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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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

Photo Friday: Thornlea Studio

In this moody photograph by Jack Kausch, we see Henry Scripps Booth with his plants, prints, antiques, and drawings in the Thornlea Studio alcove.

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Henry Scripps Booth at his desk in the Thornlea Studio alcove. October 1981. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives/Jack Kausch Photographic Collection.

Henry designed Thornlea Studio as a working retreat behind his house, Thornlea, off Cranbrook Road. Completed to his own designs in 1937, here Henry worked on architectural projects for himself, for Cranbrook (like redesigning the Art Museum bathrooms and building the Cranbrook House gatehouse), and for friends and clients. He also used the studio as a place to write and read next to the cozy fireplace or beautiful expanses of windows.

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Henry built this studio in 1937; in 1988 it was converted into the home of the Cranbrook Archives. Richard G. Askew, photographer, 1940. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

After Henry’s death in 1988, the studio was converted into a home for the Cranbrook Archives. The Archives were begun in part through Henry’s efforts sifting and organizing the Booth family papers and ephemera held at Cranbrook House. Relocated from the (very wet) basement and (very hot) attic of Cranbrook House, the Archives and its professional staff moved into Thornlea Studio. The most significant change to the building involved converting the Studio garage into a vault, with the reading room occupying the first floor drafting room and the alcove and offices on the second floor.

In 2012, the Archives offices, Reading Room, and certain parts of the collections were moved into the lower level of Cranbrook Art Museum. This summer, with the help of former Art Museum Preparator Mark Baker and Cranbrook Capital Projects, we moved again, into the Collections Wing.

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The new Archives Reading Room in the Cranbrook Art Museum Collections Wing. PD Rearick, photographer, 2018. Courtesy of the Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

In our beautiful new Archives Reading Room, we’ve hung a 1922 portrait of Henry Booth to commemorate his efforts to create and steward Cranbrook Archives. To visit our new Reading Room, see treasures from the Archives, and hear new research from five patrons of the Archives, come to our Open Archives event this Sunday from 1 to 5pm (short talks begin at 3pm). More information is available on our website.

Register online or at the door for this free event, and join us Sunday to celebrate Cranbrook Archives and see the new Reading Room!

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

Editors Note: The Archives is also excited to announce new hours! We will be open on Tuesday to Friday 11 to 5pm and the second Saturday of each month, 11 to 5pm.

Brighty of Thornlea House

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Peter Jepsen, Brighty, cast bronze. 1966. Collection of Thornlea House, Cranbrook. Courtesy of Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

In the foyer of Thornlea, the home of Henry Scripps and Carolyn Farr Booth, sits this statue of a burro, Brighty, by Peter Jepsen. He was a gift from their son, Stephen, commemorating a movie project he spearheaded.

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Dust jacket of Brighty of the Grand Canyon. 1953 (first edition). Courtesy of Michigan eLibrary (MelCat).

In 1953, Newbery Award winner Marguerite Henry (1902-1999) published the novel Brighty of the Grand Canyon. It tells the story of a real burro named Brighty who lived in the Grand Canyon from 1890-1922. Brighty spent summers carrying water up the canyon to the North Rim. He was rewarded for his work with pancakes. Brighty became popular with visitors, and is said to have accompanied Teddy Roosevelt on one of his three visits to the Grand Canyon.

In 1963, Betty Booth bought a copy of Brighty of the Grand Canyon for her three boys, Douglas, Charlie, and Woody, to read on vacation. Betty was the wife of Stephen Farr Booth, who was a television producer at the time. Stephen read the book and loved it so much he decided to make it into a movie of the same name. The movie premiered in Detroit in 1967.

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Movie poster for Brighty of the Grand Canyon. 1967. Courtesy WikiCommons.

To promote the movie, Stephen had sculptor Peter Jepsen create a life-sized, 600-pound statue of Brighty to be placed in the Grand Canyon’s South Rim’s Visitor Center (it was later moved to the North Rim’s Grand Canyon Lodge, where it resides today and where visitors rub his nose for good luck). Stephen also had 100 small-scale versions of the sculpture made and distributed to various people who worked on the movie. Stephen also gave one to his parents, who placed Brighty right inside the door of their home Thornlea.

We don’t encourage visitors to rub Brighty’s nose for good luck, but he is a fun and memorable addition to welcome guests to Thornlea.

– Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar

Note: The book, movie, and statue have kept the legend of Brighty alive. Brighty even has his own Facebook page.

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