A Place Where Art and Science Meet

Some of my favorite blogs, such as My Modern Met, capture the connections between science and art. At Cranbrook, the intersection of these two worlds often occurs when I delve into a research request. I recently found myself in this happy place as I discovered information about the Mary Soper Pope Memorial award, while researching botanist Emma Lucy Braun. Cranbrook Institute of Science awarded the medal to Braun in 1952.

First award of the Mary Soper Pope Memorial medal, 1946.

First award of the Mary Soper Pope Memorial medal, 1946. From L-R: Marshall Fredericks, Gustavus D. Pope, George Booth, Franz Verdoorn (recipient), Robert R. McMath, and Robert T. Hatt. Photographer, Harvey Croze.

Mary Soper Pope (1872-1940) was the wife of Gustavus Debrille Pope (1873-1952). Gustavus Pope, a Detroit manufacturer and humanitarian, was among many things the director of the Detroit Museum of Art, president of the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts, a Cranbrook Foundation Board of Trustees charter member, and a board member of both the Cranbrook Academy of Art and the Institute of Science.

In 1946, the Trustees of the Institute announced the foundation of the Mary Soper Pope Memorial medal to be granted as often as the Board deemed desirable for “noteworthy and distinguished accomplishment in the field of plant sciences.” The award was a memorial to Mary Soper Pope as a tribute to her “thoughtful nature, her quiet yet inquiring spirit, and her constant pleasure in the beauty of growing things.” The Institute Trustees commissioned sculptor Marshall Fredericks (1908-1998) to design the medal. Fredericks taught at Kingswood School and Cranbrook Academy of Art from 1932 until he enlisted in the armed forces in 1942. According to correspondence in the Cranbrook Institute of Science Director’s Papers, this was Fredericks’ first commission since his return from service as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army Air Forces.

I love Fredericks’ design. On the obverse, the medal bears the figure of a woman holding a delicate seedling before the eyes of a child. The reverse is a profusion of vegetal growth and in it a chameleon.

Marshall Fredericks sketches

Marsall Fredericks sketches, ca 1946.

The 3” diameter medals were cast in bronze by the Medallic Art Company in New York. The Committee of the Mary Soper Pope Memorial medal agreed on the following principles: 1) the medal should be given for noteworthy and distinguished accomplishments in plant science, 2) the medal may be given in any field of plant science, 3) the medal should be given in different fields of plant science, 4) the medal should be given without limitation (nationality, race, creed, and academic career or position), and 5) the medal is to be given at any point in a person’s career.

Mary Soper Pope Memorial Award

Mary Soper Pope Memorial Award. (T.2014.1.19)

With these principles in mind, the Institute awarded the medal to seventeen scientists between 1946-1970, including botanist Emma Lucy Braun, ecologist William Vogt, and soil scientist, Edgar T. Wherry. While I enjoyed the initial research about Braun that led me to reading about this award, I loved following the Detroit and Cranbrook connections between art and science.

Gina Tecos, Archivist

2 thoughts on “A Place Where Art and Science Meet

    • Thank you for your kind comments! The last recipient (1970) was botanist, William Steere. He taught at UM and Stanford before becoming the director of the NY Botanical Garden. Also, fun fact: Mount Steere in Antarctica was named after him!

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