When I was asked, last summer, to make an impromptu display about Theodore (Ted) Luderowski, I found an inspiring story that begins in Hell’s Kitchen in New York City and continues with a lasting contribution to the landscape at Cranbrook and its educational, artistic, and cultural ethos.
Luderowski first arrived at Cranbrook as a student in 1939 after being awarded a competitive scholarship to study architecture under Eliel Saarinen while also “delving into the problems of metalwork and ceramics.” Born and raised in New York City, Luderowski left high school in 1927 at the age of 17, later graduating in 1932 after taking evening classes. He continued to take evening classes at Columbia University, where he studied design, shades and shadows, and perspective. He also studied for three years at the Mechanics Institute (General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen of the City of New York), which was founded in 1785, where he was awarded the John E. Hoe Prize.
His initial instruction in architecture was through on-the-job training at firms, including the office of James Gamble Rogers. Luderowski was involved in designing schools, office buildings, residences, and institutional buildings, and in the planning of the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair.
Arriving in 1939, Luderowski entered many external design competitions during his studentship at the Academy. The documents around these competitions are always a rich resource for researching and understanding the relationships between student artists, their peers, and mentors. The documents held at Cranbrook Archives that outline the problem of the competition, who entered and with whom, the photographs of the submissions and participants, as well as personal letters, reveal the camaraderie between the participants—whether they were competing against each other or working on a submission together.
The competitions Luderowski participated in include the Radio Cabinet Competition (Fall 1939) with Edward Elliott and Vito Girone, in which Florence Schust and Christopher Chamales won 2nd prize; the Insulux Glass Brick Competition no. 4: A Newspaper Plant (with Elliott) (March 1939); and Insulux no. 3: A Dairy (August 1939), in which Ralph Rapson won 5th prize.
More notably, Luderowski, with Edward Elliott, Ted Schiwetz, and Margaret Garceau, won Second Prize in the 14th Annual Rome Collaborative Competition of Spring 1940 (Jan 6 to Feb 10). The competition for students of architecture, landscape architecture, painting, and sculpture presented the problem of ‘A People’s Forum dedicated to the Bill of Rights’. It was hosted by the Association of the Alumni of the American Academy in Rome and the President was Paul Manship, whose work can be seen in the Quad at Cranbrook School, and the Secondary Vice President was Francis Scott Bradford, whose work can be seen at Christ Church Cranbrook.
After his studies, Luderowski worked as designer in the architectural offices of Eliel and Eero Saarinen before a period of service in the U.S. Navy as a Chief Petty Officer stationed in New York. He was stationed there with his wife, Ulla Ugglas, who had entered the Academy as a weaving student in 1940. Ulla, the daughter of Baron Gustaf Ugglas of Sweden, studied with Marianne Strengell and won first prize in rug design at the Fairchild Publications Weaving Competition in January 1941.
The newlyweds traveled in Scandinavia, Belgium, France, and England, where Luderowski studied architecture and design production methods, before returning to Cranbrook to work in the Saarinen offices again.
In 1949, he became Head of the Department of Design at the Academy, which had been established in 1936 with instructor William W. Comstock under the supervision of Saarinen. While the initial emphasis was placed on design of interiors and their furnishings, after 1939, when Charles Eames was instructor, the courses became focused on “preliminary training in design for all branches of work.”
As an architect and furniture designer, a painter, and an exhibition designer, Luderowski brought a breadth of interests to the department which allowed the cultivation of a diversity of design problems, including his supervision of fifteen students in the redesign and mural decoration of the Academy recreation room.
In 1952, he was asked to design and create wrought iron gates to be placed on the steps leading to Shoe Falls, which are at the far end of Triton Pools opposite the Arts and Crafts Courtyard. In a letter dated January 3, 1952, Henry Scripps Booth suggests that the design should, “be thoroughly practical and discourage youngsters from climbing over the gates, we should also make use of the opportunity to embellish the grounds with an interesting piece of iron work.” Luderowski’s design for the gates is held in our architectural drawing collection and the gates remain in situ on campus providing a wonderful continuance of the founding principle of beautiful and useful.
While within Cranbrook Archives we do not have a discrete collection for Luderowski, who passed away in 1967, he is heavily documented through photographic materials and with supporting information in the Cranbrook Academy of Art Records and Publications. It turned out the impromptu display I was asked to make about Theodore Luderowki last summer was for his son, who lived along Academy Way with his parents as a child and had returned, decades later, as part of a group tour.
—Laura MacNewman, Associate Archivist, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research
[Editor’s Note: This post has been edited to add information on Luderowski’s study at the Mechanics Institute.]