

The Mystery of Sven Hedin

Who was Sven Hedin? A Swedish explorer and geographer known for his expeditions to Central Asia, Dr. Sven Hedin created detailed maps in areas including Tibet, Turkestan, and northwest China. He is probably best known for his rediscovery of the buried Silk Road settlement of Khotan in 1896.

By 1910, Hedin had made acquaintance with fellow Swede Carl Milles and they became lifelong friends. Milles, who always admired Hedin, created a sculpture in 1932 to honor his friend.

“I made this at Cranbrook. For a long time I had wished to make a monument for him, and started it here. When Sven came to see it, he brought some other gentlemen with him. After looking at it he said ‘But Carl, this is wrong. I never look at the sextant when I am on the camel. I always get down from the camel, for the camel moves.’ Milles replied ‘But my dear friend. Do you think all skippers jump in the blue sea when they want to look at a sextant, just because the ship moves?'”

From 1927-1935, Hedin organized the Sino-Swedish Expedition (watch the video) during which he investigated the archaeological, geographical, and topographic features in Inner Mongolia, the Gobi Desert, and Xinjiang, China. He spent the remainder of his life occupied with a publication dedicated to his findings.

From the Carl Milles Papers, Courtesy Cranbrook Archives

Hedin – the sculpture, not the man – made another exploration – this time from the grounds of Cranbrook to Hazel Park, Michigan. In August 1945, the 500 pound bronze sculpture of Hedin disappeared from its pedestal at Cranbrook Institute of Science. Shortly afterwards, a janitor at Hazel Park High School discovered the sculpture embedded in cement and perched upon a large rock in front of the school! School officials did not know the sculpture had come from Cranbrook so two weeks after reporting it to the police, Hedin was chipped out of the cement and stored in the basement of the school. School Superintendent John Erickson commented “those culprits did a real job of cementing it to the rock. Our janitor had to work hard to free it.”

Fast forward to December 1946 when Alton Sheldon, a salesman of janitor supplies, overheard men at Cranbrook talking about the wayward sculpture. Sheldon told them he had seen the statue in the Hazel Park High School basement, and that Cranbrook had better hurry down to get it before the school sold “Hedin and his camel for junk!”

Needless to say, Hedin returned to Cranbrook, a little worse for wear – quite scratched and missing his telescope. The sculpture was ultimately shipped to Sweden for restoration. Upon its return, noted explorer Sven Hedin was once again mounted on his pedestal where he remains today.

– Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

Saarinen/Slade House

When incoming Academy President Roy Slade arrived at Cranbrook in July 1977, the President’s House (known, off and on, as Saarinen House) was in need of a refresher. Three other families had lived in and changed the aesthetic of the house following Eliel Saarinen’s death in 1950, and the house was a far cry from Saarinen’s design intent. Slade worked with designers Jean Faulkner and Carl Magnusson (then Director of Graphics and Showroom Design at Knoll) to rework the house into something befitting the new President of the Academy.

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Saarinen House, February 8, 1978. Norman McGrath, photographer. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

The original Saarinen-designed furniture had been spread throughout the campus and Museum, and in the redesign much of it was returned for use in the house. But instead of restoring rooms to their 1930s appearance (that would happen a decade or so later), the house was kept as a blend of old and new. “Gibraltar Ash” off-white wool wall-to-wall carpeting by Jack Lenor Larsen stretched between the foyer, living room, dining room, and library, making the main room of the house feel like one continuous open space. Furnishings and art pieces by Cranbrook (and Cranbrook-adjacent) artists and designers from many decades–not just the 1930s–were blended together into a comfortable, deliberately eclectic look. The 1977 interiors of the house were featured in local papers and even included, with text by Paul Goldberger, in Living Well: The New York Times Book of Home Design and Decoration (1981).

It’s interesting in these photos by Jack Kausch how well the space works, but how alien Saarinen’s furniture seems to be! Particularly in the dining room–the holly wood table and brass fixture are decontextualized by the foreign whiteness of the walls, ceiling, and floor. The next restoration, completed in 1994, brought back Saarinen’s rich color scheme and variety of materials–including the gilded ceiling.

If you’d like to learn more about the later lives of Saarinen House, Roy Slade’s tenure as President of the Academy, and other fascinating Cranbrook Academy of Art stories, come out to visit my exhibition, Saarinen House: Presidents/Residents, 1946-1994, opening later this month.

The exhibition features archival material and works by each former resident: painter Zoltan Sepeshy, who directed the Academy from 1946 to 1966 and moved into the house in late 1951 following the death of Eliel Saarinen; architect Glen Paulsen, who led the Academy from 1966 to 1970 and expanded Cranbrook’s campus with late-Modern additions; Wallace Mitchell, a Detroit native whose career at Cranbrook developed from student to painting instructor, then director of the Art Museum and finally president; and painter and educator Roy Slade, who led the Academy and its Museum from 1977 to 1994. Slade initiated the restoration of Saarinen House in the late 1970s and encouraged and supported Greg Wittkopp (then a curator at the Art Museum) in the transformation of this early modern, Art Deco design treasure into a public house museum in 1994.

The free Opening Reception will take place Sunday, April 29, 2018, from 1pm-5pm (in conjunction with Open Studios) and the exhibition will be included on all tours of Saarinen House through November. Learn more on our website.

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

 

 

Eagle Scout Project in Smith House

This past March, the Center for Collections and Research was honored to host Kevin Wilburn, a Life Scout going for the rank advancement of Eagle Scout, as he performed his required service project.

https://www.scouting.org/programs/boy-scouts/advancement-and-awards/eagle

Eagle Scout badge from scouting.org

The mission of the Boy Scouts of America is to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Scout Law. The ranks of the Boy Scouts are Tenderfoot, Second Class, First Class, Star, Life, and Eagle. To receive the highest achievement rank in the Boy Scouts of America, a Life Scout must not only earn twenty-one merit badges but also perform an extensive service project. He must plan, develop, and give leadership to others in a service project helpful to any religious institution, any school, or his community.

Kevin’s project was to work with the book collection in the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Melvyn Maxwell and Sara Stein Smith House. It was especially great having Kevin work with the house, as Robert Smith, the only son of Melvyn and Sara, also achieved the rank of Eagle Scout in his youth (the Smith House collection contains his Eagle Scout uniform).

When Cranbrook acquired the Smith House late last year, we also acquired the extensive library amassed by the Smiths. The collection of more than 900 works ranges from books on Frank Lloyd Wright to Art in America and other periodicals, to yearbooks and popular fiction.

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Kevin and his team working on the Smith House book collection.

On the day of the project, Kevin and his team of scouts and parent volunteers did an inventory of the books in the Living Room and the Study. They utilized a computer program which allowed them to gather all pertinent information about the books by simply searching the Library of Congress Control Number (LCCN) or the International Standard Book Number (ISBN). They also took images of the books as well as any inscriptions found within. What they ended up with, after just one day working in only two rooms in the house, was a database of 658 individual titles. (Knowing how many more books are in the other rooms, maybe there are more than 900 books in the house…)

I recently asked Kevin his thoughts on the project over email:

LM: First off, what does becoming an Eagle Scout mean to you?

KW: I’ve been in Scouts for 11 years now there were times that I questioned my continuation in Scouts. However, on the cusp of this final accomplishment, I don’t regret staying on the path. It has been a lot of commitment and there is no substitution for the hard work required, but as a scout, I have had opportunities so few people get to have—just like doing this project. It is special to be part of the small group of Scouts that accomplish the Eagle Rank. I think the Scout program and achieving Eagle has made me a better person.

LM: Can you give me your overall impression of the Smith House?

KW: To me, I struggle with the words to describe the Smith House. It is truly a one-of-a-kind home and the attention to detail is absolutely marvelous. Whether it’s the striking color of the red tidewater cypress wood that forms the walls or the glistening flat skylights that illuminate the tight, yet airy library, this home is Usonian Style in its truest form. Additionally, there is such a great story to the Smith’s and how the house came to be that makes it even more special than the physical aspects.

LM: What motivated you to take on this project?

KW: The driving force behind this entire project was the fact that I was assisting in the preservation of a Wright-designed home. I’ve always had an appreciation for his work and have a personal interest in helping the preservation of his work. I never expected that I would have such a unique opportunity to combine my passion and interest so directly on my Eagle project—it was a truly special project. I really appreciate the opportunity Cranbrook provided me.

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Kevin photographing one of the 658 titles cataloged during the one-day project.

LM: What was the hardest thing about the project?

KW: We had very unique requirements compared to many projects that are often construction based, so going into it I knew that getting people started on the cataloging process would be difficult and it probably took an hour for volunteers to get into a rhythm. It was also physically demanding, in some cases sitting or standing for hours at a time—luckily we were able to rotate some positions to help people with fatigue. In the end, the hardest part was it was a very long 10 hour day typing in book details into our cataloging software and photographing the books.

LM: What was your favorite part of the project?

KW: Planning to pursue architecture as a career, I’ve always been interested in Frank Lloyd Wright; so, my favorite part was to be able to do a project in one of his Usonian homes. It was also exciting during the cataloging process to see some of the personal connections of the Smiths with Wright.

LM: Any final thoughts?

KW: I want to thank Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research, Leslie Mio, Associate Registrar, for supporting the project, and Lynette Mayman, Program Presenter, for being on-site during the project. I also want to thank the members of Troop 1005 that came out to support this effort. Finally, I want to thank Collectorz.com for donating the Book Collector software used to catalog the collection.

EagleScoutProject_Mar2018 (KevinWilburn) (4)

Kevin (fourth from the right) and some of his team of volunteers on the back patio of Smith House.

The Center for Collections and Research wishes Kevin the best of luck in achieving his Eagle Rank and would like to thank him and his team for the hours of work on this project.

Leslie Mio, Associate Registrar

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