Greta Skogster, a Mystery Woman No Longer

On tours of Saarinen House, visitors in the dining room are sandwiched between Greta Skogster’s hanging and leaded glass doors. They look one way to see a courtyard with leafed-out trees beyond; they look the other way to see a wall-sized hanging with birds and a tree and foliage.

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Dining Room of Saarinen House, Copyright Balthazar Korab/Cranbrook Art Museum.

Greta Skogster (1900-1994) herself was a one-woman phenomenon, running her own textile business in Finland. She was born in the small southwest town of Hämeenlinna in 1900, and as far as I can gather studied textiles at the Helsinki Central School of Arts and Crafts. At the time, in the 1920s, students from educated backgrounds were not actually trained to operate loom. They became designers and managers and engaged others to manufacture their designs. 

Greta Skogster

Greta Skogster-Lehtinen at work. Image © Greta and William Lehtinen Foundation

Skogster founded her own company in 1929named it Textile Officeand started producing hand-made designs by the yard and carpets for commercial use. In 1930 her work appeared alongside that of architectAlvar and Aino Aalto in the Small Apartment Exhibition in Helsinki, and from there her company grew apace.

Enter William Lehtinen (1895-1975) who went from studying forestry in Helsinki to earning his Masters of Forestry at Yale in 1926. He served as a trade attaché for Finland’s wood processing industries before returning home in 1930 to join the firm of Enso-Gutzeit, Finland’s largest pulp and paper company. So talented was forester Lehtinen that he rescued the company from post-war ruin and outmoded Russian machinery and became its CEO, transforming Finnish paper production along the way. The company still exists. 

By 1937 Skogster and Lehtinen were married and had moved her studio to Enso in eastern Finland, where her Textile Office became one of the largest private textile companies in the country with power looms and 23 employees. If you had been in Finland at that time you would have seen her work on Finnish trains, on the seats of factory offices, in all the best restaurants, in the headquarters of Enso-Gutzeit and in the upholstery of Eliel Saarinen’s Helsinki Central Railway Station. Her textiles even come to the USA at the 1947 Finnish House in New York’s Murray Hill where the Finnish American Trading Company had set up a showroom to promote trade.

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Interior of The Finland House with hangings by Greta Skogster-Lehtinen at 39-41 East 50th Street, New York, New York, 1947. Image ©paavotynell.org

Skogster-Lehtinen and husband William went on to lead a good life, devoting their time, money and effort into collecting art and promoting the arts and crafts. By 1964 they intended to establish a museum designed by old friend Alvar Aalto, but an inability to break through Helsinki’s historic area building restrictions meant the museum was never built. Undaunted, the couple established The Greta and William Lehtinen Foundation offering fellowships for artists, artisans, musicians and architects, which, in true Lehtinen fashion, still exists.

Greta Skogster and William Lehtinen and family

Greta Skogster-Lehtinen and William Lehtinen with family. Image © Greta and William Lehtinen Foundation

How the Saarinens came to choose a hanging from Greta Skogster for the dining room in their Cranbrook, Michigan house is not clear, nor do we yet know what the relationship was between the two families, though one must assume they knew each other. According to the Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research object record the hanging was acquired between 1935 and 1939. There exists a 1980 letter from Cranbrook to Skogster-Lehtinen, now living in Tampere after the death of her husband, enquiring about the hanging but no reply.

But what a piece, cleaned, restored and still reminding visitors of the serenity of a forested world, where large wood grouse flit amongst the leaves!

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Skogster’s tapestry hanging in the Dining Room of Saarinen House, Copyright Balthazar Korab/Cranbrook Art Museum.

This is not a tapestry in the true sense of the word, where the weft is continuous. This hanging employs many different techniques, including supplemental wefts and rectangular patches left with bare warp so that the fir paneling can show through. Echoing the luxury of the gold leaf in the dome over the table, there is gold thread and silk amongst the linen, cotton and rayon. It does recall other Skogster-Lehtinen pieces, many of which are quite large.

Needless to say, there is more to discover in the long life of this prolific designer, and the Saarinen connection puzzle remains to be solved.

Lynette Mayman, Collections Interpreter, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

Sources:

Greta ja William Lehtisen Säätiö (Greta and William Lehtinen Foundation), 2007. http://www.gretajawilliamlehtinen.fi

Scandinavian Design: Alternative Histories, edited by Kjetil Fallan (Oxford, UK: Berg Publishers, 2012).

Göran Schildt, Alvar Aalto, A Life’s Work: Architecture, Design and Art (Helsinki, Finland: Otava Publishing Company, 1994).

Works by Greta Skogster,  FJ Hakimian. http://fjhakimian.com/greta-skogster 

Eagle Scout Project in Smith House

This past March, the Center for Collections and Research was honored to host Kevin Wilburn, a Life Scout going for the rank advancement of Eagle Scout, as he performed his required service project.

https://www.scouting.org/programs/boy-scouts/advancement-and-awards/eagle

Eagle Scout badge from scouting.org

The mission of the Boy Scouts of America is to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Scout Law. The ranks of the Boy Scouts are Tenderfoot, Second Class, First Class, Star, Life, and Eagle. To receive the highest achievement rank in the Boy Scouts of America, a Life Scout must not only earn twenty-one merit badges but also perform an extensive service project. He must plan, develop, and give leadership to others in a service project helpful to any religious institution, any school, or his community.

Kevin’s project was to work with the book collection in the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Melvyn Maxwell and Sara Stein Smith House. It was especially great having Kevin work with the house, as Robert Smith, the only son of Melvyn and Sara, also achieved the rank of Eagle Scout in his youth (the Smith House collection contains his Eagle Scout uniform).

When Cranbrook acquired the Smith House late last year, we also acquired the extensive library amassed by the Smiths. The collection of more than 900 works ranges from books on Frank Lloyd Wright to Art in America and other periodicals, to yearbooks and popular fiction.

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Kevin and his team working on the Smith House book collection.

On the day of the project, Kevin and his team of scouts and parent volunteers did an inventory of the books in the Living Room and the Study. They utilized a computer program which allowed them to gather all pertinent information about the books by simply searching the Library of Congress Control Number (LCCN) or the International Standard Book Number (ISBN). They also took images of the books as well as any inscriptions found within. What they ended up with, after just one day working in only two rooms in the house, was a database of 658 individual titles. (Knowing how many more books are in the other rooms, maybe there are more than 900 books in the house…)

I recently asked Kevin his thoughts on the project over email:

LM: First off, what does becoming an Eagle Scout mean to you?

KW: I’ve been in Scouts for 11 years now there were times that I questioned my continuation in Scouts. However, on the cusp of this final accomplishment, I don’t regret staying on the path. It has been a lot of commitment and there is no substitution for the hard work required, but as a scout, I have had opportunities so few people get to have—just like doing this project. It is special to be part of the small group of Scouts that accomplish the Eagle Rank. I think the Scout program and achieving Eagle has made me a better person.

LM: Can you give me your overall impression of the Smith House?

KW: To me, I struggle with the words to describe the Smith House. It is truly a one-of-a-kind home and the attention to detail is absolutely marvelous. Whether it’s the striking color of the red tidewater cypress wood that forms the walls or the glistening flat skylights that illuminate the tight, yet airy library, this home is Usonian Style in its truest form. Additionally, there is such a great story to the Smith’s and how the house came to be that makes it even more special than the physical aspects.

LM: What motivated you to take on this project?

KW: The driving force behind this entire project was the fact that I was assisting in the preservation of a Wright-designed home. I’ve always had an appreciation for his work and have a personal interest in helping the preservation of his work. I never expected that I would have such a unique opportunity to combine my passion and interest so directly on my Eagle project—it was a truly special project. I really appreciate the opportunity Cranbrook provided me.

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Kevin photographing one of the 658 titles cataloged during the one-day project.

LM: What was the hardest thing about the project?

KW: We had very unique requirements compared to many projects that are often construction based, so going into it I knew that getting people started on the cataloging process would be difficult and it probably took an hour for volunteers to get into a rhythm. It was also physically demanding, in some cases sitting or standing for hours at a time—luckily we were able to rotate some positions to help people with fatigue. In the end, the hardest part was it was a very long 10 hour day typing in book details into our cataloging software and photographing the books.

LM: What was your favorite part of the project?

KW: Planning to pursue architecture as a career, I’ve always been interested in Frank Lloyd Wright; so, my favorite part was to be able to do a project in one of his Usonian homes. It was also exciting during the cataloging process to see some of the personal connections of the Smiths with Wright.

LM: Any final thoughts?

KW: I want to thank Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research, Leslie Mio, Associate Registrar, for supporting the project, and Lynette Mayman, Program Presenter, for being on-site during the project. I also want to thank the members of Troop 1005 that came out to support this effort. Finally, I want to thank Collectorz.com for donating the Book Collector software used to catalog the collection.

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Kevin (fourth from the right) and some of his team of volunteers on the back patio of Smith House.

The Center for Collections and Research wishes Kevin the best of luck in achieving his Eagle Rank and would like to thank him and his team for the hours of work on this project.

Leslie Mio, Associate Registrar

New Digital Collection Focusing on the Middle East

Thanks to a generous grant from the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation, thousands of negatives from the collections at Cranbrook Archives have been re-housed to ensure their long-term stability and preservation. One of these collections, which documents a research trip conducted in the Middle East by Cranbrook Institute of Science (CIS), has been digitized and is now available to users from our online database.

Domed Structures near Babylon. Photograph by Robert T. Hatt.

From 1952-1953, Dr. Robert T. Hatt (Director of CIS from 1935-1967) led an exhibition in Iraq, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt. Hatt recorded his observations in a travel journal which is part of the Robert Torrens Hatt Papers at Cranbrook Archives. In addition to his research and work as a scientist, Hatt was an avid photographer. Our collection includes more than 400 photographs taken by Hatt during his travels.

Dr. Hatt’s travel diary, 1952-1953. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

We are excited to share this unique collection that documents communities and antiquities which may no longer exist. Users can browse the collection image by image, or use the Search box at the top of each page in the online database.  To browse the 400+ images in the collection, click the Browse All button (next to Home).

Dr. Hatt (right) and an unidentified man in Babylon.

We hope you enjoy this new collection! Special thanks to Archives Assistants Veronica Wood and Kaitlin Scharra Eraqi for their hard work and the many hours they spent on this project.

Gina Tecos, Archivist

 

A Hunter of Taos

Earlier this week, as part of our regularly scheduled inventory and evaluation of cultural properties, I took a specialist from Sotheby’s New York to see a painting a bit off the beaten track of Cranbrook’s usual spots to find art. Hanging in the Cranbrook Kingswood Middle School for Boys, A Hunter of Taos is an incredible work by the American painter Oscar Edmund Berninghaus.

A Hunter of Taos

A Hunter of Taos, 1926
Oscar Edmund Berninghaus, American, 1874-1952
Oil on canvas, 34 x 39 in.
Gift of Henry S. Booth to the Cranbrook School

The painting shows a male American Indian proudly standing with a bow and arrows, while horses and riders pass behind through a rocky landscape and trees aglow in warm sunlight. The trees are made up of swirling golds, ochres, and greens, their abstraction complimenting the almost impressionistic rendering of the figures immediately below. The central hunter, however, is rendered clearly, with his face set immediately in front of a draped white fabric and his gaze looking back at the viewer. The scale of the painting, about three-feet square, is impressive. But why is it here in the Boys Middle School, or even at Cranbrook?

First, let’s step back a bit further to the artist himself: Oscar Edmund Berninghaus (1874-1952). A native of St. Louis, he began his career as a commercial lithographer, draftsman, and illustrator. He explored painting as a fine art through classes at Washington University and at the St. Louis School of Fine Arts, where in 1899 the twenty-five year-old was awarded a month’s long paid journey westward by the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. On this trip, Berninghaus was introduced to beauty and culture of the American Southwest, particularly Taos, New Mexico.

The Taos Pueblo, in north central New Mexico, is one of the oldest continuously inhabited places in North America, with the Pueblo people settling there over one-thousand years ago. It became a popular spot for artists in the late-1890s, and by 1910, Berninghaus was making annual pilgrimages between Taos and St. Louis. In the winter he would work on his lithography and commercial mural work to finance summers at Taos. There, he painted Native Americans, their horses, scenes of daily life, and the landscape. In 1915 he became a founding member of the Taos Society of Artists, composed of European-Americans who came to Taos to paint American Indian subjects. Berninghaus claimed he was “infected with the Taos germ” and was “fascinated by the people, the Indians and Mexicans, the adobe architecture, the sagebrush, the mountains; they all inspired me as a subject matter.”

In 1925, Berninghaus relocated permanently to Taos. He painted landscapes, animals, and scenes of daily life in the pueblo and village. In A Hunter of Taos, the model was Santiago Bernal, a Pueblo farm laborer and frequent model for Berninghaus. In a letter to a newspaper in 1927, Berninghaus wrote, “I think the colony in Taos is doing much for American Art. From it I think will come a distinctive art, something definitely American–and I do not mean that such will be the case because the American Indian and his environment are the subjects. But the canvases that come from Taos are as definitely American as anything can be. We have had French, Dutch, Italian, German art. Now we must have American art. I feel that from Taos will come that art” (as quoted in Pioneer Artists of Taos, p. 98).

Our painting, considered one of the artist’s finest, was first exhibited at New York’s National Academy of Design in its 1926 Winter Exhibition. The work won the Second Altman Prize, one of several awards given out by the Academy of Design. On June 6, 1927, Henry Booth purchased the painting from the artist.

North Lobby with Taos Painting

View of A Hunter of Taos in the North Lobby, Hoey Hall, Cranbrook School. 1928. Peter A. Nyholm, Photographer. Cranbrook Archives.

After Booth purchased the work, the painting hung in the north lobby of Hoey Hall for the opening of Cranbrook School for Boys in September of 1927. Henry formally presented the painting to Cranbrook School on October 18, 1927. In the last half of the century, the painting was moved to the new Cranbrook Kingswood Middle School for Boys, where it hangs in a small lobby for administrative offices. Examining the painting Tuesday, we saw it is in excellent condition, and I appreciated that it’s in a spot where many young men and their parents have a chance to sit and appreciate it. It’s one of the great assets of Cranbrook that the campus is sprinkled with great art in all of our buildings—I think it’s a big part of what makes this place so magical.

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

NB: If you want to learn about another Cranbrook connection to the Southwest and the Pueblo people, revisit this excellent post on Amelia Elizabeth White and her gift of Native American art and artifacts to the Cranbrook Institute of Science in 1937.

Object Spotlight: Refectory Table

Generally, the term “Refectory Table” describes long dining tables resembling those in dining halls of monasteries, especially oblong tables with four or six turned legs that may be expanded by leaves.CEC37 (4)Purchased by George G. Booth, before 1949, for use in Cranbrook House, the Refectory Table (CEC 37) in the Cranbrook House Oak Room has a plain 76 inch by 35-1/2 inch rectangular top, with two extendable tops of 31-1/2 inches each.cec37-13.jpgThe extension mechanism works by removing the top wood leaf, pulling out each side of tabletop – these are supported by bars under the table top that pull out – removing the center section, then placing the top leaf in the center.

“Interesting, but not really worthy of a spotlight,” you say?

“My table at home has leaves built into it. Why is this one so special?”

It is distinct because the top of this table sits over a beautiful and vibrantly carved and painted frieze, and is raised on four carved and painted legs and a box stretcher with a carved and painted linear design. It is the frieze and the carvings that make the table stand out.CEC37 (3).JPGThe frieze runs all around the table and features a grapevine interspersed at regular intervals with Medieval-style figures: mermaids, men, women, and animals.CEC37 (10)The figures carry banners and staffs, are sitting on benches, and, in the case of the mermaid, holding a fish.CEC37 (18)The frieze background is painted red; the grapevine and grapes are brown with black and the leaves are green with gold detailing; the figures and animals are mostly tan with gold and the mermaids are gold as well.  The lower edge molding of the frieze is painted with diagonal lines of green, gold, and red.CEC37 (11)Each of the four carved and painted legs is decorated with a different linear design of stripes, twisted around the trunk, with hexagonal base and top.CEC37 (6)Metal stars are attached to the base and top of each leg.  The legs are painted blue, green, red, and tan, all with gold detailing.CEC37 (12)The outer side of each stretcher has carved lines painted red and green.

The table is an English antique, likely from the 19th century. A careful study of comparable tables in books or at other museums could help us narrow down its age.

I am happy to share this beautiful table on the blog. If you ever find yourself in the Oak Room at Cranbrook House, whether for a meeting, house tour, or special event, please take the time and give this exception table a closer look.

Refectory Table

Refectory Table in the Oak Room, 1952. Cranbrook Archives.

– Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar and “Keeper of Keys and Cultural Properties” at Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

 

Speak up!

Every once in a while, you stumble upon an artifact that takes you down an interesting path.

Recently, while discussing interesting artifacts in museum collections – specifically “Edison’s Last Breath” in the collections of The Henry Ford – I discovered that we had George Booth’s hearing aid!

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The hearing aid was manufactured by Western Electric Company of Kearny, NJ in 1938. A Google search directed me to the Hearing Aid Museum (yes, there is a museum for everything), which claims to be the “largest on-line hearing aid museum in the world, and indeed, probably the second largest collection of old hearing aids in the world.”

George Booth’s hearing aid is a Model 1-A “Ortho-Technic” Carbon Hearing Aid. We have the microphone, receiver, amplifier, battery, and soft leather carrying case. We are only missing the molded earpiece which was attached to the receiver.

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Having a “use” item in such great condition is rare in most museum collections and I’m glad we have it as part of the George Gough Booth Papers in the archives.

– Leslie Mio, Associate Registrar

 

Metals & Cranbrook House

George Booth was a connoisseur. As an avid collector of beautiful objects, he acquired decorative and fine art to adorn his home, Cranbrook House (and later, the various Cranbrook institutions). One of the most collected categories: metal objects.

He was, after all, descended from a line of copper and tinsmiths. At fifteen, George Booth started a two-year apprenticeship at the Red Foundry in St. Thomas, Ontario, where he learned the fundamentals of the millwright and blacksmithing trades. He expanded his interest in craftsmanship through investment into an ornamental ironworks firm in Windsor (Evans and Booth) soon thereafter.

While he sold his share of the iron business in 1888, Booth continued sketching designs for metal products throughout his life. They’re collected in his sketchbooks . Some of his sketches for gates, furniture, and decorative elements were realized by Samuel Yellin of Philadelphia, while others were completed by local forges, and some simply ideas.

In examining photographs of Cranbrook House from Booth’s lifetime, I’m struck by the careful arrangement of art objects, specifically art bronzes, in the space. In the image above, on the table sits Albin Polasek’s 1917 sculpture Woman with Moon, still on view in the house. (Click images to enlarge)

If you look at enough images of the house, you will realize Booth was constantly rearranging his collection. Here, Eli Harvey’s 1904 work Recumbent Lioness is on the mantelpiece.

Starting in 1915, Booth loaned decorative and fine artworks to the Detroit Institute of Arts, including many bronzes previously on display in his home. In 1919, he gifted ninety-six of these objects (in iron, ceramics, wood, silver, and bronze) to the DIA, where many are still on view. You can flip through the DIA’s 1919 Bulletin describing Booth’s gift (in text and images).

Once Booth began developing the Cranbrook campus, he spent less energy collecting for Cranbrook House. However, the house has on occasion welcomed contemporary design, like the 1950 competition for Cranbrook Academy of Art students for the design of Packard automobiles and hood ornaments.

Packard Contest Dec 1950 AA2744-19

Cranbrook Academy of Art students admiring designs for the Packard Motor Competition on display in the Cranbrook House Library, December 1950. Harvey Croze, Photographer. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Next week, students and alumni of the Academy’s Metalsmithing department will be gathering in Cranbrook House to show their work in the context of the Booth home in an exhibition organized by current students, A Line of Beauty: Cranbrook House Inhabitation. Taking their work out of the typical museum gallery setting (and off of the usual white pedestal) will provide a new framework in which to understand and view their pieces, and will also be a continuation of what George Booth did in his own lifetime: bring new art into the home to be placed among other items of beauty.

I mentioned that George Booth was a connoisseur. Curator and educator Charles Montgomery, who in the mid-twentieth century helped professionalize the genteel ideas of connoisseurship, wrote that the budding connoisseur must learn “to approach every object with an inquiring mind as well as with an inquiring eye.” He continued that “when first looking at an object, it is important to let oneself go and try to get a sensual reaction to it. I ask myself: Do I enjoy it? Does it automatically ring true? Does it sing to me?”

What I look forward to in the pop-up exhibition with the Metalsmithing department is not only the opportunity to see work from students and alumni, but also to view the many objects already in the house in a new light. Montgomery recommends looking at objects with half-closed eyes and from various angles, and next Friday night, I plan to do the same.

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Ye Triumphe Ship, 1918 Henry Brundage Culver, with Untitled, 2017, Adam Shirley, CAA Metalsmithing 2010

A Line of Beauty: Cranbrook House Inhabitation will take place Friday, January 26th from 5:30 to 8:30pm. The presentation is curated and organized by the Cranbrook Academy of Art Metalsmithing Department, and is presented at Cranbrook House through the Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research. All are welcome.

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

Editor’s Note: New works shown are by Adam Shirley, Alberte Tranberg, Natalia Sarrazin, and Iris Eichenberg.

Winter is coming

In late fall, as the winter approaches, you will see some of the sculptures around the Cranbrook Academy of Art and Cranbrook Gardens disappear behind their winter covers.

As part of our stone sculpture conservation program, the stone sculptures and fountains on campus are covered for the winter. The covers prevent water from collecting and freeze in fountains, planters, saucers, or birdbaths. They also prevent statuary or pedestals from sitting in pools of ice.

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The Thinker, 1940,  by Marshall Maynard Fredericks (CAM 1941.34).

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The Thinker under its winter cover.

So, sculptures like The Thinker have been put into “hibernation,” but they will return in the spring with the flowers.

Happy winter!

-Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar

The Tale of a Bodhisattva

Nearly every day I run across some previously unknown person or event relative to Cranbrook’s history. My latest obsession is with a Chinese wall painting purchased in 1939 by George Booth for the Art Museum’s collection. Sadly, it is no longer in our collection, but the story is quite interesting nonetheless.

As early as 1916, Booth was acquiring Chinese objects from the Japanese dealer Yamanaka & Company, and soon after from Duveen Brothers and the Parish-Watson Company in New York, Spink & Son in London, and Gumps in San Francisco. As was customary, dealers maintained a relationship with their clients via letters often suggesting objects they might be interested in and including photographs and catalogs. In 1939, Booth began a relationship with the well-known Chinese dealer, C.T. Loo, who had offices and gallery space in both New York and Paris.

Bodhisattva from the Five Dynasties Period. Cisheng Monastery, Wenxian, Henan Province, China. You can clearly see where the wall painting had been cut into three sections in order to remove it from the temple.

Loo was widely considered one of the most prominent, and controversial, dealers in Chinese art and artifacts in the early twentieth century. Loo traveled annually to China to hand-pick the objects he wanted, many of which were chiseled out of or pilfered from ancient Buddhist Temples and monasteries. Daisy Yiyou Wang, Curator of Chinese and East Asian Art at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, and the pre-eminent scholar of Loo, stated “he is remembered as a culprit for the depletion of the nation’s cultural heritage.” Loo justified his practice by stating that he was preserving China’s history by getting the objects out of China – that the Chinese couldn’t or wouldn’t take care of them! In 1915, after a visit to the U.S., Loo opened a gallery in New York. His first sale was to Charles Lang Freer.

CAM1940_3

The three sections were shipped to Paris and reassembled by restorers there.

Booth’s first interaction with C.T. Loo came in the fall of 1939 when he acquired two Chinese bronzes. In correspondence about the bronzes, Loo also suggested to Booth a large “fresco” (or wall painting) which stood thirteen feet tall. After consultation with Eliel Saarinen, Booth acquired the work, which arrived in January 1940.

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Part of the detail drawing of the Art Museum’s east wall. Saarinen designed a recessed panel which housed the painting. AD.11.236, November 5, 1940. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives

In December 1941, John Gettens of the Fogg Museum examined the painting and found it to be in generally good condition. It was of the “usual mud wall of Chinese temple paintings” which included organic matter – straw, seed hulls, and rice. It was covered with a very thin white coating of kaolin, and the colored pigments were malachite, azurite, red iron oxide, yellow ochre, vermilion, and white clay.

The painting hung in the main gallery of Cranbrook Art Museum for more than thirty years. In 1974, the Museum Committee unanimously decided to sell the painting instead of pay the $5-6,000 to have it restored. Funds from the sale were to go towards the care and restoration of other works in the collection, as well as for renovations to museum storage space.

Tracing which shows the location of small areas of in-painting by Cranbook’s Marshall Fredericks, October 1941. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Thus ends the saga of the Chinese temple wall painting at Cranbrook as we do not know its whereabouts today. Other temple paintings can be found in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Princeton University Art Museum, and the Toledo Museum of Art.

Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

The Art and Science of Numbers

“La science du nombre devient la clef de toute culture scientifique,” prefaces an article by then-director, Robert T. Hatt, in the May 1966 Cranbrook Institute of Science newsletter. Roughly translated – the science of numbers becomes the key to any scientific culture – an idea promoted through a long-term exhibition at the Institute, titled Mathematics Emporium.

Sponsored by International Business Machines Corporation (IBM), the exhibition was a replacement for the World of Numbers, which was a mathematics-focused exhibition on display at the Institute from 1961-1966. The goal of the Mathematics Emporium was to discover the character of mathematics or as Dr. Hatt explained, “what mathematics is all about.”

Invitation to preview the Mathematics Emporium exhibition, Apr 1966.

The exhibition was created by well-known designer, Gordon Ashby, who previously worked with Charles and Ray Eames.  During Ashby’s tenure with the Eames Office, he worked on the Mathematica exhibition (also sponsored by IBM) for the California Museum of Science and Industry in Los Angeles (now the California Science Center) and later for the IBM Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair (1964/1965). For the Cranbrook exhibition, Ashby worked in consultation with several mathematics teachers in the San Francisco Bay Area to design displays about geometry, calculus, the properties of space, the giving of form to algebraic equations, and the measurement of motion and change.

Letter from Ashby to Hatt, Feb 1966.

Ashby’s goal with the Mathematics Emporium was to depict mathematical subjects in an imaginative way to stimulate the curiosity of visitors and encourage further investigation. The exhibition was enclosed in an 18-foot modular showcase that contained a graphic panel with sketches or diagrams, as well as a collection of thirteen small displays. Ashby said he hoped to create an exhibition “that would make mathematics ‘look-at-able’ and bear repeated visits.”

Mathematics Emporium exhibition. Photograph by Harvey Croze, Apr 1966. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

The exhibition showcase was trimmed in gold-leaf and included photographs, mathematical limericks, and quotes by famous mathematicians. Within each display there were thought-provoking questions, such as “what has a can of baking powder to do with calculus?” and “which mathematical science sees a coffee cup and a doughnut as alike?” The Mathematics Emporium was very popular with visitors, and it remained a permanent exhibition in the Institute’s collections for more than 14 years.

Gina Tecos, Archivist

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