It’s been a little over five years since I accepted a position as archivist at Cranbrook Archives. I had toured the Archives some years before, when I first became photo archivist in the Burton Historical Collection of the Detroit Public Library. Though familiar with Cranbrook from growing up in the area, I thought, boy, this would be a cool place to work.
My wishful thinking turned into reality when, after retiring from Detroit Public Library and working as a volunteer in Cranbrook Archives, a position opened up. Lucky me! And my first assignment was to process the papers of Edward and Ruth Adler Schnee. I had shopped in their iconic store in Harmonie Park and was delighted to meet Ruth and hear all about her fascinating life, which gave me a framework for processing her papers.
Meeting Ruth was just the beginning of a deep plunge into subjects of which I was only marginally aware: the George Gough Booth family who founded Cranbrook; the Saarinens who designed its campus, many of its buildings and furnishings; artists such as Harry Bertoia, Marianne Strengell, Katherine McEwen, Charles & Ray Eames, Maija Grotell, Harry Weese. My head was spinning trying to keep up!
Gradually I became familiar with the history of Cranbrook as documented by the rich material in the Cranbrook Archives. The manuscript collection (institutional and individual), the photograph collection, the architectural drawings, and the myriad other informational sources, not to mention my coworkers, other Cranbrook staff, and Archives’ volunteers, all helped fill in the blanks. Most of all, head archivist Leslie S. Edwards, guided me through the intricacies of building names and campus personalities, filling me in on strange anomalies such as Chanticleer Cottage, or some of the unheralded people like the Vettraino family or John Buckberrough who, in small but important ways, helped make Cranbrook what it is today.
If you haven’t guessed by now, I’m moving on to other adventures; today is my last day. I learned so much here, thanks to everyone I worked with. And it turns out I was right. Cranbrook is a cool place to work!
– Cheri Gay, Archivist