“My On-Hangers”: Virginia Kingswood Booth Vogel’s Charms

At the Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research, we care for not only the historic objects on the campus, called Cultural Properties, but also the three-dimensional objects that often come in with Archival Collections, known as Realia.

These three-dimensional objects need different storage than the papers in archival collections. Often, these items are only listed as “Realia” in the Archives Finding Aids without individual descriptions- you have to pull out the box to know what is inside. For this reason, we are now recording Realia individually in our Collections Management System.

Recently, I have begun working to rehouse, catalog, and photograph the Realia in the Archives to make it more accessible and searchable. The first collection I worked on was the Virginia Kingswood Booth Vogel Papers, which contained some fun objects.

20190326_143259

Virginia Kingswood Booth on her European trip in 1920. Courtesy of Virginia Kingswood Booth Vogel Papers, Cranbrook Archives.

Virginia Kingswood Booth Vogel was born in 1908, the only daughter of Ralph Harman Booth and Myrtle Mary Batterman Booth. Ralph Harman Booth was a co-founder of Booth Newspapers and a brother of George Gough Booth, founder of Cranbrook.

“My On-Hangers” were what Virginia Kingswood Booth (Vogel) called the charms she collected on her European trip with her parents in 1920 at age 12. Virginia purchased the charms at the various stops on the trip. She found charms that represented the places they visited or an event that happened, like the cold she had (bedpan charm) or the baby born to a family friend (baby rattle). Some other examples are the globe, which represented the trip itself, and the 1910 Passion Play Medallion that was purchased when the family visited the town of Oberammergau, famous for (as readers of the blog know) its Passion Play. She would continue to collect charms on later trips, though none are as documented as those from the 1920 trip.

ARC1999_1_1_1

Globe charm representing, to Virginia Kingswood Booth, the start of her European journey.

ARC1999_1_1_49

1910 Passion Play Medallion.

These charms were originally stored in a box, wrapped in tissue, and tied together on strings. This made viewing individual charms difficult and, being tied together, caused unnecessary abrasion and wear. I removed each charm from the string and placed it in its own compartment in an acid-free tray. So that the charms would not get jumbled when moving the box, each one was sewn to a piece of foam.

20190326_113612

Some of the “On-Hangers” in their new, archival housing.

20190326_113800

Edelweiss charm in its new housing. The number indicates that the object is in Archives (ARC), in the Virginia Kingswood Booth Vogel papers (1999.1), in the 1920 collection of charms (.1), and that this is the 61st charm (.61).

Look for more fascinating discoveries in the coming weeks, as more Archival Realia is cataloged and rehoused.

-Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar

When the March Winds Blow

It is hard to think of Spring during this week of frigid temperatures, but I promise it is coming. Soon, the Cranbrook House and Gardens Auxilary will be out planting their gardens around Cranbrook House. In honor of the coming Spring, this week I share George G. Booth’s feelings on planting from his Pleasures of Planting and Other Thoughts which was printed by the Cranbrook Press in 1902.

George G. Booth, The Pleasures of Planting and Other Thoughts, Title Page. Printed by The Cranbrook Press and finished on August 30, 1902. Courtesy of Cranbrook Academy of Art Library.

George G. Booth, The Pleasures of Planting and Other Thoughts, Title Page. Printed by The Cranbrook Press and finished on August 30, 1902. Courtesy of Cranbrook Academy of Art Library.

The Cranbrook Press was established in the unused attic space in the Shelby Street office of the Detroit Evening News in 1900. In two short years, the Press produced nine books. Pleasures of Planting was one of three books written by George Booth printed on the Press. In it, he writes:

Don’t, I pray you, envy the man who has builded a house, or reared a monument in marble or granite; for I say unto you most truly that the cap-stone has no sooner been let unto its place and the builder attained the joy he dreamed of, than the work of his hands begins to decay and crumble before his eyes.

Portrait of Ellen S. and George G. Booth in the Oak Room at Cranbrook House. Photo by PD Rearick.

Portrait of Ellen S. and George G. Booth in the Oak Room at Cranbrook House. Photo by PD Rearick.

Choose, rather, for yourself the most delightful and beneficial of exercises, and plant. Plant when the March winds blow – plant when the gentle rains of springtime pour blessings on the earth – plant where the mother of us all permits it. Work not for glory in cold bricks and stone alone, but plant living things, and watch with joy the increasing glory of your labor.

Cranbrook House Dining Room with flowers on the table

Cranbrook House Dining Room. Photo by PD Rearick.

Stone, and iron, and brass cannot put flowers at the bedside of the sick, nor fill the air with odors of sweetness or furnish a soft and coll bed for the birds; neither will the grandest monumental piles fill the heart of the poet with sweetest songs or make us feel so truly that “God is good;” but under spreading branches of the trees rest is found, love flourishes, and all humanity drinks at the well of life.

Where ever you go, plant – rear monuments of elm and maples, of poplars and beech, and trees bearing fruit, and plant on your right hand and on your left the rose, lilac, snow-ball and syringa. Strew at your feet the sweet, life-giving flowers of summer, and live out your days in happiness.

Cranbrook House and Gardens Auxiliary volunteers plant in the Sunken Garden. Photo by Eric Franchy, Cranbrook House & Gardens.

Cranbrook House and Gardens Auxiliary volunteers plant in the Sunken Garden. Photo by Eric Franchy, Cranbrook House & Gardens.

There is something magnificent in such work. It fills the earth with beautiful scenes; wealth is added to the land, which grows richer daily; “there is something in it like the work of creation.”

Cranbrook House and Gardens Auxiliary volunteers plant in the gardens around Cranbrook House. Photo by Eric Franchy, Cranbrook House & Gardens.

Cranbrook House and Gardens Auxiliary volunteers plant in the gardens around Cranbrook House. Photo by Eric Franchy, Cranbrook House & Gardens.

Plant and see your plantation arriving at greater degrees of perfection as long as you live. If you want to be helpful; if you love your country; if you have regard for posterity – plant. You cannot be excused if you fail in this duty. Just put a few twigs in the ground and do good to one who will make his appearance in the world fifty years hence, or perhaps make one of your descendants easy or rich at such a trifling cost.

“If man find himself averse to planting, he must indeed be void of all generous principles and love of mankind,” and so I say unto you – Plant.

– Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar

Cranbrook Fire Department

Recently, the Center for Collections and Research received a Cranbrook Fire Department Firefighter’s Helmet. It had been given to Charles Zimmerman while he was a Police Officer at Cranbrook by one of the Vettraino brothers. Because of the new acquisition, I decided to read up on the Cranbrook Fire Department.

arc2019_1 (1)

Cranbrook Fire Department Firefighter’s Helmet. Gift of Frank M. Edwards.

In 1934, George G. Booth asked the Cranbrook Foundation to purchase a fire truck and equipment, essentially beginning the Cranbrook Fire Department. A fire hall was built in early 1935 to house the new truck – a 1934 Ford Truck V8 Chassis with a Proctor-Keefe Company body and fire equipment, including a 500-gallon Barton-American Pump mounted on the front of the truck.

In the existing Tower Cottage fire hall (built in 1921) was a 1934 Ford Pick-up with fire equipment and a Barton-American U-355 pump mounted on the front of the car; booster tank and fittings, 2 lengths suction hose, and a hydrant adapter. It had been purchased by George and Ellen Booth for use at the homestead property.

In 1935, after studying at the University of Michigan’s Fire School, Dominick Vettraino was named the Fire Chief. The Assistant Chief was his brother John Vettraino. All other firefighters were volunteers from the maintenance staffs of all the Cranbrook institutions. Because they were paid, the Chief or Assistant Chief was always on call, including Sundays and holidays, and lived on campus, but it was not until 1938, that the Cranbrook Foundation decided a residence for the Chief should be built next to the fire hall.

cec5892-10 (1990-15)

Cranbrook Fire Department Chief Dominick Vettraino. Dominick Vettraino Papers. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

To cover the cost of the department, and to pay the Chief and Assistant Chief, proportional interdepartmental support was required. The insurance savings to Cranbrook for having its own fire department ended up offsetting the cost of having the department and gave Cranbrook a better insurance rating than even the City of Bloomfield Hills.

cec5892-5 (1990-15)

Left to right: Louis Larson, Ed Morrow, Homer Murphy, Walter Powell, Donald Tompkins, Pete Peterson, Chief Dominick Vettraino, and Floyd Pickering, members of the Cranbrook Fire Department in 1944. Not pictured, George Leslie, John Winfield, O.D. Hillman, and John Vettraino. Dominick Vettraino Papers. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

The Cranbrook Fire Department protected all the Cranbrook institutions and residences as well as the nearby homes of the Booth’s children: the Beresfords, the Henry S. Booths, the Warren S. Booths, and Harry L. & Grace B. Wallace. Though strictly a Cranbrook institution, the department was always willing to assist neighbors in the community when possible.

For more great images related to the Cranbrook Fire Department, click here.

Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar

Might Willy not carve something for you?

Oberammergau, a small Catholic village in Bavaria, Germany, is known for its woodcarvers and for its almost 400-year tradition of mounting an elaborate Passion Play.

20181130_134047

The Village of Oberammergau, 1922. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

The Passion Play is performed in years ending with a zero. Due to economic instability, however, the 1920 performance of the Passion Play was postponed to 1922.

20181130_134027

Oberammergau Passion Play Theater, 1922. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

That year, Henry Scripps Booth and his friend J. Robert F. Swanson were traveling on a ten-month-long European tour and decided to see the rescheduled Passion Play. Henry and Bob stayed at Max Spegel’s pension in Oberammergau, Germany. It was there Henry met Herr and Frau Spegel, their sons Wilhelm and Max, and their daughter Sophie. After the trip, Henry corresponded with Frau Spegel and her son Wilhelm, until about 1937.

20181130_134144

Wilhelm and Max Spegel at their father’s Pension, 1922. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

20181130_134227

Henry Booth with Wilhelm and Max Spegel at their father’s Pension, 1922. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

In January 1924, Frau Spegel suggested, because some items Henry had ordered in Oberammergau had never arrived, “Dear Friend, might Willy [Wilhelm] not carve something for you?” From then on, Henry was agreeable to having the Spegel family carve wood panels, gates, doors, and ceilings for his new home, Thornlea.

20181130_134219

Wilhelm Spegel, 1922. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Carvings by the Spegels can be found throughout Thornlea:

Warming Doors

Warming Oven Doors in Thornlea Dining Room, 1926.

Wilhelm writes, in 1926, “I am sending you with this letter a pascel (sic) containing the two doors for the plate warmers . . . I myself have done all the carving and it took me about 55 hours . . . there is not much work for the wood carvers people have no mony (sic)

sideboard

In the Thornlea Dining Room is a Three-section Sideboard with Carved Panels, 1926-1929, incised with geometric, floral, figural, and animal decorations. Wood panels depict figures such as Adam & Eve, Lindberg, Chief Pontiac, and Columbus.

In order to help his friends, Henry designed a three-section sideboard, into which he inset carved panels done by Wilhelm and Max Spegel — the original idea was to have the panels used as a frieze around a room, but that never materialized. Henry paid the Spegels $8 per panel and let them have creative input into the design and subject matter.

Oratory ceiling

The ceiling of Thornlea Oratory, circa 1926.

The Spegels next created an elaborate set of ceiling panels for use in Thornlea’s Oratory. In a letter to Wilhelm in October of 1928, Henry writes, “The ceiling looks exceptionally well and we are thoroughly pleased with it. Everyone who sees your work certainly is complimentary towards it.

In 1929, Wilhelm had the idea to come to America, as jobs for woodcarvers were scarce at the time. He had asked Henry to “write a letter to the American Consulate in Stuttgart . . . so that they know who I am and that you have known me for many years.” There is no mention of the said letter in any of Henry’s replies but later letters indicate the move to America did not happen.

Henry and Carolyn Farr Booth visited the Spegels in Oberammergau in 1930, likely to see that year’s Passion Play. In the play, Herr Spegel was Rabbi Jakob, as he had been in 1922; Wilhelm was one of the man-servants of Pilate; and Max “will figure amongst the people.”

20181130_134803

Wilhelm Spegel, Carolyn Farr Booth, and Max Spegel in Oberammergau in 1930. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Letters from the Spegels stop in 1937. We do not know what happened to Wilhelm Spegel after 1937 except that he was married on April 17 of that year and died in 1951. We do know that Max Spegel (the younger) served in the German Infantry during World War II and died in service in 1942 at the age of 30. His name appears on the war memorial in Oberammergau.

One item of note, and a fact that Henry S. Booth himself pointed out in a letter to his sister: George G. Booth’s favorite woodcarvers John Kirchmayer and Alois Lang were from Oberammergau, Germany. Henry seemed happy to have found his own carvers in the same city.

Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar

Sisu, the Amazing Maija Grotell

Sisu is a Finnish concept described as stoic determination, a tenacity of purpose, grit, bravery, resilience; it is also the word weaver Marianne Strengell used to describe her friend Maija Grotell.

5278-3

Maija Grotell at Cranbrook Academy of Art Faculty Breakfast, 1939. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Maija Grotell was born August 19, 1899, in Helsinki, Finland. She studied painting and sculpture in Helsinki, graduating in 1920. While working at a textile firm as an artist, she completed six years of graduate work in ceramics (1920-1926) under Alfred William Finch, a noted Belgian ceramicist and painter who practiced in Finland.

In October 1927, Grotell immigrated to the United States, settling in New York where she studied for one summer under Charles Fergus Binns. Her first employment was as an Instructor at Inwood Pottery Studios in New York City (1927-1928). She went on to teach children at the Union Settlement (1928-1929) and at the Henry Street Craft School Settlement (1929-1937), both in New York. While teaching ceramics and researching glazes, Grotell was also exhibiting and selling her own ceramics. From 1937 to 1938, Grotell was a ceramics instructor and research assistant at the Department of Ceramics at Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey. She became a naturalized United States citizen in 1934.

1991-07 Grotell

Maija Grotell in the Cranbrook Academy of Art Ceramics Studio. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, “Maija Grotell was one of the most significant potters working independently during the late 1930s. Although a relatively large number of women played important roles in the art pottery movement in the early twentieth century, few female ceramists were active between the first and second World War. Grotell was one of the exceptions.

grotell hands001

Maija Grotell at work. From the Maija Grotell Papers, Cranbrook Archives.

As Eliel Saarinen’s complex of buildings at Cranbrook began to take shape, he sought out distinguished artists and craftspeople to work in the studios. Impressed with a gallery exhibition of Grotell’s work, Saarinen envisioned her ceramics contributing to the architecture of Cranbrook. In the fall of 1938, Saarinen invited Grotell to join himself, Carl Milles, and Marianne Strengell at the Cranbrook Academy of Art as head of the ceramics department, a position she held until her retirement in 1966.

Grotell described the way she worked as such, “I always have something I am aiming at, and I keep on. I do not sketch on paper, I sketch in clay. So if it is not what I want, I make another one and keep on. In that way I have many similar pieces. My reason is not for repeating, but for improving.”

4855

Maija Grotell overlooks her students in the Cranbrook Academy of Art Ceramics Studio, 1939. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

In her teaching, Grotell emphasized ceramics as a medium of artistic expression. Many students trained by her went into teaching and were integral to the development of America’s university ceramics programs following World War II. In her twenty-eight years at Cranbrook, her students included Richard DeVore, Toshiko Takaezu, John Glick, Susanne Stephenson, Lydia Kahn Winston Malbin, and Jeff Schlanger.

Of Grotell, Takaezu said, “Majia’s astute, honest, sharp criticism would sometimes fall into place months later, but it was always true. Maija didn’t say very much and what she didn’t say was as important as what she did say, once you realized she was thoroughly aware of everything you did.”

CEC23.jpg

Under This Roof Six Dreams Were Dreamed and All Came True – 1908, 1961. Commissioned by Henry Scripps Booth and executed by Maija Grotell, the vessel commemorates the founding of Cranbrook. Courtesy of the Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

Her “astute, honest, sharp criticism” may have been what Marianne Strengell was thinking of when she started calling her Sisu. She had the tenacity to tell her students the truth; no holding back to spare feelings.

SM2017-273.png

“MG” signature on the bottom of a vessel at the Frank Lloyd Wright Smith House. Courtesy of the Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

Throughout her career, Grotell actively engaged in research on glazes. She developed copper reds, ash glazes, intense blues, and crackle glazes. One of her original discoveries was the use of chromium and iron in place of uranium to produce a brilliant orange glaze. Her work opened the door to the architectural uses of glazed, colored bricks in midcentury architecture, including those used by Eero Saarinen at the General Motors Technical Center (1953-1955).

20181109_150159

A glaze recipe from the Maija Grotell Papers in Cranbrook Archives.

She died on December 6, 1973, in Pontiac, Michigan, but Grotell’s glaze formulas remain a large part of her legacy. Another legacy came in 1977: the “Arts & Craft Court” at the Cranbrook Academy of Art was renamed the “Maija Grotell Court” in her honor.

Exceptional that such a strong, well-respected woman was so influential at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in its formative years as well as the art world.

– Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar

Links:

Maija Grotell Papers, Cranbrook Archives, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.

“Mary, Maija, and Toshiko: Re-Thinking Open Storage in the Collections Wing.” Cranbrook Kitchen Sink. Website.

The Marks Project, The Dictionary of American Studio Ceramics, 1946 Onward. Website.

Cranbrook’s Fresh Air Camp

George G. Booth referred to it as the “Fresh Air Camp.” Located on the northwest end of Glassenbury (later Kingswood) Lake, the small camp served a very altruistic purpose.

In the 19th century, romantic poems and novels had people suffering from “consumption” — leading artists of the day like John Keats and Frederic Chopin suffered from it — but this “white plague” was not romantic, it was tuberculosis. Tuberculosis is a bacterial infection that attacks the lungs. In the 1880s it was established that tuberculosis was contagious and spread through the air like a cold or the flu. In the early 20th century, tuberculosis was the leading cause of death in the United States.

The foremost thinkers of the day believed that the cramped conditions in cities and the lack of access to what was known as “good air” was spreading the disease. Many open-air camps, fresh air camps, open-air schools, sanitoriums, preventoriums, and tuberculosis hospitals began to spring up in the countryside around large cities. By 1900, fresh air camps were commonplace in Britain, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand. The concept was that fresh air, good ventilation, and rest could cure tuberculosis.

CEC001

Cranbrook Estate, circa 1906, looking north from the future site of Cranbrook House. Fresh air camp circled in red. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

We don’t know much about the Booth’s Fresh Air Camp — when it was started, how long it was on the property, or who the campers (patients) were. All we have are pictures as evidence it existed here at Cranbrook and that George G. Booth’s farm in Bloomfield Township was a perfect location for such a camp.

Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar

Weeping Zeus

A folly, in landscaping terms, is a ornamental building or tower with no practical purpose built in a large garden or park. Around 1961, Mr. and Mrs. Henry S. Booth placed a small folly on the grounds of Cranbrook. However, for anyone wanting to play a joke on a friend, this folly has a very practical purpose.

IMG_2531.JPGWeeping Zeus (or more formally Zeus of Otricoli [Roman copy of Greek original]) is a marble bust comprised of the shoulders, chest, and head of the Greek god, Zeus. The chest is carved to resemble draped cloth. The curly hair has a wreath in it, and the beard is curly with a full mustache. The bust is set on top of a concrete block column.

This sculpture has an interesting and complex history. It was carved of Carrara marble in Italy in the early 19th Century and soon afterward became a decorative feature of the manor house of Abercairny, Crieff, Perthshire, Scottland. It remained there for well over 100 years until it sold at auction. Henry Scripps Booth purchased the bust in 1961 from Michael Brett of Broadway, England. Brett had purchased it from the Abercairny the year before. The manor house, once visited by Queen Victoria, was demolished in 1960, hence the sale of sculptures from the estate.

IMG_2535.JPGHere at Cranbrook, it would seem the father of the Greek gods finds the peace of this Michigan mountain dull in comparison with the revelries of either Mt. Olympus or his later home in the Scottish Highlands. It is reported tears well up in his eyes and sometimes gush forth. The sculpture became a folly (and why we call him Weeping Zeus) after Henry had holes drilled through the eyes to allow water to flow (squirt, really) out.

In reality, he’s not crying on his own. Have your guest stand in front of Zeus while you, as their friend, stand on the special stone that activates water to splash the guest from Zeus’s eyes.

As Summer comes to a close, invite that one friend who always pulls tricks on you for a beautiful walk through Cranbrook House Gardens and introduce them to Zeus.

Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar

Note: Weeping Zeus is located on the Mountain in the Cranbrook House Gardens, up the stairs directly opposite the House’s front door. Cranbrook Gardens is open daily from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm, May 1 through October 31. Admission to Cranbrook Gardens is FREE for the 2018 tour season, courtesy of presenting sponsor, PNC Bank, and sponsors, All Seasons Independent Livingfleurdetroit, and Roberts Restaurant Group

A Face Above Beauty

Sometimes we walk past something 100 times and see it but never really “notice” it. For me, it is the masque of “Art”  (left) in the Cranbrook School Quadrangle, near the dining hall. It is a woman’s face beautifully created by sculptress Elizabeth Palmer Bradfield, but, as always, there is more to the story.CR1588-2

Elizabeth Virginia (Palmer) Bradfield (1875-1954) was born in Port Huron and grew up in Pontiac. Her grandfather was Charles Henry Palmer (railroad and mining developer who established the Pewabic mine in the Upper Peninsula). The Palmer family was well known in Pontiac and their house still exists on Huron Street. In the months before her wedding, Elizabeth traveled to Paris with her parents, where she studied sculpture at the Académie Julian in Paris. In 1896, she married Thomas P. Bradfield.

63541262_133164903264

Elizabeth Palmer Bradfield with her mother, Mrs. Charles H. Palmer, Jr. Source

Thomas and Elizabeth Bradfield lived in Grand Rapids, Michigan, until 1904. The Bradfields and their two children (Virginia Palmer Bradfield Ward and Thomas Palmer Bradfield) later settled in Pontiac, Michigan, where Bradfield lived until her death in 1954.

In 1914, Bradfield began exhibiting her work — first paintings, then sculpture — in the Scarab Club’s Annual Exhibition at the Detroit Museum of Arts, alongside such artists as Myron Barlow, Katherine McEwen, and James Scripps Booth. The Scarab Club honored her sculpture “Myra” with their first presentation of the annual Scarab-Hopkin Prize for Sculpture. She exhibited again in 1915, 1916, 1917, and 1921. In 1921, she won “Honorable Mention” for her bronze sculpture “Baby’s Head.”

It is likely George Gough Booth met Bradfield at one of these exhibitions; correspondence between them began in 1926 when Booth purchased a small bronze of a dog from her.

Dog CEC 188

Dog, 1912, by Elizabeth Palmer Bradfield (CEC 188).

Booth then commissioned her to model “two large groups of Great Danes ready for plaster cast” to be displayed at Cranbrook School. These sculptures were to be approximately 6 feet high, by 2 feet wide, by 3 feet tall, but subject to Eliel Saarinen’s approval. Bradfield used the studio and architectural office, without expense to her. It is not known if Bradfield ever completed these large dogs, or if Saarinen negated the idea, but the sculptures were never realized in full scale. Milles’ “Running Dogs” probably replaced them on the Cranbrook Campus.

The masque of “Art” was purchased by Booth in October 1927. It was exhibited in two shows. One was in March 1929 – the annual exhibition of the Detroit Society of Women Painters. It was written up in the Detroit News, which said, “The masque has the imponderable quality we find in things of lasting beauty.”

It was then in the first Cranbrook Art Museum for several years before being installed over the “Beauty Arch” in Cranbrook School’s Quadrangle.

CR1588-2.jpg

The “Art” Masque, that “lasting beauty,” hangs over George Booth’s famous quote, “A life without beauty is only half lived” on the so-called “Beauty Arch” in Cranbrook School’s Quadrangle

Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar

Related links:

Clothing worn by Elizabeth Virginia (Palmer) Bradfield

Biographical information

“His Heart and Soul into each Madonna, Saint, Commoner, or Angel”

Johannes Kirchmayer, also known as John Kirchmayer, was born March 31, 1860, in Oberammergau, Bavaria. Oberammergau is known for its Passion Play, something the whole town participates in every year it is performed. As a young man, Kirchmayer had the role of Joseph (of many-colored-coat fame) in the play. “We have the statement from John, himself, that the ‘Passion Play’ was a great influence in his early life.” (Prouty, p. 18). It meant Kirchmayer was well versed in biblical history, which would serve him well later in life.

The village of Oberammergau is also known for its long tradition of woodcarving. After he learned to carve from his grandfather, and later his Uncle Georg, a professional carver, Kirchmayer spent a number of years taking classes in Augsburg and Munich, Germany, and in London and Paris perfecting his craft. In 1880, at the age of 20, Kirchmayer moved to Boston, Massachusetts. There, he found work creating mantels, stairways, home decorations, and furniture. However, his greatest passion seems to have been ecclesiastical works, perhaps influenced by the Oberammergau Passion Plays of his youth.

CEC1844.jpg

Undated portrait of Johannes Kirchmayer (1860-1930). Courtesy Cranbrook Archives

Kirchmayer’s friend Stanford White, an architect, introduced him to a number of other architects. He soon found work with cabinetmaking and decorating firms that were working on commissions in churches, businesses, institutions, and private homes. Kirchmayer had close working relations with a number of prominent architects and artisans and was, in 1907, a founding member of the Society of Arts and Crafts, Boston.

After 1898, working for the Boston furniture and architectural woodworking firm Irving and Casson, Kirchmayer worked on the buildings of the noted American Gothic-revivalist Ralph Adams Cram, a prolific architect of collegiate and ecclesiastical buildings.

Kirchmayer’s notable work around Boston include carvings in The Church of the Advent; All Saints’ Church; the Second Church; and Unity Church. He also designed part of the Anderson Memorial Bridge over the Charles River.

His work outside the Boston area includes carvings in Christ Church Cathedral, Springfield, MA; the Church of Saint Mary the Virgin, West 46th Street, New York City; St. Mary’s Anglican Church, Windsor, Ontario; the Church of the Saviour, Syracuse, New York; and the James J. Hill House, St. Paul, Minnesota.

Shirley Prouty, his biographer, wrote that “John Kirchmayer did not use drawings, charts, or schematics to immortalize his saints; He studied and planned and started with a block of wood. On this piece of oak, mahogany, boxwood, cherry (he used many kinds of wood), he would draw the nude figure. He had studied anatomy as a student in Augsburg, thereby learning to proportion arms and hands, legs and feet, and an overall balanced subject. This preliminary sketch on wood was in charcoal. Then he would draw the draperies in color as they would appear in the final rendition.” (p. 27)

George G. Booth made Kirchmayer’s acquaintance through their Arts and Crafts activities and soon became one of his most ardent patrons. Booth commissioned Kirchmayer to produce carvings for Christ Church Cranbrook, Cranbrook House, and the Booth Collection of decorative arts at the Detroit Museum of Art.

CECT75_4_19.jpg

1918 carved portrait of George G. Booth, in Cranbrook House Library, by Kirchmayer. Courtesy Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

It is said that Kirchmayer “put his heart and soul into each Madonna, saint, commoner, or angel he was carving.” (Prouty, p. 29). He also followed the old Bavarian custom of leaving one’s visage somewhere in your work.

At Christ Church Cranbrook, Kirchmayer’s works include the “Doubting Thomas Door,” which features images of the craftsmen who worked on the church, including Kirchmayer; the ornamental screen covering the wall at the back above high altar with “Triumphant Christ” at the top; the Lectern; the Chapel Doors and Lectern in the Resurrection Chapel; and a Madonna in Parish House.

doubting_thomas.jpg

“Doubting Thomas Door,” Christ Church Cranbrook. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

kirchmayer_doubting_thomas (2)

Kirchmayer left his visage as the woodcarver on the “Doubting Thomas Door”. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

At Brookside School, Kirchmayer created corbels (projections jutting out from a wall) of the four Evangelists.

brookside detail 4.jpg

Corbel representing St. John the Evangelist at Brookside School. Courtesy Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

At Cranbrook House, Kirchmayer carved many works. The largest commission was the impressive paneling of the Library, including the “Personification of the Arts (Religion Inspiring the Arts)” overmantel, which featured Kirchmayer as the woodcarver.

CCR_08_03

Kirchmayer’s “Personification of the Arts (Religion Inspiring the Arts)”over-mantel in Cranbrook House Library. Photograph by P.D. Rearick, Courtesy Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

CCR_08_10

Detail of Kirchmayer’s “Personification of the Arts (Religion Inspiring the Arts)” over-mantel in Cranbrook House Library. Note that the woodcarver (behind the bishop) is depicted as Kirchmayer himself. Photograph by P.D. Rearick, Courtesy Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

CCR_08_12

Detail of Kirchmayer’s “Personification of the Arts (Religion Inspiring the Arts)” over-mantel in Cranbrook House Library. Photograph by P.D. Rearick, Courtesy Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

He also created items like a reading desk and bench; linen-fold paneling in Oak Room; a blanket chest; four carved Gothic finials in the corners of the Library; and a small figure of himself for the Booths. George G. Booth particularly enjoyed his reading desk and bench, which Kirchmayer created for the Booths’ library in 1919 from a sketch that Booth had supplied. (Prouty, p 100).

CEC1842.jpg

Snapshot of Johannes Kirchmayer in front of the New Silver Beach Hotel in North Falmouth, MA, circa 1928. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Kirchmayer’s work can be found in many prominent cities: from Minneapolis-St Paul, to Detroit, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Columbus and Quincy, Ohio, Baltimore, Washington D.C., New Haven, New York City, Providence, Boston, Concord and Peterborough, New Hampshire, Portland, Maine, as well as in The American Church in Manila and in Walkerville, Ontario, Canada. Perhaps his prolific work across the globe is the reason why, shortly before his death, Kirchmayer received the “Craftsmanship Medal for Distinguished Achievement in Wood Carving” by the American Institute of Architects. It is the only time the award has been given for woodcarving.

Johannes Kirchmayer died at his Cambridge, Massachusetts home in 1930.

– Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar

Sources:

Johannes Kirchmayer from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johannes_Kirchmayer

Mark A. Coir, Cranbrook Art Museum: 100 Treasures (Bloomfield Hills, MI: Cranbrook Art Museum, 2004)

Shirley Prouty, Master Carver, Johannes Kirchmayer, 1860-1930: From Germany’s Passion Play Village to America’s Finest Sanctuaries (Portsmouth, N.H. : Peter Randall Publishers, 2007

Library Gets [New] Historic Look

Recently, after years of research and investigation, the carpeting in the Cranbrook House Library was restored to its original appearance.

SONY DSC

The previous rugs were donated to Cranbrook House in the 1990s but were not historically accurate.

By studying images of the Library in Cranbrook Archives, we could determine that in George and Ellen Booth’s lifetimes there was a large, solid carpet on the floor, not the oriental rugs seen in recent years.

A review of the Cranbrook House 1921, 1933, 1937, and 1949 inventories (itemized lists of the house’s contents for insurance purposes), as well receipts and historic images, revealed the style and color of the rug: Axminster mottled brown or taupe. This may sound boring, but monochromatic rugs were chosen by the Booths to draw visitors attention up to the furnishings, books, elaborate carvings, and tapestries in the Library.

Axminster was both a brand name and specific type of carpet. Axminster is cut pile carpet (a style of carpet where the woven loops are cut leaving straight tufts of carpet). It derives its name from the small town in England where the process of weaving its distinctive style was created. Looking for a modern, cost-effective equivalent, made in the same fashion as the original Axminster, led us to Bloomsburg Carpet Industries, Inc. They have woven wool broadloom Aximinster and Wilton carpets in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania using traditional methods since 1976. With the help of interior designer (and Cranbrook Academy of Art Board of Governor) Lynda Charfoos, we were able to select a color that both closely matched the description “‘mottled’ brown or taupe” and also looked great with the tones and colors of the Library.

On April 30, we cleared the Library so that on May 1, the rugs could be installed by Carpet Design Group, LLC.

KDA_0278

Workmen from Carpet Design Group fusing together the four sections of the carpet.

The Library was reinstalled the next day with a new floor plan based on careful examination of historic photographs and itemized lists of what sat where. Watch the slideshow to compare historic images to the reinstalled room:

We feel guests and staff alike will enjoy this return of the original look to the Library. It will allow the carvings to pop, the colors in the tapestries to appear stronger, and make for a more historically accurate room. Continuing to keep the Booth house looking its best is all part of helping to tell the Cranbrook story to guests from the neighborhood and around the world.

Cranbrook House_5-14-18 Jim Haefner

Photograph by Jim Haefner. Courtesy of Jim Haefner and Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

The Center would like to thank the following, without whom this project would not have been possible: Cranbrook Educational Community, Cranbrook House and Gardens Auxiliary, Lynda Charfoos, Bloomberg Carpet, Carpet Design Group, and Chet’s Cleaning Service. Special thanks also to Jim Haefner for photographing the Library.

Come see the new look of the Cranbrook House Library this summer on a Cranbrook House and Gardens Auxiliary house tour.

– Leslie Mio, Associate Registrar

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: