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.

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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

 

 

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.

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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

Operation Mercy and an Academy of Art Sculptor

In January 1957, members of the Academy of Art’s Student Council came across an article in Newsweek magazine about the plight of Hungarian refugees to the United States following the 1956 Hungarian revolt against Soviet domination. Moved by the story of the artist featured in the article, the students decided to act and conceived and executed a plan to finance a semester of study at the Academy for one of the artist refugees. During the weekend of January 19-20th, Academy students held a sale of their own artwork, and supplemented by their own meager cash funds, raised $2,600 for a fund administered entirely by the Student Council. The Academy of Art added enough funds to present an artist with a scholarship for one year of study.

Members of the student council wrote to various organizations including the American Hungarian Federation and the Central Department of Church World Service in order to identify an artist who might qualify for the scholarship. Under the provisions of the 1953 Refugee Relief Act, from November 1956-June 1957, the U.S. government processed over 31,000 refugees at Camp Kilmer in New Jersey through a program called “Operation Mercy.” Most refugees stayed an average of twelve days before a resettlement location was found for them.

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Detroit News, 18 May 1958, Courtesy Cranbrook Archives

The artist sent to Cranbrook was Laszlo Ispanky (1919-2010), a 38-year old sculptor whose interest in art started at a young age. His father owned a restaurant in Budapest near a large sand mine, which soon became Ispanky’s canvas. His sand art was recognized by a man who suggested that he become a sculptor, so Ispanky eventually graduated from the Hungarian Fine Art Academy. In November 1956, during the Hungarian revolt, Ispanky and a friend escaped to Vienna where they sought asylum in the United States.

 

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“Two Sisters,” Laszlo Ispanky, c. 1958, bronze, 17 1/2 x 9 x 6 inches, CAM 1984.45, Gift of Peggy de Salle. Image courtesy Cranbrook Art Museum.

Ispanky had been unable to work creatively under Communist rule. He once commented “In a Communist country, you have to be a Communist to be supported as an artist.” Described as a “romantic European,” Ispanky was grateful for the total freedom he was allowed at Cranbrook – “the most fantastic thing . . . a huge studio, and you do whatever you want.” While at Cranbrook, Ispanky sculpted over 32 works in terra cotta, bronze and plaster and was given the nickname “Speedy Gonzalez” by his fellow students.

 

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Correspondence from Ispanky to Cranbrook Academy of Art, 1957. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

While he did not receive a degree at Cranbrook, Ispanky was eternally grateful for the chance to study here. In his letter, he expresses his heartfelt sentiments and poetic nature. “My thanks to you for reaching out to me with something that is inherent in the sacred name of freedom and for lending me hope. It feels good! I have waited with anxiety to hold the clay with which to give birth to the flowers blooming in my heart – to the hidden music which lives within me; to turn the material into form and into a million statements.”

After Cranbrook, Ispanky moved to New Jersey where he lived his life as a successful sculptor, specializing in the portraiture that he developed while at Cranbrook.

– Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

A Delightful Trip in a White Swedish Ship

Between 1925 and 1939, the Saarinen family made annual trips to Europe, always stopping for a time in Finland. They travelled by sea, usually departing from New York and arriving in Southampton, England or Gothenburg, Sweden. When they sailed directly to Scandinavia, they were abaord the MS Gripsholm.

MS Gripsholm 1951 mailed

The MS Gripsholm in New York City, c. 1951. Courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York.

The Gripsholm was built in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England, in 1924 for the Svenska Amerika Linien/Swedish American Line (SAL). The SAL was founded in 1914 as a direct Swedish-North American cargo and passenger shipping line, and the Gripsholm was the company’s first luxury liner. She was also the first diesel-engine transatlantic passenger liner, which is why she is the MS (or Motor Ship) Gripsholm. After 1929, all the SAL fleet was painted white, giving rise to the moniker “A delightful trip in a white Swedish ship.”

Aboard the MS Gripsholm, first class passengers enjoyed all the traditional features of luxury transatlantic liners (libraries, writing rooms, gyms, a pool, garden rooms, smoking parlors, bars, etc.), along with distinctly Nordic options, like folk dancing, Swedish foods, and a fully Swedish crew.

Along with the port of Gothenburg’s closer proximity to Helsinki, it was perhaps these northern-European comforts that led the Saarinens, who were Swedish-speaking Finns, to repeatedly choose the Gripsholm for their summer journeys. Aboard the Gripsholm in 1929, this photo was snapped on deck showing Eliel, his son-in-law J. Robert F. Swanson, months-old Bob Swanson, and Eliel’s daughter Pipsan Saarinen Swanson. The family captioned the photo “Last Dash Before the Crash.”

Eliel Bob Bobby Pipsan on the Gripsholm 1929

Eliel, Bob, Bobby, and Pipsan aboard the MS Gripsholm, 1929. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

In 1934, Eliel, Loja, Pipsan, Bob, and their now five-year-old son Bobby were again aboard the Gripsholm. On the SAL stationery, Loja wrote a letter back to George and Ellen Booth at Cranbrook. She writes, “I wanted tell you again how happy Eliel and I have been at Cranbrook and how thankful we are to you because you want us there.” She continues:

“So far we are well off although neither Pipsan nor I knew what we took over us in taking Bobbi along. He is like a firework. He is nowhere and everywhere. He hasn’t climbed up the smoke stack yet neither has he ridden on a whale’s back, but he has done other things enough to worry us.”Letter from Loja Saarinen to George Booth_GGB Papers 19-4

On this same trip, a photograph of Pipsan and little firework Bobby was sent back stateside and ran in the local papers here in Oakland County. Pipsan is shown in a fashionable dress and hat, quite possibly of her own design, as at the time she was head of the Academy of Art’s short lived Fashion Department. Pipsan, like her mother, made many of her own clothes throughout her life.IMG_3206

In the Cranbrook Cultural Properties collection, we have the Saarinen’s steamer trunks and suitcases that they used aboard the Gripsholm and other ships. One of the suitcases has its stickers from the MS Gripsholm, still prominently called out in the Swedish pale blue and yellow.

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The Saarinen’s steamer trunks and suitcases. On view now in “Saarinen Home: Living and Working with Cranbrook’s First Family of Design”

During World War II, when the Saarinen’s remained in the States aiding the U.S. war effort and organizing the Finnish Relief Fund, the Gripsholm was charted by the U.S. as a repatriation ship. It carried German and Japanese citizens to exchange points for U.S. and Canadian citizens. Gripsholm (and her neutral Swedish crew) made these exchanges at neutral ports, including Stockholm, Lisbon, Portuguese Goa, and Lourenço Marques. Over 12,000 Americans who had been in enemy territory at the outbreak of war or were prisoners of war returned home aboard the Gripsholm in this diplomatic capacity.

In 1954, SAL sold the Gripsholm to a German company. She was rechristened the MS Berlin and entered into service as a Canadian immigration ship, sailing from points in Europe to Pier 21 in Halifax (the Ellis Island of Canada). The ship was retired and scrapped in 1966, but an image of the Gripsholm (in her Berlin livery) lives on in the Canadian passport!

Copies of the Saarinen’s letters sent from the Gripsholm, photographs of the family about the ship, and the trunks and suitcases used by the family are all currently on view in “Saarinen Home: Living and Working with Cranbrook’s First Family of Design” in Saaarinen House, open for tours Friday and Saturdays at 1pm and Sundays at 1 & 3pm through the end of July. Tonight is our last Finnish Friday, where there is an open house at Saarinen House and games and cake in its courtyard, also, the Cranbrook Art Museum will be open; there are Finnish-related treasures out in the Archives Reading Room; and a cash bar on the Peristyle. Come on by for our last Finnish Friday!

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

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