Dolls Make the House

Who doesn’t love dolls? Apparently plenty of people who come through Saarinen House and comment on the two dolls enjoying pride of place in the Cozy Corner. The first response is often “What are those?” The second “What is she looking at?” What indeed. These are two vintage dolls, boy and girl, that Loja and Eliel Saarinen had in their possession and who now sit on the carpeted bench in the sitting alcove or “Cozy Corner” of the Saarinen House studio.

Dolls in Saarinen House. Photograph by James Haefner, 2015.

They were in place in 1947 when Margaret Fish, then art critic from the Milwaukee Sentinel, came to Cranbrook to interview Saarinen as he embarked upon plans for Milwaukee’s war memorial. [Saarinen Cites Keynote for City’s War Memorial. February 22, 1947.] Saarinen confessed to Fish, “Unless your home belongs to your spiritual as well as your physical life, you are entering among strangers.” He went on to explain that the dolls had belonged to his own children (Pipsan and Eero) and that his grandchildren played with them when they came to visit.

The dolls made their way back as a gift from grandson Ron Saarinen Swanson to the house as restoration neared completion in 1994. Greg Wittkopp, then Curator of Collections at Cranbrook Academy of Art Museum, accepted them in a letter of thanks writing “These dolls are critical to the restoration of Saarinen House as they help us interpret [the house] as a ‘home’ not merely an architectural space.” Interesting that this is still the object of the set up of the house and now also of the changing exhibits within curated by current Collections Fellow Kevin Adkisson.

The girl doll was made by the Italian company of Lenci founded in 1918 by Elena König Scavini (1886-1974), nicknamed Lenci, and husband Enrico in Turin. According to the appraisal by the Berkley Doll Hospital, our girl was probably created in 1920.  Lenci dolls became famous for their high quality and cost and the eyes looking away. One wonders what little girls had to do to get the doll to look at them.

Our doll has a felt, jointed body with painted features on pressed felt and those famous eyes looking off to the right. Her hair is a mohair wig, “intentionally tousled” in “little girl fashion” and her clothes are made of felt. Her cheeks swell in petulant child fashion and her third and fourth fingers are sewn together.

After World War II, the company changed hands and the dolls themselves evolved, becoming known as Lenci-type dolls.

Käthe Kruse (1883-1968), the actress creator of the boy doll, was ahead of her time, spurred to create a doll for her children when their sculptor father told them he was not about to buy them the unsatisfactory commercial products then available (this in 1899). Kruse started out with a washrag filled with sand and tied in four corners, carving a potato for the head. This was apparently an unqualified success for her 5-year-old daughter who had asked for a “real child.” Kruse herself realized that a doll should fill an emotional need and not “provide some technical education for running a kitchen.” In response to the doll named Oskar by her daughter, she thought to create a gender-neutral doll so that the children themselves could decide what gender the doll was to be, then the clothes could follow. In the pictures below you have the same doll dressed in different clothes:

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Identical Käthe Kruse dolls dressed in different outfits. c. 1930-1940. Courtesy of Theriault and Bukowskis Auction.

Her dolls became an unexpected hit, especially in New York where she sold 150 dolls to FAO Schwarz in 1911. As time passed and Germany was embroiled in World War I, Kruse was pressured to join the patriotic movement catering to the increasing militarism of German society. So her doll grew into a male and appeared in a generic military uniform. So much for the little girls who might not want a soldier baby to play with.

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Boy and girl clothes on Käthe Kruse dolls, 1918. Courtesy of Geheugen van Nederland.

Kruse’s doll was destined for further changes, however, because another war loomed, and the gender-neutral baby was once more required to grow male and don a uniform of more sinister aspect.  Kruse lost two sons of her eight children to this war, and as she continued to produce dolls, their facial expressions grew decidedly sad. Who knows why Hitler or his head honchos in the midst of a war would be paying attention to a toy manufacturer, but somehow the dolls’ apparent lack of politically correct optimism attracted attention, as did the Jewish workers Kruse refused to fire, and Kruse’s workshops were closed down. No more dolls until 1946 when Kruse sent three more children to restart the manufacture.

Our doll is dated by the Berkley Doll Hospital to 1910. He is the Doll 1 type with a molded muslin head and hand-painted features and hair in oils. His wide-hipped body is jointed cloth stuffed with reindeer hair, and he has the typical Doll 1, “frog” hands. His clothes are cotton and wool with a knitted wool hat and leggings.

Whoever played with these dolls, they were certainly handled carefully and not loved to pieces. And yet, when Margaret Fish came to call, she reported there were three dolls “European in appearance, sitting primly on the benches.” What happened to doll number 3? Would this have been a doll of yet another nationality? French maybe?

Kathe Kruse and Dolls

Käthe Kruse and dolls, 1905. Courtesy of Käthe Kruse History.

Some visitors find the dolls creepy, others fascinating. When they come to Saarinen House, visitors do not expect to be taken back to their own childhood as these dolls will do to you, if you let them: she looking off to her right, grumpily in search of better things, and he looking sturdily down.

The Kruse dolls are still in production 50 years after Kruse’s death at the age of 85, still desirable, still looking a bit like baby Friedebald Kruse, the model for the first commercial doll, and still stuffed with reindeer hair if you are willing to pay.

– Lynette Mayman, Collections Interpreter

 

You can see the Saarinen dolls on Saarinen House tours, led by the Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research Collections Interpreters every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, May-November.

Additional sources:

Edwards, Linda. Doll Values: Antique to Modern 13th Edition. New York. Page Publishing. 2017

Ganaway, Michael. Toys, Consumption, and Middle-class Childhood in Imperial Germany, 1871-1918. Bern. Peter Lang. 2009

Cranbrook House Roof & Ludowici Tile

Cranbrook House was originally built by Albert Kahn in 1908, with additions in 1918 and 1920. Designed with an English Art and Crafts inspired motif, one of the most defining features of Cranbrook House is its clay tile roof and copper gutters, downspouts, and flashing. The color, texture, and decorative pieces all contribute to the beauty of a clay tile roofing system, but it’s also incredibly functional: the original roof lasted over 100 years.

Cranbrook House Construction James Scripps Booth c 1907

Cranbrook House under construction, c. 1907. James Scripps Booth, photographer. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

Roofing is typically called the “first line of defense” for a building. The roof takes the brunt of weather exposure and any falling trees, branches, or debris. Even with all of these factors working against the roof, a clay tile roof is expected to last 100 years! Yet over the course of their lifespan and after many years of exposure, the tiles become brittle and eventually break. Broken tiles decrease protection against weather and are at risk of falling from the building. The original tiles on the Cranbrook House roof had become weak and broken tiles were increasingly becoming an issue.

Further, the original underlayment materials (layers of weather and water proofing on top of the wooden roof deck but below the clay tiles) were failing. Issues with original underlayments are common in older buildings as historically, underlayments were made of felt coated in asphalt. Since the materials used were organic, they breakdown overtime and eventually disintegrate. It’s important to note that 100% waterproofing of a roof is achieved by the underlayments, not the clay tiles. The clay tiles deflect and shed a large amount of water, but it is normal for some moisture to accumulate beneath them. The underlayments must create a fully waterproof barrier, or else water will get onto the roof deck and leaks will appear in the building.

At Cranbrook House, the sheer size of the roof made it necessary for us to divide the project into a multi-year series of phases. Cranbrook completed the first roof replacement phase over the Library Wing from 2003 to 2004. The second phase, above the Oak Room and east wing, was completed in 2015 and Phase 3, the northeast wing, was completed in 2016. Phase 2A covered the north half of main house last summer and the final phase, the south (front) half of the main house is currently in progress. It will be completed this fall.Cranbrook House Roof Schedule

Clay tile can come in an endless variety of colors, shapes and sizes, and our replacement tile had to be carefully vetted in order to maintain a historically correct appearance. Cranbrook worked with Ludowici of New Lexington, Ohio, the same manufacturer who provided the original roof tiles. The manufacturer’s proper name for the tiles are Interlocking Combination Shingle Tile.  In 1907, the Interlocking Combination Shingle Tile was a newer product for Ludowici (founded in 1888). With some help from Ludowici, we were able to find the first appearance of this specific tile in a catalog, the 1909 Sweet’s Indexed Catalogue of Building Construction:

While the Interlocking Combination Shingle Tile had long since been discontinued, Ludowici was able to recreate the same field tiles so that our restoration would be as accurate as possible. In addition, there were many specialty pieces that were made custom for the roof in 1908. These pieces had to be removed from Cranbrook House and sent to Ludowici so they could take molds and produce exact replicas. Ludowici produced all of our new tiles at the same time so that the color and finish would be consistent across the entire roof.

The Interlocking Combination Shingle system was designed to improve the way water is repelled, featuring a raised edge on the upper half of each tile.

Cranbrook House Roof Tile pictures

Cranbrook House roofing tiles. Courtesy Cranbrook Capital Projects.

Each row of tile is offset so that any water that falls through the void between the tiles would flow onto the tile below.  The raised edge funnels water downward so it doesn’t have a path to run onto the roof deck. Part of the project scope was to install two new synthetic underlayment products. The underlayment attached directly to the roof deck is the Grace Ice and Water Shield. Between the ice and water shield and the tile is a blue material called Deck Armor. This provides some weatherproofing but more importantly, it protects the ice and water shield from sharp edges on the clay tiles–if the ice and water shield gets punctured, the roof will leak.

Because of all the intricacies on a historic roof replacement project, it is very important to have an experienced team of architects, contractors, subcontractors, and suppliers working together for success. We have had a great team out here, so thank you to all who have been involved in the project over the years.

Ryan Pfeifer, Project Manager II, Cranbrook Capital Projects

Ralph Rapson: New Archival Collection

Cranbrook Archives is excited to announce the opening of the Ralph Rapson Collection (1935-1954) for research. The collection focuses on the early years of Rapson’s work, including his time as a student at Cranbrook Academy of Art. Rapson’s later work is retained at the Northwest Architectural Archives at the University of Minnesota, where he was the Dean of the School of Architecture from 1954-1984.

Rapson was born in Alma, Michigan in 1914. He earned Architecture degrees at the University of Michigan (1938) and at Cranbrook Academy of Art (1940). Upon completing his studies at CAA, Rapson set up his studio and was invited to help Eliel Saarinen with a planning project, which was to provide an analysis of the site for a new State Capitol complex in Lansing, Michigan. Following this experience, Rapson decided to focus more on architecture than planning. Between 1938 and 1942, Rapson contributed designs and drawings, and built models, for various projects and competitions for Eliel Saarinen and his associates.

While at Cranbrook, Rapson collaborated on several competition drawings with Eero Saarinen, Frederick James, David Runnells, Walter Hickey, Harry Weese and others. Rapson established an early reputation for his experimental concept houses like the 1939 “Cave House” and “Fabric House,” (both designed at CAA with fellow student David Runnells) and the 1945 “Greenbelt House” or Case Study House #4, one of the experiments in American residential architecture sponsored by Arts & Architecture magazine.

Case Study House #4 for Arts & Architecture magazine, Jun 1944.

In the early 1940s, Rapson moved to Chicago where he taught under the Hungarian Bauhaus artist, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy. Rapson served as Head of the Architectural Curriculum at the Institute of Design (New Bauhaus) from 1942-1946. He left this position late in 1946, when MIT Dean of Architecture, William Wurster, invited him to relocate to Massachusetts where he taught architecture alongside Finnish architect, Alvar Aaalto.

In 1951, Rapson was hired by the U.S. State Department to design a series of American embassies in Western Europe with architect John Van der Meulen. Rapson worked on several embassy projects, as well as residential projects, in the mid-1950s. In the spring of 1954, Rapson and his family moved to Minnesota where Rapson served as the Dean of the School of Architecture at the University of Minnesota from 1954-1984. He continued to work in private practice in Minneapolis until his death in 2008 at the age of 93.

The Ralph Rapson Collection includes project files, research, correspondence, architectural drawings, and photographic material from many of Rapson’s embassy projects, as well as design competition materials and residential projects. In addition to the physical collection, a digital site (including drawings, photographs, and ephemera) is now accessible from our web site. The Archives staff will continue to add to this site, as more material is digitized.

Gina Tecos, Archivist

Sources:
Hession, Jane King, Rapson, Rip, and Wright, Bruce. Ralph Rapson Sixty Years of Modern Design. Afton, MN: Afton Historical Society Press, 1999.

Heyer, Paul, ed. Architects on Architecture. New York: Walker and Co. 1965.

Garden Plans: A Tea House and Jacuzzi Gazebo

As we continue to research Cranbrook’s recently acquired Frank Lloyd Wright Smith House, new treasures keep popping up. When California landscape architect Thomas Church visited the Smiths in 1957 and sketched out changes to the grounds, he included a small Japanese garden due west of the house. From that point on, Melvyn Smith always pictured adding a small tea house or garden gazebo to the landscape.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture (including the Smith House) was deeply influenced and indebted to Japanese design: the country’s architecture, landscape, gardens, and art–Wright was one of the foremost collectors and dealers of Japanese prints in America. The Smiths too had a deep interest in Japan (perhaps inspired by Wright’s own interest) and hosted many Japanese visitors to their home over the years. Their photo albums are full of images of Japanese guests and holiday cards from Japanese friends, while in the house sit many items from Japan: sake sets, nabemono pots, and multiple cast iron Japanese teakettles.

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Melyvn (Smithy) and Sara Smith in Kimono outside of their Frank Lloyd Wright home, March 1968. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Nothing, however, shows their interest as fully as plans drawn up in July 1965 for a Japanese Tea House to be built across their backyard pond. The design was by Taliesin Associated Architects’ William Wesley Peters, Frank Lloyd Wright’s protégé who managed Wright’s office following his death in 1959.

The small tea house, designed on a diagrid, centered on a hexagonal room with six triangular tables (forming a hexagon) surrounded by benches on two sides and tall french doors looking back to the Smith House. Immediately outside was an ample patio and trellis above. Across the rear of the tea house ran vertical louvered panels, pieced by Wright’s earlier design from the clerestory windows of the house. (This system of cut-out folding panels was incorporated in Peters’ 1968 sunroom addition to the main Smith House).

Whether the sunroom addition took funds away from the tea house, or the fact the Smith’s never owned this side of the pond, the 1965 tea house would remain unbuilt. After Melvyn Smith retired from teaching English at Detroit’s Cody High School in 1977 or 1978, he again took up the idea of building a tea house on the property. This time, it would be situated due west of the house where Thomas Church had suggested a Japanese garden and on land the Smith’s already owned.

Around 1980 Wesley Peters was again called in to do a design for the tea house. This version of the tea house was taller, featuring french doors flanked by brick walls set with glass openings. Behind the pavilion was a plunge pool for swimming. Peters was assisted in this design by Jon deKoven Hill, who joined the Taliesin Fellowship in 1938 and worked there off and on until 1996.

Smith fell ill in the Summer of 1984, at the same time revisions to his little tea house were being completed by a local architect or builder Ron Kelly. Perhaps in retirement the purpose of a tea house had changed from purely a place of beauty and repose: the latest versions, reviewed by Smith in the hospital, featured a Jacuzzi sunk within the center of the tea house.

Smith House Tea House c 1984 with changes by Ron Kelly and possibly Melvyn Smith

Plan of the Garden Gazebo with Jacuzzi at center, plunge pool at top right, and mechanical space top left. Adapted from plans by Taliesin Associated Architects, 1984. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Melvyn Smith died that summer. At his memorial service, William Wesley Peters spoke about the philosophy of architecture; how much Wright had enjoyed Smithy as a client; and paced out the spot for the newly redesigned Japanese tea house. “What else would your dad want me to be doing right now?” Peters asked Robert, the Smith’s only son, who had admired his father’s endless determination to beautify and ornament his dream house.

Although there was never any tea house or gazebo built on the property, fast forward to earlier this summer. As we were changing out light bulbs in the high soffits of a bedroom at Smith House, we found two Ziploc bags holding quite the surprise: An unfinished model of the tea house.

Kevin Adkisson, 2016-2019 Cranbrook Center Collections Fellow

To learn more about Frank Lloyd Wright and his lifelong relationship with Japan, the Smith’s tea house, and the traditional Japanese Chanoyu tea ceremony, join us next Saturday, August 25, 2018 for presentations and demonstrations at Cranbrook Institute of Science and the Frank Lloyd Wright Smith House. I’ll be delivering a free lecture on Wright at 10:00am, followed by a presentation and Karesansui demonstration by Japanese Horticulturalist Chisato Takeuchi. In the afternoon, there are a few spots left for the 1:30 and 2:30 Chanoyu Tea Ceremony in Smith House presented by the Japan Society of Detroit Women’s Club. More information and registration is on our website.

 

 

Hidden Carvings: Misericords

Of the many beautiful works of art and ornament at Christ Church Cranbrook, I have noticed one type is much less documented than others: the misericords. I set out to explore the story behind these little hidden carvings. Misericords are hinged wooden seats that swing up to provide a supportive ledge in the choir stalls of churches and cathedrals—the choir, in the architectural sense, is situated within the chancel between the nave and the sanctuary.

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Christ Church Cranbrook choir stalls in the chancel taken from the south aisle of the nave, ca. 1946. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

The seat appears to be quite ordinary until you lift it up to reveal its carved underside. Traditionally, they were carved with mythological or real animals, foliage, or humorous scenes.

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The history of misericords goes back to the monastic churches of the middle ages, when the monks spent many hours praying in the choir. Their name comes from the Latin ‘miserericordia’ meaning ‘mercy’ or ‘compassion,’ stemming from ‘misereri’ (to have pity) and ‘cor’ (heart). Misericords were introduced into churches and cathedrals around the thirteenth century, so that elder monks could lean on them and didn’t have to stand unaided for the entire service.

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Architectural Drawing for Misericords in Choir Stalls Nos. 1-4 depicting pride, envy, gluttony, and covetousness, January 10, 1928. Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue Associates/Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

The misericord carvings for Christ Church Cranbrook were drawn by a designer with the initials ‘TCM’ at Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue Associates, who were also the architects of the church itself. The carvings for choir stalls 1-7 depict the seven deadly sins (pride, envy, gluttony, covetousness, anger, sloth, and lust). Choir stalls 8-16 depict more contemporary images reflecting life in 1927, including charlatanism in art, politics, machinery, jazz and prize fighting (8-12) and building the church, speed, big business, and prohibition (13-16).

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Misericord depicting “Speed,” represented by different modes of transportation (choir stall 14), the metal braces are a later repair. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

The misericord design for ‘building the church’ (choir stall 13) is particularly noteworthy for its representation of Oscar Murray and George Gough Booth extending the church by pulling it apart and adding another bay:

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Misericord depicting Oscar H. Murray and George Gough Booth lengthening the church (choir stall 13). Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

In George Gough Booth’s correspondence, I found this letter, which is instructive in discovering the creative process from idea to design to finished object:

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Letter from Oscar H. Murray to George Gough Booth regarding the misericord showing the building of the church, July 3, 1928. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

The letter tells us that the carver used a photograph of George Gough Booth (depicted on the right side of the misericord) to help with the details of the carving.

The misericords were carved by Irving and Casson of Boston, who also carved the screen between the narthex and the nave and the canopied vaulting above the choir stalls. However, the name of the carver is not recorded. Christ Church Cranbrook is celebrating its 90th anniversary on September 29. Also stay tuned for our ‘Ecclesiastical Structures of Detroit’ Day Away trip in the fall.

-Laura MacNewman, Associate Archivist

A Final Reflection (2002-2018)

The “bananas went a-missing” and Kingswood School’s Chiquita Banana Scholarship. The thief who stole the (attributed to) Rembrant Peale portrait of George Washington and the mysterious return of Perseus on the porch of the Thornlea Studio Archives. Gates and andirons and architectural details like the lead conductors at Cranbrook House designed by New York metalsmith Oscar Bach. Cranbrook’s mid-century modern Edison House, the House of the Poet (never realized thank goodness!), Chanticleer Cottage (which used to be the chicken house), Walnut Cottage, Tower Cottage, and Brookside Cottage (also known as the Honeymoon Cottage or Stonybrook) which evolved from the original pump house.

Unidentified man on bridge (no, it is NOT George Booth) with the pump house in the background, ca 1915

And the people! The Italians who literally moved mountains of dirt and rocks, graded the roads, and built the stone walls and beautiful rock gardens that lined the campus.

Landscape architect Edward Eichstaedt, who designed the original planting plan around Jonah Pools and later worked on landscape design for Eero Saarinen’s General Motors Technical Center. The women who left their mark at Christ Church Cranbrook – Kathryn McEwen, Hildreth Meière, and silversmith Elizabeth Copeland. Cranbrook School’s art teacher John Cunningham and his mosaics (which can still be seen today) Kingswood School’s French teacher, Marthe Le Loupp, and Brookside’s dietician Flora Leslie.

Eichstaedt’s 1934 Planting Plan for the Lower basins

Notable national celebrities connected to Cranbrook: Leonard Bernstein, Dave Brubeck, Amelia Earhart, Henry Ford, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Anne Morrow Lindbergh to name just a few. But perhaps most interesting to me was learning the stories of those not so well known: Ebba Wicks Brown – the first registered female architect in the state of Oregon who came to Cranbrook to study architecture with Eliel Saarinen. Colonel Edwin S. George, a Detroit businessman and philanthropist who was affiliated with Cranbrook in a variety of ways – most notably for his contributions to the Institute of Science. Myrtle Hall – the first African American model at the Cranbrook Academy of Art and Cleo Dorman – another model who was infamous for collecting paintings of her done by famous artists. And so many, many more names still swirling around in my brain.

Curatorial scholars at work

Perhaps my greatest joy here has been to help researchers find the answer to their questions, and to guide them towards collections that they might not have thought of – which has often led to a change in the course of their research. I am very proud of the fact that Cranbrook Archives has an international reputation for exemplary service and for being so organized and easy to use. I will miss working with the many students, faculty, staff, researchers, and scholars as you have taught me as much, if not more, than I have taught you. Thank you for that.

And, thank you to the Cranbrook Kingswood Senior May students and the many archival graduate students who have worked on projects over the years, and a special thanks to the most amazing volunteers! We couldn’t have accomplished all that we have without you.

Graduate student (left) and dedicated volunteers at Thornlea Studio Archives

I will close my final Cranbrook blog post by doing what I have tried to do my entire 16 year career here – promote Cranbrook Archives. In the archival profession, one constant issue many of us face is how to demonstrate to our institutions and constituents the importance of an archives – why archives matter. I could wax on, but instead I leave you with this article in the hopes that all who read it will have a new appreciation for the work that archivists do every day to preserve institutional memory. History matters. Archives matter. I am proud that I played a small role in preserving Cranbrook’s rich history.

And on that note, I bid adieu.

Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist (2002-2018)

Photo Friday: Details, Details, Details

Recently, I have been researching the objects in the historic rooms at Cranbrook House. The things I have noticed the most about these objects are the details: it seems no object was chosen for the house that did not have detailed ornamental carvings, woodwork, or decoration. Here are a few of my favorites:

 

– Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar

First Female Graduates

We recently had a query in the Archives about who the first woman was to receive an MFA at the Academy of Art. Actually, there were two – both in Ceramics. Edna Vogel’s bio can be found in a previous blog post. The other woman was Florence Kee Chang, a Chinese-American from Hawaii. Born in 1915 in Wahiawa on Oahu Island, Chang attended the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland, California after high school, where she received her B.A. in Art Education in 1942. She immediately applied to Cranbrook, where she studied ceramics with Maija Grotell, weaving with Marianne Strengell, and took a course in Metals with Harry Bertoia.

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Chang’s bowl and vase acquired by Cranbrook Academy of Art in 1943 as part of the Acquisitions Honors. On the right is Chang’s mark.

In May 1943, Chang was part of the first class of MFA graduates at the newly accredited Academy of Art. She and Vogel were the only two women to receive degrees that inaugural year. In addition, the Academy purchased two of her pieces of pottery, for which she received an “Acquisitions Honor.”

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Although she was from Hawaii, Chang adapted well to winter in Michigan! Courtesy Margueritte Kimball Papers.

Very little is known about Chang after she graduated. In 1955, she traveled to Japan, where she worked for two years as an arts and crafts director for the U.S. Army as part of what became known as The Army Crafts Program. Chang returned to Hawaii where she passed away in 2001.

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Chang’s 1942 Christmas card reflects the Academy Art’s sculpture and architecture.

If you have any further information about Florence Kee Chang, please contact us!

– Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Landscapes

While George Booth may have had carved “Nature I loved, and, next to Nature, Art” above the fireplace in his library, I’m not sure anyone adored nature as much as the inimitable Frank Lloyd Wright. Known for his organic architecture, his buildings are sited to be viewed as one with nature. Wright went so far as to say “I believe in God, only I spell it Nature.

In the Fall of 1941, Richard Raseman (the Academy of Art’s Executive Secretary from 1932 to 1943) traveled to Wright’s winter home and studio, Taliesin West, in Scottsdale, Arizona. In beautiful photographs he captured the balance Wright achieved between the desert landscape and architecture. In Raseman’s many photographs, foregrounds of cacti and sand with backdrops of mountains and sky form a nest for the rambling estate. Water also plays a part in these compositions, as it often did in Wright’s work.

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View of Taliesin West, Fall 1941. Richard P. Raseman, Photographer. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

No Wright project is as associated with water as the Kaufmann House, “Fallingwater“, of 1936 in Mill Run, Pennsylvania. Last week, I had the honor to meet with the head Horticulturalist from Fallingwater, Ann Talarek. She was in town on the invitation of our friends at Lawrence Technological University, to speak to architecture students there and assist in ideas for the historic landscape of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Affleck House, owned by LTU. (A mere mile north of Cranbrook’s Woodward Avenue entrance, the Affleck House was completed in 1941 and Affleck’s son, Gregor Affleck, studied Painting, Design and Modeling at Cranbrook from 1944-45.)

Affleck House

View of Affleck House, c. 1945. Harvy Croze, Cranbrook Staff Photographer. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

More than most historic house museums, for a Wright project the intimate association between site and structure means that maintaining the landscape is just as important as maintaining the building. When working on the landscape, you have to study both historic images and what you can see on the ground today. Ann let us know that one of the most important things you can do with a Wright landscape is to edit: “Keep the view sheds Wright would have been working with, editing out trees that may be pretty but block important views. It may be counter intuitive, but add by reducing.”

Today, the Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research serves as the educational steward of Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1950 Smith House, just a mile west of our campus. Ann also visited the Smith House, where she was impressed (as most visitors are) by the majestic canopy of oak trees surrounding the house and the dappled light they produce. Whereas the Affleck House has lost some of its view sheds, the Smith House still retains its open views toward the pond dredged by Melvyn Maxwell Smith. She also noted how architectural the landscape was: its perfectly placed pond, trees, and the arc of shrubs along the western end of the house.

Smith House with Farmland

Smith House, c. 1952. Courtesy of Melvyn Maxwell and Sara Stein Smith Family Albums.

What’s impressive about the Smith House is the stuff inside: the fine and decorative art collection of things acquired and displayed by Mr. and Mrs. Smith, much of it from Cranbrook Academy alumni. After meeting with Ann and then looking through family photo albums of the house’s landscape, I realized that the grounds too were a project of the Smiths: he was constantly adding, cutting back, and reshaping the landscape. It’s most famous iteration may be an impromptu plan developed by the landscape architecture celebrity Thomas Church (for that story, sign up for a Smith House Tour!), yet like any site, the landscape has changed over the years.

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Smith House, c. 1975, with landscape attributed to Thomas Church. Courtesy of Melvyn Maxwell and Sara Stein Smith Family Albums.

Ann talked at the Affleck House about how they might eliminate certain invasive species (as she has done at Fallingwater) or how trees might be cut back. At Smith House, she helpfully noted some trees nearing the end of life, but suggested the historic photographs be studied to figure out what the Smith’s wanted. “Unlike Fallingwater or the Affleck House, the Smith House is ultimately suburban. What we now call invasive species would have been considered fashionable in the 1950s and 60s, and in a place as personal as the Smith House, you have to consider what Mr. Smith would have done as much as what Wright would have planned.” It’s an interesting idea. I think the most important goal is to make the architectural, landscape, and personal stories of the Smith House dynamic, relevant, and beautiful for visitors. That, and, as Ann said, “Don’t let anyone plant anything that’s going to overrun Bloomfield Hills.”

– Kevin Adkisson, Collections Fellow, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

Harry and Nerissa Hoey’s Weekend Retreat

While cataloging some of the Ralph Rapson architectural drawings in our collection, archivist Gina Tecos and I discovered designs for “Longshadows,” a weekend retreat for Cranbrook School English teacher (and later Headmaster) Harry Hoey and his wife, Nerissa. Hoey came to Cranbrook in 1928, where he taught English until 1944 when he became Assistant Headmaster (1944-1950) and then Headmaster (1950-1964) of Cranbrook School. While the Hoeys lived on campus, first on Faculty Way, and later in the Headmaster’s House, they commissioned Rapson, along with fellow Cranbrook student Walter Hickey, to design a weekend vacation home in Metamora, Lapeer County.

Elevation by Ralph Rapson, 1939. The Ralph Rapson Collection, 1935-1954, Cranbrook Archives.

Coincidentally, I have been corresponding with the Hoeys’s granddaughter, Susan, regarding the disposition of her grandfather’s papers to Cranbrook Archives. In the course of this correspondence, I asked Susan about the home. While Rapson called the home “Longshadows,” the family called it “Hoyden.” According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, “hoyden” means “a girl or woman of saucy, boisterous, or carefree behavior” and the word is sometimes used to mean just “carefree.” As Susan stated, “Somehow, though I have no way to prove it, I am guessing this word was in my grandmother’s [Nerissa] vocabulary. Anyway, it seems to fit the bill for a weekend/summer place.”

Susan’s mother has fond memories of the weekend house – as a five-year old girl when she walked up the hill to the house behind her mother, the forty acre property looked endless. She remembers falling in the wild strawberry patch and staining her dress, and playing with the girl across the street whose father tended the property for the Hoeys.

“Hoyden,” 1940. The Ralph Rapson Collection, 1935-1954, Cranbrook Archives.

The summer the house was completed (1940), the Hoeys began hosting numerous Cranbrook guests who wanted to see the midcentury modern design. Guests included Dorothy and Zoltan Sepeshy of the Academy of Art, Henry and Carolyn Booth, and of course numerous Cranbrook faculty.

Page from the Hoyden Guest Book, 1940. Courtesy Harry and Nerissa Hoey Family.

In a letter to fellow Cranbrook student Ben Baldwin, Rapson described the house as clad in red wood, left natural, with a flat roof. The house had three bedrooms, two fireplaces, and even a basement for storage and a play room. The house still stands today, though it has had some minor additions and has been painted. It is one of Rapson’s only Michigan designs. Hopefully, we will soon have additional photographs of the house, and perhaps even more stories about the relationship between Hoey and Rapson.

NOTE: Harry and Nerissa Hoey were well-loved at Cranbrook. He also served on the vestry of Christ Church Cranbrook. Not only was Harry an effective administrator, but he was one who led the school with kindness and compassion. On the birthday of each boy in the school, Hoey would greet them with them a “happy birthday,” and shake their hand into which he pressed a shiny penny! On his 85th birthday, Hoey’s former students surprised him by mailing birthday cards – each one with pennies – he received over 500.

Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

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