Look up! Studio Loja Saarinen Ceiling Murals

The Center for Collections and Research’s newest intervention in Saarinen House opens on Sunday, April 28: Studio Loja Saarinen: The Art and Architecture of Weaving, 1928-1942.

In researching the exhibition, Collections Fellow Kevin Adkisson has discovered many remnants of the Studio in the Archives, Art Museum Collections, and on the campus of the Cranbrook Academy of Art. One part of the Studio remains that you’re likely not familiar with: the weaving allegories by Katherine Sibley McEwen (1875-1957), one of the founders of the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts and a friend of George G. Booth. Her eight allegories and border elements were painted directly onto the ceiling of the former Studio Loja Saarinen Weaving Room — now the studio of Elliott Earls, Artist-in-Residence and head of the 2D Design Department at Cranbrook Academy of Art.

CEC1424_Annie Margaret Frykohlm CAM 28-12 on wall

Studio Loja Saarinen Weaving Room, 1930. Bouquets by Anne Frykolm (left), Cranbrook Rug No. 1 by Maja Andersson Wirde (floor), furniture by Eliel Saarinen (center), weaving allegories by Katherine McEwen (ceiling). Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

CCR_18_01

Ceiling murals designed and executed by Katherine McEwen in what was once Studio Loja Saarinen. Each is an allegory of weaving. Photo by PD Rearick.

CCR_18_03

Winding thread on the bobbin – detail of ceiling murals by Katherine McEwen in what was once Studio Loja Saarinen. Photo by PD Rearick.

CCR_18_04

Collecting the thread – detail of ceiling murals by Katherine McEwen in what was once Studio Loja Saarinen. Photo by PD Rearick.

CCR_18_05stain removed

Harvesting cotton and flax (linen) – detail of ceiling murals by Katherine McEwen in what was once Studio Loja Saarinen. Photo by PD Rearick.

CCR_18_02

Harvesting silkworms and shearing wool – detail of ceiling murals by Katherine McEwen in what was once Studio Loja Saarinen. Photo by PD Rearick.

CCR_18_06

Detail of the decorative borders by Katherine McEwen along the ceiling of what was once Studio Loja Saarinen. Photo by PD Rearick.

McEwen executed other works at Cranbrook, including the magnificent frescoes at Christ Church and a witty history of education series in the lower level of the Cranbrook School for Boys Dining Hall.

This Sunday, April 28, 2019 from 1-5pm visitors will have the very rare opportunity to see the Studio Loja Saarinen murals as part of the Academy’s Open(Studio) event–just follow the signs to the 2D Department. At the same time the Center’s special Studio Loja Saarinen show will be opening in Saarinen House, incorporating six historic Studio Loja Saarinen rugs and tapestries new to the house, dozens of archival and new color photographs, and a handful of small personal accessories from Loja Saarinen. And, the loom is up and running and Cranbrook Kingswood students will be giving hands-on demonstrations.

If you can’t make it to the opening, the Studio Loja Saarinen exhibition may be viewed on both public and private tours of Saarinen House during the 2019 Tour Season, Friday, May 10, 2019 through Sunday, December 1, 2019.

– Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar

Discovering Turtle Fountain

The collections at Cranbrook Archives are used by a wide population of researchers and have a broad reach academically and internationally. The collections are also used internally for diverse purposes, including historic preservation, education, program development, and fact-checking. A recent research request related to the original installation of Turtle Fountain on the circular terrace at Cranbrook House.

E396.jpg

Turtle Fountain, 1925. K. Hance, photographer. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

In the late winter of 1924, George and Ellen Booth took a trip to Europe. In a letter dated February 15, 1924, to Cecil Billington, George explains,

“We stopped in Rome to see if by chance I could find a fountain for the new circular terrace basin – and I did – at first it seemed quite out of reach, but some favorable circumstances helped a lot…”

He goes on to discuss the agreements for packaging and shipping the fountain, which is no less than 10 tons of Verona marble. Similar information is found in a letter from George to Henry Scripps Booth, which also describes their experience of staying in Paris and Rome:

Letter from George G. Booth to Henry S. Booth, February 15, 1924. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

While Florence and Carol [Farr Booth] went to see the sights and do a little shopping, George writes,

“I at once went to the Galerie Sangiorgi where I bought the last fountain – and at first was disappointed as I had a mind picture which could not be realized there. There was one fountain which they had when I was there last – a replica of one in Rome often regarded as the best if not, as some say, “the most beautiful”…”

The letter is very informative about the materials from which the fountain is made, what they weigh, and how he envisions it on the circular terrace, even including a small drawing of the base of the fountain (top of page 2).

Invoice, Galleria Sangiorgi, February 25, 1924. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

The fountain was cast by Chiurazzi Foundry in Naples, whose works were often sold by the Galerie Sangiorgi. The design of the fountain was inspired by the Fontana delle Tartarughe, which stands in the Piazza Mattei in Rome. The original was designed by Giacomo della Porta and Taddeo Landini in 1581, which featured dolphins instead of turtles. During restoration in 1658, the dolphins were removed due to their weight and replaced by bronze turtles, which were sculpted by Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini. Cranbrook’s Turtle Fountain was restored in September 1980 through the Gardens Auxiliary. Visit the fountain this spring on your own or on a tour with Cranbrook House and Gardens Auxiliary.

– Laura MacNewman, Associate Archivist

 

 

Vroom Vroom goes the Loom

In preparation for the Center’s upcoming show, Studio Loja Saarinen: The Art and Architecture of Weaving, 1928-42, we recently moved a historic Cranbrook Loom from the Kingswood Weaving Studio across campus to Saarinen House.

IMG_7359

The Cranbrook Loom at home in the Kingswood Weaving Studio.

I wanted a Cranbrook Loom to be a part of the exhibition as a teaching and demonstration tool, so guests can understand how the many beautiful rugs on display were produced. Studio Loja Saarinen started with just one loom in 1928, but grew to include thirty-five. The original looms used by the Studio were quite heavy and difficult to work with; Saarinen’s unhappiness with them eventually resulted in her demand for a loom built exactly to her specifications. She worked with John Bexell, a skilled cabinet maker and husband of one of the Studio’s weavers, Marie, to construct a loom that was lighter, sturdier, and easier to operate. The first Bexell loom was delivered in 1936.

Cranbrook Weaving Studio Loja Saarinen April 1936 Neg 3354

Bexell (or Cranbrook) looms in the Cranbrook Weaving Studio, April 1936. Cranbrook Archives.

John P. Bexell descended from a long line of woodworkers. Born in Korstrask, Sweden in April 1899, he emigrated to the U.S. and settled in Flint, Michigan in the 1920s. He had made looms back in Sweden, and when he made the first to Saarinen’s specifications he saw potential in the design and made others to sell.

Loja Saarinen and her weavers were so pleased with the new Bexell-made loom she immediately ordered more. Other weavers ordered the looms too, and Bexell also received a commission from the federal Farm Security Administration for several hundred looms. His career as a loom specialist took off. In 1945, at Loja Saarinen’s suggestion, Bexell named his now quite popular (and profitable) loom the “Cranbrook Loom.” He produced the looms with his son, Bert, in Flint until 1977, when he sold the business.

All that to say, I still needed to get a Cranbrook Loom across campus.

IMG_7745

Our first victory! Getting the loom out of the weaving studio and into the truck. Ed looks pleased.

Working with my colleagues Leslie Mio and Matt Horn, along with Matt’s husband Marc Meyers and game members of Cranbrook’s moving crew Ed and Trevor, we got the loom on the go. To exit the weaving studio, we each grabbed a leg of the loom and walked it above the others and out of the double doors, through the courtyard, and into the moving truck.

IMG_7749

Trevor, Marc, Matt, and Ed walking the loom toward increasingly smaller doors.

At Saarinen House, we had to remove the warp stick catcher to get the loom through the door. It then had to turn completely on its side to fit through the narrower interior doors. Nothing but our nerves were harmed in the process.

You might be thinking to yourself, don’t looms come apart? Well, yes. However, the loom had been partially prepped for weaving, and we didn’t want to have to reassemble it from scratch inside the studio. I am not, after all, a loom expert. So instead we twisted and turned until the loom was in place in the Saarinen House Studio!

A few days later, Lynn Bennett Carpenter, Academy alumna and instructor in weaving and fashion at Cranbrook Kingswood Upper School, came to finish setting up the loom for weaving a plaid. There was much tensioning, counting, tensioning, threading, twisting, and tying. It was fun, and quite stressful! One wrong heddle threaded, and our weave would be ruined.

Guests to Saarinen House will now be able to learn about the history of the Cranbrook Loom, see it in action, and even throw the shuttle back and forth to help us make our 12 foot plaid. Tours of Saarinen House start in May and run through December 1, 2019. The exhibition will open during Open(Studios) on April 28, 2019. Come and join us to explore the house and exhibition during our free Opening Reception from 1:00—5:00pm, with demonstrations and lessons from Cranbrook Kingswood Upper School weavers!

– Kevin Adkisson, 2016-2019 Collections Fellow, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

Special thanks to Lynn Bennett Carpenter for loaning us the loom, for her time prepping the loom, for volunteering her students to assist in our Open House, and for teaching me how to weave.

“My On-Hangers”: Virginia Kingswood Booth Vogel’s Charms

At the Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research, we care for not only the historic objects on the campus, called Cultural Properties, but also the three-dimensional objects that often come in with Archival Collections, known as Realia.

These three-dimensional objects need different storage than the papers in archival collections. Often, these items are only listed as “Realia” in the Archives Finding Aids without individual descriptions- you have to pull out the box to know what is inside. For this reason, we are now recording Realia individually in our Collections Management System.

Recently, I have begun working to rehouse, catalog, and photograph the Realia in the Archives to make it more accessible and searchable. The first collection I worked on was the Virginia Kingswood Booth Vogel Papers, which contained some fun objects.

20190326_143259

Virginia Kingswood Booth on her European trip in 1920. Courtesy of Virginia Kingswood Booth Vogel Papers, Cranbrook Archives.

Virginia Kingswood Booth Vogel was born in 1908, the only daughter of Ralph Harman Booth and Myrtle Mary Batterman Booth. Ralph Harman Booth was a co-founder of Booth Newspapers and a brother of George Gough Booth, founder of Cranbrook.

“My On-Hangers” were what Virginia Kingswood Booth (Vogel) called the charms she collected on her European trip with her parents in 1920 at age 12. Virginia purchased the charms at the various stops on the trip. She found charms that represented the places they visited or an event that happened, like the cold she had (bedpan charm) or the baby born to a family friend (baby rattle). Some other examples are the globe, which represented the trip itself, and the 1910 Passion Play Medallion that was purchased when the family visited the town of Oberammergau, famous for (as readers of the blog know) its Passion Play. She would continue to collect charms on later trips, though none are as documented as those from the 1920 trip.

ARC1999_1_1_1

Globe charm representing, to Virginia Kingswood Booth, the start of her European journey.

ARC1999_1_1_49

1910 Passion Play Medallion.

These charms were originally stored in a box, wrapped in tissue, and tied together on strings. This made viewing individual charms difficult and, being tied together, caused unnecessary abrasion and wear. I removed each charm from the string and placed it in its own compartment in an acid-free tray. So that the charms would not get jumbled when moving the box, each one was sewn to a piece of foam.

20190326_113612

Some of the “On-Hangers” in their new, archival housing.

20190326_113800

Edelweiss charm in its new housing. The number indicates that the object is in Archives (ARC), in the Virginia Kingswood Booth Vogel papers (1999.1), in the 1920 collection of charms (.1), and that this is the 61st charm (.61).

Look for more fascinating discoveries in the coming weeks, as more Archival Realia is cataloged and rehoused.

-Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: