Look up! Studio Loja Saarinen Ceiling Murals

The Center for Collections and Research’s newest intervention in Saarinen House opens on Sunday, April 28: Studio Loja Saarinen: The Art and Architecture of Weaving, 1928-1942.

In researching the exhibition, Collections Fellow Kevin Adkisson has discovered many remnants of the Studio in the Archives, Art Museum Collections, and on the campus of the Cranbrook Academy of Art. One part of the Studio remains that you’re likely not familiar with: the weaving allegories by Katherine Sibley McEwen (1875-1957), one of the founders of the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts and a friend of George G. Booth. Her eight allegories and border elements were painted directly onto the ceiling of the former Studio Loja Saarinen Weaving Room — now the studio of Elliott Earls, Artist-in-Residence and head of the 2D Design Department at Cranbrook Academy of Art.

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Studio Loja Saarinen Weaving Room, 1930. Bouquets by Anne Frykolm (left), Cranbrook Rug No. 1 by Maja Andersson Wirde (floor), furniture by Eliel Saarinen (center), weaving allegories by Katherine McEwen (ceiling). Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

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Ceiling murals designed and executed by Katherine McEwen in what was once Studio Loja Saarinen. Each is an allegory of weaving. Photo by PD Rearick.

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Winding thread on the bobbin – detail of ceiling murals by Katherine McEwen in what was once Studio Loja Saarinen. Photo by PD Rearick.

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Collecting the thread – detail of ceiling murals by Katherine McEwen in what was once Studio Loja Saarinen. Photo by PD Rearick.

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Harvesting cotton and flax (linen) – detail of ceiling murals by Katherine McEwen in what was once Studio Loja Saarinen. Photo by PD Rearick.

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Harvesting silkworms and shearing wool – detail of ceiling murals by Katherine McEwen in what was once Studio Loja Saarinen. Photo by PD Rearick.

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Detail of the decorative borders by Katherine McEwen along the ceiling of what was once Studio Loja Saarinen. Photo by PD Rearick.

McEwen executed other works at Cranbrook, including the magnificent frescoes at Christ Church and a witty history of education series in the lower level of the Cranbrook School for Boys Dining Hall.

This Sunday, April 28, 2019 from 1-5pm visitors will have the very rare opportunity to see the Studio Loja Saarinen murals as part of the Academy’s Open(Studio) event–just follow the signs to the 2D Department. At the same time the Center’s special Studio Loja Saarinen show will be opening in Saarinen House, incorporating six historic Studio Loja Saarinen rugs and tapestries new to the house, dozens of archival and new color photographs, and a handful of small personal accessories from Loja Saarinen. And, the loom is up and running and Cranbrook Kingswood students will be giving hands-on demonstrations.

If you can’t make it to the opening, the Studio Loja Saarinen exhibition may be viewed on both public and private tours of Saarinen House during the 2019 Tour Season, Friday, May 10, 2019 through Sunday, December 1, 2019.

– Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar

Photo Friday: Underlying Principles of Beauty

St. Paul Chapel reredos. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

St. Paul Chapel reredos. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

In a letter to George G. Booth ca 1931, Detroit News Art Critic Florence Davies, writes of artist Hildreth Meiere, “All over the place she discovered these refinements of line, these essential underlying principles of beauty. I have taken many people to Cranbrook, never anyone who saw it with so much understanding.”

Meiere (1892-1961) was a distinguished Art Deco muralist, painter, and decorative artist. Her commissions range from the medallions on the exterior of Radio City Music Hall to the dome in the National Academy of Sciences in Washington D.C. to the reredos panels in St. Paul’s Chapel in Christ Church Cranbrook. Educated at Manhattanville, the Art Students League, the California School of Fine Arts, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and in Florence, Italy, Meiere was a renowned muralist, as well as an important figure in the history of American Liturgical Art, and a preeminent mosaicist.

“It drives me wild to be spoken of as ‘one of the best women artists,” Meiere wrote to a friend in 1936, “I’ve worked as an equal with men and my rating as an equal is all that I value.” In 1956, she was the first woman honored with The Fine Arts Medal of the American Institute of Architects. Although it has taken years for her work to be discovered and viewed in its rich cultural context, we are grateful for her artistry here at Cranbrook.

Note: You can view more information and images of Hildreth Meiere’s work here.

Gina Tecos, Archivist

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