From Drawing to Driftwood: The Artwork of Wallace MacMahon Mitchell

During the Archive’s Reading Room relocation at Cranbrook Art Museum, we have been digitizing negatives for preservation and access. This has enabled a new collection for CONTENTdm which highlights the artwork of Wallace MacMahon Mitchell (1911-1977). There are thirty images so far, with more being added soon. Five of Mitchell’s paintings can also be viewed during tours through Saarinen House: Presidents/Residents, 1946-1994.

WM318b

Wally Mitchell in his studio, early 1940s. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

The collection features images of the rich diversity of Mitchell’s artwork, from his early drawings and still life paintings to his later geometric abstract works and painting-constructions. Mitchell’s later works include many driftwood sculptures and Plexiglas paintings.

WM78

Driftwood in Three Sections, 1965. Estate of Wallace MacMahon Mitchell/Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

In 1946, two of his paintings were included in the European Exhibition of the Guggenheim-funded Museum of Non-Objective Painting. These two pieces, with two other paintings added in 1948, are now in the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. Between 1950 and 1962, Mitchell’s work was frequently exhibited at the Bertha Schaefer Gallery in New York. He was also commissioned to design murals, such as one installed at the University of Kentucky in 1962, based on his painting Turnabout Number One from 1952.

WM199a

University of Kentucky Mural, installed in 1962 based on a painting ‘Turnabout Number One’ from 1952. Estate of Wallace MacMahon Mitchell/Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Mitchell’s archival collection will be available for research again when the Archives Reading Room reopens in July. Mitchell’s collection contains professional papers relating to his studentship and work as an instructor and administrator at Cranbrook. It also includes interviews and correspondence related to Joan Bence’s 1983 publication, The Art of Wallace Mitchell. There are also audio-visual materials including negatives, transparencies, slides and photographs.

WM334-3

Villa-Neuve-Les-Avignons, 1938. Estate of Wallace MacMahon Mitchell/Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Mitchell was born in Detroit in 1911. After receiving his BA from Northwestern University in Chicago, Ill. in 1934, he studied with Zoltan Sepeshy for a year (1934-1935). He then toured Europe before returning to Cranbrook in 1936 as a painting instructor. His career at Cranbrook spanned 1936-1977, during which time he taught Arts and Crafts at Cranbrook School (1944-1947) while he was painting instructor (1936-1956), he was Registrar for the Academy of Art (1944-1956), Director of the Cranbrook Art Museum (1956-1970), and President of the Cranbrook Academy of Art (1970-1977). A retrospective exhibition of his work planned for his retirement at the end of the 1976/1977 academic year became a memorial exhibition following his death in January 1977.

-Laura MacNewman, Associate Archivist

Sources:

Wallace McMahon Mitchell Papers (1990-21)

Chad Alligood, What to Paint and Why: Modern Painters at Cranbrook, 1936-1974 (Bloomfield Hills, MI: Cranbrook Art Museum, 2013)

Joan Beehler Bence, The Art of Wallace Mitchell – Cranbrook’s Op Art Master Colorist (Unpublished, 1983, 1996)

Wallace MacMahon Mitchell, 1911-1977: a memorial exhibition of paintings and painting-constructions, 1936-1976 (Bloomfield Hills, MI: Cranbrook Academy of Art, 1977)

Creativity and Experimentation: A Snapshot of the CKU Dance Department

A new collection that documents two decades of the Cranbrook Kingswood Upper School Dance Department is now open for research. The materials were donated to the Archives by the former Director of the Dance Department, Jessica Sinclair, and photographer Fred Olds.

Sinclair started teaching modern dance as part of Kingswood School’s physical education program in 1963. During her tenure, the program flourished, and Dance became its own department. Students performed throughout the year at the Performing Arts Winter Festival, the annual Evening of Dance concerts, and at events such as the Guy Fawkes Ball at Cranbrook Academy of Art (CAA).

Alexandra Ohanian in studio, ca 2000. Copyright Fred Olds/Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

In 1982, Sinclair invited Fred Olds to photograph her dancers in collaboration with a fiber installation by Gerhardt Knodel, who was Head of the Fiber Department at CAA at that time. This event led to a twenty-year collaboration between Olds and Sinclair. Olds photographed students in performance, in the studio, and at local and international events.

Dancers perform at the David Whitney Building in Detroit, 1985. Copyright Fred Olds/Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Between 1982 and 2002, the Dance department performed in Chicago, Toronto, and at the David Whitney Building in Detroit, where Sinclair choreographed “Dance in 4 Spaces,” with a grant awarded by the Michigan Council for the Arts. In 1989, Olds traveled with Sinclair and her dancers to the former Soviet Union to perform at the Children’s Palace in Moscow, the Choreographic Institute in Tblisi, and at the Rimsky-Korsakov Conservatory State Theatre in St. Petersburg. Olds remembers that the peak of applause at this concert came for a dancer in a 16-foot-tall dress designed by artist, Nick Cave (CAA ’89).

Susan Loveland in a costume designed by Nick Cave, 1989. Copyright Fred Olds/Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Throughout the years, Sinclair collaborated with a diverse group of fiber artists, sculptors, and architects to infuse creativity and experimentation into her work. The archival collection reflects this process in photographs, ephemera, and video.

– Gina Tecos, Archivist

Photo Friday: Grotell & Himelhoch’s

In November of 1942, Maija Grotell displayed her wares among the latest fashions in the windows of Himelhoch’s department store in downtown Detroit. Grotell, Head of the Academy’s Department of Ceramics from 1938 to 1966, placed her vases, pots, and plates in a stage-set ceramics studio, replete with a painted kiln, bottles of glazes, and a potter’s wheel (made of what appears to be Papier-mâché).Grotell Himelhochs 1The clothes related directly to the vessels, with the sign reading: “Ceramics: Wonderful Muted Colors To Wear Under Winter Coats Inspired by Maija Grotell’s Ceramic Masterpieces.” Himelhoch’s sold the clothing, while the Grotell works were sold through the Detroit Artist’s Market.

The images are attributed to photographer Joseph Munroe, November 2, 1942.

– Kevin Adkisson, 2016-2019 Collections Fellow, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

NB: Himelhoch’s opened in 1907 and was on Detroit’s Washington Boulevard from 1923 to 1977. The lovely building is a National Historic Landmark and survives today as apartments.

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)

The Mystery of Sven Hedin

Who was Sven Hedin? A Swedish explorer and geographer known for his expeditions to Central Asia, Dr. Sven Hedin created detailed maps in areas including Tibet, Turkestan, and northwest China. He is probably best known for his rediscovery of the buried Silk Road settlement of Khotan in 1896.

By 1910, Hedin had made acquaintance with fellow Swede Carl Milles and they became lifelong friends. Milles, who always admired Hedin, created a sculpture in 1932 to honor his friend.

“I made this at Cranbrook. For a long time I had wished to make a monument for him, and started it here. When Sven came to see it, he brought some other gentlemen with him. After looking at it he said ‘But Carl, this is wrong. I never look at the sextant when I am on the camel. I always get down from the camel, for the camel moves.’ Milles replied ‘But my dear friend. Do you think all skippers jump in the blue sea when they want to look at a sextant, just because the ship moves?'”

From 1927-1935, Hedin organized the Sino-Swedish Expedition (watch the video) during which he investigated the archaeological, geographical, and topographic features in Inner Mongolia, the Gobi Desert, and Xinjiang, China. He spent the remainder of his life occupied with a publication dedicated to his findings.

From the Carl Milles Papers, Courtesy Cranbrook Archives

Hedin – the sculpture, not the man – made another exploration – this time from the grounds of Cranbrook to Hazel Park, Michigan. In August 1945, the 500 pound bronze sculpture of Hedin disappeared from its pedestal at Cranbrook Institute of Science. Shortly afterwards, a janitor at Hazel Park High School discovered the sculpture embedded in cement and perched upon a large rock in front of the school! School officials did not know the sculpture had come from Cranbrook so two weeks after reporting it to the police, Hedin was chipped out of the cement and stored in the basement of the school. School Superintendent John Erickson commented “those culprits did a real job of cementing it to the rock. Our janitor had to work hard to free it.”

Fast forward to December 1946 when Alton Sheldon, a salesman of janitor supplies, overheard men at Cranbrook talking about the wayward sculpture. Sheldon told them he had seen the statue in the Hazel Park High School basement, and that Cranbrook had better hurry down to get it before the school sold “Hedin and his camel for junk!”

Needless to say, Hedin returned to Cranbrook, a little worse for wear – quite scratched and missing his telescope. The sculpture was ultimately shipped to Sweden for restoration. Upon its return, noted explorer Sven Hedin was once again mounted on his pedestal where he remains today.

– Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

Saarinen/Slade House

When incoming Academy President Roy Slade arrived at Cranbrook in July 1977, the President’s House (known, off and on, as Saarinen House) was in need of a refresher. Three other families had lived in and changed the aesthetic of the house following Eliel Saarinen’s death in 1950, and the house was a far cry from Saarinen’s design intent. Slade worked with designers Jean Faulkner and Carl Magnusson (then Director of Graphics and Showroom Design at Knoll) to rework the house into something befitting the new President of the Academy.

SH Living_Norman McGrath_American Society of Magazine Photographers_78-02-8

Saarinen House, February 8, 1978. Norman McGrath, photographer. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

The original Saarinen-designed furniture had been spread throughout the campus and Museum, and in the redesign much of it was returned for use in the house. But instead of restoring rooms to their 1930s appearance (that would happen a decade or so later), the house was kept as a blend of old and new. “Gibraltar Ash” off-white wool wall-to-wall carpeting by Jack Lenor Larsen stretched between the foyer, living room, dining room, and library, making the main room of the house feel like one continuous open space. Furnishings and art pieces by Cranbrook (and Cranbrook-adjacent) artists and designers from many decades–not just the 1930s–were blended together into a comfortable, deliberately eclectic look. The 1977 interiors of the house were featured in local papers and even included, with text by Paul Goldberger, in Living Well: The New York Times Book of Home Design and Decoration (1981).

It’s interesting in these photos by Jack Kausch how well the space works, but how alien Saarinen’s furniture seems to be! Particularly in the dining room–the holly wood table and brass fixture are decontextualized by the foreign whiteness of the walls, ceiling, and floor. The next restoration, completed in 1994, brought back Saarinen’s rich color scheme and variety of materials–including the gilded ceiling.

If you’d like to learn more about the later lives of Saarinen House, Roy Slade’s tenure as President of the Academy, and other fascinating Cranbrook Academy of Art stories, come out to visit my exhibition, Saarinen House: Presidents/Residents, 1946-1994, opening later this month.

The exhibition features archival material and works by each former resident: painter Zoltan Sepeshy, who directed the Academy from 1946 to 1966 and moved into the house in late 1951 following the death of Eliel Saarinen; architect Glen Paulsen, who led the Academy from 1966 to 1970 and expanded Cranbrook’s campus with late-Modern additions; Wallace Mitchell, a Detroit native whose career at Cranbrook developed from student to painting instructor, then director of the Art Museum and finally president; and painter and educator Roy Slade, who led the Academy and its Museum from 1977 to 1994. Slade initiated the restoration of Saarinen House in the late 1970s and encouraged and supported Greg Wittkopp (then a curator at the Art Museum) in the transformation of this early modern, Art Deco design treasure into a public house museum in 1994.

The free Opening Reception will take place Sunday, April 29, 2018, from 1pm-5pm (in conjunction with Open Studios) and the exhibition will be included on all tours of Saarinen House through November. Learn more on our website.

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

 

 

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.

Picture1.jpg

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.”

IMG_7389.jpg

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.

Chang.jpg

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

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.

Adam Shirley with Ship.jpg

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.

The Devil Made Him Do It

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

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

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

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

Lucifer Landing, October 2017. Photograph by the author.

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

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

Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

Cranbrook Celebrates Halloween

Campus celebrations throughout the years.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

 

 

 

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: