A Mexican Adventure & South American Sojourn

Cranbrook’s founders George and Ellen Booth loved to travel, collecting memories and mementos wherever they went. With Europe at war in 1939, they headed south—way south!

The Booths explored Mexico from the ancient Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza to bustling Mexico City. Along for the journey was their nurse and traveling companion, Nellie Beveridge. We’re lucky Nellie was there—her camera documented the journey. Unlike other trips the family made, where we can reconstruct detailed itineraries through letters, postcards, and even menus in Cranbrook Archives, there’s not a lot of documentation about this trip other than Nellie’s slide images:

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Two years later, in the Spring of 1941, George, Ellen, Nellie Beveridge, and Nellie’s camera set sail from New York City aboard the Grace Line South American Cruise. The six-week journey started in Barranquilla, Colombia; moved through the 44-miles of the Panama Canal; and down the South American coast, stopping in Ecuador, Peru, Chile, and across land to Buenos Aires.

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Looking closely at the photographs, we see highlights of the trip included a ride on one of the many funiculars of Valparaiso, Chile, visits to more ancient sites, museums, and markets, and a journey on “the Chair,” a hand-powered lift in the port of Mollendo, Peru.

Inspired by the Booth’s adventures, for this year’s Holiday Splendor event at Cranbrook House we’ve brought together a selection of slide images and items from the 1939 and 1941 trips, along with objects from Latin and South America held at Cranbrook Institute of Science and folk art decorations from Mexico and Peru.

Mr. Booth's Original Office decorated for Holiday Splendor, 2019. Photo by Daniel Smith, CAA '21.

Mr. Booth’s Original Office decorated for Holiday Splendor, 2019. Photo by Daniel Smith, CAA ’21.

On both trips, Mr. Booth likely collected souvenirs, one of which, a Peruvian decorated gourd, is on display. On his return to Michigan, it would seem Booth was inspired to collect more Pre-Columbian art from dealers in New York and San Francisco for his burgeoning Cranbrook Academy of Art Museum, which opened in its current building in 1942.

Working with Anthropology Coordinator/Museum Educator Cameron Wood at Cranbrook Institute of Science, Leslie Mio and I were able to study a number of fascinating pieces that Booth collected for the Art Museum and Institute, and see other works of art, domestic objects, and pieces of ancient and modern life from the countries the Booths traveled through. (In the 1980s, the Art Museum transferred many of its ancient pottery and anthropological items to the Institute of Science).

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Nazca double-spout-and-bridge vessel with mask decoration; Pre-Columbian double-chambered jar from Panama; and carved and painted wooden toys of people and llamas from Peru, 1940s. Photo by Daniel Smith, CAA ’21.

One of my favorite pieces we selected from the Institute is a double-spout-and-bridge vessel with mask decoration from the 2nd—4th century by the Nazca people, who lived in what is now Peru. The Nazca culture (100BC-800CE) is characterized by its beautiful polychrome pottery, painted with at least 15 distinct colors. Their vessels were constructed by the coil method and then decorated with a multicolored slip before the vessels were fired. This allowed for bright and permanent colors, and the images served as a way of recording stories for a people without a written language. The sheen of the vessel was enhanced by burnishing after it was fired. This type of vessel was used for ritual purposes, as they are most often found in graves.

The Peruvian decorated gourd (front center-left) collected by Mr. Booth is on display with ancient and 20th-century objects generously on loan from Cranbrook Institute of Science. Photo by Daniel Smith, CAA ’21.

George Booth would have seen pieces like the double-spout-and-bridge vessel on his travels through Peru’s museums, galleries, and archaeological digs. However, this piece was purchased from an American dealer after he returned home. Another, much larger piece, is in the Nazca style but dates to the 1940s and was also purchased by Booth for the museum. It is interesting to see how the ancient, Pre-Columbian pieces and the modern Peruvian works share similar styles, forms, and motifs.

The mantle in Mr. Booth's Original Office, featuring Mexican tin trees and a Peruvian retablo.

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The mantle in the office, featuring Mexican hojalata (tin artwork) candelabra Christmas trees and Peruvian retablo. Photo by Daniel Smith, CAA ’21.

After Spanish invasion and colonization, indigenous cultures and design became mixed with Catholicism. Today, the most prominent decor at Christmastime in South America is the nativity. Retablos, a reverent diorama-altar typical of the Ayacucho region of Peru, combines Catholic imagery with indigenous style and stories, and have been made throughout South America since colonial times. Our retablo was purchased through UNICEF Market, helping to support artisans and charity work in Peru.

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The mantle in the office, featuring Mexican hojalata (tin artwork) and a handmade woven bicyclist. Tin art has been popular in Mexico since the 1500s. Photo by Daniel Smith, CAA ’21.

The ornaments on the tree and along the mantel include hand-carved gourds and clay nativities from Peru, along with painted ceramic candle holders, tin animals, and hand-woven bicyclists from Mexico. These are all types of small souvenirs the Booths would have seen on their travels. In fact, there is a stall selling very similar gourd ornaments in one of the images Nellie took!

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Four Peruvian pottery figures of musicians from the 1940s and models of Mexican castillo (castle) firework frames. Fireworks have been popular for patron-saint festivals and holidays in Mexico since the mid-19th century. Photo by Daniel Smith, CAA ’21.

Leslie and I are grateful to Cranbrook Institute of Science for loaning objects from the areas of the Booths’ trips; to Deborah Rice in Cranbrook Archives for scanning all the great images (you can see more here); and to Michael Sinelli, Gerhardt Knodel, and Kenneth Gross for sharing pieces of Mexican and Peruvian folk art from their own collections to help make our room a festive, holiday scene!

Kevin Adkisson, Curatorial Associate

PS: There is one letter from George Booth to his son, Henry, where he writes about Mexico from Los Angeles: “Having passed out of the desert Mexican influence I find I am still greatly impressed with all I saw…I don’t like the bugs of Yucatan…the spots stay with you some time…, however a real traveler never lets such little things bother them–and with it all it in no way distracts from my good opinion of the Country–its history and the people of to-day.”

Cranbrook Sons Head Off to School

Each year, the Center for Collections and Research has the pleasure of decorating George Booth’s office at Cranbrook House for the holidays. This year, I went with a theme of Cranbrook sons heading off to college.

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Overview of the Center for Collections and Research display at Cranbrook House for Holiday Splendor 2018.

I was inspired by a recent visit to Cranbrook by Warren Booth’s daughter Dorothy (fondly known as Blammy) and her family entourage. The fourth of five children of Warren and Alice Newcomb Booth, as a young girl Blammy lived at Cranbrook House’s Tower Cottage.

Blammy’s grandson (and George and Ellen Booth’s great-great-grandson, and my college friend) Riley was along for the tour. He told me about having Warren’s Yale blazer and Warren’s amazing Raccoon coat. I thought it would be great to return the blazer to Cranbrook for display.

Warren Scripps Booth’s 1916-S Yale Blazer. Courtesy of Riley Scripps Ford.

Looking in Cranbrook Archives for what might compliment Warren’s Yale blazer, I found this amazing 1907 illustration by James Scripps Booth for the yearbook of Detroit University School. The oldest child of George and Ellen Booth, James was an artist, engineer, writer, philosopher and inventor. Although he shows a college student with his pipe and pennants, surrounded by books, James himself did not attend college.

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James Scripps Booth’s illustration for Detroit University School, 1907. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

The first Booth to go to college was the middle child, Warren Scripps Booth. He moved to Cranbrook with his parents in 1908 and studied at the University School in Detroit. Around 1909, he headed east to the Lawrenceville School in New Jersey. After his 1912 graduation, he studied with the Sargent Travel School for a year.

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Warren Scripps Booth’s entry in the Yale Class of 1916-S Yearbook. Courtesy of Riley Scripps Ford.

Enrolling at Yale in 1913, Warren studied civil engineering at the Sheffield Scientific School (the “S” on his blazer—at the time, undergraduates were divided between the four-year Yale College and the three-year Sheffield Scientific School). After graduating in 1916, Warren served as a U.S. Army Captain of Field Artillery in World War One, and saw action at Meuse-Argonne, Metz, France. After the war, he served as president of The Evening News Association and Booth Newspapers, as well as on many Cranbrook boards. Warren, his wife Alice, and their five children lived next door to Cranbrook at a house fondly called “NoBrook.”

The Booth’s youngest son Henry began his education at the Liggett School, but after the family moved to Cranbrook he was educated at home. He matriculated at the Asheville School in North Carolina for high school and returned north in 1918 to study architecture at the University of Michigan. While an undergraduate, Henry traveled extensively through Europe with his friend and classmate J. Robert F. Swanson, and in his final year in Ann Arbor, studied with Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen.

For the holiday display, I included Henry’s college scrapbook showing some of his many talents and activities. Bob Swanson had the same scrapbook (much less filled!) and I included it in the display to show the lovely maize “M” on the cover.

Finally, I jumped forward in time to another Cranbrook family who sent their son off to college. Son of distinguished Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen, Eero immigrated to the U.S. with his family in 1923. The Saarinens moved to Cranbrook in 1925 to help realize the Booths’ vision of an educational and arts community.

A talented artist from a young age, after graduating from Baldwin High School Eero studied sculpture in Paris’ Académie de la Grande Chaumière for one year before enrolling at Yale’s School of the Fine Arts in 1931. I included a reproduction of one of Eero’s drawing from Yale, resting on George Booth’s drafting table.

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“A Residence for a College Dean,” Eero Saarinen, 1931. In this student project, Eero’s use of an open floor plan, symmetrical furniture layouts, textiles, torchieres, and telescoping design elements all mirror his father’s designs for Saarinen House here at Cranbrook. Notice the “H.C.” written in red crayon: this stands for Hors Concours, or not competing. In the strict Beaux-Arts methodology of Yale’s architecture program, this project did not pass muster to be considered for a prize! Original drawing courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

At Yale, he took a wide variety of coursework: design, freehand drawing, engineering mechanics, history, economics, and scenic design. Even in his first year, his student work earned national recognition in architecture magazines. Eero also took a course on “Archaeology Research” with Raymond Hood (the architect who took first prize over Eliel Saarinen in the Chicago Tribune Tower competition of 1922).

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Detail of “A Residence for a College Dean,” Eero Saarinen, 1931.

Saarinen heartily embraced college life, including serving on the Decorating Committee of the student Beaux-Arts Ball. Though he excelled in the student architectural competitions, Eero almost always came just short of winning the First Medal, earning him the nickname Second-Medal Saarinen. His thesis project in the spring of 1934 received the international silver medal of the Société des Architectes Diplômés par le Gouvernement.

Along with many of his classmates, after Yale Eero entered the Office of Strategic Services (a precursor to the CIA), where he designed graphics for defusing bombs as well as underground bunkers, including the White House’s “situation” or war room.

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Charles Eames shares cigarettes with Eero Saarinen and Warren Booth at the opening of the 1939 Cranbrook Academy of Art Faculty Exhibition. Perhaps Eero and Warren were chatting about their happy bygone days in New Haven? Photograph courtesy of Cranbrook Archives. “Souvenir of Yale” plate, c. 1910, courtesy of the author.

Eero returned to Bloomfield Hills in 1936 to work with his father and brother-in-law, J. Robert F. Swanson. After Eliel’s death in 1950, Eero set up his own office. Among his many significant projects were a handful of university buildings: dormitories for Brandeis University in Boston, the law quadrangle at the University of Chicago, the North Campus and the school of music for the University of Michigan, the entire campus of Concordia College in Fort Wayne, Indiana, dormitories at Vassar, and two Residential Colleges and the hockey rink for his alma mater Yale. At the time of his premature death in 1961, Eero was also serving as Yale’s campus planner.

I’m grateful for the many stories Blammy and her family shared with me on our tour of Cranbrook earlier this Fall, and to Riley for lending us another piece of Cranbrook history to share with guests to Cranbrook House this holiday season.

– Kevin Adkisson, 2016-2019 Collections Fellow, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research (…and Yale Class of 2012)

Booth and Birds

In a corner of George Booth’s Old Country Office, there is a door that opens into a blank wall. I became curious about this door to nowhere last year when I was setting up the Center’s holiday display, and so this year’s Christmas scene is inspired by the door’s original purpose.

Around 1919, Booth purchased a blue and yellow macaw and named him Mack. Mack, like all parrots, enjoyed chewing things—Booth’s picture frames, furniture, and the walls themselves. Booth thought getting a second macaw, which he named Jack, might calm Mack’s chewing, but alas, he simply doubled the trouble.

In early 1920, Booth added a flat-roofed glass walled aviary outside of his office to give Mack and Jack their own space (and save the furniture). It was bound by the exterior walls of the office, living room, and library. Accessed through a door left of the fireplace, Mack and Jack were joined by canaries in the aviary, and according to Henry Booth’s memories, every time the canaries sang or the telephone rang, the macaws’ squawk would fill the house.

This ca 1925 view of Cranbrook House shows the exterior window of the aviary, covered with a cabana striped awning, between the bay window of the office and the library wing. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Eventually, the Booth’s gave Mack and Jack to the Belle Isle Zoo. The canaries remained for a time, cared for by one of the maids, Harriet. When she retired, the aviary was disassembled and the window was reused as a kitchen window for Brookside School, where it remains.

For my holiday display, I’ve opened the door to the aviary and staged a scene as if Mack and Jack were just here: destroying a book and leaving their feathers all around. You can find the canaries enjoying themselves around the Christmas Tree.

IMG_0798Also on display in the office, is a series of birds that Booth could have seen on his many walks around the Cranbrook estate–hawks, cardinals, robins, and plenty of ducks (on loan to me from Cranbrook Institute of Science). All are native to Michigan, except for the pheasant which would have been introduced to the area by early settlers. Pheasants, however, love fallow fields and run-down farms—exactly what the land which became Cranbrook was when Booth purchased the property in 1904!

IMG_0799Alongside the taxidermy I’ve included pieces from the Cranbrook Archives: early copies of Institute bulletins on the Birds of Michigan, original artwork from an ornithogist working at Cranbrook in the 1930s, and photographs and short biographies of other bird-related Cranbrook people, like W. Bryant Tyrrell, Walter P. Nickell, and Edmund J. Sawyer.

Come and see the Office display this weekend (December 1-3) for the House and Gardens Auxiliary’s Holiday Splendor event (Friday, 10-4pm, Saturday 9-4pm, and Sunday 12-4pm), visit it with me next Wednesday before or after the Center’s Järnefelt Piano Trio: Jean Sibelius Concert, or at any of the other Cranbrook House events before January 8th.

Kevin Adkisson, 2016-2018 Collections Fellow, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

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