Ralph Rapson: New Archival Collection

Cranbrook Archives is excited to announce the opening of the Ralph Rapson Collection (1935-1954) for research. The collection focuses on the early years of Rapson’s work, including his time as a student at Cranbrook Academy of Art. Rapson’s later work is retained at the Northwest Architectural Archives at the University of Minnesota, where he was the Dean of the School of Architecture from 1954-1984.

Rapson was born in Alma, Michigan in 1914. He earned Architecture degrees at the University of Michigan (1938) and at Cranbrook Academy of Art (1940). Upon completing his studies at CAA, Rapson set up his studio and was invited to help Eliel Saarinen with a planning project, which was to provide an analysis of the site for a new State Capitol complex in Lansing, Michigan. Following this experience, Rapson decided to focus more on architecture than planning. Between 1938 and 1942, Rapson contributed designs and drawings, and built models, for various projects and competitions for Eliel Saarinen and his associates.

While at Cranbrook, Rapson collaborated on several competition drawings with Eero Saarinen, Frederick James, David Runnells, Walter Hickey, Harry Weese and others. Rapson established an early reputation for his experimental concept houses like the 1939 “Cave House” and “Fabric House,” (both designed at CAA with fellow student David Runnells) and the 1945 “Greenbelt House” or Case Study House #4, one of the experiments in American residential architecture sponsored by Arts & Architecture magazine.

Case Study House #4 for Arts & Architecture magazine, Jun 1944.

In the early 1940s, Rapson moved to Chicago where he taught under the Hungarian Bauhaus artist, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy. Rapson served as Head of the Architectural Curriculum at the Institute of Design (New Bauhaus) from 1942-1946. He left this position late in 1946, when MIT Dean of Architecture, William Wurster, invited him to relocate to Massachusetts where he taught architecture alongside Finnish architect, Alvar Aaalto.

In 1951, Rapson was hired by the U.S. State Department to design a series of American embassies in Western Europe with architect John Van der Meulen. Rapson worked on several embassy projects, as well as residential projects, in the mid-1950s. In the spring of 1954, Rapson and his family moved to Minnesota where Rapson served as the Dean of the School of Architecture at the University of Minnesota from 1954-1984. He continued to work in private practice in Minneapolis until his death in 2008 at the age of 93.

The Ralph Rapson Collection includes project files, research, correspondence, architectural drawings, and photographic material from many of Rapson’s embassy projects, as well as design competition materials and residential projects. In addition to the physical collection, a digital site (including drawings, photographs, and ephemera) is now accessible from our web site. The Archives staff will continue to add to this site, as more material is digitized.

Gina Tecos, Archivist

Sources:
Hession, Jane King, Rapson, Rip, and Wright, Bruce. Ralph Rapson Sixty Years of Modern Design. Afton, MN: Afton Historical Society Press, 1999.

Heyer, Paul, ed. Architects on Architecture. New York: Walker and Co. 1965.

Harry and Nerissa Hoey’s Weekend Retreat

While cataloging some of the Ralph Rapson architectural drawings in our collection, archivist Gina Tecos and I discovered designs for “Longshadows,” a weekend retreat for Cranbrook School English teacher (and later Headmaster) Harry Hoey and his wife, Nerissa. Hoey came to Cranbrook in 1928, where he taught English until 1944 when he became Assistant Headmaster (1944-1950) and then Headmaster (1950-1964) of Cranbrook School. While the Hoeys lived on campus, first on Faculty Way, and later in the Headmaster’s House, they commissioned Rapson, along with fellow Cranbrook student Walter Hickey, to design a weekend vacation home in Metamora, Lapeer County.

Elevation by Ralph Rapson, 1939. The Ralph Rapson Collection, 1935-1954, Cranbrook Archives.

Coincidentally, I have been corresponding with the Hoeys’s granddaughter, Susan, regarding the disposition of her grandfather’s papers to Cranbrook Archives. In the course of this correspondence, I asked Susan about the home. While Rapson called the home “Longshadows,” the family called it “Hoyden.” According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, “hoyden” means “a girl or woman of saucy, boisterous, or carefree behavior” and the word is sometimes used to mean just “carefree.” As Susan stated, “Somehow, though I have no way to prove it, I am guessing this word was in my grandmother’s [Nerissa] vocabulary. Anyway, it seems to fit the bill for a weekend/summer place.”

Susan’s mother has fond memories of the weekend house – as a five-year old girl when she walked up the hill to the house behind her mother, the forty acre property looked endless. She remembers falling in the wild strawberry patch and staining her dress, and playing with the girl across the street whose father tended the property for the Hoeys.

“Hoyden,” 1940. The Ralph Rapson Collection, 1935-1954, Cranbrook Archives.

The summer the house was completed (1940), the Hoeys began hosting numerous Cranbrook guests who wanted to see the midcentury modern design. Guests included Dorothy and Zoltan Sepeshy of the Academy of Art, Henry and Carolyn Booth, and of course numerous Cranbrook faculty.

Page from the Hoyden Guest Book, 1940. Courtesy Harry and Nerissa Hoey Family.

In a letter to fellow Cranbrook student Ben Baldwin, Rapson described the house as clad in red wood, left natural, with a flat roof. The house had three bedrooms, two fireplaces, and even a basement for storage and a play room. The house still stands today, though it has had some minor additions and has been painted. It is one of Rapson’s only Michigan designs. Hopefully, we will soon have additional photographs of the house, and perhaps even more stories about the relationship between Hoey and Rapson.

NOTE: Harry and Nerissa Hoey were well-loved at Cranbrook. He also served on the vestry of Christ Church Cranbrook. Not only was Harry an effective administrator, but he was one who led the school with kindness and compassion. On the birthday of each boy in the school, Hoey would greet them with them a “happy birthday,” and shake their hand into which he pressed a shiny penny! On his 85th birthday, Hoey’s former students surprised him by mailing birthday cards – each one with pennies – he received over 500.

Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

Friday in the Reading Room

As part of outreach and education here in the Archives, today we hosted graduate students who are taking a course called, “Modern Michigan” at the A. Alfred Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Michigan. The course covers the work of various architects between 1900-1960 and throughout the semester the class visits landmark sites in the area, including the GM Tech Center, the Packard Plant, Herman Miller, and Cranbrook (among others). We pulled a variety of architectural drawings and sketches from our collection for the students to view and ask questions. As a relatively new member of the Archives staff, I find these visits very rewarding. The students and instructors bring new perspectives and additional information that adds a new dimension to my knowledge of our collections.

University of Michigan graduate students from the School of Architecture and Urban Planning look at drawings in the reading room.

University of Michigan graduate students from the School of Architecture and Urban Planning look at drawings in the reading room.

Gina Tecos, Archivist

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