Stuck in the Mud

As Michigan emerges from our lockdown and we slowly begin driving to more places and contemplating summer road trips, I thought we’d look back to a time before asphalt, air conditioning, and safety features.

Ellen Scripps Booth, Jean McLaughlin Booth and Henry Scripps Booth on Lahser Road with the 1908 Pierce-Arrow in the ditch, 1911. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Here, we see Ellen Scripps Booth, daughter-in-law Jean McLaughlin Booth, and young Henry stranded somewhere along Lahser Road. I love the ladies’ wide hats and wraps, intended to keep their hair in and dust out. Henry looks particularly pleased with the situation (sort of like me when my own mom got a speeding ticket—she didn’t appreciate my backseat smirking, either).

Instead of AAA, the family turned to their own skills. Here’s Henry Wood Booth, Ellen’s father-in-law, addressing the situation:

Henry Wood Booth works on the Pierce-Arrow on Lahser Road, 1911. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

The Booth family’s Pierce-Arrow Limousine was one of several cars they used to move about here in Michigan and in Europe (where they traveled with the Pierce-Arrow and chauffeur). Purchased for $7,750 in July 1908 ($215,984.08 in 2020), the seven-seater, 6-cylinder touring car came with two bodies: a closed limousine body for winter use and a sports-touring body for summer. As Henry Scripps Booth later wrote:

The original garage at Cranbrook House had a traveling crane in it so the Pierce-Arrow’s winter and summer bodies could be conveniently changed with the seasons.  The crane spanned the depth of the garage, having an iron track bolted to the east and west walls on which the crane with a hand operated hoist could be pulled to the spot where the two respective bodies could be removed or hoisted into place. 

The accident on Lahser Road wasn’t the first time Ellen had been betrayed by poor road conditions. In 1908, she wrote in her diary of a similar event that took place as the family traveled from Grand Rapids to Lake Michigan:

“Wed. Aug. 12. We decided to take the auto as far as Holland on the way to Ottawa Beach but I wish we hadn’t for it took us five hours to go the 25 miles—We got off the road and one place slid into a ditch. It took an hour & a half to get a team to pull us out. We later frightened a horse and it ran down this deep ditch and horse, top-buggy and all just lay right down flat. The old couple in it were not hurt at all.”

If you want to learn more about the history and social impact of cars, register for our free virtual Bauder Lecture this Sunday, June 28, 2020, at 3:00pm EST. Brendan Cormier, Senior Design Curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, will be speaking about his recent exhibition and publication, Cars: Accelerating the Modern World. Center for Collections and Research Director Greg Wittkopp will deliver an introduction about Cranbrook and cars, featuring more treasures from Cranbrook Archives relating to our place in automobile history.

—Kevin Adkisson, Associate Curator, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

What’s in a Brick?

There are many beautiful bricks around Cranbrook’s campus. From the Roman brick details at Cranbrook School, the buckskin “Cranbrook brick” at the Academy and Institute of Science, or the beautiful green and gold bricks of Kingswood, Eliel Saarinen was a master of the ancient building material.

The richness of this legacy made architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien extremely diligent in specifying materials for their own addition to campus, the Williams Natatorium. Completed in 1999 and sited within the heavily wooded area adjacent to the Saarinen-designed Keppel Gymnasium, the 26,000-square-foot swimming facility features very few details that are not custom made. This includes the bricks.

The entrance to the Cranbrook Natatorium, showcasing purple Norman brick, glazed blue and green brick, concrete, and lead-coated copper. Courtesy Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

The architects wanted glazed bricks (a material famously used by Eero Saarinen at the General Motors Technical Center), but they couldn’t find any product available on the market that meet their needs. Project architect Martin Finio told Construction Association of Michigan Magazine (Fall 2000) that:

Typical glazing tends to resemble a painted surface. The glaze becomes the object of interest. The brick behind it could be anything. What we were interested in was trying to find a way of glazing brick in such a way that you can feel the body of the brick through it.

The architects turned to Endicott Clay of Fairbury, Nebraska to help craft custom glazed brick, with a base of ironspot brick the company already produced. In ironspot bricks, manganese in the clay creates dark spots when fired. The goal for Cranbrook was to have these spots remain visible behind the glaze.

After receiving dozens of sample test glazed bricks that weren’t what the architects wanted, Martin Finio, Billie Tsien, and project manager Gary Scheuren traveled to Nebraska to learn more about the process and to work on getting the Natatorium bricks just right. When they arrived, Tsien saw a stack of samples Endicott Clay had deemed failures, rejected, and never sent to the architects in New York. Within the trash pile was the exact finish the architects wanted. Endicott Clay simply reverse engineered the once-rejected bricks and made enough mottled blue and green glazed bricks for the building.

Beyond the colors’ ties to water and earth (appropriate for a pool in the woods), the specific shade of blue and green have special Cranbrook associations. The blue is the famed “Grotell blue” of Cranbrook’s longtime Head of Ceramics, Maija Grotell, while the green relates to the lovely shades of aqua used by Pipsan Saarinen Swanson inside Kingswood and that building’s great patinated copper roof.

The Norman bricks above the green glazed bricks. Notice the raked horizontal mortar lines. Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

Alongside the glazed bricks, the architects specified manganese ironspot Norman bricks in deep purple. Norman bricks are longer than standard bricks and enhance the horizontality of the building. Using a tradition made famous by Frank Lloyd Wright and also used by Eliel Saarinen at Cranbrook, the horizontal mortar is raked and the vertical mortar is flush, casting the horizontal joints in shadow and increasing the sense of compression across the façade.

This hinge joint of blue glazed and purple Norman bricks terminates the east-west axis running from George Booth’s office in Cranbrook House, past the Art Museum and Orpheus fountain, and to the Natatorium. Daniel Smith, photographer. Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

Other materials used on the exterior of the Natatorium include cast in place concrete (sandblasted to give it a warmer feel and richer texture), warm toned ground-faced concrete block (custom made in Grand Blanc), Honduran mahogany, Mexican river rock, and Pietra Cardosa Italian slate.

—Kevin Adkisson, Curatorial Associate, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

Getting a Green Roof

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

Kingswood Roof Construction Copyright Cranbrook Archives

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

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

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

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

Kingswood Early Slide c 1940 Copyright Cranbrook Archives

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

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

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

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

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

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

—Kevin Adkisson, Curatorial Associate

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

From Concept to Cover

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

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

Eero Saarinen GM Tech Center Sketch Small ad21-12

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

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

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

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

Arch Forum July 1949 Glen Paulsen rendering Eero Saarinen ad21-14

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

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

Architectural Forum July 1949 Glen Paulsen cover for Eero Saarinen

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

—Kevin Adkisson, Curatorial Associate

A New Cranbrook House

January has been busy with research for my upcoming History of American Architecture: Cranbrook in Context lecture series. In preparing for the first lecture, which examines Cranbrook House and the larger Arts and Crafts movement, I found myself deep in the Archives looking through the architectural sketches of George Booth.

Around 1932, George Booth considered converting Cranbrook House into a home for both the Art Museum and the Institute of Science. With this proposal, the Booths would need a new “Cranbrook House.”

Mr. Booth sketched two plans for building south of the existing manor home, in the meadow along Lone Pine Road.

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Caption written by George Gough Booth in pencil at a later date: “Scheme for a moderate sized residence for G.G.B. & E.S.B. on lawn directly south of Cranbrook House facing Lone Pine Road, by G.G.B. 1932 & considered in connection with plan to turn Large Residence over to Foundation for Educational Purposes. Museum—Library—School of Music, etc. etc.” Cranbrook Archives.

The simple, rectangular house is strikingly similar to the original plan of Cranbrook House from 1908 (before its 1918 and 1922 expansions), rotated 180 degrees. A front vestibule opens into a cross gallery, centered on a fireplace. Beyond is a long, 18 by 32 foot living room. A library and large dining room flank either side, with the only other public room being a reception hall.

A stairway surrounding an elevator shaft connects to a second floor with two bedrooms (one for George and one for Ellen) joined by a sitting room, again mirroring the original configuration of rooms at Cranbrook House. Even the double bay windows of the bedrooms match the double bay windows on the northern plan of Cranbrook House.

The problem of symmetrical houses is that not everything generally fits in a pleasingly symmetrical way. George’s solution to this problem, like many architects before and since, is to add a service wing for the kitchen, maids’ rooms, and storage.

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Caption written by George Gough Booth in pencil at a later date: “Suggestion for personal house (?) South of homestead.” c. 1932. Cranbrook Archives.

In what I presume to be a later sketch, the plan is further refined. Here, the vestibule sits more comfortably under the stairway, leading guests directly into the long gallery and living room beyond–one would see directly from the front door out of the living room window. The proportions of this proposed house are smaller, and the service wing substantially smaller (and even appears added on by Booth as a later sketch). The entire house is more symmetrical and regular, and there are fewer service spaces.

Had the Booths moved out of Cranbrook House, what did George envision happening with the space? Well, Booth sketched ideas of how Cranbrook House would be converted into an educational facility.

full plan cranbrook house addition2

Proposed modifications and additions to Cranbrook House, for its conversion to use by the Institute of Science and Art Museum, by George Gough Booth, c. 1932. Cranbrook Archives.

The first floor of the house remained largely intact (though another plan shows subdividing the reception hall for offices). The kitchens were to be removed and converted to galleries, and the living room and sunset porch converted to a conference room and lounge. West of the 1918 Library wing offices was to be a large room for the Cranbrook Foundation and then a very large building of smaller rooms, including a library and assembly room. It is unclear what the smaller rooms are, but in one plan, they are drawn identically to Booth’s sketches for the Institute of Science’s research wing.

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Proposed “Forum” (Observatory) on the “Mountain” south of Cranbrook House, sketch by George Gough Booth. Detail from the above plan. Cranbrook Archives.

The idea that Booth intended portions of the house to be dedicated to the Institute is further supported by what might be my favorite of George Booth’s unrealized plans for Cranbrook House: the transformation of the reproduction Fountain of the Tritons atop the “Mountain” south of the auto court into an observatory!

new second floor

Proposed modifications to the second floor of Cranbrook House for its use as gallery space, by George Gough Booth, c. 1925-1935. Cranbrook Archives.

On the second floor, the series of family bedrooms and bathrooms, as well as the warren of service spaces, would have been cleared out, windows boarded up, and a series of interconnected galleries created. The bedrooms (not bathrooms) of George and Ellen were to remain intact as offices–previews to their use now as Cranbrook’s President’s suite of offices.

While the Booths did eventually leave Cranbrook House and its contents to the Cranbrook Foundation, they remained living in the house until their deaths in 1948 and 1949. The area where George proposed building their new residence is today the location of the Cranbrook House Parking Lot.

You never know what you’ll find in Cranbrook Archives!

Kevin Adkisson, Curatorial Associate

A Mexican Adventure & South American Sojourn

Cranbrook’s founders George and Ellen Booth loved to travel, collecting memories and mementos wherever they went. With Europe at war in 1939, they headed south—way south!

The Booths explored Mexico from the ancient Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza to bustling Mexico City. Along for the journey was their nurse and traveling companion, Nellie Beveridge. We’re lucky Nellie was there—her camera documented the journey. Unlike other trips the family made, where we can reconstruct detailed itineraries through letters, postcards, and even menus in Cranbrook Archives, there’s not a lot of documentation about this trip other than Nellie’s slide images:

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Two years later, in the Spring of 1941, George, Ellen, Nellie Beveridge, and Nellie’s camera set sail from New York City aboard the Grace Line South American Cruise. The six-week journey started in Barranquilla, Colombia; moved through the 44-miles of the Panama Canal; and down the South American coast, stopping in Ecuador, Peru, Chile, and across land to Buenos Aires.

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Looking closely at the photographs, we see highlights of the trip included a ride on one of the many funiculars of Valparaiso, Chile, visits to more ancient sites, museums, and markets, and a journey on “the Chair,” a hand-powered lift in the port of Mollendo, Peru.

Inspired by the Booth’s adventures, for this year’s Holiday Splendor event at Cranbrook House we’ve brought together a selection of slide images and items from the 1939 and 1941 trips, along with objects from Latin and South America held at Cranbrook Institute of Science and folk art decorations from Mexico and Peru.

Mr. Booth's Original Office decorated for Holiday Splendor, 2019. Photo by Daniel Smith, CAA '21.

Mr. Booth’s Original Office decorated for Holiday Splendor, 2019. Photo by Daniel Smith, CAA ’21.

On both trips, Mr. Booth likely collected souvenirs, one of which, a Peruvian decorated gourd, is on display. On his return to Michigan, it would seem Booth was inspired to collect more Pre-Columbian art from dealers in New York and San Francisco for his burgeoning Cranbrook Academy of Art Museum, which opened in its current building in 1942.

Working with Anthropology Coordinator/Museum Educator Cameron Wood at Cranbrook Institute of Science, Leslie Mio and I were able to study a number of fascinating pieces that Booth collected for the Art Museum and Institute, and see other works of art, domestic objects, and pieces of ancient and modern life from the countries the Booths traveled through. (In the 1980s, the Art Museum transferred many of its ancient pottery and anthropological items to the Institute of Science).

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Nazca double-spout-and-bridge vessel with mask decoration; Pre-Columbian double-chambered jar from Panama; and carved and painted wooden toys of people and llamas from Peru, 1940s. Photo by Daniel Smith, CAA ’21.

One of my favorite pieces we selected from the Institute is a double-spout-and-bridge vessel with mask decoration from the 2nd—4th century by the Nazca people, who lived in what is now Peru. The Nazca culture (100BC-800CE) is characterized by its beautiful polychrome pottery, painted with at least 15 distinct colors. Their vessels were constructed by the coil method and then decorated with a multicolored slip before the vessels were fired. This allowed for bright and permanent colors, and the images served as a way of recording stories for a people without a written language. The sheen of the vessel was enhanced by burnishing after it was fired. This type of vessel was used for ritual purposes, as they are most often found in graves.

The Peruvian decorated gourd (front center-left) collected by Mr. Booth is on display with ancient and 20th-century objects generously on loan from Cranbrook Institute of Science. Photo by Daniel Smith, CAA ’21.

George Booth would have seen pieces like the double-spout-and-bridge vessel on his travels through Peru’s museums, galleries, and archaeological digs. However, this piece was purchased from an American dealer after he returned home. Another, much larger piece, is in the Nazca style but dates to the 1940s and was also purchased by Booth for the museum. It is interesting to see how the ancient, Pre-Columbian pieces and the modern Peruvian works share similar styles, forms, and motifs.

The mantle in Mr. Booth's Original Office, featuring Mexican tin trees and a Peruvian retablo.

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The mantle in the office, featuring Mexican hojalata (tin artwork) candelabra Christmas trees and Peruvian retablo. Photo by Daniel Smith, CAA ’21.

After Spanish invasion and colonization, indigenous cultures and design became mixed with Catholicism. Today, the most prominent decor at Christmastime in South America is the nativity. Retablos, a reverent diorama-altar typical of the Ayacucho region of Peru, combines Catholic imagery with indigenous style and stories, and have been made throughout South America since colonial times. Our retablo was purchased through UNICEF Market, helping to support artisans and charity work in Peru.

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The mantle in the office, featuring Mexican hojalata (tin artwork) and a handmade woven bicyclist. Tin art has been popular in Mexico since the 1500s. Photo by Daniel Smith, CAA ’21.

The ornaments on the tree and along the mantel include hand-carved gourds and clay nativities from Peru, along with painted ceramic candle holders, tin animals, and hand-woven bicyclists from Mexico. These are all types of small souvenirs the Booths would have seen on their travels. In fact, there is a stall selling very similar gourd ornaments in one of the images Nellie took!

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Four Peruvian pottery figures of musicians from the 1940s and models of Mexican castillo (castle) firework frames. Fireworks have been popular for patron-saint festivals and holidays in Mexico since the mid-19th century. Photo by Daniel Smith, CAA ’21.

Leslie and I are grateful to Cranbrook Institute of Science for loaning objects from the areas of the Booths’ trips; to Deborah Rice in Cranbrook Archives for scanning all the great images (you can see more here); and to Michael Sinelli, Gerhardt Knodel, and Kenneth Gross for sharing pieces of Mexican and Peruvian folk art from their own collections to help make our room a festive, holiday scene!

Kevin Adkisson, Curatorial Associate

PS: There is one letter from George Booth to his son, Henry, where he writes about Mexico from Los Angeles: “Having passed out of the desert Mexican influence I find I am still greatly impressed with all I saw…I don’t like the bugs of Yucatan…the spots stay with you some time…, however a real traveler never lets such little things bother them–and with it all it in no way distracts from my good opinion of the Country–its history and the people of to-day.”

Lisa Frank’s Cranbrook Years

When I’m talking with visitors to Cranbrook about our many famous alumni, there is perhaps only one graduate whose legacy and name recognition so divides responses between “Who is that?” and “Oh-my-gosh, really?!”

If the visitor was born before 1982, they likely have never heard of her. If they’re born after 1982, they almost certainly know her—even if they don’t know she’s a real person: Lisa Frank.

Lisa Frank from Kickstarter A typical example of Lisa Frank’s art: unicorns, golden retrievers, pandas, and rainbows, c. 2005-2015. Copyright Lisa Frank, Inc.; courtesy of Pinterest.

Lisa Deborah Frank graduated from Kingswood in 1972. For kids in the 80s and 90s, her iconic neon designs decorated our backpacks, Trapper Keepers, pencils, folders, and stickers. Anything that you might possibly need for the daily rigors of preteen life, Lisa Frank could provide. Rainbow kittens and neon unicorns adorned practically everything, and you’d be forgiven if you chalked these creations up to the work of some anonymous office supply conglomerate with a cadre of slightly nutty illustrators.

But no. Lisa Frank is very much a real person and artist, and she has led her company, Lisa Frank, Inc., as a successful commercial art studio since 1979. Her Day-Glo depictions of flora and fauna were sensational, ubiquitous, and often imitated but never equaled. Despite her success at brightening elementary schools across the globe, as an artist and businesswoman she has been a reclusive figure. So who exactly is Lisa Frank?

In 2015, Cranbrook Kingswood alumna Carly Marks interviewed Lisa Frank at her Tucson, Arizona headquarters for the art magazine Foundations, one of the only in-depth interviews Frank has ever sat for. Frank had this to say about her time at Kingswood (1966 to 1972):

“They had real people teaching, accomplished artists. We sat in the original Saarinen chairs. I don’t think we realized what we were surrounded by. I can tell you I wouldn’t be who I am without that experience.”

There was also art at home: Lisa Frank’s father served on the board of the Detroit Institute of Arts and had an impressive collection in their Palmer Woods (Detroit) house, including works by Jasper Johns, Josef Albers, Richard Anuszkiewicz, and Jean Arp. One of Frank’s proudest moments was when her father hung one of her Kingswood-era paintings in the house—not because it was his daughter’s painting, but because he liked the work itself.

At Kingswood, Lisa Frank served on the Woodwinds yearbook staff as the advertising coordinator, among other activities. She also took advantage of the art opportunities, telling Foundations, “I had a senior show of the paintings I made…They were up on the wall, I sold out, and received a ton of commissions. Lee Iacocca, former president of Chrysler, bought a painting.”

Lisa Frank Kingswood Work Courtesy of Carl Marks Foundation MagazineUntitled. Lisa Frank, c. 1971-1972. Painted while Frank was a student at Kingswood School for Girls. Photo courtesy of Carly Mark for Foundations magazine, 2015.

Frank’s work at Cranbrook was abstract, using acrylic on Masonite or canvas, and sometimes incorporating paper on the canvas for additional texture. Although the work was nonrepresentational, the bright colors that would become her brand’s signature are present in these early paintings.

Lisa Frank Kingswood Work Courtesy of Carly Marks-Foundations MagazineUntitled. Lisa Frank, c. 1971-1972. Painted while Frank was a student at Kingswood School for Girls. Photo courtesy of Carly Mark for Foundations magazine, 2015.

Her success in the Kingswood senior show led to early independence: “I lived on those earnings forever. When I was in high school [my dad] was paying for all my materials. When I got the commissions he said, ‘You’re paying for all the supplies.’ Then when I told him I was going to the University of Arizona he said, ‘That’s fine and I love you all the same but I’m not going to support you.’”

In college, Frank supported herself by selling Native American art and jewelry. She noticed what sold and what didn’t, and she encouraged the artisans she represented to make certain pieces for commercial sale. Her knack for knowing what designs would sell extended into her own art.

As she recalls, “At first I didn’t want to do unicorns. The artist in me said no. Then I thought, wait a minute, this is commercial art. Let’s do what’s going to sell.”

She started a line of jewelry made up of plastic fruits assembled with hot glue guns. She sold this line, called Sticky Fingers, at gift shows, and its success led to the establishment of her eponymous business. She entered into the pin/button market, painting licensed figures like Felix the Cat or Betty Boop, along with her own colorful animals with big eyes. These buttons were mass produced in Asia and imported to the U.S. Her breakout moment came in 1982, when teen mall staple Spencer’s Gifts ordered a million dollars’ worth of colorful Lisa Frank-designed stickers. She was only 28 years old.

Panda Painter by Lisa Frank courtesy of Carly Marks-Foundations MagazinePanda Painter, Lisa Frank, c. 1982-85. Frank worked with markers, acrylics, and airbrush. By 1989, the production had shifted to computer design. Artwork was created by various artists (including Rondi Kutz, Senior Designer, and Frank’s then-husband James Green, CEO) but always approved by Lisa Frank. Courtesy of Carly Marks for Foundations magazine, 2015.

Her success skyrocketed, and her technicolor art expanded onto the menagerie of product I remember from my own elementary school bookstore in the late 1990s. Since the very beginning of the company, Frank has served as the art director and sole source of product approval. Even with so many thousands of products, she and her team spend hours making each piece of new art. One thing Lisa Frank does not want? Repetition.

To her, using the same imagery over and over is not only bad business, its insulting to the customer. As she notes, “believe it or not, the consumers with less money have a keener eye than the ones with more. Consumers with less money only have so much to spend. For this reason they are critical and want to buy the best of the best. I’ve always appealed to the masses because, I felt so lucky to grow up in a beautiful world, and believe just because someone has less money, why should they not be offered the best of the best, as well?”

Lisa Frank Trapper Keeper Today Show (2) Trapper Keeper depicting Markie (unicorn) in Airfluff Island, Lisa Frank, Inc., c. 1990-2000. Markie was one of the early characters from Lisa Frank. According to Frank, Markie enjoys butterflies, exploring, collecting starts, cloud hopping, and dreams. Courtesy of Today.

As for her unique, technicolor style? “I think the reason I made what I made is because I’m unconventional,” she explained. “I am who I am. You read stuff about me; people think it was all influenced by drugs. You couldn’t do what I did if I was on drugs. . . I was running my business. You can’t be just a creative; you have to be a businesswoman, too. You have to have the motivation to get there.”

Lisa Frank Panda Painter Scented Stickers Nicole Flickr Panda Painter Scented Sticker sheet, Lisa Frank, Inc. c. 1990-2000. Panda Painter is seen here surrounded by rainbows and gumballs. Gumballs are a common Frank motif, inspired by a childhood gift of an antique gumball machine from her father. Copyright Lisa Frank, Inc.; scan courtesy of Nicole on Flickr.

Even at the helm of a multi-national, billion dollar company, Lisa Frank is still focused on her art: “I feel like I’m fortunate enough to live my passion…There’s a big commitment to making beautiful quality work.” She continues, “I mean, yes, it’s a business but it’s more important that the art is beautiful.”

Lisa Frank Halloween Stickers Nicole Flickr Halloween sticker sheet, Lisa Frank, Inc. c. 1993-2000. The signature bright colors of Lisa Frank are printed using a proprietary four-color print process that keeps the colors from muddying. All licensees producing Lisa Frank, Inc. materials must sign confidentiality agreements as the ink mixtures are a closely-held secret. Copyright Lisa Frank, Inc.; scan courtesy of Nicole on Flickr.

While Lisa Frank’s heyday may be over (the 2000s were especially difficult), she has continued to put out new product. In this moment of 90s nostalgia, Lisa Frank continues to bring joy and brightness to the world. In fact, you can now stay in a Lisa Frank-designed hotel room!

Lisa Frank was awarded the Distinguished Alumna Award in 1994 from the Kingswood Alumnae Association. Perhaps one day we’ll even get an original Lisa Frank for Cranbrook Art Museum!

Kevin Adkisson, Curatorial Associate

The Day Cranbrook Went Bananas

You probably know Cranbrook Kingswood Upper School has a football team, and you might remember that the Detroit Lions held training camps here in the 1970s, but did you also know that Cranbrook Academy of Art is an undefeated intercollegiate football team?

Homecoming Queen Barbara Tiso takes a convertible ride around the field with Academy President Wallace Mitchell.

Homecoming Queen Barbara Tiso takes a convertible ride around the field with Academy President Wallace Mitchell. Cranbrook Archives.

As The Cranbrook Magazine reported in the Winter 1971 issue, “Before winter zeroed in [the Academy] had a rousing football weekend similar in events, at least, to those at large universities that specialize in such things.” There was a bonfire pep rally, organized cheering sections, a Homecoming Queen, the game itself with a halftime show from both schools, and a victory banquet.

Sculpture head Michael Hall regarded the weekend as a conceptual art project, and said “as spectacle, pageant, formation and participation football is a direct parallel to art forms as disparate as the Baroque Mass and Alan Kaprow’s ‘Soapsuds Event’.”

The idea for a game began after conversations between Hall and a colleague at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. The students at both schools accepted the challenge, and Cranbrook’s bucolic suburban setting (replete with Thompson Oval) seemed the idea location.

The game of flag football was covered by newspapers in Detroit and Chicago, with radio DJ’s in Detroit billing the game on Cranbrook School’s field as a season highlight. Cranbrook’s seventy-six male students were augmented with faculty and Nick Vettraino, groundskeeper. After an extensive (minor) injury list, only twenty players made the roster. I’ll let the Magazine coverage of the game speak for itself:

Emma Kay Szabados was a big hit as the Academy's mascot banana.

Emma Kay Szabados was a big hit as the Academy’s mascot banana. It is unclear why we were the bananas. Cranbrook Archives.

“Hog Butchers and Bananas were noticeably self-conscious when they trotted onto the field. But as the game progressed and the crowd of 300 cheered vociferously, players and spectators alike were caught up in the spirit of true athletic competition.

Cranbrook grabbed an early lead on the swift running of Nick Vettraino and the spectacular pass catching of Dick Ewen. But the Hog Butchers kept fighting back.

Quarterback George Sorrels used a “flexible formation from the pro set,” allegedly adapted from Detroit Lions plays by Coach Mel Baker. Cranbrook Archives.

“Cranbrook grabbed an early lead on the swift running of Nick Vettraino and the spectacular pass catching of Dick Ewen. But the Hog Butchers kept fighting back.

the pro-Bananas crowd flocked onto the field and hoisted heroes onto their shoulders.

The crowd going wild as Cranbrook marches on to victory. Notice Gerhardt Knodel, Artist-in-Residence of the Fiber department (and future Director of Cranbrook Academy of Art) in the foreground. Cranbrook Archives.

 

“As darkness descended Cranbrook led 27-25 with time left for just one play. Chicago tried a field goal that would bring victory. The kick failed, and the pro-Bananas crowd flocked onto the field and hoisted heroes onto their shoulders.

Patrick and Mary Mitchell, son and wife of Academy President Wallace Mitchell, manned the sideline markers.

Patrick and Mary Mitchell, son and wife of Academy President Wallace Mitchell, manned the sideline markers. Cranbrook Archives.

“Art or not, it was a helluva weekend. And after it was all over the campus was permeated with a camaraderie never seen before in Academy history.”

As the Upper School kicks off its season against U of D Jesuit tonight, I’d like to wish everyone a happy football season (Go Cranes!) and welcome Schools and Academy students back to campus. Perhaps we will see a rematch of the Bananas and the Hog Butchers on the gridiron soon? If so, there’s a new press box from which to call the game. I volunteer to provide color commentary!

Kevin Adkisson, Curatorial Associate

Weaving Lesson: Saarinen’s Sermon on the Mount

While Kingswood alumnae will recognize Studio Loja Saarinen’s largest weaving at Cranbrook, The Festival of the May Queen, did you know there’s an even larger piece by the studio off campus?

Ordered in connection with Eliel Saarinen’s commission for the Tabernacle Church of Christ in Columbus, Indiana (today the First Christian Church), the monumental Sermon on the Mount hanging was an artistic and technical triumph completed by Studio Loja Saarinen in 1941.

First Christian Church from Progressive Architecture

Interior view of First Christian Church, showing Studio Loja Saarinen’s The Sermon on the Mount hanging. 1942. Courtesy of Progressive Architecture.

The subject was chosen by the church, and according to their archives, the Sermon on the Mount was selected as a topic because it is “the ideal for human conduct.” The tapestry, they went on, would need to suggest “worship as well as obedience.”

ccCAM2000.13 Sketch for the The Sermon on the Mount, 1941. Eliel Saarinen (attributed). Pencil, colored pencil, and gouache on paper. 26 7/8 x 11 7/8 inches. Courtesy of Cranbrook Art Museum. Gift of Robert Saarinen Swanson.

Eliel Saarinen likely produced the sketch of the hanging, an unsigned colored pencil and gouache drawing now in Cranbrook Art Museum. Interestingly, this is the only textile with a religious subject to come out of the Saarinen studio.

The small sketch was then enlarged onto full-size paper mock-ups, which allowed the Saarinens to review and edit the design and provided direction to the weavers at the loom.

CEC1198 Loja Saarinen showing Eliel a cartoon of their tapestry, The Sermon on the Mount, April 1941. Photo by Betty Truxell. Cranbrook Archives.

Thirteen patterned and colorfully-robed worshipers in two rows stand looking toward Christ, rendered in all white yarn on a cream background. Christ is surrounded by arcs and beams of white light that masterfully descend throughout the hanging, adding a rich depth to the composition.

Sermon On The Mount Tapestry_004The Sermon on the Mount Hanging. 1941. Loja & Eliel Saarinen (designers), Lillian Holm, Ruth Ingvarson (weavers). Wool and linen with supplemental wool weft; 12 x 27’. First Christian Church, Columbus, Indiana. Photo by Hadley Fruits.

Much like The Festival of the May Queen, the weaving is subdivided asymmetrically into rectangular shapes of varying dimensions by rhythmic bands of alternating rust, coral, and gold. These lines link into the scene’s landscape, which is made up of a series of highly stylized branches connecting green and white masses. These color-blocks sometimes read like meadows or hills; in other places, the green reads like flowering shrubs, climbing vines, or a branching tree. In the lower fields are sheep, as the tapestry moves up, birds rest within the branches.

Sermon On The Mount Tapestry large_006 Detail of The Sermon on the Mount showing the lambs, branches, and worshipers. Notice the rich variety of patterning and depth of color on the figures. Photo by Hadley Fruits.

These climbing, abstract elements helps provide movement and energy to the tapestry, balancing the white radiance of the Christ-figure with the wonder of nature. The movement of the geometric green, rust, and white blocks courses between the worshipers, much like the swag of triangles (are they flowers, butterflies, or perhaps something more abstract?) that flow through the maiden’s hands in the Festival of the May Queen hanging at Kingswood.

Cranbrook_Kingswood_8-31-15-0025-dc2_TAPESTRYFestival of the May Queen hanging, 1932.
Loja & Eliel Saarinen (designers), Studio Loja Saarinen (production). Loose linen warp and weft of wool and synthetic yarns; 216 x 192.” Photo by James Haefner, Courtesy of Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

The Columbus tapestry was woven by two Swedish weavers who’d worked for Studio Loja Saarinen (intermittently) since 1929: Lillian Holm, who also taught at Kingswood from 1933 until 1966, and Ruth Ingvarson. After previous projects for Loja Saarinen had been met with less-than-thorough credit given to the weavers themselves, Holm and Ingvarson demanded acknowledgement from Loja Saarinen in the press materials, as well as on the weaving itself–supposedly, Holm wove her name into the tapestry in multiple places.

After Holm and Ingvarson had completed their work at the loom, Loja worked on the hanging for weeks, unrolling it section by section on a large table in her studio and accentuating the colors through the inlay of additional threads into the primary weave. This was possible because of the discontinuous weft, known as the Handarbetes Vanner (H.V.) technique after the Stockholm school where it was developed, used in all of Studio Loja Saarinen’s large hangings.

The hanging is labeled on the reverse, with an ink-signed piece of appliqued fabric label listing Eliel, Loja, Lillian, and Ruth and their roles. Everyone’s names were also included in the invitation to the hanging’s reveal at Cranbrook in the winter of 1942, where it was displayed in the forty-foot high studio of Carl Milles.

LojaSaarinen001The Sermon on the Mount on display in Carl Milles’ Cranbrook studio. February 1942. Saarinen Family Papers, Cranbrook Archives.

Cranbrook neighbor and diarist Kate Thompson Bromley described the event in February 1942:

“It had been months in the weaving…One of the biggest tapestries woven in this country, and probably as beautiful as any, for the colors are soft and rich. The large studio [Carl Milles’] was the only place with a high enough ceiling at Cranbrook to hang it. At the end of that huge room it was decorative and glowing. It must have been a great happiness to the weavers to see it in place, for as they could only judge the section on which they were working.”

Once installed in Indiana, the weaving completed the remarkable church by Eliel Saarinen. Protected by curtains meant to shield the hanging from light and smoke, The Sermon on the Mount hangs opposite a wooden organ screen, which itself reads like a tapestry. Outside, the building façade and its glass-illuminated bell tower take on the grid and rhythm of weaving. Even the meandering lines and subtle arcs of the stone architectural ornament relates back to the design of The Sermon on the Mount.

In all its beauty, The Sermon on the Mount served as a high-point on which Loja Saarinen was forced to close her studio. As she wrote to George Booth, she was being “forced into” retirement because of a number of pressures: declining commissions, her husband’s exit from the Academy’s presidency, World War II, and a shift in focus for the Academy Weaving Department away from pictorial handweaving. Studio Loja Saarinen closed in 1942.

You can learn more about Studio Loja Saarinen, her weavers, and her products; see where the works were woven on campus; and visit Kingswood’s weaving studio and dining hall on my upcoming Behind-the-Scenes: Studio Loja Saarinen, 1928-1942 tours August 22 and 29.  You can also experience the exhibition on any of our regular Saarinen House tours. If you find yourself in Indiana, see the Sermon on the Mount any Sunday at First Christian Church or through tours with Visit Columbus.

-Kevin Adkisson, Curatorial Associate

Special thanks to Cranbrook Academy of Art graduate Hadley Fruits (Photography, 1990) for the contemporary color photographs of The Sermon on the Mount and First Christian Church.

Revel in the Clutter of Edward Fella’s 1972 Cranbrook Map

On the inside cover of the 1973/1975 Cranbrook Academy of Art Catalog is a hand-drawn, fold-out map of the campus. I’ve always liked this map, with its witty labels like “Brookside School for Little Kids” and “Another Famous Statue.”

Map of Cranbrook from 1973 Catalog by Edward Fella.jpg

Map of Cranbrook drawn by Edward Fella (CAA Design 1987), 1972. Printed on the inside cover of the 1973/1975 Cranbrook Academy of Art Course Catalog. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

On the top left, you’ll see “Athletic Fields (Detroit Lions practice here).” The map also documents the neighborhood: on the far right, “Houses of the Bloomfield Hills wealthy” and on the bottom left, “Used to be orchards here, now houses.” If you look nearby, you’ll see “Map drawn by Edward Fella 1972.”

There are other labels that help expand our understanding of Cranbrook in 1972. The Old Water Tower (a thorn in Saarinen’s side) is still standing, and Cranbrook House is listed as “Booth Estate, Cranbrook House, now Institute for Pastoral Studies.” There are still tennis courts where the New Studios and Middle School for Girls would be built. There’s no label for Saarinen House, instead, sandwiched between the “Foundry Studio,” “Architecture,” “Ceramics,” “Fabrics,” and “Metalsmithing” reads a label for “President’s House.” (Wallace Mitchell was the Academy’s president at the time). Although there are lots of cars and some people—I spy football players, an entrance guard, and a life guard—the only proper name I see is “McCoy Studio.” This makes sense: Ed Fella was a frequent collaborator with, and later a student of, Katherine and Michael McCoy.

Edward Fella is a native of Detroit who graduated from Cass Technical High School in 1957. There, he studied lettering, illustration, paste-up, and other commercial-art techniques. He went directly from high school into advertising work as a commercial artist, working primarily for automotive and health-care clients. He had a successful career in advertising for almost three decades in Detroit.

In the early 1970s, the period in which Fella drew our map, he was working on freelance work between more conventional assignments. These pieces were often whimsical collages of photocopied materials with hand drawing and lettering additions. In 1970, Fella met Katherine McCoy (future Artist-in-Residence at Cranbrook) at Designers & Partners, his employer, in downtown Detroit. As McCoy recalled to Design Traveler last year, “I interviewed with the senior design partner, Al Evans, who offered me a job that day and introduced me to Ed Fella as I left. I recall a 32-year-old Ed sitting at his drawing board smoking his usual cigarette in his studio space right by the studio’s front door. I was 25 and very impressed by his wall of books, stacks of magazines, and graphic ephemera pinned up everywhere.” She noted that Fella was “already a Detroit advertising design celebrity.”

McCoy only worked at Design & Partners one year, leaving in 1971 to head Cranbrook’s design department with her husband Michael. There, she would often invite Fella to present his work to students and offer critiques. As McCoy told the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA), “If anyone is meant to be a student and teacher in a rigorous educational environment, it’s Ed Fella. He was a powerful influence on our students.” It would have been around this time Fella was commissioned to produce the Cranbrook map for the 1973/1975 course catalog.

Cranbrook Academy of Art Cover for 1973 Catalog by Katherine McCoy

Cover, 1973/1975 Cranbrook Academy of Art Course Catalog, designed by Katherine McCoy. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

After over a decade “hanging out” in the “hippie” and “loosely structured” atmosphere of Cranbrook (Fella’s words), in 1985 at the age of 47 Fella entered into the MFA program at Cranbrook. Although older than his fellow students (and his department heads), Fella didn’t view his years of professional practice as an advantage: “At Cranbrook, I really was fortunate to be in such an amazing class dynamic…I used to say, experience never trumps a great idea; a 20-year-old can have one as easily as a 40- year-old…and it was certainly the case in that class!” He immersed himself into the era’s discussions about the postmodern movement. At Cranbrook, he also studied photography with Carl Toth and attended discussions with architect Daniel Libeskind (meanwhile, Fella’s two daughters babysat Libeskind’s young children).

Throughout his career, Fella produced work for local art cooperatives and events, like the Detroit Focus Gallery, Detroit Artist Market, and Cranbrook. Over 100 of these posters were donated in 2012 to Cranbrook Art Museum. It is in the experimental nature of these posters where we can see how Fella perfected his art of distorting text and collaging high and low imagery.

SONY DSC

Practice and Preach and Theorize and Teach! Edward Fella, American, 2004. One-color, offset-print on bond paper, 17 x 11 in. Gift of the Artist, Courtesy of Cranbrook art Museum.

In 1987 Ed Fella left Michigan to begin teaching design at the California Institute of the Arts. He recently retired from the school after a long career of mentoring and producing experimental works of graphic design. In 2014, he was awarded Cranbrook Academy of Art’s Distinguished Alumni Award. You can read and see more about Fella’s life, work, and education here in this excellent biography by Design Traveler.

Fella’s 2007 AIGA medal biography summarizes Fella’s career as: “prodigiously mashing up low-culture sources with high-culture erudition, Fella’s work—perhaps more than that of any other contemporary designer—makes visible the postmodern concept of deconstruction, which recognizes that behind every articulated meaning is a host of other, usually repressed meanings, some antithetical. By battering and mixing fonts, engaging in visual puns and generally violating the tenets of ‘good design,’ Fella lets a thousand flowers bloom. His designs don’t cut through the clutter—they revel in it.”

I think this quite aptly summarizes the joy I find in Fella’s Cranbrook map of 1972: reveling in the mashup of landscape, architecture, activity, and text. Fella captures the diversity and beauty of this unique assemblage we call Cranbrook.

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

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