Growing up so close to the Henry Ford Museum, or watching my family’s favorite go-to movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark, I knew that I was interested in history from an early age. Yet, I never stopped to think about Cranbrook’s own fascinating and world-renowned past. To me, this community was just “home”, and the only history I thought of was of my family’s connection with the school. Nevertheless, for my Senior May project, I wanted to learn more about the inter-workings of the educational community as a whole. With this in mind, I chose to intern at the Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research and the Archives for my last senior assignment.
The purpose of Cranbrook’s Senior May project is to give soon-to-be Upper School graduates a taste of a “real world” job for the month of May in their field of interest. Initially, I assumed I would be either in Art Museum storage moving art pieces or doing research on the computer every day, but I could not have been more wrong.
Over the course of my three weeks, I had behind-the-scenes tours of Cranbrook’s many historic landmarks, firsthand looks at restorations, handling and moving donated art pieces, and countless hours of both digital and primary source research. I met many people who are tasked with adding to and preserving this living historical landmark, no small task given the expansive campus. My perspective of the community, initially as the place of my education and a source of livelihood for my family, was altered, and I began to see it as an operational historical site.
In short, I had a very full, albeit whirlwind experience of almost everything that being an archivist or registrar entails.
My favorite experiences were the tours of campus. Although I have attended this school for 14 years, very rarely did my classes study the history of Cranbrook or take field trips to different buildings on campus besides Cranbrook Institute of Science. In fact, I had only visited Saarinen House and Thornlea once before Senior May, just three weeks before I am set to graduate. My supervisor, Mrs. Mio, added another element of the visits, a look at them through the eyes of a registrar who is tasked with upkeep and restoration of historic sites. Through tasks such as cataloging Booth dinner plates at Cranbrook House, identifying historic bookbinding tools used at the Academy of Art, and even checking mouse traps at Thornlea, I developed a deeper appreciation for the amount of work it takes to showcase the history of this community, as well as a chance to see rooms or storage out of the public’s eye.
Another aspect I enjoyed was the research itself, like searching through “the stacks”, where many of the important archival files are kept. It is a place where you can find both important and unexpected things. For instance, one afternoon while searching for photos and records of the Cranbrook House Pergola for Ms. Edwards, I came across security reports from the 1960’s detailing the dangers of “hippie types” on campus. I was also able to piece together more of the history of Cranbrook firsthand through organizing and filing other primary sources created by prominent figures in the Community’s past.
– Elizabeth Fairman, CKU ’17
Editor’s Note: Elizabeth Fairman is a “lifer” at Cranbrook, having attended school here since Kindergarten. In addition to that, her father Andy is the upper school baseball coach and physical education teacher at Brookside School. Both of Elizabeth’s grandmothers (Sue Tower and Marilyn Sutton) taught school at Brookside for many years. We thank Elizabeth for her exemplary work ethic and positive attitude and wish her the best of luck in her new adventure at Bates College in Maine.