Dolls Make the House

Who doesn’t love dolls? Apparently plenty of people who come through Saarinen House and comment on the two dolls enjoying pride of place in the Cozy Corner. The first response is often “What are those?” The second “What is she looking at?” What indeed. These are two vintage dolls, boy and girl, that Loja and Eliel Saarinen had in their possession and who now sit on the carpeted bench in the sitting alcove or “Cozy Corner” of the Saarinen House studio.

Dolls in Saarinen House. Photograph by James Haefner, 2015.

They were in place in 1947 when Margaret Fish, then art critic from the Milwaukee Sentinel, came to Cranbrook to interview Saarinen as he embarked upon plans for Milwaukee’s war memorial. [Saarinen Cites Keynote for City’s War Memorial. February 22, 1947.] Saarinen confessed to Fish, “Unless your home belongs to your spiritual as well as your physical life, you are entering among strangers.” He went on to explain that the dolls had belonged to his own children (Pipsan and Eero) and that his grandchildren played with them when they came to visit.

The dolls made their way back as a gift from grandson Ron Saarinen Swanson to the house as restoration neared completion in 1994. Greg Wittkopp, then Curator of Collections at Cranbrook Academy of Art Museum, accepted them in a letter of thanks writing “These dolls are critical to the restoration of Saarinen House as they help us interpret [the house] as a ‘home’ not merely an architectural space.” Interesting that this is still the object of the set up of the house and now also of the changing exhibits within curated by current Collections Fellow Kevin Adkisson.

The girl doll was made by the Italian company of Lenci founded in 1918 by Elena König Scavini (1886-1974), nicknamed Lenci, and husband Enrico in Turin. According to the appraisal by the Berkley Doll Hospital, our girl was probably created in 1920.  Lenci dolls became famous for their high quality and cost and the eyes looking away. One wonders what little girls had to do to get the doll to look at them.

Our doll has a felt, jointed body with painted features on pressed felt and those famous eyes looking off to the right. Her hair is a mohair wig, “intentionally tousled” in “little girl fashion” and her clothes are made of felt. Her cheeks swell in petulant child fashion and her third and fourth fingers are sewn together.

After World War II, the company changed hands and the dolls themselves evolved, becoming known as Lenci-type dolls.

Käthe Kruse (1883-1968), the actress creator of the boy doll, was ahead of her time, spurred to create a doll for her children when their sculptor father told them he was not about to buy them the unsatisfactory commercial products then available (this in 1899). Kruse started out with a washrag filled with sand and tied in four corners, carving a potato for the head. This was apparently an unqualified success for her 5-year-old daughter who had asked for a “real child.” Kruse herself realized that a doll should fill an emotional need and not “provide some technical education for running a kitchen.” In response to the doll named Oskar by her daughter, she thought to create a gender-neutral doll so that the children themselves could decide what gender the doll was to be, then the clothes could follow. In the pictures below you have the same doll dressed in different clothes:

Theriault and Bukowskis doll images

Identical Käthe Kruse dolls dressed in different outfits. c. 1930-1940. Courtesy of Theriault and Bukowskis Auction.

Her dolls became an unexpected hit, especially in New York where she sold 150 dolls to FAO Schwarz in 1911. As time passed and Germany was embroiled in World War I, Kruse was pressured to join the patriotic movement catering to the increasing militarism of German society. So her doll grew into a male and appeared in a generic military uniform. So much for the little girls who might not want a soldier baby to play with.

Geheugenvanndederland Dolls

Boy and girl clothes on Käthe Kruse dolls, 1918. Courtesy of Geheugen van Nederland.

Kruse’s doll was destined for further changes, however, because another war loomed, and the gender-neutral baby was once more required to grow male and don a uniform of more sinister aspect.  Kruse lost two sons of her eight children to this war, and as she continued to produce dolls, their facial expressions grew decidedly sad. Who knows why Hitler or his head honchos in the midst of a war would be paying attention to a toy manufacturer, but somehow the dolls’ apparent lack of politically correct optimism attracted attention, as did the Jewish workers Kruse refused to fire, and Kruse’s workshops were closed down. No more dolls until 1946 when Kruse sent three more children to restart the manufacture.

Our doll is dated by the Berkley Doll Hospital to 1910. He is the Doll 1 type with a molded muslin head and hand-painted features and hair in oils. His wide-hipped body is jointed cloth stuffed with reindeer hair, and he has the typical Doll 1, “frog” hands. His clothes are cotton and wool with a knitted wool hat and leggings.

Whoever played with these dolls, they were certainly handled carefully and not loved to pieces. And yet, when Margaret Fish came to call, she reported there were three dolls “European in appearance, sitting primly on the benches.” What happened to doll number 3? Would this have been a doll of yet another nationality? French maybe?

Kathe Kruse and Dolls

Käthe Kruse and dolls, 1905. Courtesy of Käthe Kruse History.

Some visitors find the dolls creepy, others fascinating. When they come to Saarinen House, visitors do not expect to be taken back to their own childhood as these dolls will do to you, if you let them: she looking off to her right, grumpily in search of better things, and he looking sturdily down.

The Kruse dolls are still in production 50 years after Kruse’s death at the age of 85, still desirable, still looking a bit like baby Friedebald Kruse, the model for the first commercial doll, and still stuffed with reindeer hair if you are willing to pay.

– Lynette Mayman, Collections Interpreter

 

You can see the Saarinen dolls on Saarinen House tours, led by the Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research Collections Interpreters every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, May-November.

Additional sources:

Edwards, Linda. Doll Values: Antique to Modern 13th Edition. New York. Page Publishing. 2017

Ganaway, Michael. Toys, Consumption, and Middle-class Childhood in Imperial Germany, 1871-1918. Bern. Peter Lang. 2009

Greta Skogster, a Mystery Woman No Longer

On tours of Saarinen House, visitors in the dining room are sandwiched between Greta Skogster’s hanging and leaded glass doors. They look one way to see a courtyard with leafed-out trees beyond; they look the other way to see a wall-sized hanging with birds and a tree and foliage.

4924_67

Dining Room of Saarinen House, Copyright Balthazar Korab/Cranbrook Art Museum.

Greta Skogster (1900-1994) herself was a one-woman phenomenon, running her own textile business in Finland. She was born in the small southwest town of Hämeenlinna in 1900, and as far as I can gather studied textiles at the Helsinki Central School of Arts and Crafts. At the time, in the 1920s, students from educated backgrounds were not actually trained to operate loom. They became designers and managers and engaged others to manufacture their designs. 

Greta Skogster

Greta Skogster-Lehtinen at work. Image © Greta and William Lehtinen Foundation

Skogster founded her own company in 1929named it Textile Officeand started producing hand-made designs by the yard and carpets for commercial use. In 1930 her work appeared alongside that of architectAlvar and Aino Aalto in the Small Apartment Exhibition in Helsinki, and from there her company grew apace.

Enter William Lehtinen (1895-1975) who went from studying forestry in Helsinki to earning his Masters of Forestry at Yale in 1926. He served as a trade attaché for Finland’s wood processing industries before returning home in 1930 to join the firm of Enso-Gutzeit, Finland’s largest pulp and paper company. So talented was forester Lehtinen that he rescued the company from post-war ruin and outmoded Russian machinery and became its CEO, transforming Finnish paper production along the way. The company still exists. 

By 1937 Skogster and Lehtinen were married and had moved her studio to Enso in eastern Finland, where her Textile Office became one of the largest private textile companies in the country with power looms and 23 employees. If you had been in Finland at that time you would have seen her work on Finnish trains, on the seats of factory offices, in all the best restaurants, in the headquarters of Enso-Gutzeit and in the upholstery of Eliel Saarinen’s Helsinki Central Railway Station. Her textiles even come to the USA at the 1947 Finnish House in New York’s Murray Hill where the Finnish American Trading Company had set up a showroom to promote trade.

Main Restaurant Hall 1947

Interior of The Finland House with hangings by Greta Skogster-Lehtinen at 39-41 East 50th Street, New York, New York, 1947. Image ©paavotynell.org

Skogster-Lehtinen and husband William went on to lead a good life, devoting their time, money and effort into collecting art and promoting the arts and crafts. By 1964 they intended to establish a museum designed by old friend Alvar Aalto, but an inability to break through Helsinki’s historic area building restrictions meant the museum was never built. Undaunted, the couple established The Greta and William Lehtinen Foundation offering fellowships for artists, artisans, musicians and architects, which, in true Lehtinen fashion, still exists.

Greta Skogster and William Lehtinen and family

Greta Skogster-Lehtinen and William Lehtinen with family. Image © Greta and William Lehtinen Foundation

How the Saarinens came to choose a hanging from Greta Skogster for the dining room in their Cranbrook, Michigan house is not clear, nor do we yet know what the relationship was between the two families, though one must assume they knew each other. According to the Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research object record the hanging was acquired between 1935 and 1939. There exists a 1980 letter from Cranbrook to Skogster-Lehtinen, now living in Tampere after the death of her husband, enquiring about the hanging but no reply.

But what a piece, cleaned, restored and still reminding visitors of the serenity of a forested world, where large wood grouse flit amongst the leaves!

Plate 53

Skogster’s tapestry hanging in the Dining Room of Saarinen House, Copyright Balthazar Korab/Cranbrook Art Museum.

This is not a tapestry in the true sense of the word, where the weft is continuous. This hanging employs many different techniques, including supplemental wefts and rectangular patches left with bare warp so that the fir paneling can show through. Echoing the luxury of the gold leaf in the dome over the table, there is gold thread and silk amongst the linen, cotton and rayon. It does recall other Skogster-Lehtinen pieces, many of which are quite large.

Needless to say, there is more to discover in the long life of this prolific designer, and the Saarinen connection puzzle remains to be solved.

Lynette Mayman, Collections Interpreter, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

Sources:

Greta ja William Lehtisen Säätiö (Greta and William Lehtinen Foundation), 2007. http://www.gretajawilliamlehtinen.fi

Scandinavian Design: Alternative Histories, edited by Kjetil Fallan (Oxford, UK: Berg Publishers, 2012).

Göran Schildt, Alvar Aalto, A Life’s Work: Architecture, Design and Art (Helsinki, Finland: Otava Publishing Company, 1994).

Works by Greta Skogster,  FJ Hakimian. http://fjhakimian.com/greta-skogster 

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