Clean as a Whistle

In the past, we have discussed how we cover our stone sculptures on campus to protect them in the winter. But what about the many bronze sculptures? Europe and the Bull? Persephone? The Centaurs?

These pieces are more robust and able to withstand what winter throws at them, but they still need some love each year.

Each spring since 1987, the Community has brought in Venus Bronze Works to recondition the bronzes across the campus. Venus Bronze Works is a member of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, which means all the cleaning they do is in accordance with AIC’s Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Practice.

All sculptures are inspected and cleaned by dusting them off with compressed air or wet down and washed with a mild detergent, sponges, soft bristle brushes, and fine cotton pads.

Terra Gillis of Venus Bronze Works gives Carl Milles’s Sunglitter (also know as Naiad and Dolphin, CAM 2002.1) a quick shower, 2020. Photo by Kevin Adkisson.
Harlow Toland of Venus Bronze Works gives one of Carl Milles’s Running Deer (CAM 1934.30) a good scrub, 2020. Photo by Kevin Adkisson.

When the works are dried, one or two thin coats of wax are applied and the sculptures are buffed. This wax can be applied directly from the container or applied to a hot surface (by heating the sculpture with a propane-fed torch).

Giorgio Gikas, founder of Venus Bronze Works, holds the torch while his assistants Harlow Toland and Sara Myefski help prepare Triton with Fishes in the Triton Pools at Cranbrook Art Museum to receive a hot wax treatment, 2020. Photo by Kevin Adkisson.

This wax acts as a barrier to the air and humidity on the bronze surface and prevents damaging oxidization or corrosion from developing. When deciding how each individual work is cleaned, we look back to the artist’s intent for each sculpture (was it meant to be patinated green? dark bronze? polished? gilded?) and treat it accordingly.

Venus Bronze Works cleans and waxes all the Milles sculptures at the Cranbrook Art Museum and Cranbrook Academy of Art and the Cranbrook Institute of Science. They also work on such sculptures as Brookside’s Birds in Flight; Kingswood’s Dancing Girls and Diana; Cranbrook House and Gardens’ Fortuna delle Tartaruga (Turtle Fountain); and Cranbrook School’s athletic sculptures. Check out a recent Instagram post about the athletic sculptures below:

We are excited to start welcoming visitors back to our campus this summer, so you can all see the beautiful sculpture in their freshened-up glory.

Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

Cranbrook, Way Back

When we consider historical records, even digital ones, our thoughts do not usually extend to websites. Yet, just like student newsletters or exhibition catalogs, Cranbrook’s website is a compendium of institutional information regarding the people, places, and things that make it unique.  As we ourselves shift evermore towards online existences, one focus of the Archives has been on how to ensure Cranbrook’s virtual legacy.

I’m sure everyone is familiar with the expression, “What goes on the internet, stays on the internet,” or some variation thereof. Cranbrook is no exception. Fortunately, there is the Internet Archive. A non-profit American digital library, it has been saving public websites since 1996. And, courtesy of its web archives, the Wayback Machine, Cranbrook’s evolving web presence has been captured over time from its beginnings in the mid to late 1990s to today. [Interesting aside: through the Internet Archives backup protocol, Cranbrook is a part of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, the current incarnation of the famed ancient Library of Alexandria!]

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Cranbrook home page as it looked in 1997. Courtesy of the Internet Archive.

One of the quickest ways to get a snapshot of what was going on at Cranbrook in the last twenty-three years is through its website.  Get lost in Cranbrook 1997 by clicking on the above homepage image and navigating through the still active links.

How about exploring Cranbrook 2007?

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Cranbrook home page as it looked in 2007. Courtesy of the Internet Archive.

There are only 1,450 more site captures to delve into, if you’ve got the time! While the interactive websites of Cranbrook’s past can be accessed in this way, it is important to note that the information and files used in their creation form part of the over two million items at the Archives. For example, the main homepage image from the 1997 website, the Woodward Entrance Feature, can be found in the Archives’ Architecture Slide Collection.

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View of the entrance feature from Woodward Avenue at sunset, 1996. Dan Hoffman, designer. Balthazar Korab, photographer. Copyright Balthazar Korab/Cranbrook Archives.

As increasingly digital files become the only documentation of Cranbrook activities or events, its websites are more integral to understanding the context of these records. The Archives continues to expand its digital capabilities to keep pace. In the near future, we hope to provide our own copies of Cranbrook’s various websites (with keyword search capability), side by side with the digital records from which they were created.

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Deborah Rice, Head Archivist, Cranbrook Archives Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

A Michigan Mural

Metro Detroiters, out-of-town visitors, and architectural aficionados worldwide have long admired the Penobscot Building in Detroit’s Financial District. Like its close neighbor, the Guardian Building, and the Fisher Building further north in Midtown, it is one of the city’s finest examples of art deco architecture and one of the iconic structures that still make up Detroit’s skyline today. Designed by Wirt C. Rowland of Smith, Hinchman, & Grylls, when its 47 stories were built in 1928, it was the tallest building in the city and the fourth tallest in the nation.

The Penobscot, on the National Register of Historic Places, is perhaps best known architecturally for its tiered upper seventeen floors and the exterior ornament by sculptor Corrado Parducci, whose work can be seen on many other Detroit buildings. It’s also known to locals for the red-lit globe at the top (originally designed as an aviation beacon), the legendary Caucus Club (Barbara Streisand reportedly launched her singing career here), or the famed roof observation deck which offered an excellent panorama of the city.

But, what about the interior of the Penobscot? Well it just so happens there’s a Cranbrook connection!

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The original bank lobby. Courtesy Detroit Free Press Archives.

The Guardian Detroit Group was the first tenant of the two-story bank hall at 635 Griswold St. before they had their own skyscraper commissioned just a block away. A later occupant, Detroit City Bank, opened in the same space in February 1949. When they did, adorning one wall was a mural painted by Cranbrook Academy of Art graduate and Head of Kingswood School Art Department (1940-1956), Clifford B. West. Known as the “Mural of Michigan” the twenty-six-foot painting depicts scenes representing state commerce and industry. West, who studied under Zoltan Sepeshy, and with fellow muralist David Fredenthal, had already completed a bank mural in Alamosa, Colorado, as well as Detroit-area murals in the Rackham Building, Stockholm Restaurant, and Fox & Hounds Restaurant.

Following a meticulous process that involved a series of sketches at different scales, cartoons plotted to a numbered grid and traced on the wall, and painting in two steps (large blocks of color followed by detail work), the scenes were applied in casein tempera on canvas cemented to the wall. Joining in this process was West’s wife and fellow artist, Joy Griffin West, and several academy students. Fortuitously, each stage of work was captured in a series of photographs by Cranbrook photographer, Harvey Croze.

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Upon completion of the mural, West mounted an exhibit at Cranbrook Art Museum titled, Progress of a Mural in April 1949, detailing his process for the Penobscot mural, and featuring many of the preliminary sketches and cartoons.

It’s largely unknown whether the Penobscot mural exists today, since a drop ceiling was installed many years ago, completely obscuring West’s creation.

Deborah Rice, Head Archivist

Cranbrook-LIFE

2020 marks ninety years of temporary traveling exhibitions at Cranbrook Art Museum. Perhaps one of the best examples that brings to life this aspect of the Museum’s programs is Cranbrook’s brief but wildly successful partnership with LIFE Magazine.

The Cranbrook-LIFE Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting opened in 1940, ten years after Cranbrook Art Museum hosted its first traveling exhibition, organized by the American Union of Decorative Artists and featuring contemporary interior design. The idea of temporary traveling exhibits at Cranbrook began the same year as the permanent collection was established by founder George G. Booth. It furthered Booth’s commitment to presenting contemporary art as foremost a learning tool for Academy of Art students. It was intended “to remind our students that art is a living thing and that the record of our times is being created from day to day by the artists of this age, and in so doing perhaps to stimulate the creative spirit among those who work here.”

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Judges examine paintings in New York, April 1940. Hansel Meith, photographer. Copyright Time Inc.

Cranbrook-LIFE was a celebration of contemporary U.S. art meant to symbolize “America’s increasing responsibility as a democratic world art center.” (Life, May 27, 1940) As such, LIFE invited sixty painters, living and working in America, to submit three paintings to be voted on by a jury of six. The painters included Edward Hopper, Charles Sheeler, and Cranbrook’s own Zoltan Sepeshy. The jury, comprised of Sepeshy, two leading art museum directors, an editor at LIFE Magazine, a representative from the Federal Works Agency Section of Fine Arts, and a well-respected American painter and educator, convened in a New York City warehouse where they spent four hours whittling down 180 submissions to the final sixty paintings shipped to Cranbrook for the show. One of these was Grant Wood’s American Gothic! Loaned by the Art Institute of Chicago, the already famous painting appears to be the only piece in the exhibition to come from another art museum.

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Opening night attendees arrive. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

If you’re at all familiar with LIFE, you may be asking yourself why a popular weekly magazine, known for its photographic general-interest stories, would make a foray like this into the art world? According to a 1940 TIME Magazine article, in the previous three years,  “the No. 1 U.S. source of popular knowledge of U.S. art has been LIFE, which has reproduced for the man-in-the-street’s weekly dime some 452 paintings (usually in full color) by U.S. artists.” Your next question might be why it was held at Cranbrook, as opposed to, say, the newly constructed Museum of Modern Art building in New York City? Florence Davies of the Detroit News may have answered that, when she wrote at the time: “Life Magazine picked Cranbrook not only because of the enchanting setting of the place as a whole, but more particularly because it found there ‘work in progress—an atmosphere of creative activity.’”

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Academy of Art students parade through the opening night gala reminding attendees of the student exhibition simultaneously on display at the Cranbrook Pavilion. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

The exhibition drew an estimated 2,500 national and international visitors in the short two weeks it was on display from May 17-June 2, 1940. Because of the size of the show, it could not be held in the current museum building on Lone Pine Road and Academy Way (Eliel Saarinen’s museum building began construction during the exhibition). And, as the Academy student exhibition was currently occupying the Cranbrook Pavilion, the decision was made to utilize the Academy’s Painting Department Studios. Opening night was a festive gala. Attendees, including George and Ellen Booth, Loja and Eliel Saarinen, Edsel B. Ford, Albert Kahn, and “1,000 Detroit socialites braved wintry winds” in formal attire. (Time, June 3, 1940)

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Marianne Strengell, Charles Eames, and Richard Reinhardt. Richard A. Askew, photographer. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Coming on the heels of the Great Depression and during the beginning months of the War in Europe, pro-American sentiment was high, as evidenced by the placement of potted American-grown tomatoes in windowsills as decoration. According to TIME Magazine, the music for the evening was by U.S. composers and refreshments included “Rhine wine flavored to taste like U.S. new-mown hay.” (!?)

Cranbrook-LIFE marks the beginning of the Cranbrook Art Museum Exhibition Records, which illuminate thirty-six years of temporary traveling exhibits, and are rife with names of renowned artists that have exhibited at Cranbrook throughout its history.

It’s not all in the past, though! Don’t miss Cranbrook Art Museum’s current traveling exhibition,  In the Vanguard: Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, 1950-1969, on view until March 8, 2020.

Deborah Rice, Head Archivist

A Sculpture So Nice They Named it Twice

One of my many duties here at the Center for Collections and Research is to maintain the sculptures on the campus. This can mean finding conservators to repair works, contractors to clean them, or, in some cases, clean them myself. Recently, I was working on a sculpture in the gardens at Cranbrook House. I had seen the sculpture before but wondered about its backstory. Turns out it was a tale of two names.

The sculpture is Mario Korbel’s statue Atalanta, the Greek goddess of the hunt, travel, and adventure. It was commissioned by George Gough Booth in 1927 for one of the gardens at Cranbrook House, part of a series of work Korbel completed for the Booth house and gardens — including Dawn and Harmony in the gardens and Andante and Nocturne in the house.

Letter from Mario Korbel to George G. Booth, referencing both his works Atalanta and Andante. George Gough Booth Papers, Cranbrook Archives.

July 12, 1927 letter from Mario Korbel to George G. Booth, referencing both his works Atalanta and Andante. George Gough Booth Papers, Cranbrook Archives.

Booth, admiring the beauty of the clear, white marble of Atalanta, transferred the work into the collection of the Art Museum. It was part of the original art museum exhibition in 1930.

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Atalanta (left) in the first Art Museum exhibition in 1930. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Later, Booth wrote: “We have finally concluded that the figure will make a very important and striking center art element in connection with the new School for Girls at Cranbrook.” When the Kingswood dormitory was built, the sculpture was transferred to Kingswood and installed on the terrace.

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Atalanta (right) adorns the terrace at the Kingswood School for Girls dormitory in this undated photo. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

In 1969, the sculpture was vandalized and smashed into many pieces (no one was ever implicated in the crime–or at least, their name isn’t in my file!). Those pieces were put back together, but when Atalanta was finally repaired, she was not as pristine. Henry Scripps Booth decided to rename her Ecolo. He also wrote a verse to explain the new name:

Ecolo, Goddess of Earth 

Who is this sweet maid who stoops protectively to save the earth from man’s pernicious tread? 

It is the blithe spirit of Ecology by whom all life and natural things are fed.

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Ecolo in her new home in the Herb Garden at Cranbrook House.

Ecolo, or the sculpture-formerly-known-as-Atalanta, now greets visitors in the Herb Garden at Cranbrook House.

– Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar

Revel in the Clutter of Edward Fella’s 1972 Cranbrook Map

On the inside cover of the 1973/1975 Cranbrook Academy of Art Catalog is a hand-drawn, fold-out map of the campus. I’ve always liked this map, with its witty labels like “Brookside School for Little Kids” and “Another Famous Statue.”

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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.

On the top left, you’ll see “Athletic Fields (Detroit Lions practice here).” The map also documents the neighborhood: on the far right, “Houses of the Bloomfield Hills wealthy” and on the bottom left, “Used to be orchards here, now houses.” If you look nearby, you’ll see “Map drawn by Edward Fella 1972.”

There are other labels that help expand our understanding of Cranbrook in 1972. The Old Water Tower (a thorn in Saarinen’s side) is still standing, and Cranbrook House is listed as “Booth Estate, Cranbrook House, now Institute for Pastoral Studies.” There are still tennis courts where the New Studios and Middle School for Girls would be built. There’s no label for Saarinen House, instead, sandwiched between the “Foundry Studio,” “Architecture,” “Ceramics,” “Fabrics,” and “Metalsmithing” reads a label for “President’s House.” (Wallace Mitchell was the Academy’s president at the time). Although there are lots of cars and some people—I spy football players, an entrance guard, and a life guard—the only proper name I see is “McCoy Studio.” This makes sense: Ed Fella was a frequent collaborator with, and later a student of, Katherine and Michael McCoy.

Edward Fella is a native of Detroit who graduated from Cass Technical High School in 1957. There, he studied lettering, illustration, paste-up, and other commercial-art techniques. He went directly from high school into advertising work as a commercial artist, working primarily for automotive and health-care clients. He had a successful career in advertising for almost three decades in Detroit.

In the early 1970s, the period in which Fella drew our map, he was working on freelance work between more conventional assignments. These pieces were often whimsical collages of photocopied materials with hand drawing and lettering additions. In 1970, Fella met Katherine McCoy (future Artist-in-Residence at Cranbrook) at Designers & Partners, his employer, in downtown Detroit. As McCoy recalled to Design Traveler last year, “I interviewed with the senior design partner, Al Evans, who offered me a job that day and introduced me to Ed Fella as I left. I recall a 32-year-old Ed sitting at his drawing board smoking his usual cigarette in his studio space right by the studio’s front door. I was 25 and very impressed by his wall of books, stacks of magazines, and graphic ephemera pinned up everywhere.” She noted that Fella was “already a Detroit advertising design celebrity.”

McCoy only worked at Design & Partners one year, leaving in 1971 to head Cranbrook’s design department with her husband Michael. There, she would often invite Fella to present his work to students and offer critiques. As McCoy told the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA), “If anyone is meant to be a student and teacher in a rigorous educational environment, it’s Ed Fella. He was a powerful influence on our students.” It would have been around this time Fella was commissioned to produce the Cranbrook map for the 1973/1975 course catalog.

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Cover, 1973/1975 Cranbrook Academy of Art Course Catalog, designed by Katherine McCoy. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

After over a decade “hanging out” in the “hippie” and “loosely structured” atmosphere of Cranbrook (Fella’s words), in 1985 at the age of 47 Fella entered into the MFA program at Cranbrook. Although older than his fellow students (and his department heads), Fella didn’t view his years of professional practice as an advantage: “At Cranbrook, I really was fortunate to be in such an amazing class dynamic…I used to say, experience never trumps a great idea; a 20-year-old can have one as easily as a 40- year-old…and it was certainly the case in that class!” He immersed himself into the era’s discussions about the postmodern movement. At Cranbrook, he also studied photography with Carl Toth and attended discussions with architect Daniel Libeskind (meanwhile, Fella’s two daughters babysat Libeskind’s young children).

Throughout his career, Fella produced work for local art cooperatives and events, like the Detroit Focus Gallery, Detroit Artist Market, and Cranbrook. Over 100 of these posters were donated in 2012 to Cranbrook Art Museum. It is in the experimental nature of these posters where we can see how Fella perfected his art of distorting text and collaging high and low imagery.

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Practice and Preach and Theorize and Teach! Edward Fella, American, 2004. One-color, offset-print on bond paper, 17 x 11 in. Gift of the Artist, Courtesy of Cranbrook art Museum.

In 1987 Ed Fella left Michigan to begin teaching design at the California Institute of the Arts. He recently retired from the school after a long career of mentoring and producing experimental works of graphic design. In 2014, he was awarded Cranbrook Academy of Art’s Distinguished Alumni Award. You can read and see more about Fella’s life, work, and education here in this excellent biography by Design Traveler.

Fella’s 2007 AIGA medal biography summarizes Fella’s career as: “prodigiously mashing up low-culture sources with high-culture erudition, Fella’s work—perhaps more than that of any other contemporary designer—makes visible the postmodern concept of deconstruction, which recognizes that behind every articulated meaning is a host of other, usually repressed meanings, some antithetical. By battering and mixing fonts, engaging in visual puns and generally violating the tenets of ‘good design,’ Fella lets a thousand flowers bloom. His designs don’t cut through the clutter—they revel in it.”

I think this quite aptly summarizes the joy I find in Fella’s Cranbrook map of 1972: reveling in the mashup of landscape, architecture, activity, and text. Fella captures the diversity and beauty of this unique assemblage we call Cranbrook.

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

Remember, Remember, the Fourth of November…the 1978 Guy Fawkes Ball

On Saturday, November 4th, 1978, the first Cranbrook Academy of Art Guy Fawkes Ball was held. The first in what became a long-running series of masquerade balls, it really put the fun into fundraising. The social event, organized by Academy staff and the Women’s Committee, also highlighted the connection between Cranbrook in Bloomfield Hills and its namesake, the village of Cranbrook in Kent, England (from whence the Booth family came) as Guy Fawkes is a well-known character in English history.

Flyer for the Guy Fawkes Ball, 1978. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Then who, you might ask, is Guy Fawkes? And why commemorate him with Guy Fawkes Night, often locally referred to as Bonfire Night? Cranbrook’s 1978 menu for the Guy Fawkes Ball described it thus:

“An English holiday celebrated with fireworks and bonfires, commemorating the apprehension of Guy Fawkes just before he planned to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605. Guy Fawkes’ gunpowder plot originated when James I refused religious freedom to Roman Catholics.”

The menu for the 1978 with the description of Guy Fawkes Night. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

The historic tale of Guy Fawkes is set against the backdrop of the religious divisions of sixteenth century England. King James I had ascended the throne only two years prior to the plot after his second cousin, Queen Elizabeth I had died. Elizabeth was born in 1533, the year of England’s break with Rome under her father, King Henry VIII. The thread of history can easily be pulled back from Guy Fawkes to the English Reformation. Yet, much to every historian’s delight, there is no end to the unraveling of history, such that, arguably, the English Reformation was the icing on a cake that was baked in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. You can read more about the Gunpowder plot here and here.

From an archival perspective, these links are useful in showing how archives can rectify widely held myths (e.g., Guy Fawkes was not the leader of the conspiracy); for thinking about how archives can be used to augment educational programs in schools; and experiencing how the digitization of archival records makes primary sources accessible to scholars and researchers around the world. And speaking of around the world, the Guy Fawkes Worldvue in 1997, saw Cranbrook Academy of Art alumna send postcards from as far as India, Austria, Scotland, Morocco and elsewhere with tales of Guy Fawkes sightings.

Postcards from the Guy Fawkes Worldvue, 1997. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

And so, back to the Guy Fawkes Ball! The first ball was so successful and entertaining, that another was planned the following year, and another. By 1982, the success of the ball won Roy Slade, President of the Cranbrook Academy of Art from 1977-1995, the title of ‘Commander of the Order of Guy Fawkes’. His collection of records is one of the many collections available for research at Cranbrook Archives.

And the appropriate verse from Mother Goose? It is this:

‘Remember, remember, the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot
I see no reason why the gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.’

The Guy Fawkes Ball, c. 1992 with Roy Slade (top left), Guy Fawkes Ball Chair Helen Guittard (top right), Greg Wittkopp and Dora Apel (bottom).
Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

Well, it seems that the plot has not been forgotten more than 400 years later. Here at Cranbrook, the Guy Fawkes Ball became an annual event for a substantial length of time… through the 80s and the 90s until the first decade of the new millennium.

Laura MacNewman, Associate Archivist

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. 

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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.

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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 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

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

 

 

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