Enduring Traditions: The Festival of Gifts

Next year will mark the 90th celebration of the Festival of Gifts at Christ Church Cranbrook – as the church also celebrates its 90th anniversary in 2018. Henry Scripps Booth wrote, produced, and participated in a nativity play at St. James Church in Birmingham prior to the building of Christ Church. With the establishment of the new parish, Booth suggested that the two combine efforts in a special Christmas program. According to documentation in the Henry Scripps and Carolyn Farr Booth papers, “the cooperation turned out to be in name only.”

Festival of Gifts order of procession and liturgy, 1928. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

The Festival of Gifts is an adaptation of the St. James play, with a procession of the entire congregation to the nativity tableau followed by the entrance of the Holy Family, shepherds, and wise men as the story of the birth of Christ is read. As the congregation proceeds to the altar they lay gifts at the manger, which are then distributed to local families in need.

Some of the original festival costumes were re-purposed from the 1916 Cranbrook Masque and others were purchased by Henry Scripps Booth in Tunisia in 1922. Originally a doll was laid in the manger, but at some point, the decision was made to cast an infant from the parish. Animals have also been a part of the event, however, according to Henry Scripps Booth, “Brighty” (star of Stephen Booth’s movie Brighty of the Grand Canyon) made the greatest impression!

Gina Tecos, Archivist

Eat, Greek, and Be Merry: the Greek Theatre Turns 100!

Drama and arts and crafts have been intertwined in Detroit history for more than 100 years. Under the auspices of the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts (DSAC), on January 19th 1910, May Morris (daughter of William Morris) captivated a capacity crowd at the Detroit Museum of Art with her illustrated lecture “Pageantry and the Mask.” Morris’s presentation helped mark a turning point in propelling Detroit onto the national stage as an arts and crafts center. Almost immediately after May Morris left Detroit, Alexandrine McEwen, a bookplate artist and founding member of the DSAC, penned what was termed a “modern immorality play” called Everywoman with characters named “Suffrage” and “Art.” Less than a month later, she wrote The Masque of Arcadia, another outdoor play held on the grounds of Clairview, J.L. Hudson’s Grosse Pointe estate. These performances led to the DSAC being the first to foster a little theatre as part of their program.

By 1914, George Booth (the first president of the DSAC) already had plans in mind for a bathing pavilion and a theatre on the hill overlooking Cranbrook House. (My own suspicion is that he did not like the fact that the DSAC performances were not held on HIS estate!) In early 1915, Booth commissioned Canadian architect Marcus Burrowes to draw up the plans for an outdoor Greek Theatre. The open-air amphitheater, constructed of stone, seats nearly 300 people and was described in contemporary news articles as a “gem of architecture” and a “temple of art.” By May 1916, landscaping was underway and red tulips graced the front of the bathing pavilion.

Invitation Card, The Cranbrook Masque, June 1916. George Gough Booth Papers.

Invitation Card, The Cranbrook Masque, June 1916. George Gough Booth Papers.

Meanwhile, the DSAC was planning the production of The Cranbrook Masque which would also serve as the public dedication for the new Greek Theatre. The play showed the development of drama from ancient to modern times in five episodes, emulating May Morris’s lecture theme from 1910. For more on the play, see an earlier blog post.

Greek Theater masque, 1916

The Cranbrook Masque at the Greek Theatre, 1916. Hand-tinted glass slide.

Fast forward to 1991 and the 75th anniversary of the Greek Theatre. A team of dedicated Cranbrook staff, historians, and theater enthusiasts initiated the restoration of the Greek Theatre and a contemporary production, using the script from the original Masque, this time with cast members from St. Dunstan’s Guild and dancers from Jessie Sinclair’s Cranbrook Kingswood Dancers.

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Cranbrook House sunken garden (originally called the kitchen garden) with staked tomato plants, ca 1915.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Greek Theatre and a long-standing tradition of theater programs at Cranbrook. In honor of this memorable event, the Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research will be presenting “Edible Landscapes: A Midsummer Night’s Dinner.”

Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

Six Degrees of Separation, Again

Every Sunday night I look forward to watching “Who Do You Think You Are?” A show that combines historical research, genealogy, and archives all in one? Perfect for a research geek like me. This past Sunday, actor Tony Goldwyn was the featured celebrity seeking to uncover his roots. I never realized that his paternal grandfather is THE Samuel Goldwyn! And even more surprisingly is that his maternal grandfather is Sidney Coe Howard. I bolted upright in my chair when I heard that name as, of course, Howard has a Cranbrook connection!

Howard (1891-1939) was the American playwright and screenwriter best known as the posthumous winner of the 1939 Academy of Award for adaptation of the screen play for Gone with the Wind. However, 23 years earlier, Howard penned the script for the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts (DSAC) production, The Cranbrook Masque. Commissioned by George Booth at the suggestion of director Sam Hume, Howard wrote the Masque as the dedication program for Booth’s new Greek Theatre at Cranbrook. Howard and Hume sought to utilize every part of the theatre in order to demonstrate its possibilities. Costumes were designed and made at Cranbrook by the costume department of the DSAC, led by Katherine McEwen, and were fitted to the actors onsite.

The Costume for Orpheus is part of Cranbrook's Cultural Properties collection.

The Costume for Orpheus is part of Cranbrook’s Cultural Properties collection.

The Cranbrook Masque tells the story of the conflict between romance and materialism, and was expressed through five episodes showing the development of drama throughout the ages – ancient Greece, medieval Europe, Elizabethan England, and 17th century Italy. Through research and travel in Europe, Howard was able to gather material to ensure the historical accuracy of both the scenes and the dialogue. A contemporary news critic wrote “the use of archaic words and the introduction of long-forgotten customs are said by experts to be flawless.” Howard also made use of the natural outdoor setting of the Greek Theatre for special effects. In the first episode, timed at sunset, Pan made his appearance silhouetted against the backdrop of the setting sun. As the light faded, a sophisticated artificial lighting system, designed by Hume, was gradually introduced.

Correspondence to Frederick Alexander

Correspondence to Frederick Alexander, music director of the Cranbrook Masque. Cranbrook Archives.

The performance ran for two consecutive nights in June 1916, and the theatre was filled to capacity with more than 500 guests. The Cranbrook Masque was the first public production of Sidney Coe Howard’s, yet he did not attend the performance. Though the Booths invited Howard to visit Cranbrook, he sailed for France in early June to serve as an ambulance driver for the duration of WWI.

  • Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

Fashioning Architecture

In 1931, attendees at the Beaux-Arts Ball in New York came dressed to impress. An annual party thrown by the Society of Beaux-Arts Architects, the ball featured a different theme each year. 1931’s theme of “Fete Moderne — a Fantasie [sic] in Flame and Silver” was inspired by the New York skyline and the iconic skyscrapers that had recently come to define it. Fully committing to the theme, many guests came dressed as famous New York buildings. In this photo William Van Alen holds center court as the Chrysler Building (of which he was the architect) while other personified buildings crowd around him.

William Van Alen as the Chrysler Building, with other masquerading architects around him. On the far right is Joseph Freelander as the Museum of the City of New York.  Source: NY Times/untappedcities.com.

William Van Alen as the Chrysler Building, with other masquerading architects around him. On the far right is Joseph Freelander as the Museum of the City of New York. Source: NY Times/untappedcities.com.

 

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Five Things in Four Years: A Cranbrook Goodbye*

I’m not a hugely sentimental person, but I am a nostalgic one (I swear, there’s a difference). As I leave Cranbrook after four years here to embark on the next phase of my career, I can’t help but think about all the different places on campus I will miss. Here are my top five:

Cranbrook House, 1925.  Cranbrook Archives.

Cranbrook House, 1925. Cranbrook Archives.

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