Getting a Green Roof

In the Architectural Forum of January 1932, an advertisement announced that 160,000 pounds of 16-ounce Anaconda Copper had been used for the newly opened Kingswood School Cranbrook. There are copper gutters, cornices, louvers, moldings, and chimney covers, but most impressive is the 90,000 square foot batten seam copper roof.

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Workers assembling the roof structure above Unit A, the classroom wing of Kingswood School for Girls. The copper roof behind them is already installed. No barrels of uric acid can be spotted in construction photos. c. 1931. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

There was just one problem with the new copper roof: it was installed with rolls of bright, new-penny-orange, sheet copper. Eliel Saarinen wanted a green roof, and I think he wanted it quickly.

Yes, he could have waited for the shiny new copper to patinate naturally from rain, humidity, and time. But who has the patience for natural aging when you have an architectural tour de force to complete? Instead, Saarinen turned to chemistry. Using a historic technique common in Europe, the contractor, A. C. Wermuth, directed his workmen to collect their urine in small jars and transfer it to barrels on site. These barrels were then hoisted to the ridge line of the roof, where the pungent catalyst was poured down the copper slope and then spread evenly with brooms.

Science did the rest, and Saarinen got his verdigris color which the Architectural Forum described as a “neutralized complement” to the warm tan brick and buff Mankato stone walls which “harmonized admirably with the heavy foliage of the location.”

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Color slide of Kingswood School for Girls showing the harmony between landscape, building mass, and materials. c. 1940-1945. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

The story of more than just rain tinkling on the roof is recorded in Archives as told to former archivist Mark Coir by Dominick Vettraino, who grew up at Cranbrook and served as our landscaper, fireman, superintendent, and jack-of-all-trades. I was asked about the story of peeing-on-the-roof this week by an Upper School chemistry teacher, who’d heard the rumor and is now using it in her lessons for students stuck at home. You, too, can run the experiment: you just need to have a glass, a penny, and be hydrated!

Just like rust develops on iron, patina develops on copper when left exposed to the elements. The copper sulfate on the surface reacts to oxygen in the environment. Unlike rust, the patina actually protects and preserves the copper. However, copper doesn’t turn green quickly: it can take twenty to thirty years for copper to become green! Uric acid can significantly speed up the process. The fact that the Kingswood roof is quite green in early color photos does reinforce the idea that they used a catalyst to age the roof.

The entire copper roof was recycled and replaced in two phases, from 1998 to 2002 and from 2005 to 2007. In the replacement, the copper patination was not accelerated. The fact that the replacement roof is still not green, seventeen to thirteen years on, is to be expected. The roof quickly changed from bright orange to dull brown, and then slowly toward the purplish black you see today. However, I am noticing this spring that when you look at the section of 2002 roof at an acute angle, it’s distinctly turning green at the seams!

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Progress on the new roof. Phase one, completed in 2002, is at the far left and already dull brown. The original (though urethane coated) roof is at right. The new copper roof is shining at the center. May 27, 2006. Courtesy of C.A.S.S. Sheet Metal Specialist, Detroit.

The current color of the roof disappoints many graduates, but in time, it will return to the beautiful green color Saarinen and Wermuth achieved through their very affordable, if not very polite, method. And if you were at Kingswood between 1988 and the new roof replacement: you weren’t seeing a green patina, but a mint-green urethane coating sprayed on the entire roof to (unsuccessfully) slow the leaks!

—Kevin Adkisson, Curatorial Associate

PS: Between the joined “Studio #3” and “Dorm # 2” at the Academy, built in 1932 and 1936 respectively, there is a visible difference between the color of the two copper roofs where the patination has never matched. This can be attributed to different batches of copper. In the new Kingswood roof, every delivery of copper sheeting and copper solder delivered to the site was tested for quality and composition: we wouldn’t want the roof to change color irregularly.

From Concept to Cover

The General Motors Technical Center is one of Eero Saarinen’s most acclaimed projects. Dedicated in 1956, the “Corporate Cranbrook” was years in development, starting with initial designs by Eliel Saarinen and J. Robert F. Swanson (with Eero consulting) in 1945.

After a hiatus in the project by GM and reorganization of the Saarinen Swanson office, Eero completely redesigned the scheme in late 1948. The new design is high modernism at its finest: clean lines, experimental materials, and a lot of flat roofs. We can see Eero’s boxy proposal here, a treasured sketch from Cranbrook Archives:

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Eero Saarinen sketch of General Motors Technical Center, Warren, Michigan, 1949. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

As the son of a world-famous architect building for one of America’s greatest companies, the project drew lots of attention well before it opened. Architectural Forum, in fact, featured the Tech Center as its cover story in July 1949. But what to show of the yet-constructed campus?

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Glen Paulsen drawing depicting Eero Saarinen’s proposed General Motors Technical Center, Saarinen Saarinen and Associates, 1949. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

Eero turned to a talented young architect in his office, Glen Paulsen, to delineate the Tech Center for the magazine cover. Paulsen was known for his complex and sophisticated architectural renderings, and had worked for various firms as a renderer before coming to Saarinen’s office in 1949 as a design architect.  He sketched out several different options for Forum , and my favorite includes the entire layout of the cover, not just the buildings:

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Concept art for cover of Architectural Forum by Glen Paulsen, depicting Eero Saarinen’s proposed General Motors Technical Center, Saarinen Saarinen and Associates, 1949. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

Finally, in June 1949, the magazine hit the presses with a crisp, color drawing by Glen Paulsen depicting Eero’s General Motors Tech Center.

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Architectural Forum 91, no. 1 (July 1949). Cover art by Glen Paulsen of Saarinen Saarinen and Associates. Courtesy of Cranbrook Academy of Art Library.

—Kevin Adkisson, Curatorial Associate

Birds of a Feather …

“… the Cranbrook Foundation, dealing with things material and visible, rests in turn upon another foundation made up of things invisible – that is, of thought, vision, and ideals… No product of human hands exists which was not a thought before it became a thing.”
Rev. Dr. Samuel Simpson Marquis, “The Laying of a New Foundation for Cranbrook Institutions,” Commencement Address to Cranbrook School, June 6, 1936

The thought, vision, and ideals of George and Ellen Booth endure in the cultural community and architectural landscape that we enjoy today. One of the great joys of working in the Archives is witnessing the documentary heritage which traces the stories of the people, places, and things that contribute to Cranbrook’s history. All record types — from correspondence, financial records, and reports to written and oral memories and reflections — provide a different insight into the process of making an idea a reality.  I am particularly fond of architectural records, because it is possible to see the built campus in its earliest form. Cranbrook Archives holds a large collection of architectural drawings for the entire Cranbrook Educational Community, as well as for  projects of Cranbrook affiliated firms and architects. The drawings are arranged by division or creator and housed according to their format. One format that is housed separately are detail drawings, which include millwork details and decorative designs. They are pencil on tissue drawings preserved folded in their original envelopes, many for almost a century. I would like to share with you an example of this type of drawing, one that documents the birds sitting atop of the columns of the aisle wall stalls at Christ Church Cranbrook.

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View of the aisle wall stalls at Christ Church Cranbrook. Center for Collections and Research.

Finding sources in an archives depends upon the arrangement and description of the collections. Because of their very nature, sometimes a fair amount of detective work is required when the material being described is a visual format. Architectural drawings that have been catalogued are searchable using the Cranbrook Academy of Art library catalog, so the search most often begins there. In my case, a search for the wall stalls at the church returned seven results, none of which refer to the birds specifically. Yet, one of the descriptions suggested that there was great potential that it would include a drawing of the birds and, indeed, that is what I discovered.

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Architectural drawing (AD.10.659) Variants for Wall Stalls in Aisles and Paneling at Door #128 and Window #128, March 1930. Cranbrook Archives.

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Architectural drawing (AD.10.659), detail of the owl. Cranbrook Archives.

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Architectural drawing (AD.10.659), detail of the American robin. Cranbrook Archives.

The discussion between George Booth and Oscar Murray about the design and contract for the stalls began in early December 1929 and the stalls, carved by Irving and Casson, arrived for installation in August 1930. Booth left it to Murray’s judgment as to whether to have a continuous row of the same model for the columns or whether to include the variation. As you can see, this drawing includes two variants of tracery, four variants of corbels, and six of seven variants of birds, including the swallow, quail, dove, cat-bird, owl, and American robin. The seventh bird yet remains a mystery, leaving us something to discover in the future. Discoveries like these, and helping others achieve similar ones, make the job of a Cranbrook Archivist both enjoyable and rewarding.

– Laura MacNewman, Associate Archivist

[Editor’s Note: When this post was first published, the quote was attributed to George Gough Booth. Subsequent research has revealed that it is from an address by the Rev. Dr. Samuel S. Marquis.]

New Archival Collection: the Melvyn Maxwell and Sara Evelyn Smith Papers

Cranbrook Archives is delighted to announce that the Melvyn Maxwell and Sara Evelyn Smith Papers are now open for research. This archival collection was acquired as part of the Frank Lloyd Wright Smith House, which was donated to Cranbrook in 2017 by the Towbes Foundation with assistance from Anne Smith Towbes. Melvyn and Sara were schoolteachers who dreamed of building a Frank Lloyd Wright designed home – a dream that was realized in 1950. They cherished their dream home and adorned it with art objects which they bought from local artists, including Cranbrook Art Academy students and artists-in-residence. Over the years they welcomed many visitors, students, and guests into their home, including Frank Lloyd Wright himself and the landscape architect, Thomas Church.

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Frank Lloyd Wright’s entry in the Smiths’ guest book, 1951. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

The collection documents the personal and professional life of the Smiths, as well as their many contributions to the community through patronage of the arts, including theater and performing arts. It documents the construction and adornment of the house, as well as its preservation as a historic home and renovation under the Towbes Foundation. It also contains a rare and unique collection of news clippings and periodicals, spanning from 1937 to 2016, about Frank Lloyd Wright and his work .

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Letter from Sara to Melvyn Smith, July 1940. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Melvyn Maxwell Smith aspired to be an architect. After graduating Northern High School in Detroit, Michigan, he was accepted into the School of Architecture at the University of Michigan. However, due to the economic depression, his parents suggested he attend Wayne University College of Education until his brother had completed his degree in dentistry. Much inspired by an English teacher, Miss Boyer, in his first semester, Melvyn decided to pursue a career in teaching, and remained at the university to pursue a doctorate. Melvyn’s architectural aspirations were instead to manifest in his life in quite a different way than he had first anticipated. In an art history class taught by Jane Betsey Welling, Melvyn learned of Frank Lloyd Wright. This was the beginning of a lifelong love of Wright’s work and the pursuit of Melvyn’s dream home. After graduating, Melvyn became a teacher at Cody High School in Detroit, where he remained for his entire career of 38 years. He later became a board member of the Wayne State University Alumni Association and created the Betsey Welling Memorial Court for which he donated the sculpture, In Lieu, by Robert Schefman.

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Melvyn, Sara and Robert Scheffman in front of Scheffman’s sculpture, In Lieu, at Wayne State University, 1977. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Sara Evelyn Stein was born in Pennsylvania and moved to Detroit during her childhood. She met Melvyn at the B’nai Moshe Sunday School in 1937 and they were married in 1940. Sara had dreamed of being an actress, but she too joined the teaching profession and trained to be a kindergarten teacher. As it had been for Melvyn, Sara’s theatrical aspirations were fulfilled in a different way than her young mind had envisioned, namely an enthusiasm for teaching the performing arts to others. She was deeply involved in community theaters, including the Popcorn Players at Birmingham Community House and the Cranbrook Theatre School. Both Melvyn and Sara were passionate supporters of all the arts and actively worked to cultivate and sustain the arts in Detroit, Bloomfield Hills, and the surrounding communities.

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Frank Lloyd Wright Smith House, August 1960. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Sara shared Melvyn’s dream of a Frank Lloyd Wright designed home. In 1941, they traveled to Lake Louise and Banff National Park in Alberta. Their journey took them through Wisconsin, where they were able to visit Taliesin, the home and studio of Frank Lloyd Wright, and meet with the architect himself. Melvyn later recalled that during the visit, Wright had advised him to find land that no one else wants because it will likely have an interesting natural feature. In 1942, Melvyn joined the US Army and it would be 1946 before he returned to Detroit. Sara was able to join him for much of the time and their son, Robert “Bobby” Nathaniel Smith, was born in 1944. Having located a property upon which to build their home on Ponvalley Road in Bloomfield Township, they began work in 1949. The house was completed in 1950, and Wright visited the house for the first time in 1951, calling it “My Little Gem.” He visited several more times – among the highlights of this collection are his entries in the guest books. Also included in the collection are two books signed by Wright (there are more than 900 books in the Center’s cultural properties collection at Smith House, which may be made available for research in the Archives reading room by request).

The Smiths welcomed countless guests and visitors to their home, providing house tours for local community groups as well as architectural schools. The collection also contains an abundance of thank you letters in gratitude for the hospitality of the Smiths. Many visitors thank Sara for her gift of sharing joy.

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Letter to Melvyn and Sara Smith from Wayne State University Theatre, 1973. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

The Melvyn Maxwell and Sara Evelyn Smith Papers tell the story of the Smiths’ home and of the lives of the couple who dreamed the home. The Smiths were not only teachers in the classroom: through their tenacity, generosity, and sheer joy of living, they inspired countless people who visited their home or met them through their artistic and philanthropic endeavors. As the Smiths’ home is preserved just as it was when they lived in it, their zeal to share and teach is perpetuated. This collection is a fine example of how the team at the Center for Collections and Research works together to tell the story of Cranbrook through historic houses, cultural properties, and archival materials.

The Frank Lloyd Wright Smith House is a must-see. Find out more about house tours here. If you’ve already been, consider going again in a different season to see the changing blend of architecture and nature that is pure Frank Lloyd Wright.

–Laura MacNewman, Associate Archivist

 

Discovering the University of Michigan in the collections of Cranbrook Archives

In October, the University of Michigan Osher Lifelong Learning group visited Cranbrook for a lecture, luncheon, and tours of our historic houses, the Art Museum, and Cranbrook Archives. In gathering materials related to the university, I found that my growing archival display began to tell a wonderful story of the early relationship between the Booth family and the University of Michigan, predominantly between 1918 and 1924. The story begins with the friendship of George Booth and Emil Lorch.

Born in Detroit in 1870, Lorch had studied at MIT and Paris, before graduating Master of Arts at Harvard in 1903. In 1906, he arrived at the University of Michigan to establish the School of Architecture, which remained a unit of the School of Engineering until 1931. The correspondence between Booth and Lorch covers a manifold of topics over many years.

 

On January 11, 1918, George Booth gave an address to the students of the departments of Journalism and Architecture at the university, entitled The Spirit of Journalism and Architecture which focused on the development of the Detroit News business and the new News building, which had been recently completed.

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Program for an address, The Spirit of Journalism and Architecture, delivered by George Booth at the University of Michigan, January 11, 1918. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

Later that year, in October, George’s son, Henry Scripps Booth began his studies in architecture at the university. It was there that he met J. Robert F. Swanson, with whom he traveled Europe for ten months beginning in June 1922, and later established the architectural practice Swanson and Booth between 1924 and 1926. Henry took with him letters of endorsement to help facilitate access to architectural treasures on their journey, including one from Professor Lorch:

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Letter of introduction for Henry Booth from Emil Lorch, July 17, 1922. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Eliel Saarinen arrived at the University of Michigan as a Visiting Professor at the invitation of Emil Lorch the next year, staying from September 1923 through 1925. To extend a warm welcome, Henry wrote, costumed, and performed in a pageant in honor of Saarinen. Many of Henry’s classmates performed in the pageant, including Ralph Calder and J. Robert F. Swanson, who also designed the program. The event took place on December 8, 1923, in the Michigan Union ballroom. Many of the members of the Michigan Society of Architects and the Michigan branch of the American Institute of Architects were present. During the dinner, George G. Booth made the principal address of welcome to Eliel.

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Program for A Pageant of Arts and Crafts, a Reception for Eliel Saarinen, program design by J. Robert F. Swanson, December 1923. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

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Interior of the program. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Henry and Robert graduated from the University of Michigan in 1924. Graduating with them was Ralph Calder, who was also one of the first two students to win the George G. Booth Traveling Fellowship, with which he traveled to England, France, and Italy. The fellowship continues to this day. Calder was among the original staff of the Cranbrook Architectural Office, working on Cranbrook School and Thornlea House. He later went on to design many buildings for colleges and universities in Michigan, including Michigan State University, Western Michigan University, Wayne State University, Hope College, and Hillsdale College.

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Letter concerning the Booth Traveling Fellowship from the first recipient Ralph Calder to George G. Booth, June 12, 1924. Notice the Michigan logo on the letterhead. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

In another Cranbrook connection, Ralph Rapson submitted a Fellowship entry in 1938, and, while he didn’t win, his submission impressed Eliel Saarinen so much that Rapson was given a scholarship to the Art Academy.

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Ralph Rapson’s submission to the George G. Booth Traveling Fellowship, AD.26.01.03. Ralph Rapson Architectural Drawing Collection, Cranbrook Archives. Gift of Rip Rapson.

There is much more in our collections about the University of Michigan; this post has selected items covering only the early years. In preparing for the Osher tour, I realized that, while the contents of processed archival collections remain the same, what we find in them depends on the question being asked. The collections of George G. Booth, Henry S. Booth, the Cranbrook Foundation, Swanson Associates, Inc. are among the most highly used and yet there is always something new to learn, something wonderful to discover.

— Laura MacNewman, Associate Archivist

Hats in the Alhambra

After a long illness in 1886, Ellen Scripps Booth’s father James Edmund Scripps (1835-1906) retired from his work life in the newspaper business (he had founded Detroit’s The Evening News in 1873). James spent two years recuperating and traveling in England and continental Europe with his wife Harriet and their children. The family visited Scripps cousins and traveled with some of his twelve siblings and their children. James, who had become interested in architecture (particularly church architecture), spent many hours sketching at the locations they visited.

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Scripps family members at the Courtyard of the Lions at Alhambra, Granada, Spain, November 1888.  From left: William Armiger Scripps, Ellen Browning Scripps, Eliza Virginia Scripps, Grace Locke Scripps, Florence May Scripps, Harriet Messinger Scripps, Anna Virginia Scripps, James Edmund Scripps. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

James Edmund Scripps sketched exterior wall decoration at Alhambra, below. Notice how closely it matches the wall in the photograph.

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In the picture at the Alhambra, take a look at James’s sister second from the left: Ellen Browning Scripps. Ellen was a publisher for The Evening News and wrote a daily column, nicknamed “Miss Ellen’s Miscellany” that rehashed local and national news in a conversational tone. She even sent dispatches back to Detroit from Europe. Shortly after their trip to Europe and well-hatted visit to the Alhambra, the Scripps siblings had a bit of a falling out: she and another brother headed to California, where she eventually founded many important educational and philanthropic organizations in the San Diego area.

If you want to hear more about Ellen Browning Scripps and the Scripps siblings, the Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research is hosting a lecture and book signing with Molly McClain on Sunday, November 12thEllen Browning Scripps: New Money and American Philanthropy  is a new book by Dr. McClain, Professor of History at the University of San Diego. To learn more about the lecture and to purchase tickets, click here. Books are also available to purchase through the Center.

–Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

 

Photo Friday: “Things Architectural”

In November 1932, Cranbrook Academy of Art’s Executive Secretary, Richard Raseman, invited architects from the Detroit area to come to Cranbrook for “dinner and discussion of things Architectural.” The following Cranbrook School news article describes the evening.

 

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“Architects Gather Here for Forum,” The Crane, 20 Dec 1932

In addition to Raseman, Eliel Saarinen, Albert Kahn, and Emil Lorch, attendees included former Kahn associate Ernest Wilby and Ralph Hammett.

Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

 

 

 

Phenomenologically Speaking

Ok, so I have to admit, I had no idea what the term “phenomenological” meant until yesterday when the Archives was host to a group of architecture students from Lawrence Technological Institute. Phenomenology was defined by the German philosopher Edmund Husserl as the philosophical study of the structures of experience and consciousness. So how does this fit in with architecture? Well, the idea that we experience architecture with all of our senses does seem perfectly logical and of course Cranbrook is a perfect example of that.

The two buildings the students focused on were the Cranbrook School Dining Hall and the Natatorium. If you have ever walked into either of those spaces, you can absolutely understand the phenomenological experience – the dining hall with its’ high vaulted ceilings, the Orrefors glass pendant light fixtures, and the 12 foot leaded glass windows that line the walls and throw patterns of light across the room – all of these contribute to both our visual and non-visual senses as we experience the space.

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Head Archivist, Leslie Edwards, discusses drawings with LTU students.

The Natatorium illustrates this concept even more dynamically. The complex use of materials – glazed exterior and interior brick, concrete block interior walls, the gray stone pool deck, the hand-glazed tiles in the locker rooms, and the use of mahogany for the walls, railing, and vertical louver panels – all contribute to the total sensation of the space. Add to that the windows that look out to the woods and the ceiling oculi that open up to the sky and you definitely experience phenomenology.

So thanks LTU students for teaching me something new when you came to the Archives to look at the architectural drawings. Days like this are another one of the perks of being a Cranbrook archivist.

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

Can You Say Lobster Roll?

It feels as though summer is winding down and this week is the final session of Cranbrook Art Museum Summer Camp. We enjoyed a visit from students earlier in the week who were part of the “Costumes and Characters” session. While pulling materials to show the students, we came across this photo of Ralph Russell Calder (1894-1969), an architect and friend of Henry Scripps Booth. He is in a lobster costume made by Loja Saarinen for a “May Party” in 1926.

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From the Henry Scripps and Carolyn Farr Booth Papers, Cranbrook Archives.

Calder, born in 1894, was a veteran of World War I and an accomplished musician. He graduated in 1923 from the University of Michigan College of Architecture (he and Henry were classmates). In 1924, he studied in England, France, and Italy as the winner of the George G. Booth Traveling Fellowship in Architecture.

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A card from Ralph Calder & Associates, Inc. with a 1924 sketch by Ralph Calder during his travels in Europe on the Booth Traveling Fellowship.

In 1925, Calder worked for several months as part of U of M’s Near East Research Expedition in Tunisia. The research and objects obtained from this expedition are the basis of the collection at the Francis W. Kelsey Museum of Archaeology at U of M. Calder joined the Cranbrook Architectural Office in 1926 and remained there until staff was reduced due to the economic depression. In 1937, he joined the firm of William G. Malcomson and Maurice E. Hammond where he stayed until 1945, when he started his own firm, Ralph Calder and Associates, in Detroit.

Calder worked on the following buildings on the Cranbrook campus: the main academic building (Hoey Hall) at Cranbrook School, Thornlea, and Thornlea Studio. In addition, he was the architect for buildings at Michigan State University, Michigan Technological University, Hope College, Northern Michigan University, Hillsdale College, Wayne State University, Ferris State University, Western Michigan University, and Lake Superior State University. He enjoyed music as a hobby and was the organist and choirmaster for St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral in Detroit in the 1940s.

Gina Tecos, Archivist

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