Transcontinental Threads: Maja Andersson Wirde

One of my favorite parts of my job as an archivist is assisting researchers with locating materials in our collections. Often times a scholar will visit here with a set plan for their research project, and pre-conceived ideas about what they might find here or how the materials in our collections will support their thinking. One of my personal pleasures is when the researcher finds something new or surprising in our collections that changes their course of action. This is exciting on many levels – for them as well as for me!

In August 2015, Swedish author Marie Andersson visited Cranbrook to study the work of the Swedish weaver Maja Andersson Wirde (no relation) in preparation for a monograph on the life and work of Wirde at the request of Wirde’s family. Wirde (1873-1952), an accomplished weaver and textile designer, was asked by Loja Saarinen to come to Cranbrook in 1929 and oversee the operation of Studio Loja Saarinen which was established to design and produce all of the textiles for Kingswood School Cranbrook. As many researchers before her, Marie Andersson found her visit to Cranbrook Archives to be a revelation, and she recently wrote to me that “the Cranbrook chapter became an important part of the book, much more than I thought before I visited you.”

Maja Andersson Wirde (standing) with Loja Saarinen, Studio Loja Saarinen, ca 1930. Detroit News photograph, Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Maja Andersson Wirde (standing) with Loja Saarinen, Studio Loja Saarinen, ca 1930. Detroit News photograph, Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Prior to coming to Cranbrook, Maja Andersson Wirde had been employed by Handarbetes Vänner (The Friends of Handicraft) in Stockholm from 1907-1929. Her textile designs were represented in international exhibitions including Stockholm (1909 and 1930), Malmo (1914), Gothenburg (1923), and Paris (1925). However, according to Marie Andersson, Wirde’s “time spent at Cranbrook must be looked upon as the most important period” in Wirde’s life as an artist, and she created some of her most significant work while here.

So, what did Marie discover at Cranbrook Archives? Comparing photographs and documents from our collections with images of watercolor sketches from museums and archives in Sweden, Marie and I spent two days of “fantastic co-operation” in order to uncover the extent of Wirde’s contribution to the history of textiles at Cranbrook, particularly Kingswood School.

Watercolour sketch by Maja Wirde (1873-1952), Collection of Smålands Museum, Växjö, Sweden.

Watercolour sketch by Maja Wirde (1873-1952), Collection of Smålands Museum, Växjö, Sweden.

The rug for Reception Room III (Rose Lounge) in situ, Kingswood School, 1932. George Hance, photographer, Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

The rug for Reception Room III (Rose Lounge) in situ, Kingswood School, 1932. George Hance, photographer, Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Prior to Marie’s visit, Wirde was known for her work as the shop supervisor at Studio Loja Saarinen, the weaving instructor at Kingswood School, and for her designs for several rugs and textiles for Kingswood School, including the fabric for the dining hall chairs and most notably, the large rug for the Green Lobby. However, Loja Saarinen was given credit for the rest. Now, Cranbrook can tell a more inclusive story – for we discovered that it was Maja Andersson Wirde who designed the majority of the textiles for Kingswood School – eleven rugs for lobby/reception halls, all of the curtains and rugs for the dormitory rooms, as well as curtains for the dining hall, study hall, and library! In addition, she designed rugs for the Academy of Art, Saarinen House, and George Booth’s Cranbrook Foundation Office.

While the book, “Trådar ur ett liv: textilkonstnären Maja Andersson Wirde” was published pirmarily in Swedish, there is a translation of the chapter on Cranbrook in the back, and the book features numerous images from Cranbrook Archives. We are so excited to be able to tell a more comprehensive story not only about the objects in our care, but also a key individual in our rich history.

Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

 

The Green Lobby: A Cranbrook Gem

Cranbrook’s largest installation of Pewabic Pottery tile is at Kingswood School, boasting several fireplaces, and all of the dormitory bathrooms (forty-nine total), and most notably the infamous Green Lobby. Pewabic was not, nor was it ever intended to be a commercial manufacturer. And although the pottery was incredibly prolific, it was envisioned as an Arts & Crafts pottery, where each piece of tile was hand-molded.

As a result of its high quality craftsmanship, Pewabic had issues producing the amount of tile needed in the timeframe for the installation and completion of Kingswood School. The contractors responsible for installing the tile were forced to travel to Detroit twenty-six times for small batches of tile; in other words, as the pottery produced the tile batch by batch, the contractor would pick them up in an effort to maintain their scheduled completion date! Unfortunately this caused financial issues between Pewabic and the contractor due to the delayed production and inevitable delayed installation, not to mention the extra time and travel needed to obtain the batches which hindered the completion of the building.

Kingswood School Green Lobby, photographer PD Rearick, 2015

Kingswood School Green Lobby, photographer PD Rearick, 2015.

Despite these issues, the Green Lobby remains today as one of the gems of Cranbrook’s campus and is a favorite of students, faculty, and visitors alike. In 1931, the lobby featured a Pewabic fireplace, wainscoting, and flooring, as well as the staircase and railing to the second floor. However, when the lobby was restored in 1997, new floor tiles needed to be installed. Unfortunately, the floor tiles we see today are reproduction, not Pewabic though the original fireplace, wainscoting, and stairwell remain.

Green Lobby stairwell leading to the second floor, photographer PD Rearick, 2015.

Green Lobby stairwell leading to the second floor, photographer PD Rearick, 2015.

Stefanie Dlugosz-Acton, Collections Fellow, Center for Collections and Research

 

 

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