“My On-Hangers”: Virginia Kingswood Booth Vogel’s Charms

At the Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research, we care for not only the historic objects on the campus, called Cultural Properties, but also the three-dimensional objects that often come in with Archival Collections, known as Realia.

These three-dimensional objects need different storage than the papers in archival collections. Often, these items are only listed as “Realia” in the Archives Finding Aids without individual descriptions- you have to pull out the box to know what is inside. For this reason, we are now recording Realia individually in our Collections Management System.

Recently, I have begun working to rehouse, catalog, and photograph the Realia in the Archives to make it more accessible and searchable. The first collection I worked on was the Virginia Kingswood Booth Vogel Papers, which contained some fun objects.

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Virginia Kingswood Booth on her European trip in 1920. Courtesy of Virginia Kingswood Booth Vogel Papers, Cranbrook Archives.

Virginia Kingswood Booth Vogel was born in 1908, the only daughter of Ralph Harman Booth and Myrtle Mary Batterman Booth. Ralph Harman Booth was a co-founder of Booth Newspapers and a brother of George Gough Booth, founder of Cranbrook.

“My On-Hangers” were what Virginia Kingswood Booth (Vogel) called the charms she collected on her European trip with her parents in 1920 at age 12. Virginia purchased the charms at the various stops on the trip. She found charms that represented the places they visited or an event that happened, like the cold she had (bedpan charm) or the baby born to a family friend (baby rattle). Some other examples are the globe, which represented the trip itself, and the 1910 Passion Play Medallion that was purchased when the family visited the town of Oberammergau, famous for (as readers of the blog know) its Passion Play. She would continue to collect charms on later trips, though none are as documented as those from the 1920 trip.

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Globe charm representing, to Virginia Kingswood Booth, the start of her European journey.

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1910 Passion Play Medallion.

These charms were originally stored in a box, wrapped in tissue, and tied together on strings. This made viewing individual charms difficult and, being tied together, caused unnecessary abrasion and wear. I removed each charm from the string and placed it in its own compartment in an acid-free tray. So that the charms would not get jumbled when moving the box, each one was sewn to a piece of foam.

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Some of the “On-Hangers” in their new, archival housing.

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Edelweiss charm in its new housing. The number indicates that the object is in Archives (ARC), in the Virginia Kingswood Booth Vogel papers (1999.1), in the 1920 collection of charms (.1), and that this is the 61st charm (.61).

Look for more fascinating discoveries in the coming weeks, as more Archival Realia is cataloged and rehoused.

-Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar

Might Willy not carve something for you?

Oberammergau, a small Catholic village in Bavaria, Germany, is known for its woodcarvers and for its almost 400-year tradition of mounting an elaborate Passion Play.

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The Village of Oberammergau, 1922. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

The Passion Play is performed in years ending with a zero. Due to economic instability, however, the 1920 performance of the Passion Play was postponed to 1922.

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Oberammergau Passion Play Theater, 1922. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

That year, Henry Scripps Booth and his friend J. Robert F. Swanson were traveling on a ten-month-long European tour and decided to see the rescheduled Passion Play. Henry and Bob stayed at Max Spegel’s pension in Oberammergau, Germany. It was there Henry met Herr and Frau Spegel, their sons Wilhelm and Max, and their daughter Sophie. After the trip, Henry corresponded with Frau Spegel and her son Wilhelm, until about 1937.

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Wilhelm and Max Spegel at their father’s Pension, 1922. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

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Henry Booth with Wilhelm and Max Spegel at their father’s Pension, 1922. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

In January 1924, Frau Spegel suggested, because some items Henry had ordered in Oberammergau had never arrived, “Dear Friend, might Willy [Wilhelm] not carve something for you?” From then on, Henry was agreeable to having the Spegel family carve wood panels, gates, doors, and ceilings for his new home, Thornlea.

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Wilhelm Spegel, 1922. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Carvings by the Spegels can be found throughout Thornlea:

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Warming Oven Doors in Thornlea Dining Room, 1926.

Wilhelm writes, in 1926, “I am sending you with this letter a pascel (sic) containing the two doors for the plate warmers . . . I myself have done all the carving and it took me about 55 hours . . . there is not much work for the wood carvers people have no mony (sic)

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In the Thornlea Dining Room is a Three-section Sideboard with Carved Panels, 1926-1929, incised with geometric, floral, figural, and animal decorations. Wood panels depict figures such as Adam & Eve, Lindberg, Chief Pontiac, and Columbus.

In order to help his friends, Henry designed a three-section sideboard, into which he inset carved panels done by Wilhelm and Max Spegel — the original idea was to have the panels used as a frieze around a room, but that never materialized. Henry paid the Spegels $8 per panel and let them have creative input into the design and subject matter.

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The ceiling of Thornlea Oratory, circa 1926.

The Spegels next created an elaborate set of ceiling panels for use in Thornlea’s Oratory. In a letter to Wilhelm in October of 1928, Henry writes, “The ceiling looks exceptionally well and we are thoroughly pleased with it. Everyone who sees your work certainly is complimentary towards it.

In 1929, Wilhelm had the idea to come to America, as jobs for woodcarvers were scarce at the time. He had asked Henry to “write a letter to the American Consulate in Stuttgart . . . so that they know who I am and that you have known me for many years.” There is no mention of the said letter in any of Henry’s replies but later letters indicate the move to America did not happen.

Henry and Carolyn Farr Booth visited the Spegels in Oberammergau in 1930, likely to see that year’s Passion Play. In the play, Herr Spegel was Rabbi Jakob, as he had been in 1922; Wilhelm was one of the man-servants of Pilate; and Max “will figure amongst the people.”

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Wilhelm Spegel, Carolyn Farr Booth, and Max Spegel in Oberammergau in 1930. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Letters from the Spegels stop in 1937. We do not know what happened to Wilhelm Spegel after 1937 except that he was married on April 17 of that year and died in 1951. We do know that Max Spegel (the younger) served in the German Infantry during World War II and died in service in 1942 at the age of 30. His name appears on the war memorial in Oberammergau.

One item of note, and a fact that Henry S. Booth himself pointed out in a letter to his sister: George G. Booth’s favorite woodcarvers John Kirchmayer and Alois Lang were from Oberammergau, Germany. Henry seemed happy to have found his own carvers in the same city.

Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar

“His Heart and Soul into each Madonna, Saint, Commoner, or Angel”

Johannes Kirchmayer, also known as John Kirchmayer, was born March 31, 1860, in Oberammergau, Bavaria. Oberammergau is known for its Passion Play, something the whole town participates in every year it is performed. As a young man, Kirchmayer had the role of Joseph (of many-colored-coat fame) in the play. “We have the statement from John, himself, that the ‘Passion Play’ was a great influence in his early life.” (Prouty, p. 18). It meant Kirchmayer was well versed in biblical history, which would serve him well later in life.

The village of Oberammergau is also known for its long tradition of woodcarving. After he learned to carve from his grandfather, and later his Uncle Georg, a professional carver, Kirchmayer spent a number of years taking classes in Augsburg and Munich, Germany, and in London and Paris perfecting his craft. In 1880, at the age of 20, Kirchmayer moved to Boston, Massachusetts. There, he found work creating mantels, stairways, home decorations, and furniture. However, his greatest passion seems to have been ecclesiastical works, perhaps influenced by the Oberammergau Passion Plays of his youth.

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Undated portrait of Johannes Kirchmayer (1860-1930). Courtesy Cranbrook Archives

Kirchmayer’s friend Stanford White, an architect, introduced him to a number of other architects. He soon found work with cabinetmaking and decorating firms that were working on commissions in churches, businesses, institutions, and private homes. Kirchmayer had close working relations with a number of prominent architects and artisans and was, in 1907, a founding member of the Society of Arts and Crafts, Boston.

After 1898, working for the Boston furniture and architectural woodworking firm Irving and Casson, Kirchmayer worked on the buildings of the noted American Gothic-revivalist Ralph Adams Cram, a prolific architect of collegiate and ecclesiastical buildings.

Kirchmayer’s notable work around Boston include carvings in The Church of the Advent; All Saints’ Church; the Second Church; and Unity Church. He also designed part of the Anderson Memorial Bridge over the Charles River.

His work outside the Boston area includes carvings in Christ Church Cathedral, Springfield, MA; the Church of Saint Mary the Virgin, West 46th Street, New York City; St. Mary’s Anglican Church, Windsor, Ontario; the Church of the Saviour, Syracuse, New York; and the James J. Hill House, St. Paul, Minnesota.

Shirley Prouty, his biographer, wrote that “John Kirchmayer did not use drawings, charts, or schematics to immortalize his saints; He studied and planned and started with a block of wood. On this piece of oak, mahogany, boxwood, cherry (he used many kinds of wood), he would draw the nude figure. He had studied anatomy as a student in Augsburg, thereby learning to proportion arms and hands, legs and feet, and an overall balanced subject. This preliminary sketch on wood was in charcoal. Then he would draw the draperies in color as they would appear in the final rendition.” (p. 27)

George G. Booth made Kirchmayer’s acquaintance through their Arts and Crafts activities and soon became one of his most ardent patrons. Booth commissioned Kirchmayer to produce carvings for Christ Church Cranbrook, Cranbrook House, and the Booth Collection of decorative arts at the Detroit Museum of Art.

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1918 carved portrait of George G. Booth, in Cranbrook House Library, by Kirchmayer. Courtesy Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

It is said that Kirchmayer “put his heart and soul into each Madonna, saint, commoner, or angel he was carving.” (Prouty, p. 29). He also followed the old Bavarian custom of leaving one’s visage somewhere in your work.

At Christ Church Cranbrook, Kirchmayer’s works include the “Doubting Thomas Door,” which features images of the craftsmen who worked on the church, including Kirchmayer; the ornamental screen covering the wall at the back above high altar with “Triumphant Christ” at the top; the Lectern; the Chapel Doors and Lectern in the Resurrection Chapel; and a Madonna in Parish House.

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“Doubting Thomas Door,” Christ Church Cranbrook. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

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Kirchmayer left his visage as the woodcarver on the “Doubting Thomas Door”. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

At Brookside School, Kirchmayer created corbels (projections jutting out from a wall) of the four Evangelists.

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Corbel representing St. John the Evangelist at Brookside School. Courtesy Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

At Cranbrook House, Kirchmayer carved many works. The largest commission was the impressive paneling of the Library, including the “Personification of the Arts (Religion Inspiring the Arts)” overmantel, which featured Kirchmayer as the woodcarver.

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Kirchmayer’s “Personification of the Arts (Religion Inspiring the Arts)”over-mantel in Cranbrook House Library. Photograph by P.D. Rearick, Courtesy Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

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Detail of Kirchmayer’s “Personification of the Arts (Religion Inspiring the Arts)” over-mantel in Cranbrook House Library. Note that the woodcarver (behind the bishop) is depicted as Kirchmayer himself. Photograph by P.D. Rearick, Courtesy Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

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Detail of Kirchmayer’s “Personification of the Arts (Religion Inspiring the Arts)” over-mantel in Cranbrook House Library. Photograph by P.D. Rearick, Courtesy Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

He also created items like a reading desk and bench; linen-fold paneling in Oak Room; a blanket chest; four carved Gothic finials in the corners of the Library; and a small figure of himself for the Booths. George G. Booth particularly enjoyed his reading desk and bench, which Kirchmayer created for the Booths’ library in 1919 from a sketch that Booth had supplied. (Prouty, p 100).

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Snapshot of Johannes Kirchmayer in front of the New Silver Beach Hotel in North Falmouth, MA, circa 1928. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Kirchmayer’s work can be found in many prominent cities: from Minneapolis-St Paul, to Detroit, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Columbus and Quincy, Ohio, Baltimore, Washington D.C., New Haven, New York City, Providence, Boston, Concord and Peterborough, New Hampshire, Portland, Maine, as well as in The American Church in Manila and in Walkerville, Ontario, Canada. Perhaps his prolific work across the globe is the reason why, shortly before his death, Kirchmayer received the “Craftsmanship Medal for Distinguished Achievement in Wood Carving” by the American Institute of Architects. It is the only time the award has been given for woodcarving.

Johannes Kirchmayer died at his Cambridge, Massachusetts home in 1930.

– Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar

Sources:

Johannes Kirchmayer from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johannes_Kirchmayer

Mark A. Coir, Cranbrook Art Museum: 100 Treasures (Bloomfield Hills, MI: Cranbrook Art Museum, 2004)

Shirley Prouty, Master Carver, Johannes Kirchmayer, 1860-1930: From Germany’s Passion Play Village to America’s Finest Sanctuaries (Portsmouth, N.H. : Peter Randall Publishers, 2007

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