A Final Reflection (2002-2018)

The “bananas went a-missing” and Kingswood School’s Chiquita Banana Scholarship. The thief who stole the (attributed to) Rembrant Peale portrait of George Washington and the mysterious return of Perseus on the porch of the Thornlea Studio Archives. Gates and andirons and architectural details like the lead conductors at Cranbrook House designed by New York metalsmith Oscar Bach. Cranbrook’s mid-century modern Edison House, the House of the Poet (never realized thank goodness!), Chanticleer Cottage (which used to be the chicken house), Walnut Cottage, Tower Cottage, and Brookside Cottage (also known as the Honeymoon Cottage or Stonybrook) which evolved from the original pump house.

Unidentified man on bridge (no, it is NOT George Booth) with the pump house in the background, ca 1915

And the people! The Italians who literally moved mountains of dirt and rocks, graded the roads, and built the stone walls and beautiful rock gardens that lined the campus.

Landscape architect Edward Eichstaedt, who designed the original planting plan around Jonah Pools and later worked on landscape design for Eero Saarinen’s General Motors Technical Center. The women who left their mark at Christ Church Cranbrook – Kathryn McEwen, Hildreth Meière, and silversmith Elizabeth Copeland. Cranbrook School’s art teacher John Cunningham and his mosaics (which can still be seen today) Kingswood School’s French teacher, Marthe Le Loupp, and Brookside’s dietician Flora Leslie.

Eichstaedt’s 1934 Planting Plan for the Lower basins

Notable national celebrities connected to Cranbrook: Leonard Bernstein, Dave Brubeck, Amelia Earhart, Henry Ford, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Anne Morrow Lindbergh to name just a few. But perhaps most interesting to me was learning the stories of those not so well known: Ebba Wicks Brown – the first registered female architect in the state of Oregon who came to Cranbrook to study architecture with Eliel Saarinen. Colonel Edwin S. George, a Detroit businessman and philanthropist who was affiliated with Cranbrook in a variety of ways – most notably for his contributions to the Institute of Science. Myrtle Hall – the first African American model at the Cranbrook Academy of Art and Cleo Dorman – another model who was infamous for collecting paintings of her done by famous artists. And so many, many more names still swirling around in my brain.

Curatorial scholars at work

Perhaps my greatest joy here has been to help researchers find the answer to their questions, and to guide them towards collections that they might not have thought of – which has often led to a change in the course of their research. I am very proud of the fact that Cranbrook Archives has an international reputation for exemplary service and for being so organized and easy to use. I will miss working with the many students, faculty, staff, researchers, and scholars as you have taught me as much, if not more, than I have taught you. Thank you for that.

And, thank you to the Cranbrook Kingswood Senior May students and the many archival graduate students who have worked on projects over the years, and a special thanks to the most amazing volunteers! We couldn’t have accomplished all that we have without you.

Graduate student (left) and dedicated volunteers at Thornlea Studio Archives

I will close my final Cranbrook blog post by doing what I have tried to do my entire 16 year career here – promote Cranbrook Archives. In the archival profession, one constant issue many of us face is how to demonstrate to our institutions and constituents the importance of an archives – why archives matter. I could wax on, but instead I leave you with this article in the hopes that all who read it will have a new appreciation for the work that archivists do every day to preserve institutional memory. History matters. Archives matter. I am proud that I played a small role in preserving Cranbrook’s rich history.

And on that note, I bid adieu.

Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist (2002-2018)

The Mystery of Sven Hedin

Who was Sven Hedin? A Swedish explorer and geographer known for his expeditions to Central Asia, Dr. Sven Hedin created detailed maps in areas including Tibet, Turkestan, and northwest China. He is probably best known for his rediscovery of the buried Silk Road settlement of Khotan in 1896.

By 1910, Hedin had made acquaintance with fellow Swede Carl Milles and they became lifelong friends. Milles, who always admired Hedin, created a sculpture in 1932 to honor his friend.

“I made this at Cranbrook. For a long time I had wished to make a monument for him, and started it here. When Sven came to see it, he brought some other gentlemen with him. After looking at it he said ‘But Carl, this is wrong. I never look at the sextant when I am on the camel. I always get down from the camel, for the camel moves.’ Milles replied ‘But my dear friend. Do you think all skippers jump in the blue sea when they want to look at a sextant, just because the ship moves?'”

From 1927-1935, Hedin organized the Sino-Swedish Expedition (watch the video) during which he investigated the archaeological, geographical, and topographic features in Inner Mongolia, the Gobi Desert, and Xinjiang, China. He spent the remainder of his life occupied with a publication dedicated to his findings.

From the Carl Milles Papers, Courtesy Cranbrook Archives

Hedin – the sculpture, not the man – made another exploration – this time from the grounds of Cranbrook to Hazel Park, Michigan. In August 1945, the 500 pound bronze sculpture of Hedin disappeared from its pedestal at Cranbrook Institute of Science. Shortly afterwards, a janitor at Hazel Park High School discovered the sculpture embedded in cement and perched upon a large rock in front of the school! School officials did not know the sculpture had come from Cranbrook so two weeks after reporting it to the police, Hedin was chipped out of the cement and stored in the basement of the school. School Superintendent John Erickson commented “those culprits did a real job of cementing it to the rock. Our janitor had to work hard to free it.”

Fast forward to December 1946 when Alton Sheldon, a salesman of janitor supplies, overheard men at Cranbrook talking about the wayward sculpture. Sheldon told them he had seen the statue in the Hazel Park High School basement, and that Cranbrook had better hurry down to get it before the school sold “Hedin and his camel for junk!”

Needless to say, Hedin returned to Cranbrook, a little worse for wear – quite scratched and missing his telescope. The sculpture was ultimately shipped to Sweden for restoration. Upon its return, noted explorer Sven Hedin was once again mounted on his pedestal where he remains today.

– Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

First Female Graduates

We recently had a query in the Archives about who the first woman was to receive an MFA at the Academy of Art. Actually, there were two – both in Ceramics. Edna Vogel’s bio can be found in a previous blog post. The other woman was Florence Kee Chang, a Chinese-American from Hawaii. Born in 1915 in Wahiawa on Oahu Island, Chang attended the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland, California after high school, where she received her B.A. in Art Education in 1942. She immediately applied to Cranbrook, where she studied ceramics with Maija Grotell, weaving with Marianne Strengell, and took a course in Metals with Harry Bertoia.

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Chang’s bowl and vase acquired by Cranbrook Academy of Art in 1943 as part of the Acquisitions Honors. On the right is Chang’s mark.

In May 1943, Chang was part of the first class of MFA graduates at the newly accredited Academy of Art. She and Vogel were the only two women to receive degrees that inaugural year. In addition, the Academy purchased two of her pieces of pottery, for which she received an “Acquisitions Honor.”

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Although she was from Hawaii, Chang adapted well to winter in Michigan! Courtesy Margueritte Kimball Papers.

Very little is known about Chang after she graduated. In 1955, she traveled to Japan, where she worked for two years as an arts and crafts director for the U.S. Army as part of what became known as The Army Crafts Program. Chang returned to Hawaii where she passed away in 2001.

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Chang’s 1942 Christmas card reflects the Academy Art’s sculpture and architecture.

If you have any further information about Florence Kee Chang, please contact us!

– Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

“Smoking and Coking”: The Kingswood Senior Cabin

In March 1940, Kingswood girls were invited to party at Cranbook School’s senior cabin. (George Booth had given the boys the gift of the senior cabin in December 1927.) While the girls had known about the cabin, their visit really brought home the fact that they did not have one to enjoy for themselves. Spearheaded by then sophomore, Mary Adie ‘42, the Kingswood girls began to push for their own cabin.

Henry Scripps Booth supported the idea and was the architect. The cabin had an open floor plan with a fireplace, bathroom, and a small kitchenette. Bench seating lined the window wall that looked out over the brook. The Cranbrook Foundation paid for the structure which cost $2392. The Kingswood School Board of Directors felt that student involvement would help stimulate class and school spirit, and that the cabin would provide an informal respite from the rigors of the school day. The girls raised money and paid for furnishings themselves (from Sears), and even made curtains to decorate the space. Each successive senior class left their mark by adding something to the décor. Mr. Wentz made a wrought iron screen for the fireplace which featured the Kingswood seal. Mrs. Dow contributed a combination radio-Victrola which was very popular as it played twelve records simultaneously! And eventually, the girls even got a telephone.

View of the Senior Cabin (left) with the Western Playfield Shelter, 1963. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives

Once the plan was approved, a location was determined. Then Headmistress, Margaret Auger stated: “I thought I was very clever” when she sited the cabin on the edge of the Kingswood School grounds – close enough where there could be adult supervision, but far enough away so it did not seem as if the faculty was spying on the students. Ground was broken November 19, 1940, and the girls had a housewarming party May 9, 1941 with juniors and the outgoing seniors. The party became an annual “right of passage” which transferred the rights to use the cabin from one class to another. The cabin was so popular that initially there was a column in The Clarion called “Cabin Close-ups!”

Kingswood Seniors hanging out, Feb 1957. Notice the décor.

The cabin was used for a variety of leisure activities. Bridge club was held on Wednesdays, which was the only time that girls were allowed to smoke on campus. Auger’s smoking rule was that students could smoke cigarettes at the cabin, but only on Wednesdays, when faculty member Josephine Waldo was there to supervise. (She, by the way, was a smoker herself). The catch was that if Auger found out that the girls smoked on any other day of the week, she would close the cabin. By far, one of the best parts was that the girls could drink cokes – by the case full! During exam weeks, girls took study breaks at the cabin and revived themselves by “smoking and coking.” In 1964, smoking at the cabin ended when Michigan State law outlawed cigarette smoking for  minors under the age of eighteen.

Smoking and Coking, Dec 1952. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

As time went on, various updates and changes were made to the cabin. However, by 1966, the foundation of the building had begun to erode. In the early 1980s, the cabin was only used as a restroom facility for Kingswood School outdoor events, end of year parties for the Girls Middle School field hockey team, and by Academy of Art students as a space to build the models for the Design in America: The Cranbrook Vision 1925-1950 exhibition. The cabin faced increased neglect. There was not enough interest or funds to maintain or repair it and it in the mid 1990s it was demolished. The boys’ Senior Cabin still stands today.

Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

Squawk Like an Animal

While many of us know that George Booth’s acquisition of a mineral collection formed the nucleus of the Institute of Science, who knew that Cranbrook once maintained a zoo? In 1929, Cranbrook’s “Natural History Museum of the [Cranbrook] Foundation” was established (it was the pre-cursor to the Institute of Science) with naturalist W. Bryant Tyrrell as the director. In addition to the mineral collection, Cranbrook’s “modern scientific” museum also had a small collection of taxidermied birds and mammals which were housed in what is now the Academy of Art administration building. A workshop was set up in the basement which doubled as a preparation space and classroom where Tyrrell taught Cranbrook School boys about natural history. Tyrrell was also instrumental in designing the science portion of Cranbrook’s first exhibition space.

When the first science building (designed by George Booth) was constructed in late 1930 on Sunset Hill, plans were made for a small zoo which would eventually house smaller mammals, reptiles, and amphibians of the Great Lakes Region in “pens of modern design.” With Tyrrell’s experience as a taxidermist and naturalist at both the Field Museum in Chicago and the Detroit Children’s Museum, Cranbrook’s Natural History Museum found itself the recipient of live raccoons, snakes, frogs, and even a mother skunk and her babies.

Feeding Shelter, Mar 1930. W. Bryant Tyrrell, photographer. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Soon, the informal Cranbrook zoo spilled out of the rear of the new building and down into the small ravine behind it. Temporary cages for the animals were placed along the edges of the ravine, and were of considerable interest not only to the Cranbrook School boys but also to the general public. The first issue of the Institute’s Newsletter (November 1931) stated that “the zoo is growing rapidly, and is beginning to achieve quite professional proportions with the addition this month of a wildcat, red fox, several weasels, and three white rats. The rats were loaned by [student] J. O’Connor of Cranbrook School.”

Cranbrook School boys with flying squirrels, May 1930. W. Bryant Tyrrell, photographer. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives

However, not all were so enamored with the idea of live animals including George Booth, especially when a black snake was found in the hallway by one of the secretaries who fainted in fright! And, in fact, the Institute did not have the resources to support a really good zoo. Ultimately, several factors contributed to the demise of the short-lived zoo including a new curator for the museum (which led to Tyrrell’s resignation in June 1931) and the formal establishment of the Institute of Science in 1932. The national-wide financial crisis and the Bank Holiday of 1933 put a final end to Cranbrook’s brief foray into zookeeping.

Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

The Tale of a Bodhisattva

Nearly every day I run across some previously unknown person or event relative to Cranbrook’s history. My latest obsession is with a Chinese wall painting purchased in 1939 by George Booth for the Art Museum’s collection. Sadly, it is no longer in our collection, but the story is quite interesting nonetheless.

As early as 1916, Booth was acquiring Chinese objects from the Japanese dealer Yamanaka & Company, and soon after from Duveen Brothers and the Parish-Watson Company in New York, Spink & Son in London, and Gumps in San Francisco. As was customary, dealers maintained a relationship with their clients via letters often suggesting objects they might be interested in and including photographs and catalogs. In 1939, Booth began a relationship with the well-known Chinese dealer, C.T. Loo, who had offices and gallery space in both New York and Paris.

Bodhisattva from the Five Dynasties Period. Cisheng Monastery, Wenxian, Henan Province, China. You can clearly see where the wall painting had been cut into three sections in order to remove it from the temple.

Loo was widely considered one of the most prominent, and controversial, dealers in Chinese art and artifacts in the early twentieth century. Loo traveled annually to China to hand-pick the objects he wanted, many of which were chiseled out of or pilfered from ancient Buddhist Temples and monasteries. Daisy Yiyou Wang, Curator of Chinese and East Asian Art at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, and the pre-eminent scholar of Loo, stated “he is remembered as a culprit for the depletion of the nation’s cultural heritage.” Loo justified his practice by stating that he was preserving China’s history by getting the objects out of China – that the Chinese couldn’t or wouldn’t take care of them! In 1915, after a visit to the U.S., Loo opened a gallery in New York. His first sale was to Charles Lang Freer.

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The three sections were shipped to Paris and reassembled by restorers there.

Booth’s first interaction with C.T. Loo came in the fall of 1939 when he acquired two Chinese bronzes. In correspondence about the bronzes, Loo also suggested to Booth a large “fresco” (or wall painting) which stood thirteen feet tall. After consultation with Eliel Saarinen, Booth acquired the work, which arrived in January 1940.

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Part of the detail drawing of the Art Museum’s east wall. Saarinen designed a recessed panel which housed the painting. AD.11.236, November 5, 1940. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives

In December 1941, John Gettens of the Fogg Museum examined the painting and found it to be in generally good condition. It was of the “usual mud wall of Chinese temple paintings” which included organic matter – straw, seed hulls, and rice. It was covered with a very thin white coating of kaolin, and the colored pigments were malachite, azurite, red iron oxide, yellow ochre, vermilion, and white clay.

The painting hung in the main gallery of Cranbrook Art Museum for more than thirty years. In 1974, the Museum Committee unanimously decided to sell the painting instead of pay the $5-6,000 to have it restored. Funds from the sale were to go towards the care and restoration of other works in the collection, as well as for renovations to museum storage space.

Tracing which shows the location of small areas of in-painting by Cranbook’s Marshall Fredericks, October 1941. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Thus ends the saga of the Chinese temple wall painting at Cranbrook as we do not know its whereabouts today. Other temple paintings can be found in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Princeton University Art Museum, and the Toledo Museum of Art.

Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

The Devil Made Him Do It

In a grassy meadow (once called “Frisbee Valley”) at the bottom of Suicide Hill is a line of boulders – a sculpture colloquially known as Snake Rock. Actually titled “Lucifer Landing (Real Snake in Imaginary Garden)” or Lucifer Landing for short, the sculpture was designed by American artist Richard Nonas using thirty-nine boulders which zigzag in a serpentine line. One could describe the boulder with the sharp-angled end as resembling the head of a snake, while the rest of the boulders (relatively the same height as each other) taper to the tail section, which appear like rattles. While some think the boulders, which weigh a collective seventy tons!, were found on Cranbrook’s grounds, they were actually acquired in Clarkston, Michigan and represent a cross-section of the type of rocks deposited by the glaciers in Oakland County.

Richard Nonas, 1989. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives, Jane Knirr photographer.

Nonas was invited by Cranbrook Academy of Art’s Head of Sculpture, Michael Hall, to join other major artists like Alice Aycock, Mark DiSuvero, Dennis Oppenheim, and Robert Stackhouse in exhibiting temporary sculpture installations across campus. Funded by the Academy of Art Women’s Committee and Gilbert and Lila Silverman, Lucifer Landing was installed in 1989 – the first sculpture to be placed on campus since the 1970s. Twenty Academy of Art students helped put the boulders in place.

Trained as an archaeologist, Nonas was known for sitting abstract works in wood, stone, or metal directly on the ground. He said “it amused me to place something at Cranbrook that [Eliel] Saarinen might have seen as a child in Finland. There are prehistoric stone monuments near his boyhood home.” While working on the sculpture, Nonas developed a great respect for Cranbrook’s sense of place, and wanted to construct a small form that changed as you walked by and around it – a “sculpture that activates its space, that confuses you a little, keeps you involved in it as you walk past it.” A form that looked almost natural but really couldn’t be.

Lucifer Landing, October 2017. Photograph by the author.

The sculpture’s title suggests the relationship between man and not-man, man and nature, and nature as it was before man. Nonas described how Lucifer, the rebel angel who was expelled from heaven, came to Cranbrook and left an intrusive mark in the Cranbrook landscape, creating an “itch he [Saarinen] couldn’t scratch.”

NOTE: For an excellent article “A Mark of Place: Lucifer Landing Past, Present and Future” on the mistaken dismantling of the sculpture in February 1999, see The Crane-Clarion’s June 1999 issue. Cranbrook Kingswood senior and associate editor Erica Friedman discussed the Cranbrook landscape and how we must face the “problem of destruction passing for progress” – a topic many Americans, including those at Cranbrook, continue to face today.

Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

The Littlest Rebel

In March 1936, Henry Scripps Booth traveled to California to meet up with his parents who had been wintering out west. Henry spent three weeks at The Desert Inn in Palm Springs where he went for walks, painted, and wrote many letters home to his wife, Carolyn. The following letter from him describes the famous people he saw while there.

“Desert Inn pepped up yesterday. There were three hundred fifty extra for lunch out-of-doors . . . Monte Montaigne (I believe that’s his name) entertained the people with trick roping acts and riding his trick horse, but I knew nothing about that until it was all over. I did see the horse in his private trailer parked in the grounds, however.

“But the guest of guests is none other than little Miss Shirley Temple who has come here with her mother and a mother’s friend to spend a couple of weeks.”

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Letterhead, March 1936. Henry Scripps Booth and Carolyn Farr Booth Papers, Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Temple and her family were frequent visitors to The Desert Inn, often around the Easter holiday. In 1936, the Temples stayed there after Shirley had completed filming “Captain January” and “Poor Little Rich Girl.”

“The new King of bally old England could hardly cause the other guests to take more notice. A waitress called my attention to her last night at dinner, sitting at right angles to me only two tables away. Everybody was craning his neck to have a look at her, and those who left the room first all sat by the door so they could see her make her exit. When she came out and walked over by the office, most everyone suddenly had business over there too. Monte Montaigne and his wife and baby were there, and as the Temples talked to them, the crowd became fictitiously interested in the baby also. It is the same story where ever Shirley is.

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Henry Scripps Booth, photographer. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives

“This morning she was out trying to bat tennis balls one of her bodyguards was batting to her. A few other children were in on the play. The gallery consisted of at least six people nearby and a lot of others (like Myself) in the distance. Later when she was throwing a ball to a dog, people were talking movies and generally going ga-ga over her. When I came back from the pool where I had been painting this afternoon, I did see her without spectators, but of course with the guard who in reality is her playmate, and another guard in uniform. The two of them had a lot of dried peas and were shooting them with a sling-shot just like the Littlest Rebel.

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Henry Scripps Booth, photographer. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives

“She is not pretty, but certainly is cute. Her hair is curls all over of sort of a deep taffey [sic] color. She is very blond with pink cheeks. She screws up her face when she talks, has a twinkle in her dark eyes, and sort of minces around in her usual movie manner. She is very well behaved, sitting at the table and eating her dinner as good little girls should, and generally taking the attention she gets with good grace. Both nights she has taken a doll to dinner; last night a girl doll, tonight an Indian chief with a feathered headdress. She has a pink coat more or less like Cynthia’s [Henry’s daughter], but short as the French would have it so her bare legs are seen pretty much all the way up. She played around today in sort of drab slacks with a jacket to match. Their cottage is by the pool so I will see a good deal of her.”

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The pool at The Desert Inn, 1936. Henry Scripps Booth, photographer. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives

NOTE: In December 1937, Nellie Coffman, owner of The Desert Inn, dedicated the bungalow to Shirley Temple. Held in front of family, hotel visitors, and the press, the ceremony featured nine year old Shirley who christened the bungalow not with a bottle of champagne, but with a bottle of milk.

Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

Operation Mercy and an Academy of Art Sculptor

In January 1957, members of the Academy of Art’s Student Council came across an article in Newsweek magazine about the plight of Hungarian refugees to the United States following the 1956 Hungarian revolt against Soviet domination. Moved by the story of the artist featured in the article, the students decided to act and conceived and executed a plan to finance a semester of study at the Academy for one of the artist refugees. During the weekend of January 19-20th, Academy students held a sale of their own artwork, and supplemented by their own meager cash funds, raised $2,600 for a fund administered entirely by the Student Council. The Academy of Art added enough funds to present an artist with a scholarship for one year of study.

Members of the student council wrote to various organizations including the American Hungarian Federation and the Central Department of Church World Service in order to identify an artist who might qualify for the scholarship. Under the provisions of the 1953 Refugee Relief Act, from November 1956-June 1957, the U.S. government processed over 31,000 refugees at Camp Kilmer in New Jersey through a program called “Operation Mercy.” Most refugees stayed an average of twelve days before a resettlement location was found for them.

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Detroit News, 18 May 1958, Courtesy Cranbrook Archives

The artist sent to Cranbrook was Laszlo Ispanky (1919-2010), a 38-year old sculptor whose interest in art started at a young age. His father owned a restaurant in Budapest near a large sand mine, which soon became Ispanky’s canvas. His sand art was recognized by a man who suggested that he become a sculptor, so Ispanky eventually graduated from the Hungarian Fine Art Academy. In November 1956, during the Hungarian revolt, Ispanky and a friend escaped to Vienna where they sought asylum in the United States.

 

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“Two Sisters,” Laszlo Ispanky, c. 1958, bronze, 17 1/2 x 9 x 6 inches, CAM 1984.45, Gift of Peggy de Salle. Image courtesy Cranbrook Art Museum.

Ispanky had been unable to work creatively under Communist rule. He once commented “In a Communist country, you have to be a Communist to be supported as an artist.” Described as a “romantic European,” Ispanky was grateful for the total freedom he was allowed at Cranbrook – “the most fantastic thing . . . a huge studio, and you do whatever you want.” While at Cranbrook, Ispanky sculpted over 32 works in terra cotta, bronze and plaster and was given the nickname “Speedy Gonzalez” by his fellow students.

 

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Correspondence from Ispanky to Cranbrook Academy of Art, 1957. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

While he did not receive a degree at Cranbrook, Ispanky was eternally grateful for the chance to study here. In his letter, he expresses his heartfelt sentiments and poetic nature. “My thanks to you for reaching out to me with something that is inherent in the sacred name of freedom and for lending me hope. It feels good! I have waited with anxiety to hold the clay with which to give birth to the flowers blooming in my heart – to the hidden music which lives within me; to turn the material into form and into a million statements.”

After Cranbrook, Ispanky moved to New Jersey where he lived his life as a successful sculptor, specializing in the portraiture that he developed while at Cranbrook.

– Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

Harry and Nerissa Hoey’s Weekend Retreat

While cataloging some of the Ralph Rapson architectural drawings in our collection, archivist Gina Tecos and I discovered designs for “Longshadows,” a weekend retreat for Cranbrook School English teacher (and later Headmaster) Harry Hoey and his wife, Nerissa. Hoey came to Cranbrook in 1928, where he taught English until 1944 when he became Assistant Headmaster (1944-1950) and then Headmaster (1950-1964) of Cranbrook School. While the Hoeys lived on campus, first on Faculty Way, and later in the Headmaster’s House, they commissioned Rapson, along with fellow Cranbrook student Walter Hickey, to design a weekend vacation home in Metamora, Lapeer County.

Elevation by Ralph Rapson, 1939. The Ralph Rapson Collection, 1935-1954, Cranbrook Archives.

Coincidentally, I have been corresponding with the Hoeys’s granddaughter, Susan, regarding the disposition of her grandfather’s papers to Cranbrook Archives. In the course of this correspondence, I asked Susan about the home. While Rapson called the home “Longshadows,” the family called it “Hoyden.” According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, “hoyden” means “a girl or woman of saucy, boisterous, or carefree behavior” and the word is sometimes used to mean just “carefree.” As Susan stated, “Somehow, though I have no way to prove it, I am guessing this word was in my grandmother’s [Nerissa] vocabulary. Anyway, it seems to fit the bill for a weekend/summer place.”

Susan’s mother has fond memories of the weekend house – as a five-year old girl when she walked up the hill to the house behind her mother, the forty acre property looked endless. She remembers falling in the wild strawberry patch and staining her dress, and playing with the girl across the street whose father tended the property for the Hoeys.

“Hoyden,” 1940. The Ralph Rapson Collection, 1935-1954, Cranbrook Archives.

The summer the house was completed (1940), the Hoeys began hosting numerous Cranbrook guests who wanted to see the midcentury modern design. Guests included Dorothy and Zoltan Sepeshy of the Academy of Art, Henry and Carolyn Booth, and of course numerous Cranbrook faculty.

Page from the Hoyden Guest Book, 1940. Courtesy Harry and Nerissa Hoey Family.

In a letter to fellow Cranbrook student Ben Baldwin, Rapson described the house as clad in red wood, left natural, with a flat roof. The house had three bedrooms, two fireplaces, and even a basement for storage and a play room. The house still stands today, though it has had some minor additions and has been painted. It is one of Rapson’s only Michigan designs. Hopefully, we will soon have additional photographs of the house, and perhaps even more stories about the relationship between Hoey and Rapson.

NOTE: Harry and Nerissa Hoey were well-loved at Cranbrook. He also served on the vestry of Christ Church Cranbrook. Not only was Harry an effective administrator, but he was one who led the school with kindness and compassion. On the birthday of each boy in the school, Hoey would greet them with them a “happy birthday,” and shake their hand into which he pressed a shiny penny! On his 85th birthday, Hoey’s former students surprised him by mailing birthday cards – each one with pennies – he received over 500.

Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

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