To See a World in a Grain of Sand…

A recent research inquiry made me curious about the Great West Window, also known as the Women’s Window, at Christ Church Cranbrook.

Bloomfield Hills was sparsely settled when the church was built and, reporting on his visit to Cranbrook in July 1924, the architect Oscar H. Murray speaks of George Gough Booth’s intention to build a community church and school “to form the core around which this new district shall develop”.

The church was a gift to the Bloomfield Hills community from George and Ellen Booth, their five children and their families, all of whom donated to its construction and fabric. The local history of settlement in Bloomfield extends some hundred years before the building of Christ Church Cranbrook; yet its flourishing as a community for families and as a center of cultural activity begins with the church, the first of the original group of Cranbrook institutions. All the artworks at the church are beautiful and unique, but to me, none more so than the Women’s Window.

View of the Great West Window, Christ Church Cranbrook.

View of the Great West Window, Christ Church Cranbrook. Jack Kausch, photographer. Copyright Cranbrook Archives

The Women’s Window is the gift of James Alfred Beresford and Florence Booth Beresford. It was designed by James H. Hogan and fabricated by James Powell and Sons, (Whitefriars) Ltd, then based in Wealdstone, London, England. Established in 1680, their insignia is a whitefriar monk wearing a white cowl. Their original location on Fleet Street was in the Whitefriar district where a Carmelite order had once resided. The insignia is included in the Women’s Window, but at just a few inches high, it is impossible to see from the church floor.

Whitefriar close up

The whitefriar insignia of James Powell and Sons (Whitefriars), Ltd on Panel 16 of the Women’s Window of Christ Church Cranbrook. Kevin Adkisson, photographer. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

The key component of stained glass is silica from river sand. Modern stained glass is made of sand, lime, and soda and is more durable than the stained glass of the middle ages, which used ash instead of lime, making it more susceptible to the elements.

“The coloured glasses used in the making of the window are all the product of the Whitefriars works, in fact what comes to us in the form of sand, leaves us as a work of art in the form of a Stained Glass Window.” Adrian A. Buck, October 31st, 1927 (1981-01 20:9)

The glass pieces are fitted into cames—H or I shaped lead fixtures—which are then soldered together at the ends to form the design, and the whole window is supported by larger T bars and saddle bars. The Women’s Window stands 19 ½  feet tall and 8 feet wide.

As with most of the windows at Christ Church Cranbrook, the Women’s Window is made of antique glass—this does not refer to the age of the glass, but rather to its method of manufacture. It is hand-made glass using the traditional medieval method of glass blowing, giving it an irregular surface that adds to the effect of jewel tones. Other types of stained glass (cathedral and opalescent) are machine made and do not convey the same vibrancy of antique glass.

The Window’s aesthetic style is Gothic Revival and its coloring is thought to suggest the pre-Raphaelite influence of William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones, with whom Powell was acquainted and with whom George Booth found deep inspiration and kinship.

It features 60 women within 16 panels arranged in 4 tiers. Each panel depicts an area of contribution to sacred and secular life, including motherhood, Christ’s associates, early missionaries, early saints, religious orders, American church missionaries, educators, nurses, musicians, artists, poets, novelists, sovereigns, liberators, suffrage workers, and actresses. These panels are mediated by 6 smaller panels, each depicting two angels with shields portraying the fiery cross, the word of God, the mirror of truth, the flame of inspiration, the regal crown, and tragedy/comedy.

The women were selected from across history, from biblical times to 1920s, by the Rev. Samuel S. Marquis, the first rector of the church. Inscribed at the base of the window is the verse, “Her children rise up and call her blessed, and her works praise her in the gates” (Proverbs 31:28, 31).

The window has long been beloved by members and visitors to Christ Church. It was also the featured window of the Michigan Stained Glass Census in June 1998. The Women’s Window underwent restoration in 2004-2005 by Thompson Art Glass to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the church. Speaking at the time of its completed restoration, the Rev. Edward L. Mullins remarked that, “when the light shines through it, we see a wonderful picture of the world”.

– Laura MacNewman, Associate Archivist

Combining the beautiful with pleasant labor: illuminated manuscripts and the handprinting press

In celebration of “March is reading month,” I began thinking upon writing about something book-related. As I kept on thinking about it, I discovered more and more fun things, and ended up with a blog post that covers 1300 years of reading-related history that brings us right up to the minute; well, last weekend at least. Sounds like a lot for a short blog post but don’t worry, I’ve squeezed the first 700 years into one paragraph.

And so to begins with illuminated manuscripts, which were written and decorated entirely by hand—the only way to make a book in the medieval period. Reflecting the spiritual focus of medieval society, its art was always divinely-inspired. Illuminated manuscripts are among the most beautiful examples of how medieval artisans sought to create something glorious that was, at the same time, a thing to be used in everyday life. Illuminated manuscripts are most often liturgical texts, such as psalters, which were later superseded by Books of Hours. Medieval literary texts were illuminated as well, including those of Chaucer, Dante, and the tale of Tondal, written by an Irish monk in Germany. One of the most notable of early illuminated manuscripts are the Lindisfarne Gospels, which were written in 715 in the local vernacular rather than Latin. As paper did not enter the European market until the sixteenth century, illuminated manuscripts are made of parchment or vellum. The style of writing or script that you will see in early manuscripts is ‘book hand,’ also known as Anglicana in its slightly differentiated English style, and later texts may use Court or Secretary hand.

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A Leaf from the Gutenberg Bible, 1450-1455. Copyright Cranbrook Archives, Center for Collections and Research.

In 1440, Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press and henceforth the process of making books was changed. The Gutenberg Bible, as shown in the image above, is one of the earliest books printed using the printing press and it follows the Vulgate translation by St. Jerome that is also one of the earliest illuminated manuscripts. The introduction of the printing press did not put an end to beautifully decorated texts; they became handprinted and illuminated, rather than handwritten. George Gough Booth studied the work of the ancient printers, from Gutenberg and Ulrich Zell—from whom William Caxton learned the craft, to Caxton’s successor Wynkyn de Worde, and Nicholas Jenson. It is Jenson that Booth states perfected the art of printing by improving the Roman characters. The Cranbrook Papers are printed in a modern adaptation of Jenson’s Roman typeface.

Inspired by the work of ancient printers and William Morris’ Kelmscott Press, Booth established the Cranbrook Press in 1900. Text was created using a Lion Reliance Press, then the initials and borders were illuminated by hand by Booth himself. Between 1900 and 1902, nine books were printed and decorated in this way, including reprints of books such as the “Dictes and Sayings of the Philosophers” by Caxton, and “Utopia” by Sir Thomas More. The Cranbrook Press also produced original works such as the monthly broadsheet, the “Cranbrook Papers,” and books such as the “Pleasures of Planting”.

By studying the materials in the George Gough Booth Papers at Cranbrook Archives, we can learn about and understand his motivation and vision for the Cranbrook Press:

“…work most agreeable to my tastes and inclinations that combined the beautiful with pleasant labor and inspired by the record of ancient printers and the modern endeavors of Wm. Morris. I have sought here to begin a modest work for the pleasure of striving to do good work not out of harmony with my chosen life work”.

Although the Cranbrook Press ceased in 1902, Booth’s vision to combine the beautiful with good work has an enduring presence at Cranbrook Educational Community. The materials that are preserved and made accessible at Cranbrook Archives help us remember and perpetuate this vision in each of the institutions that form the community.

Last weekend, the Center for Collections and Research hosted an event in collaboration with Signal-Return in Detroit that really shows how the archives can inform our knowledge of local history and inspire the cultivation of handcrafted art. The event, ““Work Most Agreeable”: George Booth and the Cranbrook Press,” was a presentation and hands-on letterpress workshop where participants created handprinted poster with one of George Booth’s mottos using the traditional letterpress method that Signal-Return still employs.

The Center of Collections and Research hosts many events throughout the year, you can see what’s coming up next here and join the newsletter to keep up to date.

– Laura MacNewman, Associate Archivist

Katharine Rogers Adams, Kingswood School Headmistress 1931-1934

Katharine Rogers Adams was the Headmistress of Kingswood School from March 1931 through June 1934. The Announcement of Kingswood School brochure of 1931 tells us that she was born and educated in Philadelphia and later graduated from Wellesley College in Massachusetts. She taught in the high schools of New York and Connecticut for seven years and was awarded Master of Arts and Doctor of Philosophy at Cornell University. From 1926 until 1931, she was a professor of history and dean of the faculties of Mills College, California. In March 1931, she was selected as Headmistress of Kingswood School, following the resignation of Miss Gladys Adams Turnbach in December 1930.

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Katharine Rogers Adams Kingswood School Annual, 1932 1980-01 31:15 Copyright Cranbrook Archives, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

Despite the financial crisis of the Depression during Adams’ Principalship, she was successful in leading the school through the financial challenges of those early years, as well as championing its extensive library and establishing traditions such as the Christmas play, Honors’ Day, and yearbooks (see Clark, 2006, pp.57-58). From delving into the records to find out more about Adams, the story that engaged me was her involvement in the development of fine arts education. Faculty of the Cranbrook Academy of Art were employed to provide art education, with Maja Andersson-Wirde teaching Arts and Crafts in 1932-1933, and during the 1933-1934 academic year, students began to be taught painting by Zoltan Sepeshy, sculpture and drawing by Marshall M. Fredericks, and weaving by Lilian Holm.

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Letter from Katharine Rogers Adams to Eliel Saarinen, May 24, 1934
Kingswood School Records (1980-01, 13:3)
Copyright Cranbrook Archives, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

The discussion of art and science in education flourishes during Adams’ three years as Kingswood Headmistress and continues thereafter, with many drafts of statements to articulate the Cranbrook approach—the image below shows one version as edited by Eliel Saarinen in 1934. If the art of language is to clearly achieve understanding or to generate inspiration for thought, through words, I found this much accomplished in the following statement within a letter from Saarinen to the Cranbrook Foundation:

“To begin with this must be stated: the problem of “art” is to create new values, contrary to the problem of “science” which is the discovery of existing values” (Eliel Saarinen, Letter to the Cranbrook Foundation, Sept. 25, 1935).

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Precepts Governing the Cranbrook Educational Development, Eliel Saarinen, 1934
George Gough Booth Papers, (1981-01, 19:33)
Copyright Cranbrook Archives, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

The founders’ wish for students to develop an appreciation of art, and a knowledge of its history, toward the betterment of human life, is embraced by Adams, who was also well-accomplished in the art of language. In her address, ‘Many Mansions,’ at the first graduation ceremony for Kingswood School held on June 13, 1932, she speaks of another form of architecture—a mansion of character that houses an independent mind and an active soul inspired by learning and beauty and courage:

“Do we ever stop to think, to realize that we are builders, whether of this or of that? That every mental and physical action of ours is building? We would build well, you say, but to build we must have power, and to have power we must have knowledge, and in the words of Dante—‘knowledge comes of learning, well retained.’”

Adams’ address is scattered with poetry and literature, including that of Alan Seeger, Robert Browning, and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., as well as recollections of others from Lord Balfour to Leonardo da Vinci. But Adams is in harmony with the thoughts of George Gough Booth, that the words or stories of others are helpful insofar as they stimulate you to be “your own very best self” (see ‘Notes for an address not used’, late 1930s. George Gough Booth Papers, 1981-01, 1:20). Thus, she advises her graduands:

“Seek the one truth to your problem; there can be but one truth as there is but one sun. But build your mansion with many windows, the sun will shine through all.”

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Diploma Day Address, ‘Many Mansions,’ by KRA, Ph. D., Principal, on the occasion of the first graduation exercises Kingswood School Cranbrook, June 13, 1932, Kingswood School Records (1980-01 22:9) Copyright Cranbrook Archives, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

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Although in February of 1934, Adams initially sought and gained an extended summer leave for rest and repose, she resigned on May 23, 1934, at her physician’s recommendation.

– Laura MacNewman, Associate Archivist

Sources:

Elizabeth C. Clark. (2006). Beside a Lake—A History of Kingswood School Cranbrook. Cranbrook Press. pp.57-58

George Gough Booth Papers, (1981-01, 19:33)

Kingswood School Records (1980-01, 1:2-3, 6; 12:4; 13:3; 15:2; 22:9; 24:8; 31:15)

Using Archives—The Quest for the Gold Ciborium

The pursuit of historical truth, from national heritage to community identity or individual biography, depends upon archives—the portion of records selected for permanent preservation. In the west, recordkeeping emerged within the development of justice and administration—the earliest English law code is that of King Aethelberht of Kent, c.600, following the arrival of Augustine of Canterbury and the encouragement of peaceful dispute resolution. Henceforth, a fundamental and enduring feature of legal process comes to us from the Anglo-Saxons: the writ and the charter. Yet, throughout the early middle ages, grants and other legal deeds were made in public ceremonies where the attendant witnesses were the ‘memory’ of the act, not always supplemented by a charter. But, by the thirteenth century, documentary evidence had become necessary to prove ownership of land or other grants of the king, and records began to constitute the activity itself.

Over time, the type, format, and number of records has proliferated but those that are preserved, as archives, are the critical vestiges of ancient and recent memory—individual memories, institutional memories, national memories. They are primary sources essential to historical method to evidence claims of historical fact based on a reasoned interpretation of the records—these are the tasks of historians and scholars whose published research is found in secondary sources. Both types of sources are necessary when greeted with the archival FAQ, “I want to know more about this person, place, or thing—what do you have?” A recent request related to a church vessel, the “gold ciborium” at Christ Church Cranbrook. As is the case with any research, the starting place is to discover what has already been done. The first place to look for information on the art works at Christ Church Cranbrook is the Pilgrims’ Guide, first published in 1939, which guides visitors through the church with details of its artworks and craftsmen.

The Pilgrim’s Guide (4th Ed.), Thistle [Henry S. Booth], 1956

While the Guide is full of meticulously researched information, there was no mention of a ciborium. The reference files were similarly silent, except a photocopied memo from George Gough Booth dated 1927, listing a ciborium made by Arthur Stone (1992-01 5:2). And, sure enough, in the George Gough Booth Papers (1981-01, 22:7), there is correspondence with Arthur Stone about a gold-plated ciborium. Voilà! Well, not quite… it was not the right one. So, we found a photograph of it in the photo files, though it had no date, photographer or artist details, only the words “silver gilt ciborium”.

Silver Gilt Ciborium
Copyright Cranbrook Archives, photographer unknown.

An inventory written by Henry Scripps Booth in 1960 (1981-01 20:6) has two ciboriums listed—that of Arthur Stone and another one with blanks for the creator and date of creation. But, taking a step back to the contemporaneous records for the building of the church, there are detailed ledgers for its construction and decoration. If the ciborium was purchased by George Gough Booth, there would most certainly be a record of it. Looking closely at the ledger pages, it is clear that a ciborium was commissioned from three separate artists: A. Nevill Kirk, Arthur Stone, and Helen K. Mills. These have certificate numbers which can be matched up with the ‘Cranbrook Church notebook’. So, we know that a third ciborium was purchased from an artist called Helen K. Mills, and the notebook gives us the date, February 7, 1928.

There is correspondence with Kirk and Stone in the Christ Church Cranbrook series of George’s papers but none with Helen Mills. But there must be some elsewhere. When we are processing archives, we must carefully consider three things: content (who created the documents and what is in them?), context (in what circumstances were they created and why?), and structure (how do they relate to other documents in the collection and the institution?). These things can also be applied in using archives. So, in looking for correspondence with artists regarding artwork at the time of the construction of the church, there is another place to look—the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts correspondence. Here we find correspondence between Helen Keeling Mills, Helen Plumb, and George Gough Booth.

While records might initially be kept to evidence an activity, over time they are of historical value. They can help us understand a person, provide knowledge of an organization, contribute to knowledge of a craft or a culture, they inform us of the creation of an object so that it may be maintained and preserved in its most beneficial environment. Last, but not least, a document becomes an artifact in itself because of who wrote it, what it says, and because it is simply beautiful. This correspondence was kept initially to document his transaction with Helen as part of the wider collection of records for the church. But we can learn much more from it. We know something about the creative process of the ciborium—what it is made of, the saints depicted upon it, that it was sent to another artist after which it was damaged. We know the importance that Helen placed in her work and her regret of the damage. We can see George’s gracious response and understanding—his appreciation of her devotion to her work and the joy that will be taken in the object she created.

This research query helped to draw information out of the archive that was hitherto not expressly known. There is now a reference file to aid future researchers so that the knowledge is accessible with references to the records that document it, and the research process need not be made again. And so, just as teachers learn from their students, the archive and archivists learn from their researchers.

Laura MacNewman, Associate Archivist

Remember, Remember, the Fourth of November…the 1978 Guy Fawkes Ball

On Saturday, November 4th, 1978, the first Cranbrook Academy of Art Guy Fawkes Ball was held. The first in what became a long-running series of masquerade balls, it really put the fun into fundraising. The social event, organized by Academy staff and the Women’s Committee, also highlighted the connection between Cranbrook in Bloomfield Hills and its namesake, the village of Cranbrook in Kent, England (from whence the Booth family came) as Guy Fawkes is a well-known character in English history.

Flyer for the Guy Fawkes Ball, 1978. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Then who, you might ask, is Guy Fawkes? And why commemorate him with Guy Fawkes Night, often locally referred to as Bonfire Night? Cranbrook’s 1978 menu for the Guy Fawkes Ball described it thus:

“An English holiday celebrated with fireworks and bonfires, commemorating the apprehension of Guy Fawkes just before he planned to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605. Guy Fawkes’ gunpowder plot originated when James I refused religious freedom to Roman Catholics.”

The menu for the 1978 with the description of Guy Fawkes Night. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

The historic tale of Guy Fawkes is set against the backdrop of the religious divisions of sixteenth century England. King James I had ascended the throne only two years prior to the plot after his second cousin, Queen Elizabeth I had died. Elizabeth was born in 1533, the year of England’s break with Rome under her father, King Henry VIII. The thread of history can easily be pulled back from Guy Fawkes to the English Reformation. Yet, much to every historian’s delight, there is no end to the unraveling of history, such that, arguably, the English Reformation was the icing on a cake that was baked in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. You can read more about the Gunpowder plot here and here.

From an archival perspective, these links are useful in showing how archives can rectify widely held myths (e.g., Guy Fawkes was not the leader of the conspiracy); for thinking about how archives can be used to augment educational programs in schools; and experiencing how the digitization of archival records makes primary sources accessible to scholars and researchers around the world. And speaking of around the world, the Guy Fawkes Worldvue in 1997, saw Cranbrook Academy of Art alumna send postcards from as far as India, Austria, Scotland, Morocco and elsewhere with tales of Guy Fawkes sightings.

Postcards from the Guy Fawkes Worldvue, 1997. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

And so, back to the Guy Fawkes Ball! The first ball was so successful and entertaining, that another was planned the following year, and another. By 1982, the success of the ball won Roy Slade, President of the Cranbrook Academy of Art from 1977-1995, the title of ‘Commander of the Order of Guy Fawkes’. His collection of records is one of the many collections available for research at Cranbrook Archives.

And the appropriate verse from Mother Goose? It is this:

‘Remember, remember, the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot
I see no reason why the gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.’

The Guy Fawkes Ball, c. 1992 with Roy Slade (top left), Guy Fawkes Ball Chair Helen Guittard (top right), Greg Wittkopp and Dora Apel (bottom).
Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

Well, it seems that the plot has not been forgotten more than 400 years later. Here at Cranbrook, the Guy Fawkes Ball became an annual event for a substantial length of time… through the 80s and the 90s until the first decade of the new millennium.

Laura MacNewman, Associate Archivist

Man and the Starry Heavens—The Story of Michigan’s First Public Planetarium

“Science and Art are not only for the scientist and the artist, but are for everyone who longs to enrich himself with true cultural interests.”

-George G. Booth, letter to Dr. Samuel Marquis, June 6th, 1934

Astronomy was included in the curriculum at Cranbrook School from its beginning in 1927. Judge Hulbert was chairman of the Observatory Committee and, with Prof. Curtis of the Astronomy Department at the University of Michigan, pursued plans to create a school observatory in what is now called Hoey Tower. The tower conditions were not conducive to keeping a telescope and an alternative location was sought. Consequently, an observatory was included in plans for an Institute of Science designed by George G. Booth in 1930 and the telescope was moved there. William Schultz, Jr. supervised the relocation of the telescope. Schultz was a general science teacher from 1930 to 1969, and Head of the Science Department at Cranbrook School (1938-1965). He was also an Associate in Astronomical Education with the Cranbrook Institute of Science from 1945. You can read more about the history of Cranbrook Observatory here.

William Schultz, Jr., October 1967
Copyright Cranbrook Archives, Photographer: Harvey Croze.

By 1932, it was clear that expansion and a new CIS building was necessary. Eliel Saarinen designed the second building between 1936-1937, and it was dedicated in 1938. The CIS Newsletter of April 1937 reported:

“Even in its uncompleted state one is impressed by the beauty of the new building—the sheer simplicity of the architecture, the artistry of its mathematical precision. One feels that it not only embodies the spirit of a scientific institution in its severity of line, but that the details of design give it a unique individuality. From the empty air, as it were, Mr. Saarinen has created one more evidence of his architectural genius.” (Aimee S. Lambie (Ed.), CIS Newsletter, April 1937).

The newsletter also reported the addition of a Copernican planetarium, a gift of Mrs. George G. Booth. The planetarium was made to order in Munich, Germany.

In the spring of 1953, the Astronomy program began to include demonstrations of the constellations on the inside of the observatory dome, using a star projector designed and built by William Schultz, Jr. Schultz was already using the projector to teach astronomy in general science class at Cranbrook School because it produced, “an amazingly good illusion of the starry heavens”. Developed with a materials cost of 45 cents, Schultz’ innovation was a distinguished addition to the astronomy program, but it also created the impetus for a facility and a projection instrument of wider application.

Cover of the Cranbrook Institute of Science Newsletter, December 1952

In June 1953, the Committee on Education made a proposal for the purchase and installation of a Spitz Planetarium to the Annual Meeting of CIS Trustees. In December the same year, L. James Bulkley and Dr. Robert McMath were appointed and authorized to act as a committee of two to pursue the Spitz Planetarium. During 1954, CIS Trustee William Edward Kapp drew up architectural plans for the Planetarium addition at no fee as his contribution to the project. The Spitz Model A-1 projection instrument was also obtained, a gift of Detroit Edison Company. The construction contract was awarded to Killfoile-Wendeln Construction Co. and groundbreaking took place on March 30, 1955.

Groundbreaking ceremony for the Planetarium, March 30, 1955
Copyright Cranbrook Archives, Photographer Harvey Croze

Construction went on through the summer of 1955. The Planetarium was formally dedicated on September 30, 1955, with an Invocation by Rev. Robert L. DeWitt, remarks by Mr. Kapp, a dedication address by Dr. Alexander G. Ruthven, President Emeritus of the University of Michigan and Institute Trustee, comments by Dr. Robert McMath, and demonstration by Armand Spitz, the designer of the projector.

The dedication of the Robert R. McMath Planetarium, September 30, 1955
Copyright Cranbrook Archives, Center for Collections and Research

When it opened in October 1955, Robert R. McMath Planetarium was the first public planetarium in Michigan. The following photograph shows Dr. Robert McMath (left), Mr. Armand Spitz (center), and Mr. William Edward Kapp (right) at the dedication event.

The dedication of the Planetarium, September 30, 1955
Copyright Cranbrook Archives, Photographer Harvey Croze

Between 1956 and 1971, there were 17,289 demonstrations in the Planetarium and it was time for a new projector. Schultz supervised the renovation of the planetarium, which reopened in October 1973 with a new Spitz 512 Planetarium instrument. The planetarium has since undergone further renovation and upgrades, courtesy of the Michael and Adele Acheson family. You can learn more about astronomy and the current programs at the Acheson Planetarium here.

“The planetarium reproduces the great panorama of the heavens, supplementing the telescope, which provides the intimate view… [It] is a successful adjunct to other forms of teaching science, from elementary to university levels, and to the study of navigation, mythology, literature, and spherical trigonometry. But it is above all a useful, ever-ready device for aiding people of all ages and degrees of education to study the sky around them and to set them thinking in terms of a “master plan.” (Robert T. Hatt, March 1956, CIS Newsletter, Vol. 25, No.7.)

Laura MacNewman, Associate Archivist

 

Hidden Carvings: Misericords

Of the many beautiful works of art and ornament at Christ Church Cranbrook, I have noticed one type is much less documented than others: the misericords. I set out to explore the story behind these little hidden carvings. Misericords are hinged wooden seats that swing up to provide a supportive ledge in the choir stalls of churches and cathedrals—the choir, in the architectural sense, is situated within the chancel between the nave and the sanctuary.

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Christ Church Cranbrook choir stalls in the chancel taken from the south aisle of the nave, ca. 1946. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

The seat appears to be quite ordinary until you lift it up to reveal its carved underside. Traditionally, they were carved with mythological or real animals, foliage, or humorous scenes.

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The history of misericords goes back to the monastic churches of the middle ages, when the monks spent many hours praying in the choir. Their name comes from the Latin ‘miserericordia’ meaning ‘mercy’ or ‘compassion,’ stemming from ‘misereri’ (to have pity) and ‘cor’ (heart). Misericords were introduced into churches and cathedrals around the thirteenth century, so that elder monks could lean on them and didn’t have to stand unaided for the entire service.

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Architectural Drawing for Misericords in Choir Stalls Nos. 1-4 depicting pride, envy, gluttony, and covetousness, January 10, 1928. Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue Associates/Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

The misericord carvings for Christ Church Cranbrook were drawn by a designer with the initials ‘TCM’ at Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue Associates, who were also the architects of the church itself. The carvings for choir stalls 1-7 depict the seven deadly sins (pride, envy, gluttony, covetousness, anger, sloth, and lust). Choir stalls 8-16 depict more contemporary images reflecting life in 1927, including charlatanism in art, politics, machinery, jazz and prize fighting (8-12) and building the church, speed, big business, and prohibition (13-16).

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Misericord depicting “Speed,” represented by different modes of transportation (choir stall 14), the metal braces are a later repair. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

The misericord design for ‘building the church’ (choir stall 13) is particularly noteworthy for its representation of Oscar Murray and George Gough Booth extending the church by pulling it apart and adding another bay:

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Misericord depicting Oscar H. Murray and George Gough Booth lengthening the church (choir stall 13). Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

In George Gough Booth’s correspondence, I found this letter, which is instructive in discovering the creative process from idea to design to finished object:

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Letter from Oscar H. Murray to George Gough Booth regarding the misericord showing the building of the church, July 3, 1928. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

The letter tells us that the carver used a photograph of George Gough Booth (depicted on the right side of the misericord) to help with the details of the carving.

The misericords were carved by Irving and Casson of Boston, who also carved the screen between the narthex and the nave and the canopied vaulting above the choir stalls. However, the name of the carver is not recorded. Christ Church Cranbrook is celebrating its 90th anniversary on September 29. Also stay tuned for our ‘Ecclesiastical Structures of Detroit’ Day Away trip in the fall.

-Laura MacNewman, Associate Archivist

From Drawing to Driftwood: The Artwork of Wallace MacMahon Mitchell

During the Archive’s Reading Room relocation at Cranbrook Art Museum, we have been digitizing negatives for preservation and access. This has enabled a new collection for CONTENTdm which highlights the artwork of Wallace MacMahon Mitchell (1911-1977). There are thirty images so far, with more being added soon. Five of Mitchell’s paintings can also be viewed during tours through Saarinen House: Presidents/Residents, 1946-1994.

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Wally Mitchell in his studio, early 1940s. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

The collection features images of the rich diversity of Mitchell’s artwork, from his early drawings and still life paintings to his later geometric abstract works and painting-constructions. Mitchell’s later works include many driftwood sculptures and Plexiglas paintings.

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Driftwood in Three Sections, 1965. Estate of Wallace MacMahon Mitchell/Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

In 1946, two of his paintings were included in the European Exhibition of the Guggenheim-funded Museum of Non-Objective Painting. These two pieces, with two other paintings added in 1948, are now in the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. Between 1950 and 1962, Mitchell’s work was frequently exhibited at the Bertha Schaefer Gallery in New York. He was also commissioned to design murals, such as one installed at the University of Kentucky in 1962, based on his painting Turnabout Number One from 1952.

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University of Kentucky Mural, installed in 1962 based on a painting ‘Turnabout Number One’ from 1952. Estate of Wallace MacMahon Mitchell/Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Mitchell’s archival collection will be available for research again when the Archives Reading Room reopens in July. Mitchell’s collection contains professional papers relating to his studentship and work as an instructor and administrator at Cranbrook. It also includes interviews and correspondence related to Joan Bence’s 1983 publication, The Art of Wallace Mitchell. There are also audio-visual materials including negatives, transparencies, slides and photographs.

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Villa-Neuve-Les-Avignons, 1938. Estate of Wallace MacMahon Mitchell/Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Mitchell was born in Detroit in 1911. After receiving his BA from Northwestern University in Chicago, Ill. in 1934, he studied with Zoltan Sepeshy for a year (1934-1935). He then toured Europe before returning to Cranbrook in 1936 as a painting instructor. His career at Cranbrook spanned 1936-1977, during which time he taught Arts and Crafts at Cranbrook School (1944-1947) while he was painting instructor (1936-1956), he was Registrar for the Academy of Art (1944-1956), Director of the Cranbrook Art Museum (1956-1970), and President of the Cranbrook Academy of Art (1970-1977). A retrospective exhibition of his work planned for his retirement at the end of the 1976/1977 academic year became a memorial exhibition following his death in January 1977.

-Laura MacNewman, Associate Archivist

Sources:

Wallace McMahon Mitchell Papers (1990-21)

Chad Alligood, What to Paint and Why: Modern Painters at Cranbrook, 1936-1974 (Bloomfield Hills, MI: Cranbrook Art Museum, 2013)

Joan Beehler Bence, The Art of Wallace Mitchell – Cranbrook’s Op Art Master Colorist (Unpublished, 1983, 1996)

Wallace MacMahon Mitchell, 1911-1977: a memorial exhibition of paintings and painting-constructions, 1936-1976 (Bloomfield Hills, MI: Cranbrook Academy of Art, 1977)

Curiosity and Wonder: Life at Cranbrook and Beyond

I recently processed the James H. Carmel Papers, a small collection that largely consists of correspondence between Carmel and Cranbrook Institute of Science Director Robert Hatt from 1973 to 1989. It is wonderful correspondence that conveys an enduring friendship across the miles as, after Cranbrook, they lived on opposite sides of the country.

James H. Carmel, ca 1950s

One of the delightful aspects of their correspondence is their enthusiasm for their work, and how the interests that drew them into their professional roles remained with them after retirement. They never lost their curiosity and wonder, or their sense of humor. On a similar note, their love of Cranbrook did not end when they left campus, as they kept up with and discussed new developments that are shared through bulletins and newsletters. I feel sure that many readers of this blog site are just the same.

Carmel mounting ant specimens, 1955

James H. Carmel was the Assistant Preparator at Cranbrook Institute of Science between 1939 and 1942 when he joined the Army Air Corps. He returned to Cranbrook after the war and remained as Preparator, Trustee, and Head of Exhibit Section until 1973, when he moved to California to work for the George C. Page Museum in Los Angeles.

Cowfish and Queen Triggerfish in a Bahaman Reef, Coral Reef Exhibit, 1959

A notable exhibit that was supervised and assembled by Carmel was the Coral Reef Exhibit (1959), which was a reconstruction of the Coral Reef at Nassau made up of approximately 5,000 painted beeswax models. He is the author of Exhibition Techniques: Traveling and Temporary (1962). He died on July 30, 2016, aged 97 years.

-Laura MacNewman, Archivist

Tapestries – The Fabric of Society

As part of a module assignment for my MA in Archives Administration with Aberystwyth University (Wales), I have been researching a selection of tapestries that George Gough Booth purchased and commissioned from Morris & Co., Herter Looms, and Edgewater Tapestry Looms. I chose the theme of tapestry and time, inspired by Francis Thomson’s idea of tapestry as “mirror of history”. I was particularly interested in the Morris & Co. case study because I much admire William Morris as an artist and social reformer. Although the Morris & Co. tapestries that George Booth purchased were made after Morris’ death in 1896, they were made under the supervision of his former student, J.H. Dearle, who became Art Director in 1905.

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