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

Illuminating a Craftswoman

The work of British arts and craftswoman Jessie Bayes (1876-1970) has been described as ethereal, magical, and an “expression of things felt and seen.” Cranbrook has in its collection three of Bayes’s works, acquired by George Booth between 1920 and 1929. The illuminated manuscript “Hymns to the Elements” is one of her most stunning works.

Bayes was known for her work in woodcarving, painting, calligraphy, gesso and gilding, and stained glass, but is best known for her ethereal illuminated manuscripts inspired by Scandinavian, Celtic, and French poetry. She often wrote the texts which were dominated by themes of romance and mysticism and strove to beautify everyday life and “wed the physical and spiritual.” The art of illumination requires patience and laborious attention to detail, which is clearly evident in “Hymns to the Elements.” Bayes, who combined tempera with watercolor and gold gilt, developed her own sense of jewel-like color, often in blues and golds. She felt that the “idea of colour symbolizing love should be above all precious to an illuminator, since, in illuminating, colour can reach its intensest [sic] height of purity and radiance.”

Hymns to the Elements, ca 1923. One of Bayes’ largest and most elaborate illuminated manuscripts. Close-up of Athena, Mistress of the Air.

Jessie Bayes was raised in an artistic family where the four children were taught by their father Alfred, an etcher and book illustrator, to appreciate beauty at an early age. Her brother Gilbert became a sculptor, her brother Walter was a painter who also designed theatrical scenery, illustrated books, and lectured about art, and her sister Emmeline worked in enamel.

Bayes received art education from evening classes at London’s Central School of Arts and Crafts, which grew directly out of the Arts and Crafts Movement of William Morris and John Ruskin. There, Bayes learned to gild on wood and discovered a love for writing and illumination which she deemed among the strongest of the curriculum. She was also heavily influenced by her employment with Sydney Cockerell, an engraver and former librarian for William Morris. In this role, he had been responsible for completing the Kelmscott Press publications after Morris’s death.

Close-up view of Hephaistos, the Fire King.

Bayes exhibited widely with the Arts & Crafts Exhibition Society, and at the Royal Academy and the Baillie Gallery in London, alongside artists like Walter Crane, Arthur Nevill Kirk, and Omar Ramsden. In 1922, Bayes exhibited some of her illuminated books, as well as paintings on vellum, fans, and panels, at the Art Center in New York. Bayes gradually expanded her repertoire to include painted and gilded decoration on furniture as well as interior design and stained glass work. Jessie Bayes died in Paddington, Central London in 1970.

For Jessie’s personal views on family, life, and art, read The Bayes Saga (1970).

Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

The Skeptics Tale

The dichotomy of reading is much like the daily work undertaken in the archives. Reading, like research, can feel private, almost sacrosanct, something to escape to; on the other hand, there is a great draw to share the stories and information one discovers, seek commentary and comparison, enlighten someone’s thought process. As archivists, it is our job to assist researchers on their paths to discovery. Often times this direction and assistance leads us to insights as well. In fact, I have yet to assist a researcher along their path of inquiry without further developing my own along the way.

This was very much the case last week while I was scouring our collections for autumnal ephemera to add color to our Facebook followers’ harvest season. In my seasonally focused search I was delighted to come across Cranbrook’s very own ghost story—Cranbrook Boasts a Ghost; or, The Skeptics Tale, by Henry Scripps Booth (Thistle, as he was commonly known). I was intrigued and excited — what a timely discovery, what with Halloween just around the corner! And while I was enticed by the mystery, and enjoyed reading the descriptions of the vaulted spaces of St. Dunstan’s chapel [editor’s note: St. Dunstan’s is at Christ Church Cranbrook] filled with apparitions (a place I was lucky enough to tour, and you can too!) The Skeptics Tale, more importantly, reiterated an intrinsic truth about Cranbrook – that it is a space imagined and created by many minds and hands.

Christ Church Cranbrook, from "Highlights of Detroit". Cut by Eugene Reeber, Jefferson Intermediate School, 1932.

Christ Church Cranbrook, from “Highlights of Detroit”. Cut by Eugene Reeber, Jefferson Intermediate School, 1932.

Throughout the tale, I gained a sense of workmanship and craft, two features indicative of most spaces on Cranbrook’s sprawling campus. The characters in the tale pined over the construction of the brilliant structure, venerating its beauty as a testament to their commitment to their craft. It is, however, only near the end of the short story where I began to feel (if not see) the intentions of individuals who worked throughout the years to craft Cranbrook into the sprawling idyllic landscape of natural and man-made elements we know today.

“He discovered familiar faces in that strange assembly—faces of men who had lived and worked at Cranbrook. There before him was Tony by the column which bears his name; Mike Vettraino; Henry Booth, the coppersmith; his distinguished-looking father with the sideburns who brought the craftsman’s tradition from the ancient Cranbrook to this continent. There in the fourth chair of the fifth row: Milles, famed for his sculpture; a row or two behind, Saarinen, famed for his buildings; and nearby, Kirk, the silversmith.”

Though only apparitions in The Skeptics Tale, these individuals’ real accomplishments and contributions to Cranbrook, along with those of countless other influential men, women, and students, can be discovered through our collections. In the spirit of the season, we invite you to journey into our crypt and discover some of their stories yourself.

Belinda Krencicki, Associate Archivist

Forays in Metalwork: Cranbrook and Fairhope, AL

Women’s History month always gives us a good excuse (not that we need one!) to spotlight the accomplishments of some of Cranbrook’s lesser-known but equally important women. They may not have been famous artists or designers, but rather women who educated scores of students, worked tirelessly behind the scenes to catalog thousands of scientific specimens, or played a role in documenting the history and heritage of the Cranbrook community. So this month we have chosen to make each post about a Cranbrook woman – the work she accomplished, an artwork she created, or some other notable fact that we find interesting.

Margaret Elleanor Biggar (1906-1992) was born in Detroit, and became interested in silverwork when she attended spent her senior year in high school at Marietta Johnson’s experimental School of Organic Education in Fairhope, Alabama. After graduation, Biggar returned home to Detroit, where she attended the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts school. In November 1929, renowned British silversmith Arthur Nevill Kirk (who headed the silver department at Cranbrook), called Biggar and asked if she would like to come and be his student apprentice. She worked for Kirk in the Arts and Crafts Studio until 1931, where she made thirty cents an hour executing and polishing Kirk’s designs.

Silver Teapot, 1929. Designed and executed by Margaret Biggar. Image Courtesy Cranbrook Art Museum (CAM 1933.45).

Silver Teapot, 1929. Designed and executed by Margaret Biggar. Image Courtesy Cranbrook Art Museum (CAM 1933.45).

In 1931, Biggar returned to Fairhope, Alabama in where she taught metals at the Marietta Johnson School of Organic Education and formed a lasting relationship with Elise Hooker (1895-1977), who was head of the school’s craft department. In 1938, the two women left the school to open their own studio where they taught metalcraft classes in silver, copper, and brass. Generous and hard-working, their primary objective was not to make money but rather to teach others the craft they loved. In 1946, they only charged fifty cents for a two-hour lesson!

Biggar and Hooker’s home on Magnolia Avenue, Fairhope, AL. The studio was called “Metalcraft Studio.” Photo courtesy Margaret Elleanor Biggar Scrapbook, Cranbrook Archives.

Biggar and Hooker’s home on Magnolia Avenue, Fairhope, AL. The studio was called “Metalcraft Studio.” Photo courtesy Cranbrook Archives, Margaret Elleanor Biggar Scrapbook.

The studio was successful and works of their students were shown in local exhibitions. People came from around the country to take classes, and the studio became a part of local crafts tours in Fairhope.

Hooker (left) and Biggar at an exhibition in Pensacola, Florida. Photo courtesy Cranbrook Archives, Margaret Elleanor Biggar Scrapbook, U.S. Navy photographer.

Hooker (left) and Biggar at an exhibition in Pensacola, Florida. Photo courtesy Cranbrook Archives, Margaret Elleanor Biggar Scrapbook, U.S. Navy photographer.

Metalwork was not Biggar’s only interest. In 1943, she spearheaded the “War Dog Fund” effort in Fairhope. This was a project organized to enlist the help of dogs on the “home front” to secure funds through the donations of their owners. Dogs could be enrolled as a Sergeant ($1) or Lieutenant ($5) all the way up to General ($100). The funds were then used to help feed and care for the dogs in WWII combat zones.

Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

Photo Friday: Arthur Nevill Kirk on Facebook

Famed metalsmith Arthur Nevill Kirk and apprentice Margaret Elleanor Biggar work in the metalsmithing studio at the Cranbrook Academy of Art, 1930. Cranbrook Archives.

Famed silversmith Arthur Nevill Kirk and apprentice Margaret Elleanor Biggar work in the metalsmithing studio at the Cranbrook Arts and Crafts Studios, 1930. Cranbrook Archives.

In this scrapbook page from 1930, “Miss Margaret Biggar” and “Mr. Arthur Nevill Kirk” are found working in the metalsmithing studios at the arts and crafts studios, the predecessor to the Cranbrook Academy of Art. An English-born silversmith, Arthur Nevill Kirk came to Cranbrook in 1927 at the urging of George Booth, who contracted him to produce silver designs for Christ Church Cranbrook. Kirk eventually taught silversmithing at the Cranbrook Arts and Crafts Studios before going on to found the Metals department at Wayne State, where he worked until 1957.

We at the Kitchen Sink are excited to use this post as an opportunity to promote not just the amazing history of Arthur Nevill Kirk but also highlight a new edition to the Cranbrook social media landscape – Cranbrook Archives’ Facebook page! As the beating heart of the Center for Collections and Research and the repository for all things historical at Cranbrook, the Archives uses Facebook to promote its extensive holdings, provide a portal through which researchers can access information about the collection, and give casual readers a daily glimpse into the fascinating history of the community through posts like yesterday’s, which featured this very photo. Check out their Facebookpage and learn more about this incredible resource!

 

Photo Friday: Who’s That Man?

It’s Arthur Nevill Kirk! Wooed by George Booth, the famed silversmith arrived at Cranbrook in 1927 to head the metals department at the Academy of Art. Kirk also taught at the Art School of the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts and Cranbrook School for Boys. His specialty was the design and execution of ecclesiastical silver, of which Cranbrook still has many pieces in its collection.  During the Great Depression, lack of funds curtailed the use of precious metals and the department closed in 1933. Kirk went on the help establish the Artisans’ Guild, and organized the metal department at Wayne State University in Detroit, where he taught until his retirement in 1957.

~Robbie Terman, archivist

Arthur Nevill Kirk. Cranbrook Archives.

Arthur Nevill Kirk at work. Cranbrook Archives

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