Manship’s Memorable Memorial Medal

As the Assistant Registrar for Cranbrook Educational Community, it is my job to keep track of the objects in the collections of the Art Museum and the Cultural Properties across the campus.  Though not trained as a Museum Registrar, George Booth had a similar goal: he fastidiously kept his many collections and cultural properties around his home and the various school buildings inventoried or appraised.

The inventory, “Cranbrook Museum Art collection: 400 thru,” led me to a wonderful collection of coins and medals.  Some were ancient, some were more contemporary, but one in particular stood out: a memorial medal for soldiers who died during the First World War.  What was the story behind this medal?  Since none of the Booth children died during the war, I wondered why George Booth would have one of these medals in his collection.

During World War I, many prominent Americans spoke out against the war in Europe, including Henry Ford and Reverend Samuel Marquis (who in 1927 became the first rector of Christ Church Cranbrook).  As the editor of The Detroit News, George Booth oversaw “the leading newspaper in the country to give open and courageous expression to criticism.”  The News editorial staff had “sincerity of purpose and courage to voice temporarily unpopular principles.”  The United States entered the war in 1917 but The Detroit News continued its criticism. That criticism, however, was focused on governments and policies, not at the soldiers who put their lives on the line.

Indeed, Booth was very supportive of the fighting men who went off to war and of the families of those who did not return. He, architect Albert Kahn, and Clyde Burroughs (Director of the Detroit Museum of Art) established the Welcome Home Committee of Detroit – similar committees were formed in other major U.S. cities. The committee made sure all soldiers who returned from the front received the thanks of the nation and distributed rings and certificates of service to them upon their return.

The Committee’s recognition did not end with the men who returned.  It also distributed the memorial medal to the families of the war dead from Detroit. This medal, designed by sculptor Paul Manship and forged by Medallic Art Company in New York, was given as “a token of sympathy and gratitude to the nearest kin of those who gave their lives in the country’s service” during the Great War.

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Detroit Soldiers Memorial Medal, 1919 (obverse). Image Courtesy of Cranbrook Art Museum.

The front of the medal bears a winged female figure representing Victory striding forward while holding a sword wrapped in a palm leaf (sword of war and palm of peace) with a radiant sun in the background. The text around Victory reads, “VIXIT VIVIT VIVET” [lived, lives, will live].

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Detroit Soldiers Memorial Medal, 1919 (reverse). Image Courtesy of Cranbrook Art Museum.

The back of the medal reads, “Presented by the City of Detroit 1919.” At center is a scroll inscribed, “In Memory Of One Who Died in the Cause of Freedom and Humanity.”  Above, an eagle holding a laurel wreath is perched atop the end of a cannon and ball.

The Burton Historical Collection at the Detroit Public Library has a great image of a large crowd at Campus Martius for a memorial service to honor WWI soldiers.  I suspect that one of the men on the dais is George G. Booth, there to honor the Detroit war dead and their families.

For more on George Booth and his opinions on the war in Europe, see the George Gough Booth Papers and for more on Manship’s work at Cranbrook, check out Cranbrook Archives Digital Collections and Cranbrook Art Museum.

– Leslie S. Mio, Assistant Registrar

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.)

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

 

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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

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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.

 

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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.

 

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

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

 

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