Craft in Time: Oscar Bach and the Cranbrook School Dining Hall Clock

For nearly ninety years, diners in the Cranbrook School dining hall have marveled at the clock that hangs high above the fireplace. Designed and fabricated by New York metalsmith Oscar Bruno Bach, the clock is a tribute to George Booth’s beloved Arts and Crafts Movement. Each hour is represented by an art or craft, ranging from metalworkers to woodworkers.

Cranbrook School Dining Hall, 1928. Peter A. Nyholm, photographer.

Cranbrook School Dining Hall, 1928. Peter A. Nyholm, photographer.

Oscar Bruno Bach (1884-1957), who was born in Germany, came to the United States in 1913 and established a metal design studio with his brother in New York City. As they built up their reputation and the business grew, Bach exhibited his work through The Architectural League of New York and at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, among others. His work graces numerous churches, industrial buildings, and residences primarily in New York but also in the Midwest. His first known work in Michigan was ornamental metalwork for the Blessed Sacrament Cathedral in Detroit (1915).

Bach was known for incorporating a variety of metals and metal techniques in his work. Cranbrook’s clock (1926) is made of four concentric iron rings with a center element (two male figures at an anvil) of repoussé brass surrounded by three brass “flame” rings. Each of the twelve figures representing arts, crafts, and trades are also made of brass, surrounded by floral elements made of iron. Copper was used for the rivets and for the small fleur-de-lis elements on the outer rim. Finally, the hour and minute hands are made of aluminum with brass rivets.

Detail of the center panel, 2001. The clock was restored courtesy Cranbrook Class of 2000.

Detail of the center panel, 2001. The clock was restored courtesy Cranbrook Class of 2000.

The clock however was not Bach’s first contribution to Cranbrook. In 1919, he fabricated lead “conductors” for the exterior of the east and west wings of Cranbrook House. George Booth also acquired a smoking stand (1922) and two table lamps (1929) for Cranbrook House, and commissioned Bach to fabricate Cranbrook School’s Peacock Gates (after Eliel Saarinen’s drawings) and the Treasury Door (1928) at Christ Church Cranbrook. Other local commissions include The Detroit Players Club (1925), Moulton Manor (1926), the estate of William Scripps (Ellen Booth’s brother) in Lake Orion, and the First National Bank (1927) in Ann Arbor.

One of the four Oscar Bach “conductors” at Cranbrook House, 2004. Mira Burack, photographer.

One of the four Oscar Bach “conductors” at Cranbrook House, 2004. Mira Burack, photographer.

One of the most interesting discoveries I made in writing this post was that the clock used similar elements as doors Bach designed for the new wing of the Toledo Art Museum (1925). They both feature arts and crafts figures – a potter, sculptor, glassblower, draughtsman, metal worker, and bookbinder. In January 1926, Bach received the “Medal of Honor in Design and Craftsmanship in Native Industrial Art” from the Architectural League for his design for the doors so it’s no wonder that he incorporated some of the same elements in the Cranbrook School dining hall clock. I may be a bit partial, but I think our clock is even more magnificent than the doors and I imagine you will too!

Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

 

New Center Logo & A Fond Farewell

The Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research has officially launched our new logo! What follows is a description of where each of the letters comes from in the history of Cranbrook or the location on the campus!

The (first) C in Cranbrook is from the logo George Gough Booth created for the Cranbrook Press in 1901, three years before he and his wife Ellen established their estate in Bloomfield Hills.

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The Cranbrook Press (1900-1902) was founded by George Booth in the attic of the Detroit Evening News Building.  Booth emulated the work of William Morris and his Kelmscott Press, not just in design but also in the level of hand-craftsmanship.

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Photo Friday: A Labor of Love

Christ Church Cranbrook Interior. Cranbrook Historic Photograph Collection, Cranbrook Archives.

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Christ Church Cranbrook Nave. Cranbrook Historic Photograph Collection, Cranbrook Archives.

After a visit to Christ Church Cranbrook earlier this week, I knew it needed to be highlighted as today’s Photo Friday! George G. Booth conceived Christ Church to be the moral center of the new community which he was building at Cranbrook. The photos show a great overview of the expansiveness of the church and shed some light on the magnitude of the work involved in its design. Each of these elements adds to the overwhelming detail of George Booth’s vision and the care in the design of Christ Church Cranbrook.

The church is Booth’s testament to the Arts and Crafts movement. He carefully acquired and commissioned each work of art to add to the overall wonderment of the church and to pay tribute to those who have devoted their lives toward artistic and altruistic pursuits.  The works of art range from the sterling altar plate to stained glass windows, altar frontals, tilework, woodcarvings, paintings, sculptures, and metalwork, most from noted Arts and Crafts men and women.

These photographs, taken five years after the 1928 dedication of Christ Church Cranbrook show the interior of the church sanctuary and a detail view of the nave of the church. The large fresco flanking the high altar was designed and executed by Katherine McEwen, an old friend of Booth’s, and one of the founding members of the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts.  From the work of Katherine McEwen to Oscar Bach, Samuel Yellin, and Hildreth Meire, to name a few, Christ Church Cranbrook is an architectural gem which should be experienced in person!

Stefanie Dlugosz, Center for Collections and Research, Collections Fellow

 

Photo Friday: Cranbrook’s Gatescape

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Close-up of the peacock for which Cranbrook School’s Peacock Gates are named. Designed and installed in 1927, restored in 2013. Cranbrook Archives.

Doors, entryways, gates – Cranbrook’s campus was designed with an eye towards points of transition.  Since its foundation 108 years ago, Cranbrook has maintained a long tradition of gate design and fabrication.  This close-up of a stylized peacock comes from Cranbrook School’s famous Peacock Gates; designed by Eliel Saarinen, they were produced by the metalsmith Oscar Bach in 1927.  Recently, a long restoration process culminated with their re-installation on the Cranbrook School campus.   This gate and many others are the subject of the second exhibition in the From the Archives series.  Drawing from the rich collection of the Cranbrook Archives, From the Archives: Forging Cranbrook’s Gatescape explores the history, design, and formation of Cranbrook’s historic and contemporary “gatescape.”

Experiencing the gates from within the walls of the Art Museum is nothing compared to seeing them in person.  With that in mind, Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist and exhibition curator, will be leading a walking and bus tour of the gates on Sunday, October 5.   The tour will take participants  to some of Leslie’s favorite gates, from beloved classics to the newest installations on campus.   More information on the exhibition and walking tour is available here.  Be sure to check it out, and get ready to see Cranbrook’s gates in a whole new light!

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