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.

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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

 

 

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