Minks in the Rainforest

The week of May 19, the Center for Collections and Research hosted the Eastern Michigan University Historic Preservation Program as they conducted their annual Field School. The EMU Historic Preservation Program is among the largest graduate programs in Historic Preservation in the United States, and this was their third year working at Cranbrook.

Two groups worked on documenting the exterior and landscape of Lyon House.

Lyon House Site Plan with Landscape Features, documented May 19-24, 2019 by Eastern Michigan University Historic Preservation students.

Lyon House Site Plan with Landscape Features, documented May 19-24, 2019 by Eastern Michigan University Historic Preservation students.

The third group once again tackled Tower Cottage. The cottage started its life as a simple Tudor Revival cottage that was designed by Albert Kahn, who also designed Cranbrook House. Built in 1908, it mimics the style and design of Cranbrook House. The cottage itself has seen many changes but over time it has retained its original character and style. Tower Cottage, along with Cranbrook House, is among the original structures belonging to the Booth family.

Tower Cottage circa 1915 with water tower behind.

Tower Cottage circa 1915 with water tower behind. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Long unoccupied, the building’s historic window sashes required rehabilitation, painting, and replacement of missing pieces. The students restored a number of windows and worked on a paint analysis of Tower Cottage with Ron Koenig of Building Arts Conservation.

Ron Koenig of Building Arts Conservation discusses paint sampling with the EMU students.

Ron Koenig of Building Arts Conservation discusses paint sampling with the EMU students. Photo Desai Wang, CKU ’19.

What they discovered was far more colorful than the simple brown paint that adorns the house now. Koenig took various samples of the trim, stucco, and window sashes. He did preliminary examinations on site, looking through a special magnifying glass to see where best to sample.

Desai Wang, CKU '19, the Center's Senior May student, looking at the sample on the window sash.

Desai Wang, CKU ’19, the Center’s Senior May student, looking at a sample on a window sash of Tower Cottage.

In his workshop, Koenig used a microscope to see the various layers (or campaigns) of paint. From this microscopic sample, he was able to determine the color of paint used on the house in the 1920s  – the era when the additions to the house were completed by architects J. Robert F. Swanson and Henry Scripps Booth.

Microphoto of the color campaigns of the Tower Cottage sashes, South Elevation. Courtesy Building Arts & Conservation.

Microphoto of the color campaigns of the Tower Cottage window sashes, south elevation. Courtesy Building Arts & Conservation.

Koenig matched the sample to a color on the Munsell color system (a system to visually identify and match color using a scientific approach) and from the Munsell color to a Benjamin Moore paint color. Our colors were Mink (#2112-10) for the trim and Rainforest Foliage (#2040-10) for the window sashes. The secret to historic paint colors is that while a company such as Benjamin Moore, founded in 1883, may change a color’s name, the reference number stays the same. If you know the identification number of a paint that you had in 1949, you could find the same color in the catalog today.

We couldn’t keep this great color combination to ourselves. We decided to paint a sample of it on some of the windows at Tower Cottage.

Rainforest Foliage green sashes and Mink brown trim at Tower Cottage, June 2019.

Rainforest Foliage green sashes and Mink brown trim at Tower Cottage, June 2019.

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Close-up of the green sashes and brown trim on Tower Cottage, June 2019.

Next year, should our friends form EMU return for their field school, the rest of the cottage’s trim and windows can be painted with its historic colors.

Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar

Sunscreen for Smith House: UV Window Film

Sunlight is the enemy of artwork and textiles. As the sun’s rays filter through unprotected windows, they cause fading. In addition to colors changing, sunlight can cause holes in fabric, paper to become brittle, plastics to fall apart, and wood to warp.

Woven Tapestry by Urban Jupena.

You can see the effects of light and heat from the windows on the woven tapestry by Urban Jupena in Smith House. On the left is the part exposed to sunlight, and on the right (folded back) is the underside that has been protected.

Recently, the Center had a Conservation Assessment for Preservation (CAP) done for the Frank Lloyd Wright Smith House by ICA-Art Conservation. In the report, one of the recommendations was to protect the artifacts in Smith House from visible and UV light streaming in the wonderful floor-to-ceiling single-pane windows of the house.

Rear exterior view of Smith House.

Rear exterior view of Smith House.

To protect the house, we would either need to create storm windows to apply to the outside, put up shades on the inside, or apply a UV-blocking film to the windows. As you can imagine, the storm windows and shades would alter the look of the house, so they were rejected outright. The UV film, however, was something we could consider.

What we discovered is that not all films are created equal. There is dark film, light film, mirror film, frosted film – we needed a clear film that diffused 99.9 percent of the harmful ultraviolet light but still allowed natural daylight into the house. Every company promised theirs was the best and gave the most protection. How would we choose? This was a pretty long-term decision. We decided to turn to the experts.

When there is a question about the condition, the best environment for collections, or the damage caused by environmental factors, we turn to experts called conservators. We were able to find some studies of the effectiveness of window film by conservation experts published in the Western Association for Art Conservation (WAAC) Newsletter: UV-Blocking Window Films for Use in Museums and the follow-up Aging Properties of Select UV-Blocking Window Films.

After we got through all the scientific talk about procedures and data and met with product representatives at the house, we landed on a film. Aging Properties of Select UV-Blocking Window Films stated that “CPFilms (Llumar and Vista) performed well according to all criteria used. None of the films tested showed a significant change in UV absorbance . . . Because this brand easily met all our criteria, it can be strongly recommended with regard to optical performance”

Llumar/Vista films had performed well in the conservation studies, they had the clear film we were looking for (SpectraSelect VS61 SR CDF), and we had a distributor/installer in the area: SRF Enterprises, Inc. William Kish, the owner, stood behind his product with an excellent warranty, personally acting as the installer of the film, and proof that the product lasted, in some installations, for up to 40 years.

Bill Kish of SRF Enterprises, Inc. installing window film in Smith House.

Bill Kish of SRF Enterprises, Inc. installing window film in Smith House. Can you tell where he has put the film and where he has not?

Other benefits of the film: you can still clearly see in and out of the windows; there is reduced glare from the sun; the textiles will last longer and book jackets can stay on (they were beginning to crumble and fade); and the house will be cooler in the summer. Finally, the windows will be safer. When Smithy installed the windows, they were not safety glass. With the film on the windows they now function as safety glass should one ever break (heaven forbid).

Rear exterior view of Smith House after the installation of the window Film.

Rear exterior view of Smith House after the installation of the window film.

All of this research for Smith House served us well– we decided to use it in the Studio at Saarinen House to protect the textiles on display in our 2019 exhibition Studio Loja Saarinen.

Bill Kish of SRF Enterprises, Inc. installing window film in Saarinen House Studio.

Bill Kish of SRF Enterprises, Inc. installing window film in Saarinen House Studio.

To learn more about conservation, you can read “What is a Conservation?” on the American Institute for Conservation and the Foundation for Advancement in Conservation website or attend our free 2019 Bauder Lecture with Timothy Whalen, Director of the Getty Conservation Institute, this Sunday, May 5, 2019 in de Salle Auditorium. Whalen will discuss the Getty’s conservation work in the tomb of Tutankhamen, repainting sculpture by Louise Nevelson, restoring building of Louis Kahn and other modern masters, and the future of conservation and cultural preservation.

Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar

Look up! Studio Loja Saarinen Ceiling Murals

The Center for Collections and Research’s newest intervention in Saarinen House opens on Sunday, April 28: Studio Loja Saarinen: The Art and Architecture of Weaving, 1928-1942.

In researching the exhibition, Collections Fellow Kevin Adkisson has discovered many remnants of the Studio in the Archives, Art Museum Collections, and on the campus of the Cranbrook Academy of Art. One part of the Studio remains that you’re likely not familiar with: the weaving allegories by Katherine Sibley McEwen (1875-1957), one of the founders of the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts and a friend of George G. Booth. Her eight allegories and border elements were painted directly onto the ceiling of the former Studio Loja Saarinen Weaving Room — now the studio of Elliott Earls, Artist-in-Residence and head of the 2D Design Department at Cranbrook Academy of Art.

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Studio Loja Saarinen Weaving Room, 1930. Bouquets by Anne Frykolm (left), Cranbrook Rug No. 1 by Maja Andersson Wirde (floor), furniture by Eliel Saarinen (center), weaving allegories by Katherine McEwen (ceiling). Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

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Ceiling murals designed and executed by Katherine McEwen in what was once Studio Loja Saarinen. Each is an allegory of weaving. Photo by PD Rearick.

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Winding thread on the bobbin – detail of ceiling murals by Katherine McEwen in what was once Studio Loja Saarinen. Photo by PD Rearick.

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Collecting the thread – detail of ceiling murals by Katherine McEwen in what was once Studio Loja Saarinen. Photo by PD Rearick.

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Harvesting cotton and flax (linen) – detail of ceiling murals by Katherine McEwen in what was once Studio Loja Saarinen. Photo by PD Rearick.

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Harvesting silkworms and shearing wool – detail of ceiling murals by Katherine McEwen in what was once Studio Loja Saarinen. Photo by PD Rearick.

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Detail of the decorative borders by Katherine McEwen along the ceiling of what was once Studio Loja Saarinen. Photo by PD Rearick.

McEwen executed other works at Cranbrook, including the magnificent frescoes at Christ Church and a witty history of education series in the lower level of the Cranbrook School for Boys Dining Hall.

This Sunday, April 28, 2019 from 1-5pm visitors will have the very rare opportunity to see the Studio Loja Saarinen murals as part of the Academy’s Open(Studio) event–just follow the signs to the 2D Department. At the same time the Center’s special Studio Loja Saarinen show will be opening in Saarinen House, incorporating six historic Studio Loja Saarinen rugs and tapestries new to the house, dozens of archival and new color photographs, and a handful of small personal accessories from Loja Saarinen. And, the loom is up and running and Cranbrook Kingswood students will be giving hands-on demonstrations.

If you can’t make it to the opening, the Studio Loja Saarinen exhibition may be viewed on both public and private tours of Saarinen House during the 2019 Tour Season, Friday, May 10, 2019 through Sunday, December 1, 2019.

– Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar

“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.

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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Wilhelm Spegel, 1922. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Carvings by the Spegels can be found throughout Thornlea:

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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)

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.”

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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.

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“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).

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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.

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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

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