Cranbrook Celebrates Halloween

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Edna Vogel: Cranbrook’s Other Wright Weaver

Researching in the Archives before a big tour, I came across an interesting person whom I earmarked to come back and examine further. I already knew Loja Saarinen wove textiles for Frank Lloyd Wright, but Edna Vogel’s story of weaving for Wright intrigued me; it turned out there was a bit more to learn about Edna Vogel.

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Edna Vogel in her weaving studio, July 1942. Joe Munroe, photographer. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Edna Vogel (1901-1953) grew up in St. Louis and studied at a teacher’s college and then Washington University in St. Louis. She wasn’t in love with teaching elementary school, but she did like making costumes, so in the early 1930s she went to New York to study dress design. Not finding the cloth she wanted in stores led her to discover an interest in weaving, and weaving led her to Cranbrook for summer courses in 1939.

Vogel studied at Cranbrook Academy of Art for four summers and two regular academic years, earning her MFA in May 1943. Like so many Academy students, Vogel bounced between disciplines, studying weaving with Marianne Strengell, ceramics with Maija Grotell, and working in the metals shop. She spent most of her time in the ceramics studio, with Grotell commenting in 1941 that Vogel had a “very fine understanding for color and form” and that “her technical research and discoveries are exceedingly valuable.”

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Ceramics and place-mat by Edna Vogel, made as a student at Cranbrook. Detail of a photograph, June 12, 1941. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

In the early 1940s, Vogel moved into the carriage house of Bloomfield Hills socialite Kate Thompson Bromley, who kept detailed diaries that include information on Vogel’s work and travels. 

Vogel worked in the carriage house with two assistants between three looms (small, medium, and very large), she began weaving placemats, pillows, fabrics, and rugs. The largest rug Vogel wove was for architect Albert Kahn, in a Swedish style, and she wove others for Kahn’s family. She also wove the rugs for Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1941 Gregor Affleck House in Bloomfield Hills. Wright instructed Affleck to use long, strip-like rugs for his living room in order to leave much of the concrete floor exposed. Affleck, who may have met Vogel through Grotell or Bromley, commissioned rugs from her sometime in the early 1940s.

Thrilled with receiving the commission, Edna Vogel set off in her car towards Wisconsin and Wright’s estate, Taliesin. Approaching Taliesin, she became nervous that the famous Wright would not want to see her without an appointment. She ended up knocking on the wrong door of the house, introduced herself to an apprentice, and, to her surprise, being taken into a meeting with Wright. He seemed charmed—with both her and her ideas for the Affleck House rugs. He was so impressed by Vogel that he invited her to come and work at Taliesin as both weaver and ceramicist.

She stayed for a long weekend, but as remembered in Mrs. Bromley’s diaries, Vogel’s chief complaint with Wright’s work centered on his interest in providing functional architecture but not always functional furnishings. Wright did not, Bromley wrote, “aim to make a house and furniture one unit as at Cranbrook,” and so Vogel decided to return to Michigan and remain at the Academy. She completed the rugs for the Affleck House, and at a visit to the house later, Wright’s wife Olgivanna commented that the rugs were the “finest she had ever seen.”

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Edna Vogel’s rugs for the Gregor Affleck House, c. 1941-45. Courtesy of Lawrence Technological University.

At the end of the 1940s, after exhibiting ceramics internationally and producing textiles for homes, Vogel moved to New York. She wanted a place to find new inspiration and focus on her weaving. In South Salem, about thirty-miles north of New York City, she bought a former school house with a first-floor residence and an open studio large enough for her 12-foot loom on the second floor. She produced rugs of various sizes that were noted for their painterly, subtle uses of color, and she maintained an extensive collection of yarns from around the world. Tragically, Vogel died of smoke inhalation in 1953 when a chimney fire spread to her yarn storage.

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Rug by Edna Vogel, displayed at Cranbrook. Photograph, July 30, 1942. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

We have just a few images of Edna Vogel’s works in our archives and I found only a handful more in periodicals in the Art Academy Library. If you know more about her, or where her work lives on, let us know in the comments or at center@cranbrook.edu.

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

The Littlest Rebel

In March 1936, Henry Scripps Booth traveled to California to meet up with his parents who had been wintering out west. Henry spent three weeks at The Desert Inn in Palm Springs where he went for walks, painted, and wrote many letters home to his wife, Carolyn. The following letter from him describes the famous people he saw while there.

“Desert Inn pepped up yesterday. There were three hundred fifty extra for lunch out-of-doors . . . Monte Montaigne (I believe that’s his name) entertained the people with trick roping acts and riding his trick horse, but I knew nothing about that until it was all over. I did see the horse in his private trailer parked in the grounds, however.

“But the guest of guests is none other than little Miss Shirley Temple who has come here with her mother and a mother’s friend to spend a couple of weeks.”

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Letterhead, March 1936. Henry Scripps Booth and Carolyn Farr Booth Papers, Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Temple and her family were frequent visitors to The Desert Inn, often around the Easter holiday. In 1936, the Temples stayed there after Shirley had completed filming “Captain January” and “Poor Little Rich Girl.”

“The new King of bally old England could hardly cause the other guests to take more notice. A waitress called my attention to her last night at dinner, sitting at right angles to me only two tables away. Everybody was craning his neck to have a look at her, and those who left the room first all sat by the door so they could see her make her exit. When she came out and walked over by the office, most everyone suddenly had business over there too. Monte Montaigne and his wife and baby were there, and as the Temples talked to them, the crowd became fictitiously interested in the baby also. It is the same story where ever Shirley is.

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Henry Scripps Booth, photographer. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives

“This morning she was out trying to bat tennis balls one of her bodyguards was batting to her. A few other children were in on the play. The gallery consisted of at least six people nearby and a lot of others (like Myself) in the distance. Later when she was throwing a ball to a dog, people were talking movies and generally going ga-ga over her. When I came back from the pool where I had been painting this afternoon, I did see her without spectators, but of course with the guard who in reality is her playmate, and another guard in uniform. The two of them had a lot of dried peas and were shooting them with a sling-shot just like the Littlest Rebel.

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Henry Scripps Booth, photographer. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives

“She is not pretty, but certainly is cute. Her hair is curls all over of sort of a deep taffey [sic] color. She is very blond with pink cheeks. She screws up her face when she talks, has a twinkle in her dark eyes, and sort of minces around in her usual movie manner. She is very well behaved, sitting at the table and eating her dinner as good little girls should, and generally taking the attention she gets with good grace. Both nights she has taken a doll to dinner; last night a girl doll, tonight an Indian chief with a feathered headdress. She has a pink coat more or less like Cynthia’s [Henry’s daughter], but short as the French would have it so her bare legs are seen pretty much all the way up. She played around today in sort of drab slacks with a jacket to match. Their cottage is by the pool so I will see a good deal of her.”

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The pool at The Desert Inn, 1936. Henry Scripps Booth, photographer. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives

NOTE: In December 1937, Nellie Coffman, owner of The Desert Inn, dedicated the bungalow to Shirley Temple. Held in front of family, hotel visitors, and the press, the ceremony featured nine year old Shirley who christened the bungalow not with a bottle of champagne, but with a bottle of milk.

Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

The Art and Science of Numbers

“La science du nombre devient la clef de toute culture scientifique,” prefaces an article by then-director, Robert T. Hatt, in the May 1966 Cranbrook Institute of Science newsletter. Roughly translated – the science of numbers becomes the key to any scientific culture – an idea promoted through a long-term exhibition at the Institute, titled Mathematics Emporium.

Sponsored by International Business Machines Corporation (IBM), the exhibition was a replacement for the World of Numbers, which was a mathematics-focused exhibition on display at the Institute from 1961-1966. The goal of the Mathematics Emporium was to discover the character of mathematics or as Dr. Hatt explained, “what mathematics is all about.”

Invitation to preview the Mathematics Emporium exhibition, Apr 1966.

The exhibition was created by well-known designer, Gordon Ashby, who previously worked with Charles and Ray Eames.  During Ashby’s tenure with the Eames Office, he worked on the Mathematica exhibition (also sponsored by IBM) for the California Museum of Science and Industry in Los Angeles (now the California Science Center) and later for the IBM Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair (1964/1965). For the Cranbrook exhibition, Ashby worked in consultation with several mathematics teachers in the San Francisco Bay Area to design displays about geometry, calculus, the properties of space, the giving of form to algebraic equations, and the measurement of motion and change.

Letter from Ashby to Hatt, Feb 1966.

Ashby’s goal with the Mathematics Emporium was to depict mathematical subjects in an imaginative way to stimulate the curiosity of visitors and encourage further investigation. The exhibition was enclosed in an 18-foot modular showcase that contained a graphic panel with sketches or diagrams, as well as a collection of thirteen small displays. Ashby said he hoped to create an exhibition “that would make mathematics ‘look-at-able’ and bear repeated visits.”

Mathematics Emporium exhibition. Photograph by Harvey Croze, Apr 1966. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

The exhibition showcase was trimmed in gold-leaf and included photographs, mathematical limericks, and quotes by famous mathematicians. Within each display there were thought-provoking questions, such as “what has a can of baking powder to do with calculus?” and “which mathematical science sees a coffee cup and a doughnut as alike?” The Mathematics Emporium was very popular with visitors, and it remained a permanent exhibition in the Institute’s collections for more than 14 years.

Gina Tecos, Archivist

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