“His Heart and Soul into each Madonna, Saint, Commoner, or Angel”

Johannes Kirchmayer, also known as John Kirchmayer, was born March 31, 1860, in Oberammergau, Bavaria. Oberammergau is known for its Passion Play, something the whole town participates in every year it is performed. As a young man, Kirchmayer had the role of Joseph (of many-colored-coat fame) in the play. “We have the statement from John, himself, that the ‘Passion Play’ was a great influence in his early life.” (Prouty, p. 18). It meant Kirchmayer was well versed in biblical history, which would serve him well later in life.

The village of Oberammergau is also known for its long tradition of woodcarving. After he learned to carve from his grandfather, and later his Uncle Georg, a professional carver, Kirchmayer spent a number of years taking classes in Augsburg and Munich, Germany, and in London and Paris perfecting his craft. In 1880, at the age of 20, Kirchmayer moved to Boston, Massachusetts. There, he found work creating mantels, stairways, home decorations, and furniture. However, his greatest passion seems to have been ecclesiastical works, perhaps influenced by the Oberammergau Passion Plays of his youth.

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Undated portrait of Johannes Kirchmayer (1860-1930). Courtesy Cranbrook Archives

Kirchmayer’s friend Stanford White, an architect, introduced him to a number of other architects. He soon found work with cabinetmaking and decorating firms that were working on commissions in churches, businesses, institutions, and private homes. Kirchmayer had close working relations with a number of prominent architects and artisans and was, in 1907, a founding member of the Society of Arts and Crafts, Boston.

After 1898, working for the Boston furniture and architectural woodworking firm Irving and Casson, Kirchmayer worked on the buildings of the noted American Gothic-revivalist Ralph Adams Cram, a prolific architect of collegiate and ecclesiastical buildings.

Kirchmayer’s notable work around Boston include carvings in The Church of the Advent; All Saints’ Church; the Second Church; and Unity Church. He also designed part of the Anderson Memorial Bridge over the Charles River.

His work outside the Boston area includes carvings in Christ Church Cathedral, Springfield, MA; the Church of Saint Mary the Virgin, West 46th Street, New York City; St. Mary’s Anglican Church, Windsor, Ontario; the Church of the Saviour, Syracuse, New York; and the James J. Hill House, St. Paul, Minnesota.

Shirley Prouty, his biographer, wrote that “John Kirchmayer did not use drawings, charts, or schematics to immortalize his saints; He studied and planned and started with a block of wood. On this piece of oak, mahogany, boxwood, cherry (he used many kinds of wood), he would draw the nude figure. He had studied anatomy as a student in Augsburg, thereby learning to proportion arms and hands, legs and feet, and an overall balanced subject. This preliminary sketch on wood was in charcoal. Then he would draw the draperies in color as they would appear in the final rendition.” (p. 27)

George G. Booth made Kirchmayer’s acquaintance through their Arts and Crafts activities and soon became one of his most ardent patrons. Booth commissioned Kirchmayer to produce carvings for Christ Church Cranbrook, Cranbrook House, and the Booth Collection of decorative arts at the Detroit Museum of Art.

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1918 carved portrait of George G. Booth, in Cranbrook House Library, by Kirchmayer. Courtesy Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

It is said that Kirchmayer “put his heart and soul into each Madonna, saint, commoner, or angel he was carving.” (Prouty, p. 29). He also followed the old Bavarian custom of leaving one’s visage somewhere in your work.

At Christ Church Cranbrook, Kirchmayer’s works include the “Doubting Thomas Door,” which features images of the craftsmen who worked on the church, including Kirchmayer; the ornamental screen covering the wall at the back above high altar with “Triumphant Christ” at the top; the Lectern; the Chapel Doors and Lectern in the Resurrection Chapel; and a Madonna in Parish House.

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“Doubting Thomas Door,” Christ Church Cranbrook. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

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Kirchmayer left his visage as the woodcarver on the “Doubting Thomas Door”. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

At Brookside School, Kirchmayer created corbels (projections jutting out from a wall) of the four Evangelists.

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Corbel representing St. John the Evangelist at Brookside School. Courtesy Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

At Cranbrook House, Kirchmayer carved many works. The largest commission was the impressive paneling of the Library, including the “Personification of the Arts (Religion Inspiring the Arts)” overmantel, which featured Kirchmayer as the woodcarver.

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Kirchmayer’s “Personification of the Arts (Religion Inspiring the Arts)”over-mantel in Cranbrook House Library. Photograph by P.D. Rearick, Courtesy Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

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Detail of Kirchmayer’s “Personification of the Arts (Religion Inspiring the Arts)” over-mantel in Cranbrook House Library. Note that the woodcarver (behind the bishop) is depicted as Kirchmayer himself. Photograph by P.D. Rearick, Courtesy Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

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Detail of Kirchmayer’s “Personification of the Arts (Religion Inspiring the Arts)” over-mantel in Cranbrook House Library. Photograph by P.D. Rearick, Courtesy Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

He also created items like a reading desk and bench; linen-fold paneling in Oak Room; a blanket chest; four carved Gothic finials in the corners of the Library; and a small figure of himself for the Booths. George G. Booth particularly enjoyed his reading desk and bench, which Kirchmayer created for the Booths’ library in 1919 from a sketch that Booth had supplied. (Prouty, p 100).

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Snapshot of Johannes Kirchmayer in front of the New Silver Beach Hotel in North Falmouth, MA, circa 1928. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Kirchmayer’s work can be found in many prominent cities: from Minneapolis-St Paul, to Detroit, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Columbus and Quincy, Ohio, Baltimore, Washington D.C., New Haven, New York City, Providence, Boston, Concord and Peterborough, New Hampshire, Portland, Maine, as well as in The American Church in Manila and in Walkerville, Ontario, Canada. Perhaps his prolific work across the globe is the reason why, shortly before his death, Kirchmayer received the “Craftsmanship Medal for Distinguished Achievement in Wood Carving” by the American Institute of Architects. It is the only time the award has been given for woodcarving.

Johannes Kirchmayer died at his Cambridge, Massachusetts home in 1930.

– Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar

Sources:

Johannes Kirchmayer from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johannes_Kirchmayer

Mark A. Coir, Cranbrook Art Museum: 100 Treasures (Bloomfield Hills, MI: Cranbrook Art Museum, 2004)

Shirley Prouty, Master Carver, Johannes Kirchmayer, 1860-1930: From Germany’s Passion Play Village to America’s Finest Sanctuaries (Portsmouth, N.H. : Peter Randall Publishers, 2007

A Place Where Art and Science Meet

Some of my favorite blogs, such as My Modern Met, capture the connections between science and art. At Cranbrook, the intersection of these two worlds often occurs when I delve into a research request. I recently found myself in this happy place as I discovered information about the Mary Soper Pope Memorial award, while researching botanist Emma Lucy Braun. Cranbrook Institute of Science awarded the medal to Braun in 1952.

First award of the Mary Soper Pope Memorial medal, 1946.

First award of the Mary Soper Pope Memorial medal, 1946. From L-R: Marshall Fredericks, Gustavus D. Pope, George Booth, Franz Verdoorn (recipient), Robert R. McMath, and Robert T. Hatt. Photographer, Harvey Croze.

Mary Soper Pope (1872-1940) was the wife of Gustavus Debrille Pope (1873-1952). Gustavus Pope, a Detroit manufacturer and humanitarian, was among many things the director of the Detroit Museum of Art, president of the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts, a Cranbrook Foundation Board of Trustees charter member, and a board member of both the Cranbrook Academy of Art and the Institute of Science.

In 1946, the Trustees of the Institute announced the foundation of the Mary Soper Pope Memorial medal to be granted as often as the Board deemed desirable for “noteworthy and distinguished accomplishment in the field of plant sciences.” The award was a memorial to Mary Soper Pope as a tribute to her “thoughtful nature, her quiet yet inquiring spirit, and her constant pleasure in the beauty of growing things.” The Institute Trustees commissioned sculptor Marshall Fredericks (1908-1998) to design the medal. Fredericks taught at Kingswood School and Cranbrook Academy of Art from 1932 until he enlisted in the armed forces in 1942. According to correspondence in the Cranbrook Institute of Science Director’s Papers, this was Fredericks’ first commission since his return from service as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army Air Forces.

I love Fredericks’ design. On the obverse, the medal bears the figure of a woman holding a delicate seedling before the eyes of a child. The reverse is a profusion of vegetal growth and in it a chameleon.

Marshall Fredericks sketches

Marsall Fredericks sketches, ca 1946.

The 3” diameter medals were cast in bronze by the Medallic Art Company in New York. The Committee of the Mary Soper Pope Memorial medal agreed on the following principles: 1) the medal should be given for noteworthy and distinguished accomplishments in plant science, 2) the medal may be given in any field of plant science, 3) the medal should be given in different fields of plant science, 4) the medal should be given without limitation (nationality, race, creed, and academic career or position), and 5) the medal is to be given at any point in a person’s career.

Mary Soper Pope Memorial Award

Mary Soper Pope Memorial Award. (T.2014.1.19)

With these principles in mind, the Institute awarded the medal to seventeen scientists between 1946-1970, including botanist Emma Lucy Braun, ecologist William Vogt, and soil scientist, Edgar T. Wherry. While I enjoyed the initial research about Braun that led me to reading about this award, I loved following the Detroit and Cranbrook connections between art and science.

Gina Tecos, Archivist

Out From the Shadows #1: Myrtle Hall

While most everyone equates the names Saarinen, Knoll, and Eames with Cranbrook, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of people who have contributed to the community whose stories have never been told. We archivists thought it would be interesting to tell some of their stories here.

The first is Myrtle Hall. She was not an alumna, faculty, or staff at any of the Cranbrook institutions, however, she did work at the Academy of Art as a model for drawing and painting students in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Not much is known about the models – there are no employee files for them, and their names are not listed in reports or meeting minutes. Fortunately however, I did uncover evidence that a line-item, established in the budget for the Academy of Art’s 1934-1935 academic year, specifically provided funding for the life models for the drawing and painting classes (taught by Wally Mitchell.) Models worked twenty-one hours per week.

Painting and drawing class, summer 1940.

Painting and drawing class, summer 1940.

By her own admission, Myrtle was the “first black model at Cranbrook” and for that matter, the first black model in the Detroit area including at the Meinzinger School of Art. In addition to modeling, Myrtle was also an artist herself and a member of Detroit’s Pen and Palette Club, which was formed in 1925 by the Detroit Urban League to help young artists exhibit their works. In 1935, Myrtle received an award for one of her paintings at the club’s Ninth Annual Exhibition. She also studied for a time at the Society of Arts and Crafts, exhibited at the Detroit Artists Market, and was one of the founding members of the Extended Arts Gallery (1958). During the 1940s, Myrtle abandoned painting and became an accomplished ceramicist. She had her own pottery studio (which she designed herself) on Erskine Street in Detroit. The studio was filled with antiques, paintings and sculpture by Michigan artists, as well as her own ceramics and of course her kiln and glazes. In a 1963 interview, she stated “I can’t stand things that are useless” and her oven-to-table casseroles, salad bowls, drinking mugs, and lamp bases reflected just that.

Myrtle Hall, Detroit Free Press, Mar 1994.

Myrtle Hall, Detroit Free Press, Mar 1994.

A 1994 article in the Detroit Free Press also tells the story of Myrtle Hall as a quiet but effective activist. She stood up for civil rights when she saw injustice, and was instrumental in affecting a change in Meinzinger Art School’s discrimination of African American students after World War II. Myrtle Hall is quoted as saying “I didn’t just model, I noticed things.”

Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

Editor’s Note: We do not have any biographical information on Myrtle, but if you know anything about her, please let us know!

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

Six Degrees of Separation, Again

Every Sunday night I look forward to watching “Who Do You Think You Are?” A show that combines historical research, genealogy, and archives all in one? Perfect for a research geek like me. This past Sunday, actor Tony Goldwyn was the featured celebrity seeking to uncover his roots. I never realized that his paternal grandfather is THE Samuel Goldwyn! And even more surprisingly is that his maternal grandfather is Sidney Coe Howard. I bolted upright in my chair when I heard that name as, of course, Howard has a Cranbrook connection!

Howard (1891-1939) was the American playwright and screenwriter best known as the posthumous winner of the 1939 Academy of Award for adaptation of the screen play for Gone with the Wind. However, 23 years earlier, Howard penned the script for the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts (DSAC) production, The Cranbrook Masque. Commissioned by George Booth at the suggestion of director Sam Hume, Howard wrote the Masque as the dedication program for Booth’s new Greek Theatre at Cranbrook. Howard and Hume sought to utilize every part of the theatre in order to demonstrate its possibilities. Costumes were designed and made at Cranbrook by the costume department of the DSAC, led by Katherine McEwen, and were fitted to the actors onsite.

The Costume for Orpheus is part of Cranbrook's Cultural Properties collection.

The Costume for Orpheus is part of Cranbrook’s Cultural Properties collection.

The Cranbrook Masque tells the story of the conflict between romance and materialism, and was expressed through five episodes showing the development of drama throughout the ages – ancient Greece, medieval Europe, Elizabethan England, and 17th century Italy. Through research and travel in Europe, Howard was able to gather material to ensure the historical accuracy of both the scenes and the dialogue. A contemporary news critic wrote “the use of archaic words and the introduction of long-forgotten customs are said by experts to be flawless.” Howard also made use of the natural outdoor setting of the Greek Theatre for special effects. In the first episode, timed at sunset, Pan made his appearance silhouetted against the backdrop of the setting sun. As the light faded, a sophisticated artificial lighting system, designed by Hume, was gradually introduced.

Correspondence to Frederick Alexander

Correspondence to Frederick Alexander, music director of the Cranbrook Masque. Cranbrook Archives.

The performance ran for two consecutive nights in June 1916, and the theatre was filled to capacity with more than 500 guests. The Cranbrook Masque was the first public production of Sidney Coe Howard’s, yet he did not attend the performance. Though the Booths invited Howard to visit Cranbrook, he sailed for France in early June to serve as an ambulance driver for the duration of WWI.

  • Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

Photo Friday: A Labor of Love

Christ Church Cranbrook Interior. Cranbrook Historic Photograph Collection, Cranbrook Archives.

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Christ Church Cranbrook Nave. Cranbrook Historic Photograph Collection, Cranbrook Archives.

After a visit to Christ Church Cranbrook earlier this week, I knew it needed to be highlighted as today’s Photo Friday! George G. Booth conceived Christ Church to be the moral center of the new community which he was building at Cranbrook. The photos show a great overview of the expansiveness of the church and shed some light on the magnitude of the work involved in its design. Each of these elements adds to the overwhelming detail of George Booth’s vision and the care in the design of Christ Church Cranbrook.

The church is Booth’s testament to the Arts and Crafts movement. He carefully acquired and commissioned each work of art to add to the overall wonderment of the church and to pay tribute to those who have devoted their lives toward artistic and altruistic pursuits.  The works of art range from the sterling altar plate to stained glass windows, altar frontals, tilework, woodcarvings, paintings, sculptures, and metalwork, most from noted Arts and Crafts men and women.

These photographs, taken five years after the 1928 dedication of Christ Church Cranbrook show the interior of the church sanctuary and a detail view of the nave of the church. The large fresco flanking the high altar was designed and executed by Katherine McEwen, an old friend of Booth’s, and one of the founding members of the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts.  From the work of Katherine McEwen to Oscar Bach, Samuel Yellin, and Hildreth Meire, to name a few, Christ Church Cranbrook is an architectural gem which should be experienced in person!

Stefanie Dlugosz, Center for Collections and Research, Collections Fellow

 

Photo Friday: Alexandrine Behind the Wheel

Alexandrine McEwen in her Scripps-Booth, 1916.  Cranbrook Archives.

Alexandrine McEwen in front of Cranbrook House in her Scripps-Booth, 1916. Cranbrook Archives.

As the organization that is currently hosting the exhibition A Driving Force: Cranbrook and the Carit would make sense that we at the Center were drawn to this photo for its representation of a 1916 Scripps-Booth, the car designed by James Scripps Booth and produced by his automotive company. Instead, though, the woman behind the wheel is the real star of the image. Alexandrine McEwen and her sister, Katherine, were co-founders of the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts (DSAC) and friends of George Booth. Alexandrine was a bookplate artist, painted miniatures, and also authored many of the early plays for the DSAC. After living for decades in Detroit, she and Katherine relocated to Dragoon, Arizona where they ran a dude ranch.

Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist, and Shoshana Resnikoff, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

 

Cartoons and Crusades: Booth, Herter, and the Making of a Tapestry

If you’ve ever visited the Cranbrook House library, you’ve probably noticed The Great Crusade, a large tapestry hanging on the south wall.  Many people associate tapestries with medieval times, when they were used to keep drafty castles warm in winter.  Woven wall hangings were also popular as decorations, especially as a sign of wealth since the extensive labor and pricy materials made tapestries more expensive to produce than paintings.  While most of the tapestries that adorn Cranbrook House are fifteenth-century Flemish, The Great Crusade is a toddler; though it utilizes a historic technique, it was designed and produced in the early twentieth century.

Herter Looms, The Great Crusade, 1920.  Cranbrook Art Museum.

Herter Looms, The Great Crusade, 1920. Cranbrook Art Museum.

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Photo Friday: Who’s That Man?

It’s Arthur Nevill Kirk! Wooed by George Booth, the famed silversmith arrived at Cranbrook in 1927 to head the metals department at the Academy of Art. Kirk also taught at the Art School of the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts and Cranbrook School for Boys. His specialty was the design and execution of ecclesiastical silver, of which Cranbrook still has many pieces in its collection.  During the Great Depression, lack of funds curtailed the use of precious metals and the department closed in 1933. Kirk went on the help establish the Artisans’ Guild, and organized the metal department at Wayne State University in Detroit, where he taught until his retirement in 1957.

~Robbie Terman, archivist

Arthur Nevill Kirk. Cranbrook Archives.

Arthur Nevill Kirk at work. Cranbrook Archives

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