Summer Blockbuster

With the melodies of John Williams’ score in my mind, the image below conjures up the 1981 summer blockbuster, Raiders of the Lost Ark. Stunt doubles and special effects aside – the photograph is actually of the Cranbrook Institute of Science (CIS) Director, Robert T. Hatt, in the caves of Calcehtok on Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula. Dr. Hatt conducted a ten-day expedition in the Yucatan in 1947, spending most of his time at Hacienda Calcehtok.

Dr. Hatt in the caves at Calcehtok, 1947.

While in the Yucatan, Hatt worked with two other scientists, Sr. Bernardo Villa, chief of Mastozoology at the University of Mexico’s Institute of Biology, and Dr. Helmuth Wagner an ornithologist with expertise in Mexico and the Malayan region. For ten days the trio conducted excavations of four caves and sunk eleven trenches. They also trapped and netted vertebrates to compare them to bones found in the caves. Of this team, Dr. Hatt said, “it is rare for three men to work together in the field in the perfect harmony we enjoyed.”

Dr. Hatt’s travel diary includes a drawing of one of the trenches, Nov 1947.

The principal focus of the expedition was the Actun Spukil cave (the Mayan equivalent of Cave of the Mice). A series of tunnels lies within the cave, and here Hatt and his fellow scientists uncovered bones, shards of pottery, and stone hammers. Glyphs were spotted on the cave walls, as well as rock carvings depicting a monkey’s head and a man’s head.

Dr. Hatt at the cave entrance, 1947.

In the year following his return from Calcehtok, Hatt wrote about his discoveries and gave several lectures. His expertise in the Yucatan region is well-documented, and he was asked by several institutions, including the Carnegie Institution of Washington and the University of Michigan, to identify specimens in their respective collections. More than half of the photographs from this expedition are of the people Hatt interacted with in Calcehtok. In an article in the February 1948 CIS Newsletter, Hatt wrote, “we were quickly accepted as friends by the little community. They collected for us, sang for us, dedicated a dance to us, and a few children and a grown boy shed a tear when we left. Bless the good people of Calcehtok.”

Friends made in Calcehtok, 1947.

Although I enjoy the adventure and suspense of an Indiana Jones expedition, the reality and humanity in Dr. Hatt’s reports was an exceptional find in the Archives this week.

Gina Tecos, Archivist

 

 

A Face Above Beauty

Sometimes we walk past something 100 times and see it but never really “notice” it. For me, it is the masque of “Art”  (left) in the Cranbrook School Quadrangle, near the dining hall. It is a woman’s face beautifully created by sculptress Elizabeth Palmer Bradfield, but, as always, there is more to the story.CR1588-2

Elizabeth Virginia (Palmer) Bradfield (1875-1954) was born in Port Huron and grew up in Pontiac. Her grandfather was Charles Henry Palmer (railroad and mining developer who established the Pewabic mine in the Upper Peninsula). The Palmer family was well known in Pontiac and their house still exists on Huron Street. In the months before her wedding, Elizabeth traveled to Paris with her parents, where she studied sculpture at the Académie Julian in Paris. In 1896, she married Thomas P. Bradfield.

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Elizabeth Palmer Bradfield with her mother, Mrs. Charles H. Palmer, Jr. Source

Thomas and Elizabeth Bradfield lived in Grand Rapids, Michigan, until 1904. The Bradfields and their two children (Virginia Palmer Bradfield Ward and Thomas Palmer Bradfield) later settled in Pontiac, Michigan, where Bradfield lived until her death in 1954.

In 1914, Bradfield began exhibiting her work — first paintings, then sculpture — in the Scarab Club’s Annual Exhibition at the Detroit Museum of Arts, alongside such artists as Myron Barlow, Katherine McEwen, and James Scripps Booth. The Scarab Club honored her sculpture “Myra” with their first presentation of the annual Scarab-Hopkin Prize for Sculpture. She exhibited again in 1915, 1916, 1917, and 1921. In 1921, she won “Honorable Mention” for her bronze sculpture “Baby’s Head.”

It is likely George Gough Booth met Bradfield at one of these exhibitions; correspondence between them began in 1926 when Booth purchased a small bronze of a dog from her.

Dog CEC 188

Dog, 1912, by Elizabeth Palmer Bradfield (CEC 188).

Booth then commissioned her to model “two large groups of Great Danes ready for plaster cast” to be displayed at Cranbrook School. These sculptures were to be approximately 6 feet high, by 2 feet wide, by 3 feet tall, but subject to Eliel Saarinen’s approval. Bradfield used the studio and architectural office, without expense to her. It is not known if Bradfield ever completed these large dogs, or if Saarinen negated the idea, but the sculptures were never realized in full scale. Milles’ “Running Dogs” probably replaced them on the Cranbrook Campus.

The masque of “Art” was purchased by Booth in October 1927. It was exhibited in two shows. One was in March 1929 – the annual exhibition of the Detroit Society of Women Painters. It was written up in the Detroit News, which said, “The masque has the imponderable quality we find in things of lasting beauty.”

It was then in the first Cranbrook Art Museum for several years before being installed over the “Beauty Arch” in Cranbrook School’s Quadrangle.

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The “Art” Masque, that “lasting beauty,” hangs over George Booth’s famous quote, “A life without beauty is only half lived” on the so-called “Beauty Arch” in Cranbrook School’s Quadrangle

Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar

Related links:

Clothing worn by Elizabeth Virginia (Palmer) Bradfield

Biographical information

Greta Skogster, a Mystery Woman No Longer

On tours of Saarinen House, visitors in the dining room are sandwiched between Greta Skogster’s hanging and leaded glass doors. They look one way to see a courtyard with leafed-out trees beyond; they look the other way to see a wall-sized hanging with birds and a tree and foliage.

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Dining Room of Saarinen House, Copyright Balthazar Korab/Cranbrook Art Museum.

Greta Skogster (1900-1994) herself was a one-woman phenomenon, running her own textile business in Finland. She was born in the small southwest town of Hämeenlinna in 1900, and as far as I can gather studied textiles at the Helsinki Central School of Arts and Crafts. At the time, in the 1920s, students from educated backgrounds were not actually trained to operate loom. They became designers and managers and engaged others to manufacture their designs. 

Greta Skogster

Greta Skogster-Lehtinen at work. Image © Greta and William Lehtinen Foundation

Skogster founded her own company in 1929named it Textile Officeand started producing hand-made designs by the yard and carpets for commercial use. In 1930 her work appeared alongside that of architectAlvar and Aino Aalto in the Small Apartment Exhibition in Helsinki, and from there her company grew apace.

Enter William Lehtinen (1895-1975) who went from studying forestry in Helsinki to earning his Masters of Forestry at Yale in 1926. He served as a trade attaché for Finland’s wood processing industries before returning home in 1930 to join the firm of Enso-Gutzeit, Finland’s largest pulp and paper company. So talented was forester Lehtinen that he rescued the company from post-war ruin and outmoded Russian machinery and became its CEO, transforming Finnish paper production along the way. The company still exists. 

By 1937 Skogster and Lehtinen were married and had moved her studio to Enso in eastern Finland, where her Textile Office became one of the largest private textile companies in the country with power looms and 23 employees. If you had been in Finland at that time you would have seen her work on Finnish trains, on the seats of factory offices, in all the best restaurants, in the headquarters of Enso-Gutzeit and in the upholstery of Eliel Saarinen’s Helsinki Central Railway Station. Her textiles even come to the USA at the 1947 Finnish House in New York’s Murray Hill where the Finnish American Trading Company had set up a showroom to promote trade.

Main Restaurant Hall 1947

Interior of The Finland House with hangings by Greta Skogster-Lehtinen at 39-41 East 50th Street, New York, New York, 1947. Image ©paavotynell.org

Skogster-Lehtinen and husband William went on to lead a good life, devoting their time, money and effort into collecting art and promoting the arts and crafts. By 1964 they intended to establish a museum designed by old friend Alvar Aalto, but an inability to break through Helsinki’s historic area building restrictions meant the museum was never built. Undaunted, the couple established The Greta and William Lehtinen Foundation offering fellowships for artists, artisans, musicians and architects, which, in true Lehtinen fashion, still exists.

Greta Skogster and William Lehtinen and family

Greta Skogster-Lehtinen and William Lehtinen with family. Image © Greta and William Lehtinen Foundation

How the Saarinens came to choose a hanging from Greta Skogster for the dining room in their Cranbrook, Michigan house is not clear, nor do we yet know what the relationship was between the two families, though one must assume they knew each other. According to the Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research object record the hanging was acquired between 1935 and 1939. There exists a 1980 letter from Cranbrook to Skogster-Lehtinen, now living in Tampere after the death of her husband, enquiring about the hanging but no reply.

But what a piece, cleaned, restored and still reminding visitors of the serenity of a forested world, where large wood grouse flit amongst the leaves!

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Skogster’s tapestry hanging in the Dining Room of Saarinen House, Copyright Balthazar Korab/Cranbrook Art Museum.

This is not a tapestry in the true sense of the word, where the weft is continuous. This hanging employs many different techniques, including supplemental wefts and rectangular patches left with bare warp so that the fir paneling can show through. Echoing the luxury of the gold leaf in the dome over the table, there is gold thread and silk amongst the linen, cotton and rayon. It does recall other Skogster-Lehtinen pieces, many of which are quite large.

Needless to say, there is more to discover in the long life of this prolific designer, and the Saarinen connection puzzle remains to be solved.

Lynette Mayman, Collections Interpreter, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

Sources:

Greta ja William Lehtisen Säätiö (Greta and William Lehtinen Foundation), 2007. http://www.gretajawilliamlehtinen.fi

Scandinavian Design: Alternative Histories, edited by Kjetil Fallan (Oxford, UK: Berg Publishers, 2012).

Göran Schildt, Alvar Aalto, A Life’s Work: Architecture, Design and Art (Helsinki, Finland: Otava Publishing Company, 1994).

Works by Greta Skogster,  FJ Hakimian. http://fjhakimian.com/greta-skogster 

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