Tranquil Still Room

“My father got me started the other day decorating and coloring a very elaborate plaster ceiling and nobody knows when I’ll get it finished.” So wrote James Scripps Booth in a letter to a favorite artist’s model Helen Knudson. The elaborate ceiling he referenced is the ceiling of the Still Room at Cranbrook House:CECT106det16George G. Booth created the Still Room as a part of his office suites in 1918. It was as a place to take a noonday rest. In old English country houses, the Still Room was a place where medicines were prepared, herbs and flowers were infused in water or oils, and where home-brewed beers and wines were made. As Henry Scripps Booth recalled in another letter, “We started applying the term to the small room at the south end of the wing although Mr. Booth had no intention of making whiskey, beer or wine, but on using it as a quiet place for reading, conversation and taking undisturbed naps.”

Commissioned by Booth, Ulysses Ricci and Anthony DiLorenzo designed the ceiling for the Still Room in 1919. The ceiling depicts classical Pompeiian figures, animals, and motifs of swags, festoons, masks, floral and foliage. The ceiling consists of four arched sections, a central medallion, and a tympanum* piece on each wall.

James Scripps Booth described his painting method for the ceiling: “I have to lie down in a steamer chair that is rigged up high on a scaffold, when I work and there is such a lot of detail design it keeps me guessing…” James painted the ceiling in blues, pinks, greens, yellows, purples, and browns against an off-white background.

Words can not describe the beauty of the ceiling. As they say, a picture is worth 1,000 words.

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Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

*tympanum is a semi-circular or triangular decorative wall surface over an entrance, door or window

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Landscapes

While George Booth may have had carved “Nature I loved, and, next to Nature, Art” above the fireplace in his library, I’m not sure anyone adored nature as much as the inimitable Frank Lloyd Wright. Known for his organic architecture, his buildings are sited to be viewed as one with nature. Wright went so far as to say “I believe in God, only I spell it Nature.

In the Fall of 1941, Richard Raseman (the Academy of Art’s Executive Secretary from 1932 to 1943) traveled to Wright’s winter home and studio, Taliesin West, in Scottsdale, Arizona. In beautiful photographs he captured the balance Wright achieved between the desert landscape and architecture. In Raseman’s many photographs, foregrounds of cacti and sand with backdrops of mountains and sky form a nest for the rambling estate. Water also plays a part in these compositions, as it often did in Wright’s work.

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View of Taliesin West, Fall 1941. Richard P. Raseman, Photographer. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

No Wright project is as associated with water as the Kaufmann House, “Fallingwater“, of 1936 in Mill Run, Pennsylvania. Last week, I had the honor to meet with the head Horticulturalist from Fallingwater, Ann Talarek. She was in town on the invitation of our friends at Lawrence Technological University, to speak to architecture students there and assist in ideas for the historic landscape of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Affleck House, owned by LTU. (A mere mile north of Cranbrook’s Woodward Avenue entrance, the Affleck House was completed in 1941 and Affleck’s son, Gregor Affleck, studied Painting, Design and Modeling at Cranbrook from 1944-45.)

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View of Affleck House, c. 1945. Harvy Croze, Cranbrook Staff Photographer. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

More than most historic house museums, for a Wright project the intimate association between site and structure means that maintaining the landscape is just as important as maintaining the building. When working on the landscape, you have to study both historic images and what you can see on the ground today. Ann let us know that one of the most important things you can do with a Wright landscape is to edit: “Keep the view sheds Wright would have been working with, editing out trees that may be pretty but block important views. It may be counter intuitive, but add by reducing.”

Today, the Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research serves as the educational steward of Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1950 Smith House, just a mile west of our campus. Ann also visited the Smith House, where she was impressed (as most visitors are) by the majestic canopy of oak trees surrounding the house and the dappled light they produce. Whereas the Affleck House has lost some of its view sheds, the Smith House still retains its open views toward the pond dredged by Melvyn Maxwell Smith. She also noted how architectural the landscape was: its perfectly placed pond, trees, and the arc of shrubs along the western end of the house.

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Smith House, c. 1952. Courtesy of Melvyn Maxwell and Sara Stein Smith Family Albums.

What’s impressive about the Smith House is the stuff inside: the fine and decorative art collection of things acquired and displayed by Mr. and Mrs. Smith, much of it from Cranbrook Academy alumni. After meeting with Ann and then looking through family photo albums of the house’s landscape, I realized that the grounds too were a project of the Smiths: he was constantly adding, cutting back, and reshaping the landscape. It’s most famous iteration may be an impromptu plan developed by the landscape architecture celebrity Thomas Church (for that story, sign up for a Smith House Tour!), yet like any site, the landscape has changed over the years.

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Smith House, c. 1975, with landscape attributed to Thomas Church. Courtesy of Melvyn Maxwell and Sara Stein Smith Family Albums.

Ann talked at the Affleck House about how they might eliminate certain invasive species (as she has done at Fallingwater) or how trees might be cut back. At Smith House, she helpfully noted some trees nearing the end of life, but suggested the historic photographs be studied to figure out what the Smith’s wanted. “Unlike Fallingwater or the Affleck House, the Smith House is ultimately suburban. What we now call invasive species would have been considered fashionable in the 1950s and 60s, and in a place as personal as the Smith House, you have to consider what Mr. Smith would have done as much as what Wright would have planned.” It’s an interesting idea. I think the most important goal is to make the architectural, landscape, and personal stories of the Smith House dynamic, relevant, and beautiful for visitors. That, and, as Ann said, “Don’t let anyone plant anything that’s going to overrun Bloomfield Hills.”

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

Operation Mercy and an Academy of Art Sculptor

In January 1957, members of the Academy of Art’s Student Council came across an article in Newsweek magazine about the plight of Hungarian refugees to the United States following the 1956 Hungarian revolt against Soviet domination. Moved by the story of the artist featured in the article, the students decided to act and conceived and executed a plan to finance a semester of study at the Academy for one of the artist refugees. During the weekend of January 19-20th, Academy students held a sale of their own artwork, and supplemented by their own meager cash funds, raised $2,600 for a fund administered entirely by the Student Council. The Academy of Art added enough funds to present an artist with a scholarship for one year of study.

Members of the student council wrote to various organizations including the American Hungarian Federation and the Central Department of Church World Service in order to identify an artist who might qualify for the scholarship. Under the provisions of the 1953 Refugee Relief Act, from November 1956-June 1957, the U.S. government processed over 31,000 refugees at Camp Kilmer in New Jersey through a program called “Operation Mercy.” Most refugees stayed an average of twelve days before a resettlement location was found for them.

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Detroit News, 18 May 1958, Courtesy Cranbrook Archives

The artist sent to Cranbrook was Laszlo Ispanky (1919-2010), a 38-year old sculptor whose interest in art started at a young age. His father owned a restaurant in Budapest near a large sand mine, which soon became Ispanky’s canvas. His sand art was recognized by a man who suggested that he become a sculptor, so Ispanky eventually graduated from the Hungarian Fine Art Academy. In November 1956, during the Hungarian revolt, Ispanky and a friend escaped to Vienna where they sought asylum in the United States.

 

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“Two Sisters,” Laszlo Ispanky, c. 1958, bronze, 17 1/2 x 9 x 6 inches, CAM 1984.45, Gift of Peggy de Salle. Image courtesy Cranbrook Art Museum.

Ispanky had been unable to work creatively under Communist rule. He once commented “In a Communist country, you have to be a Communist to be supported as an artist.” Described as a “romantic European,” Ispanky was grateful for the total freedom he was allowed at Cranbrook – “the most fantastic thing . . . a huge studio, and you do whatever you want.” While at Cranbrook, Ispanky sculpted over 32 works in terra cotta, bronze and plaster and was given the nickname “Speedy Gonzalez” by his fellow students.

 

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Correspondence from Ispanky to Cranbrook Academy of Art, 1957. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

While he did not receive a degree at Cranbrook, Ispanky was eternally grateful for the chance to study here. In his letter, he expresses his heartfelt sentiments and poetic nature. “My thanks to you for reaching out to me with something that is inherent in the sacred name of freedom and for lending me hope. It feels good! I have waited with anxiety to hold the clay with which to give birth to the flowers blooming in my heart – to the hidden music which lives within me; to turn the material into form and into a million statements.”

After Cranbrook, Ispanky moved to New Jersey where he lived his life as a successful sculptor, specializing in the portraiture that he developed while at Cranbrook.

– Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

Alumni Court: Restoration Update

The first phase of restoration of the Cranbrook Alumni Court commenced on Wednesday, April 26, 2017. This area, on the far western edge of the original Cranbrook School for Boys campus, contains many beautiful carvings commemorating graduating classes of Cranbrook seniors arranged around a lawn. Phase 1 of the restoration includes rebuilding the upper level walkway running east to west, relaying the paving on the courtyard interior, and restoring the columns, arches, and wall running east to west.  (Future phases include the upper level walkway, columns, and arches running north to south, the masonry stairs aside the courtyard, and all flat paving to the football oval.)

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Plan of Phase 1 activity (in color) at the Alumni Court. Phase 2 is at left (white). Courtesy of Cranbrook Capital Projects.

Over the years, salt and water infiltration caused major deterioration of the Alumni Court’s paving, walls, and walkways. One of the most important improvements we added to this project is heating the walkways.  Heating minimizes the resources needed to constantly shovel and spread ice melt, preserving the materials.

The project’s contractor began with demolition of all material that was beyond repair–mostly the flat areas and the setting beds below.IMG_2343Once the demolition was complete, the contractor replaced the underground storm drain, which was originally clay piping, with new PVC piping. Clay piping is brittle and therefore susceptible to intruding tree roots which lead to leaks and clogs.  The PVC piping will last much longer and minimize maintenance work. Once the PVC piping was installed, soil was filled in and compacted and the trenches were capped with concrete. IMG_2378The next activity was demolishing the concrete bridge. All the existing limestone newel posts and railings were in good condition, so they were set aside to be reinstalled. The masonry wall, below the bridge, was also disassembled because many of the bricks were extremely fragile and showed efflorescence.IMG_2599After a summer of careful work, the masonry wall and arches have been rebuilt to their original beauty.  IMG_0159The concrete bridge has been layered with waterproofing, reinforcing, and heating pipes, and is ready to be poured back with concrete.  The flat paving areas are being prepared for their final layer of brick and stone. IMG_0188Look forward to a final update here on the Blog once the project is complete! As always, many thanks to the contractors who are working hard on this beautiful restoration.

Ryan Pfeifer, Project Manager II, Cranbrook Capital Projects

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