Photo Friday: Division of Days

In pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, the calendar originated by the Mayans included 260 days. The “tzolkin” or “division of days” displayed in today’s photo are described as ceremonial or mythological. The calendar pages are part of a series of Mayan glyphs collected by Robert Hall Merrill (1881-1955). Merrill, an engineer and businessman, was a member of the Board of Trustees at Cranbrook Institute of Science from 1944-1953, as well as a consultant in the Anthropology department from 1948-1949.

Tzolkins 6 and 7 from the Robert Hall Merrill Papers, ca 1922.

Mary Miller, director of the Getty Research Institute, describes the Mesoamerican calendar as the oldest and most important calendar system (earliest evidence dating to 800-500 BCE). The original purpose of the 260-day calendar is unknown, but there are several theories. One theory is that the calendar is based on the mathematical operations for the numbers 20 and 13 (important numbers in the Mayan culture). The calendar combines a cycle of twenty named days with another cycle of thirteen numbers to produce 260 days. Each named day has a corresponding glyph as seen in the photo above.

The glyphs are part of a series sent to Merrill by Edith Gates McComas, sister of Maya scholar, William Gates. This extraordinary material was transferred to Cranbrook Archives in 2016.

Gina Tecos, Archivist

 

Using Archives—The Quest for the Gold Ciborium

The pursuit of historical truth, from national heritage to community identity or individual biography, depends upon archives—the portion of records selected for permanent preservation. In the west, recordkeeping emerged within the development of justice and administration—the earliest English law code is that of King Aethelberht of Kent, c.600, following the arrival of Augustine of Canterbury and the encouragement of peaceful dispute resolution. Henceforth, a fundamental and enduring feature of legal process comes to us from the Anglo-Saxons: the writ and the charter. Yet, throughout the early middle ages, grants and other legal deeds were made in public ceremonies where the attendant witnesses were the ‘memory’ of the act, not always supplemented by a charter. But, by the thirteenth century, documentary evidence had become necessary to prove ownership of land or other grants of the king, and records began to constitute the activity itself.

Over time, the type, format, and number of records has proliferated but those that are preserved, as archives, are the critical vestiges of ancient and recent memory—individual memories, institutional memories, national memories. They are primary sources essential to historical method to evidence claims of historical fact based on a reasoned interpretation of the records—these are the tasks of historians and scholars whose published research is found in secondary sources. Both types of sources are necessary when greeted with the archival FAQ, “I want to know more about this person, place, or thing—what do you have?” A recent request related to a church vessel, the “gold ciborium” at Christ Church Cranbrook. As is the case with any research, the starting place is to discover what has already been done. The first place to look for information on the art works at Christ Church Cranbrook is the Pilgrims’ Guide, first published in 1939, which guides visitors through the church with details of its artworks and craftsmen.

The Pilgrim’s Guide (4th Ed.), Thistle [Henry S. Booth], 1956

While the Guide is full of meticulously researched information, there was no mention of a ciborium. The reference files were similarly silent, except a photocopied memo from George Gough Booth dated 1927, listing a ciborium made by Arthur Stone (1992-01 5:2). And, sure enough, in the George Gough Booth Papers (1981-01, 22:7), there is correspondence with Arthur Stone about a gold-plated ciborium. Voilà! Well, not quite… it was not the right one. So, we found a photograph of it in the photo files, though it had no date, photographer or artist details, only the words “silver gilt ciborium”.

Silver Gilt Ciborium
Copyright Cranbrook Archives, photographer unknown.

An inventory written by Henry Scripps Booth in 1960 (1981-01 20:6) has two ciboriums listed—that of Arthur Stone and another one with blanks for the creator and date of creation. But, taking a step back to the contemporaneous records for the building of the church, there are detailed ledgers for its construction and decoration. If the ciborium was purchased by George Gough Booth, there would most certainly be a record of it. Looking closely at the ledger pages, it is clear that a ciborium was commissioned from three separate artists: A. Nevill Kirk, Arthur Stone, and Helen K. Mills. These have certificate numbers which can be matched up with the ‘Cranbrook Church notebook’. So, we know that a third ciborium was purchased from an artist called Helen K. Mills, and the notebook gives us the date, February 7, 1928.

There is correspondence with Kirk and Stone in the Christ Church Cranbrook series of George’s papers but none with Helen Mills. But there must be some elsewhere. When we are processing archives, we must carefully consider three things: content (who created the documents and what is in them?), context (in what circumstances were they created and why?), and structure (how do they relate to other documents in the collection and the institution?). These things can also be applied in using archives. So, in looking for correspondence with artists regarding artwork at the time of the construction of the church, there is another place to look—the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts correspondence. Here we find correspondence between Helen Keeling Mills, Helen Plumb, and George Gough Booth.

While records might initially be kept to evidence an activity, over time they are of historical value. They can help us understand a person, provide knowledge of an organization, contribute to knowledge of a craft or a culture, they inform us of the creation of an object so that it may be maintained and preserved in its most beneficial environment. Last, but not least, a document becomes an artifact in itself because of who wrote it, what it says, and because it is simply beautiful. This correspondence was kept initially to document his transaction with Helen as part of the wider collection of records for the church. But we can learn much more from it. We know something about the creative process of the ciborium—what it is made of, the saints depicted upon it, that it was sent to another artist after which it was damaged. We know the importance that Helen placed in her work and her regret of the damage. We can see George’s gracious response and understanding—his appreciation of her devotion to her work and the joy that will be taken in the object she created.

This research query helped to draw information out of the archive that was hitherto not expressly known. There is now a reference file to aid future researchers so that the knowledge is accessible with references to the records that document it, and the research process need not be made again. And so, just as teachers learn from their students, the archive and archivists learn from their researchers.

Laura MacNewman, Associate Archivist

Sisu, the Amazing Maija Grotell

Sisu is a Finnish concept described as stoic determination, a tenacity of purpose, grit, bravery, resilience; it is also the word weaver Marianne Strengell used to describe her friend Maija Grotell.

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Maija Grotell at Cranbrook Academy of Art Faculty Breakfast, 1939. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Maija Grotell was born August 19, 1899, in Helsinki, Finland. She studied painting and sculpture in Helsinki, graduating in 1920. While working at a textile firm as an artist, she completed six years of graduate work in ceramics (1920-1926) under Alfred William Finch, a noted Belgian ceramicist and painter who practiced in Finland.

In October 1927, Grotell immigrated to the United States, settling in New York where she studied for one summer under Charles Fergus Binns. Her first employment was as an Instructor at Inwood Pottery Studios in New York City (1927-1928). She went on to teach children at the Union Settlement (1928-1929) and at the Henry Street Craft School Settlement (1929-1937), both in New York. While teaching ceramics and researching glazes, Grotell was also exhibiting and selling her own ceramics. From 1937 to 1938, Grotell was a ceramics instructor and research assistant at the Department of Ceramics at Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey. She became a naturalized United States citizen in 1934.

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Maija Grotell in the Cranbrook Academy of Art Ceramics Studio. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, “Maija Grotell was one of the most significant potters working independently during the late 1930s. Although a relatively large number of women played important roles in the art pottery movement in the early twentieth century, few female ceramists were active between the first and second World War. Grotell was one of the exceptions.

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Maija Grotell at work. From the Maija Grotell Papers, Cranbrook Archives.

As Eliel Saarinen’s complex of buildings at Cranbrook began to take shape, he sought out distinguished artists and craftspeople to work in the studios. Impressed with a gallery exhibition of Grotell’s work, Saarinen envisioned her ceramics contributing to the architecture of Cranbrook. In the fall of 1938, Saarinen invited Grotell to join himself, Carl Milles, and Marianne Strengell at the Cranbrook Academy of Art as head of the ceramics department, a position she held until her retirement in 1966.

Grotell described the way she worked as such, “I always have something I am aiming at, and I keep on. I do not sketch on paper, I sketch in clay. So if it is not what I want, I make another one and keep on. In that way I have many similar pieces. My reason is not for repeating, but for improving.”

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Maija Grotell overlooks her students in the Cranbrook Academy of Art Ceramics Studio, 1939. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

In her teaching, Grotell emphasized ceramics as a medium of artistic expression. Many students trained by her went into teaching and were integral to the development of America’s university ceramics programs following World War II. In her twenty-eight years at Cranbrook, her students included Richard DeVore, Toshiko Takaezu, John Glick, Susanne Stephenson, Lydia Kahn Winston Malbin, and Jeff Schlanger.

Of Grotell, Takaezu said, “Majia’s astute, honest, sharp criticism would sometimes fall into place months later, but it was always true. Maija didn’t say very much and what she didn’t say was as important as what she did say, once you realized she was thoroughly aware of everything you did.”

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Under This Roof Six Dreams Were Dreamed and All Came True – 1908, 1961. Commissioned by Henry Scripps Booth and executed by Maija Grotell, the vessel commemorates the founding of Cranbrook. Courtesy of the Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

Her “astute, honest, sharp criticism” may have been what Marianne Strengell was thinking of when she started calling her Sisu. She had the tenacity to tell her students the truth; no holding back to spare feelings.

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“MG” signature on the bottom of a vessel at the Frank Lloyd Wright Smith House. Courtesy of the Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

Throughout her career, Grotell actively engaged in research on glazes. She developed copper reds, ash glazes, intense blues, and crackle glazes. One of her original discoveries was the use of chromium and iron in place of uranium to produce a brilliant orange glaze. Her work opened the door to the architectural uses of glazed, colored bricks in midcentury architecture, including those used by Eero Saarinen at the General Motors Technical Center (1953-1955).

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A glaze recipe from the Maija Grotell Papers in Cranbrook Archives.

She died on December 6, 1973, in Pontiac, Michigan, but Grotell’s glaze formulas remain a large part of her legacy. Another legacy came in 1977: the “Arts & Craft Court” at the Cranbrook Academy of Art was renamed the “Maija Grotell Court” in her honor.

Exceptional that such a strong, well-respected woman was so influential at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in its formative years as well as the art world.

– Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar

Links:

Maija Grotell Papers, Cranbrook Archives, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.

“Mary, Maija, and Toshiko: Re-Thinking Open Storage in the Collections Wing.” Cranbrook Kitchen Sink. Website.

The Marks Project, The Dictionary of American Studio Ceramics, 1946 Onward. Website.

Allurements of Flinch

Allurements of Flinch by James Ball Naylor*

There’s people down to Clovertown
whose only end an’ aim
Is jest to set an’ fiddle with some dern
fool, silly game
They used to play at tid’lywinks an’
authors – an’ I guess,
They hankered after dominoes, an’
crokinole, an’ chess:
An’ as fer checkers – goodness me! –
they said you couldn’t find
A better thing to cultivate the morals
an’ the mind
But now – by gum, it makes me laugh
– they wouldn’t give a pinch
Of salt, fer’ all them former games:
The only thing is “Flinch”

The Booths didn’t “give a pinch of salt” and had a number of copies of the game “Flinch.”  Henry Scripps Booth wrote, “The commonest social entertainment when we lived in Detroit was playing the card game of Flinch. It was also popular across Trumbull Avenue at the Scripp’s home. Later we also played it at Cranbrook.”

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One of the Booth’s copies of the game Flinch (CECT 277)

Invented in 1901 by Arthur J. Patterson (1869-1948) of Kalamazoo, Michigan, “Flinch” is the card game that took America by storm in the early 1900’s. The object of the game is to stockpile and then get rid of all your cards.

According to the BoardGameGeek website,

Flinch is played with a deck of 150 cards numbered 1-15. Players can play cards in sequence (building up from 1 to 15) to piles formed in the center of the table. “1” cards must be played to start the piles, but others may be played or held at the player’s discretion. Cards may be played from several sources: a player’s hand (five cards to start), a player’s “game pile” (a stack of 10 cards of which only the top card is face up and playable), or a player’s “reserve piles” (whenever a player passes or completes a turn, they must add a card from their hand to their reserve piles – up to five reserve piles may be formed). Hands are continually replenished with new sets of five cards during the game. The object is to play all 10 cards from game pile to the center of the table.

– Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar

*”Allurements of Flinch,” Kalamazoo Gazette, 12 July 1903, page 14, column 4

The Iconic Kitty Kingswood

A colleague recently inquired about a painting on the mezzanine wall leading to the music practice rooms at Kingswood School. The painting is of a girl, “Kitty Kingswood,” who is holding a pennant and is accompanied by a swan on the waves of Kingswood Lake. Eliel Saarinen painted the image in the 1930s to camouflage clay sewer pipes.

Painting by Eliel Saarinen in Kingswood School of Kitty Kingswood. Photo courtesy of Cassandra Nelson.

In 1950, Lillian Holm (Head of Weaving at Kingswood School from 1933-1965) copied the pattern of the gown from the painting and Louise Raisch hand-wove the first Kitty Kingswood doll. This doll was auctioned at the 1950 Autumn Festival.

The original Kitty Kingswood doll auctioned at the 1950 Autumn Festival. Photograph by Harvey Croze. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Is there more to the Kitty Kingswood story? A recent trip over to the Girls Middle School, as well as a dive into our files here at the Archives, indicates that there is much more—and the iconic Kitty still plays an integral role.

Fast forward to 1964. The Kingswood Alumnae Association presents a new award to a seventh or eighth grade girl who has contributed to the spirit of Kingswood and is an outstanding citizen. The Association commissions Kingswood sculpture teacher, Pamela Stump Walsh, to create a statue of Kitty Kingswood for the award. The Birmingham Eccentric describes the sculpture as “a typical KSC girl who holds a hockey stick and a pennant and stands on the KSC seal.”

A sketch for the Kitty Kingswood award by Pamela Stump Walsh. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Today, the statue resides at the Girls Middle School as does a plaque (also donated by Pamela Stump Walsh) with the award recipients’ names. An additional case at the middle school displays a Kitty Kingswood doll, which was reproduced and auctioned off for many years to raise funds for the school.

Kitty Kingswood sculpture by Pamela Stump Walsh at the Girls Middle School today.

The Kitty Kingswood Citizenship Award is still presented to an outstanding student each year at the Girls Middle School. The award is determined by vote of the faculty. Pamela Stump Walsh presented the award to the first recipient in 1964, and her words still inspire students today: “Good citizenship is more than simple obedience to a set of rules or laws. It is a loving obedience to just laws and the courage to change the unjust…but most of all, it is serious concern for the condition of others, even for the condition of our enemies.”

Gina Tecos, Archivist

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.

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

Greta Skogster, a Mystery Woman No Longer

On tours of Saarinen House, visitors in the dining room are sandwiched between Greta Skogster’s hanging and leaded glass doors. They look one way to see a courtyard with leafed-out trees beyond; they look the other way to see a wall-sized hanging with birds and a tree and foliage.

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Dining Room of Saarinen House, Copyright Balthazar Korab/Cranbrook Art Museum.

Greta Skogster (1900-1994) herself was a one-woman phenomenon, running her own textile business in Finland. She was born in the small southwest town of Hämeenlinna in 1900, and as far as I can gather studied textiles at the Helsinki Central School of Arts and Crafts. At the time, in the 1920s, students from educated backgrounds were not actually trained to operate loom. They became designers and managers and engaged others to manufacture their designs. 

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Greta Skogster-Lehtinen at work. Image © Greta and William Lehtinen Foundation

Skogster founded her own company in 1929named it Textile Officeand started producing hand-made designs by the yard and carpets for commercial use. In 1930 her work appeared alongside that of architectAlvar and Aino Aalto in the Small Apartment Exhibition in Helsinki, and from there her company grew apace.

Enter William Lehtinen (1895-1975) who went from studying forestry in Helsinki to earning his Masters of Forestry at Yale in 1926. He served as a trade attaché for Finland’s wood processing industries before returning home in 1930 to join the firm of Enso-Gutzeit, Finland’s largest pulp and paper company. So talented was forester Lehtinen that he rescued the company from post-war ruin and outmoded Russian machinery and became its CEO, transforming Finnish paper production along the way. The company still exists. 

By 1937 Skogster and Lehtinen were married and had moved her studio to Enso in eastern Finland, where her Textile Office became one of the largest private textile companies in the country with power looms and 23 employees. If you had been in Finland at that time you would have seen her work on Finnish trains, on the seats of factory offices, in all the best restaurants, in the headquarters of Enso-Gutzeit and in the upholstery of Eliel Saarinen’s Helsinki Central Railway Station. Her textiles even come to the USA at the 1947 Finnish House in New York’s Murray Hill where the Finnish American Trading Company had set up a showroom to promote trade.

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Interior of The Finland House with hangings by Greta Skogster-Lehtinen at 39-41 East 50th Street, New York, New York, 1947. Image ©paavotynell.org

Skogster-Lehtinen and husband William went on to lead a good life, devoting their time, money and effort into collecting art and promoting the arts and crafts. By 1964 they intended to establish a museum designed by old friend Alvar Aalto, but an inability to break through Helsinki’s historic area building restrictions meant the museum was never built. Undaunted, the couple established The Greta and William Lehtinen Foundation offering fellowships for artists, artisans, musicians and architects, which, in true Lehtinen fashion, still exists.

Greta Skogster and William Lehtinen and family

Greta Skogster-Lehtinen and William Lehtinen with family. Image © Greta and William Lehtinen Foundation

How the Saarinens came to choose a hanging from Greta Skogster for the dining room in their Cranbrook, Michigan house is not clear, nor do we yet know what the relationship was between the two families, though one must assume they knew each other. According to the Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research object record the hanging was acquired between 1935 and 1939. There exists a 1980 letter from Cranbrook to Skogster-Lehtinen, now living in Tampere after the death of her husband, enquiring about the hanging but no reply.

But what a piece, cleaned, restored and still reminding visitors of the serenity of a forested world, where large wood grouse flit amongst the leaves!

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Skogster’s tapestry hanging in the Dining Room of Saarinen House, Copyright Balthazar Korab/Cranbrook Art Museum.

This is not a tapestry in the true sense of the word, where the weft is continuous. This hanging employs many different techniques, including supplemental wefts and rectangular patches left with bare warp so that the fir paneling can show through. Echoing the luxury of the gold leaf in the dome over the table, there is gold thread and silk amongst the linen, cotton and rayon. It does recall other Skogster-Lehtinen pieces, many of which are quite large.

Needless to say, there is more to discover in the long life of this prolific designer, and the Saarinen connection puzzle remains to be solved.

Lynette Mayman, Collections Interpreter, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

Sources:

Greta ja William Lehtisen Säätiö (Greta and William Lehtinen Foundation), 2007. http://www.gretajawilliamlehtinen.fi

Scandinavian Design: Alternative Histories, edited by Kjetil Fallan (Oxford, UK: Berg Publishers, 2012).

Göran Schildt, Alvar Aalto, A Life’s Work: Architecture, Design and Art (Helsinki, Finland: Otava Publishing Company, 1994).

Works by Greta Skogster,  FJ Hakimian. http://fjhakimian.com/greta-skogster 

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

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.

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