Art in the Time of War: Cranbrook’s Monuments Men

Monuments Men, opening today in theaters, chronicles the efforts of men and women in the US military to protect and preserve Europe’s artistic and cultural patrimony during World War II. Directed by George Clooney, the film has brought to national attention the work of these non-traditional soldiers, arts and cultural professionals who recognized that while the world was tangled in a struggle that engulfed countries and cost thousands of lives, the art and artifacts prized for centuries by those communities were equally at risk.

With the renewed attention to the work of the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Section (MFAA)—nicknamed the “Monuments Men”—has come the realization at museums across the country that many of their early directors and curators were active members of the MFAA during World War II.  At Cranbrook we’ve uncovered the stories of two Monuments Men who played a role in our own history.

Robert S. Davis at Cranbrook, 1942. Cranbrook Archives.

Richard S. Davis at Cranbrook, 1942. Cranbrook Archives.

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When the March Winds Blow

It is hard to think of Spring during this week of frigid temperatures, but I promise it is coming. Soon, the Cranbrook House and Gardens Auxilary will be out planting their gardens around Cranbrook House. In honor of the coming Spring, this week I share George G. Booth’s feelings on planting from his Pleasures of Planting and Other Thoughts which was printed by the Cranbrook Press in 1902.

George G. Booth, The Pleasures of Planting and Other Thoughts, Title Page. Printed by The Cranbrook Press and finished on August 30, 1902. Courtesy of Cranbrook Academy of Art Library.

George G. Booth, The Pleasures of Planting and Other Thoughts, Title Page. Printed by The Cranbrook Press and finished on August 30, 1902. Courtesy of Cranbrook Academy of Art Library.

The Cranbrook Press was established in the unused attic space in the Shelby Street office of the Detroit Evening News in 1900. In two short years, the Press produced nine books. Pleasures of Planting was one of three books written by George Booth printed on the Press. In it, he writes:

Don’t, I pray you, envy the man who has builded a house, or reared a monument in marble or granite; for I say unto you most truly that the cap-stone has no sooner been let unto its place and the builder attained the joy he dreamed of, than the work of his hands begins to decay and crumble before his eyes.

Portrait of Ellen S. and George G. Booth in the Oak Room at Cranbrook House. Photo by PD Rearick.

Portrait of Ellen S. and George G. Booth in the Oak Room at Cranbrook House. Photo by PD Rearick.

Choose, rather, for yourself the most delightful and beneficial of exercises, and plant. Plant when the March winds blow – plant when the gentle rains of springtime pour blessings on the earth – plant where the mother of us all permits it. Work not for glory in cold bricks and stone alone, but plant living things, and watch with joy the increasing glory of your labor.

Cranbrook House Dining Room with flowers on the table

Cranbrook House Dining Room. Photo by PD Rearick.

Stone, and iron, and brass cannot put flowers at the bedside of the sick, nor fill the air with odors of sweetness or furnish a soft and coll bed for the birds; neither will the grandest monumental piles fill the heart of the poet with sweetest songs or make us feel so truly that “God is good;” but under spreading branches of the trees rest is found, love flourishes, and all humanity drinks at the well of life.

Where ever you go, plant – rear monuments of elm and maples, of poplars and beech, and trees bearing fruit, and plant on your right hand and on your left the rose, lilac, snow-ball and syringa. Strew at your feet the sweet, life-giving flowers of summer, and live out your days in happiness.

Cranbrook House and Gardens Auxiliary volunteers plant in the Sunken Garden. Photo by Eric Franchy, Cranbrook House & Gardens.

Cranbrook House and Gardens Auxiliary volunteers plant in the Sunken Garden. Photo by Eric Franchy, Cranbrook House & Gardens.

There is something magnificent in such work. It fills the earth with beautiful scenes; wealth is added to the land, which grows richer daily; “there is something in it like the work of creation.”

Cranbrook House and Gardens Auxiliary volunteers plant in the gardens around Cranbrook House. Photo by Eric Franchy, Cranbrook House & Gardens.

Cranbrook House and Gardens Auxiliary volunteers plant in the gardens around Cranbrook House. Photo by Eric Franchy, Cranbrook House & Gardens.

Plant and see your plantation arriving at greater degrees of perfection as long as you live. If you want to be helpful; if you love your country; if you have regard for posterity – plant. You cannot be excused if you fail in this duty. Just put a few twigs in the ground and do good to one who will make his appearance in the world fifty years hence, or perhaps make one of your descendants easy or rich at such a trifling cost.

“If man find himself averse to planting, he must indeed be void of all generous principles and love of mankind,” and so I say unto you – Plant.

– Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar

The Devil Made Him Do It

In a grassy meadow (once called “Frisbee Valley”) at the bottom of Suicide Hill is a line of boulders – a sculpture colloquially known as Snake Rock. Actually titled “Lucifer Landing (Real Snake in Imaginary Garden)” or Lucifer Landing for short, the sculpture was designed by American artist Richard Nonas using thirty-nine boulders which zigzag in a serpentine line. One could describe the boulder with the sharp-angled end as resembling the head of a snake, while the rest of the boulders (relatively the same height as each other) taper to the tail section, which appear like rattles. While some think the boulders, which weigh a collective seventy tons!, were found on Cranbrook’s grounds, they were actually acquired in Clarkston, Michigan and represent a cross-section of the type of rocks deposited by the glaciers in Oakland County.

Richard Nonas, 1989. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives, Jane Knirr photographer.

Nonas was invited by Cranbrook Academy of Art’s Head of Sculpture, Michael Hall, to join other major artists like Alice Aycock, Mark DiSuvero, Dennis Oppenheim, and Robert Stackhouse in exhibiting temporary sculpture installations across campus. Funded by the Academy of Art Women’s Committee and Gilbert and Lila Silverman, Lucifer Landing was installed in 1989 – the first sculpture to be placed on campus since the 1970s. Twenty Academy of Art students helped put the boulders in place.

Trained as an archaeologist, Nonas was known for sitting abstract works in wood, stone, or metal directly on the ground. He said “it amused me to place something at Cranbrook that [Eliel] Saarinen might have seen as a child in Finland. There are prehistoric stone monuments near his boyhood home.” While working on the sculpture, Nonas developed a great respect for Cranbrook’s sense of place, and wanted to construct a small form that changed as you walked by and around it – a “sculpture that activates its space, that confuses you a little, keeps you involved in it as you walk past it.” A form that looked almost natural but really couldn’t be.

Lucifer Landing, October 2017. Photograph by the author.

The sculpture’s title suggests the relationship between man and not-man, man and nature, and nature as it was before man. Nonas described how Lucifer, the rebel angel who was expelled from heaven, came to Cranbrook and left an intrusive mark in the Cranbrook landscape, creating an “itch he [Saarinen] couldn’t scratch.”

NOTE: For an excellent article “A Mark of Place: Lucifer Landing Past, Present and Future” on the mistaken dismantling of the sculpture in February 1999, see The Crane-Clarion’s June 1999 issue. Cranbrook Kingswood senior and associate editor Erica Friedman discussed the Cranbrook landscape and how we must face the “problem of destruction passing for progress” – a topic many Americans, including those at Cranbrook, continue to face today.

Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

Making Wartime History Come Alive

Last spring I gave a presentation about Cranbrook during World War II to the 8th grade history classes at the Girls Middle School. So, when our blogmaster asked for a post this week about WWII, I thought I would share that experience. After working in the archives for more than 14 years, I knew we had a myriad of materials relevant to WWII and I was excited to share these stories with the 8th grade girls. I was hopeful that it would help make a part of history more real to them. I began by asking each class (there were four that day!) how many thought Cranbrook was affected in ANY way by the war? Throughout the day, maybe 8 of the nearly 60 girls raised their hands. While I was surprised, I was also excited to enlighten them.

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Other ways in which the Cranbrook community supported war relief efforts included the British Children Refugee program, the Finnish War Relief Fund, and the Red Cross and Victory Book Drives

Cranbrook’s war-related activities were far-reaching – from Cranbrook School boys practicing military drills on the football field to Academy of Art ceramicist Maija Grotell who collected sweaters and unraveled them to repurpose into balls of yarn that she sent to families in Finland. War Bond drives were held at each of the school campuses, the Booth family closed off the west wing of Cranbrook House to conserve fuel due to rationing, and a previous blog post highlights one of Cranbrook’s own Monuments Men.  The 8th grade girls were particularly amused by the photograph of the Red Cross class which was held at Kingswood School, and that girls their same ages had collected waste fat from the school dining hall. There were a lot of “EWW!s”

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Cranbrook School Scrapbook, April 1942

I told the girls about the war memorial plaque which hangs at the base of Hoey tower and lists the names of all 678 Cranbrook School alumni who served in the war, including the 37 who lost their lives. We talked about the Cranbrook Committee on Civilian Defense and the air raid sirens/drills on campus, and how students from both Cranbrook and Kingswood Schools entertained the troops at Selfridge Air Force Base.

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Cranbrook had air raid sirens in numerous locations across campus.

At the end of each class, I asked the girls again how many thought Cranbrook was affected by World War II, and nearly all of them raised their hands. It was gratifying to be able to share primary source documents from our collections to help bring history out of the textbook and onto the campus. I’m looking forward to teaching again this school year!

Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

 

Object in Focus: “The Spirit of Nursing” Monument

Army-Navy Nurse Memorial

The Army-Navy Nurse Memorial, 1938. Cranbrook Archives.

Although there are many connections to Veteran’s Day within the Cranbrook community, the story I would like to share today is about a woman who left behind a Hollywood movie and stage career to serve her country. Frances Rich (1910-2007)  enlisted in the United States Naval Reserve during World War II and left a lasting legacy for all who visit Arlington National Cemetery.

The daughter of silent film star Irene Rich and the adopted daughter of naval officer Charles Rich, Frances was born in Spokane, WA in 1910. She received her bachelor’s degree in English Literature from Smith College in 1931. Between the years of 1932-1933, Rich appeared in six Hollywood films and one Broadway play. During this time she also became very interested in sculpture and started taking drawing, fresco painting, and clay carving classes in Paris, Rome, and Boston.

While in Paris, Rich met the sculptress Malvina Hoffman (1885-1966) and studied with her for two years. Upon returning to the United States, she continued to hone her craft at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Between 1937-1940 she studied sculpture with Carl Milles at Cranbrook Academy of Art, whom she worked with for 18 years.

In 1942, Rich enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve as a Lieutenant Jr. Grade. She served as the Special Assistant to Mildred McAfee (1900-1994), director of WAVES (Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service). Prior to her enlistment, and while a student at Cranbrook, Rich sculpted the Army-Navy Nurse Memorial (1938). One of her best-known works, the 10-foot high statue was made from Tennessee marble and commemorated nurses who died during military service. The statue resides at Arlington National Cemetery and is often referred to as the “Spirit of Nursing” monument.

Frances Rich working on sculpture

Frances Rich working on the Army-Navy Nurse Memorial at Cranbrook, 1938. Cranbrook Archives.

Today, along with all of the men and women who have bravely served our country, we salute Frances Rich.

Gina Tecos, Archivist

Object in Focus: Gone but Not Forgotten

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Grave of Buddy. Photo taken by Cheri Gay.

Taking a stroll one day on the grounds of the Thornlea Studio (where Cranbrook Archives was previously housed) I was startled to come across small tombstones, almost buried in the grass. What were these, I wondered? Seeing the names, I immediately understood: Buddy, Homer, Perky, Heinie, Fellow, Ricky, Zorah—a pet cemetery, which had seen better days.

Thornlea Studio was the artistic lair of Henry Scripps Booth, who designed and placed the building across the wide expanse of lawn from his home Thornlea. The family actually lived in the studio in 1949 when “… our daughter Melinda was a student at Kingswood. She was embarrassed by our living in “such a big house” and prevailed on her mother to close the house and move across the lawn to the Studio.”

The Henry Scripps Booth and Carolyn Farr Booth Papers document six dogs, almost all black and tan German shepherds. Receipts from Sheldon Granite Co. in Detroit reveal they made the monuments for Heinie, Perky and the lyrically named, Homer the Wanderer. A 1961 notebook paper receipt identifies Albert Leipold, of Birmingham, as the stone carver for Fellow’s monument for $40.

Mike

Henry Scripps Booth with Mike, 1912. Cranbrook Archives.

Buddy 1929

Buddy at Thornlea, 1929. Cranbrook Archives.

When Henry was growing up, the Booth family had beagles, Prince and Mike, and a great Dane, Ginger. Mike, according to Henry, “ … loved having a fuss made over him, one time going so far as being pushed around in a doll carriage while wearing a canvas hat.” Oh to have a photograph of that! When Henry had his own family, black and tan German shepherds predominated.

Henry’s photo albums, called Pleasures of Life, include 17 different dogs, though not all are his. His hand-written captions under the photographs always give the dog’s name followed by (dog) in case there’s any doubt, for example, in a photo of Cynthia and Curlytail, who is who.

Though the grounds and building of the Thornlea Studio are maintained, unfortunately that care doesn’t extend to Henry Booth’s lovingly buried companions. It’s a project waiting to happen.

Dog Graveyard_Blog

Thornlea Studio pet cemetery. Photo by Cheri Gay.

–Cheri Gay, Archivist

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