To See a World in a Grain of Sand…

A recent research inquiry made me curious about the Great West Window, also known as the Women’s Window, at Christ Church Cranbrook.

Bloomfield Hills was sparsely settled when the church was built and, reporting on his visit to Cranbrook in July 1924, the architect Oscar H. Murray speaks of George Gough Booth’s intention to build a community church and school “to form the core around which this new district shall develop”.

The church was a gift to the Bloomfield Hills community from George and Ellen Booth, their five children and their families, all of whom donated to its construction and fabric. The local history of settlement in Bloomfield extends some hundred years before the building of Christ Church Cranbrook; yet its flourishing as a community for families and as a center of cultural activity begins with the church, the first of the original group of Cranbrook institutions. All the artworks at the church are beautiful and unique, but to me, none more so than the Women’s Window.

View of the Great West Window, Christ Church Cranbrook.

View of the Great West Window, Christ Church Cranbrook. Jack Kausch, photographer. Copyright Cranbrook Archives

The Women’s Window is the gift of James Alfred Beresford and Florence Booth Beresford. It was designed by James H. Hogan and fabricated by James Powell and Sons, (Whitefriars) Ltd, then based in Wealdstone, London, England. Established in 1680, their insignia is a whitefriar monk wearing a white cowl. Their original location on Fleet Street was in the Whitefriar district where a Carmelite order had once resided. The insignia is included in the Women’s Window, but at just a few inches high, it is impossible to see from the church floor.

Whitefriar close up

The whitefriar insignia of James Powell and Sons (Whitefriars), Ltd on Panel 16 of the Women’s Window of Christ Church Cranbrook. Kevin Adkisson, photographer. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

The key component of stained glass is silica from river sand. Modern stained glass is made of sand, lime, and soda and is more durable than the stained glass of the middle ages, which used ash instead of lime, making it more susceptible to the elements.

“The coloured glasses used in the making of the window are all the product of the Whitefriars works, in fact what comes to us in the form of sand, leaves us as a work of art in the form of a Stained Glass Window.” Adrian A. Buck, October 31st, 1927 (1981-01 20:9)

The glass pieces are fitted into cames—H or I shaped lead fixtures—which are then soldered together at the ends to form the design, and the whole window is supported by larger T bars and saddle bars. The Women’s Window stands 19 ½  feet tall and 8 feet wide.

As with most of the windows at Christ Church Cranbrook, the Women’s Window is made of antique glass—this does not refer to the age of the glass, but rather to its method of manufacture. It is hand-made glass using the traditional medieval method of glass blowing, giving it an irregular surface that adds to the effect of jewel tones. Other types of stained glass (cathedral and opalescent) are machine made and do not convey the same vibrancy of antique glass.

The Window’s aesthetic style is Gothic Revival and its coloring is thought to suggest the pre-Raphaelite influence of William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones, with whom Powell was acquainted and with whom George Booth found deep inspiration and kinship.

It features 60 women within 16 panels arranged in 4 tiers. Each panel depicts an area of contribution to sacred and secular life, including motherhood, Christ’s associates, early missionaries, early saints, religious orders, American church missionaries, educators, nurses, musicians, artists, poets, novelists, sovereigns, liberators, suffrage workers, and actresses. These panels are mediated by 6 smaller panels, each depicting two angels with shields portraying the fiery cross, the word of God, the mirror of truth, the flame of inspiration, the regal crown, and tragedy/comedy.

The women were selected from across history, from biblical times to 1920s, by the Rev. Samuel S. Marquis, the first rector of the church. Inscribed at the base of the window is the verse, “Her children rise up and call her blessed, and her works praise her in the gates” (Proverbs 31:28, 31).

The window has long been beloved by members and visitors to Christ Church. It was also the featured window of the Michigan Stained Glass Census in June 1998. The Women’s Window underwent restoration in 2004-2005 by Thompson Art Glass to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the church. Speaking at the time of its completed restoration, the Rev. Edward L. Mullins remarked that, “when the light shines through it, we see a wonderful picture of the world”.

– Laura MacNewman, Associate Archivist

Hidden Carvings: Misericords

Of the many beautiful works of art and ornament at Christ Church Cranbrook, I have noticed one type is much less documented than others: the misericords. I set out to explore the story behind these little hidden carvings. Misericords are hinged wooden seats that swing up to provide a supportive ledge in the choir stalls of churches and cathedrals—the choir, in the architectural sense, is situated within the chancel between the nave and the sanctuary.

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Christ Church Cranbrook choir stalls in the chancel taken from the south aisle of the nave, ca. 1946. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

The seat appears to be quite ordinary until you lift it up to reveal its carved underside. Traditionally, they were carved with mythological or real animals, foliage, or humorous scenes.

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The history of misericords goes back to the monastic churches of the middle ages, when the monks spent many hours praying in the choir. Their name comes from the Latin ‘miserericordia’ meaning ‘mercy’ or ‘compassion,’ stemming from ‘misereri’ (to have pity) and ‘cor’ (heart). Misericords were introduced into churches and cathedrals around the thirteenth century, so that elder monks could lean on them and didn’t have to stand unaided for the entire service.

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Architectural Drawing for Misericords in Choir Stalls Nos. 1-4 depicting pride, envy, gluttony, and covetousness, January 10, 1928. Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue Associates/Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

The misericord carvings for Christ Church Cranbrook were drawn by a designer with the initials ‘TCM’ at Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue Associates, who were also the architects of the church itself. The carvings for choir stalls 1-7 depict the seven deadly sins (pride, envy, gluttony, covetousness, anger, sloth, and lust). Choir stalls 8-16 depict more contemporary images reflecting life in 1927, including charlatanism in art, politics, machinery, jazz and prize fighting (8-12) and building the church, speed, big business, and prohibition (13-16).

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Misericord depicting “Speed,” represented by different modes of transportation (choir stall 14), the metal braces are a later repair. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

The misericord design for ‘building the church’ (choir stall 13) is particularly noteworthy for its representation of Oscar Murray and George Gough Booth extending the church by pulling it apart and adding another bay:

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Misericord depicting Oscar H. Murray and George Gough Booth lengthening the church (choir stall 13). Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

In George Gough Booth’s correspondence, I found this letter, which is instructive in discovering the creative process from idea to design to finished object:

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Letter from Oscar H. Murray to George Gough Booth regarding the misericord showing the building of the church, July 3, 1928. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

The letter tells us that the carver used a photograph of George Gough Booth (depicted on the right side of the misericord) to help with the details of the carving.

The misericords were carved by Irving and Casson of Boston, who also carved the screen between the narthex and the nave and the canopied vaulting above the choir stalls. However, the name of the carver is not recorded. Christ Church Cranbrook is celebrating its 90th anniversary on September 29. Also stay tuned for our ‘Ecclesiastical Structures of Detroit’ Day Away trip in the fall.

-Laura MacNewman, Associate Archivist

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

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