Happy Birthday, Raymond Loewy!

Anyone who did a search on Google today probably saw the sketched-out train engine that forms the word “Google” on the homepage.  Honoring the 120th birthday of pioneering American designer Raymond Loewy, the Google doodle pays homage to Loewy’s trademark streamlined look.  While we can’t claim Raymond Loewy as a Cranbrook designer, we took his birthday as an opportunity to identify what sort of material and ephemera we have connected to this design powerhouse. Continue reading

Michigan Modern: The Model T has Left the Building

Sunday marked the last day of the exhibition Michigan Modern: Design That Shaped America at Cranbrook Art Museum.  This means that Monday saw the start of the museum staff’s busiest time—the five weeks in which we take down one exhibition and put up another.  Dismantling Michigan Modern is difficult; we need to say goodbye to objects we love and figure out the difficult process of getting them out the door.  And if there is one object in the entire exhibition that typifies the emotional drama of letting go as well as the physical challenge of moving giant historical artifacts, it is the Model T chassis.

Model T Chassis, The Henry Ford.  On view in Michigan Modern at Cranbrook Art Museum.  September 2013, Shell Hensleigh/Cranbrook Art Museum.

Model T Chassis, The Henry Ford. On view in Michigan Modern at Cranbrook Art Museum. September 2013, Shell Hensleigh/Cranbrook Art Museum.

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Photo Friday: Cranbrook’s Contractor

Wermuth House, Fort Wayne, Indiana.  Designed by Eliel and Eero Saarinen, 1941. Cranbrook Archives.

Wermuth House, Fort Wayne, Indiana. Designed by Eliel and Eero Saarinen, 1941. Cranbrook Archives.

This distinctly modern house was designed by the architecture firm Saarinen, Swanson & Saarinen for a man whose introduction to Cranbrook happened in a somewhat old-fashioned way—the construction of Christ Church Cranbrook, George Booth’s ecclesiastical ode to the British Arts and Crafts Movement.

In 1923, Albert Charles (A.C.) Wermuth was contracted by the architect Bertram Goodhue to oversee construction of the Trinity English Lutheran Church in Fort Wayne, Indiana.  Goodhue was so impressed with his construction work that he contracted with Wermuth again for the upcoming Christ Church Cranbrook commission in 1924.  Goodhue died before construction on the church could begin in 1925, but the firm Goodhue & Associates retained Wermuth as general contractor for the project.

When Christ Church Cranbrook was completed in 1927, the Booths immediately snatched up A.C. Wermuth for more Cranbrook projects—the building of the Cranbrook School campus and an addition to Brookside.  Thus began a decades-long professional relationship between Wermuth and Cranbrook, with Wermuth serving as general contractor for Kingswood, the Cranbrook Academy of Art, and the Cranbrook Institute of Science.  Wermuth also did private work for the Booth children as they built their own homes in the area.  Eliel and Eero Saarinen used Wermuth for their non-Cranbrook projects as well; he served as contractor on the First Christian Church in Columbus, Indiana, as well as on other Saarinen buildings.

With professional connections like these, it seems only fitting that Wermuth turned to the Saarinens when it was time for him to build his own house in Fort Wayne. While the Wermuth House, which was completed in 1941, was built under the names of both Eliel and Eero, the design of the house speaks a bit more to the son than the father.  A Saarinen, Swanson, & Saarinen project, however, Wermuth ended up with a home for his family that expressed many of the same modernist ideals that he himself helped bring to life as the general contractor for Cranbrook.

Shoshana Resnikoff, Collections Fellow, and Robbie Terman, Archivist

Mary, Maija, and Toshiko: Re-Thinking Open Storage in the Collections Wing

Open storage.  Two words that mean nothing to the wider public, the phrase is a loaded one for museum professionals.  Love it or hate it (and I personally love it), open storage is an increasingly popular method of getting a museum collection—usually hidden away in the bowels of the institution—exposed to a wider audience.  Most museums only exhibit about 10% of their collection at one time, so building or retrofitting storage spaces to allow for public viewing of objects provides an opportunity to leverage museum storage and increase visitor-object interactions.  From the Luce Centers at the New York Historical Society and the Smithsonian American Art Museum to the open ceramics storage at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, more and more institutions are removing the physical barrier between their visitors and their objects—or at least replacing an opaque barrier with a glass one.

In 2008, Cranbrook Art Museum had the opportunity to redesign the museum’s storage from the ground up.  The museum chose to strike a balance between the all-access open storage model of a Luce Center or the new American Wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the traditional, old-fashioned model of closed-off storage with the rare “behind the scenes” mediated tour.  What resulted was the ceramics  vault in the new Collections Wing, a secure room with a glass wall that gives visitors—who enter the Collections Wing on one of the regularly scheduled weekly vault tours—a chance to look into storage and get a sense of the scope and depth of CAM’s holdings.  To add to the potential learning opportunities for visitors, no museum objects are assigned a permanent home on the first row of shelves in the vault.  Instead, the empty shelves serve as a miniature curatorial opportunity, with staff members changing out the objects on display there and tour guides serving as docents for “curated” shelves.

Ceramics vault in the newly built Collections Wing.  The first shelf is temporary shelving - it is used to curate within the collection. 2012. Jim Haefner/SmithGroup/Cranbrook Art Museum

The ceramics vault in the newly built Collections Wing. The first shelf is temporary shelving – Museum and Center staff use it to curate within the collection. Jim Haefner/SmithGroup/Cranbrook Art Museum, 2012.

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Happy Birthday, Sol LeWitt!

Sol LeWitt, Wall Drawings 790A and 790B: Irregular Alternating Color Bands (1995), currently on view at the Cranbrook Art Museum.  Photo, P.D. Rearick/Cranbrook Art Museum.

Sol LeWitt, Wall Drawings 790A and 790B: Irregular Alternating Color Bands (1995), currently on view at the Cranbrook Art Museum. Photo, P.D. Rearick/Cranbrook Art Museum.

Solomon “Sol” LeWitt was born in Hartford, Connecticut, on September 9, 1928, making today the 85th anniversary of his birth.   LeWitt died in 2007, but his groundbreaking work continues to be exhibited around the world.  If you’re interested, however, you can catch LeWitt closer to home at Cranbrook.

On exhibition at the Cranbrook Art Museum, LeWitt’s Wall Drawings 790A and 790B: Alternating Color Bands dominate the Hartmann Gallery.  These striking wall paintings are deceptive – though they seem permanent, they exist only for the run of the exhibition.  This short-lived existence reveals LeWitt’s important role in the conceptual art movement, in which the “idea” of the piece holds more significance than the physical manifestation of the concept.  Check out Sol LeWitt: Wall Drawings 790A and 790B: Alternating Color Bands on view at CAM now.

– Shoshana Resnikoff, Collections Fellow

California to Cranbrook: What I Did on My Summer Vacation

Everyone who has endured a Michigan winter agrees that a Michigan summer is the universe’s way of making it up to you.  Having completed my first winter at Cranbrook, then, it seems a shame that I missed the glory of summer in the Mitten State.   I was called back to my home state of California to celebrate my mother’s birthday (a milestone year that she wouldn’t appreciate having publicized on the internet) and to enjoy a few solid weeks of family reunions, state-wide road trips, and delicious, delicious tacos.  I traded the sun and heat of Southeastern Michigan for the fog and chill of Northern California, but at the end of the day I still managed to find a little bit of Cranbrook in California. Continue reading

Cranbrook and the Car, Part 3: Suzanne Vanderbilt

If AMC’s long-running television show Mad Men has taught us anything, it is that it is hard being a woman in a man’s world.  And while Peggy Olsen’s struggle to be taken seriously as an advertising professional in the 1960s is fictional, many talented, driven, and creative women found themselves fighting a similar battle in their own professions in the 1960s and 1970s.

Suzanne Vanderbilt was one such woman, and her work as a designer at General Motors is highlighted in A Driving Force: Cranbrook and the Car, now open in the lower galleries of the Cranbrook Art Museum.  A Cranbrook Academy of Art graduate, Vanderbilt was an active member of the “Damsels of Design,” the young women hired by Harley Earl to work on the interiors of vehicles for General Motors in the 1950s and 1960s.

1998-02 Vanderbilt in car, c1950s (2)

Suzanne Vanderbilt in her Corvette, mid 1950s. Suzanne Vanderbilt Papers, Cranbrook Archives.

Though the assembling of these women into a charming and attractive group of “damsels” was a PR ploy, the fact remains that these women designers did real work for GM, re-thinking car interiors at the exact moment that the auto industry began recognizing women as significant consumers of their products.  Women have historically made the majority of household purchasing decisions, and as cars increasingly became associated with domestic American life it became clear that women would have a greater role in buying them.  Recognizing this trend, GM acknowledged that its design, engineering, and marketing of cars would have to shift.  And who better to understand the female consumer than women themselves?

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A Cranbrook Proposal

Cranbrook Academy of Art stationary has witnessed some very interesting correspondences,  but we’ve yet to see anything more adorable than this: Charles Eames’ 1941 marriage proposal to Ray Kaiser, delivered on CAA letterhead.  Charles and Ray met at Cranbrook, of course, and moved from Michigan to Los Angeles after their marriage.  We can’t take credit for the object or the article about it – that goes to the Library of Congress and Maria Popova at brainpickings.org respectively.  Still, there is something lovely about seeing a bit of Cranbrook play a role in this legendary design – and romantic – partnership.

Charles Eames' marriage proposal to Ray Kaiser, via Cranbrook Academy of Art stationary.  1941.  Library of Congress, via Brainpickings

Charles Eames’ marriage proposal to Ray Kaiser, by way of Cranbrook Academy of Art stationary. 1941. Library of Congress, via Brain Pickings

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Cranbrook and the Car, Part 2: The Rocket Arrives

Putting together an automobile exhibition without a car is like making a custard without using eggs: you can use other ingredients as replacements, but you’ll have a hard time achieving that perfectly smooth texture without them.    At the heart of any show about the automobile industry is the car itself.

It was with this thought in mind that I arrived at the Cranbrook Art Museum at 7:45 AM yesterday morning, eagerly awaiting the arrival of a truck that was carrying the eggs for my custard – a 1914 Scripps-Booth Rocket Cyclecar.

The Rocket arrives!  May 9, 2013.

The Rocket arrives! May 9, 2013.

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Cranbrook and the Car, Part 1: The Aristocrat of Small Cars

In its 100-year history, Cranbrook has been known for producing artists, designers, scholars, athletes, and leaders.  But cars?  An upcoming exhibition mounted by the Center for Collections and Research (that’s us!) at the Cranbrook Art Museum will explore the relationship between Cranbrook and the automobile industry. Called A Driving Force: Cranbrook and the Car, it will highlight the history of Cranbrook through the lens of the automobile, detailing the ways that members of Cranbrook’s community have innovated and influenced the auto industry for the past 100 years.  You can learn more about the exhibition at Cranbrook Art Museum’s website here.

As we prepare to open A Driving Force: Cranbrook and the Car on June 12, we’ll be writing up occasional posts about the exhibition, highlighting bits and pieces of our research and providing glimpses into the down-and-dirty world of museum exhibiting.   And we’re going to kick it all off with the story of James Scripps Booth and the Scripps-Booth Company.

James Scripps Booth (behind the wheel) with brother Warren Scripps Booth in a Scripps-Booth 4-cylinder Model C at Tower Garage at Cranbrook House. Their father George Gough Booth stands next to the car, partially hidden by the windshield.  Circa 1917, Cranbrook Archives.

James Scripps Booth (behind the wheel) with brother Warren Scripps Booth in a Scripps-Booth 4-cylinder Model C at Tower Garage at Cranbrook House. Their father George Gough Booth stands next to the car, partially hidden by the windshield. Circa 1917, Cranbrook Archives.

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