Cranbrook Sons Head Off to School

Each year, the Center for Collections and Research has the pleasure of decorating George Booth’s office at Cranbrook House for the holidays. This year, I went with a theme of Cranbrook sons heading off to college.

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Overview of the Center for Collections and Research display at Cranbrook House for Holiday Splendor 2018.

I was inspired by a recent visit to Cranbrook by Warren Booth’s daughter Dorothy (fondly known as Blammy) and her family entourage. The fourth of five children of Warren and Alice Newcomb Booth, as a young girl Blammy lived at Cranbrook House’s Tower Cottage.

Blammy’s grandson (and George and Ellen Booth’s great-great-grandson, and my college friend) Riley was along for the tour. He told me about having Warren’s Yale blazer and Warren’s amazing Raccoon coat. I thought it would be great to return the blazer to Cranbrook for display.

Warren Scripps Booth’s 1916-S Yale Blazer. Courtesy of Riley Scripps Ford.

Looking in Cranbrook Archives for what might compliment Warren’s Yale blazer, I found this amazing 1907 illustration by James Scripps Booth for the yearbook of Detroit University School. The oldest child of George and Ellen Booth, James was an artist, engineer, writer, philosopher and inventor. Although he shows a college student with his pipe and pennants, surrounded by books, James himself did not attend college.

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James Scripps Booth’s illustration for Detroit University School, 1907. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

The first Booth to go to college was the middle child, Warren Scripps Booth. He moved to Cranbrook with his parents in 1908 and studied at the University School in Detroit. Around 1909, he headed east to the Lawrenceville School in New Jersey. After his 1912 graduation, he studied with the Sargent Travel School for a year.

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Warren Scripps Booth’s entry in the Yale Class of 1916-S Yearbook. Courtesy of Riley Scripps Ford.

Enrolling at Yale in 1913, Warren studied civil engineering at the Sheffield Scientific School (the “S” on his blazer—at the time, undergraduates were divided between the four-year Yale College and the three-year Sheffield Scientific School). After graduating in 1916, Warren served as a U.S. Army Captain of Field Artillery in World War One, and saw action at Meuse-Argonne, Metz, France. After the war, he served as president of The Evening News Association and Booth Newspapers, as well as on many Cranbrook boards. Warren, his wife Alice, and their five children lived next door to Cranbrook at a house fondly called “NoBrook.”

The Booth’s youngest son Henry began his education at the Liggett School, but after the family moved to Cranbrook he was educated at home. He matriculated at the Asheville School in North Carolina for high school and returned north in 1918 to study architecture at the University of Michigan. While an undergraduate, Henry traveled extensively through Europe with his friend and classmate J. Robert F. Swanson, and in his final year in Ann Arbor, studied with Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen.

For the holiday display, I included Henry’s college scrapbook showing some of his many talents and activities. Bob Swanson had the same scrapbook (much less filled!) and I included it in the display to show the lovely maize “M” on the cover.

Finally, I jumped forward in time to another Cranbrook family who sent their son off to college. Son of distinguished Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen, Eero immigrated to the U.S. with his family in 1923. The Saarinens moved to Cranbrook in 1925 to help realize the Booths’ vision of an educational and arts community.

A talented artist from a young age, after graduating from Baldwin High School Eero studied sculpture in Paris’ Académie de la Grande Chaumière for one year before enrolling at Yale’s School of the Fine Arts in 1931. I included a reproduction of one of Eero’s drawing from Yale, resting on George Booth’s drafting table.

Eero Drafting Table

“A Residence for a College Dean,” Eero Saarinen, 1931. In this student project, Eero’s use of an open floor plan, symmetrical furniture layouts, textiles, torchieres, and telescoping design elements all mirror his father’s designs for Saarinen House here at Cranbrook. Notice the “H.C.” written in red crayon: this stands for Hors Concours, or not competing. In the strict Beaux-Arts methodology of Yale’s architecture program, this project did not pass muster to be considered for a prize! Original drawing courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

At Yale, he took a wide variety of coursework: design, freehand drawing, engineering mechanics, history, economics, and scenic design. Even in his first year, his student work earned national recognition in architecture magazines. Eero also took a course on “Archaeology Research” with Raymond Hood (the architect who took first prize over Eliel Saarinen in the Chicago Tribune Tower competition of 1922).

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Detail of “A Residence for a College Dean,” Eero Saarinen, 1931.

Saarinen heartily embraced college life, including serving on the Decorating Committee of the student Beaux-Arts Ball. Though he excelled in the student architectural competitions, Eero almost always came just short of winning the First Medal, earning him the nickname Second-Medal Saarinen. His thesis project in the spring of 1934 received the international silver medal of the Société des Architectes Diplômés par le Gouvernement.

Along with many of his classmates, after Yale Eero entered the Office of Strategic Services (a precursor to the CIA), where he designed graphics for defusing bombs as well as underground bunkers, including the White House’s “situation” or war room.

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Charles Eames shares cigarettes with Eero Saarinen and Warren Booth at the opening of the 1939 Cranbrook Academy of Art Faculty Exhibition. Perhaps Eero and Warren were chatting about their happy bygone days in New Haven? Photograph courtesy of Cranbrook Archives. “Souvenir of Yale” plate, c. 1910, courtesy of the author.

Eero returned to Bloomfield Hills in 1936 to work with his father and brother-in-law, J. Robert F. Swanson. After Eliel’s death in 1950, Eero set up his own office. Among his many significant projects were a handful of university buildings: dormitories for Brandeis University in Boston, the law quadrangle at the University of Chicago, the North Campus and the school of music for the University of Michigan, the entire campus of Concordia College in Fort Wayne, Indiana, dormitories at Vassar, and two Residential Colleges and the hockey rink for his alma mater Yale. At the time of his premature death in 1961, Eero was also serving as Yale’s campus planner.

I’m grateful for the many stories Blammy and her family shared with me on our tour of Cranbrook earlier this Fall, and to Riley for lending us another piece of Cranbrook history to share with guests to Cranbrook House this holiday season.

– Kevin Adkisson, 2016-2019 Collections Fellow, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research (…and Yale Class of 2012)

Photo Friday: Iron Pour

As the fountains around Cranbrook are drained and the chilly air sets in, I thought we could warm up with a little molten iron.

In 1962, Julius Schmidt was appointed artist-in-residence after the departure of Berthold “Tex” Schiwetz from the Sculpture department. Schmidt received his BFA from Cranbrook in 1953 and his MFA in 1955, working under Schiwetz. Schmidt worked almost exclusively with iron, a rough and difficult material previously unexplored at the Academy. Early in his tenure, he set about raising money from Detroit-area tool and die companies to build Cranbrook a foundry.

Iron pour in the new foundry, November 1965. Paul Reuger, photographer.

Constructed in the open space to the east of Carl Milles’ large studio, the concrete block and glass curtain wall forge building was the first physical addition to the Academy campus since Saarinen died in 1950.

Julius Schmidt, Head of Sculpture, (center) with students at commencement, May 1966. Harvey Croze, photographer.

As reported in the 1964 Cranbrook Academy of Art News Letter, the new foundry featured six furnaces capable of casting up to 1,000 pounds of molten iron or bronze. The foundry also included electric hoists, a bridge crane, grinder, mueller, electric oven, acetylene and arc welding equipment, and pneumatic grinding and finishing tools.

Schmidt and some students used the forge extensively for their work, perhaps to the disadvantage of students who didn’t want to work with iron. In 1966 students working under Schmidt designed, sculpted, cast, and then fired a cannon featuring a caricature of Zoltan Sepeshy’s nose and mouth. Schmidt left Cranbrook in 1970, and I can’t find evidence of iron pours after his departure (today, students who wish to cast their own iron participate in an annual pour at the College for Creative Studies.) In the forge now is the Academy’s metal shop as well as equipment for 3D printing, laser cutting, and vacuum forming–all situated around the forge equipment.

Cannon being fired out of the foundry, May 1966. Paul Rueger, photographer.

If you would like to visit the foundry, join me on the Behind-the-Scenes tour: Saarinen House: Presidents/Residents, next Saturday, October 27th. This is the final date for this tour that includes a visit to the exhibition at Saarinen House, the studio space of Wallace Mitchell, the foundry, Cranbrook Archives, as well as several other stops. Click here for more information.

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

Garden Plans: A Tea House and Jacuzzi Gazebo

As we continue to research Cranbrook’s recently acquired Frank Lloyd Wright Smith House, new treasures keep popping up. When California landscape architect Thomas Church visited the Smiths in 1957 and sketched out changes to the grounds, he included a small Japanese garden due west of the house. From that point on, Melvyn Smith always pictured adding a small tea house or garden gazebo to the landscape.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture (including the Smith House) was deeply influenced and indebted to Japanese design: the country’s architecture, landscape, gardens, and art–Wright was one of the foremost collectors and dealers of Japanese prints in America. The Smiths too had a deep interest in Japan (perhaps inspired by Wright’s own interest) and hosted many Japanese visitors to their home over the years. Their photo albums are full of images of Japanese guests and holiday cards from Japanese friends, while in the house sit many items from Japan: sake sets, nabemono pots, and multiple cast iron Japanese teakettles.

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Melyvn (Smithy) and Sara Smith in Kimono outside of their Frank Lloyd Wright home, March 1968. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Nothing, however, shows their interest as fully as plans drawn up in July 1965 for a Japanese Tea House to be built across their backyard pond. The design was by Taliesin Associated Architects’ William Wesley Peters, Frank Lloyd Wright’s protégé who managed Wright’s office following his death in 1959.

The small tea house, designed on a diagrid, centered on a hexagonal room with six triangular tables (forming a hexagon) surrounded by benches on two sides and tall french doors looking back to the Smith House. Immediately outside was an ample patio and trellis above. Across the rear of the tea house ran vertical louvered panels, pieced by Wright’s earlier design from the clerestory windows of the house. (This system of cut-out folding panels was incorporated in Peters’ 1968 sunroom addition to the main Smith House).

Whether the sunroom addition took funds away from the tea house, or the fact the Smith’s never owned this side of the pond, the 1965 tea house would remain unbuilt. After Melvyn Smith retired from teaching English at Detroit’s Cody High School in 1977 or 1978, he again took up the idea of building a tea house on the property. This time, it would be situated due west of the house where Thomas Church had suggested a Japanese garden and on land the Smith’s already owned.

Around 1980 Wesley Peters was again called in to do a design for the tea house. This version of the tea house was taller, featuring french doors flanked by brick walls set with glass openings. Behind the pavilion was a plunge pool for swimming. Peters was assisted in this design by Jon deKoven Hill, who joined the Taliesin Fellowship in 1938 and worked there off and on until 1996.

Smith fell ill in the Summer of 1984, at the same time revisions to his little tea house were being completed by a local architect or builder Ron Kelly. Perhaps in retirement the purpose of a tea house had changed from purely a place of beauty and repose: the latest versions, reviewed by Smith in the hospital, featured a Jacuzzi sunk within the center of the tea house.

Smith House Tea House c 1984 with changes by Ron Kelly and possibly Melvyn Smith

Plan of the Garden Gazebo with Jacuzzi at center, plunge pool at top right, and mechanical space top left. Adapted from plans by Taliesin Associated Architects, 1984. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Melvyn Smith died that summer. At his memorial service, William Wesley Peters spoke about the philosophy of architecture; how much Wright had enjoyed Smithy as a client; and paced out the spot for the newly redesigned Japanese tea house. “What else would your dad want me to be doing right now?” Peters asked Robert, the Smith’s only son, who had admired his father’s endless determination to beautify and ornament his dream house.

Although there was never any tea house or gazebo built on the property, fast forward to earlier this summer. As we were changing out light bulbs in the high soffits of a bedroom at Smith House, we found two Ziploc bags holding quite the surprise: An unfinished model of the tea house.

Kevin Adkisson, 2016-2019 Cranbrook Center Collections Fellow

To learn more about Frank Lloyd Wright and his lifelong relationship with Japan, the Smith’s tea house, and the traditional Japanese Chanoyu tea ceremony, join us next Saturday, August 25, 2018 for presentations and demonstrations at Cranbrook Institute of Science and the Frank Lloyd Wright Smith House. I’ll be delivering a free lecture on Wright at 10:00am, followed by a presentation and Karesansui demonstration by Japanese Horticulturalist Chisato Takeuchi. In the afternoon, there are a few spots left for the 1:30 and 2:30 Chanoyu Tea Ceremony in Smith House presented by the Japan Society of Detroit Women’s Club. More information and registration is on our website.

 

 

The Multiple-George Theory

From my office window in Cranbrook House, I have a great view of the motor court. I can see the comings and goings of the house: coworkers rushing to meetings, facilities moving tools and tables, the busy bees of the Cranbrook House and Gardens Auxiliary at work, and visitors to the campus exploring the house and grounds.

As guests walk around finding flowers, sculptures, and fountains, I always see them step up to the locked side entrance of the house and try and figure out one of the most unusual pieces of art at Cranbrook: George Washington brandishing a flyswatter over George Booth. DSC_0523The acrylic painting, set within a blind window, shows George Booth napping on the daybed in his Still Room (those guests who’ve been on a Cranbrook House tour know the Still Room’s daybed is literally right behind this wall). Behind him is the ghostly figure of Washington, holding a copy of the July 4, 1776, Philadelphia Gazette and his swatter. It is a (not-terribly-convincing) trompe-l’œil fitted within the existing window frame. The 47×22” painting was completed in 1976 by Academy student Gregory High (MFA, Painting, 1977). George and GeorgeHenry Scripps Booth commissioned the painting while he was serving as a Cranbrook Educational Community trustee and while he was using George’s office suite for his own offices. He told the alumni magazine, the window commemorates “the long list of founders who seized opportunities that have been bequeathed to them from those who have gone before.”

Further, Henry explained that “there is at least one fly in almost every organizational ointment as well as in many of our best dreams…Those pesky flys require a decisive swat by a person of intuition and experience of historical perspective. George Washington, in a haze of tradition, plays that part of this bit of symbolic fantasy.”

Henry commissioned the painting as part of the Bicentennial celebrations of 1976, and it was revealed on Cranbrook’s Founders Day by George and Ellen’s three-year-old great-great-granddaughter Stephanie Booth, who was dressed in an 1867 dress belonging to Ellen.

The Cranbrook Quarterly (Fall 1976) wrote, “[the painting] could be considered one of the more unusual commemorations of the Bicentennial because it…develops the ‘multiple-George theory’ of Cranbrook’s—and the nation’s—founding.” Henry told the Quarterly that he “hoped that this window will be enjoyed by the passerby as it would be by Cranbrook’s founders if they were suddenly to come upon it and discover one of them was being spoofed.”

I can certainly attest that the painting gets a lot of looks and begs a lot of questions from the viewer. It’s one of the strangest—and most accessible—works on campus.

Happy Fourth of July everyone!

– Kevin Adkisson, 2016-2019 Collections Fellow, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

Photo Friday: Grotell & Himelhoch’s

In November of 1942, Maija Grotell displayed her wares among the latest fashions in the windows of Himelhoch’s department store in downtown Detroit. Grotell, Head of the Academy’s Department of Ceramics from 1938 to 1966, placed her vases, pots, and plates in a stage-set ceramics studio, replete with a painted kiln, bottles of glazes, and a potter’s wheel (made of what appears to be Papier-mâché).Grotell Himelhochs 1The clothes related directly to the vessels, with the sign reading: “Ceramics: Wonderful Muted Colors To Wear Under Winter Coats Inspired by Maija Grotell’s Ceramic Masterpieces.” Himelhoch’s sold the clothing, while the Grotell works were sold through the Detroit Artist’s Market.

The images are attributed to photographer Joseph Munroe, November 2, 1942.

– Kevin Adkisson, 2016-2019 Collections Fellow, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

NB: Himelhoch’s opened in 1907 and was on Detroit’s Washington Boulevard from 1923 to 1977. The lovely building is a National Historic Landmark and survives today as apartments.

Saarinen/Slade House

When incoming Academy President Roy Slade arrived at Cranbrook in July 1977, the President’s House (known, off and on, as Saarinen House) was in need of a refresher. Three other families had lived in and changed the aesthetic of the house following Eliel Saarinen’s death in 1950, and the house was a far cry from Saarinen’s design intent. Slade worked with designers Jean Faulkner and Carl Magnusson (then Director of Graphics and Showroom Design at Knoll) to rework the house into something befitting the new President of the Academy.

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Saarinen House, February 8, 1978. Norman McGrath, photographer. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

The original Saarinen-designed furniture had been spread throughout the campus and Museum, and in the redesign much of it was returned for use in the house. But instead of restoring rooms to their 1930s appearance (that would happen a decade or so later), the house was kept as a blend of old and new. “Gibraltar Ash” off-white wool wall-to-wall carpeting by Jack Lenor Larsen stretched between the foyer, living room, dining room, and library, making the main room of the house feel like one continuous open space. Furnishings and art pieces by Cranbrook (and Cranbrook-adjacent) artists and designers from many decades–not just the 1930s–were blended together into a comfortable, deliberately eclectic look. The 1977 interiors of the house were featured in local papers and even included, with text by Paul Goldberger, in Living Well: The New York Times Book of Home Design and Decoration (1981).

It’s interesting in these photos by Jack Kausch how well the space works, but how alien Saarinen’s furniture seems to be! Particularly in the dining room–the holly wood table and brass fixture are decontextualized by the foreign whiteness of the walls, ceiling, and floor. The next restoration, completed in 1994, brought back Saarinen’s rich color scheme and variety of materials–including the gilded ceiling.

If you’d like to learn more about the later lives of Saarinen House, Roy Slade’s tenure as President of the Academy, and other fascinating Cranbrook Academy of Art stories, come out to visit my exhibition, Saarinen House: Presidents/Residents, 1946-1994, opening later this month.

The exhibition features archival material and works by each former resident: painter Zoltan Sepeshy, who directed the Academy from 1946 to 1966 and moved into the house in late 1951 following the death of Eliel Saarinen; architect Glen Paulsen, who led the Academy from 1966 to 1970 and expanded Cranbrook’s campus with late-Modern additions; Wallace Mitchell, a Detroit native whose career at Cranbrook developed from student to painting instructor, then director of the Art Museum and finally president; and painter and educator Roy Slade, who led the Academy and its Museum from 1977 to 1994. Slade initiated the restoration of Saarinen House in the late 1970s and encouraged and supported Greg Wittkopp (then a curator at the Art Museum) in the transformation of this early modern, Art Deco design treasure into a public house museum in 1994.

The free Opening Reception will take place Sunday, April 29, 2018, from 1pm-5pm (in conjunction with Open Studios) and the exhibition will be included on all tours of Saarinen House through November. Learn more on our website.

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

 

 

A Hunter of Taos

Earlier this week, as part of our regularly scheduled inventory and evaluation of cultural properties, I took a specialist from Sotheby’s New York to see a painting a bit off the beaten track of Cranbrook’s usual spots to find art. Hanging in the Cranbrook Kingswood Middle School for Boys, A Hunter of Taos is an incredible work by the American painter Oscar Edmund Berninghaus.

A Hunter of Taos

A Hunter of Taos, 1926
Oscar Edmund Berninghaus, American, 1874-1952
Oil on canvas, 34 x 39 in.
Gift of Henry S. Booth to the Cranbrook School

The painting shows a male American Indian proudly standing with a bow and arrows, while horses and riders pass behind through a rocky landscape and trees aglow in warm sunlight. The trees are made up of swirling golds, ochres, and greens, their abstraction complimenting the almost impressionistic rendering of the figures immediately below. The central hunter, however, is rendered clearly, with his face set immediately in front of a draped white fabric and his gaze looking back at the viewer. The scale of the painting, about three-feet square, is impressive. But why is it here in the Boys Middle School, or even at Cranbrook?

First, let’s step back a bit further to the artist himself: Oscar Edmund Berninghaus (1874-1952). A native of St. Louis, he began his career as a commercial lithographer, draftsman, and illustrator. He explored painting as a fine art through classes at Washington University and at the St. Louis School of Fine Arts, where in 1899 the twenty-five year-old was awarded a month’s long paid journey westward by the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. On this trip, Berninghaus was introduced to beauty and culture of the American Southwest, particularly Taos, New Mexico.

The Taos Pueblo, in north central New Mexico, is one of the oldest continuously inhabited places in North America, with the Pueblo people settling there over one-thousand years ago. It became a popular spot for artists in the late-1890s, and by 1910, Berninghaus was making annual pilgrimages between Taos and St. Louis. In the winter he would work on his lithography and commercial mural work to finance summers at Taos. There, he painted Native Americans, their horses, scenes of daily life, and the landscape. In 1915 he became a founding member of the Taos Society of Artists, composed of European-Americans who came to Taos to paint American Indian subjects. Berninghaus claimed he was “infected with the Taos germ” and was “fascinated by the people, the Indians and Mexicans, the adobe architecture, the sagebrush, the mountains; they all inspired me as a subject matter.”

In 1925, Berninghaus relocated permanently to Taos. He painted landscapes, animals, and scenes of daily life in the pueblo and village. In A Hunter of Taos, the model was Santiago Bernal, a Pueblo farm laborer and frequent model for Berninghaus. In a letter to a newspaper in 1927, Berninghaus wrote, “I think the colony in Taos is doing much for American Art. From it I think will come a distinctive art, something definitely American–and I do not mean that such will be the case because the American Indian and his environment are the subjects. But the canvases that come from Taos are as definitely American as anything can be. We have had French, Dutch, Italian, German art. Now we must have American art. I feel that from Taos will come that art” (as quoted in Pioneer Artists of Taos, p. 98).

Our painting, considered one of the artist’s finest, was first exhibited at New York’s National Academy of Design in its 1926 Winter Exhibition. The work won the Second Altman Prize, one of several awards given out by the Academy of Design. On June 6, 1927, Henry Booth purchased the painting from the artist.

North Lobby with Taos Painting

View of A Hunter of Taos in the North Lobby, Hoey Hall, Cranbrook School. 1928. Peter A. Nyholm, Photographer. Cranbrook Archives.

After Booth purchased the work, the painting hung in the north lobby of Hoey Hall for the opening of Cranbrook School for Boys in September of 1927. Henry formally presented the painting to Cranbrook School on October 18, 1927. In the last half of the century, the painting was moved to the new Cranbrook Kingswood Middle School for Boys, where it hangs in a small lobby for administrative offices. Examining the painting Tuesday, we saw it is in excellent condition, and I appreciated that it’s in a spot where many young men and their parents have a chance to sit and appreciate it. It’s one of the great assets of Cranbrook that the campus is sprinkled with great art in all of our buildings—I think it’s a big part of what makes this place so magical.

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

NB: If you want to learn about another Cranbrook connection to the Southwest and the Pueblo people, revisit this excellent post on Amelia Elizabeth White and her gift of Native American art and artifacts to the Cranbrook Institute of Science in 1937.

Photo (Shoot) Friday

In preparing for the Center’s upcoming Edible Landscapes Dinner, I came across a series of images from a photo shoot of George and Ellen Booth in the 1940s. Some images were clearly taken in the Cranbrook House Library or Oak Room, but other images were harder to place.

Here, George and Ellen are seated with a magazine, and she is examining a vase. Below (after a wardrobe change), they’re seen opening a package. While it may not look like a room we know in Cranbrook House, they’re in Mrs. Booth’s Morning Room—Mr. Booth’s old office.

With the completion of the West Wing addition to Cranbrook House in 1918, George Booth relocated his office to a larger suite of rooms beyond the grand new Library. His first office, original to the 1908 home, was converted into a Morning Room for use by Ellen. The conversion was spearheaded by the Booth children, who remodeled the space as a Christmas gift for their mother in the 1930s. Mrs. Booth apparently loved the room, and made great use of its bright, cheery atmosphere.

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Ellen Booth’s Morning Room in Cranbrook House, 1952. Cranbrook Archives.

George insisted that the renovation of his old office be reversible to the original Albert Kahn design. You can see in the photographs the seams of the panels that made up the new pale walls. In 1993, the room was returned to its original appearance as George’s office by the Cranbrook House & Gardens Auxiliary.

The images from this photo shoot in the 1940s have been used over the years in various Cranbrook histories and publications focused on the Booths themselves. I’m appreciating the photos for showing a small glimpse into the life of Ellen and her now-gone Morning Room.

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

Metals & Cranbrook House

George Booth was a connoisseur. As an avid collector of beautiful objects, he acquired decorative and fine art to adorn his home, Cranbrook House (and later, the various Cranbrook institutions). One of the most collected categories: metal objects.

He was, after all, descended from a line of copper and tinsmiths. At fifteen, George Booth started a two-year apprenticeship at the Red Foundry in St. Thomas, Ontario, where he learned the fundamentals of the millwright and blacksmithing trades. He expanded his interest in craftsmanship through investment into an ornamental ironworks firm in Windsor (Evans and Booth) soon thereafter.

While he sold his share of the iron business in 1888, Booth continued sketching designs for metal products throughout his life. They’re collected in his sketchbooks . Some of his sketches for gates, furniture, and decorative elements were realized by Samuel Yellin of Philadelphia, while others were completed by local forges, and some simply ideas.

In examining photographs of Cranbrook House from Booth’s lifetime, I’m struck by the careful arrangement of art objects, specifically art bronzes, in the space. In the image above, on the table sits Albin Polasek’s 1917 sculpture Woman with Moon, still on view in the house. (Click images to enlarge)

If you look at enough images of the house, you will realize Booth was constantly rearranging his collection. Here, Eli Harvey’s 1904 work Recumbent Lioness is on the mantelpiece.

Starting in 1915, Booth loaned decorative and fine artworks to the Detroit Institute of Arts, including many bronzes previously on display in his home. In 1919, he gifted ninety-six of these objects (in iron, ceramics, wood, silver, and bronze) to the DIA, where many are still on view. You can flip through the DIA’s 1919 Bulletin describing Booth’s gift (in text and images).

Once Booth began developing the Cranbrook campus, he spent less energy collecting for Cranbrook House. However, the house has on occasion welcomed contemporary design, like the 1950 competition for Cranbrook Academy of Art students for the design of Packard automobiles and hood ornaments.

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Cranbrook Academy of Art students admiring designs for the Packard Motor Competition on display in the Cranbrook House Library, December 1950. Harvey Croze, Photographer. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Next week, students and alumni of the Academy’s Metalsmithing department will be gathering in Cranbrook House to show their work in the context of the Booth home in an exhibition organized by current students, A Line of Beauty: Cranbrook House Inhabitation. Taking their work out of the typical museum gallery setting (and off of the usual white pedestal) will provide a new framework in which to understand and view their pieces, and will also be a continuation of what George Booth did in his own lifetime: bring new art into the home to be placed among other items of beauty.

I mentioned that George Booth was a connoisseur. Curator and educator Charles Montgomery, who in the mid-twentieth century helped professionalize the genteel ideas of connoisseurship, wrote that the budding connoisseur must learn “to approach every object with an inquiring mind as well as with an inquiring eye.” He continued that “when first looking at an object, it is important to let oneself go and try to get a sensual reaction to it. I ask myself: Do I enjoy it? Does it automatically ring true? Does it sing to me?”

What I look forward to in the pop-up exhibition with the Metalsmithing department is not only the opportunity to see work from students and alumni, but also to view the many objects already in the house in a new light. Montgomery recommends looking at objects with half-closed eyes and from various angles, and next Friday night, I plan to do the same.

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Ye Triumphe Ship, 1918 Henry Brundage Culver, with Untitled, 2017, Adam Shirley, CAA Metalsmithing 2010

A Line of Beauty: Cranbrook House Inhabitation will take place Friday, January 26th from 5:30 to 8:30pm. The presentation is curated and organized by the Cranbrook Academy of Art Metalsmithing Department, and is presented at Cranbrook House through the Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research. All are welcome.

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

Editor’s Note: New works shown are by Adam Shirley, Alberte Tranberg, Natalia Sarrazin, and Iris Eichenberg.

Booth and Birds

In a corner of George Booth’s Old Country Office, there is a door that opens into a blank wall. I became curious about this door to nowhere last year when I was setting up the Center’s holiday display, and so this year’s Christmas scene is inspired by the door’s original purpose.

Around 1919, Booth purchased a blue and yellow macaw and named him Mack. Mack, like all parrots, enjoyed chewing things—Booth’s picture frames, furniture, and the walls themselves. Booth thought getting a second macaw, which he named Jack, might calm Mack’s chewing, but alas, he simply doubled the trouble.

In early 1920, Booth added a flat-roofed glass walled aviary outside of his office to give Mack and Jack their own space (and save the furniture). It was bound by the exterior walls of the office, living room, and library. Accessed through a door left of the fireplace, Mack and Jack were joined by canaries in the aviary, and according to Henry Booth’s memories, every time the canaries sang or the telephone rang, the macaws’ squawk would fill the house.

This ca 1925 view of Cranbrook House shows the exterior window of the aviary, covered with a cabana striped awning, between the bay window of the office and the library wing. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Eventually, the Booth’s gave Mack and Jack to the Belle Isle Zoo. The canaries remained for a time, cared for by one of the maids, Harriet. When she retired, the aviary was disassembled and the window was reused as a kitchen window for Brookside School, where it remains.

For my holiday display, I’ve opened the door to the aviary and staged a scene as if Mack and Jack were just here: destroying a book and leaving their feathers all around. You can find the canaries enjoying themselves around the Christmas Tree.

IMG_0798Also on display in the office, is a series of birds that Booth could have seen on his many walks around the Cranbrook estate–hawks, cardinals, robins, and plenty of ducks (on loan to me from Cranbrook Institute of Science). All are native to Michigan, except for the pheasant which would have been introduced to the area by early settlers. Pheasants, however, love fallow fields and run-down farms—exactly what the land which became Cranbrook was when Booth purchased the property in 1904!

IMG_0799Alongside the taxidermy I’ve included pieces from the Cranbrook Archives: early copies of Institute bulletins on the Birds of Michigan, original artwork from an ornithogist working at Cranbrook in the 1930s, and photographs and short biographies of other bird-related Cranbrook people, like W. Bryant Tyrrell, Walter P. Nickell, and Edmund J. Sawyer.

Come and see the Office display this weekend (December 1-3) for the House and Gardens Auxiliary’s Holiday Splendor event (Friday, 10-4pm, Saturday 9-4pm, and Sunday 12-4pm), visit it with me next Wednesday before or after the Center’s Järnefelt Piano Trio: Jean Sibelius Concert, or at any of the other Cranbrook House events before January 8th.

Kevin Adkisson, 2016-2018 Collections Fellow, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

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