Leapin’ Lena! A Kingswood Kangaroo?

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

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

Advertisement for Collegiate Manufacturing Company's College Pets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leslie Mio, Associate Registrar

A Mexican Adventure & South American Sojourn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kevin Adkisson, Curatorial Associate

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

To Protect and (Pre)serve

Our guest blogger this week is Kate Nummer, a Graduate Student in Eastern Michigan University’s Historic Preservation Program. She will receive her Master of Science in Historic Preservation in December 2019.

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Late in the spring, I was a part of the Eastern Michigan University Historic Preservation Field School hosted at Cranbrook (read about the amazing week here). That week I discovered what a magical place Cranbrook is, and was inspired to ask Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research Associate Registrar, Leslie Mio, about doing my graduate final project here. The Center agreed to have me, so after three years of working hard on my Masters, I’m finishing up here at Cranbrook. I have worked closely with Leslie two days a week since August, mainly focusing on the Smith House and “other duties as assigned.”

 

The Smith House is a beautiful Usonian Frank Lloyd Wright house (1950) that was owned by Melvyn Smith and his wife Sara. Cranbrook acquired the house by donation in 2017. The main project I have been working on is numbering objects and updating The Museum System (TMS, Cranbrook’s digital database of objects) as we go along. This has been a monumental job: not only did Cranbrook acquire the house in 2017, but also everything that was in it – over 1,800 objects!

 

Numbering a jar in Smith House. Photo by author.

Numbering a jar in Smith House. Photo by author.

Numbering objects isn’t for everyone, it is a slow and repetitive task. But, it gives me a chance to look over the object, confirm that the location is recorded correctly in TMS, make any additional notes about its appearance, and even appreciate the object itself.

Here I am working in the kitchen of Smith House. Photo by author.

My final report for my degree won’t just be about numbering, but about collection management. This is considered the development, storage, preservation, and organization of collections and cultural heritage. I am consulting resources like MRM5: Museum Registration Methods by Rebecca Buck, and Things Great and Small by John E. Simmons, and applying information gleaned to what Leslie and I are doing in Smith House.

 

Other duties I have had since August: helping prepare a disaster kit for Smith House, so objects and people remain safe in the event of a disaster (especially since it’s off the main campus); meeting with conservators who are helping to restore furniture in the house;  helping prepare for the Center’s fundraiser “A House Party at Cranbrook”; rolling textiles for better storage; and helping move and process new donations.

 

I say, “other duties as assigned” because one thing I’ve learned in my semester at Cranbrook: the work of a registrar is never boring. We may have our main plan mapped out, but sometimes you must go with the flow.

 

Kate Nummer, Eastern Michigan University Historic Preservation Program 2019

Online Exhibition: Saarinen House: Presidents/Residents, 1946-1994

This week, we’re proud to announce that the Center is launching its first online exhibition! With the tireless efforts of the Center’s Administrative Assistant and resident website guru, Alissa Seelmann-Rutkofske, we have adapted my 2018 exhibition Saarinen House: Presidents/Residents, 1946-1994 for the web.

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Installation view of Saarinen House: Presidents/Residents, 1946-1994. You can learn much more about the content of the show in the new online exhibition, or learn about the display system here. July 2018, Meng Li, photographer.

The show, which was on display in Saarinen House from April to November 2018, focuses on the first five Presidents of Cranbrook Academy of Art. These were the only five leaders to live in Saarinen House (built to be the President’s residence) and the only five who held the title “President” (we now have Directors of the Academy and a President of Cranbrook Educational Community).

In the online exhibition, you will learn about President Eliel Saarinen and the four subsequent presidents: Zoltan Sepeshy, Glen Paulsen, Wallace Mitchell, and Roy Slade. Each man’s page features a short biography, history of their artistic practice, and an account of the Academy under their leadership. Their tenure is documented through photographs from Cranbrook Archives, showing the presidents and their era of the Academy (including publications, Museum exhibitions, protests, parties, and other examples of student life and strife).

You’ll also find an Exhibition Checklist of the paintings and drawings from each president that were included in the show; click on the title of each work to see a larger image. Also online are photographs of the Exhibition Installation and information about the design and construction of our custom-made displays.

Exhibitions are a lot of research and work, and once they’re deinstalled it can feel like all the effort was for naught. Using the show’s text and images, documentary photography from P.D. Rearick, and with the encouragement of the Center’s Director, Greg Wittkopp, I am happy that Presidents/Residents and the efforts that went into its physical production will live on in digital form. Please go take a click around, and let me know what you think.

Kevin with the Drill

“My work here is done!” The curator in a moment of repose during the installation of Presidents/Residents. Seen sitting in a Platner chair that belonged to Roy Slade, and is currently back in use at the Academy administration offices, but was used in Saarinen House from 1977 to around 1990 and again during the exhibition. April 2018, Ashley Bigham, photographer.

Look for digital documentation of our other past exhibitions soon, and don’t miss your last chance to see this year’s show (in person): Studio Loja Saarinen: The Art and Architecture of Weaving, 1928-1942, on view with all Saarinen House tours through Thanksgiving weekend.

Kevin Adkisson, Curatorial Associate

What’s My Number?

We typically write blogs about what projects we are working on – a research question, an exciting piece of furniture – but I wanted to let you in on something a little more pedestrian:

One of the regular projects I work on is numbering and labeling the Cultural Properties. Each object gets a unique number to identify and differentiate it from other cultural properties.

Me at work, numbering silverware.

Me at work, numbering silverware. Photo by Desai Wang, CKU ’19

The numbering system is done in two different ways here at Cranbrook. All collections have a prefix set of letters that lets us know what collection it is in. For example, there is a Brookside School Collection with the prefix “BS,” as well as collections for each of the three historic houses we oversee. Next, there is either a number to match an inventory of the collection or the year the object was created or acquired.

The Brookside Lobby Fixture designed by Henry Scripps Booth and created by Leonard Electric is numbered BS 1929.1. It was created in 1929 for use in the school.

The Brookside Lobby Fixture designed by Henry Scripps Booth and created by Leonard Electric is numbered BS 1929.1. It was created in 1929 for use in the school. I haven’t been able to put the number on it yet! Photo by Daniel Smith, CAA ’21

The Frog and Lily Pad Vase by Adelaide Alsop Robineau in the Founders Collection is number CEC 16. It was the 16th item cataloged in a 1975 inventory of the house.

The Frog and Lily Pad Vase by Adelaide Alsop Robineau in the Founders Collection is numbered “CEC 16.” It was the 16th item cataloged in a 1975 inventory of the house. Photo by R. H. Hensleigh

Once we have numbers assigned to the object, we need to physically apply them to the object. Putting a number directly on an object is the most secure way. There are a number of techniques used to apply labels to the objects.

We currently use a method of spreading on a thin layer of special clear adhesive (B-72) to the object, putting down a number written or printed on acid-free paper, and then covering that paper with another coat of the clear adhesive. Printing the numbers on a printer allows you to control the size of the numbers (typically 7-point font) and also ensures they are legible.

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A number applied to an object. This is from the Smith House collection, which the CEC acquired in 2017.

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B-72, one of the tools of the trade.

There are all sorts of exceptions to the above rule: You can’t number plastics this way – the solvent in the B-72 would melt the plastic. To number them, we tie on a tag made of Tyvek using Teflon tape (also known as plumber’s tape).

Cotton twill "tape" used ti number textiles.

Cotton twill “tape” used to number textiles.

And what about textiles? For that, we write the number on cotton twill “tape” with archival ink and sew the tags onto the objects.

Chapter 5E of Museum Registration Methods – what is referred to as the “Registrar’s Bible” — is all about marking objects, best practices, and recommended materials. When in doubt, I start there.

Leslie Mio, Associate Registrar

Welcome Deborah Rice, New Head Archivist!

I am quite thrilled to announce that we have an outstanding new Head Archivist (and future Kitchen Sink blogger), Deborah Rice. Let me take this opportunity to introduce her to the readers of the Kitchen Sink Blog.

Deborah has over seventeen years of experience as a professional archivist. For the past fifteen years, she has been working in Detroit at Wayne State University with the Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs.  At Wayne she not only served as a Collection Archivist, Technical Services Archivist, and Audiovisual Archivist, but also the Interim Assistant Director—all of which are invaluable experience for her work here at Cranbrook. Prior to her work at Wayne, she was the Archivist for the Detroit Institute of Arts Research Library & Archives.

Deborah holds a BA in Art History from the University of Michigan and an MLIS degree (Master of Library and Information Services) and Archives Administration Certificate from Wayne State University. Equally important is what you will find to be her warm and engaging personality, and her sincere desire to engage audiences and help us make Cranbrook Archives a welcoming environment for our on-campus visitors and a digitally accessible resource for an even broader public worldwide.

In her first weeks here, Deborah has been off to a running start learning about Cranbrook history, getting a lay of the land and our extensive archival holdings, meeting with a potential donor in Lansing, and helping Cranbrook staff and our many outside researchers in our endless stream of research requests.

While there will be many opportunities to meet Deborah later this fall, her first official public event will be the Center’s gala fundraiser on Saturday, September 21: “A House Party at Cranbrook: History in the Making.”  The event, which focuses this year on the nearly 80-year journey of Cranbrook Archives, will include tours of three campus locations that have been, are, and hopefully will be important to the Archives future.  These include the current Reading Room where Deborah will be sharing with you some of the Archives’ hidden treasures.

We are grateful that Deborah made the decision to take the same journey that our founders made in 1904, traveling up Woodward Avenue from Detroit to Bloomfield Hills.  You can look forward to new blog posts from her very soon!

Greg Wittkopp, Director, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

High Island Mystery

In the Cranbrook Archives Digital Collections, there are images labeled “Cranbrook Institute of Science: House of David Colony. ” I always wondered what they were all about and finally investigated. It all starts with a little island four miles west of Beaver Island in Lake Michigan: High Island.

According to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, “[High] island has an array of Michigan shoreline features and associated ecosystems that support a number of rare, threatened and endangered plant and bird species.” These include the endangered piping plover and the tern.

Robert T. Hatt (Cranbrook Institute of Science Director), Josselyn Van Tyne (University of Michigan / Cranbrook Institute of Science Trustee), and Ralph E. Morrill (University of Michigan) were on High Island on June 23, 1938, conducting bird and animal surveys. While there, they encountered the remnants of a once-thriving settlement. Hatt must have found it curious because he captured these images:

In a nutshell, High Island was home to a timber-cutting and potato farm operation run in 1912-1927 by the House of David, a religious sect based in Benton Harbor, Michigan. High Island was also home to several families of Odawa fishermen. Since 1940, the island has been uninhabited.

I checked Robert T. Hatt’s “Island life: a study of the land vertebrates of the islands of eastern Lake Michigan” (Bulletin No. 27, Cranbrook Institute of Science, 1948) which details the extensive study of the animals and birds of the island, but also remarks on the island’s history:

High Island is said to have been settled by the Mormons at the time Strang’s colony flourished on adjacent Beaver Island. More recently (1912-1928), the House of David . . . established a colony . . . here and developed the agricultural and forest resources. Most of the dwelling date from this period. At the time of our visit there were three Indian families in residence, and the men operated a commercial fishing boat. A Roman Catholic chapel was on the island and was in good condition, with the alter decorated . . .

Another interesting, and unexpected, find in Cranbrook Archives!

Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar

Note: The House of David has a storied history, one better written by others:

Michigan ’s Siberia: The House of David on High Island” by Clare E. Adkin Jr.

The Last Days of the House of David” by Adam Langer

The House of David by Christopher Siriano

Cranbrook, Unseen: My Senior May Experience

When I first visited Cranbrook on a snowy January day, the campus felt magical. I knew nothing about its history—not of the Booths, Saarinens, Milles. Yet when I pulled open the heavy leaded glass doors and stepped into a green-tiled lobby, I was in awe of its beauty.

Desai Wang, CKU ‘19, with Jim Miller-Melberg’s Porpoise play structure at the Cranbrook Middle School for Boys.

Desai Wang, CKU ‘19, with Jim Miller-Melberg’s Porpoise play structure at the Cranbrook Kingswood Middle School for Boys. Photo Kevin Adkisson.

For the past three years, I have been fortunate to study here and to call Kingswood dorms my home. The names previously foreign now ring close to heart.

Or do they?

As senior year came to a close, I realized that perhaps my understanding was no more than the facts handed to Gold Key student tour guides. I knew “the names,” and roughly, their accomplishments, but not why; I did not know their stories.  

I knew I wanted to use my Senior May Project to better understand Cranbrook. My wish was vague, and if asked to define it I probably would have said something about wanting to learn more about the buildings and “the names.” As my three-week internship with the Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research comes to an end, I think my time working with Mrs. Mio and Mr. Adkisson can be summarized by one word: unseen.

I finally toured Cranbrook House, Saarinen House, and the Smith House, and the past three weeks were filled with discoveries of details I never noticed before. However, I think the most important thing the Center gave me is a change in perspective.

Previously, my interest rested directly on what was visible: the existing architecture, their designers and their history. But, as trips to Cranbrook Archives proved, plans unbuilt are just important as those built. I saw George Booth’s plan for a school attached to Christ Church, Saarinen’s original designs for the Institute of Science and Academy of Art (only parts were realized for both), the multi-story elevations for Gordon Hall of Science, and a guest house proposed by John Hejduck that would have sat behind Lake Jonah.

Further, I was introduced to Cranbrook beyond its schools and museums. I joined Eastern Michigan University historic preservation students as they surveyed Tower Cottage and Lyon House. The former previously hosted a water tower, Cranbrook’s fire truck, and apartments that were in use through the 1980s. The latter was a family home built in the 1920s and acquired by Cranbrook almost twenty years ago. Both historic buildings have been repainted many times, so a paint analysis was performed. I found the process of slicing out small pieces of the buildings, analyzing them under a microscope, and studying the layers of paint and dirt to determine original colors, exciting. For the Tower Cottage window frames, layers of green appeared under the current brown.

Ron Koenig, the owner of Building Arts & Conservation, takes samples of paint on the window frame at Tower Cottage.

Ron Koenig, the owner of Building Arts & Conservation, takes samples of paint on the window frame at Tower Cottage. Photo Desai Wang, CKU ’19.

Most importantly, I saw Cranbrook from behind the scenes. I spent some of my first week scanning photographs and slides of Andrea Arens, a local artist who wove pillows for the Smith House.

Slide of Andrea Arens's pillows on display on the bench in Smith House. Courtesy Arens Family.

Slide of Andrea Arens’s pillows on display on the bench in Smith House. Courtesy Arens Family.

Yet the small stack of material I digitized is nothing compared to the cabinets after cabinets of pictures and files stored in the Archives. Just thinking about the amount of time it took to digitize my small binder sends a shiver through my spine about how much work it takes to digitize records, and about just how vast the collections of Cranbrook Archives are.

Scanning aside, at the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Smith House Mr. Adkisson, Mrs. Mio and I cleaned the Smiths’ exterior cabinets and organized a closet full of their pamphlets and magazines. We vacuumed and moved around artworks so UV protection film could be installed on windows to prevent further textile damages.

One day, we drove to Ken Katz’s conservation studio in Detroit to deliver a wood panel painting, a lamp, and a jade piece—all in need of restoration. Mrs. Mio and I applied inventory numbers to George and Ellen Booth’s silverware and china, and we even scrubbed Menelaus with Elephant Snot (a cleaning product).

Ken Katz, Mrs. Mio, and Mr. Adkisson discuss restoration plans for the painting on wood panels— Flora, Ceres, Pomona (Three Goddesses) by Corrado Scapecchi.

Ken Katz, Mrs. Mio, and Mr. Adkisson discuss restoration plans for the painting on wood panels— Flora, Ceres, Pomona (Three Goddesses) by Corrado Scapecchi. Photo Desai Wang, CKU ’19.

Desai, brushing Elephant Snot onto Menelaus.

Desai, brushing Elephant Snot onto Menelaus. Photo Leslie Mio.

I feel privileged to have organized items in a Frank Lloyd Wright house-museum, handled art created by famous painters, sculptors and ceramicists, and labeled plates and spoons that were used by the Booths. Above all, I am grateful to have met some of the people who dedicate themselves to preserving and sustaining Cranbrook’s history and beauty.

Desai, applying removable adhesive on Booths’ saucers to attach inventory numbers.

Desai, applying removable adhesive on Booths’ saucers to attach inventory numbers. Photo Leslie Mio.

Mr. Adkisson, at Smith House, organizing Smiths’ pamphlets, brochures and magazines.

Mr. Adkisson, at Smith House, organizing Smiths’ pamphlets, brochures and magazines. Photo Desai Wang, CKU ’19.

Three years ago, I opened a door that led me to Cranbrook, and to my interest in its past. Three weeks ago, I opened a door that led beyond history and urged me to see the present. I leave here with “the names,” some stories, but most importantly, acknowledgment and appreciation of the ongoing work that keeps this place running.

Desai Wang CKU ‘19

Editor’s NoteThe Senior May Project is a school-sponsored activity that encourages Cranbrook Kingswood Upper School seniors to acquire work experience in a field they are considering as a college major, a potential profession, and/or as a personal interest.

A native of Xi’an, China and Ann Arbor, Desai Wang has been a boarding student at Cranbrook since 2016. This fall, she will head off to Cornell University to study architecture. We thank her for her willingness to assist in projects across campus and her enthusiasm for Cranbrook history. We wish her luck as she embarks on another chapter of her life!

Sunscreen for Smith House: UV Window Film

Sunlight is the enemy of artwork and textiles. As the sun’s rays filter through unprotected windows, they cause fading. In addition to colors changing, sunlight can cause holes in fabric, paper to become brittle, plastics to fall apart, and wood to warp.

Woven Tapestry by Urban Jupena.

You can see the effects of light and heat from the windows on the woven tapestry by Urban Jupena in Smith House. On the left is the part exposed to sunlight, and on the right (folded back) is the underside that has been protected.

Recently, the Center had a Conservation Assessment for Preservation (CAP) done for the Frank Lloyd Wright Smith House by ICA-Art Conservation. In the report, one of the recommendations was to protect the artifacts in Smith House from visible and UV light streaming in the wonderful floor-to-ceiling single-pane windows of the house.

Rear exterior view of Smith House.

Rear exterior view of Smith House.

To protect the house, we would either need to create storm windows to apply to the outside, put up shades on the inside, or apply a UV-blocking film to the windows. As you can imagine, the storm windows and shades would alter the look of the house, so they were rejected outright. The UV film, however, was something we could consider.

What we discovered is that not all films are created equal. There is dark film, light film, mirror film, frosted film – we needed a clear film that diffused 99.9 percent of the harmful ultraviolet light but still allowed natural daylight into the house. Every company promised theirs was the best and gave the most protection. How would we choose? This was a pretty long-term decision. We decided to turn to the experts.

When there is a question about the condition, the best environment for collections, or the damage caused by environmental factors, we turn to experts called conservators. We were able to find some studies of the effectiveness of window film by conservation experts published in the Western Association for Art Conservation (WAAC) Newsletter: UV-Blocking Window Films for Use in Museums and the follow-up Aging Properties of Select UV-Blocking Window Films.

After we got through all the scientific talk about procedures and data and met with product representatives at the house, we landed on a film. Aging Properties of Select UV-Blocking Window Films stated that “CPFilms (Llumar and Vista) performed well according to all criteria used. None of the films tested showed a significant change in UV absorbance . . . Because this brand easily met all our criteria, it can be strongly recommended with regard to optical performance”

Llumar/Vista films had performed well in the conservation studies, they had the clear film we were looking for (SpectraSelect VS61 SR CDF), and we had a distributor/installer in the area: SRF Enterprises, Inc. William Kish, the owner, stood behind his product with an excellent warranty, personally acting as the installer of the film, and proof that the product lasted, in some installations, for up to 40 years.

Bill Kish of SRF Enterprises, Inc. installing window film in Smith House.

Bill Kish of SRF Enterprises, Inc. installing window film in Smith House. Can you tell where he has put the film and where he has not?

Other benefits of the film: you can still clearly see in and out of the windows; there is reduced glare from the sun; the textiles will last longer and book jackets can stay on (they were beginning to crumble and fade); and the house will be cooler in the summer. Finally, the windows will be safer. When Smithy installed the windows, they were not safety glass. With the film on the windows they now function as safety glass should one ever break (heaven forbid).

Rear exterior view of Smith House after the installation of the window Film.

Rear exterior view of Smith House after the installation of the window film.

All of this research for Smith House served us well– we decided to use it in the Studio at Saarinen House to protect the textiles on display in our 2019 exhibition Studio Loja Saarinen.

Bill Kish of SRF Enterprises, Inc. installing window film in Saarinen House Studio.

Bill Kish of SRF Enterprises, Inc. installing window film in Saarinen House Studio.

To learn more about conservation, you can read “What is a Conservation?” on the American Institute for Conservation and the Foundation for Advancement in Conservation website or attend our free 2019 Bauder Lecture with Timothy Whalen, Director of the Getty Conservation Institute, this Sunday, May 5, 2019 in de Salle Auditorium. Whalen will discuss the Getty’s conservation work in the tomb of Tutankhamen, repainting sculpture by Louise Nevelson, restoring building of Louis Kahn and other modern masters, and the future of conservation and cultural preservation.

Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar

Vroom Vroom goes the Loom

In preparation for the Center’s upcoming show, Studio Loja Saarinen: The Art and Architecture of Weaving, 1928-42, we recently moved a historic Cranbrook Loom from the Kingswood Weaving Studio across campus to Saarinen House.

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The Cranbrook Loom at home in the Kingswood Weaving Studio.

I wanted a Cranbrook Loom to be a part of the exhibition as a teaching and demonstration tool, so guests can understand how the many beautiful rugs on display were produced. Studio Loja Saarinen started with just one loom in 1928, but grew to include thirty-five. The original looms used by the Studio were quite heavy and difficult to work with; Saarinen’s unhappiness with them eventually resulted in her demand for a loom built exactly to her specifications. She worked with John Bexell, a skilled cabinet maker and husband of one of the Studio’s weavers, Marie, to construct a loom that was lighter, sturdier, and easier to operate. The first Bexell loom was delivered in 1936.

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Bexell (or Cranbrook) looms in the Cranbrook Weaving Studio, April 1936. Cranbrook Archives.

John P. Bexell descended from a long line of woodworkers. Born in Korstrask, Sweden in April 1899, he emigrated to the U.S. and settled in Flint, Michigan in the 1920s. He had made looms back in Sweden, and when he made the first to Saarinen’s specifications he saw potential in the design and made others to sell.

Loja Saarinen and her weavers were so pleased with the new Bexell-made loom she immediately ordered more. Other weavers ordered the looms too, and Bexell also received a commission from the federal Farm Security Administration for several hundred looms. His career as a loom specialist took off. In 1945, at Loja Saarinen’s suggestion, Bexell named his now quite popular (and profitable) loom the “Cranbrook Loom.” He produced the looms with his son, Bert, in Flint until 1977, when he sold the business.

All that to say, I still needed to get a Cranbrook Loom across campus.

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Our first victory! Getting the loom out of the weaving studio and into the truck. Ed looks pleased.

Working with my colleagues Leslie Mio and Matt Horn, along with Matt’s husband Marc Meyers and game members of Cranbrook’s moving crew Ed and Trevor, we got the loom on the go. To exit the weaving studio, we each grabbed a leg of the loom and walked it above the others and out of the double doors, through the courtyard, and into the moving truck.

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Trevor, Marc, Matt, and Ed walking the loom toward increasingly smaller doors.

At Saarinen House, we had to remove the warp stick catcher to get the loom through the door. It then had to turn completely on its side to fit through the narrower interior doors. Nothing but our nerves were harmed in the process.

You might be thinking to yourself, don’t looms come apart? Well, yes. However, the loom had been partially prepped for weaving, and we didn’t want to have to reassemble it from scratch inside the studio. I am not, after all, a loom expert. So instead we twisted and turned until the loom was in place in the Saarinen House Studio!

A few days later, Lynn Bennett Carpenter, Academy alumna and instructor in weaving and fashion at Cranbrook Kingswood Upper School, came to finish setting up the loom for weaving a plaid. There was much tensioning, counting, tensioning, threading, twisting, and tying. It was fun, and quite stressful! One wrong heddle threaded, and our weave would be ruined.

Guests to Saarinen House will now be able to learn about the history of the Cranbrook Loom, see it in action, and even throw the shuttle back and forth to help us make our 12 foot plaid. Tours of Saarinen House start in May and run through December 1, 2019. The exhibition will open during Open(Studios) on April 28, 2019. Come and join us to explore the house and exhibition during our free Opening Reception from 1:00—5:00pm, with demonstrations and lessons from Cranbrook Kingswood Upper School weavers!

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

Special thanks to Lynn Bennett Carpenter for loaning us the loom, for her time prepping the loom, for volunteering her students to assist in our Open House, and for teaching me how to weave.

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