Photo Friday: Academy of Art Graduation Day

Congratulations to the Cranbrook Academy of Art students who graduated with their MFA’s and MArch’s today! The ceremony was held in Christ Church Cranbrook, after too much rain water-logged the Greek Theater. Did you know the ceremony used to be held in the library?

Although the Academy welcomed students in 1932, it first granted degrees in 1942 after being chartered by the State of Michigan as an institution of higher learning.

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Cranbrook Academy of Art Convocation in the Academy of Art Library, May 1948. Harvey Croze, photographer. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

The first convocations were held in the Academy Library. Here, in 1948, we see Henry Scripps Booth speaking, with Zoltan Sepeshy seated to his far left and Carl Milles and Eliel Saarinen to Booth’s right. In the foreground of the image, bursting with blooms, is Maija Grotell’s blue and platinum vase of around 1943.

– Kevin Adkisson, 2016-2019 Collections Fellow, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

Sisu, the Amazing Maija Grotell

Sisu is a Finnish concept described as stoic determination, a tenacity of purpose, grit, bravery, resilience; it is also the word weaver Marianne Strengell used to describe her friend Maija Grotell.

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Maija Grotell at Cranbrook Academy of Art Faculty Breakfast, 1939. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Maija Grotell was born August 19, 1899, in Helsinki, Finland. She studied painting and sculpture in Helsinki, graduating in 1920. While working at a textile firm as an artist, she completed six years of graduate work in ceramics (1920-1926) under Alfred William Finch, a noted Belgian ceramicist and painter who practiced in Finland.

In October 1927, Grotell immigrated to the United States, settling in New York where she studied for one summer under Charles Fergus Binns. Her first employment was as an Instructor at Inwood Pottery Studios in New York City (1927-1928). She went on to teach children at the Union Settlement (1928-1929) and at the Henry Street Craft School Settlement (1929-1937), both in New York. While teaching ceramics and researching glazes, Grotell was also exhibiting and selling her own ceramics. From 1937 to 1938, Grotell was a ceramics instructor and research assistant at the Department of Ceramics at Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey. She became a naturalized United States citizen in 1934.

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Maija Grotell in the Cranbrook Academy of Art Ceramics Studio. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, “Maija Grotell was one of the most significant potters working independently during the late 1930s. Although a relatively large number of women played important roles in the art pottery movement in the early twentieth century, few female ceramists were active between the first and second World War. Grotell was one of the exceptions.

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Maija Grotell at work. From the Maija Grotell Papers, Cranbrook Archives.

As Eliel Saarinen’s complex of buildings at Cranbrook began to take shape, he sought out distinguished artists and craftspeople to work in the studios. Impressed with a gallery exhibition of Grotell’s work, Saarinen envisioned her ceramics contributing to the architecture of Cranbrook. In the fall of 1938, Saarinen invited Grotell to join himself, Carl Milles, and Marianne Strengell at the Cranbrook Academy of Art as head of the ceramics department, a position she held until her retirement in 1966.

Grotell described the way she worked as such, “I always have something I am aiming at, and I keep on. I do not sketch on paper, I sketch in clay. So if it is not what I want, I make another one and keep on. In that way I have many similar pieces. My reason is not for repeating, but for improving.”

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Maija Grotell overlooks her students in the Cranbrook Academy of Art Ceramics Studio, 1939. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

In her teaching, Grotell emphasized ceramics as a medium of artistic expression. Many students trained by her went into teaching and were integral to the development of America’s university ceramics programs following World War II. In her twenty-eight years at Cranbrook, her students included Richard DeVore, Toshiko Takaezu, John Glick, Susanne Stephenson, Lydia Kahn Winston Malbin, and Jeff Schlanger.

Of Grotell, Takaezu said, “Majia’s astute, honest, sharp criticism would sometimes fall into place months later, but it was always true. Maija didn’t say very much and what she didn’t say was as important as what she did say, once you realized she was thoroughly aware of everything you did.”

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Under This Roof Six Dreams Were Dreamed and All Came True – 1908, 1961. Commissioned by Henry Scripps Booth and executed by Maija Grotell, the vessel commemorates the founding of Cranbrook. Courtesy of the Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

Her “astute, honest, sharp criticism” may have been what Marianne Strengell was thinking of when she started calling her Sisu. She had the tenacity to tell her students the truth; no holding back to spare feelings.

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“MG” signature on the bottom of a vessel at the Frank Lloyd Wright Smith House. Courtesy of the Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

Throughout her career, Grotell actively engaged in research on glazes. She developed copper reds, ash glazes, intense blues, and crackle glazes. One of her original discoveries was the use of chromium and iron in place of uranium to produce a brilliant orange glaze. Her work opened the door to the architectural uses of glazed, colored bricks in midcentury architecture, including those used by Eero Saarinen at the General Motors Technical Center (1953-1955).

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A glaze recipe from the Maija Grotell Papers in Cranbrook Archives.

She died on December 6, 1973, in Pontiac, Michigan, but Grotell’s glaze formulas remain a large part of her legacy. Another legacy came in 1977: the “Arts & Craft Court” at the Cranbrook Academy of Art was renamed the “Maija Grotell Court” in her honor.

Exceptional that such a strong, well-respected woman was so influential at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in its formative years as well as the art world.

– Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar

Links:

Maija Grotell Papers, Cranbrook Archives, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.

“Mary, Maija, and Toshiko: Re-Thinking Open Storage in the Collections Wing.” Cranbrook Kitchen Sink. Website.

The Marks Project, The Dictionary of American Studio Ceramics, 1946 Onward. Website.

Photo Friday: Grotell & Himelhoch’s

In November of 1942, Maija Grotell displayed her wares among the latest fashions in the windows of Himelhoch’s department store in downtown Detroit. Grotell, Head of the Academy’s Department of Ceramics from 1938 to 1966, placed her vases, pots, and plates in a stage-set ceramics studio, replete with a painted kiln, bottles of glazes, and a potter’s wheel (made of what appears to be Papier-mâché).Grotell Himelhochs 1The clothes related directly to the vessels, with the sign reading: “Ceramics: Wonderful Muted Colors To Wear Under Winter Coats Inspired by Maija Grotell’s Ceramic Masterpieces.” Himelhoch’s sold the clothing, while the Grotell works were sold through the Detroit Artist’s Market.

The images are attributed to photographer Joseph Munroe, November 2, 1942.

– Kevin Adkisson, 2016-2019 Collections Fellow, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

NB: Himelhoch’s opened in 1907 and was on Detroit’s Washington Boulevard from 1923 to 1977. The lovely building is a National Historic Landmark and survives today as apartments.

First Female Graduates

We recently had a query in the Archives about who the first woman was to receive an MFA at the Academy of Art. Actually, there were two – both in Ceramics. Edna Vogel’s bio can be found in a previous blog post. The other woman was Florence Kee Chang, a Chinese-American from Hawaii. Born in 1915 in Wahiawa on Oahu Island, Chang attended the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland, California after high school, where she received her B.A. in Art Education in 1942. She immediately applied to Cranbrook, where she studied ceramics with Maija Grotell, weaving with Marianne Strengell, and took a course in Metals with Harry Bertoia.

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Chang’s bowl and vase acquired by Cranbrook Academy of Art in 1943 as part of the Acquisitions Honors. On the right is Chang’s mark.

In May 1943, Chang was part of the first class of MFA graduates at the newly accredited Academy of Art. She and Vogel were the only two women to receive degrees that inaugural year. In addition, the Academy purchased two of her pieces of pottery, for which she received an “Acquisitions Honor.”

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Although she was from Hawaii, Chang adapted well to winter in Michigan! Courtesy Margueritte Kimball Papers.

Very little is known about Chang after she graduated. In 1955, she traveled to Japan, where she worked for two years as an arts and crafts director for the U.S. Army as part of what became known as The Army Crafts Program. Chang returned to Hawaii where she passed away in 2001.

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Chang’s 1942 Christmas card reflects the Academy Art’s sculpture and architecture.

If you have any further information about Florence Kee Chang, please contact us!

– Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

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

Making Wartime History Come Alive

Last spring I gave a presentation about Cranbrook during World War II to the 8th grade history classes at the Girls Middle School. So, when our blogmaster asked for a post this week about WWII, I thought I would share that experience. After working in the archives for more than 14 years, I knew we had a myriad of materials relevant to WWII and I was excited to share these stories with the 8th grade girls. I was hopeful that it would help make a part of history more real to them. I began by asking each class (there were four that day!) how many thought Cranbrook was affected in ANY way by the war? Throughout the day, maybe 8 of the nearly 60 girls raised their hands. While I was surprised, I was also excited to enlighten them.

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Other ways in which the Cranbrook community supported war relief efforts included the British Children Refugee program, the Finnish War Relief Fund, and the Red Cross and Victory Book Drives

Cranbrook’s war-related activities were far-reaching – from Cranbrook School boys practicing military drills on the football field to Academy of Art ceramicist Maija Grotell who collected sweaters and unraveled them to repurpose into balls of yarn that she sent to families in Finland. War Bond drives were held at each of the school campuses, the Booth family closed off the west wing of Cranbrook House to conserve fuel due to rationing, and a previous blog post highlights one of Cranbrook’s own Monuments Men.  The 8th grade girls were particularly amused by the photograph of the Red Cross class which was held at Kingswood School, and that girls their same ages had collected waste fat from the school dining hall. There were a lot of “EWW!s”

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Cranbrook School Scrapbook, April 1942

I told the girls about the war memorial plaque which hangs at the base of Hoey tower and lists the names of all 678 Cranbrook School alumni who served in the war, including the 37 who lost their lives. We talked about the Cranbrook Committee on Civilian Defense and the air raid sirens/drills on campus, and how students from both Cranbrook and Kingswood Schools entertained the troops at Selfridge Air Force Base.

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Cranbrook had air raid sirens in numerous locations across campus.

At the end of each class, I asked the girls again how many thought Cranbrook was affected by World War II, and nearly all of them raised their hands. It was gratifying to be able to share primary source documents from our collections to help bring history out of the textbook and onto the campus. I’m looking forward to teaching again this school year!

Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

 

Cranbrook’s Other Kahn

What many people do not know is that Albert Kahn had a famous daughter, Lydia Kahn Winston Malbin (1897-1989). She was not an architect, nor a famous actress or TV personality, but was referred to as the “First Lady of Modernism” in a 1984 Detroit News magazine article by art critic Joy Hakanson Colby. Malbin, a lifetime trustee and honorary curator of the DIA, chairman of the Detroit Artists Market, and a member of the Detroit Arts Commission, was also a student at Cranbrook Academy of Art in 1934 and then again from 1940-1944 when she received her MFA in Ceramics. (Malbin took additional ceramics classes with Maija Grotell and painting with Zoltan Sepeshy through 1950.)

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Lydia Malbin in her Manhattan apartment, 1984. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

But what she was best known for was her vast collection of modern art, an interest that began for her in the 1930s and continued throughout her lifetime. This week I received a query from an art auction house in London, England. They have a work by German-American painter, Lyonel Feininger, that had once been in Malbin’s collection and was on display in a 1951 exhibition at Cranbrook Art Museum called “The Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Harry Lewis Winston.” (Winston was Lydia Kahn’s first husband.) As auction houses often do, they wanted to verify that Feininger’s painting “Becalmed” had indeed been in this exhibition. As I researched this work, it reminded me of Malbin’s additional connections to Cranbrook.

 

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Exhibition Catalog, 1951. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Not only was Malbin a student at the Academy of Art, she was also one of the six Cranbrook-related artists who contributed to the Saarinen-Swanson Group, an affordable, coordinated line of modern home furnishings, which debuted in 1947. Malbin designed the oven-ware pottery, manufactured by Frankoma Pottery Company, and china with glazes meant to “simulate the quality and color of semi-precious stones” manufactured by Glenco Porcelain Company. She also designed ash trays and vases – a line of “red ware” – which featured clay and glazes from Ferro Enamel in Cleveland, Ohio.

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Detroit Free Press, September 1948. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Malbin began collecting modern art in the 1930s. Though her father, Albert Kahn, couldn’t stand modern art, he did instill in all of his children the lesson that they should be independent thinkers. So, Malbin sought out what SHE liked – “tough, off-beat things” rather than popular artists or “pretty pictures.” She and her first husband, Harry Winston, were an art collecting team until Harry’s death in 1965, and Malbin’s second husband, Barnett Malbin, while not a collector himself, supported her collecting activities and even made photographic records of her art for her archives.

For more on Malbin’s collecting interests, check out the Lydia Winston Malbin Papers at Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library and the Barnett and Lydia Winston Malbin Papers, 1940-1973 at the Archives of American Art.

Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

Mary, Maija, and Toshiko: Re-Thinking Open Storage in the Collections Wing

Open storage.  Two words that mean nothing to the wider public, the phrase is a loaded one for museum professionals.  Love it or hate it (and I personally love it), open storage is an increasingly popular method of getting a museum collection—usually hidden away in the bowels of the institution—exposed to a wider audience.  Most museums only exhibit about 10% of their collection at one time, so building or retrofitting storage spaces to allow for public viewing of objects provides an opportunity to leverage museum storage and increase visitor-object interactions.  From the Luce Centers at the New York Historical Society and the Smithsonian American Art Museum to the open ceramics storage at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, more and more institutions are removing the physical barrier between their visitors and their objects—or at least replacing an opaque barrier with a glass one.

In 2008, Cranbrook Art Museum had the opportunity to redesign the museum’s storage from the ground up.  The museum chose to strike a balance between the all-access open storage model of a Luce Center or the new American Wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the traditional, old-fashioned model of closed-off storage with the rare “behind the scenes” mediated tour.  What resulted was the ceramics  vault in the new Collections Wing, a secure room with a glass wall that gives visitors—who enter the Collections Wing on one of the regularly scheduled weekly vault tours—a chance to look into storage and get a sense of the scope and depth of CAM’s holdings.  To add to the potential learning opportunities for visitors, no museum objects are assigned a permanent home on the first row of shelves in the vault.  Instead, the empty shelves serve as a miniature curatorial opportunity, with staff members changing out the objects on display there and tour guides serving as docents for “curated” shelves.

Ceramics vault in the newly built Collections Wing.  The first shelf is temporary shelving - it is used to curate within the collection. 2012. Jim Haefner/SmithGroup/Cranbrook Art Museum

The ceramics vault in the newly built Collections Wing. The first shelf is temporary shelving – Museum and Center staff use it to curate within the collection. Jim Haefner/SmithGroup/Cranbrook Art Museum, 2012.

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Photo Friday: Maija and Nelly

Maija Grotell and Nelly Beveridge at work on the base of a fountain, 1940.

Maija Grotell and Nelly Beveridge at work on the base of a fountain, 1940. Richard P. Raseman, Historical Photograph Collection, Cranbrook Archives.

Finnish-born ceramicist Maija Grotell served as the head of the Ceramics Department at the Cranbrook Academy of Art from 1938 to 1966.  Here, she works on the base of a fountain with student Nelly Beveridge.  Beveridge played many roles on campus, serving as a companion and nurse to George and Ellen Booth in their later years even as she completed her studies at the Academy.

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