The Power of Knowledge

In commemoration of this significant day, Juneteenth, I thought we’d look back at one of many compelling stories in Cranbrook’s history. In the summer of 1970, Horizons-Upward Bound (HUB) offered four new electives that reflected the experimental nature of a project in its sixth year of operation. These electives allowed for innovation and creative thought around topics of particular relevancy to HUB students, investigating issues that still resonate fifty years later.

1969 HUB student photo used on the inside cover of the 1970-1971 annual report. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Black Creative Writing, taught by Highland Park Community College English instructor Stephen D. Chennault, involved readings, examinations of concepts, and self-directed writing. Students surveyed a Langston Hughes edited short story collection and works by the Black Arts Movement poet, Don L. Lee (later known as Haki Madhubuti). They also explored Black awareness, the role of the Black professional writer, and created skits centered on Black life, in what Chennault describes as a “careful observation of their niche in today’s America.”

The Black Contributions course was co-taught by Wayne State University interns, Ervin Brinker and Fred Massey, and grew out of the Black History course of the two previous summers. Refocused with a more contemporary slant, students studied organizations such as the Black Panther Party, the Student Non-Violent Coordination Committee, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Reporting on the course, Brinker and Massey observed that “both instructors and students were sensitized to the realization that solutions to racial problems are imbedded in institutional living patterns of long standing, protected by mazes of barrier that must be recognized and understood if they are to be nullified.”

George W. Crockett Jr., 1968. Courtesy of Walter P. Reuther Library.

Law was team taught by Detroit attorney Michael Brady and University of Wisconsin law student Norman Prance. Half of class time focused on criminal law, which included examination of Yale Sociology Professor Albert J. Reiss’ 1967 study of police brutality and discussion of the Wayne County Juvenile Court. The subject culminated in a field trip to the Detroit Recorders Courtroom of Judge George Crockett Jr., a civil rights advocate known for confronting the practice of race-based sentencing.

Ben Snyder and Horizons scholarship students, 1968. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

In the course, Power, developed by HUB founder and director Ben M. Snyder, students explored the idea of power through a combination of contemporary theory and current realities. Stemming from two works: Adolf Berle’s 1969 Power and Nathan Wright’s 1968 Black Power and Urban Unrest, the course addressed complicated regional situations, such as the redistricting of Detroit schools. When replying to a question regarding the value of the course to his future, one student remarked, “As long as I am more aware of the American way of working power, it should make me more alert.”

Cover illustration by David McMurray for The HUB 101 Literary Magazine, 4 (Summer 1970). Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

A tradition since 1967, the Literary Magazine, a sampling of writing and art produced by HUB students, is perhaps the most important summation of the student experience. Against the backdrop of the civil rights movement, national Vietnam War protests, and the beginnings of an economic downturn that would hit the Detroit metro area hard, the Summer 1970 issue reflects powerful emotions. It’s clear to see that these four thought-provoking electives left a profound effect on students’ views of American society and their role in it. With titles like Discrimination, Revolution, Black Power, Choice of Colors, The Man, The Militant, and Pride, the poignancy of their voices is striking and remarkably germane to events, both then and today.

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

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

What’s in a Brick?

There are many beautiful bricks around Cranbrook’s campus. From the Roman brick details at Cranbrook School, the buckskin “Cranbrook brick” at the Academy and Institute of Science, or the beautiful green and gold bricks of Kingswood, Eliel Saarinen was a master of the ancient building material.

The richness of this legacy made architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien extremely diligent in specifying materials for their own addition to campus, the Williams Natatorium. Completed in 1999 and sited within the heavily wooded area adjacent to the Saarinen-designed Keppel Gymnasium, the 26,000-square-foot swimming facility features very few details that are not custom made. This includes the bricks.

The entrance to the Cranbrook Natatorium, showcasing purple Norman brick, glazed blue and green brick, concrete, and lead-coated copper. Courtesy Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

The architects wanted glazed bricks (a material famously used by Eero Saarinen at the General Motors Technical Center), but they couldn’t find any product available on the market that meet their needs. Project architect Martin Finio told Construction Association of Michigan Magazine (Fall 2000) that:

Typical glazing tends to resemble a painted surface. The glaze becomes the object of interest. The brick behind it could be anything. What we were interested in was trying to find a way of glazing brick in such a way that you can feel the body of the brick through it.

The architects turned to Endicott Clay of Fairbury, Nebraska to help craft custom glazed brick, with a base of ironspot brick the company already produced. In ironspot bricks, manganese in the clay creates dark spots when fired. The goal for Cranbrook was to have these spots remain visible behind the glaze.

After receiving dozens of sample test glazed bricks that weren’t what the architects wanted, Martin Finio, Billie Tsien, and project manager Gary Scheuren traveled to Nebraska to learn more about the process and to work on getting the Natatorium bricks just right. When they arrived, Tsien saw a stack of samples Endicott Clay had deemed failures, rejected, and never sent to the architects in New York. Within the trash pile was the exact finish the architects wanted. Endicott Clay simply reverse engineered the once-rejected bricks and made enough mottled blue and green glazed bricks for the building.

Beyond the colors’ ties to water and earth (appropriate for a pool in the woods), the specific shade of blue and green have special Cranbrook associations. The blue is the famed “Grotell blue” of Cranbrook’s longtime Head of Ceramics, Maija Grotell, while the green relates to the lovely shades of aqua used by Pipsan Saarinen Swanson inside Kingswood and that building’s great patinated copper roof.

The Norman bricks above the green glazed bricks. Notice the raked horizontal mortar lines. Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

Alongside the glazed bricks, the architects specified manganese ironspot Norman bricks in deep purple. Norman bricks are longer than standard bricks and enhance the horizontality of the building. Using a tradition made famous by Frank Lloyd Wright and also used by Eliel Saarinen at Cranbrook, the horizontal mortar is raked and the vertical mortar is flush, casting the horizontal joints in shadow and increasing the sense of compression across the façade.

This hinge joint of blue glazed and purple Norman bricks terminates the east-west axis running from George Booth’s office in Cranbrook House, past the Art Museum and Orpheus fountain, and to the Natatorium. Daniel Smith, photographer. Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

Other materials used on the exterior of the Natatorium include cast in place concrete (sandblasted to give it a warmer feel and richer texture), warm toned ground-faced concrete block (custom made in Grand Blanc), Honduran mahogany, Mexican river rock, and Pietra Cardosa Italian slate.

—Kevin Adkisson, Curatorial Associate, 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

Katharine Rogers Adams, Kingswood School Headmistress 1931-1934

Katharine Rogers Adams was the Headmistress of Kingswood School from March 1931 through June 1934. The Announcement of Kingswood School brochure of 1931 tells us that she was born and educated in Philadelphia and later graduated from Wellesley College in Massachusetts. She taught in the high schools of New York and Connecticut for seven years and was awarded Master of Arts and Doctor of Philosophy at Cornell University. From 1926 until 1931, she was a professor of history and dean of the faculties of Mills College, California. In March 1931, she was selected as Headmistress of Kingswood School, following the resignation of Miss Gladys Adams Turnbach in December 1930.

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Katharine Rogers Adams Kingswood School Annual, 1932 1980-01 31:15 Copyright Cranbrook Archives, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

Despite the financial crisis of the Depression during Adams’ Principalship, she was successful in leading the school through the financial challenges of those early years, as well as championing its extensive library and establishing traditions such as the Christmas play, Honors’ Day, and yearbooks (see Clark, 2006, pp.57-58). From delving into the records to find out more about Adams, the story that engaged me was her involvement in the development of fine arts education. Faculty of the Cranbrook Academy of Art were employed to provide art education, with Maja Andersson-Wirde teaching Arts and Crafts in 1932-1933, and during the 1933-1934 academic year, students began to be taught painting by Zoltan Sepeshy, sculpture and drawing by Marshall M. Fredericks, and weaving by Lilian Holm.

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Letter from Katharine Rogers Adams to Eliel Saarinen, May 24, 1934
Kingswood School Records (1980-01, 13:3)
Copyright Cranbrook Archives, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

The discussion of art and science in education flourishes during Adams’ three years as Kingswood Headmistress and continues thereafter, with many drafts of statements to articulate the Cranbrook approach—the image below shows one version as edited by Eliel Saarinen in 1934. If the art of language is to clearly achieve understanding or to generate inspiration for thought, through words, I found this much accomplished in the following statement within a letter from Saarinen to the Cranbrook Foundation:

“To begin with this must be stated: the problem of “art” is to create new values, contrary to the problem of “science” which is the discovery of existing values” (Eliel Saarinen, Letter to the Cranbrook Foundation, Sept. 25, 1935).

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Precepts Governing the Cranbrook Educational Development, Eliel Saarinen, 1934
George Gough Booth Papers, (1981-01, 19:33)
Copyright Cranbrook Archives, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

The founders’ wish for students to develop an appreciation of art, and a knowledge of its history, toward the betterment of human life, is embraced by Adams, who was also well-accomplished in the art of language. In her address, ‘Many Mansions,’ at the first graduation ceremony for Kingswood School held on June 13, 1932, she speaks of another form of architecture—a mansion of character that houses an independent mind and an active soul inspired by learning and beauty and courage:

“Do we ever stop to think, to realize that we are builders, whether of this or of that? That every mental and physical action of ours is building? We would build well, you say, but to build we must have power, and to have power we must have knowledge, and in the words of Dante—‘knowledge comes of learning, well retained.’”

Adams’ address is scattered with poetry and literature, including that of Alan Seeger, Robert Browning, and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., as well as recollections of others from Lord Balfour to Leonardo da Vinci. But Adams is in harmony with the thoughts of George Gough Booth, that the words or stories of others are helpful insofar as they stimulate you to be “your own very best self” (see ‘Notes for an address not used’, late 1930s. George Gough Booth Papers, 1981-01, 1:20). Thus, she advises her graduands:

“Seek the one truth to your problem; there can be but one truth as there is but one sun. But build your mansion with many windows, the sun will shine through all.”

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Diploma Day Address, ‘Many Mansions,’ by KRA, Ph. D., Principal, on the occasion of the first graduation exercises Kingswood School Cranbrook, June 13, 1932, Kingswood School Records (1980-01 22:9) Copyright Cranbrook Archives, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

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Although in February of 1934, Adams initially sought and gained an extended summer leave for rest and repose, she resigned on May 23, 1934, at her physician’s recommendation.

– Laura MacNewman, Associate Archivist

Sources:

Elizabeth C. Clark. (2006). Beside a Lake—A History of Kingswood School Cranbrook. Cranbrook Press. pp.57-58

George Gough Booth Papers, (1981-01, 19:33)

Kingswood School Records (1980-01, 1:2-3, 6; 12:4; 13:3; 15:2; 22:9; 24:8; 31:15)

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

 

 

Eagle Scout Project in Smith House

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

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

Eagle Scout badge from scouting.org

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LM: What motivated you to take on this project?

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

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

LM: What was the hardest thing about the project?

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

LM: What was your favorite part of the project?

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

LM: Any final thoughts?

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

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

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

Leslie Mio, Associate Registrar

Cranbrook Alumni Court: Phase 1 Ends, Phase 2 Begins!

In my previous post related to the Alumni Court restoration project, we had recently finished the masonry restoration of the vertical walls and were preparing the upper level walkway for concrete installation.  Now, it is safe to say Phase 1 has been completed and is looking just as beautiful as when the courtyard was originally constructed in 1927.

Over the past 6 months, we have been busy finishing up Phase 1 and completing activities such as: pouring the upper level concrete walkway; installing all flat paving (including brick, fieldstone, and red slate); and replacing limestone columns and bases. We also restored three windows and the interior plaster work damaged by water infiltrating the building over the years.

It was very exciting to see how the contractor replaced the columns and their bases. Before any demolition could begin, the brick arches were supported by heavy duty scaffolding with an I-beam and custom-made wooden forms fitted directly into each arch. With this configuration, the contractor was able to ever-so-slightly raise each arch so that there was enough room to remove the column capitals, the columns, and finally the column bases.  At that point, the new bases could be installed, followed by new columns, and the existing column capitals.

Throughout the Spring, we will be continuing with Phase 2 which includes restoring the upper level walkway running north/south, columns/arches running north/south, paving work directly below the walkway, and the remaining paving within the courtyard.

Phase 2 Alumni Court

Left: Plan of Phase 2 activity (in color) at the Alumni Court. Phase 1 is at right (grey). Right: Upper level of Phase Two, walkway replacement. Courtesy of Cranbrook Capital Projects.

Stay tuned for a progress report on Phase 2. As always, many thanks to the contractors and architects who work so hard on these projects.

Ryan Pfeifer, Project Manager II, Cranbrook Capital Projects

Editor’s Note: The four new columns have the alumni names carved into them, and the originals (which had severely degraded and were illegible) will be stored safely elsewhere on campus.

A Hunter of Taos

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

A Hunter of Taos

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

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

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

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

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

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

North Lobby with Taos Painting

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

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

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

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

Evolution of a Rink

Sixty years ago Cranbrook School headmaster, Harry Hoey, spoke to a group bundled in their warmest winter clothes at the formal dedication of the new outside skating rink at Cranbrook. The rink was unveiled on January 12th, 1957, at an estimated cost of $104,000. The new “artificial” rink, built on the site of the original natural ice surface, was constructed because there was a constant risk that the natural ice would not sustain a hockey season due to unreliable weather.

Hockey player on the “natural” ice rink, 1940. Photographer Richard G. Askew. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

The new rink was built to hockey specifications (85 x 190 ft.) and was refrigerated by two over-sized compressors designed to operate in adverse weather conditions. Artificial rinks were a relatively new phenomenon in the 1950s and Cranbrook researched the project for several years before proceeding. The planning team looked at rinks around the country, including Dartmouth, Cornell, and Williams College.

Skaters at the artificial rink dedication. The Pontiac Press, 14 Jan 1957.

The rink was open six months out of the year and accommodated Cranbrook School ice hockey teams and students, as well as the outlying communities for day and night skating. From 1957-1982 the Cranbrook Skating Club oversaw all operations of the rink. During this time the club held Board of Directors meetings, generated correspondence for the raising of funds for daily operations, and supervised various program schedules, benefits, and employees of the skating rink.

By the 1970s the rink was showing wear and the Varsity, Junior Varsity, and middle school teams were forced to buy ice time at neighboring rinks for practice and games. A committee was formed and students, faculty, and friends staged a skate-a-thon and worked with then-Cranbrook president, Arthur Kiendl, to raise money.

The original plan was to build a new enclosed facility for winter skating and summer tennis, but the price was too high, so committee members and Cranbrook administrators decided to complete the work in phases. The first step – cement work for the rink surface and spectators’ section, new boards, and new piping – was completed with a gift by Grace Booth Wallace and her family in 1978. The final phases of the project – which included total enclosure of the arena – were completed in 1979.

A view of Wallace Ice Arena with the tennis courts in the foreground. Photographer Balthazar Korab, Oct 2000.

Today Cranbrook athletes, students, faculty, and the public enjoy the state-of-the art Wallace Ice Arena.

Gina Tecos, Archivist

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