Dessert with Décor in Mind

Back in the winter of 1941-1942, the fashion editor of The Milwaukee Journal, Aileen Ryan, visited Loja and Eliel Saarinen here at Cranbrook. She published an article about her day at the Academy and dinner in the Saarinens’ remarkable home on January 18, 1942: “Furnish Home According to Principles of Architecture” (The Milwaukee Journal, section 7, p. 9).

Plate 53

Dining Room set for a tea, c. 1994, Copyright Cranbrook Art Museum and Balthazar Korab

Ryan vividly describes the ceremonial nature of dinner in the dining room of the house, how hospitality, art, architecture, and food intersect in a totally beautiful and complete way. She writes:

“The dining room is at the left of the entrance and gleams a golden welcome to guests. Light is reflected from a gilded dome ceiling back to the top of the round table made of rays of harewood inlaid with ebony in a way that suggests the sun. Places are set on circular doilies of yellow linen block with black figures which the Saarinens’ son, Eero, made when he was a child. On these are black plates, on these folded yellow napkins and on top of these yellow cups and saucers. Each guest unpiles his cup to get his napkin as the plump brass coffee pot is brought around. It’s delicious coffee and amber enough as it streams from the slender spout to fit into the color scheme.

“Mr. Saarinen looks vastly amused when he tells us the chairs, with their Spanish comb look and sunny as the table itself, are made of Hollywood. He has designed them as he has the other furniture in the house, and they are dramatic. The walls of this golden room, seeming sunny on a gray and snowy day, are of waxed California pine. One of them is nearly covered with a Finnish tapestry made by Greta Skogster in soft terra cotta tones. The ombre [sic] shaded carpet is creamy white and brown.”

She ends the description of dinner:

“A pineapple upside down cake is part of the edible harmony, but Mrs. Saarinen refuses to admit she serves food to carry out the architectural scheme.”

Last weekend we reopened Saarinen House for tours, and many of the items Ryan describes are again on view in the house (the yellow place mats, the black dishes, the golden coffee pot, etc). And on Friday night, as part of our first Finnish Friday, we even brought back pineapple upside down cake! Sweet and Savory Bakery in Oxford, Michigan, generously donated plenty of pineapple upside down cake for guests to enjoy. Without Loja’s recipe but trying to be historically accurate, we used a recipe found in Good Housekeeping in February 1938.

Good Housekeeping Feb 1938 p 167

“Hit ideas for any meal with pineapple taking the lead,” Advertisement in Good Housekeeping, February 1938, Courtesy of the Winterthur Library.

Since this weekend is Mother’s Day, and, for many of us, our mothers are especially connected with memories of food and cooking, I wanted to talk a bit more about food in the Saarinen home. Bob Swanson, Loja’s oldest grandson, told me a few weeks ago that Loja was an excellent cook. He remembers her serving lots of ham and lutfisk at the holidays. As great of a cook as Mormor (Swedish for grandma) was, Bob recalled that most meals were prepared by the housekeeper and served in the kitchen dining area (not on tour). That dining area had plain chairs and a rectangular table with a black Formica top—not quite the drama of the main dining room.

His own mom, Pipsan Saarinen Swanson, was also a great cook. Bob remembers her making wonderful and inventive wartime meals—specifically liver and onions, lamb shanks, and calves brains. Pipsan, whose dresses are currently on display in Saarinen House, was (unknowingly) living journalist Aileen Ryan’s own wartime interests: “rations, passions and fashions.”

Bob laughed when I asked him if he remembered Loja serving pineapple upside down cake to match the décor. He didn’t recall her serving it to him, but said it was just her humor to do something like that. He also remembered how much Loja loved pies, particularly peach pie and pineapple pie–both pies that would coordinate with the décor!

For more Saarinen family stories, come join us for a Saarinen Home tour: Fridays and Saturdays at 2:00pm and Sundays at 1:00pm and 3:00pm. To try out our interpretation of a period Pineapple Upside Down Cake (served in the Saarinen House courtyard outside the dining room) join us for an upcoming Finnish Friday (May 19th, June 9th,  and June 23rd). In addition to admission to Cranbrook Art Museum and an open-house in both Saarinen House and the Archives Reading Room, we’ll also have period board games, Saarinen family films, a pianist at the family designed piano, and a cash bar for your enjoyment!

-Kevin Adkisson*, Collections Fellow, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

*My mother, for the record, is also an amazing cook.

Balthazar Korab and his Island of Serenity

A great portion of the time I’ve spent as an archivist at Cranbrook has focused on our photo collections. It would be impossible for me to choose a favorite photo, but I definitely find that one photographer in particular always comes to mind when I get a photo request or when I conjure up an image of campus.

Born in Budapest, Hungary, architect and photographer Balthazar Korab (1926-2013) documented life and work here at Cranbrook for several decades. His iconic images continue to be some of our most requested.

Korab at work at Eero Saarinen and Associates, 1957. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Korab at work at Eero Saarinen and Associates, 1957. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Korab studied architecture at the Polytechnicum Jozsef Nador in Budapest until he felt the necessity to escape his country’s communist regime in 1949. He opted for France, where he continued his education at the École des Beaux Arts in Paris, and received his degree in architecture there in 1954. During this time, Korab worked throughout Europe as a journeyman with notable architects, including Le Corbusier.

In 1955 he came to the United States and was hired by Eero Saarinen to work at Eero Saarinen and Associates (ESA). While Korab was worked there, he saw how Saarinen built models of his designs. Korab volunteered to use his knowledge of photography to develop techniques for dramatic photos of the models. This took him off the drawing board and he soon began to get assignments from other architects. What followed was an illustrious career photographing the works of many of the most significant architects world-wide, including: Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Gunner Birkerts, Minoru Yamasaki, Frank Lloyd Wright, and many others.

Yamasaki's model of the U.S. Pavilion at the World Agricultural Fair, India. Photograph by Balthazar Korab, ca 1959.

Yamasaki’s model of the U.S. Pavilion at the World Agricultural Fair, India. Photograph by Balthazar Korab, ca 1959.

Korab was introduced to Cranbrook during his time at ESA. In an interview for the Observer and Eccentric in June 1995, he said: “Arriving from a war-torn Europe, I soon was involved with Eero Saarinen’s GM Tech Center, a marvel of the dynamic, brash, wining face of America. It left me in awe and admiration. But my love went for the other Saarinen marvel, a then-middle-aged beauty, Cranbrook. It became a place of refuge and comfort, a source of nutrients for my severed roots to take hold in this strange soil. Its radiant aura was my inspiration.”

Oriental Garden bridge, Fall 1980. Copyright Balthazar Korab/Cranbrook Archives.

“Oriental Garden” bridge, Fall 1980. Copyright Balthazar Korab/Cranbrook Archives.

In the early 1980’s Korab was hired as one of several contract photographers here at Cranbrook. Over the next three decades, his images provided breath-taking panoramas, as well as minute details of the grounds, art, and architecture of this campus. The beauty of his work cannot be over-stated.

Gina Tecos, Archivist

Editor’s Note: In an July 1998 article in ambassador magazine, Korab referred to Cranbrook Educational Community as his “island of serenity.”

Fashioning Architecture

In 1931, attendees at the Beaux-Arts Ball in New York came dressed to impress. An annual party thrown by the Society of Beaux-Arts Architects, the ball featured a different theme each year. 1931’s theme of “Fete Moderne — a Fantasie [sic] in Flame and Silver” was inspired by the New York skyline and the iconic skyscrapers that had recently come to define it. Fully committing to the theme, many guests came dressed as famous New York buildings. In this photo William Van Alen holds center court as the Chrysler Building (of which he was the architect) while other personified buildings crowd around him.

William Van Alen as the Chrysler Building, with other masquerading architects around him. On the far right is Joseph Freelander as the Museum of the City of New York.  Source: NY Times/untappedcities.com.

William Van Alen as the Chrysler Building, with other masquerading architects around him. On the far right is Joseph Freelander as the Museum of the City of New York. Source: NY Times/untappedcities.com.

 

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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

Photo Friday: Dinner at the Saarinens’

Loja Saarinen sets the table for guests.  Saarinen House, 1930-1940.  Cranbrook Archives.

Loja Saarinen sets the table for guests. Saarinen House, 1935-1940. Cranbrook Archives.

Loja and Eliel Saarinen were masterful entertainers.  That tradition continues every spring, when Cranbrook Art Museum opens up the house for tours.  Though the museum avoids serving food or drinks in the house (it is accessioned into the museum’s collection as a single historical object, after all), visitors get to experience the house as the Saarinens designed it between 1935 and 1940.  Every autumn the tour season ends and we pack up the house to hibernate for winter, opening it up again come spring.  To celebrate the closing of another great tour season (it finishes at the end of October, so get in while you can!), we wanted to showcase one of the most social environments in the house—the dining room.

Here, Loja Saarinen prepares the table for guests.  The round placemats were decorated by the Saarinen’s son, Eero Saarinen, when he was just a boy.  The table is at its smallest size—the outer rim of the table actually pulls out, allowing donut-shaped leaves to expand the table yet retain its circular shape. The swing door to the butler’s pantry is open, showing off the home’s state-of-the-art Frigidaire icebox.  Truly a modern home for a modern family!

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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