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.


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.”


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.


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

Edna Vogel: Cranbrook’s Other Wright Weaver

Researching in the Archives before a big tour, I came across an interesting person whom I earmarked to come back and examine further. I already knew Loja Saarinen wove textiles for Frank Lloyd Wright, but Edna Vogel’s story of weaving for Wright intrigued me; it turned out there was a bit more to learn about Edna Vogel.


Edna Vogel in her weaving studio, July 1942. Joe Munroe, photographer. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Edna Vogel (1901-1953) grew up in St. Louis and studied at a teacher’s college and then Washington University in St. Louis. She wasn’t in love with teaching elementary school, but she did like making costumes, so in the early 1930s she went to New York to study dress design. Not finding the cloth she wanted in stores led her to discover an interest in weaving, and weaving led her to Cranbrook for summer courses in 1939.

Vogel studied at Cranbrook Academy of Art for four summers and two regular academic years, earning her MFA in May 1943. Like so many Academy students, Vogel bounced between disciplines, studying weaving with Marianne Strengell, ceramics with Maija Grotell, and working in the metals shop. She spent most of her time in the ceramics studio, with Grotell commenting in 1941 that Vogel had a “very fine understanding for color and form” and that “her technical research and discoveries are exceedingly valuable.”

Vogel Detail

Ceramics and place-mat by Edna Vogel, made as a student at Cranbrook. Detail of a photograph, June 12, 1941. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

In the early 1940s, Vogel moved into the carriage house of Bloomfield Hills socialite Kate Thompson Bromley, who kept detailed diaries that include information on Vogel’s work and travels. 

Vogel worked in the carriage house with two assistants between three looms (small, medium, and very large), she began weaving placemats, pillows, fabrics, and rugs. The largest rug Vogel wove was for architect Albert Kahn, in a Swedish style, and she wove others for Kahn’s family. She also wove the rugs for Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1941 Gregor Affleck House in Bloomfield Hills. Wright instructed Affleck to use long, strip-like rugs for his living room in order to leave much of the concrete floor exposed. Affleck, who may have met Vogel through Grotell or Bromley, commissioned rugs from her sometime in the early 1940s.

Thrilled with receiving the commission, Edna Vogel set off in her car towards Wisconsin and Wright’s estate, Taliesin. Approaching Taliesin, she became nervous that the famous Wright would not want to see her without an appointment. She ended up knocking on the wrong door of the house, introduced herself to an apprentice, and, to her surprise, being taken into a meeting with Wright. He seemed charmed—with both her and her ideas for the Affleck House rugs. He was so impressed by Vogel that he invited her to come and work at Taliesin as both weaver and ceramicist.

She stayed for a long weekend, but as remembered in Mrs. Bromley’s diaries, Vogel’s chief complaint with Wright’s work centered on his interest in providing functional architecture but not always functional furnishings. Wright did not, Bromley wrote, “aim to make a house and furniture one unit as at Cranbrook,” and so Vogel decided to return to Michigan and remain at the Academy. She completed the rugs for the Affleck House, and at a visit to the house later, Wright’s wife Olgivanna commented that the rugs were the “finest she had ever seen.”


Edna Vogel’s rugs for the Gregor Affleck House, c. 1941-45. Courtesy of Lawrence Technological University.

At the end of the 1940s, after exhibiting ceramics internationally and producing textiles for homes, Vogel moved to New York. She wanted a place to find new inspiration and focus on her weaving. In South Salem, about thirty-miles north of New York City, she bought a former school house with a first-floor residence and an open studio large enough for her 12-foot loom on the second floor. She produced rugs of various sizes that were noted for their painterly, subtle uses of color, and she maintained an extensive collection of yarns from around the world. Tragically, Vogel died of smoke inhalation in 1953 when a chimney fire spread to her yarn storage.


Rug by Edna Vogel, displayed at Cranbrook. Photograph, July 30, 1942. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

We have just a few images of Edna Vogel’s works in our archives and I found only a handful more in periodicals in the Art Academy Library. If you know more about her, or where her work lives on, let us know in the comments or at

– Kevin Adkisson, Collections Fellow, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

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.


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.



“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.


Lazlo Letter001

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

A Model and a Memory

Earlier this year, my boss dropped an interesting flier on my desk for me to investigate. It was advertising a show of the celebrated Detroit born, New York based photographer Judy Linn at the Susanne Hilberry Gallery in Ferndale, Michigan. The flier featured Linn’s photograph, “Man and Boat, July 12, 1972.”


Flier for Judy Linn’s show at the Hilberry Gallery featuring her photograph, “Man and Boat, July 12, 1972.”

Here on the first floor of Cranbrook House we have a remarkably similar model that belonged to the Booths. Model ship building was certainly a popular hobby throughout the twentieth century, but perhaps there was a Cranbrook connection between our ship and the one in the picture?


Cranbrook’s Ship: Ye Triumphe Ship, Henry Brundage Culver, 1918. CEC1918.1


I reached out to Linn to find out more about her picture, and to see if she remembered anything about the man or the boat. Linn, who is perhaps best known for her photographs documenting New York’s music and art scene in the 1970s, informed me that from July 1972 to February 1973, she photographed for a small newspaper in southern Macomb County. It was part of the Detroit Area Weekly News (known colloquially as DAWN), and she took this picture at a local city hall where someone had just donated the ship.

I followed up with the city halls and libraries Ms. Linn thought it could have been (Warren, Roseville, or St. Clair Shores), but no one still has this ship hanging around. I was surprised at the amount of people who knew that there were ships “in the basement, somewhere” and I appreciated them taking time to go check and see if they were the boat in question (it was never a match).

Although I can’t make a connection between the boat in Linn’s photo and the one in Cranbrook House, the best part of this journey into the weeds was hearing Ms. Linn’s reflections of her time at Cranbrook. She shared with me this wonderful recollection, and agreed let me post it here:

“I was happy to get your email. I am very very fond of Cranbrook. When I was ten my mother got a Master’s degree in weaving form the Art Academy. I thought her fellow art students were the most extraordinary people on earth. I even copied their clothes for my paper dolls. If possible I wanted to be just like them. Later I realized it wasn’t just the art students. It was the submersion in a totally designed environment, complete down to the Saarinen designed fork in the Kingswood dining room. I loved it and I still love it.”

If you are in New York, check out Linn’s current show at the Sikkema Jenkins & Co. Gallery, up through this weekend, and if you want to know more about Cranbrook’s boat, check out former Center Collections Fellow Stefanie Kae Dlugosz-Acton’s fascinating post!

-Kevin Adkisson, Center Collections Fellow

Automobiles and Art?

Did you know that Ford Motor Company supported and encouraged the artistic activities of its employees, sponsored traveling art exhibitions, and published contemporary American art in its company magazines? I had no idea until I found a couple of copies of Ford Times magazine and a Lincoln-Mercury Times in one of our collections.

“Fish,” Big Spring, Michigan. Lincoln-Mercury Times, May-June 1956. Painting by Bill Moss. Moss was a graduate of the Academy of Art and painted over 300 works for Ford Times from 1949-1958.

“Fish,” Big Spring, Michigan. Lincoln-Mercury Times, May-June 1956. Painting by Bill Moss. Moss was a graduate of the Academy of Art and painted over 300 works for Ford Times from 1949-1958.

Much of the auto company’s support and use of artworks began under Arthur Townsend Lougee, who served as the Executive Editor and Art Director of Ford Times magazine, as well as the Lincoln-Mercury Times, from 1946-1961. During his tenure, Lougee commissioned thousands of articles on America and Americana, which were illustrated with watercolors by regional Ford artists who, for the most part, painted local motifs. Ford’s policy was to leave the subject matter up to the discretion of the artist.


“Lake Superior’s Eastern Shore.” Lincoln-Mercury Times, May-June 1956. Painting by Robert Bannister

A small company magazine at 4 x 6 inches, each issue of the monthly Ford Times consisted of several stories about vacation destination spots and those of historical interest, as well as promotional information about contemporary Ford products. Watercolor paintings first appeared as cover art in the June 1946 issue, and on the interior in September 1947.


“Fruita,” Bryce Canyon National Park. Ford Times, Sep 1959. Painting by V. Douglas Snow.

Lougee also assembled the Ford Times Collection of American Art, a collection of over 7,000 of the paintings commissioned for the Ford publications. Nearly 700 American painters were represented in the collection. The Ford Times art exhibition program was established in 1954 and made available to schools and universities, libraries, and art organizations across the country. Exhibitions included American Byways (1953), Artists and Fishermen (1955), Faculty Artists (1962), Variety No. 8 (1962), and Travel in Mexico (1969). Under the auspices of the United States Information Agency, international exhibitions traveled to countries in Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Middle East as a way of promoting good will and friendship among nations.


Lincoln-Mercury Times, May-June 1956

Thanks to the collection of Jack Keijo Steele, a Cranbrook Academy of Art alum, clay modeler in the Ford Styling Office, and lifelong painter, we are able to tell this interesting story of Ford’s contributions to art in this country.

Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist



Photo Friday: “Things Architectural”

In November 1932, Cranbrook Academy of Art’s Executive Secretary, Richard Raseman, invited architects from the Detroit area to come to Cranbrook for “dinner and discussion of things Architectural.” The following Cranbrook School news article describes the evening.



“Architects Gather Here for Forum,” The Crane, 20 Dec 1932

In addition to Raseman, Eliel Saarinen, Albert Kahn, and Emil Lorch, attendees included former Kahn associate Ernest Wilby and Ralph Hammett.

Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist




Forays in Metalwork: Cranbrook and Fairhope, AL

Women’s History month always gives us a good excuse (not that we need one!) to spotlight the accomplishments of some of Cranbrook’s lesser-known but equally important women. They may not have been famous artists or designers, but rather women who educated scores of students, worked tirelessly behind the scenes to catalog thousands of scientific specimens, or played a role in documenting the history and heritage of the Cranbrook community. So this month we have chosen to make each post about a Cranbrook woman – the work she accomplished, an artwork she created, or some other notable fact that we find interesting.

Margaret Elleanor Biggar (1906-1992) was born in Detroit, and became interested in silverwork when she attended spent her senior year in high school at Marietta Johnson’s experimental School of Organic Education in Fairhope, Alabama. After graduation, Biggar returned home to Detroit, where she attended the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts school. In November 1929, renowned British silversmith Arthur Nevill Kirk (who headed the silver department at Cranbrook), called Biggar and asked if she would like to come and be his student apprentice. She worked for Kirk in the Arts and Crafts Studio until 1931, where she made thirty cents an hour executing and polishing Kirk’s designs.

Silver Teapot, 1929. Designed and executed by Margaret Biggar. Image Courtesy Cranbrook Art Museum (CAM 1933.45).

Silver Teapot, 1929. Designed and executed by Margaret Biggar. Image Courtesy Cranbrook Art Museum (CAM 1933.45).

In 1931, Biggar returned to Fairhope, Alabama in where she taught metals at the Marietta Johnson School of Organic Education and formed a lasting relationship with Elise Hooker (1895-1977), who was head of the school’s craft department. In 1938, the two women left the school to open their own studio where they taught metalcraft classes in silver, copper, and brass. Generous and hard-working, their primary objective was not to make money but rather to teach others the craft they loved. In 1946, they only charged fifty cents for a two-hour lesson!

Biggar and Hooker’s home on Magnolia Avenue, Fairhope, AL. The studio was called “Metalcraft Studio.” Photo courtesy Margaret Elleanor Biggar Scrapbook, Cranbrook Archives.

Biggar and Hooker’s home on Magnolia Avenue, Fairhope, AL. The studio was called “Metalcraft Studio.” Photo courtesy Cranbrook Archives, Margaret Elleanor Biggar Scrapbook.

The studio was successful and works of their students were shown in local exhibitions. People came from around the country to take classes, and the studio became a part of local crafts tours in Fairhope.

Hooker (left) and Biggar at an exhibition in Pensacola, Florida. Photo courtesy Cranbrook Archives, Margaret Elleanor Biggar Scrapbook, U.S. Navy photographer.

Hooker (left) and Biggar at an exhibition in Pensacola, Florida. Photo courtesy Cranbrook Archives, Margaret Elleanor Biggar Scrapbook, U.S. Navy photographer.

Metalwork was not Biggar’s only interest. In 1943, she spearheaded the “War Dog Fund” effort in Fairhope. This was a project organized to enlist the help of dogs on the “home front” to secure funds through the donations of their owners. Dogs could be enrolled as a Sergeant ($1) or Lieutenant ($5) all the way up to General ($100). The funds were then used to help feed and care for the dogs in WWII combat zones.

Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

Happy Holidays!

With the end of December quickly approaching, we’ve received several holiday image requests. While looking through different collections, I came across these amazing holiday cards that were made by Cranbrook Academy of Art students and sent to Margueritte Kimball (1906-1995).

Margueritte visited Cranbrook for the first time in 1941. She was introduced to Wallace Mitchell, head of the Painting Department, who examined a few of her drawings, and eventually accepted her as a student to the Academy.  She began attending classes in the summer of 1942 and, at the same time began her career as the Academy’s financial secretary — a position she held for twenty-six years.

Known by many in the Cranbrook community, Margueritte became close with students and faculty at the Academy and collected correspondence and student materials from art exhibitions throughout the years. Although she never graduated from the Academy, she did receive an honorary degree late in her life. I hope you will enjoy some of the holiday samples from her collection. Happy holidays!

Kathryn Keillor (Painting '46)

Kathryn Keillor (Painting ’46)

John Edgar Barthel (Architecture '50)

John Edgar Barthel (Architecture ’50)

Grace Smith (attended Summer courses, 1951)

Grace Smith (attended Summer courses, 1951)

Edward Novak (Design '58)

Edward Novak (Design ’58)


Gina Tecos, Archivist

Think Snow!

Kingswood School Headmistress residence, 1955.

Kingswood School Headmistress residence, 1955.

Boys from Cranbrook School playing hockey outdoors, 1928.

Boys from Cranbrook School playing hockey outdoors, 1928.

Brookside children ice skating, 1928.

Brookside children ice skating, 1928.

Academy of Art students, Florence Chang and Margueritte Kimball cross-country skiing at Cranbrook, 1944.

Academy of Art students Florence Chang and Margueritte Kimball cross-country skiing at Cranbrook, 1944.

Christ Church Cranbrook, ca 1938.

Christ Church Cranbrook, ca 1938.

Photo Friday: Posters Tell a Story

The Cranbrook Archives exhibition, Designs of the Times: 100 Years of Posters at Cranbrook, opens this weekend. The exhibition documents events and performances that have enhanced and enriched the Cranbrook community for more than a century. The image below is just one of many that will be on display through March 20th, 2016.


Performing Arts poster, 1955

This poster, signed “M.W.” was  designed by Michael Justin Wentworth (Cranbrook School ’56). In addition to designing posters, Wentworth was the art editor for both the Brook and the Crane, and designed the sets for the Ergasterion productions and the scenery for the bi-annual Operettas. He received his MA and MFA from University of Michigan, and his PhD from Harvard where he wrote his dissertation on the artist James Tissot, a lifelong interest.

The posters in the exhibition represent all areas of campus – we hope you come check it out!

Gina Tecos, Archivist

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