Kalevala Curtain?

When I started giving tours of Saarinen House more than twenty-two years ago, I was enthralled by the geometric designs architect Eliel Saarinen and his wife Loja Saarinen created for their own home.

Second Floor Hallway Seating Alcove reproduction curtain, circa 1993-94. Balthazar Korab, Photographer.

In the Second Floor Hallway Seating Alcove, I tended to focus upon the dramatic dance between Loja’s curtain design and Eliel’s leaded glass windows. Her woven bands of blue and green triangles layered over his geometric forms. His leaded triangles, squares, and rectangles peeking from behind her sheer textile. The combination of the two casting mesmerizing shadows across the upstairs walls, shifting with the weather and the season.

As a decorative art historian, I reveled in sharing the story of the Saarinens’ support of Finnish National Romanticism—a late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century movement celebrating the revival of Finnish language and culture, particularly architecture, arts, and crafts. And to my eye, the upstairs curtain was just another pattern derived from the Saarinens’ Finnish heritage, specifically traditional Karelian motifs found in eastern Finland and Russia.

But then, an unnamed visitor from Finland introduced me to the Kalevala—Finland’s epic poem. And I learned that the upstairs alcove curtain quite possibly had a more intriguing story to tell…

Said the aged Väinämöinen,
And he spoke the words which follow:
“Now my inclination leads me
Unto Metsola to travel;
To the forest’s daughter’s dwelling,
And to the Blue Maiden’s homestead.

Leaving men, I seek the forest,
Heroes leave, for distant regions;
Take me as thy man, O forest,
Take me, Tapio, for thy hero.
May good fortune now be granted,
And to fell the forest-beauty![”]

Translation from the original Finnish by William Forsell Kirby in Kalevala: The Land of the Heroes, in Two Volumes, 1907, “Runo XLVI: Väinämöinen and the bear.”

Could a figure from the Kalevala be hidden within the bands of triangles on the upstairs curtain?

The Kalevala recounts Finnish and Karelian folklore—heroic tales spanning the story of creation to the introduction of Christianity. Compiled by Elias Lönnart from oral tradition, it was first published in Finnish in 1835 and expanded in 1849. Many translations followed, often with creative spellings.

With ever-increasing nationalism—leading to the creation of Finland as an independent country in 1917—Finns, particularly artists, makers, musicians, and performers, turned to the Kalevala for inspiration. Apparently, the Saarinens were no exception.

Second Floor Hallway Seating Alcove with original curtain, circa September 1930. Max Habrecht, Photographer. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

The original curtain for the upstairs seating alcove was designed by Loja Saarinen and woven by Studio Loja Saarinen, circa 1930. Bands of triangular forms embellish the top and bottom of the sheer panel. In typical northern-European style, its purpose was to provide a level of privacy without preventing limited daylight from streaming through. Fitting, as the Saarinens took breakfast upstairs in the west-facing seating alcove each morning at 7:30 a.m.

Cranbrook’s black and white photograph of the upstairs seating alcove was published in the October 1933 issue of House Beautiful, with the caption:

In this hall on the second floor the specifically designed furniture from the Cranbrook Cabinet Makers’ Shop and the curtains of natural linen with blue and green geometric figures, from the Cranbrook Looms, give the note of distinction that is seen throughout the house. Pattern in pleasantly contrasted here with plain surfaces, and the result is the restfulness that comes with restraint[.]

Sadly, Loja Saarinen’s original curtain no longer exists. And other than the black and white photograph and magazine caption, there is no archival documentation—sketches, studio production records, receipts, or letters—to reveal Loja’s intentions or inspirations. Close analysis of the black and white image does reveal two shades of color—presumably blue and green as stated in the magazine caption—enabling the Saarinen House restoration team to determine which color was applied where.

Second Floor Hallway Seating Alcove reproduction curtain circa 1993-94, detail. Balthazar Korab, Photographer.

The curtain was reproduced in 1992, by Paula Stebbins Becker, designer and Laura Sansone, weaver. Based on Loja Saarinen’s original design, two horizontal repeats—one at the bottom and one at the top—were woven in blue and green. Measuring 61 inches by 140 inches, the reproduction curtain was constructed with linen warp, lumpy low linen weft, and wool inlay, using a plain weave with supplementary weft inlay border, and fringe.

With my newfound Kalevala clarity, the repeating pattern of Loja’s textile took on new meaning.

The stacked blue triangles at the bottom of the curtain suddenly assumed the form of a towering male figure sprouting a green triangular head. This recurring figure now balanced upon blue cliffs. And blue hills and trees, flanked by green meadows, unfurled below him, while blue mountaintops and clouds danced above.

The scale of the figure in relation to the surrounding elements suggested a deity or hero, not an ordinary man.

Was Loja depicting Väinämöinen?

The central figure of the Kalevala, Väinämöinen is the symbolic first man. Of mythical origins, he rises from a primordial realm beneath the sea. An ancient hero and wise man—think Gandalf or Dumbledore—he possesses a magical voice for song and poetry. He contributes to the creation of the world by cutting down forests and mowing meadows.

Wainamoinen, wise and ancient,
Made himself an axe for chopping,
Then began to clear the forest,
Then began the trees to level,
Felled the trees of all descriptions,
Only left the birch-tree standing
For the birds a place of resting,
Where might sing the sweet-voiced cuckoo,
Sacred bird in sacred branches.

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Wainamoinen, wise and ancient,
Brings his magic grains of barley,
Brings he forth his seven seed-grains,
Brings them from his trusty pouches,
Fashioned from the skin of squirrel,
Some were made from skin of marten.
Thence to sow his seeds he hastens,
Hastes the barley-grains to scatter,
Speaks unto himself these measures:
“I the seeds of life am sowing,
Sowing through my open fingers,
From the hand of my Creator,
In this soil enriched with ashes,
In this soil to sprout and flourish.

Excerpts from “Rune II: Wainamoinen’s Sowing” as translated by John Martin Crawford in his 1888 publication, The Kalevala: The Epic Poem of Finland based on a German translation by Franz Anton Schiefner published in 1852.

Or was it Tapio himself gracing Loja’s curtains?

The God of the Forest and Woodlands, Tapio is the personification of Nature. Described as a tall, slender figure, wearing a coat of tree moss and a fir-leaf hat, the proverbial Green Man was said to have a lichen beard and eyebrows of moss. Cue the green triangle atop Loja’s figure—perhaps a stylized pre-Christian foliate head?

“Grant, O Ukko, my Creator,
That the signs may guide our footsteps,
That the notches in the pine-tree
May direct my faithful people
To the bear-dens of the woodlands;
That great Tapio’s sacred bugle
May resound through glen and forest;
That the wood-nymph’s call may echo,
May be heard in field and hamlet,
To the joy of all that listen!
Let great Tapio’s horn for ages
Ring throughout the fen and forest,
Through the hills and dales of Northland
O’er the meadows and the mountains,
To awaken song and gladness
In the forests of Wainola,
On the snowy plains of Suomi,
On the meads of Kalevala,
For the coming generations.”

From Crawford’s translation of The Kalevala, “Rune XLVI: Otso the Honey-eater.”

Musical inspiration for the curtains?

We can hear Tapio’s horn and the mystical vibrations of Tapiola—the forest where Tapio lived and ruled—in the haunting tone poem “Tapiola” by the Saarinens’ close friend and noted Finnish composer, Jean Sibelius.

Click here to listen to “Tapiola,” Opus 112 as performed by the Gothenburg Symphony, conducted by Detroit Symphony Orchestra Music Director Emeritus Neeme Järvi, set to scenes of Finland’s forests, lakes, rock formations, and clouds edited from the 1984 Christopher Nupen film, Jean Sibelius: The Early Years, and published on the GreatClassicRecords YouTube channel in 2012.

Yet, Väinamönen plays his own role in Sibelius’s repertoire. “Väinö’s Song,” a cantata for mixed chorus and orchestra, evokes the song of our hero as a suitor in “Rune XVIII: The Rival Suitors” from the Kalevala.

Click here to listen to “Väinö’s Song,” Opus 110 as performed by the Finnish National Opera Orchestra and Chorus, conducted by the late Eri Klas, former Principal Guest Conductor of the Finnish National Opera.

Sibelius composed “Väinö’s Song” in 1926, and it was first performed in Sortavala, Republic of Karelia, Russia, in June of that year. Simultaneously, he was working on “Tapiola,” a commission from the New York Philharmonic Society first performed in New York the day after Christmas 1926.

Sibelius provided the following prose, as adapted by his publisher, Breitkopf & Härtel, to clarify his score and the role of Tapio and the Tapiola forest in Finnish mythology:

Wide-spread they stand, the Northland’s dusky forests,
Ancient, mysterious, brooding savage dreams;
Within them dwells the Forest’s mighty God,
And wood-sprites in the gloom weave magic secrets.

However fanciful it might be, I like to picture the Saarinens in the 1926 Karelian and New York audiences, supporting their good friend’s compositions and drawing inspiration for their own work. The timing is feasible as they summered in Finland and resided in Michigan during the winter—their custom excepting the war years. But more likely, they learned of the compositions through their regular correspondence with Sibelius, now in the collection of the Sibelius Museum. Perhaps the subject of a future blog post and my excuse for another trip to Finland?

It is fair to assume that by 1930, when the upstairs alcove curtain was created, the Saarinens were familiar with “Väinö’s Song” and more so, “Tapiola,” now considered to be Sibelius’s last great masterpiece for orchestra. In all, Sibelius created over a dozen works inspired by the Kalevala. He profoundly impacted the development of the Finnish national identity—and thereby the Saarinens’—adding another layer of interpretation to Loja’s figurative pattern.

Karelian geometric patterns? Väinämöinen creating the world? Tapio ruling the forest?

Whether the curtain in the Second Floor Hallway Alcove at Saarinen House depicts Tapio, God of the Forest and Woodlands . . . or Väinämöinen, the hero of the Kalevala . . . or simply references Karelian geometric patterns, I do not know. But it seems clear that Finnish Nationalism Romanticism impacted Loja Saarinen’s textile designs, reflecting both tradition and her distinctive sense of visual harmony in their arrangement of color and form.

A trained sculptor familiar with traditional weaving, Loja established Studio Loja Saarinen at Cranbrook in 1928 in order to supply textiles for the growing campus. This led to the formation of the Department of Weaving and Textile Design at Cranbrook Academy of Art, for which she served as Head from 1929 until her retirement in 1942.

Studio Loja Saarinen was initially engaged in creating textiles for Kingswood School for Girls and the Saarinens’ own home at Cranbrook. The studio also received commissions from major architects of the period such as Frank Lloyd Wright. Textiles designed by Loja and Eliel Saarinen for Studio Loja Saarinen continue to grace the interiors of notable edifices designed by Eliel, including First Christian Church in Columbus, Indiana, and, of course, Saarinen House.

Tours of Saarinen House resume on May 3, 2019. And our upcoming Day Away trip just happens to be to Columbus, Indiana—tentative dates: May 17-19. We hope to see you next season.

In the meantime, don’t forget to celebrate Kalevala Day on February 28—commemorating the date of its first publication by Elias Lönnart in 1835!

Diane VanderBeke Mager, Collections Interpreter, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

 

 

Might Willy not carve something for you?

Oberammergau, a small Catholic village in Bavaria, Germany, is known for its woodcarvers and for its almost 400-year tradition of mounting an elaborate Passion Play.

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The Village of Oberammergau, 1922. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

The Passion Play is performed in years ending with a zero. Due to economic instability, however, the 1920 performance of the Passion Play was postponed to 1922.

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Oberammergau Passion Play Theater, 1922. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

That year, Henry Scripps Booth and his friend J. Robert F. Swanson were traveling on a ten-month-long European tour and decided to see the rescheduled Passion Play. Henry and Bob stayed at Max Spegel’s pension in Oberammergau, Germany. It was there Henry met Herr and Frau Spegel, their sons Wilhelm and Max, and their daughter Sophie. After the trip, Henry corresponded with Frau Spegel and her son Wilhelm, until about 1937.

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Wilhelm and Max Spegel at their father’s Pension, 1922. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

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Henry Booth with Wilhelm and Max Spegel at their father’s Pension, 1922. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

In January 1924, Frau Spegel suggested, because some items Henry had ordered in Oberammergau had never arrived, “Dear Friend, might Willy [Wilhelm] not carve something for you?” From then on, Henry was agreeable to having the Spegel family carve wood panels, gates, doors, and ceilings for his new home, Thornlea.

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Wilhelm Spegel, 1922. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Carvings by the Spegels can be found throughout Thornlea:

Warming Doors

Warming Oven Doors in Thornlea Dining Room, 1926.

Wilhelm writes, in 1926, “I am sending you with this letter a pascel (sic) containing the two doors for the plate warmers . . . I myself have done all the carving and it took me about 55 hours . . . there is not much work for the wood carvers people have no mony (sic)

sideboard

In the Thornlea Dining Room is a Three-section Sideboard with Carved Panels, 1926-1929, incised with geometric, floral, figural, and animal decorations. Wood panels depict figures such as Adam & Eve, Lindberg, Chief Pontiac, and Columbus.

In order to help his friends, Henry designed a three-section sideboard, into which he inset carved panels done by Wilhelm and Max Spegel — the original idea was to have the panels used as a frieze around a room, but that never materialized. Henry paid the Spegels $8 per panel and let them have creative input into the design and subject matter.

Oratory ceiling

The ceiling of Thornlea Oratory, circa 1926.

The Spegels next created an elaborate set of ceiling panels for use in Thornlea’s Oratory. In a letter to Wilhelm in October of 1928, Henry writes, “The ceiling looks exceptionally well and we are thoroughly pleased with it. Everyone who sees your work certainly is complimentary towards it.

In 1929, Wilhelm had the idea to come to America, as jobs for woodcarvers were scarce at the time. He had asked Henry to “write a letter to the American Consulate in Stuttgart . . . so that they know who I am and that you have known me for many years.” There is no mention of the said letter in any of Henry’s replies but later letters indicate the move to America did not happen.

Henry and Carolyn Farr Booth visited the Spegels in Oberammergau in 1930, likely to see that year’s Passion Play. In the play, Herr Spegel was Rabbi Jakob, as he had been in 1922; Wilhelm was one of the man-servants of Pilate; and Max “will figure amongst the people.”

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Wilhelm Spegel, Carolyn Farr Booth, and Max Spegel in Oberammergau in 1930. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Letters from the Spegels stop in 1937. We do not know what happened to Wilhelm Spegel after 1937 except that he was married on April 17 of that year and died in 1951. We do know that Max Spegel (the younger) served in the German Infantry during World War II and died in service in 1942 at the age of 30. His name appears on the war memorial in Oberammergau.

One item of note, and a fact that Henry S. Booth himself pointed out in a letter to his sister: George G. Booth’s favorite woodcarvers John Kirchmayer and Alois Lang were from Oberammergau, Germany. Henry seemed happy to have found his own carvers in the same city.

Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar

Christmas in San Remo

Henry and Carolyn Booth spent the Christmas of 1933 at the Villa Eveline in San Remo, Italy with their children Stephen (8), David (6) and Cynthia (10 months). In Henry’s letters home he writes about the traditions he and Carolyn tried to maintain while spending Christmas away from home. He also writes about the “rustle of palm trees” in their garden and the crowds of people gathering at the churches on St. Stephen’s Day – a national holiday in Italy.

Henry Scripps Booth carrying the Christmas tree with Stephen and Cynthia (in stroller), 1933.

In one of Henry’s letters to his parents, he writes, “greetings from our Christmas tree and it’s real candles, to yours of the electric bulbs.” He later describes the event of Christmas night as lighting the candles and sparklers on the tree, “I never expected to see that kind of illumination again, and probably the children never will in future.”

Holiday wishes from Henry Scripps Booth to his parents, Ellen and George Gough Booth, 1933.

The photos sent home are both formal and candid – very much like posed photos captured on photo cards today, as well as informal images of families and friends enjoying time together at the holidays. My favorite shows a very happy Cynthia following Christmas dinner!

Cynthia and Carolyn Booth, Dec 1933.

Gina Tecos, Archivist

 

 

Cranbrook Sons Head Off to School

Each year, the Center for Collections and Research has the pleasure of decorating George Booth’s office at Cranbrook House for the holidays. This year, I went with a theme of Cranbrook sons heading off to college.

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Overview of the Center for Collections and Research display at Cranbrook House for Holiday Splendor 2018.

I was inspired by a recent visit to Cranbrook by Warren Booth’s daughter Dorothy (fondly known as Blammy) and her family entourage. The fourth of five children of Warren and Alice Newcomb Booth, as a young girl Blammy lived at Cranbrook House’s Tower Cottage.

Blammy’s grandson (and George and Ellen Booth’s great-great-grandson, and my college friend) Riley was along for the tour. He told me about having Warren’s Yale blazer and Warren’s amazing Raccoon coat. I thought it would be great to return the blazer to Cranbrook for display.

Warren Scripps Booth’s 1916-S Yale Blazer. Courtesy of Riley Scripps Ford.

Looking in Cranbrook Archives for what might compliment Warren’s Yale blazer, I found this amazing 1907 illustration by James Scripps Booth for the yearbook of Detroit University School. The oldest child of George and Ellen Booth, James was an artist, engineer, writer, philosopher and inventor. Although he shows a college student with his pipe and pennants, surrounded by books, James himself did not attend college.

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James Scripps Booth’s illustration for Detroit University School, 1907. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

The first Booth to go to college was the middle child, Warren Scripps Booth. He moved to Cranbrook with his parents in 1908 and studied at the University School in Detroit. Around 1909, he headed east to the Lawrenceville School in New Jersey. After his 1912 graduation, he studied with the Sargent Travel School for a year.

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Warren Scripps Booth’s entry in the Yale Class of 1916-S Yearbook. Courtesy of Riley Scripps Ford.

Enrolling at Yale in 1913, Warren studied civil engineering at the Sheffield Scientific School (the “S” on his blazer—at the time, undergraduates were divided between the four-year Yale College and the three-year Sheffield Scientific School). After graduating in 1916, Warren served as a U.S. Army Captain of Field Artillery in World War One, and saw action at Meuse-Argonne, Metz, France. After the war, he served as president of The Evening News Association and Booth Newspapers, as well as on many Cranbrook boards. Warren, his wife Alice, and their five children lived next door to Cranbrook at a house fondly called “NoBrook.”

The Booth’s youngest son Henry began his education at the Liggett School, but after the family moved to Cranbrook he was educated at home. He matriculated at the Asheville School in North Carolina for high school and returned north in 1918 to study architecture at the University of Michigan. While an undergraduate, Henry traveled extensively through Europe with his friend and classmate J. Robert F. Swanson, and in his final year in Ann Arbor, studied with Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen.

For the holiday display, I included Henry’s college scrapbook showing some of his many talents and activities. Bob Swanson had the same scrapbook (much less filled!) and I included it in the display to show the lovely maize “M” on the cover.

Finally, I jumped forward in time to another Cranbrook family who sent their son off to college. Son of distinguished Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen, Eero immigrated to the U.S. with his family in 1923. The Saarinens moved to Cranbrook in 1925 to help realize the Booths’ vision of an educational and arts community.

A talented artist from a young age, after graduating from Baldwin High School Eero studied sculpture in Paris’ Académie de la Grande Chaumière for one year before enrolling at Yale’s School of the Fine Arts in 1931. I included a reproduction of one of Eero’s drawing from Yale, resting on George Booth’s drafting table.

Eero Drafting Table

“A Residence for a College Dean,” Eero Saarinen, 1931. In this student project, Eero’s use of an open floor plan, symmetrical furniture layouts, textiles, torchieres, and telescoping design elements all mirror his father’s designs for Saarinen House here at Cranbrook. Notice the “H.C.” written in red crayon: this stands for Hors Concours, or not competing. In the strict Beaux-Arts methodology of Yale’s architecture program, this project did not pass muster to be considered for a prize! Original drawing courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

At Yale, he took a wide variety of coursework: design, freehand drawing, engineering mechanics, history, economics, and scenic design. Even in his first year, his student work earned national recognition in architecture magazines. Eero also took a course on “Archaeology Research” with Raymond Hood (the architect who took first prize over Eliel Saarinen in the Chicago Tribune Tower competition of 1922).

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Detail of “A Residence for a College Dean,” Eero Saarinen, 1931.

Saarinen heartily embraced college life, including serving on the Decorating Committee of the student Beaux-Arts Ball. Though he excelled in the student architectural competitions, Eero almost always came just short of winning the First Medal, earning him the nickname Second-Medal Saarinen. His thesis project in the spring of 1934 received the international silver medal of the Société des Architectes Diplômés par le Gouvernement.

Along with many of his classmates, after Yale Eero entered the Office of Strategic Services (a precursor to the CIA), where he designed graphics for defusing bombs as well as underground bunkers, including the White House’s “situation” or war room.

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Charles Eames shares cigarettes with Eero Saarinen and Warren Booth at the opening of the 1939 Cranbrook Academy of Art Faculty Exhibition. Perhaps Eero and Warren were chatting about their happy bygone days in New Haven? Photograph courtesy of Cranbrook Archives. “Souvenir of Yale” plate, c. 1910, courtesy of the author.

Eero returned to Bloomfield Hills in 1936 to work with his father and brother-in-law, J. Robert F. Swanson. After Eliel’s death in 1950, Eero set up his own office. Among his many significant projects were a handful of university buildings: dormitories for Brandeis University in Boston, the law quadrangle at the University of Chicago, the North Campus and the school of music for the University of Michigan, the entire campus of Concordia College in Fort Wayne, Indiana, dormitories at Vassar, and two Residential Colleges and the hockey rink for his alma mater Yale. At the time of his premature death in 1961, Eero was also serving as Yale’s campus planner.

I’m grateful for the many stories Blammy and her family shared with me on our tour of Cranbrook earlier this Fall, and to Riley for lending us another piece of Cranbrook history to share with guests to Cranbrook House this holiday season.

– Kevin Adkisson, 2016-2019 Collections Fellow, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research (…and Yale Class of 2012)

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