The Skyline is a Promise

Cranbrook Archives houses an impressive collection of motion picture films, many of which offer depictions of student life at Cranbrook Schools. These films uniquely capture what it was actually ‘like’ to be on campus at a given moment in time, and potentially present perspectives not captured in official written documentation. One such film, The Skyline is a Promise, from the Horizons-Upward Bound Records, is an excellent example.

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Filming on Cranbrook School campus, 1966. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

The Horizons-Upward Bound (HUB) program, then in its 2nd year, was self-described as “An Experimental Enrichment Program.” In conjunction with representatives from Detroit Public Schools and Oakland County Schools, the program’s objective was to provide low-income Detroit area high school students with opportunities for future success in academics and in life. The creation of Cranbrook School teacher, Ben Snyder, who served as its director for twenty-four years, HUB was the only program of its kind at that time.

Skyline was produced, directed, and filmed by Wayne State University Audio-Visual Productions during the summer of 1966, and was intended both as a promotional piece and an educational aid. The 16-minute short film captured every aspect of the program. Raymond Maloney, a HUB English instructor from Cranbrook School, wrote of the experience in the 1966 Annual Report: “At times, the dining hall, classrooms or dormitories took on all the aspects of a movie set complete with eighty-eight willing actors.” Students not only were eager participants in front of the camera but also learned about what was involved behind the camera, thanks to one of the film’s producers.

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Wayne State University film crew, 1966. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

Funding for the film was provided by an anonymous donor, supplemented by funds from the program’s Ford Foundation grant. According to a May 25, 1966 letter, the script was written by George H. Bouwman, Director of Development, Horace Mann School, Bronx, NY. The soundtrack was a mix of guitar music, sound effects, and voice-overs from both the narrator and student interviews, also conducted by the film crew. The film’s title was taken from The Wanderer of Liverpool by John Masefield, Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom (1930-1967):

Go forth to seek: the quarry never found

Is still a fever to the questing hound

The skyline is a promise, not a bound.

Beginning in the Summer of 1967, the film was circulated for a $5 rental fee throughout the U.S. (with accompanying report) to other independent schools considering establishing a similar program. Made at the suggestion of the National Association of Independent Schools, it was shown in its first year at 36 member schools in 18 states, 6 school conferences across the country, and 14 other organizations including the Education Departments of Wayne State University and the University of Michigan.

That same summer saw a watershed moment in Detroit history: civil unrest with profound ramifications for the city’s inhabitants, which included sixty Horizon students and their families. A full page in HUB’s 1967 Annual Report expresses appreciation to those who particularly helped navigate the complexities of the situation, including Detroit educators, clergy, business leaders, and local figures, such as Detroit Tigers player Al Kaline. Cranbrook would continue to have ties to Detroit institutions through its HUB program, like the relationship it formed with New Detroit in 1968. This summer, HUB will celebrate its 55th anniversary, remaining an important link between Cranbrook and its Metro Detroit neighbors.

Fifty-four years later, Skyline transcends its original intent and gives us a window into the experiences of a specific group of students at Cranbrook during a tumultuous time in our region’s history. The film, like many others in the Archives, is currently undergoing review for reformatting to digital media for access and preservation of the originals, so that their stories are not lost to future generations.

Deborah Rice, Head Archivist

A New Cranbrook House

January has been busy with research for my upcoming History of American Architecture: Cranbrook in Context lecture series. In preparing for the first lecture, which examines Cranbrook House and the larger Arts and Crafts movement, I found myself deep in the Archives looking through the architectural sketches of George Booth.

Around 1932, George Booth considered converting Cranbrook House into a home for both the Art Museum and the Institute of Science. With this proposal, the Booths would need a new “Cranbrook House.”

Mr. Booth sketched two plans for building south of the existing manor home, in the meadow along Lone Pine Road.

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Caption written by George Gough Booth in pencil at a later date: “Scheme for a moderate sized residence for G.G.B. & E.S.B. on lawn directly south of Cranbrook House facing Lone Pine Road, by G.G.B. 1932 & considered in connection with plan to turn Large Residence over to Foundation for Educational Purposes. Museum—Library—School of Music, etc. etc.” Cranbrook Archives.

The simple, rectangular house is strikingly similar to the original plan of Cranbrook House from 1908 (before its 1918 and 1922 expansions), rotated 180 degrees. A front vestibule opens into a cross gallery, centered on a fireplace. Beyond is a long, 18 by 32 foot living room. A library and large dining room flank either side, with the only other public room being a reception hall.

A stairway surrounding an elevator shaft connects to a second floor with two bedrooms (one for George and one for Ellen) joined by a sitting room, again mirroring the original configuration of rooms at Cranbrook House. Even the double bay windows of the bedrooms match the double bay windows on the northern plan of Cranbrook House.

The problem of symmetrical houses is that not everything generally fits in a pleasingly symmetrical way. George’s solution to this problem, like many architects before and since, is to add a service wing for the kitchen, maids’ rooms, and storage.

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Caption written by George Gough Booth in pencil at a later date: “Suggestion for personal house (?) South of homestead.” c. 1932. Cranbrook Archives.

In what I presume to be a later sketch, the plan is further refined. Here, the vestibule sits more comfortably under the stairway, leading guests directly into the long gallery and living room beyond–one would see directly from the front door out of the living room window. The proportions of this proposed house are smaller, and the service wing substantially smaller (and even appears added on by Booth as a later sketch). The entire house is more symmetrical and regular, and there are fewer service spaces.

Had the Booths moved out of Cranbrook House, what did George envision happening with the space? Well, Booth sketched ideas of how Cranbrook House would be converted into an educational facility.

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Proposed modifications and additions to Cranbrook House, for its conversion to use by the Institute of Science and Art Museum, by George Gough Booth, c. 1932. Cranbrook Archives.

The first floor of the house remained largely intact (though another plan shows subdividing the reception hall for offices). The kitchens were to be removed and converted to galleries, and the living room and sunset porch converted to a conference room and lounge. West of the 1918 Library wing offices was to be a large room for the Cranbrook Foundation and then a very large building of smaller rooms, including a library and assembly room. It is unclear what the smaller rooms are, but in one plan, they are drawn identically to Booth’s sketches for the Institute of Science’s research wing.

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Proposed “Forum” (Observatory) on the “Mountain” south of Cranbrook House, sketch by George Gough Booth. Detail from the above plan. Cranbrook Archives.

The idea that Booth intended portions of the house to be dedicated to the Institute is further supported by what might be my favorite of George Booth’s unrealized plans for Cranbrook House: the transformation of the reproduction Fountain of the Tritons atop the “Mountain” south of the auto court into an observatory!

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Proposed modifications to the second floor of Cranbrook House for its use as gallery space, by George Gough Booth, c. 1925-1935. Cranbrook Archives.

On the second floor, the series of family bedrooms and bathrooms, as well as the warren of service spaces, would have been cleared out, windows boarded up, and a series of interconnected galleries created. The bedrooms (not bathrooms) of George and Ellen were to remain intact as offices–previews to their use now as Cranbrook’s President’s suite of offices.

While the Booths did eventually leave Cranbrook House and its contents to the Cranbrook Foundation, they remained living in the house until their deaths in 1948 and 1949. The area where George proposed building their new residence is today the location of the Cranbrook House Parking Lot.

You never know what you’ll find in Cranbrook Archives!

Kevin Adkisson, Curatorial Associate

Alger Munt: Cranbrook’s English Gardener

When sifting through images to post on the Center’s Facebook page, I often come across an image of someone and wonder, “How did this person end up at Cranbrook?” This week, that “someone” is Alger Munt.

Alger Munt working in the greenhouse at Cranbrook, October 1950.

Alger Munt working in the greenhouse at Cranbrook, October 1950. Photo by Harvey Croze. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Algernon George Munt (“Alger”) was born in St. Albans, Hertfordshire, England in 1894. From the age of 14, he worked as a gardener on estates near his hometown. When he was 18, he started work manufacturing straw hats in one of the area factories. Soon, his country called and he joined the army, serving in the Royal Field Artillery during World War I. After the war, he did not return to the factory but resumed gardening instead.

Munt came to America in 1921 to work for his uncle William Munt in St. Clair, Michigan, in the commercial greenhouse business. He would work for his uncle for eight years. In 1926, Munt briefly returned to England to marry Grace Barker Skinner (1898-1981) of Ware, Southampton, Hampshire, England.

Munt soon tired of the greenhouse business and came to the Birmingham-Bloomfield area to become a gardener on a private estate. Based on census information and Munt’s oral history account in Cranbrook Archives, the “private estate” was Strandcrest, the estate of lumberman Carl A. Strand, which boasted 14.3 acres, fruit trees, and a caretaker’s residence.

It was in 1936 that Munt came to work at Cranbrook. He was a gardener at Cranbrook from 1936 to 1941. From October 1941 to December 1942, Munt worked at Spindletop Hall in Lexington, Kentucky.

George G. Booth had told Munt in 1941 that he didn’t want him to go but that anytime he wanted to make a change—if things did not work out in Kentucky—get in contact with him. When Spindletop Hall had to switch to economy/war-mode in 1942, Munt took Mr. Booth up on his offer and returned to Cranbrook as a gardener and part-time chauffeur. His wife Grace worked as a laundress for the Booths.

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Alger and Grace Munt, circa 1965. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

By the 1950s, Munt was the Superintendent of the Greenhouse and Grounds at Cranbrook, and his wife was working as a maid in the dormitories at Cranbrook Academy of Art.

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The Munts lived in Twin Cottage on the estate, pictured here in 1957, when they returned to Cranbrook in 1942 until their retirement in 1966. Photo by Harvey Croze. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

The Munts retired from Cranbrook in August 1966 and they moved back to England, intending to settle in Cornwall. Unfortunately, Munt died suddenly in November 1966, just short of his 72nd birthday.

Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar

 

New Archival Collection: the Melvyn Maxwell and Sara Evelyn Smith Papers

Cranbrook Archives is delighted to announce that the Melvyn Maxwell and Sara Evelyn Smith Papers are now open for research. This archival collection was acquired as part of the Frank Lloyd Wright Smith House, which was donated to Cranbrook in 2017 by the Towbes Foundation with assistance from Anne Smith Towbes. Melvyn and Sara were schoolteachers who dreamed of building a Frank Lloyd Wright designed home – a dream that was realized in 1950. They cherished their dream home and adorned it with art objects which they bought from local artists, including Cranbrook Art Academy students and artists-in-residence. Over the years they welcomed many visitors, students, and guests into their home, including Frank Lloyd Wright himself and the landscape architect, Thomas Church.

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Frank Lloyd Wright’s entry in the Smiths’ guest book, 1951. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

The collection documents the personal and professional life of the Smiths, as well as their many contributions to the community through patronage of the arts, including theater and performing arts. It documents the construction and adornment of the house, as well as its preservation as a historic home and renovation under the Towbes Foundation. It also contains a rare and unique collection of news clippings and periodicals, spanning from 1937 to 2016, about Frank Lloyd Wright and his work .

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Letter from Sara to Melvyn Smith, July 1940. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Melvyn Maxwell Smith aspired to be an architect. After graduating Northern High School in Detroit, Michigan, he was accepted into the School of Architecture at the University of Michigan. However, due to the economic depression, his parents suggested he attend Wayne University College of Education until his brother had completed his degree in dentistry. Much inspired by an English teacher, Miss Boyer, in his first semester, Melvyn decided to pursue a career in teaching, and remained at the university to pursue a doctorate. Melvyn’s architectural aspirations were instead to manifest in his life in quite a different way than he had first anticipated. In an art history class taught by Jane Betsey Welling, Melvyn learned of Frank Lloyd Wright. This was the beginning of a lifelong love of Wright’s work and the pursuit of Melvyn’s dream home. After graduating, Melvyn became a teacher at Cody High School in Detroit, where he remained for his entire career of 38 years. He later became a board member of the Wayne State University Alumni Association and created the Betsey Welling Memorial Court for which he donated the sculpture, In Lieu, by Robert Schefman.

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Melvyn, Sara and Robert Scheffman in front of Scheffman’s sculpture, In Lieu, at Wayne State University, 1977. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Sara Evelyn Stein was born in Pennsylvania and moved to Detroit during her childhood. She met Melvyn at the B’nai Moshe Sunday School in 1937 and they were married in 1940. Sara had dreamed of being an actress, but she too joined the teaching profession and trained to be a kindergarten teacher. As it had been for Melvyn, Sara’s theatrical aspirations were fulfilled in a different way than her young mind had envisioned, namely an enthusiasm for teaching the performing arts to others. She was deeply involved in community theaters, including the Popcorn Players at Birmingham Community House and the Cranbrook Theatre School. Both Melvyn and Sara were passionate supporters of all the arts and actively worked to cultivate and sustain the arts in Detroit, Bloomfield Hills, and the surrounding communities.

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Frank Lloyd Wright Smith House, August 1960. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Sara shared Melvyn’s dream of a Frank Lloyd Wright designed home. In 1941, they traveled to Lake Louise and Banff National Park in Alberta. Their journey took them through Wisconsin, where they were able to visit Taliesin, the home and studio of Frank Lloyd Wright, and meet with the architect himself. Melvyn later recalled that during the visit, Wright had advised him to find land that no one else wants because it will likely have an interesting natural feature. In 1942, Melvyn joined the US Army and it would be 1946 before he returned to Detroit. Sara was able to join him for much of the time and their son, Robert “Bobby” Nathaniel Smith, was born in 1944. Having located a property upon which to build their home on Ponvalley Road in Bloomfield Township, they began work in 1949. The house was completed in 1950, and Wright visited the house for the first time in 1951, calling it “My Little Gem.” He visited several more times – among the highlights of this collection are his entries in the guest books. Also included in the collection are two books signed by Wright (there are more than 900 books in the Center’s cultural properties collection at Smith House, which may be made available for research in the Archives reading room by request).

The Smiths welcomed countless guests and visitors to their home, providing house tours for local community groups as well as architectural schools. The collection also contains an abundance of thank you letters in gratitude for the hospitality of the Smiths. Many visitors thank Sara for her gift of sharing joy.

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Letter to Melvyn and Sara Smith from Wayne State University Theatre, 1973. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

The Melvyn Maxwell and Sara Evelyn Smith Papers tell the story of the Smiths’ home and of the lives of the couple who dreamed the home. The Smiths were not only teachers in the classroom: through their tenacity, generosity, and sheer joy of living, they inspired countless people who visited their home or met them through their artistic and philanthropic endeavors. As the Smiths’ home is preserved just as it was when they lived in it, their zeal to share and teach is perpetuated. This collection is a fine example of how the team at the Center for Collections and Research works together to tell the story of Cranbrook through historic houses, cultural properties, and archival materials.

The Frank Lloyd Wright Smith House is a must-see. Find out more about house tours here. If you’ve already been, consider going again in a different season to see the changing blend of architecture and nature that is pure Frank Lloyd Wright.

–Laura MacNewman, Associate Archivist

 

Cranbrook Kitchen Sink: Best of 2019

2019 was a banner year for the Cranbrook Kitchen Sink blog. Thanks to readers like you sharing our posts by email, Facebook, and word of mouth, in 2019 we increased our readership to 25,000 views (up from 16,081 in 2018). While most of our readers are here in the U.S., we also have readers in Canada, the United Kingdom, Finland, France, Hong Kong, and beyond!

Here are ten of our most viewed (and favorite) blog posts of the year. In no particular order, take a look back and catch up on posts you might have missed:

Green Book, Don Shirley, and Henry Booth Our first post from the Center’s Director Greg Wittkopp was a runaway success, becoming our most read post—ever! Learn about the connection between jazz pianist Don Shirley, Kingswood, and Cranbrook’s own Henry Booth.

The Day Cranbrook Went Bananas Did you know the Academy of Art has an undefeated intercollegiate football team? And not because we’ve never had a football team: in the fall of 1970, the Cranbrook Bananas defeated the Art Institute of Chicago Hog Butchers in a game at Thompson Oval.

Loja Saarinen: Lady of Fashion In a year with more posts about Loja Saarinen than any other subject, readers loved Collections Interpreter Lynette Mayman’s focus on the fashion of Cranbrook’s ur-weaver. In other posts, you can read about Loja’s monumental Sermon on the Mount weaving, the murals on the ceiling of her Weaving Room, or how we moved a loom from Kingswood to Saarinen House.

Saarinen (and Students) Expand a Masterpiece Did you know Eliel Saarinen intended to add on to the Art Museum, around the Orpheus Fountain? View his drawing–and how the Academy and Museum have actually grown–in this post.

To See a World in a Grain of Sand Associate Archivist Laura MacNewman took a deep dive into the magnificent Women’s Window at Christ Church Cranbrook. Learn the history of the work, and click on each pane of the window to see an expanded image and a detailed description of each woman featured.

Cranbrook Unseen: My Senior May Experience One of our most shared and read posts of the year was from our Cranbrook Schools Senior May student intern, Desai Wang, who wrote about her work cleaning, sorting, moving, scanning, and learning with the Center for Collections and Research.

Sunscreen for Smith House: UV Window Film Here, Associate Registrar Leslie Mio talks about installing protective film at Saarinen and Smith Houses in order to reduce heat and sun damage.

Lisa Frank’s Cranbrook Years Learn about the colorful life of 1990s school supply icon and Kingswood alumna Lisa Frank, known for her rainbow world of puppies, pandas, and unicorns.

Hibernation Mode Head Archivist Deborah Rice showed us some of the amazing plant photographs and illustrations in the Archives from the Institute of Science in this post celebrating the beauty and botany of autumn.

The A-maize-ing Frank Lloyd Wright Finally, a post that was widely shared on Facebook: Wright’s visit to the Smith House and the story of Sara’s serving him corn on the cob!

Map of Cranbrook from 1973 Catalog by Edward Fella

Our most opened (clicked) image in 2019 was this map of Cranbrook. Read more about it here. Map of Cranbrook drawn by Edward Fella (CAA Design 1987), 1972. Printed on the inside cover of the 1973/1975 Cranbrook Academy of Art Course Catalog. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

2019 was a great year for Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research. We are honored so many of you, our readers, joined us on Cranbrook’s campus to attend tours, lectures, exhibitions, and concerts; rode along with us on Day Away trips; or visited Cranbrook Archives to research, volunteer, and explore. If you’re a reader from farther afield, thank you for following our blog and for your continued interest in the many Cranbrook stories. We hope everyone has enjoyed learning more about Cranbrook through the Kitchen Sink!

In addition to continuing our Friday blog posts, the Center has lots of exciting programming coming up in 2020. You can be the first to find out about Center events through our emails (if you’re not subscribed, you can join here), or on the Center’s website.

Happy New Year!

– Kevin Adkisson, Curatorial Associate and Cranbrook Kitchen Sink Blogmaster

 

 

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