Object Spotlight: Refectory Table

Generally, the term “Refectory Table” describes long dining tables resembling those in dining halls of monasteries, especially oblong tables with four or six turned legs that may be expanded by leaves.CEC37 (4)Purchased by George G. Booth, before 1949, for use in Cranbrook House, the Refectory Table (CEC 37) in the Cranbrook House Oak Room has a plain 76 inch by 35-1/2 inch rectangular top, with two extendable tops of 31-1/2 inches each.cec37-13.jpgThe extension mechanism works by removing the top wood leaf, pulling out each side of tabletop – these are supported by bars under the table top that pull out – removing the center section, then placing the top leaf in the center.

“Interesting, but not really worthy of a spotlight,” you say?

“My table at home has leaves built into it. Why is this one so special?”

It is distinct because the top of this table sits over a beautiful and vibrantly carved and painted frieze, and is raised on four carved and painted legs and a box stretcher with a carved and painted linear design. It is the frieze and the carvings that make the table stand out.CEC37 (3).JPGThe frieze runs all around the table and features a grapevine interspersed at regular intervals with Medieval-style figures: mermaids, men, women, and animals.CEC37 (10)The figures carry banners and staffs, are sitting on benches, and, in the case of the mermaid, holding a fish.CEC37 (18)The frieze background is painted red; the grapevine and grapes are brown with black and the leaves are green with gold detailing; the figures and animals are mostly tan with gold and the mermaids are gold as well.  The lower edge molding of the frieze is painted with diagonal lines of green, gold, and red.CEC37 (11)Each of the four carved and painted legs is decorated with a different linear design of stripes, twisted around the trunk, with hexagonal base and top.CEC37 (6)Metal stars are attached to the base and top of each leg.  The legs are painted blue, green, red, and tan, all with gold detailing.CEC37 (12)The outer side of each stretcher has carved lines painted red and green.

The table is an English antique, likely from the 19th century. A careful study of comparable tables in books or at other museums could help us narrow down its age.

I am happy to share this beautiful table on the blog. If you ever find yourself in the Oak Room at Cranbrook House, whether for a meeting, house tour, or special event, please take the time and give this exception table a closer look.

Refectory Table

Refectory Table in the Oak Room, 1952. Cranbrook Archives.

– Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar and “Keeper of Keys and Cultural Properties” at Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

 

Kitchen Sink Back to School Edition: Cranbrook’s Own Elizabeth Bennett

Although the legacy of Kingswood School English teacher, Elizabeth Bennett* (1904-1983) does not involve Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, it is certainly the story of a woman who inspired and captivated multiple generations of students. Bennett started teaching at Kingswood in 1936 after completing her A.B. from Oberlin College and her A.M. from Radcliffe College. Prior to accepting the position at Kingswood, Bennett taught at the Hartridge School for Girls (Plainfield, NJ) and traveled in Europe and South Africa.

Portrait of Elizabeth Bennett, 1959. Photographer, Harvey Croze.

Bennett was born in New York City to William and Mary Umstead Bennett. Her father was a lawyer and a member of the New York state senate and her mother was a professor emeritus who taught pianoforte at Oberlin College. As a student at Oberlin, Bennett was an officer of the Women’s League – described in the campus yearbook as an organization for women to govern themselves and administer their affairs. She was later a member of the League of Women Voters and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

During her more than thirty years at Kingswood, Bennett taught English, History, Bible, and Creative Writing. Although she was a tough critic, she was known to be fair, and gained great admiration from both students and fellow teachers. In an anthology of memories, Elizabeth Bennett: A Word Portrait (1983), one former student states: “who could ever forget Elizabeth Bennett, who never raised her voice or lowered her standards for our work; who like Michelangelo, helped us chip out the readers and writers buried within us; who gave us all the charge of language? The light in her room did not all come through the windows or from the ceiling” (Carolyn Faulkner Peck, ’52).

Bennett with students, ca 1963.

Bennett or “Benny” as she was known by friends, was beloved not only by her students, but by her fellow teachers at Kingswood. During her summers off she regularly corresponded with Kingswood headmistress, Margaret Augur, and later Marion Goodale. Fellow faculty member, Gertrude M. White said of Benny, “Elizabeth Bennett: an unfashionable woman, a private woman, with unfathomable riches of mind and character and personality. Kingswood was lucky in her. We who knew her were lucky. Simply by being what she was, she enriched her world and ours.”

Summer correspondence from Bennett to Augur, 1948. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Inspired by Bennett and her passion for writing, several former students established the Bennett Fund in 1984 to honor a faculty member who is distinguished as a nurturer of writing and writers. In the Fall, the award recipient reads from recent works at the annual “Elizabeth Bennett Reading.” This year, the event takes place on Tuesday, September 19th at 6:30 PM in the Cranbrook School Library Reading Room.

With a new school year right around the corner, I enjoyed learning about this beloved teacher whose legacy lives on here at Cranbrook.

Gina Tecos, Archivist

*Editor’s Note: It should be noted that the spelling of Elizabeth Bennett’s name varies from the fictional character in Jane Austen’s novel, Pride and Prejudice.

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