Photo Friday: Model Club

Gregg and Model Class

Cranbrook School’s Model Club, March 1952. From left: Faculty Advisor Richard Gregg, David Higbie, Don Young, David Morris, President Richard Gielow, Adams McHenry, Don Hart, Pete Dawkins, Dahmen Brown, and Jerry Phillips. Harvy Croze, photographer. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

This week’s Photo Friday shows the Cranbrook Model Club of 1952—a well-dressed group of Cranbrook School boys and their faculty advisor, Richard Gregg, who met to further their interest and skills at model making. Models, of course, interested Cranbrook’s founder George Booth and are integral to the architectural design process, so its fitting that Cranbrook School had a Model Club.

Model making as a middle-class hobby boomed after World War II, when boys and their fathers were encouraged to take up productive and wholesome pursuits in their leisure time. The broad affordability and availability of plastic model kits meant hobbyists didn’t have to have special tools or carving skills to produce a model—anyone could assemble a kit! Looking closely at the photograph of the Model Club (you can zoom in on the photo here), I believe these are airplanes assembled from such kits.

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Cranbrook School art class with instructor Richard “Dick” Gregg sculpting a bust, 1952. Harvy Croze, photographer. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

The model club’s advisor was Richard Gregg, a 1951 Academy of Art graduate. Born in Kalamazoo, Gregg studied sculpture at the Academy. While a student, he worked on various sets for productions by St. Dunstan’s Theater. Following his studies, he taught art at Cranbrook School for Boys during the 1951-1952 school year. After he left Cranbrook, his love of art and art education continued; Gregg went on to work in museums as a design instructor, a curator, and a director at various places across the Midwest and East Coast.

I don’t know that much about the Cranbrook Model Club, but on this hot, blue-skied Friday, I thought it was a nice moment for a photo of something as leisurely and enjoyable as model airplanes!

– Kevin Adkisson, Collections Fellow, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

A Delightful Trip in a White Swedish Ship

Between 1925 and 1939, the Saarinen family made annual trips to Europe, always stopping for a time in Finland. They travelled by sea, usually departing from New York and arriving in Southampton, England or Gothenburg, Sweden. When they sailed directly to Scandinavia, they were abaord the MS Gripsholm.

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The MS Gripsholm in New York City, c. 1951. Courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York.

The Gripsholm was built in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England, in 1924 for the Svenska Amerika Linien/Swedish American Line (SAL). The SAL was founded in 1914 as a direct Swedish-North American cargo and passenger shipping line, and the Gripsholm was the company’s first luxury liner. She was also the first diesel-engine transatlantic passenger liner, which is why she is the MS (or Motor Ship) Gripsholm. After 1929, all the SAL fleet was painted white, giving rise to the moniker “A delightful trip in a white Swedish ship.”

Aboard the MS Gripsholm, first class passengers enjoyed all the traditional features of luxury transatlantic liners (libraries, writing rooms, gyms, a pool, garden rooms, smoking parlors, bars, etc.), along with distinctly Nordic options, like folk dancing, Swedish foods, and a fully Swedish crew.

Along with the port of Gothenburg’s closer proximity to Helsinki, it was perhaps these northern-European comforts that led the Saarinens, who were Swedish-speaking Finns, to repeatedly choose the Gripsholm for their summer journeys. Aboard the Gripsholm in 1929, this photo was snapped on deck showing Eliel, his son-in-law J. Robert F. Swanson, months-old Bob Swanson, and Eliel’s daughter Pipsan Saarinen Swanson. The family captioned the photo “Last Dash Before the Crash.”

Eliel Bob Bobby Pipsan on the Gripsholm 1929

Eliel, Bob, Bobby, and Pipsan aboard the MS Gripsholm, 1929. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

In 1934, Eliel, Loja, Pipsan, Bob, and their now five-year-old son Bobby were again aboard the Gripsholm. On the SAL stationery, Loja wrote a letter back to George and Ellen Booth at Cranbrook. She writes, “I wanted tell you again how happy Eliel and I have been at Cranbrook and how thankful we are to you because you want us there.” She continues:

“So far we are well off although neither Pipsan nor I knew what we took over us in taking Bobbi along. He is like a firework. He is nowhere and everywhere. He hasn’t climbed up the smoke stack yet neither has he ridden on a whale’s back, but he has done other things enough to worry us.”Letter from Loja Saarinen to George Booth_GGB Papers 19-4

On this same trip, a photograph of Pipsan and little firework Bobby was sent back stateside and ran in the local papers here in Oakland County. Pipsan is shown in a fashionable dress and hat, quite possibly of her own design, as at the time she was head of the Academy of Art’s short lived Fashion Department. Pipsan, like her mother, made many of her own clothes throughout her life.IMG_3206

In the Cranbrook Cultural Properties collection, we have the Saarinen’s steamer trunks and suitcases that they used aboard the Gripsholm and other ships. One of the suitcases has its stickers from the MS Gripsholm, still prominently called out in the Swedish pale blue and yellow.

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The Saarinen’s steamer trunks and suitcases. On view now in “Saarinen Home: Living and Working with Cranbrook’s First Family of Design”

During World War II, when the Saarinen’s remained in the States aiding the U.S. war effort and organizing the Finnish Relief Fund, the Gripsholm was charted by the U.S. as a repatriation ship. It carried German and Japanese citizens to exchange points for U.S. and Canadian citizens. Gripsholm (and her neutral Swedish crew) made these exchanges at neutral ports, including Stockholm, Lisbon, Portuguese Goa, and Lourenço Marques. Over 12,000 Americans who had been in enemy territory at the outbreak of war or were prisoners of war returned home aboard the Gripsholm in this diplomatic capacity.

In 1954, SAL sold the Gripsholm to a German company. She was rechristened the MS Berlin and entered into service as a Canadian immigration ship, sailing from points in Europe to Pier 21 in Halifax (the Ellis Island of Canada). The ship was retired and scrapped in 1966, but an image of the Gripsholm (in her Berlin livery) lives on in the Canadian passport!

Copies of the Saarinen’s letters sent from the Gripsholm, photographs of the family about the ship, and the trunks and suitcases used by the family are all currently on view in “Saarinen Home: Living and Working with Cranbrook’s First Family of Design” in Saaarinen House, open for tours Friday and Saturdays at 1pm and Sundays at 1 & 3pm through the end of July. Tonight is our last Finnish Friday, where there is an open house at Saarinen House and games and cake in its courtyard, also, the Cranbrook Art Museum will be open; there are Finnish-related treasures out in the Archives Reading Room; and a cash bar on the Peristyle. Come on by for our last Finnish Friday!

Kevin Adkisson, Collections Fellow, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

Dessert with Décor in Mind

Back in the winter of 1941-1942, the fashion editor of The Milwaukee Journal, Aileen Ryan, visited Loja and Eliel Saarinen here at Cranbrook. She published an article about her day at the Academy and dinner in the Saarinens’ remarkable home on January 18, 1942: “Furnish Home According to Principles of Architecture” (The Milwaukee Journal, section 7, p. 9).

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Dining Room set for a tea, c. 1994, Copyright Cranbrook Art Museum and Balthazar Korab

Ryan vividly describes the ceremonial nature of dinner in the dining room of the house, how hospitality, art, architecture, and food intersect in a totally beautiful and complete way. She writes:

“The dining room is at the left of the entrance and gleams a golden welcome to guests. Light is reflected from a gilded dome ceiling back to the top of the round table made of rays of harewood inlaid with ebony in a way that suggests the sun. Places are set on circular doilies of yellow linen block with black figures which the Saarinens’ son, Eero, made when he was a child. On these are black plates, on these folded yellow napkins and on top of these yellow cups and saucers. Each guest unpiles his cup to get his napkin as the plump brass coffee pot is brought around. It’s delicious coffee and amber enough as it streams from the slender spout to fit into the color scheme.

“Mr. Saarinen looks vastly amused when he tells us the chairs, with their Spanish comb look and sunny as the table itself, are made of Hollywood. He has designed them as he has the other furniture in the house, and they are dramatic. The walls of this golden room, seeming sunny on a gray and snowy day, are of waxed California pine. One of them is nearly covered with a Finnish tapestry made by Greta Skogster in soft terra cotta tones. The ombre [sic] shaded carpet is creamy white and brown.”

She ends the description of dinner:

“A pineapple upside down cake is part of the edible harmony, but Mrs. Saarinen refuses to admit she serves food to carry out the architectural scheme.”

Last weekend we reopened Saarinen House for tours, and many of the items Ryan describes are again on view in the house (the yellow place mats, the black dishes, the golden coffee pot, etc). And on Friday night, as part of our first Finnish Friday, we even brought back pineapple upside down cake! Sweet and Savory Bakery in Oxford, Michigan, generously donated plenty of pineapple upside down cake for guests to enjoy. Without Loja’s recipe but trying to be historically accurate, we used a recipe found in Good Housekeeping in February 1938.

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“Hit ideas for any meal with pineapple taking the lead,” Advertisement in Good Housekeeping, February 1938, Courtesy of the Winterthur Library.

Since this weekend is Mother’s Day, and, for many of us, our mothers are especially connected with memories of food and cooking, I wanted to talk a bit more about food in the Saarinen home. Bob Swanson, Loja’s oldest grandson, told me a few weeks ago that Loja was an excellent cook. He remembers her serving lots of ham and lutfisk at the holidays. As great of a cook as Mormor (Swedish for grandma) was, Bob recalled that most meals were prepared by the housekeeper and served in the kitchen dining area (not on tour). That dining area had plain chairs and a rectangular table with a black Formica top—not quite the drama of the main dining room.

His own mom, Pipsan Saarinen Swanson, was also a great cook. Bob remembers her making wonderful and inventive wartime meals—specifically liver and onions, lamb shanks, and calves brains. Pipsan, whose dresses are currently on display in Saarinen House, was (unknowingly) living journalist Aileen Ryan’s own wartime interests: “rations, passions and fashions.”

Bob laughed when I asked him if he remembered Loja serving pineapple upside down cake to match the décor. He didn’t recall her serving it to him, but said it was just her humor to do something like that. He also remembered how much Loja loved pies, particularly peach pie and pineapple pie–both pies that would coordinate with the décor!

For more Saarinen family stories, come join us for a Saarinen Home tour: Fridays and Saturdays at 2:00pm and Sundays at 1:00pm and 3:00pm. To try out our interpretation of a period Pineapple Upside Down Cake (served in the Saarinen House courtyard outside the dining room) join us for an upcoming Finnish Friday (May 19th, June 9th,  and June 23rd). In addition to admission to Cranbrook Art Museum and an open-house in both Saarinen House and the Archives Reading Room, we’ll also have period board games, Saarinen family films, a pianist at the family designed piano, and a cash bar for your enjoyment!

-Kevin Adkisson*, Collections Fellow, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

*My mother, for the record, is also an amazing cook.

Going Green: LED Lightbulbs at our Historic Houses

Since it’s St. Patrick’s Day, I thought I’d talk about one way the Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research is going green.IMG_7957In January 2014, there was a crisis among fans of incandescent light bulbs when the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 went into effect, banning the manufacture of incandescent 40- and 60- watt light bulbs. Some house museums were in a tizzy, and many purchased large stocks of incandescent bulbs to use in their historic fixtures with exposed bulbs—no one wants to see a distracting, spiraling fluorescent light bulb in a period room!

The feared depletion of our national stock of pretty light bulbs didn’t happen (there were lots of loopholes and legal challenges), but one intent of the ban—to force the lighting industry to make more efficient bulbs—was realized. Impossible just a few years ago, today there are energy efficient LED light bulbs that are completely satisfactory for use in exposed-bulb situations. After decades of using incandescent lighting, the Center has switched Saarinen House and parts of Cranbrook House over to LED.

LED, or light-emitting diode, bulbs are most praised for their energy savings, but being such an aesthetically minded place as Cranbrook, we have a few more concerns than the utility bill for our lighting:

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Maintaining the visual warmth of Saarinen House was vital; we wouldn’t have gone LED if it altered the aesthetic. Jim Haefner, photographer.

First is the color. When I told a coworker I was about to change the lightbulbs in George Booth’s Office in Cranbrook House to LED light bulbs, she was crestfallen. “They’re so blue and cold!” she lamented, something a lot of people fear with LED. It’s true, early LEDs were very blue and a far cry from the incandescent bulbs most people are used to (and prefer). But technology has changed, and now we have a range of light warmth to choose from. The spectrum of warmth is measured in kelvins, and incandescent bulbs are around 2400 K, while fluorescent tubes are 5000 K, and sunlight is 7000 K and up. We’ve chosen 2550 K bulbs for Cranbrook. As far as wattage goes, the lighting industry labels LEDs with their watt equivalents to incandescent, as that’s what we know. I used 25-watt incandescent equivalent bulbs in the office that actually use just 4 watts of power (and last, supposedly, 13+ years).

 

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From left: Incandescent bulb removed from Saarinen House fixtures; clear-style LED bulb used in exposed fixtures; LED bulb used in covered fixtures.

The next concern revolved around the look of the bulbs. You may be familiar with the energy efficient compact fluorescent bulb (CFLs) that have a spiral-type bulb—I don’t think anyone would want those in a chandelier. Even earlier LEDs were bulkier than standard incandescent bulbs because of the need for large conductors within the bulb to reduce heat gain—usually in the form a large white base between the glass and the screw threads. Today, you can buy a LED bulb in practically any shape or style with an internal conductor. The main difference between the LEDs we chose and the incandescent bulbs: when the bulb is off, the LED is a visible golden strip instead of a tiny metal filament, so you see a small yellow marking in the center of the bulb.

 

Beyond aesthetics and energy savings, there is the cost of the bulb itself. LEDs are getting constantly cheaper, but there’s a fairly big difference between the cheapest LEDs and the prettiest ones. Here at Cranbrook, when a bulb is not visible (for example, hidden by a solid lampshade), we’ve used cheaper LEDs in the same temperature and wattage as the fully clear bulbs we put in chandeliers and exposed fixtures. Either way, the energy savings should offset the costs within just a few years!

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Saarinen House aglow with LED bulbs inside and out, February 2017. Jim Haefner, photographer.

By switching to LED, we’re doing our part to help realize Cranbrook’s dedication to the environment laid out in the Cranbrook Educational Community’s most recent Strategic Plan; it states that “we commit to the well-being of future generations through our actions and behaviors.” Energy conservation is one simple way we’ve done this!

Kevin Adkisson, Center Collections Fellow

Special thanks to Assistant Registrar Leslie S. Mio for leading the LED Lightbulb conversion.

A Model and a Memory

Earlier this year, my boss dropped an interesting flier on my desk for me to investigate. It was advertising a show of the celebrated Detroit born, New York based photographer Judy Linn at the Susanne Hilberry Gallery in Ferndale, Michigan. The flier featured Linn’s photograph, “Man and Boat, July 12, 1972.”

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Flier for Judy Linn’s show at the Hilberry Gallery featuring her photograph, “Man and Boat, July 12, 1972.”

Here on the first floor of Cranbrook House we have a remarkably similar model that belonged to the Booths. Model ship building was certainly a popular hobby throughout the twentieth century, but perhaps there was a Cranbrook connection between our ship and the one in the picture?

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Cranbrook’s Ship: Ye Triumphe Ship, Henry Brundage Culver, 1918. CEC1918.1

 

I reached out to Linn to find out more about her picture, and to see if she remembered anything about the man or the boat. Linn, who is perhaps best known for her photographs documenting New York’s music and art scene in the 1970s, informed me that from July 1972 to February 1973, she photographed for a small newspaper in southern Macomb County. It was part of the Detroit Area Weekly News (known colloquially as DAWN), and she took this picture at a local city hall where someone had just donated the ship.

I followed up with the city halls and libraries Ms. Linn thought it could have been (Warren, Roseville, or St. Clair Shores), but no one still has this ship hanging around. I was surprised at the amount of people who knew that there were ships “in the basement, somewhere” and I appreciated them taking time to go check and see if they were the boat in question (it was never a match).

Although I can’t make a connection between the boat in Linn’s photo and the one in Cranbrook House, the best part of this journey into the weeds was hearing Ms. Linn’s reflections of her time at Cranbrook. She shared with me this wonderful recollection, and agreed let me post it here:

“I was happy to get your email. I am very very fond of Cranbrook. When I was ten my mother got a Master’s degree in weaving form the Art Academy. I thought her fellow art students were the most extraordinary people on earth. I even copied their clothes for my paper dolls. If possible I wanted to be just like them. Later I realized it wasn’t just the art students. It was the submersion in a totally designed environment, complete down to the Saarinen designed fork in the Kingswood dining room. I loved it and I still love it.”

If you are in New York, check out Linn’s current show at the Sikkema Jenkins & Co. Gallery, up through this weekend, and if you want to know more about Cranbrook’s boat, check out former Center Collections Fellow Stefanie Kae Dlugosz-Acton’s fascinating post!

-Kevin Adkisson, Center Collections Fellow

By the Numbers: Cranbrook Center 2016

As this year comes to a close, the Center for Collections and Research has done some number crunching on 2016. Below, you’ll find information on visitors and events supported by the Center throughout the year. While we’re proud of our overall growth as a division of the Cranbrook Educational Community, we like to keep in mind that each number counted represents an individual person who’s had the opportunity to explore Cranbrook’s architecture or collections in depth and hopefully engage in meaningful ways with our history and legacy.

It’s been a fantastic year for the Center, and we’re excited about what’s on the drawing board for 2017. We hope to see you at future events (make sure you’re on our email list by contacting us) and hope you and yours have a very Happy New Year!

Archives

›› Responded to 803 unique requests from national and international users, including 439 email and 42 phone inquiries, 181 researchers in the Reading Room, and 141 group visitors
›› Responded to 578 unique requests from Cranbrook faculty and staff

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Friends of the Leonard N. Simons Jewish Community Archives tour Cranbrook Archives, Sept. 2016

Tours

›› Offered 103 public Saarinen House Tours (in collaboration with Cranbrook Art Museum) to 584 visitors (April through October 2016) and provided 27 private tours for 124 visitors
›› Gave 48 public tours (20 sold out) to 387 visitors (April through October 2016) and provided 12 private tours for 132 visitors to the Frank Lloyd Wright Smith House (in collaboration with the Towbes Foundation)
›› Crafted custom campus tours for 392 visitors (April through October 2016)
›› Welcomed national and international conference attendees with groups sponsored by LaFargeHolcim Company, Switzerland; A4LE; the Congress for New Urbanism; and DoCoMoMo-US Day Away Tours
›› Led two sold-out Pewabic Pottery focused tours to Detroit (May and June
2016)
›› Led an Albert Kahn-themed tour to the University of Michigan (October 2016)
›› Engaged 195 guests Pewabic Pottery Walking Tours of the Cranbrook Campus

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Pewabic Pottery Walking Tour preparing to enter Saarinen House, Aug. 2016

Exhibitions

›› Presented Designs of the Times: 100 Years of Posters at Cranbrook (December 2015 through March 2016)
›› Organized Simple Forms, Stunning Glazes: The Gerald W. McNeely Collection of Pewabic Pottery in collaboration with Cranbrook Art Museum (December 2015 through August 2016)
›› Engaged 192 people at the opening and 18,827 people during the run of the Pewabic exhibition

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Simple Forms, Stunning Glazes in the lower level of the Cranbrook Art Museum, Dec.-Aug. 2016

Lectures & Events

›› Two historians and two artists, including Roberto Lugo from Vermont, spoke about the legacy of Pewabic Pottery to 65 people (February 2016)
›› Kendall Brown spoke about Japanese style gardens in America to 186 people (April 2016)
›› Crafted an “Edible Landscape” dinner for 63 guests with Gold Cash Gold that celebrated the centennial of the first performance in Cranbrook’s Greek Theatre (June 2016)
›› Premiered PBS’ newest American Master’s film Eero Saarinen: The Architect Who Saw the Future to 219 guests in deSalle Auditorium
›› 11 experts presented the Preserving Michigan Modern lecture series, in collaboration with the State Historic Preservation Office, to a total of 375 people (October and November 2016)
›› Celebrated the North American launch of the book Millesgården: The Home and Art of Carl Milles with a violin and piano concert of works by Beethoven, attracting 60 guests on a very snowy Sunday (December 2016)

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The red carpet and searchlights for the film premiere of Eero Saarinen: The Architect Who Saw the Future, Sept. 2016

-Jody Helme-Day, Administrative Assistant and Kevin Adkisson, Center Collections Fellow

Putting on a Holiday Scene

Every year, the Center for Collections and Research decorates George G. Booth’s Office for the Cranbrook House & Gardens Auxiliary’s Holiday Splendor event. This year, we were inspired by the Booth children and grandchildren.

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Some of the Booth grandchildren put on a play at George and Ellen Booth’s 50th wedding anniversary, 1937. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

All children enjoy playing “dress-up” – whether in a costume or in the clothes of a family member. For George and Ellen Booth’s family, especially their youngest children Florence (“Smike”) and Henry (“Thistle”), any occasion was an excuse to dress-up – a family picnic, a visit from family or friends, the arrival of a new boat for Glastonbury Lake.

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Marjorie Booth wearing her grandmother Ellen Scripps Booth’s wedding dress, on the occasion of George and Ellen’s 50th wedding anniversary, 1937. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives

For this year’s holiday installation, we imagined the Booth grandchildren playing dress-up with clothes from their grandparent’s closet—their grandmother’s dresses and hats, costumes from performances at the Greek Theater, and other items stored in the vast closets here at Cranbrook House. Perhaps they’re putting on a play, as they did for their grandparents’ anniversary in 1937, or maybe they’re simply celebrating and having fun, as Smike and Thistle were so fond of doing in their youth.

Accompanying the five outfits, the Center decorated a small tree and the mantle with iridescent, green, and silver ornaments, drawing out the colors of Florence Booth’s green dress and a beautiful Rene Lalique (1860-1945) glass vase (before 1930) we’ve set out on the desk. In the center of the mantle we’ve displayed Henry Scripps Booth and Carolyn Farr Booth’s Nativity (mid-20th century), sculpted by Clivia Calder Morrison (1909-2010). A Michigan native, Calder Morrison studied at the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts with Samuel Cashwan and later at the Art Students League in New York, and this small crèche featuring the three Magi with gifts, Mary holding Jesus, and Joseph was kept in the oratory at Thornlea. Oh, and the Santa bag and hat on display were part of Henry’s costume he donned for Christmas parties here at the House!

Our display will be up through the New Year.  If you are in Cranbrook House for the Center’s piano/violin concert & book launch, Carl Milles’s Muse: Ludwig van Beethoven on December 11, or a Holiday Tea, Luncheon, or just for a meeting, please stop by and visit.

-Kevin Adkisson, Center Collections Fellow; Leslie S. Mio, Assistant Registrar

Upcoming Day Away: Albert Kahn and the University of Michigan

Henry Scripps Booth, photographer. Pleasures of Life, Vol. IV. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Henry Scripps Booth, photographer. Pleasures of Life, Vol. IV. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

In this 1919 photo taken by Henry Scripps Booth of his two friends and architecture classmates Fred Morse and Martin Lexen, they’re all hanging out (and almost off of!) the roof of the University of Michigan’s brand new General Library by architect Albert Kahn. I found this snapshot in volume four of Booth’s Pleasures of Life series, which has lots of great images of the Booths at Cranbrook and of his friends at the university (where Henry studied from 1918- 1924). The building they’re sitting on here, known as the Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library since 1971, figures prominently in the Center for Collections and Research’s next Day Away trip on October 28!

Henry Scripps Booth’s Scrapbook Album, Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Dedication of the new (Hatcher) library building, 1920. Henry Scripps Booth’s Scrapbook Album, Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

While we won’t be quite so daring as to dangle our feet off the roof, you are invited to join the Center as we explore Albert Kahn’s architecture at University of Michigan. Best known for his industrial architecture in and around Detroit (and of course Cranbrook House), this tour will introduce you to his academic buildings. The day includes morning lectures followed by in-depth tours of five Kahn structures (including rarely accessible spaces like the carillon in Burton Memorial Tower), all interspersed with narrated walks and drives.

I should mention, though, that the Day Away won’t just be about touring. We’ll stop for a delicious lunch at Taste Kitchen, an acclaimed new restaurant by owner and chef Danny Van. It came highly recommended by friends of the Center, and we’re very happy Van has designed a three course meal, with optional drink pairings, just for us.

Henry Scripps Booth, photographer. Pleasures of Life, Vol. IV. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Henry Scripps Booth, photographer. Pleasures of Life, Vol. IV. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

In this photo, we see Booth’s friend Fred’s “long, lankey and lean” body around a street sign—with assistance from the bottom-half of another Cranbrook luminary and friend of Henry, J. Robert F. Swanson.* The photo shows the two goofing around on a road outside of Ann Arbor. For this post’s purposes, I’ll imagine they’re on the very route we’ll be taking from Cranbrook to Ann Arbor on October 28! There shouldn’t be any dangerous curves on our trip, though it’s guaranteed to be informative, delicious, and fun. Call and get your tickets today!

*Did you know Booth and Swanson met studying architecture at U of M, where they also encountered a certain visiting professor, Eliel Saarinen?

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

Vitrolite: Better than Marble

At Saarinen House, the 1930 home of Eliel and Loja Saarinen at Cranbrook, the master bath is one of the best rooms in the house.

img_1580The bathroom is symmetrical, with his and hers sinks on either end of the room. The tile is off-the-shelf, not custom made for Saarinen, but deployed in an utterly unique way. In this post, I want to look specifically at the material of the countertops, Vitrolite glass.

Pigmented structural glass was developed at the start of the 20th century, and its first uses were in hospital, laboratory, and industrial food environments where its qualities of cleanliness, imperviousness, strength, and durability could be exploited. From institutional uses, structural glass took the next logical step into other places where sanitation mattered: bars, restaurants and restrooms.

 

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Vitrolite trade catalog, c. 1922, Courtesy of the Hagley Library Digital Archives

The first structural glass came out in 1900, Sani Onyx by the Marietta Manufacturing Company, but it was under the brand name Vitrolite that structural glass achieved its greatest success. Vitrolite was manufactured from 1908 to 1947, first by the Vitrolite Company, and after 1935, by the Libby-Owen-Ford Company (both out of Toledo, Ohio).

At first, structural glass was manufactured only in black or white, colors befitting its promotion as an alternative to marble (Pittsburgh Plate Glass’ Vitrolite rival was called Carrara Glass, after Carrara marble, and Vitrolite’s sometime slogan was “Vitrolite: Better Than Marble.”) In its 1922 promotional material “Vitrolite Sanitary Tables and Counters,” the company claims that the products “delightfully cool, bright surface is just the place to serve palatable drinks and dainties. It keeps clean— nothing stains it and it just wears and wears.”

img_1585The sanitation and durability arguments likely appealed to Eliel Saarinen as he specified white Vitrolite for the master bathroom, but he was probably also drawn to its aesthetic potential: a single, seamless, and uniform surface for the countertop. It offsets the grid of the bathroom tile beautifully, providing a place to rest both your toothbrush and your eye.img_1590

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Correspondence concerning Saarinen House Vitrolite bathrooms, from our Archives

Installed by the plumbing contractor Robert Purcell, the sink bowls are vitreous china set beneath the Vitrolite counter. It’s likely that the oval for the sink basin was cut out of the Vitrolite by hand by Purcell’s team, and if you look at the result, it’s not a perfect oval—this isn’t your machined Corian countertop! In a house (and on a campus) where craftspeople are often celebrated, it’s neat that the bathroom counter’s utterly modern material still reflects the hand of the maker.

 

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Colors of Vitrolite from 1936, published in “52 Designs to Modernize Main Street with Glass,” Libbey-Owens-Ford Glass Co., Courtesy of the Winterthur Library, Printed Book and Periodical Collection

Once Vitrolite bcame available in an array of colors and patterns, its aesthetic potential boomed. After its purchase by Libby-Owen-Ford in 1935, the glass was heavily marketed towards architects for its use in building facades, particularly for remodeling storefronts. In many design competitions and promotional literature, Vitrolite was sold as a way of “Modernizing Main Street,” a quick way to freshen up old buildings. Its these flashy, Art Deco facades that stand out in structural glass history, but it’s nice to remember its humbler, utilitarian beginnings.

 
One final note on the Saarinen House countertops: where are the faucets?! Look inside the sink, the water came out of the small bump at the top of the bowl itself. I hope they had great water pressure.

 

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Back cover of “Vitrolite Sanitary Tables and Counters,” c. 1922

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

 

Living among Gardens

 

Before starting at Cranbrook last month, I was a grad student at the Winterthur Museum in Delaware. At both places, buildings sit in and around gardens, and both Winterthur and Cranbrook consider landscape not as secondary to their missions of education, preservation, and scholarship, but as an integral piece in the character of the institution. It makes for two very enjoyable places to live and work.

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The grounds of Winterthur Museum, on a walk I took last spring.

While I didn’t live on Winterthur’s thousand rolling acres, I did spend a lot of time traversing the grounds. Staff and students parked in the woods, with oak, poplar, and black gum trees providing a shady canopy over a bubbling stream running alongside the road. As you approached the house, the gardens became progressively more formal, with rolling lawns, specimen trees and shrubs, and eventually stone planters and flowering perennials ushering you into the museum.

Inside the museum (which was the home of Henry Francis du Pont, 1880-1969), are some one-hundred and seventy-five rooms chock-a-bloc full of American decorative and fine art from the 1640s to 1860s. One of the great joys of studying inside the house are the views out. Across the year, the views change. In winter, you might see all the way to the ponds and railroad station at the edge of the estate, in the spring, your view is foreshortened to just the snowdrop and daffodil covered embankment beneath the window.

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Winterthur’s Maple Bedroom in the fall, courtesy, Winterthur Museum

Mr. du Pont, who began collecting in the 1920s, was always concerned with color coordination in his period rooms, and when you enter certain rooms at the right moment in the year, the landscape becomes perfectly in tune with the décor. Walking through the house in the fall, the copious amounts of brown furniture sings alongside the rich colors of fall. The effect is subtle but sublime.

I’ve had much less time with the gardens at Cranbrook, but I’m already beginning to notice certain things. For one, there’s a lot more activity on Cranbrook’s 319 acre suburban campus than Winterthur’s country seat. Yet the many hands that have shaped Cranbrook have used the landscape to maintain the sense that the campus is a special place removed from the everyday.

On my walk to work, I pass from the row houses and dormitories of Academy Way to the monumental Art Museum peristyle and Orpheus Fountain, through the Ramp of the Chinese Dog and into a parking lot. (I appreciate the parking lot, it’s a reminder that even in the most beautifully designed spaces, there are still functional requirements).

But once I’ve crossed the lot, I get to my favorite spot: a long downhill path cut straight through the woods and paved in crumbling cast stone pavers. Its linearity is formal, but its worn state and its location in the woods make it feel as if one is walking down toward some long-abandoned city. At the bottom of the hill is a great swath of grass that flows toward the lake. Across the grass are stairs up and into the formal, Cranbrook House gardens.

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The view from Mr. Booth’s old office in Cranbrook house, showing the path I take to work.

My office is in Cranbrook House, and these European-style gardens, paired to the Manor-house architecture, provide some pretty amazing office views. While Winterthur’s gardens relied on color, massing, and the passing of time for effect, the gardens of Cranbrook are most impactful in their vistas. From one side of the house, offices look down a series of terraces toward the campus lake, another side over the reflecting pool, and my own view looks out over the circular court and fountain at the front of the house. These views, of course, were planned and enjoyed by George Booth, Cranbrook’s founder who lived and worked in Cranbrook House.

At both Winterthur and Cranbrook, gardens and landscapes provide a context in which to study great collections and their histories. I don’t think the value of a beautifully designed approach to your school or workplace can be overlooked—something with which I know du Pont at Winterthur, Booth at Cranbrook, and their designers agreed.

I’m looking forward to seeing how the seasons change my understanding of Cranbrook and its grounds, but for now, I’m going to head out and enjoy the perfect weather in these lovely gardens.

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Off I go to enjoy the grounds!

Kevin Adkisson Collections Fellow

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