A New Cranbrook House

January has been busy with research for my upcoming History of American Architecture: Cranbrook in Context lecture series. In preparing for the first lecture, which examines Cranbrook House and the larger Arts and Crafts movement, I found myself deep in the Archives looking through the architectural sketches of George Booth.

Around 1932, George Booth considered converting Cranbrook House into a home for both the Art Museum and the Institute of Science. With this proposal, the Booths would need a new “Cranbrook House.”

Mr. Booth sketched two plans for building south of the existing manor home, in the meadow along Lone Pine Road.

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Caption written by George Gough Booth in pencil at a later date: “Scheme for a moderate sized residence for G.G.B. & E.S.B. on lawn directly south of Cranbrook House facing Lone Pine Road, by G.G.B. 1932 & considered in connection with plan to turn Large Residence over to Foundation for Educational Purposes. Museum—Library—School of Music, etc. etc.” Cranbrook Archives.

The simple, rectangular house is strikingly similar to the original plan of Cranbrook House from 1908 (before its 1918 and 1922 expansions), rotated 180 degrees. A front vestibule opens into a cross gallery, centered on a fireplace. Beyond is a long, 18 by 32 foot living room. A library and large dining room flank either side, with the only other public room being a reception hall.

A stairway surrounding an elevator shaft connects to a second floor with two bedrooms (one for George and one for Ellen) joined by a sitting room, again mirroring the original configuration of rooms at Cranbrook House. Even the double bay windows of the bedrooms match the double bay windows on the northern plan of Cranbrook House.

The problem of symmetrical houses is that not everything generally fits in a pleasingly symmetrical way. George’s solution to this problem, like many architects before and since, is to add a service wing for the kitchen, maids’ rooms, and storage.

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Caption written by George Gough Booth in pencil at a later date: “Suggestion for personal house (?) South of homestead.” c. 1932. Cranbrook Archives.

In what I presume to be a later sketch, the plan is further refined. Here, the vestibule sits more comfortably under the stairway, leading guests directly into the long gallery and living room beyond–one would see directly from the front door out of the living room window. The proportions of this proposed house are smaller, and the service wing substantially smaller (and even appears added on by Booth as a later sketch). The entire house is more symmetrical and regular, and there are fewer service spaces.

Had the Booths moved out of Cranbrook House, what did George envision happening with the space? Well, Booth sketched ideas of how Cranbrook House would be converted into an educational facility.

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Proposed modifications and additions to Cranbrook House, for its conversion to use by the Institute of Science and Art Museum, by George Gough Booth, c. 1932. Cranbrook Archives.

The first floor of the house remained largely intact (though another plan shows subdividing the reception hall for offices). The kitchens were to be removed and converted to galleries, and the living room and sunset porch converted to a conference room and lounge. West of the 1918 Library wing offices was to be a large room for the Cranbrook Foundation and then a very large building of smaller rooms, including a library and assembly room. It is unclear what the smaller rooms are, but in one plan, they are drawn identically to Booth’s sketches for the Institute of Science’s research wing.

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Proposed “Forum” (Observatory) on the “Mountain” south of Cranbrook House, sketch by George Gough Booth. Detail from the above plan. Cranbrook Archives.

The idea that Booth intended portions of the house to be dedicated to the Institute is further supported by what might be my favorite of George Booth’s unrealized plans for Cranbrook House: the transformation of the reproduction Fountain of the Tritons atop the “Mountain” south of the auto court into an observatory!

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Proposed modifications to the second floor of Cranbrook House for its use as gallery space, by George Gough Booth, c. 1925-1935. Cranbrook Archives.

On the second floor, the series of family bedrooms and bathrooms, as well as the warren of service spaces, would have been cleared out, windows boarded up, and a series of interconnected galleries created. The bedrooms (not bathrooms) of George and Ellen were to remain intact as offices–previews to their use now as Cranbrook’s President’s suite of offices.

While the Booths did eventually leave Cranbrook House and its contents to the Cranbrook Foundation, they remained living in the house until their deaths in 1948 and 1949. The area where George proposed building their new residence is today the location of the Cranbrook House Parking Lot.

You never know what you’ll find in Cranbrook Archives!

Kevin Adkisson, Curatorial Associate

Alger Munt: Cranbrook’s English Gardener

When sifting through images to post on the Center’s Facebook page, I often come across an image of someone and wonder, “How did this person end up at Cranbrook?” This week, that “someone” is Alger Munt.

Alger Munt working in the greenhouse at Cranbrook, October 1950.

Alger Munt working in the greenhouse at Cranbrook, October 1950. Photo by Harvey Croze. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Algernon George Munt (“Alger”) was born in St. Albans, Hertfordshire, England in 1894. From the age of 14, he worked as a gardener on estates near his hometown. When he was 18, he started work manufacturing straw hats in one of the area factories. Soon, his country called and he joined the army, serving in the Royal Field Artillery during World War I. After the war, he did not return to the factory but resumed gardening instead.

Munt came to America in 1921 to work for his uncle William Munt in St. Clair, Michigan, in the commercial greenhouse business. He would work for his uncle for eight years. In 1926, Munt briefly returned to England to marry Grace Barker Skinner (1898-1981) of Ware, Southampton, Hampshire, England.

Munt soon tired of the greenhouse business and came to the Birmingham-Bloomfield area to become a gardener on a private estate. Based on census information and Munt’s oral history account in Cranbrook Archives, the “private estate” was Strandcrest, the estate of lumberman Carl A. Strand, which boasted 14.3 acres, fruit trees, and a caretaker’s residence.

It was in 1936 that Munt came to work at Cranbrook. He was a gardener at Cranbrook from 1936 to 1941. From October 1941 to December 1942, Munt worked at Spindletop Hall in Lexington, Kentucky.

George G. Booth had told Munt in 1941 that he didn’t want him to go but that anytime he wanted to make a change—if things did not work out in Kentucky—get in contact with him. When Spindletop Hall had to switch to economy/war-mode in 1942, Munt took Mr. Booth up on his offer and returned to Cranbrook as a gardener and part-time chauffeur. His wife Grace worked as a laundress for the Booths.

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Alger and Grace Munt, circa 1965. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

By the 1950s, Munt was the Superintendent of the Greenhouse and Grounds at Cranbrook, and his wife was working as a maid in the dormitories at Cranbrook Academy of Art.

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The Munts lived in Twin Cottage on the estate, pictured here in 1957, when they returned to Cranbrook in 1942 until their retirement in 1966. Photo by Harvey Croze. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

The Munts retired from Cranbrook in August 1966 and they moved back to England, intending to settle in Cornwall. Unfortunately, Munt died suddenly in November 1966, just short of his 72nd birthday.

Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar

 

New Archival Collection: the Melvyn Maxwell and Sara Evelyn Smith Papers

Cranbrook Archives is delighted to announce that the Melvyn Maxwell and Sara Evelyn Smith Papers are now open for research. This archival collection was acquired as part of the Frank Lloyd Wright Smith House, which was donated to Cranbrook in 2017 by the Towbes Foundation with assistance from Anne Smith Towbes. Melvyn and Sara were schoolteachers who dreamed of building a Frank Lloyd Wright designed home – a dream that was realized in 1950. They cherished their dream home and adorned it with art objects which they bought from local artists, including Cranbrook Art Academy students and artists-in-residence. Over the years they welcomed many visitors, students, and guests into their home, including Frank Lloyd Wright himself and the landscape architect, Thomas Church.

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Frank Lloyd Wright’s entry in the Smiths’ guest book, 1951. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

The collection documents the personal and professional life of the Smiths, as well as their many contributions to the community through patronage of the arts, including theater and performing arts. It documents the construction and adornment of the house, as well as its preservation as a historic home and renovation under the Towbes Foundation. It also contains a rare and unique collection of news clippings and periodicals, spanning from 1937 to 2016, about Frank Lloyd Wright and his work .

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Letter from Sara to Melvyn Smith, July 1940. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Melvyn Maxwell Smith aspired to be an architect. After graduating Northern High School in Detroit, Michigan, he was accepted into the School of Architecture at the University of Michigan. However, due to the economic depression, his parents suggested he attend Wayne University College of Education until his brother had completed his degree in dentistry. Much inspired by an English teacher, Miss Boyer, in his first semester, Melvyn decided to pursue a career in teaching, and remained at the university to pursue a doctorate. Melvyn’s architectural aspirations were instead to manifest in his life in quite a different way than he had first anticipated. In an art history class taught by Jane Betsey Welling, Melvyn learned of Frank Lloyd Wright. This was the beginning of a lifelong love of Wright’s work and the pursuit of Melvyn’s dream home. After graduating, Melvyn became a teacher at Cody High School in Detroit, where he remained for his entire career of 38 years. He later became a board member of the Wayne State University Alumni Association and created the Betsey Welling Memorial Court for which he donated the sculpture, In Lieu, by Robert Schefman.

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Melvyn, Sara and Robert Scheffman in front of Scheffman’s sculpture, In Lieu, at Wayne State University, 1977. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Sara Evelyn Stein was born in Pennsylvania and moved to Detroit during her childhood. She met Melvyn at the B’nai Moshe Sunday School in 1937 and they were married in 1940. Sara had dreamed of being an actress, but she too joined the teaching profession and trained to be a kindergarten teacher. As it had been for Melvyn, Sara’s theatrical aspirations were fulfilled in a different way than her young mind had envisioned, namely an enthusiasm for teaching the performing arts to others. She was deeply involved in community theaters, including the Popcorn Players at Birmingham Community House and the Cranbrook Theatre School. Both Melvyn and Sara were passionate supporters of all the arts and actively worked to cultivate and sustain the arts in Detroit, Bloomfield Hills, and the surrounding communities.

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Frank Lloyd Wright Smith House, August 1960. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Sara shared Melvyn’s dream of a Frank Lloyd Wright designed home. In 1941, they traveled to Lake Louise and Banff National Park in Alberta. Their journey took them through Wisconsin, where they were able to visit Taliesin, the home and studio of Frank Lloyd Wright, and meet with the architect himself. Melvyn later recalled that during the visit, Wright had advised him to find land that no one else wants because it will likely have an interesting natural feature. In 1942, Melvyn joined the US Army and it would be 1946 before he returned to Detroit. Sara was able to join him for much of the time and their son, Robert “Bobby” Nathaniel Smith, was born in 1944. Having located a property upon which to build their home on Ponvalley Road in Bloomfield Township, they began work in 1949. The house was completed in 1950, and Wright visited the house for the first time in 1951, calling it “My Little Gem.” He visited several more times – among the highlights of this collection are his entries in the guest books. Also included in the collection are two books signed by Wright (there are more than 900 books in the Center’s cultural properties collection at Smith House, which may be made available for research in the Archives reading room by request).

The Smiths welcomed countless guests and visitors to their home, providing house tours for local community groups as well as architectural schools. The collection also contains an abundance of thank you letters in gratitude for the hospitality of the Smiths. Many visitors thank Sara for her gift of sharing joy.

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Letter to Melvyn and Sara Smith from Wayne State University Theatre, 1973. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

The Melvyn Maxwell and Sara Evelyn Smith Papers tell the story of the Smiths’ home and of the lives of the couple who dreamed the home. The Smiths were not only teachers in the classroom: through their tenacity, generosity, and sheer joy of living, they inspired countless people who visited their home or met them through their artistic and philanthropic endeavors. As the Smiths’ home is preserved just as it was when they lived in it, their zeal to share and teach is perpetuated. This collection is a fine example of how the team at the Center for Collections and Research works together to tell the story of Cranbrook through historic houses, cultural properties, and archival materials.

The Frank Lloyd Wright Smith House is a must-see. Find out more about house tours here. If you’ve already been, consider going again in a different season to see the changing blend of architecture and nature that is pure Frank Lloyd Wright.

–Laura MacNewman, Associate Archivist

 

Cranbrook Kitchen Sink: Best of 2019

2019 was a banner year for the Cranbrook Kitchen Sink blog. Thanks to readers like you sharing our posts by email, Facebook, and word of mouth, in 2019 we increased our readership to 25,000 views (up from 16,081 in 2018). While most of our readers are here in the U.S., we also have readers in Canada, the United Kingdom, Finland, France, Hong Kong, and beyond!

Here are ten of our most viewed (and favorite) blog posts of the year. In no particular order, take a look back and catch up on posts you might have missed:

Green Book, Don Shirley, and Henry Booth Our first post from the Center’s Director Greg Wittkopp was a runaway success, becoming our most read post—ever! Learn about the connection between jazz pianist Don Shirley, Kingswood, and Cranbrook’s own Henry Booth.

The Day Cranbrook Went Bananas Did you know the Academy of Art has an undefeated intercollegiate football team? And not because we’ve never had a football team: in the fall of 1970, the Cranbrook Bananas defeated the Art Institute of Chicago Hog Butchers in a game at Thompson Oval.

Loja Saarinen: Lady of Fashion In a year with more posts about Loja Saarinen than any other subject, readers loved Collections Interpreter Lynette Mayman’s focus on the fashion of Cranbrook’s ur-weaver. In other posts, you can read about Loja’s monumental Sermon on the Mount weaving, the murals on the ceiling of her Weaving Room, or how we moved a loom from Kingswood to Saarinen House.

Saarinen (and Students) Expand a Masterpiece Did you know Eliel Saarinen intended to add on to the Art Museum, around the Orpheus Fountain? View his drawing–and how the Academy and Museum have actually grown–in this post.

To See a World in a Grain of Sand Associate Archivist Laura MacNewman took a deep dive into the magnificent Women’s Window at Christ Church Cranbrook. Learn the history of the work, and click on each pane of the window to see an expanded image and a detailed description of each woman featured.

Cranbrook Unseen: My Senior May Experience One of our most shared and read posts of the year was from our Cranbrook Schools Senior May student intern, Desai Wang, who wrote about her work cleaning, sorting, moving, scanning, and learning with the Center for Collections and Research.

Sunscreen for Smith House: UV Window Film Here, Associate Registrar Leslie Mio talks about installing protective film at Saarinen and Smith Houses in order to reduce heat and sun damage.

Lisa Frank’s Cranbrook Years Learn about the colorful life of 1990s school supply icon and Kingswood alumna Lisa Frank, known for her rainbow world of puppies, pandas, and unicorns.

Hibernation Mode Head Archivist Deborah Rice showed us some of the amazing plant photographs and illustrations in the Archives from the Institute of Science in this post celebrating the beauty and botany of autumn.

The A-maize-ing Frank Lloyd Wright Finally, a post that was widely shared on Facebook: Wright’s visit to the Smith House and the story of Sara’s serving him corn on the cob!

Map of Cranbrook from 1973 Catalog by Edward Fella

Our most opened (clicked) image in 2019 was this map of Cranbrook. Read more about it here. Map of Cranbrook drawn by Edward Fella (CAA Design 1987), 1972. Printed on the inside cover of the 1973/1975 Cranbrook Academy of Art Course Catalog. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

2019 was a great year for Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research. We are honored so many of you, our readers, joined us on Cranbrook’s campus to attend tours, lectures, exhibitions, and concerts; rode along with us on Day Away trips; or visited Cranbrook Archives to research, volunteer, and explore. If you’re a reader from farther afield, thank you for following our blog and for your continued interest in the many Cranbrook stories. We hope everyone has enjoyed learning more about Cranbrook through the Kitchen Sink!

In addition to continuing our Friday blog posts, the Center has lots of exciting programming coming up in 2020. You can be the first to find out about Center events through our emails (if you’re not subscribed, you can join here), or on the Center’s website.

Happy New Year!

– Kevin Adkisson, Curatorial Associate and Cranbrook Kitchen Sink Blogmaster

 

 

Tobogganing at Cranbrook

If you grew up in the Midwest you’ve likely been sledding at some point during the winter months. But have you ever been on a toboggan run?

According to the Olympic Movement:

Sleighing is one of the oldest winter sports. Descriptions of the sport can be found in 16th-century literature, but as a racing sport it can be traced to the mid-19th century, when British tourists started sliding down snowbound roads in the Alps. British and American holidaymakers built the first toboggan run in Davos in 1882.

Images in the archives’ historic photograph collection indicate there were once two such runs on Cranbrook grounds.

Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

The first photographs of a toboggan run date from 1928 and feature an elevated wooden platform and slide situated by an ice-skating rink at the northern edge of Cranbrook School campus, where the Williams Natatorium now stands. A November 1, 1928 notice in the Birmingham Eccentric provides further evidence: “Construction on a toboggan slide for the Cranbrook students has begun, according to school authorities. It will run down the large hill from behind the school, possibly across the canoe lagoon, and will be ready for use when enough snow permits.” A November 12, 1928 Cranbrook School Crane notice confirms its construction that year: “A toboggan slide is being constructed behind the tennis courts. The starting platform will be of wood, jutting over the hill just north of the courts. The course will begin here and stretch down over the hill into the lagoon. This sport will be greatly enjoyed by all of us.” Perhaps Cranbrook School students were inspired by the Olympic debut of the skeleton event that year in St. Moritz, Switzerland?

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Circa 1930s. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

Whatever the impetus, by the late 1930s, photographs show a different structure in a decidedly different location, suggesting the 1928 run had been replaced. Following more closely the natural contours of the hill, this toboggan run appears to have started by the Institute of Science and run in the direction of Kingswood Lake, through the existing tree line. A map in the archives refers to this area as “Suicide Hill.” Could the toboggan run have helped earn the hill its name? This image certainly shows an exhilarating ride.

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Circa 1930s. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

A February 1945 Cranbrook Schools Crane story corroborates the building of a second run: “The toboggan slide, built six or seven years ago…” The article goes on to report that outsiders had begun using the slide at all hours of the day and night, and so Cranbrook Foundation took steps to prevent unsupervised use by erecting a padlocked fence around the upper half of the runway. “The slide is to be used only when a reliable person is in charge.”

While the first toboggan slide featured in a February 1929 Cranbrook School outdoor party, to which a few girls were invited, a picture of the second toboggan run in the 1938 Kingswood yearbook Woodwinds implies that it was with the construction of this run that girls were now really participating in the fun. Just how much in its early years is unclear, since tobogganing is not part of the 1939-1940 Kingswood list of social activities along with other winter past times, such as ice skating (Kingswood School Records, 1930-1985). But, by 1944 its popularity seems assured. The December Sports News section of  The Clarion announces the outdoor sports opportunities once snow made them possible: skiing, skating, and tobogganing. A couple of years later, the toboggan is still a prominent winter activity of Kingswood students, as a December 1946 issue states, “Until the snow and cold weather comes, the winter sports group will walk. However, when snow and ice really arrive, this group will toboggan, skate, and ski.” And again, in Dorm News of the March 1947 issue, the slide is mentioned as an example of one of the perks of being a boarding student: “Another advantage that we have is that we can use the toboggan slide on Saturday and Sunday afternoons as well as during sports periods.”

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February 14, 1947. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

How long the second toboggan run was in use is uncertain. A February 1948 Clarion issue shows a photograph of sophomores tobogganing right outside Kingswood School, and by 1949 issues, tobogganing (along with other winter outdoor activities) is no longer mentioned. Other images in the historic photograph collection show that in 1955 Cranbrook students were sledding on the hill from Cranbrook Art Museum to Cranbrook House, with no toboggan slide in sight. It would seem that the days of the toboggan run were over.

It’s important to note that these gaps in documentation of the toboggan runs illustrate the challenge often faced in understanding our past. Accurately recreating historical events relies solely on available facts (written, visual, or verbal). Do you have evidence of the operation of a toboggan run at Cranbrook? Help supplement the historical record and let Cranbrook Archives know!

Deborah Rice, Head Archivist

Come to the great hall, where the Yule log sparkles bright!

“Come to the great hall, where the Yule log sparkles bright!” is the jester’s call to commence the Christmas Pageant. Ninety years ago today the first Cranbrook School Christmas Pageant was held on Friday, December 20, 1929. Seeing a need for symbolism and tradition, Dr. Vernon B. Kellett, a Cranbrook School teacher of German, Latin, and Music (1929-1943), initiated the pageant to recreate an old English Christmas banquet as it is thought to have been celebrated in the baronial castles of the middle ages.

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Cranbrook School Christmas Pageant, December 1940. Copyright Cranbrook Archives

For nine decades, students, faculty, and select guests have gathered in the Commons at six o’clock in the evening during the last week of term before the Holiday recess, awaiting the Court Jester’s greeting and invitation to proceed to the Great Hall. On the occasion of the first Christmas Pageant, the great dining hall was reported to have been illuminated by thousands of candles at tables and in windows, where the candle flames gently flickered against the frosted panes, creating a warm ambience of bygone times. Mrs. Stevens, the Headmaster’s wife, was a contributor to the candlelit backdrop. Mrs. Kellett, Miss Walker and other faculty ladies wore commendable costumes, which were based on those of the fifteenth century.

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Cranbrook School Christmas Pageant Procession of the Boar’s Head, December 1940. Copyright Cranbrook Archives

Throughout the years, the pageant has kept tradition and followed the same program of readings, carols, and processions. To begin, all remain standing to sing an old Latin hymn, “Adeste Fideles,” followed by readings by the Chaplain. As the Chaplain reads the Christmas story from St. Luke, shepherds proceed through the dining hall to a manger scene. Old French and English carols are sung before the Chaplain reads the story of the Magi from St. Matthew. During the reading, three Wise Men appear, and more carols are sung. After the Chaplain reads “The Collect,” the glee club sings “Lo, how a rose e’er blooming,” and then dinner is served. The jester reappears and entertains for the evening.

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Cranbrook School Christmas Pageant Program, December 1937. Copyright Cranbrook Archives

Following dinner are three processions with carols for each– that of the Boar’s head, the Plum puddings, and the Yule log. Then enter the Mummers who perform the “Mummer’s Play.” In the middle ages, Mummers were amateur actors who attended feasts to perform plays. At the first Christmas Pageant, the mummers performed a dramatization of St. George and the Dragon, which was a popular story in medieval England and continues to be celebrated there on April 23rd, St. George’s Day. To bring the evening to a close, the headmaster gives his Christmas greeting and everyone sings the school hymn. Dr. Kellett, the founder of the pageant, also wrote the words to the school hymn and established the first Glee Club and soccer team for Cranbrook School.

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Dr. Vernon B. Kellett, October 1942. Copyright Cranbrook Archives

The first Christmas Pageant was reportedly a resounding success and all who had participated agreed that an inspirational and beautiful tradition had been established for future years. Indeed, it has continued an unbroken annual tradition for ninety years.

–Laura MacNewman, Associate Archivist

 

Leapin’ Lena! A Kingswood Kangaroo?

In the collection of the Cranbrook Archives, we have a number of objects related to Kingswood School for Girls. These include uniforms, pennants, and one curious kangaroo tagged “Leapin’ Lena.”

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In the Alumni Relations Office for many years, the kangaroo was never the official mascot for Kingswood School Cranbrook (KSC). It was likely part of a popular craze in the 1950s and 1960s, when Collegiate Manufacturing Company, which started out manufacturing school pennants, was promoting stuffed animals as school “mascots” or “personality pets.”

Advertisement for Collegiate Manufacturing Company's College Pets

Advertisement for Collegiate Manufacturing Company’s “Personality Pets.” Source: Kagavi.com

Because she’s in mint condition with her tag still on, perhaps our Lena was a sample from one of the many salesmen Collegiate Manufacturing employed?

Most likely just an alliterative name — think “Mickey Mouse” or “Lois Lane” — the name “Leapin’ Lena” could also come from a number of sources. “Leapin’ Lena” has been used as a nickname for a car; a fictional B-52 bomber in the 1944 movie The Purple Heart; a kangaroo in a Rex the Wonder Dog comic in 1952; and a 1954 Cold War hero pigeon.

I like to think our Leapin’ Lena name came from Rex the Wonder Dog, where the character was part of a story line called “The Saga of Leapin’ Lena.” Lena was a kangaroo from an old vaudeville act, that also happened to foil crime.

A page from Rex the Wonder Dog, Volume 1, #5, "The Saga of Leapin' Lena"

A page from Rex the Wonder Dog, Volume 1, #5, “The Saga of Leapin’ Lena.” Source: vlcomic.com

I really don’t know how this model marsupial got to the Alumni Relations Office, who then gave it to Archives; nor am I familiar with other Kingswood kangaroo mascots (only Kitty Kingswood). Do you know more about our Leapin’ Lena or other Kingswood kangaroos?

Leslie Mio, Associate Registrar

A Mexican Adventure & South American Sojourn

Cranbrook’s founders George and Ellen Booth loved to travel, collecting memories and mementos wherever they went. With Europe at war in 1939, they headed south—way south!

The Booths explored Mexico from the ancient Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza to bustling Mexico City. Along for the journey was their nurse and traveling companion, Nellie Beveridge. We’re lucky Nellie was there—her camera documented the journey. Unlike other trips the family made, where we can reconstruct detailed itineraries through letters, postcards, and even menus in Cranbrook Archives, there’s not a lot of documentation about this trip other than Nellie’s slide images:

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Two years later, in the Spring of 1941, George, Ellen, Nellie Beveridge, and Nellie’s camera set sail from New York City aboard the Grace Line South American Cruise. The six-week journey started in Barranquilla, Colombia; moved through the 44-miles of the Panama Canal; and down the South American coast, stopping in Ecuador, Peru, Chile, and across land to Buenos Aires.

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Looking closely at the photographs, we see highlights of the trip included a ride on one of the many funiculars of Valparaiso, Chile, visits to more ancient sites, museums, and markets, and a journey on “the Chair,” a hand-powered lift in the port of Mollendo, Peru.

Inspired by the Booth’s adventures, for this year’s Holiday Splendor event at Cranbrook House we’ve brought together a selection of slide images and items from the 1939 and 1941 trips, along with objects from Latin and South America held at Cranbrook Institute of Science and folk art decorations from Mexico and Peru.

Mr. Booth's Original Office decorated for Holiday Splendor, 2019. Photo by Daniel Smith, CAA '21.

Mr. Booth’s Original Office decorated for Holiday Splendor, 2019. Photo by Daniel Smith, CAA ’21.

On both trips, Mr. Booth likely collected souvenirs, one of which, a Peruvian decorated gourd, is on display. On his return to Michigan, it would seem Booth was inspired to collect more Pre-Columbian art from dealers in New York and San Francisco for his burgeoning Cranbrook Academy of Art Museum, which opened in its current building in 1942.

Working with Anthropology Coordinator/Museum Educator Cameron Wood at Cranbrook Institute of Science, Leslie Mio and I were able to study a number of fascinating pieces that Booth collected for the Art Museum and Institute, and see other works of art, domestic objects, and pieces of ancient and modern life from the countries the Booths traveled through. (In the 1980s, the Art Museum transferred many of its ancient pottery and anthropological items to the Institute of Science).

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Nazca double-spout-and-bridge vessel with mask decoration; Pre-Columbian double-chambered jar from Panama; and carved and painted wooden toys of people and llamas from Peru, 1940s. Photo by Daniel Smith, CAA ’21.

One of my favorite pieces we selected from the Institute is a double-spout-and-bridge vessel with mask decoration from the 2nd—4th century by the Nazca people, who lived in what is now Peru. The Nazca culture (100BC-800CE) is characterized by its beautiful polychrome pottery, painted with at least 15 distinct colors. Their vessels were constructed by the coil method and then decorated with a multicolored slip before the vessels were fired. This allowed for bright and permanent colors, and the images served as a way of recording stories for a people without a written language. The sheen of the vessel was enhanced by burnishing after it was fired. This type of vessel was used for ritual purposes, as they are most often found in graves.

The Peruvian decorated gourd (front center-left) collected by Mr. Booth is on display with ancient and 20th-century objects generously on loan from Cranbrook Institute of Science. Photo by Daniel Smith, CAA ’21.

George Booth would have seen pieces like the double-spout-and-bridge vessel on his travels through Peru’s museums, galleries, and archaeological digs. However, this piece was purchased from an American dealer after he returned home. Another, much larger piece, is in the Nazca style but dates to the 1940s and was also purchased by Booth for the museum. It is interesting to see how the ancient, Pre-Columbian pieces and the modern Peruvian works share similar styles, forms, and motifs.

The mantle in Mr. Booth's Original Office, featuring Mexican tin trees and a Peruvian retablo.

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The mantle in the office, featuring Mexican hojalata (tin artwork) candelabra Christmas trees and Peruvian retablo. Photo by Daniel Smith, CAA ’21.

After Spanish invasion and colonization, indigenous cultures and design became mixed with Catholicism. Today, the most prominent decor at Christmastime in South America is the nativity. Retablos, a reverent diorama-altar typical of the Ayacucho region of Peru, combines Catholic imagery with indigenous style and stories, and have been made throughout South America since colonial times. Our retablo was purchased through UNICEF Market, helping to support artisans and charity work in Peru.

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The mantle in the office, featuring Mexican hojalata (tin artwork) and a handmade woven bicyclist. Tin art has been popular in Mexico since the 1500s. Photo by Daniel Smith, CAA ’21.

The ornaments on the tree and along the mantel include hand-carved gourds and clay nativities from Peru, along with painted ceramic candle holders, tin animals, and hand-woven bicyclists from Mexico. These are all types of small souvenirs the Booths would have seen on their travels. In fact, there is a stall selling very similar gourd ornaments in one of the images Nellie took!

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Four Peruvian pottery figures of musicians from the 1940s and models of Mexican castillo (castle) firework frames. Fireworks have been popular for patron-saint festivals and holidays in Mexico since the mid-19th century. Photo by Daniel Smith, CAA ’21.

Leslie and I are grateful to Cranbrook Institute of Science for loaning objects from the areas of the Booths’ trips; to Deborah Rice in Cranbrook Archives for scanning all the great images (you can see more here); and to Michael Sinelli, Gerhardt Knodel, and Kenneth Gross for sharing pieces of Mexican and Peruvian folk art from their own collections to help make our room a festive, holiday scene!

Kevin Adkisson, Curatorial Associate

PS: There is one letter from George Booth to his son, Henry, where he writes about Mexico from Los Angeles: “Having passed out of the desert Mexican influence I find I am still greatly impressed with all I saw…I don’t like the bugs of Yucatan…the spots stay with you some time…, however a real traveler never lets such little things bother them–and with it all it in no way distracts from my good opinion of the Country–its history and the people of to-day.”

Adler/Schnee: A Detroit Institution

Today is Black Friday, but did you know tomorrow is Small Business Saturday? Started nine years ago to encourage patronage of locally owned and operated shops, this Saturday after Thanksgiving event isn’t the first attempt to attract shoppers to help sustain a neighborhood economy. In Detroit in the 1960s and 70s, few did it with more aplomb and civic mindedness than Edward and Ruth Adler Schnee.

While assisting Cranbrook Art Museum staff with preparation for their upcoming exhibit Ruth Adler Schnee – Modern Designs for Living, I had the opportunity to learn more about Ruth and Edward’s Detroit retail business. Started in 1948 as a fabric design and silk screening business on 12th Street, it was their flagship store (and final location of four) that especially caught my interest. It was this store that uniquely illustrates Edward’s business acumen, Ruth’s design talent, and the couple’s dedication to the city of Detroit.

 

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Flyer for Harmonie Park store opening, 1964. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

When Adler/Schnee moved its operation of sixteen years from Northwest Detroit to Harmonie Park in 1964, its owners had more than just profits in mind. In form letters found in their collection, Ed Schnee writes to announce the official opening of their new location:

Since your interest and concern in the future of ‘Downtown Detroit’ is well known and ably evidenced, you may be interested to know that … we have recently moved. Mrs. Schnee and I have watched the growth of the central city with great interest for the past several years and now feel that we can make a contribution to this growth and participate actively in the new manifestation of vitality in Downtown and confidently link our future to this area. It is our earnest desire to so conduct our specialty shop that it will be a stimulating force in the Central Business District and in particular, Harmonie Park, which we feel has the potentiality of a charming little Parisian Square.

That December, Adler/Schnee had already banded with local merchants in events designed to create interest in the neighborhood and its businesses. As the November 11, 1964 Downtown Monitor stated: “It begins to look as though the wise merchants of Harmonie Park are going to create a stir among less aware business men [of] the downtown area. Watch for their latest combined effort, “Holiday Lark on Harmonie Park” – complete with a rolling chestnut roaster, popcorn wagon, gay holiday decorations and maybe even a choral concert by the Club Harmonie itself.”

Adler/Schnee’s advertisement  for the event demonstrates their enthusiasm, “Adler/Schnee FUN FAIR: Fabulous Fripperies, Frivolous Fantasies, Functional Furnishings from far-flung lands. For family – friends – home – office – etc.” A version of ‘Holiday Lark’ was still going strong in 1976, as evidenced by a Detroit Free Press headline: “A Languorous Experience – Harmonie Park in Tune with the Season” and this flyer:

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Christmas Walk event flyer with logo designed by Ruth Adler Schnee. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

These holiday events were just one of many Harmonie Park happenings, and until the business was sold in 1977, the Schnee’s ‘modern general store’ was an important part of Detroit’s economic and cultural history. A mainstay in an enclave of art-related commerce, also anchored by the Detroit Artists’ Market, Ruth and Edward’s retail store became a destination. The many clippings, correspondence, and advertisements in their collection are testament to a business philosophy that encompassed their immediate surroundings, with such efforts as the Harmonie Park Improvement Plan, and the purchase of their building in 1971 to preserve its 1901 architecture and utilize its seven floors to create a design center. Throughout a period that would span both civil and economic upheaval, Adler/Schnee was a bright spot (literally and figuratively) in the city’s landscape.

Read more about the Schnee’s retail business or learn more about the remarkable designer, Ruth Adler Schnee, in the Edward and Ruth Adler Schnee Papers, or in the upcoming Schnee exhibition at Cranbrook Art Museum, December 14th through March 15, 2020.

Deborah Rice, Head Archivist

Discovering the University of Michigan in the collections of Cranbrook Archives

In October, the University of Michigan Osher Lifelong Learning group visited Cranbrook for a lecture, luncheon, and tours of our historic houses, the Art Museum, and Cranbrook Archives. In gathering materials related to the university, I found that my growing archival display began to tell a wonderful story of the early relationship between the Booth family and the University of Michigan, predominantly between 1918 and 1924. The story begins with the friendship of George Booth and Emil Lorch.

Born in Detroit in 1870, Lorch had studied at MIT and Paris, before graduating Master of Arts at Harvard in 1903. In 1906, he arrived at the University of Michigan to establish the School of Architecture, which remained a unit of the School of Engineering until 1931. The correspondence between Booth and Lorch covers a manifold of topics over many years.

 

On January 11, 1918, George Booth gave an address to the students of the departments of Journalism and Architecture at the university, entitled The Spirit of Journalism and Architecture which focused on the development of the Detroit News business and the new News building, which had been recently completed.

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Program for an address, The Spirit of Journalism and Architecture, delivered by George Booth at the University of Michigan, January 11, 1918. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

Later that year, in October, George’s son, Henry Scripps Booth began his studies in architecture at the university. It was there that he met J. Robert F. Swanson, with whom he traveled Europe for ten months beginning in June 1922, and later established the architectural practice Swanson and Booth between 1924 and 1926. Henry took with him letters of endorsement to help facilitate access to architectural treasures on their journey, including one from Professor Lorch:

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Letter of introduction for Henry Booth from Emil Lorch, July 17, 1922. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Eliel Saarinen arrived at the University of Michigan as a Visiting Professor at the invitation of Emil Lorch the next year, staying from September 1923 through 1925. To extend a warm welcome, Henry wrote, costumed, and performed in a pageant in honor of Saarinen. Many of Henry’s classmates performed in the pageant, including Ralph Calder and J. Robert F. Swanson, who also designed the program. The event took place on December 8, 1923, in the Michigan Union ballroom. Many of the members of the Michigan Society of Architects and the Michigan branch of the American Institute of Architects were present. During the dinner, George G. Booth made the principal address of welcome to Eliel.

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Program for A Pageant of Arts and Crafts, a Reception for Eliel Saarinen, program design by J. Robert F. Swanson, December 1923. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

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Interior of the program. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Henry and Robert graduated from the University of Michigan in 1924. Graduating with them was Ralph Calder, who was also one of the first two students to win the George G. Booth Traveling Fellowship, with which he traveled to England, France, and Italy. The fellowship continues to this day. Calder was among the original staff of the Cranbrook Architectural Office, working on Cranbrook School and Thornlea House. He later went on to design many buildings for colleges and universities in Michigan, including Michigan State University, Western Michigan University, Wayne State University, Hope College, and Hillsdale College.

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Letter concerning the Booth Traveling Fellowship from the first recipient Ralph Calder to George G. Booth, June 12, 1924. Notice the Michigan logo on the letterhead. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

In another Cranbrook connection, Ralph Rapson submitted a Fellowship entry in 1938, and, while he didn’t win, his submission impressed Eliel Saarinen so much that Rapson was given a scholarship to the Art Academy.

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Ralph Rapson’s submission to the George G. Booth Traveling Fellowship, AD.26.01.03. Ralph Rapson Architectural Drawing Collection, Cranbrook Archives. Gift of Rip Rapson.

There is much more in our collections about the University of Michigan; this post has selected items covering only the early years. In preparing for the Osher tour, I realized that, while the contents of processed archival collections remain the same, what we find in them depends on the question being asked. The collections of George G. Booth, Henry S. Booth, the Cranbrook Foundation, Swanson Associates, Inc. are among the most highly used and yet there is always something new to learn, something wonderful to discover.

— Laura MacNewman, Associate Archivist

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