Edna Vogel: Cranbrook’s Other Wright Weaver

Researching in the Archives before a big tour, I came across an interesting person whom I earmarked to come back and examine further. I already knew Loja Saarinen wove textiles for Frank Lloyd Wright, but Edna Vogel’s story of weaving for Wright intrigued me; it turned out there was a bit more to learn about Edna Vogel.

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Edna Vogel in her weaving studio, July 1942. Joe Munroe, photographer. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Edna Vogel (1901-1953) grew up in St. Louis and studied at a teacher’s college and then Washington University in St. Louis. She wasn’t in love with teaching elementary school, but she did like making costumes, so in the early 1930s she went to New York to study dress design. Not finding the cloth she wanted in stores led her to discover an interest in weaving, and weaving led her to Cranbrook for summer courses in 1939.

Vogel studied at Cranbrook Academy of Art for four summers and two regular academic years, earning her MFA in May 1943. Like so many Academy students, Vogel bounced between disciplines, studying weaving with Marianne Strengell, ceramics with Maija Grotell, and working in the metals shop. She spent most of her time in the ceramics studio, with Grotell commenting in 1941 that Vogel had a “very fine understanding for color and form” and that “her technical research and discoveries are exceedingly valuable.”

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Ceramics and place-mat by Edna Vogel, made as a student at Cranbrook. Detail of a photograph, June 12, 1941. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

In the early 1940s, Vogel moved into the carriage house of Bloomfield Hills socialite Kate Thompson Bromley, who kept detailed diaries that include information on Vogel’s work and travels. 

Vogel worked in the carriage house with two assistants between three looms (small, medium, and very large), she began weaving placemats, pillows, fabrics, and rugs. The largest rug Vogel wove was for architect Albert Kahn, in a Swedish style, and she wove others for Kahn’s family. She also wove the rugs for Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1941 Gregor Affleck House in Bloomfield Hills. Wright instructed Affleck to use long, strip-like rugs for his living room in order to leave much of the concrete floor exposed. Affleck, who may have met Vogel through Grotell or Bromley, commissioned rugs from her sometime in the early 1940s.

Thrilled with receiving the commission, Edna Vogel set off in her car towards Wisconsin and Wright’s estate, Taliesin. Approaching Taliesin, she became nervous that the famous Wright would not want to see her without an appointment. She ended up knocking on the wrong door of the house, introduced herself to an apprentice, and, to her surprise, being taken into a meeting with Wright. He seemed charmed—with both her and her ideas for the Affleck House rugs. He was so impressed by Vogel that he invited her to come and work at Taliesin as both weaver and ceramicist.

She stayed for a long weekend, but as remembered in Mrs. Bromley’s diaries, Vogel’s chief complaint with Wright’s work centered on his interest in providing functional architecture but not always functional furnishings. Wright did not, Bromley wrote, “aim to make a house and furniture one unit as at Cranbrook,” and so Vogel decided to return to Michigan and remain at the Academy. She completed the rugs for the Affleck House, and at a visit to the house later, Wright’s wife Olgivanna commented that the rugs were the “finest she had ever seen.”

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Edna Vogel’s rugs for the Gregor Affleck House, c. 1941-45. Courtesy of Lawrence Technological University.

At the end of the 1940s, after exhibiting ceramics internationally and producing textiles for homes, Vogel moved to New York. She wanted a place to find new inspiration and focus on her weaving. In South Salem, about thirty-miles north of New York City, she bought a former school house with a first-floor residence and an open studio large enough for her 12-foot loom on the second floor. She produced rugs of various sizes that were noted for their painterly, subtle uses of color, and she maintained an extensive collection of yarns from around the world. Tragically, Vogel died of smoke inhalation in 1953 when a chimney fire spread to her yarn storage.

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Rug by Edna Vogel, displayed at Cranbrook. Photograph, July 30, 1942. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

We have just a few images of Edna Vogel’s works in our archives and I found only a handful more in periodicals in the Art Academy Library. If you know more about her, or where her work lives on, let us know in the comments or at center@cranbrook.edu.

– Kevin Adkisson, Collections Fellow, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

Anne Morrow Lindbergh: The Cranbrook Connection

The Archives has in its collection photographs of a sculpture modeled by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. How did Lindbergh come to study at Cranbrook? In April 1942, Charles Lindbergh, at the invitation of Henry Ford, came to metro-Detroit as a technical consultant to assist with retrofitting the Willow Run plant from auto manufacturing to bomber production. In July, the Lindberghs moved to Bloomfield Hills and signed a one-year lease for a furnished home then owned by Kathleen Belknap. Originally known as “Stonelea,” the home, designed by Albert Kahn in 1923, is located at the corner of Cranbrook Road and Woodward Avenue and is now known as Lyon House. The Lindberghs were quickly welcomed to the neighborhood by Carolyn Farr Booth (wife of Henry Scripps Booth). During the summer of 1943, Anne enrolled at the Cranbrook Academy of Art where she studied modeling and sculpture with sculptor Janet DeCoux, and art history with Ernst Scheyer. Since Charles was away much of the time, Anne asked Janet and her partner, Eliza Miller, to move in with her to help raise her four children. Thus began a friendship among the three women that lasted until the end of Mrs. Lindbergh’s life. (Approximately fifty letters, 1944-1952, from Anne Morrow Lindbergh to DeCoux can be found in the Janet De Coux Papers at the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art.)

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Anne Morrow Lindbergh, 1943. Cranbrook Archives.

At the Academy, Anne was treated not as the wife of a celebrity or even as a grieving mother, but as any other student. In her diaries (published in “War Within and Without”) Anne wrote of the freedom she experienced at Cranbrook “where people take me on faith.” Work in the studio, exhibitions at the Art Museum, and parties with music and conversation about art, books, and writing allowed Anne the freedom to “give my true self as I have never done in a group of people before.” She developed social courage and friendships with Janet and Eliza, Carl and Olga Milles, Ernst Scheyer, and neighbors like Kate Thompson Bromley. Her work as a sculptor taught her to see the world through a different lens – she learned how to sketch the human figure and transpose her ideas into her sculpture and it both surprised and excited her that she could actually see beauty in a sculpture, especially one made of her own hands. She was inspired by the natural beauty of Cranbrook, cross-country skiing on the grounds, and writing in her brown trailer in the woods. (Anne wrote her novella “The Steep Ascent” while at Cranbrook.) She relished the time with her children, and often walked them down the hill to Brookside School. Dinners with the Saarinens were exhilarating where they talked of “cities of the future.”

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Anne Morrow Lindbergh picnicking at the Greek Theatre at Cranbrook, Jun 1944. Copyright The Detroit News.

In August 1943, Kathleen Belknap decided to sell the home, then known as Belwood, and the Lindberghs moved into a home at 411 Goodhue Road, behind Christ Church Cranbrook, for the next year. The two years spent at Cranbrook forever changed Anne spiritually. She discovered self-confidence, and that people liked her for who she was. After the Lindberghs returned to the east coast in 1944, Anne missed her Cranbrook friends and the life she had discovered here and wrote that she felt “only half alive since I left Cranbrook.” The Lindbergh family continued to return to the Detroit area to visit Charles’ mother Evangeline at her Grosse Pointe residence until she passed away in 1954. In January 1974, at the request of the Class of 1974, Kingswood School headmaster Wilfred Hemmer invited Anne to be the school’s forty-fourth commencement speaker.

Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

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