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.

20191022_141908

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

20191022_142725

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

There’s Always a Detroit Connection

In the main hallway of Kingswood and in the living room of Thornlea, there are paintings by artist Myron G. Barlow (1873-1937). I love the look of these paintings and began to wonder about the artist. I’ve come to learn he was an internationally known Detroit-raised painter. As with all things Cranbrook, it seems, there is always a Detroit connection.

Two Women with a Bowl of Flowers on a Table, circa 1912 by Myron G. Barlow

Two Women with a Bowl of Flowers on a Table, circa 1912 by Myron G. Barlow.

The Kingswood painting Two Women with a Bowl of Flowers on a Table depicts two peasant girls, one standing and one bending over a bowl of flowers. It was donated to Kingswood around 1970 by Herbert Sott in memory of his wife Mignon Ginsburg Sott, who was Kingswood Class of 1943.

Young Girl Braiding Her Hair, circa 1912 by Myron G. Barlow

Young Girl Braiding Her Hair, circa 1912 by Myron G. Barlow

The other painting, Young Girl Braiding Her Hair, is of a girl looking in a mirror braiding her hair. It was purchased by James Scripps Booth from the artist in 1912. James attended the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris and in 1911 had studied under Barlow; James’ painting “Onion Gatherer, Cote d’Azure” depicts Barlow’s cottage studio. James gave Young Girl Braiding Her Hair to his parents George and Ellen Booth. It originally hung in Cranbrook House’s main staircase. George and Ellen gifted the painting to Henry and Carolyn Booth, who hung it in their home, Thornlea.

Myron Barlow (1873-1937). Son of Adolph and Fanny Barlow who were members of Temple Beth El. Courtesy Temple Beth El Facebook page.

Myron G. Barlow (1873-1937), son of Adolph and Fanny Barlow who were members of Temple Beth-El in Detroit. Courtesy Temple Beth El.

Myron G. Barlow was born in Ionia, Michigan in 1873 and raised in Detroit. As a teenager, he trained at the Detroit Museum School, where he studied under Joseph Gies, and then at the Art Institute of Chicago. He began his career as a newspaper artist. He eventually traveled to Paris and enrolled in the Ecole des Beaux-Arts where studied under Jean-Leon Gerome.

While copying paintings in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, Barlow discovered Johannes Vermeer. As stated in William H. Gerdts’ Masterworks of American Impressionism from the Pfeil Collection, “Like Vermeer, one of Barlow’s favorite artistic themes became the depiction of figures, often female and usually set in an interior; frequently isolated and motionless, surrounded by a dream-like atmosphere rendered in a single, dominant tonality, often blue.”

Barlow in his studio after 1900. Courtesy of Nancy Brett (Barlow's great-niece) on Temple Beth-El Facebook page.

Barlow in his studio after 1900. Courtesy of Nancy Brett (Barlow’s great-niece) via Temple Beth-El.

Around 1900, Barlow moved to the French village of Trepied. There he transformed a peasant’s house into his studio. He would, however, make frequent trips back to Detroit and kept a home there as well.

He served as the Chairman of the Scarab Club around 1918. According to his Detroit News obituary, “Among his major achievements in Detroit are six large murals which he painted for the main auditorium of Temple Beth-El, which were completed in 1925.”

In 1907, he was the only American elected to the Societe Nationale des Beaux-Arts and in 1932 was made a Knight of the Legion of Honor by the French Government. He was recognized for his work with gold medals at the St. Louis and Panama Pacific Exhibition, and by having his works purchased by many international museums, including the Musée Quentovic in France, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and the Detroit Institute of Arts. The Detroit Club and the private collection of Baron Edmond de Rothschild also included works by Barlow.

In May 1937, he left Detroit with the intention of selling his studio in France and returning to the city for the remainder of his life. Unfortunately, he died in his home in Trepied that fall.

– Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar

A Sculpture So Nice They Named it Twice

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

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

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

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

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

CISB509L.jpg

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

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

Atalanta.jpg

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

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

Ecolo, Goddess of Earth 

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

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

CEC472 (2).jpg

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

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

– Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar

Discovering Turtle Fountain

The collections at Cranbrook Archives are used by a wide population of researchers and have a broad reach academically and internationally. The collections are also used internally for diverse purposes, including historic preservation, education, program development, and fact-checking. A recent research request related to the original installation of Turtle Fountain on the circular terrace at Cranbrook House.

E396.jpg

Turtle Fountain, 1925. K. Hance, photographer. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

In the late winter of 1924, George and Ellen Booth took a trip to Europe. In a letter dated February 15, 1924, to Cecil Billington, George explains,

“We stopped in Rome to see if by chance I could find a fountain for the new circular terrace basin – and I did – at first it seemed quite out of reach, but some favorable circumstances helped a lot…”

He goes on to discuss the agreements for packaging and shipping the fountain, which is no less than 10 tons of Verona marble. Similar information is found in a letter from George to Henry Scripps Booth, which also describes their experience of staying in Paris and Rome:

Letter from George G. Booth to Henry S. Booth, February 15, 1924. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

While Florence and Carol [Farr Booth] went to see the sights and do a little shopping, George writes,

“I at once went to the Galerie Sangiorgi where I bought the last fountain – and at first was disappointed as I had a mind picture which could not be realized there. There was one fountain which they had when I was there last – a replica of one in Rome often regarded as the best if not, as some say, “the most beautiful”…”

The letter is very informative about the materials from which the fountain is made, what they weigh, and how he envisions it on the circular terrace, even including a small drawing of the base of the fountain (top of page 2).

Invoice, Galleria Sangiorgi, February 25, 1924. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

The fountain was cast by Chiurazzi Foundry in Naples, whose works were often sold by the Galerie Sangiorgi. The design of the fountain was inspired by the Fontana delle Tartarughe, which stands in the Piazza Mattei in Rome. The original was designed by Giacomo della Porta and Taddeo Landini in 1581, which featured dolphins instead of turtles. During restoration in 1658, the dolphins were removed due to their weight and replaced by bronze turtles, which were sculpted by Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini. Cranbrook’s Turtle Fountain was restored in September 1980 through the Gardens Auxiliary. Visit the fountain this spring on your own or on a tour with Cranbrook House and Gardens Auxiliary.

– Laura MacNewman, Associate Archivist

 

 

When the March Winds Blow

It is hard to think of Spring during this week of frigid temperatures, but I promise it is coming. Soon, the Cranbrook House and Gardens Auxilary will be out planting their gardens around Cranbrook House. In honor of the coming Spring, this week I share George G. Booth’s feelings on planting from his Pleasures of Planting and Other Thoughts which was printed by the Cranbrook Press in 1902.

George G. Booth, The Pleasures of Planting and Other Thoughts, Title Page. Printed by The Cranbrook Press and finished on August 30, 1902. Courtesy of Cranbrook Academy of Art Library.

George G. Booth, The Pleasures of Planting and Other Thoughts, Title Page. Printed by The Cranbrook Press and finished on August 30, 1902. Courtesy of Cranbrook Academy of Art Library.

The Cranbrook Press was established in the unused attic space in the Shelby Street office of the Detroit Evening News in 1900. In two short years, the Press produced nine books. Pleasures of Planting was one of three books written by George Booth printed on the Press. In it, he writes:

Don’t, I pray you, envy the man who has builded a house, or reared a monument in marble or granite; for I say unto you most truly that the cap-stone has no sooner been let unto its place and the builder attained the joy he dreamed of, than the work of his hands begins to decay and crumble before his eyes.

Portrait of Ellen S. and George G. Booth in the Oak Room at Cranbrook House. Photo by PD Rearick.

Portrait of Ellen S. and George G. Booth in the Oak Room at Cranbrook House. Photo by PD Rearick.

Choose, rather, for yourself the most delightful and beneficial of exercises, and plant. Plant when the March winds blow – plant when the gentle rains of springtime pour blessings on the earth – plant where the mother of us all permits it. Work not for glory in cold bricks and stone alone, but plant living things, and watch with joy the increasing glory of your labor.

Cranbrook House Dining Room with flowers on the table

Cranbrook House Dining Room. Photo by PD Rearick.

Stone, and iron, and brass cannot put flowers at the bedside of the sick, nor fill the air with odors of sweetness or furnish a soft and coll bed for the birds; neither will the grandest monumental piles fill the heart of the poet with sweetest songs or make us feel so truly that “God is good;” but under spreading branches of the trees rest is found, love flourishes, and all humanity drinks at the well of life.

Where ever you go, plant – rear monuments of elm and maples, of poplars and beech, and trees bearing fruit, and plant on your right hand and on your left the rose, lilac, snow-ball and syringa. Strew at your feet the sweet, life-giving flowers of summer, and live out your days in happiness.

Cranbrook House and Gardens Auxiliary volunteers plant in the Sunken Garden. Photo by Eric Franchy, Cranbrook House & Gardens.

Cranbrook House and Gardens Auxiliary volunteers plant in the Sunken Garden. Photo by Eric Franchy, Cranbrook House & Gardens.

There is something magnificent in such work. It fills the earth with beautiful scenes; wealth is added to the land, which grows richer daily; “there is something in it like the work of creation.”

Cranbrook House and Gardens Auxiliary volunteers plant in the gardens around Cranbrook House. Photo by Eric Franchy, Cranbrook House & Gardens.

Cranbrook House and Gardens Auxiliary volunteers plant in the gardens around Cranbrook House. Photo by Eric Franchy, Cranbrook House & Gardens.

Plant and see your plantation arriving at greater degrees of perfection as long as you live. If you want to be helpful; if you love your country; if you have regard for posterity – plant. You cannot be excused if you fail in this duty. Just put a few twigs in the ground and do good to one who will make his appearance in the world fifty years hence, or perhaps make one of your descendants easy or rich at such a trifling cost.

“If man find himself averse to planting, he must indeed be void of all generous principles and love of mankind,” and so I say unto you – Plant.

– Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar

Cranbrook Fire Department

Recently, the Center for Collections and Research received a Cranbrook Fire Department Firefighter’s Helmet. It had been given to Charles Zimmerman while he was a Police Officer at Cranbrook by one of the Vettraino brothers. Because of the new acquisition, I decided to read up on the Cranbrook Fire Department.

arc2019_1 (1)

Cranbrook Fire Department Firefighter’s Helmet. Gift of Frank M. Edwards.

In 1934, George G. Booth asked the Cranbrook Foundation to purchase a fire truck and equipment, essentially beginning the Cranbrook Fire Department. A fire hall was built in early 1935 to house the new truck – a 1934 Ford Truck V8 Chassis with a Proctor-Keefe Company body and fire equipment, including a 500-gallon Barton-American Pump mounted on the front of the truck.

In the existing Tower Cottage fire hall (built in 1921) was a 1934 Ford Pick-up with fire equipment and a Barton-American U-355 pump mounted on the front of the car; booster tank and fittings, 2 lengths suction hose, and a hydrant adapter. It had been purchased by George and Ellen Booth for use at the homestead property.

In 1935, after studying at the University of Michigan’s Fire School, Dominick Vettraino was named the Fire Chief. The Assistant Chief was his brother John Vettraino. All other firefighters were volunteers from the maintenance staffs of all the Cranbrook institutions. Because they were paid, the Chief or Assistant Chief was always on call, including Sundays and holidays, and lived on campus, but it was not until 1938, that the Cranbrook Foundation decided a residence for the Chief should be built next to the fire hall.

cec5892-10 (1990-15)

Cranbrook Fire Department Chief Dominick Vettraino. Dominick Vettraino Papers. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

To cover the cost of the department, and to pay the Chief and Assistant Chief, proportional interdepartmental support was required. The insurance savings to Cranbrook for having its own fire department ended up offsetting the cost of having the department and gave Cranbrook a better insurance rating than even the City of Bloomfield Hills.

cec5892-5 (1990-15)

Left to right: Louis Larson, Ed Morrow, Homer Murphy, Walter Powell, Donald Tompkins, Pete Peterson, Chief Dominick Vettraino, and Floyd Pickering, members of the Cranbrook Fire Department in 1944. Not pictured, George Leslie, John Winfield, O.D. Hillman, and John Vettraino. Dominick Vettraino Papers. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

The Cranbrook Fire Department protected all the Cranbrook institutions and residences as well as the nearby homes of the Booth’s children: the Beresfords, the Henry S. Booths, the Warren S. Booths, and Harry L. & Grace B. Wallace. Though strictly a Cranbrook institution, the department was always willing to assist neighbors in the community when possible.

For more great images related to the Cranbrook Fire Department, click here.

Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar

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.

img_2385

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.

summer school class

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.”

mural painting herter menu

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.

botke-cornelis-jessie-website

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).

 

Kalevala Curtain?

When I started giving tours of Saarinen House more than twenty-two years ago, I was enthralled by the geometric designs architect Eliel Saarinen and his wife Loja Saarinen created for their own home.

Second Floor Hallway Seating Alcove reproduction curtain, circa 1993-94. Balthazar Korab, Photographer.

In the Second Floor Hallway Seating Alcove, I tended to focus upon the dramatic dance between Loja’s curtain design and Eliel’s leaded glass windows. Her woven bands of blue and green triangles layered over his geometric forms. His leaded triangles, squares, and rectangles peeking from behind her sheer textile. The combination of the two casting mesmerizing shadows across the upstairs walls, shifting with the weather and the season.

As a decorative art historian, I reveled in sharing the story of the Saarinens’ support of Finnish National Romanticism—a late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century movement celebrating the revival of Finnish language and culture, particularly architecture, arts, and crafts. And to my eye, the upstairs curtain was just another pattern derived from the Saarinens’ Finnish heritage, specifically traditional Karelian motifs found in eastern Finland and Russia.

But then, an unnamed visitor from Finland introduced me to the Kalevala—Finland’s epic poem. And I learned that the upstairs alcove curtain quite possibly had a more intriguing story to tell…

Said the aged Väinämöinen,
And he spoke the words which follow:
“Now my inclination leads me
Unto Metsola to travel;
To the forest’s daughter’s dwelling,
And to the Blue Maiden’s homestead.

Leaving men, I seek the forest,
Heroes leave, for distant regions;
Take me as thy man, O forest,
Take me, Tapio, for thy hero.
May good fortune now be granted,
And to fell the forest-beauty![”]

Translation from the original Finnish by William Forsell Kirby in Kalevala: The Land of the Heroes, in Two Volumes, 1907, “Runo XLVI: Väinämöinen and the bear.”

Could a figure from the Kalevala be hidden within the bands of triangles on the upstairs curtain?

The Kalevala recounts Finnish and Karelian folklore—heroic tales spanning the story of creation to the introduction of Christianity. Compiled by Elias Lönnart from oral tradition, it was first published in Finnish in 1835 and expanded in 1849. Many translations followed, often with creative spellings.

With ever-increasing nationalism—leading to the creation of Finland as an independent country in 1917—Finns, particularly artists, makers, musicians, and performers, turned to the Kalevala for inspiration. Apparently, the Saarinens were no exception.

Second Floor Hallway Seating Alcove with original curtain, circa September 1930. Max Habrecht, Photographer. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

The original curtain for the upstairs seating alcove was designed by Loja Saarinen and woven by Studio Loja Saarinen, circa 1930. Bands of triangular forms embellish the top and bottom of the sheer panel. In typical northern-European style, its purpose was to provide a level of privacy without preventing limited daylight from streaming through. Fitting, as the Saarinens took breakfast upstairs in the west-facing seating alcove each morning at 7:30 a.m.

Cranbrook’s black and white photograph of the upstairs seating alcove was published in the October 1933 issue of House Beautiful, with the caption:

In this hall on the second floor the specifically designed furniture from the Cranbrook Cabinet Makers’ Shop and the curtains of natural linen with blue and green geometric figures, from the Cranbrook Looms, give the note of distinction that is seen throughout the house. Pattern in pleasantly contrasted here with plain surfaces, and the result is the restfulness that comes with restraint[.]

Sadly, Loja Saarinen’s original curtain no longer exists. And other than the black and white photograph and magazine caption, there is no archival documentation—sketches, studio production records, receipts, or letters—to reveal Loja’s intentions or inspirations. Close analysis of the black and white image does reveal two shades of color—presumably blue and green as stated in the magazine caption—enabling the Saarinen House restoration team to determine which color was applied where.

Second Floor Hallway Seating Alcove reproduction curtain circa 1993-94, detail. Balthazar Korab, Photographer.

The curtain was reproduced in 1992, by Paula Stebbins Becker, designer and Laura Sansone, weaver. Based on Loja Saarinen’s original design, two horizontal repeats—one at the bottom and one at the top—were woven in blue and green. Measuring 61 inches by 140 inches, the reproduction curtain was constructed with linen warp, lumpy low linen weft, and wool inlay, using a plain weave with supplementary weft inlay border, and fringe.

With my newfound Kalevala clarity, the repeating pattern of Loja’s textile took on new meaning.

The stacked blue triangles at the bottom of the curtain suddenly assumed the form of a towering male figure sprouting a green triangular head. This recurring figure now balanced upon blue cliffs. And blue hills and trees, flanked by green meadows, unfurled below him, while blue mountaintops and clouds danced above.

The scale of the figure in relation to the surrounding elements suggested a deity or hero, not an ordinary man.

Was Loja depicting Väinämöinen?

The central figure of the Kalevala, Väinämöinen is the symbolic first man. Of mythical origins, he rises from a primordial realm beneath the sea. An ancient hero and wise man—think Gandalf or Dumbledore—he possesses a magical voice for song and poetry. He contributes to the creation of the world by cutting down forests and mowing meadows.

Wainamoinen, wise and ancient,
Made himself an axe for chopping,
Then began to clear the forest,
Then began the trees to level,
Felled the trees of all descriptions,
Only left the birch-tree standing
For the birds a place of resting,
Where might sing the sweet-voiced cuckoo,
Sacred bird in sacred branches.

#

Wainamoinen, wise and ancient,
Brings his magic grains of barley,
Brings he forth his seven seed-grains,
Brings them from his trusty pouches,
Fashioned from the skin of squirrel,
Some were made from skin of marten.
Thence to sow his seeds he hastens,
Hastes the barley-grains to scatter,
Speaks unto himself these measures:
“I the seeds of life am sowing,
Sowing through my open fingers,
From the hand of my Creator,
In this soil enriched with ashes,
In this soil to sprout and flourish.

Excerpts from “Rune II: Wainamoinen’s Sowing” as translated by John Martin Crawford in his 1888 publication, The Kalevala: The Epic Poem of Finland based on a German translation by Franz Anton Schiefner published in 1852.

Or was it Tapio himself gracing Loja’s curtains?

The God of the Forest and Woodlands, Tapio is the personification of Nature. Described as a tall, slender figure, wearing a coat of tree moss and a fir-leaf hat, the proverbial Green Man was said to have a lichen beard and eyebrows of moss. Cue the green triangle atop Loja’s figure—perhaps a stylized pre-Christian foliate head?

“Grant, O Ukko, my Creator,
That the signs may guide our footsteps,
That the notches in the pine-tree
May direct my faithful people
To the bear-dens of the woodlands;
That great Tapio’s sacred bugle
May resound through glen and forest;
That the wood-nymph’s call may echo,
May be heard in field and hamlet,
To the joy of all that listen!
Let great Tapio’s horn for ages
Ring throughout the fen and forest,
Through the hills and dales of Northland
O’er the meadows and the mountains,
To awaken song and gladness
In the forests of Wainola,
On the snowy plains of Suomi,
On the meads of Kalevala,
For the coming generations.”

From Crawford’s translation of The Kalevala, “Rune XLVI: Otso the Honey-eater.”

Musical inspiration for the curtains?

We can hear Tapio’s horn and the mystical vibrations of Tapiola—the forest where Tapio lived and ruled—in the haunting tone poem “Tapiola” by the Saarinens’ close friend and noted Finnish composer, Jean Sibelius.

Click here to listen to “Tapiola,” Opus 112 as performed by the Gothenburg Symphony, conducted by Detroit Symphony Orchestra Music Director Emeritus Neeme Järvi, set to scenes of Finland’s forests, lakes, rock formations, and clouds edited from the 1984 Christopher Nupen film, Jean Sibelius: The Early Years, and published on the GreatClassicRecords YouTube channel in 2012.

Yet, Väinamönen plays his own role in Sibelius’s repertoire. “Väinö’s Song,” a cantata for mixed chorus and orchestra, evokes the song of our hero as a suitor in “Rune XVIII: The Rival Suitors” from the Kalevala.

Click here to listen to “Väinö’s Song,” Opus 110 as performed by the Finnish National Opera Orchestra and Chorus, conducted by the late Eri Klas, former Principal Guest Conductor of the Finnish National Opera.

Sibelius composed “Väinö’s Song” in 1926, and it was first performed in Sortavala, Republic of Karelia, Russia, in June of that year. Simultaneously, he was working on “Tapiola,” a commission from the New York Philharmonic Society first performed in New York the day after Christmas 1926.

Sibelius provided the following prose, as adapted by his publisher, Breitkopf & Härtel, to clarify his score and the role of Tapio and the Tapiola forest in Finnish mythology:

Wide-spread they stand, the Northland’s dusky forests,
Ancient, mysterious, brooding savage dreams;
Within them dwells the Forest’s mighty God,
And wood-sprites in the gloom weave magic secrets.

However fanciful it might be, I like to picture the Saarinens in the 1926 Karelian and New York audiences, supporting their good friend’s compositions and drawing inspiration for their own work. The timing is feasible as they summered in Finland and resided in Michigan during the winter—their custom excepting the war years. But more likely, they learned of the compositions through their regular correspondence with Sibelius, now in the collection of the Sibelius Museum. Perhaps the subject of a future blog post and my excuse for another trip to Finland?

It is fair to assume that by 1930, when the upstairs alcove curtain was created, the Saarinens were familiar with “Väinö’s Song” and more so, “Tapiola,” now considered to be Sibelius’s last great masterpiece for orchestra. In all, Sibelius created over a dozen works inspired by the Kalevala. He profoundly impacted the development of the Finnish national identity—and thereby the Saarinens’—adding another layer of interpretation to Loja’s figurative pattern.

Karelian geometric patterns? Väinämöinen creating the world? Tapio ruling the forest?

Whether the curtain in the Second Floor Hallway Alcove at Saarinen House depicts Tapio, God of the Forest and Woodlands . . . or Väinämöinen, the hero of the Kalevala . . . or simply references Karelian geometric patterns, I do not know. But it seems clear that Finnish Nationalism Romanticism impacted Loja Saarinen’s textile designs, reflecting both tradition and her distinctive sense of visual harmony in their arrangement of color and form.

A trained sculptor familiar with traditional weaving, Loja established Studio Loja Saarinen at Cranbrook in 1928 in order to supply textiles for the growing campus. This led to the formation of the Department of Weaving and Textile Design at Cranbrook Academy of Art, for which she served as Head from 1929 until her retirement in 1942.

Studio Loja Saarinen was initially engaged in creating textiles for Kingswood School for Girls and the Saarinens’ own home at Cranbrook. The studio also received commissions from major architects of the period such as Frank Lloyd Wright. Textiles designed by Loja and Eliel Saarinen for Studio Loja Saarinen continue to grace the interiors of notable edifices designed by Eliel, including First Christian Church in Columbus, Indiana, and, of course, Saarinen House.

Tours of Saarinen House resume on May 3, 2019. And our upcoming Day Away trip just happens to be to Columbus, Indiana—tentative dates: May 17-19. We hope to see you next season.

In the meantime, don’t forget to celebrate Kalevala Day on February 28—commemorating the date of its first publication by Elias Lönnart in 1835!

Diane VanderBeke Mager, Collections Interpreter, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

 

 

Might Willy not carve something for you?

Oberammergau, a small Catholic village in Bavaria, Germany, is known for its woodcarvers and for its almost 400-year tradition of mounting an elaborate Passion Play.

20181130_134047

The Village of Oberammergau, 1922. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

The Passion Play is performed in years ending with a zero. Due to economic instability, however, the 1920 performance of the Passion Play was postponed to 1922.

20181130_134027

Oberammergau Passion Play Theater, 1922. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

That year, Henry Scripps Booth and his friend J. Robert F. Swanson were traveling on a ten-month-long European tour and decided to see the rescheduled Passion Play. Henry and Bob stayed at Max Spegel’s pension in Oberammergau, Germany. It was there Henry met Herr and Frau Spegel, their sons Wilhelm and Max, and their daughter Sophie. After the trip, Henry corresponded with Frau Spegel and her son Wilhelm, until about 1937.

20181130_134144

Wilhelm and Max Spegel at their father’s Pension, 1922. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

20181130_134227

Henry Booth with Wilhelm and Max Spegel at their father’s Pension, 1922. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

In January 1924, Frau Spegel suggested, because some items Henry had ordered in Oberammergau had never arrived, “Dear Friend, might Willy [Wilhelm] not carve something for you?” From then on, Henry was agreeable to having the Spegel family carve wood panels, gates, doors, and ceilings for his new home, Thornlea.

20181130_134219

Wilhelm Spegel, 1922. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Carvings by the Spegels can be found throughout Thornlea:

Warming Doors

Warming Oven Doors in Thornlea Dining Room, 1926.

Wilhelm writes, in 1926, “I am sending you with this letter a pascel (sic) containing the two doors for the plate warmers . . . I myself have done all the carving and it took me about 55 hours . . . there is not much work for the wood carvers people have no mony (sic)

sideboard

In the Thornlea Dining Room is a Three-section Sideboard with Carved Panels, 1926-1929, incised with geometric, floral, figural, and animal decorations. Wood panels depict figures such as Adam & Eve, Lindberg, Chief Pontiac, and Columbus.

In order to help his friends, Henry designed a three-section sideboard, into which he inset carved panels done by Wilhelm and Max Spegel — the original idea was to have the panels used as a frieze around a room, but that never materialized. Henry paid the Spegels $8 per panel and let them have creative input into the design and subject matter.

Oratory ceiling

The ceiling of Thornlea Oratory, circa 1926.

The Spegels next created an elaborate set of ceiling panels for use in Thornlea’s Oratory. In a letter to Wilhelm in October of 1928, Henry writes, “The ceiling looks exceptionally well and we are thoroughly pleased with it. Everyone who sees your work certainly is complimentary towards it.

In 1929, Wilhelm had the idea to come to America, as jobs for woodcarvers were scarce at the time. He had asked Henry to “write a letter to the American Consulate in Stuttgart . . . so that they know who I am and that you have known me for many years.” There is no mention of the said letter in any of Henry’s replies but later letters indicate the move to America did not happen.

Henry and Carolyn Farr Booth visited the Spegels in Oberammergau in 1930, likely to see that year’s Passion Play. In the play, Herr Spegel was Rabbi Jakob, as he had been in 1922; Wilhelm was one of the man-servants of Pilate; and Max “will figure amongst the people.”

20181130_134803

Wilhelm Spegel, Carolyn Farr Booth, and Max Spegel in Oberammergau in 1930. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Letters from the Spegels stop in 1937. We do not know what happened to Wilhelm Spegel after 1937 except that he was married on April 17 of that year and died in 1951. We do know that Max Spegel (the younger) served in the German Infantry during World War II and died in service in 1942 at the age of 30. His name appears on the war memorial in Oberammergau.

One item of note, and a fact that Henry S. Booth himself pointed out in a letter to his sister: George G. Booth’s favorite woodcarvers John Kirchmayer and Alois Lang were from Oberammergau, Germany. Henry seemed happy to have found his own carvers in the same city.

Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar

Dolls Make the House

Who doesn’t love dolls? Apparently plenty of people who come through Saarinen House and comment on the two dolls enjoying pride of place in the Cozy Corner. The first response is often “What are those?” The second “What is she looking at?” What indeed. These are two vintage dolls, boy and girl, that Loja and Eliel Saarinen had in their possession and who now sit on the carpeted bench in the sitting alcove or “Cozy Corner” of the Saarinen House studio.

Dolls in Saarinen House. Photograph by James Haefner, 2015.

They were in place in 1947 when Margaret Fish, then art critic from the Milwaukee Sentinel, came to Cranbrook to interview Saarinen as he embarked upon plans for Milwaukee’s war memorial. [Saarinen Cites Keynote for City’s War Memorial. February 22, 1947.] Saarinen confessed to Fish, “Unless your home belongs to your spiritual as well as your physical life, you are entering among strangers.” He went on to explain that the dolls had belonged to his own children (Pipsan and Eero) and that his grandchildren played with them when they came to visit.

The dolls made their way back as a gift from grandson Ron Saarinen Swanson to the house as restoration neared completion in 1994. Greg Wittkopp, then Curator of Collections at Cranbrook Academy of Art Museum, accepted them in a letter of thanks writing “These dolls are critical to the restoration of Saarinen House as they help us interpret [the house] as a ‘home’ not merely an architectural space.” Interesting that this is still the object of the set up of the house and now also of the changing exhibits within curated by current Collections Fellow Kevin Adkisson.

The girl doll was made by the Italian company of Lenci founded in 1918 by Elena König Scavini (1886-1974), nicknamed Lenci, and husband Enrico in Turin. According to the appraisal by the Berkley Doll Hospital, our girl was probably created in 1920.  Lenci dolls became famous for their high quality and cost and the eyes looking away. One wonders what little girls had to do to get the doll to look at them.

Our doll has a felt, jointed body with painted features on pressed felt and those famous eyes looking off to the right. Her hair is a mohair wig, “intentionally tousled” in “little girl fashion” and her clothes are made of felt. Her cheeks swell in petulant child fashion and her third and fourth fingers are sewn together.

After World War II, the company changed hands and the dolls themselves evolved, becoming known as Lenci-type dolls.

Käthe Kruse (1883-1968), the actress creator of the boy doll, was ahead of her time, spurred to create a doll for her children when their sculptor father told them he was not about to buy them the unsatisfactory commercial products then available (this in 1899). Kruse started out with a washrag filled with sand and tied in four corners, carving a potato for the head. This was apparently an unqualified success for her 5-year-old daughter who had asked for a “real child.” Kruse herself realized that a doll should fill an emotional need and not “provide some technical education for running a kitchen.” In response to the doll named Oskar by her daughter, she thought to create a gender-neutral doll so that the children themselves could decide what gender the doll was to be, then the clothes could follow. In the pictures below you have the same doll dressed in different clothes:

Theriault and Bukowskis doll images

Identical Käthe Kruse dolls dressed in different outfits. c. 1930-1940. Courtesy of Theriault and Bukowskis Auction.

Her dolls became an unexpected hit, especially in New York where she sold 150 dolls to FAO Schwarz in 1911. As time passed and Germany was embroiled in World War I, Kruse was pressured to join the patriotic movement catering to the increasing militarism of German society. So her doll grew into a male and appeared in a generic military uniform. So much for the little girls who might not want a soldier baby to play with.

Geheugenvanndederland Dolls

Boy and girl clothes on Käthe Kruse dolls, 1918. Courtesy of Geheugen van Nederland.

Kruse’s doll was destined for further changes, however, because another war loomed, and the gender-neutral baby was once more required to grow male and don a uniform of more sinister aspect.  Kruse lost two sons of her eight children to this war, and as she continued to produce dolls, their facial expressions grew decidedly sad. Who knows why Hitler or his head honchos in the midst of a war would be paying attention to a toy manufacturer, but somehow the dolls’ apparent lack of politically correct optimism attracted attention, as did the Jewish workers Kruse refused to fire, and Kruse’s workshops were closed down. No more dolls until 1946 when Kruse sent three more children to restart the manufacture.

Our doll is dated by the Berkley Doll Hospital to 1910. He is the Doll 1 type with a molded muslin head and hand-painted features and hair in oils. His wide-hipped body is jointed cloth stuffed with reindeer hair, and he has the typical Doll 1, “frog” hands. His clothes are cotton and wool with a knitted wool hat and leggings.

Whoever played with these dolls, they were certainly handled carefully and not loved to pieces. And yet, when Margaret Fish came to call, she reported there were three dolls “European in appearance, sitting primly on the benches.” What happened to doll number 3? Would this have been a doll of yet another nationality? French maybe?

Kathe Kruse and Dolls

Käthe Kruse and dolls, 1905. Courtesy of Käthe Kruse History.

Some visitors find the dolls creepy, others fascinating. When they come to Saarinen House, visitors do not expect to be taken back to their own childhood as these dolls will do to you, if you let them: she looking off to her right, grumpily in search of better things, and he looking sturdily down.

The Kruse dolls are still in production 50 years after Kruse’s death at the age of 85, still desirable, still looking a bit like baby Friedebald Kruse, the model for the first commercial doll, and still stuffed with reindeer hair if you are willing to pay.

– Lynette Mayman, Collections Interpreter

 

You can see the Saarinen dolls on Saarinen House tours, led by the Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research Collections Interpreters every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, May-November.

Additional sources:

Edwards, Linda. Doll Values: Antique to Modern 13th Edition. New York. Page Publishing. 2017

Ganaway, Michael. Toys, Consumption, and Middle-class Childhood in Imperial Germany, 1871-1918. Bern. Peter Lang. 2009

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: