Portrait of the Vettraino family children. From left: Dominick, Sam, John, Concetta (Connie), Rose, Annette.

Portrait of the Vettraino family children. From left: Dominick, Sam, John, Concetta (Connie), Rose, Annette.

Cranbrook Archives is excited to announce a new online collection of material that highlights the contributions of the Vettraino family at Cranbrook. The collection includes a sampling of photographs and documents of the family, as well as other Italian immigrants who worked on campus clearing the land and building roads and stone walls; maintaining the landscape; and working in the Cranbrook Fire and Police Departments.

Michael (Mike) Vettraino came to Cranbrook in 1905 to work with one of George Booth’s first landscape architects, H.J. Corfield. Mike served Cranbrook for more than 50 years and received the Founders Medal in 1955. For more than 110 years, his children and grandchildren have continued to honor his legacy, serving the Cranbrook community not only as grounds-keepers, but in many other areas of the campus. We are pleased to be able to share their amazing legacy.

Cranbrook Archives Staff

Pergola Restored!

On June 18, 2014, a treacherous storm passed through Bloomfield Hills with wind gusts of up to thirty-nine miles per hour.  At some point during the storm, a tree snapped and fell directly onto the Cranbrook House Pergola*, causing significant damage.  Much of the original redwood trellis was crushed and two of the column capitals were severely damaged. One of the columns was knocked completely off the wall.  In addition, the concrete slab and columns had been deteriorating over time due to water infiltration. Cranbrook was left with an unusable space, directly adjacent to the Sunken Garden.p1

Reconstruction of the pergola began two years later on June 6th, 2016.  The goal was to preserve as much original historic material as possible, while replacing anything that was beyond repair.

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The first step in the restoration process was to re-tuck point all the mortar in the stone walls which had deteriorated over time. All the mortar in the joints between each stone had to be chipped out and cleaned before the new mortar could be installed.  In various instances when mortar was removed, the stones would become loose.  In efforts to hold the stones in place, wood wedges would be inserted to temporarily hold rocks in place. In addition to improving the appearance, the new tuck pointed mortar provided renewed support for the walls, allowing us to remove the floor slab.

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Next, the crew removed the existing wood beam (to be reused) and began to systematically demolish the concrete wall caps and columns.  The northwest column, base and capital were left in place throughout the project as they were structurally sound.  However, the other three columns had to be demolished and rebuilt. Much of the concrete on the inside of the columns was so deteriorated that portions of it could be removed by hand.

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Demolition continued with removing the concrete slab which served as both the ceiling for a garden storage area and the floor for the pergola. Demolition of the slab was challenging because the stone walls were built on top of it, as opposed to the slab being poured abutting the walls.  The contractor had to leave notches of the slab in place to provide support and prevent the walls from collapsing. Each notch was then very carefully removed and temporary shoring was installed to prevent a cave in.

Next, the crew formed the ceiling/floor and installed rebar so the new structural slab would be much stronger than the original. When pouring the concrete, the crew had to be meticulous to ensure it was evenly placed under all the stone walls and through the cage of rebar.

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Once the slab was poured, the crew started building the column forms. Each column’s entasis, or taper, toward the top was achieved by building a wooden barrel that narrowed towards the top.  The concrete was then cast directly into the barrel. This process was very similar to how the columns were originally constructed.

As mentioned earlier, one of the beams was salvageable in its entirety. However, the other beam had to be rebuilt with about fifty percent new wood bolted to the older beam. Like the original construction, we used redwood. The contractor replaced all the purlins (or cross beams) with new redwood, using one of the original purlins to recreate the decorative pattern on each end.

After a few finishing touches, the new (and improved) Cranbrook House Pergola was completed. Many thanks to the crew involved in this restoration project, and come check it out for yourself soon!

* Cranbrook Archives was able to determine that the original pergola was intact as early as 1919.

View from Cranbrook House looking down “Hedge Alley” towards the pergola, ca 1925. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Ryan Pfeifer, Project Manager II, Cranbrook Capital Projects

Special thanks to Elizabeth Fairman (CKU ’17) for research assistance.

Dessert with Décor in Mind

Back in the winter of 1941-1942, the fashion editor of The Milwaukee Journal, Aileen Ryan, visited Loja and Eliel Saarinen here at Cranbrook. She published an article about her day at the Academy and dinner in the Saarinens’ remarkable home on January 18, 1942: “Furnish Home According to Principles of Architecture” (The Milwaukee Journal, section 7, p. 9).

Plate 53

Dining Room set for a tea, c. 1994, Copyright Cranbrook Art Museum and Balthazar Korab

Ryan vividly describes the ceremonial nature of dinner in the dining room of the house, how hospitality, art, architecture, and food intersect in a totally beautiful and complete way. She writes:

“The dining room is at the left of the entrance and gleams a golden welcome to guests. Light is reflected from a gilded dome ceiling back to the top of the round table made of rays of harewood inlaid with ebony in a way that suggests the sun. Places are set on circular doilies of yellow linen block with black figures which the Saarinens’ son, Eero, made when he was a child. On these are black plates, on these folded yellow napkins and on top of these yellow cups and saucers. Each guest unpiles his cup to get his napkin as the plump brass coffee pot is brought around. It’s delicious coffee and amber enough as it streams from the slender spout to fit into the color scheme.

“Mr. Saarinen looks vastly amused when he tells us the chairs, with their Spanish comb look and sunny as the table itself, are made of Hollywood. He has designed them as he has the other furniture in the house, and they are dramatic. The walls of this golden room, seeming sunny on a gray and snowy day, are of waxed California pine. One of them is nearly covered with a Finnish tapestry made by Greta Skogster in soft terra cotta tones. The ombre [sic] shaded carpet is creamy white and brown.”

She ends the description of dinner:

“A pineapple upside down cake is part of the edible harmony, but Mrs. Saarinen refuses to admit she serves food to carry out the architectural scheme.”

Last weekend we reopened Saarinen House for tours, and many of the items Ryan describes are again on view in the house (the yellow place mats, the black dishes, the golden coffee pot, etc). And on Friday night, as part of our first Finnish Friday, we even brought back pineapple upside down cake! Sweet and Savory Bakery in Oxford, Michigan, generously donated plenty of pineapple upside down cake for guests to enjoy. Without Loja’s recipe but trying to be historically accurate, we used a recipe found in Good Housekeeping in February 1938.

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“Hit ideas for any meal with pineapple taking the lead,” Advertisement in Good Housekeeping, February 1938, Courtesy of the Winterthur Library.

Since this weekend is Mother’s Day, and, for many of us, our mothers are especially connected with memories of food and cooking, I wanted to talk a bit more about food in the Saarinen home. Bob Swanson, Loja’s oldest grandson, told me a few weeks ago that Loja was an excellent cook. He remembers her serving lots of ham and lutfisk at the holidays. As great of a cook as Mormor (Swedish for grandma) was, Bob recalled that most meals were prepared by the housekeeper and served in the kitchen dining area (not on tour). That dining area had plain chairs and a rectangular table with a black Formica top—not quite the drama of the main dining room.

His own mom, Pipsan Saarinen Swanson, was also a great cook. Bob remembers her making wonderful and inventive wartime meals—specifically liver and onions, lamb shanks, and calves brains. Pipsan, whose dresses are currently on display in Saarinen House, was (unknowingly) living journalist Aileen Ryan’s own wartime interests: “rations, passions and fashions.”

Bob laughed when I asked him if he remembered Loja serving pineapple upside down cake to match the décor. He didn’t recall her serving it to him, but said it was just her humor to do something like that. He also remembered how much Loja loved pies, particularly peach pie and pineapple pie–both pies that would coordinate with the décor!

For more Saarinen family stories, come join us for a Saarinen Home tour: Fridays and Saturdays at 2:00pm and Sundays at 1:00pm and 3:00pm. To try out our interpretation of a period Pineapple Upside Down Cake (served in the Saarinen House courtyard outside the dining room) join us for an upcoming Finnish Friday (May 19th, June 9th,  and June 23rd). In addition to admission to Cranbrook Art Museum and an open-house in both Saarinen House and the Archives Reading Room, we’ll also have period board games, Saarinen family films, a pianist at the family designed piano, and a cash bar for your enjoyment!

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

*My mother, for the record, is also an amazing cook.

Immigrant Stories in the Archives

In the recent issue of the Archives of American Art Journal (Spring 2017), Daniel Harkett’s compelling essay about citizenship papers found in manuscript collections in the Archives of American Art really spoke to me. He wrote “for the many people in the American art world who fought to become US citizens, the donation of naturalization papers to the Archives surely represented an affirmation. Those documents say, “See, I belong here” – in this country, and in the histories the Archives can be used to tell. At the same time they speak of journeys taken, sometimes across vast geographical and cultural distances.”

This essay brought to my mind the many documents we have in our collections relative to immigration and citizenship. Take, for example, the citizenship papers of Cranbrook’s founder, George Booth, who on April 21, 1887 forever renounced allegiance to Queen Victoria and became an American citizen. The document itself, as Harkett pointed out, “marks of a document being carried in a pocket, unfolded, shown, scrutinized, refolded, and put away.” Tattered and torn, and held together with hardened scotch tape, it tells the story of an American citizen who was often asked to prove his citizenship by virtue of this document.

From the George Gough Booth Papers.

In addition to naturalization papers in our archives, we have other pertinent documents that help tell the immigration story of Cranbrook staff and faculty. The letter below speaks to the lengthy process by which the Cranbrook Foundation sought to assist Swedish cabinetmaker Tor Berglund with changing his immigration status from visitor to that of a “non-quota immigrant.” According to immigration laws at the time, Berglund was required to submit proof that he had been employed as a teacher for the two years prior to his employment at Cranbrook. Unfortunately he was denied, as he had worked for the cabinetmaker Carl Malmsten, not as a teacher, but as a cabinetmaker. Ultimately Berglund traveled to the U.S. Embassy in Windsor, Canada where he received a passport that allowed him to further his stay at Cranbrook.

From the Cranbrook Foundation Records.

The third document relates to Kingswood School’s French teacher, Marthe Le Loupp. She had returned home to France for the summer months of 1946. Even though World War II was over, securing travel back to the United States was difficult at best. This letter from the State Department shows that the administration of Kingswood School had inquired about Le Loupp’s safe passage back to the U.S.

From the Kingswood School Records.

Genealogists and family historians are widely considered the biggest users of immigration records, including ship passenger lists, in tracing their family history. But historians and scholars also use these records to study a broad range of immigration themes and archives across the country hold countless immigration records in their collections or are devoted exclusively to immigration topics. Cranbrook’s immigrants have their own stories to tell, which can be discovered through documents in our own collections. As Harkett remarked, these documents “speak of journeys taken, sometimes across vast geographical and cultural distances.”

Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

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