The Peacock in the Hallway

On the second floor of Cranbrook House is a very lovely painting I’ve appreciated since I started here, but never knew much about.

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Jessie Arms Botke, The Mirror, 1926. Oil on Canvas. 32×26 in. Bequest of George Gough Booth and Ellen Scripps Booth to The Cranbrook Foundation.

I can confidently say I now know much more about the painting, even if I still know frustratingly little about how it got to be here in the house.

I wasn’t familiar with artist Jessie Arms Botke (1883-1971), even though in her lifetime she was considered the greatest decorative painter in the American West. Botke was prolific, painting six days a week and sketching on Sundays. She had a predilection for white birds (including pelicans, geese, ducks, and cockatoos), and our white peacock is a motif she returned to many times in her career.

Jessie Arms was born in Chicago and studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Modeled after Paris ateliers, students at the Art Institute were responsible for setting their own goals and objectives and worked among many teachers and classes to develop their individual skills. She noted that the basic curriculum was “practice, practice, practice.” In the summer of 1903, she enrolled in John C. Johansen’s outdoor painting classes in Saugatuck, Michigan.

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John Johansen’s Summer Art Class at Saugatuck, Michigan, 1903. Courtesy of the Botke Family Archives/William A. Karges Fine Art.

After training in Chicago, she began producing wall decoration and book illustration. Taking a grand tour of Europe in 1909 provided even more artistic influence and inspiration. Following her year aboard, Botke applied to work at the Herter Looms in New York. She applied and was rejected, however, determined to work for the firm, she reapplied directly with Albert Herter. Hired on her second attempt, she produced tapestry cartoons and decorations for the firm. Discussing her experience working for Herter in 1949, Botke reflected:

“Thus began what was a most educational experience. Mr. Herter could have imported trained tapestry cartoonists from Europe, but he wanted to make American tapestry and he filled the studio with young artists just out of school, untainted by stereotyped traditions, with ideals and enthusiasm. We all had to learn the technique of making the tapestry cartoon by doing it. When we were stuck, we were free to go to the Metropolitan and study the tapestries there [and] try to figure out how they did it and apply our conclusions to our modern problems.”

I find this insight into the workshop of Albert Herter fascinating, as Herter Looms would produce its masterpiece, The Great Crusade tapestry, for Cranbrook House Library in 1918 (four years after Botke left).

At Herter Looms, Botke also produced decorative interior schemes and painted panel decorations. A commission for the dining room of actress Billie Burke (famous for her later role as Glinda the Good Witch) led Botke to a lifelong interest in birds. As she recalled, “Mr. Herter came to me with the scheme for the dining room, it was to be in shades of blue and green and he wanted a peacock frieze using the same colors, with white peacocks as notes of accent. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a white peacock and went up to the Bronx Zoo to find out, and they had one. It was love at first sight and has been ever since.”

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Reprint of one of seven paintings by Albert Herter in the Mural Room of the Hotel St. Francis, San Francisco, with border attributed to Jessie Arms Botke. 1912. Courtesy of Tavistock Books.

Botke was also an activist, marching up New York’s Fifth Avenue in 1911 and 1912 in the suffragette parade. She also strongly advocated for the rights and representation of women artists.

In late 1914, Botke left Herter Looms and New York, moving to Chicago to marry Cornelis Botke, a Dutch artist and architectural renderer. They settled first in Chicago and then California, where they moved to the artist community of Carmel in 1919. It was at her Carmel studio where Botke likely painted the peacock now in Cranbrook House, in 1926.

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Jessie Arms Botke and Cornelis Botke, n.d. Courtesy of Carmel Art Association.

In 1928, the couple relocated to Los Angeles and then Wheeler Canyon. They continued to paint, with Jessie’s income providing the bulk of the couple’s wealth. In her California home, Botke kept an aviary with peacocks “where I can enjoy and paint peacocks to my heart’s content.” Cornelis died of diabetes in 1954, and Jessie continued to paint until a stroke in 1967. She died in 1971, aged 88, with an enormous body of work and awards to her name.

So how did this Botke peacock come to Cranbrook? After looking in the object records we keep for all of Cranbrook’s art objects, as well as through photo albums, slide albums, record books, and receipt books, I cannot find any records pertaining to when the Botke painting was purchased! On the back of the painting is written the title of the work, the artist, and “Price 750.00.” There is also a stenciled “CF” for Cranbrook Foundation. This might mean the work was purchased by the Foundation for use at Cranbrook, or, more likely, was accessioned by the Foundation directly from Cranbrook House at the time of the George Booth’s death.

Although I’m currently unable to pin down who bought the painting and when, it was probably purchased by George Booth as a decorative piece for the home rather than part of the collection for Cranbrook Art Museum. This would explain why the painting isn’t in the Museum’s records (it is a Cultural Property, not a work in the Art Museum). Botke sold many of her pieces at Gump’s in San Francisco, from which Mr. Booth regularly purchased art, decorative objects, and furniture (and for which we have many receipts, none of which include the peacock).

Detail of The Mirror

In the 1980s, the painting was stored in the Cranbrook House attic. Was it moved there from one of the second-floor bedrooms, which were converted to offices in the 1970s? Sometime later, it was moved to Tower Garage, where the House and Gardens Auxiliary is located. In 2012, it was hung in its current location after the removal of the Cranbrook House vending machine.

I do love that the work features a peacock, as the bird was a favorite motif across Cranbrook and is found all across campus in gates, andirons, tapestries, and inlays. Although Saarinen (frustratingly) never wrote about why he loved the peacock, Jessie Botke did:

“My interest in birds was not sentimental, it was always what sort of pattern they made, and the white peacock was so appealing because it was a simple, but beautiful white form to be silhouetted against dark background, and the texture and pattern of the lacy tail broke the harshness of the white mass without losing the simplicity of the pattern.”

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

For more information on Jessie Arms Botke, see Patricia Trenton and Deborah Solon, “Birds, Boughs, and Blossoms: Jessie Arms Botke, 1883-1971” (Los Angeles: William A. Karges Fine Art, 1995).

 

Weeping Zeus

A folly, in landscaping terms, is a ornamental building or tower with no practical purpose built in a large garden or park. Around 1961, Mr. and Mrs. Henry S. Booth placed a small folly on the grounds of Cranbrook. However, for anyone wanting to play a joke on a friend, this folly has a very practical purpose.

IMG_2531.JPGWeeping Zeus (or more formally Zeus of Otricoli [Roman copy of Greek original]) is a marble bust comprised of the shoulders, chest, and head of the Greek god, Zeus. The chest is carved to resemble draped cloth. The curly hair has a wreath in it, and the beard is curly with a full mustache. The bust is set on top of a concrete block column.

This sculpture has an interesting and complex history. It was carved of Carrara marble in Italy in the early 19th Century and soon afterward became a decorative feature of the manor house of Abercairny, Crieff, Perthshire, Scottland. It remained there for well over 100 years until it sold at auction. Henry Scripps Booth purchased the bust in 1961 from Michael Brett of Broadway, England. Brett had purchased it from the Abercairny the year before. The manor house, once visited by Queen Victoria, was demolished in 1960, hence the sale of sculptures from the estate.

IMG_2535.JPGHere at Cranbrook, it would seem the father of the Greek gods finds the peace of this Michigan mountain dull in comparison with the revelries of either Mt. Olympus or his later home in the Scottish Highlands. It is reported tears well up in his eyes and sometimes gush forth. The sculpture became a folly (and why we call him Weeping Zeus) after Henry had holes drilled through the eyes to allow water to flow (squirt, really) out.

In reality, he’s not crying on his own. Have your guest stand in front of Zeus while you, as their friend, stand on the special stone that activates water to splash the guest from Zeus’s eyes.

As Summer comes to a close, invite that one friend who always pulls tricks on you for a beautiful walk through Cranbrook House Gardens and introduce them to Zeus.

Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar

Note: Weeping Zeus is located on the Mountain in the Cranbrook House Gardens, up the stairs directly opposite the House’s front door. Cranbrook Gardens is open daily from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm, May 1 through October 31. Admission to Cranbrook Gardens is FREE for the 2018 tour season, courtesy of presenting sponsor, PNC Bank, and sponsors, All Seasons Independent Livingfleurdetroit, and Roberts Restaurant Group

The Multiple-George Theory

From my office window in Cranbrook House, I have a great view of the motor court. I can see the comings and goings of the house: coworkers rushing to meetings, facilities moving tools and tables, the busy bees of the Cranbrook House and Gardens Auxiliary at work, and visitors to the campus exploring the house and grounds.

As guests walk around finding flowers, sculptures, and fountains, I always see them step up to the locked side entrance of the house and try and figure out one of the most unusual pieces of art at Cranbrook: George Washington brandishing a flyswatter over George Booth. DSC_0523The acrylic painting, set within a blind window, shows George Booth napping on the daybed in his Still Room (those guests who’ve been on a Cranbrook House tour know the Still Room’s daybed is literally right behind this wall). Behind him is the ghostly figure of Washington, holding a copy of the July 4, 1776, Philadelphia Gazette and his swatter. It is a (not-terribly-convincing) trompe-l’œil fitted within the existing window frame. The 47×22” painting was completed in 1976 by Academy student Gregory High (MFA, Painting, 1977). George and GeorgeHenry Scripps Booth commissioned the painting while he was serving as a Cranbrook Educational Community trustee and while he was using George’s office suite for his own offices. He told the alumni magazine, the window commemorates “the long list of founders who seized opportunities that have been bequeathed to them from those who have gone before.”

Further, Henry explained that “there is at least one fly in almost every organizational ointment as well as in many of our best dreams…Those pesky flys require a decisive swat by a person of intuition and experience of historical perspective. George Washington, in a haze of tradition, plays that part of this bit of symbolic fantasy.”

Henry commissioned the painting as part of the Bicentennial celebrations of 1976, and it was revealed on Cranbrook’s Founders Day by George and Ellen’s three-year-old great-great-granddaughter Stephanie Booth, who was dressed in an 1867 dress belonging to Ellen.

The Cranbrook Quarterly (Fall 1976) wrote, “[the painting] could be considered one of the more unusual commemorations of the Bicentennial because it…develops the ‘multiple-George theory’ of Cranbrook’s—and the nation’s—founding.” Henry told the Quarterly that he “hoped that this window will be enjoyed by the passerby as it would be by Cranbrook’s founders if they were suddenly to come upon it and discover one of them was being spoofed.”

I can certainly attest that the painting gets a lot of looks and begs a lot of questions from the viewer. It’s one of the strangest—and most accessible—works on campus.

Happy Fourth of July everyone!

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

Library Gets [New] Historic Look

Recently, after years of research and investigation, the carpeting in the Cranbrook House Library was restored to its original appearance.

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The previous rugs were donated to Cranbrook House in the 1990s but were not historically accurate.

By studying images of the Library in Cranbrook Archives, we could determine that in George and Ellen Booth’s lifetimes there was a large, solid carpet on the floor, not the oriental rugs seen in recent years.

A review of the Cranbrook House 1921, 1933, 1937, and 1949 inventories (itemized lists of the house’s contents for insurance purposes), as well receipts and historic images, revealed the style and color of the rug: Axminster mottled brown or taupe. This may sound boring, but monochromatic rugs were chosen by the Booths to draw visitors attention up to the furnishings, books, elaborate carvings, and tapestries in the Library.

Axminster was both a brand name and specific type of carpet. Axminster is cut pile carpet (a style of carpet where the woven loops are cut leaving straight tufts of carpet). It derives its name from the small town in England where the process of weaving its distinctive style was created. Looking for a modern, cost-effective equivalent, made in the same fashion as the original Axminster, led us to Bloomsburg Carpet Industries, Inc. They have woven wool broadloom Aximinster and Wilton carpets in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania using traditional methods since 1976. With the help of interior designer (and Cranbrook Academy of Art Board of Governor) Lynda Charfoos, we were able to select a color that both closely matched the description “‘mottled’ brown or taupe” and also looked great with the tones and colors of the Library.

On April 30, we cleared the Library so that on May 1, the rugs could be installed by Carpet Design Group, LLC.

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Workmen from Carpet Design Group fusing together the four sections of the carpet.

The Library was reinstalled the next day with a new floor plan based on careful examination of historic photographs and itemized lists of what sat where. Watch the slideshow to compare historic images to the reinstalled room:

We feel guests and staff alike will enjoy this return of the original look to the Library. It will allow the carvings to pop, the colors in the tapestries to appear stronger, and make for a more historically accurate room. Continuing to keep the Booth house looking its best is all part of helping to tell the Cranbrook story to guests from the neighborhood and around the world.

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Photograph by Jim Haefner. Courtesy of Jim Haefner and Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

The Center would like to thank the following, without whom this project would not have been possible: Cranbrook Educational Community, Cranbrook House and Gardens Auxiliary, Lynda Charfoos, Bloomberg Carpet, Carpet Design Group, and Chet’s Cleaning Service. Special thanks also to Jim Haefner for photographing the Library.

Come see the new look of the Cranbrook House Library this summer on a Cranbrook House and Gardens Auxiliary house tour.

– Leslie Mio, Associate Registrar

Object Spotlight: Refectory Table

Generally, the term “Refectory Table” describes long dining tables resembling those in dining halls of monasteries, especially oblong tables with four or six turned legs that may be expanded by leaves.CEC37 (4)Purchased by George G. Booth, before 1949, for use in Cranbrook House, the Refectory Table (CEC 37) in the Cranbrook House Oak Room has a plain 76 inch by 35-1/2 inch rectangular top, with two extendable tops of 31-1/2 inches each.cec37-13.jpgThe extension mechanism works by removing the top wood leaf, pulling out each side of tabletop – these are supported by bars under the table top that pull out – removing the center section, then placing the top leaf in the center.

“Interesting, but not really worthy of a spotlight,” you say?

“My table at home has leaves built into it. Why is this one so special?”

It is distinct because the top of this table sits over a beautiful and vibrantly carved and painted frieze, and is raised on four carved and painted legs and a box stretcher with a carved and painted linear design. It is the frieze and the carvings that make the table stand out.CEC37 (3).JPGThe frieze runs all around the table and features a grapevine interspersed at regular intervals with Medieval-style figures: mermaids, men, women, and animals.CEC37 (10)The figures carry banners and staffs, are sitting on benches, and, in the case of the mermaid, holding a fish.CEC37 (18)The frieze background is painted red; the grapevine and grapes are brown with black and the leaves are green with gold detailing; the figures and animals are mostly tan with gold and the mermaids are gold as well.  The lower edge molding of the frieze is painted with diagonal lines of green, gold, and red.CEC37 (11)Each of the four carved and painted legs is decorated with a different linear design of stripes, twisted around the trunk, with hexagonal base and top.CEC37 (6)Metal stars are attached to the base and top of each leg.  The legs are painted blue, green, red, and tan, all with gold detailing.CEC37 (12)The outer side of each stretcher has carved lines painted red and green.

The table is an English antique, likely from the 19th century. A careful study of comparable tables in books or at other museums could help us narrow down its age.

I am happy to share this beautiful table on the blog. If you ever find yourself in the Oak Room at Cranbrook House, whether for a meeting, house tour, or special event, please take the time and give this exception table a closer look.

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Refectory Table in the Oak Room, 1952. Cranbrook Archives.

– Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar and “Keeper of Keys and Cultural Properties” at 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

Tranquil Still Room

“My father got me started the other day decorating and coloring a very elaborate plaster ceiling and nobody knows when I’ll get it finished.” So wrote James Scripps Booth in a letter to a favorite artist’s model Helen Knudson. The elaborate ceiling he referenced is the ceiling of the Still Room at Cranbrook House:CECT106det16George G. Booth created the Still Room as a part of his office suites in 1918. It was as a place to take a noonday rest. In old English country houses, the Still Room was a place where medicines were prepared, herbs and flowers were infused in water or oils, and where home-brewed beers and wines were made. As Henry Scripps Booth recalled in another letter, “We started applying the term to the small room at the south end of the wing although Mr. Booth had no intention of making whiskey, beer or wine, but on using it as a quiet place for reading, conversation and taking undisturbed naps.”

Commissioned by Booth, Ulysses Ricci and Anthony DiLorenzo designed the ceiling for the Still Room in 1919. The ceiling depicts classical Pompeiian figures, animals, and motifs of swags, festoons, masks, floral and foliage. The ceiling consists of four arched sections, a central medallion, and a tympanum* piece on each wall.

James Scripps Booth described his painting method for the ceiling: “I have to lie down in a steamer chair that is rigged up high on a scaffold, when I work and there is such a lot of detail design it keeps me guessing…” James painted the ceiling in blues, pinks, greens, yellows, purples, and browns against an off-white background.

Words can not describe the beauty of the ceiling. As they say, a picture is worth 1,000 words.

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

*tympanum is a semi-circular or triangular decorative wall surface over an entrance, door or window

The “Bad Boys” of the Cranbrook Gardens

 

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Putto coyly peeking out from behind his hands, left knee is bent and foot is off the ground. The statue stands at the center of a cast stone birdbath (CEC 453/CEC 454). Photo by Venus Bronze Works.

 

“Putti” are little friends found throughout Cranbrook Gardens.

A Putto (singular of putti) is a representation of a cherubic infant, often shown winged.* Sometimes people refer to them as cherubs, but unlike a cherub, the putto can be wingless, like our friend above. Moreover, while cherubs are often sacred in context, putto can be non-religious.

 

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Detail of Putto in the birdbath (CEC 453/CEC 454). Photo by Venus Bronze Works.

 

This putto has been entertaining visitors to the garden for a long time. Warren and Henry Booth, and their friends, enjoyed fooling around with them.

 

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Warren S. Booth and the coy putto (CEC 453). Photo POL 2.119.2, Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

 

 

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Friends of Henry S. Booth mess around with the same putto (CEC 453). Photo POL 2.87.2, Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

 

– Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar

* putto. Dictionary.com. Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. http://www.dictionary.com/browse/putto (accessed: August 30, 2017).

Portrait of the Vettraino family children. From left: Dominick, Sam, John, Concetta (Connie), Rose, Annette.

Portrait of the Vettraino family children. From left: Dominick, Sam, John, Concetta (Connie), Rose, Annette.

Cranbrook Archives is excited to announce a new online collection of material that highlights the contributions of the Vettraino family at Cranbrook. The collection includes a sampling of photographs and documents of the family, as well as other Italian immigrants who worked on campus clearing the land and building roads and stone walls; maintaining the landscape; and working in the Cranbrook Fire and Police Departments.

Michael (Mike) Vettraino came to Cranbrook in 1905 to work with one of George Booth’s first landscape architects, H.J. Corfield. Mike served Cranbrook for more than 50 years and received the Founders Medal in 1955. For more than 110 years, his children and grandchildren have continued to honor his legacy, serving the Cranbrook community not only as grounds-keepers, but in many other areas of the campus. We are pleased to be able to share their amazing legacy.

Cranbrook Archives Staff

Pergola Restored!

On June 18, 2014, a treacherous storm passed through Bloomfield Hills with wind gusts of up to thirty-nine miles per hour.  At some point during the storm, a tree snapped and fell directly onto the Cranbrook House Pergola*, causing significant damage.  Much of the original redwood trellis was crushed and two of the column capitals were severely damaged. One of the columns was knocked completely off the wall.  In addition, the concrete slab and columns had been deteriorating over time due to water infiltration. Cranbrook was left with an unusable space, directly adjacent to the Sunken Garden.p1

Reconstruction of the pergola began two years later on June 6th, 2016.  The goal was to preserve as much original historic material as possible, while replacing anything that was beyond repair.

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The first step in the restoration process was to re-tuck point all the mortar in the stone walls which had deteriorated over time. All the mortar in the joints between each stone had to be chipped out and cleaned before the new mortar could be installed.  In various instances when mortar was removed, the stones would become loose.  In efforts to hold the stones in place, wood wedges would be inserted to temporarily hold rocks in place. In addition to improving the appearance, the new tuck pointed mortar provided renewed support for the walls, allowing us to remove the floor slab.

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Next, the crew removed the existing wood beam (to be reused) and began to systematically demolish the concrete wall caps and columns.  The northwest column, base and capital were left in place throughout the project as they were structurally sound.  However, the other three columns had to be demolished and rebuilt. Much of the concrete on the inside of the columns was so deteriorated that portions of it could be removed by hand.

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Demolition continued with removing the concrete slab which served as both the ceiling for a garden storage area and the floor for the pergola. Demolition of the slab was challenging because the stone walls were built on top of it, as opposed to the slab being poured abutting the walls.  The contractor had to leave notches of the slab in place to provide support and prevent the walls from collapsing. Each notch was then very carefully removed and temporary shoring was installed to prevent a cave in.

Next, the crew formed the ceiling/floor and installed rebar so the new structural slab would be much stronger than the original. When pouring the concrete, the crew had to be meticulous to ensure it was evenly placed under all the stone walls and through the cage of rebar.

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Once the slab was poured, the crew started building the column forms. Each column’s entasis, or taper, toward the top was achieved by building a wooden barrel that narrowed towards the top.  The concrete was then cast directly into the barrel. This process was very similar to how the columns were originally constructed.

As mentioned earlier, one of the beams was salvageable in its entirety. However, the other beam had to be rebuilt with about fifty percent new wood bolted to the older beam. Like the original construction, we used redwood. The contractor replaced all the purlins (or cross beams) with new redwood, using one of the original purlins to recreate the decorative pattern on each end.

After a few finishing touches, the new (and improved) Cranbrook House Pergola was completed. Many thanks to the crew involved in this restoration project, and come check it out for yourself soon!

* Cranbrook Archives was able to determine that the original pergola was intact as early as 1919.

View from Cranbrook House looking down “Hedge Alley” towards the pergola, ca 1925. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Ryan Pfeifer, Project Manager II, Cranbrook Capital Projects

Special thanks to Elizabeth Fairman (CKU ’17) for research assistance.

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