Of Provenance and Harmony

This is a story about the mistaken attribution of a quote, as told through the lens of archival provenance, that further deepened my own understanding and appreciation of the Cranbrook story. A researcher, referring to Cranbrook’s founder George Booth, once asked, “How did he do it? All of this! How do you motivate the finest artisans and craftsmen to come and help build a center for art and education?” It is a marvelous question, and surely one in which each inquirer may draw a different conclusion. When I get similar questions about how Cranbrook came to be, I always turn first to the words of George G. Booth himself, whether they be formalized in a trust document or business letter, crafted for a speech, or in the informal fluidity of a personal letter. Booth always acknowledged, in both his words and artistic compositions, the contributions of many, both contemporaneous and historic, in the building of Cranbrook . The image below shows a document included in the folders containing ‘Talks, 1902-1942’ in the Biographical series of the George G. Booth Papers. At some point during their administrative or archival custody, the talks were enumerated and this one is identified as number 21 with a circa date of 1936. Naturally, I have wondered exactly when and where he gave this talk.

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The Laying of a New Foundation for Cranbrook Institutions, a document included among the talks of George Gough Booth. Cranbrook Archives.

In my work at Cranbrook Archives, I have observed many times that the answers we find depend upon the phrasing or precision of the questions we ask. I have also learned to remain attentive to questions when I think I have exhausted the search, as oftentimes I have found an answer when I am no longer looking for it. I recently quoted from this talk to emphasize the trajectory from vision and ideal, through words, drawings, and activity to a tangible object or building:

“… the Cranbrook Foundation, dealing with things material and visible, rests in turn upon another foundation made up of things invisible – that is, of thought, vision, and ideals… No product of human hands exists which was not a thought before it became a thing.”

Shortly thereafter, I was researching two reference requests that took me into the Cranbrook series of the Samuel Simpson Marquis Papers, wherein I discovered the original version of the talk with pencil edits to truncate it for publication in The Cranbrook News Bulletin, September 1936. It was identified as a Commencement Address to Cranbrook School by Dr. S. S. Marquis on June 6, 1936. Along with it was a typescript version, the same as the one in Booth’s papers, and a letter from the Executive Secretary of the Cranbrook Foundation, William A. Frayer, which tells us that Marquis had encouraged Frayer to digest the talk for its publication.

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The Cranbrook News Bulletin, Vol. I, No. I, September 1936. Cranbrook Archives.

Although I had found my quote in a talk among those of George Booth, given to the Archives as part of his papers, here was definitive proof that it was actually part of an address given by Marquis! This discovery highlights the important, but sometimes misleading, concept of provenance of an archival collection, and how archivists continually refine understanding of their collections, even long after they are opened to researchers. In an archival setting, provenance relates to the administrative origin of a collection and ensures that the collection remains intact so that the records accumulated by one person or office are not intermingled with those of another. From an archival standpoint, the talk still belongs in Booth’s Papers, but will now be understood as something he collected rather than created. The principle of provenance dictates that it shall remain there, albeit with a note to advise future archivists and researchers of its authorship. We cannot know for certain how and when and by whose hand it came to be in his papers, but this new knowledge simply adds another layer to the relationship between Booth and Marquis, and the harmony of their thinking.

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Rev. Dr. Samuel Simpson Marquis, circa 1906-1915. Cranbrook Archives.

Booth had first met Marquis as the Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral and subsequently as visiting clergy when missionary services were conducted by Henry Wood Booth in the Meeting House (1918-1923). In October 1923, when the Meeting House began to be used for Bloomfield Hills School (later Brookside School Cranbrook), it was to Marquis that Booth turned with the idea of building a church and school. Moving to Bloomfield Hills the following year, Marquis remained part of the Cranbrook story as rector, teacher, trustee, and friend until his death in 1948.

Laura MacNewman, Associate Archivist

 

 

One thought on “Of Provenance and Harmony

  1. LAURA,

    A VERY INTERESTING ARTICLE!!!

    AS A VOLUNTEER AT ARCHIVES, YOU HAVE, AGAIN, EXPANDED MY KNOWLEDGE ABOUT THE MANY WAYS AN ARCHIVIST RESEARCHES A SUBJECT.

    LOIS HARSH

    Like

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