Photo Friday: Cranbrook’s Gatescape


Close-up of the peacock for which Cranbrook School’s Peacock Gates are named. Designed and installed in 1927, restored in 2013. Cranbrook Archives.

Doors, entryways, gates – Cranbrook’s campus was designed with an eye towards points of transition.  Since its foundation 108 years ago, Cranbrook has maintained a long tradition of gate design and fabrication.  This close-up of a stylized peacock comes from Cranbrook School’s famous Peacock Gates; designed by Eliel Saarinen, they were produced by the metalsmith Oscar Bach in 1927.  Recently, a long restoration process culminated with their re-installation on the Cranbrook School campus.   This gate and many others are the subject of the second exhibition in the From the Archives series.  Drawing from the rich collection of the Cranbrook Archives, From the Archives: Forging Cranbrook’s Gatescape explores the history, design, and formation of Cranbrook’s historic and contemporary “gatescape.”

Experiencing the gates from within the walls of the Art Museum is nothing compared to seeing them in person.  With that in mind, Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist and exhibition curator, will be leading a walking and bus tour of the gates on Sunday, October 5.   The tour will take participants  to some of Leslie’s favorite gates, from beloved classics to the newest installations on campus.   More information on the exhibition and walking tour is available here.  Be sure to check it out, and get ready to see Cranbrook’s gates in a whole new light!

Old Words, New Sounds: Oral Histories from the Cranbrook Archives

For the past nine months I have been working on a project to breathe new life into an oral history initiative at Cranbrook that began as early as 1964 as a collaborative project between Cranbrook School and the Cranbrook Foundation. These oral histories give us an intimate view of life here at Cranbrook over the past half century with interviewees spanning across the entire community. They range from Dr. Lee Dice at the Institute of Science, to Cranbrook Academy of Art painter Zoltan Sepheshy, as well as interviews with members of the Vettraino family, whose time living on the grounds spanned several generations. These interviews give us the kind of glimpse into the past of Cranbrook that is difficult to find anywhere else.

Cranbrook’s oral histories are found in the archives in analogue sound formats, namely on magnetic tapes. In order to preserve these interviews and provide access to a wider audience, the Archives is implementing a plan to digitize all of the content. Each oral history is digitized in real time and then transcribed, with each hour of audio taking anywhere from 8 to 10 hours to transcribe, depending on sound quality.

One of the latest gems to be uncovered is a recording of a conversation with brother and sister James and Doris Smith who worked as model makers and production designers from the mid-1940s for many of the artists and architects associated with Cranbrook. James began working with the firm of Saarinen, Swanson, and Saarinen in 1943, while Doris joined them in 1946. Both had their hands on many of the largest projects, such as creating the models for the General Motors Technical Center, and their insight into the daily work and life in the office is unmatched and cannot be forgotten.

In the following clip you can listen to James Smith discuss events and the atmosphere that surrounded the winning entry from Eero Saarinen & Associates for the Gateway Arch in the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in St. Louis, Missouri–better known as the St. Louis Arch.


Construction of TWA model at Eero Saarinen & Associates taken by Claude de Forest, 1957.Cranbrook Archives.

Justine Tobiasz– Archives Assistant

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