Craft in Time: Oscar Bach and the Cranbrook School Dining Hall Clock

For nearly ninety years, diners in the Cranbrook School dining hall have marveled at the clock that hangs high above the fireplace. Designed and fabricated by New York metalsmith Oscar Bruno Bach, the clock is a tribute to George Booth’s beloved Arts and Crafts Movement. Each hour is represented by an art or craft, ranging from metalworkers to woodworkers.

Cranbrook School Dining Hall, 1928. Peter A. Nyholm, photographer.

Cranbrook School Dining Hall, 1928. Peter A. Nyholm, photographer.

Oscar Bruno Bach (1884-1957), who was born in Germany, came to the United States in 1913 and established a metal design studio with his brother in New York City. As they built up their reputation and the business grew, Bach exhibited his work through The Architectural League of New York and at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, among others. His work graces numerous churches, industrial buildings, and residences primarily in New York but also in the Midwest. His first known work in Michigan was ornamental metalwork for the Blessed Sacrament Cathedral in Detroit (1915).

Bach was known for incorporating a variety of metals and metal techniques in his work. Cranbrook’s clock (1926) is made of four concentric iron rings with a center element (two male figures at an anvil) of repoussé brass surrounded by three brass “flame” rings. Each of the twelve figures representing arts, crafts, and trades are also made of brass, surrounded by floral elements made of iron. Copper was used for the rivets and for the small fleur-de-lis elements on the outer rim. Finally, the hour and minute hands are made of aluminum with brass rivets.

Detail of the center panel, 2001. The clock was restored courtesy Cranbrook Class of 2000.

Detail of the center panel, 2001. The clock was restored courtesy Cranbrook Class of 2000.

The clock however was not Bach’s first contribution to Cranbrook. In 1919, he fabricated lead “conductors” for the exterior of the east and west wings of Cranbrook House. George Booth also acquired a smoking stand (1922) and two table lamps (1929) for Cranbrook House, and commissioned Bach to fabricate Cranbrook School’s Peacock Gates (after Eliel Saarinen’s drawings) and the Treasury Door (1928) at Christ Church Cranbrook. Other local commissions include The Detroit Players Club (1925), Moulton Manor (1926), the estate of William Scripps (Ellen Booth’s brother) in Lake Orion, and the First National Bank (1927) in Ann Arbor.

One of the four Oscar Bach “conductors” at Cranbrook House, 2004. Mira Burack, photographer.

One of the four Oscar Bach “conductors” at Cranbrook House, 2004. Mira Burack, photographer.

One of the most interesting discoveries I made in writing this post was that the clock used similar elements as doors Bach designed for the new wing of the Toledo Art Museum (1925). They both feature arts and crafts figures – a potter, sculptor, glassblower, draughtsman, metal worker, and bookbinder. In January 1926, Bach received the “Medal of Honor in Design and Craftsmanship in Native Industrial Art” from the Architectural League for his design for the doors so it’s no wonder that he incorporated some of the same elements in the Cranbrook School dining hall clock. I may be a bit partial, but I think our clock is even more magnificent than the doors and I imagine you will too!

Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

 

Advertising Your Business (Before Facebook)

Cranbrook Archives has an interesting selection of trade catalogs from the early 1930s to the 1990s. While the purpose of these publications was to promote and display a manufacturer’s products, I’m struck by the art and design work that went into creating them. As secondary resources, there is so much to learn about the decisions Cranbrook was making at the time these catalogs were in use. They are also important artifacts of American business and manufacturing.

We have several collections that contain trade catalogs here at the Archives. These publications represent building and landscape products for use in construction projects on campus, tennis courts, art supplies, household items, furniture, and farming equipment – to name a few. Check out a few of the catalogs from the Cranbrook Architectural Office Records below.

Russell-Built Museum Cases literature, ca 1939.

Russell-Built museum case literature, ca 1939.

The Allis-Chalmers company explains why mechanization is the key to multiplying your efforts on the farm, ca 1942.

The Allis-Chalmers company explains why mechanization is the key to multiplying your efforts on the farm, ca 1942.

Zonolite plaster by Vermiculite purports to be insulating, crack-resistant, and fire-safe, ca 1951.

Zonolite plaster by Vermiculite purports to be insulating, crack-resistant, and fire-safe, ca 1951.

If you’re interested in looking at more trade literature, check out the collections at the Smithsonian, the Henry Ford, and the University of California at Santa Barbara.

Gina Tecos, Archivist

 

Keep this Farwelliana?

botanical-gleanings

Farwell, O.A. (1926). Botanical Gleanings in Michigan. The American Midland Naturalist, 10 (1).

Late last year, a small uncatalogued archive of Oliver A. Farwell’s collections was transferred to the Archives from the Institute of Science. The collection includes many of Farwell’s published works, reference journals, a small sampling of correspondence related to his career as a botanist and druggist, a copy of Farwelliana: An Account Of The Life And Botanical Work Of Oliver Atkins Farwell, 1867-1944 by Rogers McVaugh, Stanley A. Cain, and Dale J. Hagenah, and a portrait of Farwell.

Farwell, a botanist (by hobby), drug inspector (by trade), and librarian (after my own heart) was born December 13, 1867, in Boston Massachusetts to Oliver A. Farwell and Charlotte (Brockway) Farwell. Spending his formative years in the Copper Harbor area of Michigan, Farwell developed a lifelong affinity and commitment to the study of Michigan’s flora as both a hobby and occupation. A career employee (1892-1933) of the Parke, Davis and Company (Detroit, MI), Farwell was responsible for the pharmacognosy of raw botanical products. He was also a long standing member of a multiplicity of scholarly clubs with branches pertaining to botanical interests, including the Michigan Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic. Farwell’s large personal collections of herbarium specimens are housed at the Cranbrook Institute of Science.

new-species

Farwell, O.A. (1917). New Species and Varieties from Michigan and Rare or Interesting Plans of Michigan. Michigan Academy of Science Report, 19.

After a long and prolific career (serially numbered and unnumbered collections potentially totaling 15,000), Farwell passed away in Lake Linden, Michigan in 1944.

Upon first inspection of the transferred material it was noted that a large portion of the contents were duplicative and non-original works. This discovery begged the question: is this content relevant and worthy of archival preservation? And if so, here? We determined the answer to be yes to both questions, as the collection represents the contributions and scholarly process of an individual whose botanical collections and samplings are part of the Cranbrook narrative. Although they represent an accumulation of thought and process in a period of pharmacological unearthing now well surpassed by modern scientific process and procedure, the collection of materials represents a long commitment at Cranbrook to exploration and discovery. We determined: it was a keeper.

The Cranbrook Archives looks forward to sharing this unique collection with our researchers in the coming months. Be sure to check back for more updates on newly acquired collections and material.

farwell

Oliver Atkins Farwell, Winter 1934.

-Belinda Krencicki, Associate Archivist

Author’s Note: The Oliver A. Farwell Papers are located at the Michigan Technological University Archives and Copper Country Historical Collections. For more detail, see the finding aid here.

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