Cranbrook Gets the Royal Treatment

Not once, but twice, Cranbrook has pulled out the figurative red carpet and with appropriate fanfare welcomed Swedish royalty to its campus. Anyone who knows and loves Cranbrook might not be all that surprised by this revelation. After all, Cranbrook is a very special place—the home of dozens of sculptures by Sweden’s celebrated sculptor Carl Milles, who lived and worked at Cranbrook for twenty years, as well as many tapestries woven by Loja Saarinen’s renowned Swedish weavers. But the larger Detroit community has also boasted a significant Swedish cultural presence.

While most Michiganders might be familiar with the role that Swedish immigrants played in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula mining and lumber industries, Swedes also played major roles in Detroit’s development, from the auto industry to the fine and performing arts. Not least of all were the contributions made by Milles, including his sculpture The Hand of God, which has stood in front of the city’s Frank Murphy Hall of Justice since 1970. The founding in 1963 of the Detroit Swedish Council by Charles J. Koebel (who, decades earlier, had commissioned Eliel Saarinen to design his family home in Grosse Pointe Farms), saw a concerted effort to promote Swedish culture in the area. It was likely the unique combination of Cranbrook’s artistic works and Detroit’s vibrant Swedish community that attracted visits from Sweden’s royal family on two separate occasions.

Program for the day’s activities. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

So it was that on October 26, 1972, Princess Christina of Sweden set foot on Cranbrook grounds as part of her two-week tour of the States. And sixteen years later, her brother and his wife, King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia, followed suit on April 18, 1988. Both visits focused largely on Carl Milles’ Cranbrook legacy, directly involved the Academy of Art and Art Museum, and were the result of collaborations between Cranbrook and the Detroit Swedish Council. Yet each visit had its own unique activities and sense of purpose.

Princess Christina’s schedule allowed for several hours at Cranbrook between the Art Museum and Cranbrook House. Beginning the visit with a ribbon cutting sponsored by the Academy Women’s Committee for the opening of the Museum’s North Gallery, the Princess previewed The Creative Spirit of Cranbrook: The Early Years, an exhibition featuring work by fellow Scandinavians Eliel and Loja Saarinen and Maija Grotell. In a Detroit Free Press article covering the event, Princess Christina was quoted saying that the exhibition “made her feel at home.”

“VISITING PRINCESS-Swedish Ambassador to the United States Hubert de Besche (left) stands with Princess Christina of Sweden and Arvid Lundell, President of the Detroit Swedish Council at Thursday’s ceremonies at Cranbrook Academy of Art.” Detroit Free Press photo and caption from an October 1972 article. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

That brief ceremony was followed by a three-hour Cranbrook House tea reception for 300 guests, sponsored by Henry Scripps and Carolyn Farr Booth and the Cranbrook Foundation. Henry and Carolyn’s son Stephen served as host for the event, which was capped off with a brief press conference where the Princess answered wardrobe and lifestyle questions: favorite color is green, often wears Swedish fashion, likes rock music, and works a regular day job at the Information Office of the Department of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. Attendees included several Booth family members, Heads of the Cranbrook Institutions, and the J. Robert F. Swanson family: wife Pipsan Saarinen Swanson and sons Robert and Ronald and their wives.

The visit ended with another reception for 400 guests back at the Art Museum, sponsored by the Detroit Swedish Council and featuring a special exhibit in the Princess’ honor of Carl Milles work from the Academy and private collections. National anthems were sung; introductions were made by the Ambassador for Sweden to the United States and the Royal Swedish Consul, State of Michigan; Swedish musical numbers were performed by the area’s Arpi Swedish Male Chorus; and Academy alumnus and faculty member Clifford B. West’s film on Milles screened continuously in the Lecture Hall.

The afternoon and evening festivities were crowned by Princess Christina’s presentation to the Academy of the Carl & Olga Milles Scholarship, established with a gift by the Detroit Swedish Council.

Announcement of the royal couple’s visit. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

The King and Queen’s schedule in 1988 unfortunately did not allow for the same lengthy visit at Cranbrook, coming as part of a fourteen-city cross country tour comprised of nearly 1,000 events celebrating the 350th anniversary of New Sweden, the first Swedish colony in America. While most of their time in Detroit was spent in the city proper at seminars, receptions, and banquets, the royal couple was able to spend an hour or two at Cranbrook Art Museum and Saarinen House. While this visit by the Swedish Royal Family was short, it wasn’t necessarily a low-key affair.

Ceremonies were held in front of the newly restored Orpheus Fountain. Flags adorned the peristyle during the king’s speech, which was followed by a program of Swedish music and a press conference. The nearly 300 attendees then headed inside the museum where the Queen dedicated an exhibition of portrait work by Olga Milles. While at the museum, the royal couple also viewed the exhibition, Faces of Swedish Design, representing an overview of contemporary Swedish design, and the Academy Student Degree Show. The royal couple were especially interested in the latter.

Guests around Orpheus Fountain. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Their enthusiasm for current Academy student work continued on their walk to Saarinen House following the Museum festivities. Stopping for an impromptu visit of the ceramics studio, the Queen appreciatively accepted a gift from student Bruce Winn of one of his pieces (now in the Stockholm Royal Palace collection).

The smaller, invitation-only reception at Saarinen House, hosted by Academy President Roy Slade in what was then his private residence, was again a collaboration with the Detroit Swedish Council. The packed house of distinguished guests ended the visit on a high note, even though overwhelming demand to see the royals left more than a few denied of entry, including a Michigan State Senator, standing outside in the chilly early spring air.

Academy President Roy Slade points out features of Milles’ Triton Pools to the King and Queen on their walk to Saarinen House. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Both visits successfully nurtured the long historical and cultural ties between the two countries, and specifically the honored role Cranbrook plays in that relationship. In correspondence with Roy Slade regarding the 1988 royal visit, Signe Karlstrom of the Detroit Swedish Council alludes to the happy association that played an important role in both notable visits: “As always, we are delighted to be at beautiful Cranbrook which through the years has meant so much to many of us of Swedish heritage.” Karlstrom is equally effusive in summing up the same warm sentiment felt by the Swedish Royal Family: “Of course, the King and Queen were delighted to see the Academy … [they] will also have happy memories from their visit to Cranbrook.”

Deborah Rice, Head Archivist, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

Editors Note: To learn more about Cranbrook’s Swedish Connections, join us for the May 22nd A Global House Party at Cranbrook and Millesgården! A fundraiser benefitting Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research, including Cranbrook Archives, highlights include the premier of a film on Milles produced exclusively for the event. Head to our website to learn more and purchase your tickets!

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