A Delightful Trip in a White Swedish Ship

Between 1925 and 1939, the Saarinen family made annual trips to Europe, always stopping for a time in Finland. They travelled by sea, usually departing from New York and arriving in Southampton, England or Gothenburg, Sweden. When they sailed directly to Scandinavia, they were abaord the MS Gripsholm.

MS Gripsholm 1951 mailed

The MS Gripsholm in New York City, c. 1951. Courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York.

The Gripsholm was built in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England, in 1924 for the Svenska Amerika Linien/Swedish American Line (SAL). The SAL was founded in 1914 as a direct Swedish-North American cargo and passenger shipping line, and the Gripsholm was the company’s first luxury liner. She was also the first diesel-engine transatlantic passenger liner, which is why she is the MS (or Motor Ship) Gripsholm. After 1929, all the SAL fleet was painted white, giving rise to the moniker “A delightful trip in a white Swedish ship.”

Aboard the MS Gripsholm, first class passengers enjoyed all the traditional features of luxury transatlantic liners (libraries, writing rooms, gyms, a pool, garden rooms, smoking parlors, bars, etc.), along with distinctly Nordic options, like folk dancing, Swedish foods, and a fully Swedish crew.

Along with the port of Gothenburg’s closer proximity to Helsinki, it was perhaps these northern-European comforts that led the Saarinens, who were Swedish-speaking Finns, to repeatedly choose the Gripsholm for their summer journeys. Aboard the Gripsholm in 1929, this photo was snapped on deck showing Eliel, his son-in-law J. Robert F. Swanson, months-old Bob Swanson, and Eliel’s daughter Pipsan Saarinen Swanson. The family captioned the photo “Last Dash Before the Crash.”

Eliel Bob Bobby Pipsan on the Gripsholm 1929

Eliel, Bob, Bobby, and Pipsan aboard the MS Gripsholm, 1929. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

In 1934, Eliel, Loja, Pipsan, Bob, and their now five-year-old son Bobby were again aboard the Gripsholm. On the SAL stationery, Loja wrote a letter back to George and Ellen Booth at Cranbrook. She writes, “I wanted tell you again how happy Eliel and I have been at Cranbrook and how thankful we are to you because you want us there.” She continues:

“So far we are well off although neither Pipsan nor I knew what we took over us in taking Bobbi along. He is like a firework. He is nowhere and everywhere. He hasn’t climbed up the smoke stack yet neither has he ridden on a whale’s back, but he has done other things enough to worry us.”Letter from Loja Saarinen to George Booth_GGB Papers 19-4

On this same trip, a photograph of Pipsan and little firework Bobby was sent back stateside and ran in the local papers here in Oakland County. Pipsan is shown in a fashionable dress and hat, quite possibly of her own design, as at the time she was head of the Academy of Art’s short lived Fashion Department. Pipsan, like her mother, made many of her own clothes throughout her life.IMG_3206

In the Cranbrook Cultural Properties collection, we have the Saarinen’s steamer trunks and suitcases that they used aboard the Gripsholm and other ships. One of the suitcases has its stickers from the MS Gripsholm, still prominently called out in the Swedish pale blue and yellow.

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The Saarinen’s steamer trunks and suitcases. On view now in “Saarinen Home: Living and Working with Cranbrook’s First Family of Design”

During World War II, when the Saarinen’s remained in the States aiding the U.S. war effort and organizing the Finnish Relief Fund, the Gripsholm was charted by the U.S. as a repatriation ship. It carried German and Japanese citizens to exchange points for U.S. and Canadian citizens. Gripsholm (and her neutral Swedish crew) made these exchanges at neutral ports, including Stockholm, Lisbon, Portuguese Goa, and Lourenço Marques. Over 12,000 Americans who had been in enemy territory at the outbreak of war or were prisoners of war returned home aboard the Gripsholm in this diplomatic capacity.

In 1954, SAL sold the Gripsholm to a German company. She was rechristened the MS Berlin and entered into service as a Canadian immigration ship, sailing from points in Europe to Pier 21 in Halifax (the Ellis Island of Canada). The ship was retired and scrapped in 1966, but an image of the Gripsholm (in her Berlin livery) lives on in the Canadian passport!

Copies of the Saarinen’s letters sent from the Gripsholm, photographs of the family about the ship, and the trunks and suitcases used by the family are all currently on view in “Saarinen Home: Living and Working with Cranbrook’s First Family of Design” in Saaarinen House, open for tours Friday and Saturdays at 1pm and Sundays at 1 & 3pm through the end of July. Tonight is our last Finnish Friday, where there is an open house at Saarinen House and games and cake in its courtyard, also, the Cranbrook Art Museum will be open; there are Finnish-related treasures out in the Archives Reading Room; and a cash bar on the Peristyle. Come on by for our last Finnish Friday!

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

Dessert with Décor in Mind

Back in the winter of 1941-1942, the fashion editor of The Milwaukee Journal, Aileen Ryan, visited Loja and Eliel Saarinen here at Cranbrook. She published an article about her day at the Academy and dinner in the Saarinens’ remarkable home on January 18, 1942: “Furnish Home According to Principles of Architecture” (The Milwaukee Journal, section 7, p. 9).

Plate 53

Dining Room set for a tea, c. 1994, Copyright Cranbrook Art Museum and Balthazar Korab

Ryan vividly describes the ceremonial nature of dinner in the dining room of the house, how hospitality, art, architecture, and food intersect in a totally beautiful and complete way. She writes:

“The dining room is at the left of the entrance and gleams a golden welcome to guests. Light is reflected from a gilded dome ceiling back to the top of the round table made of rays of harewood inlaid with ebony in a way that suggests the sun. Places are set on circular doilies of yellow linen block with black figures which the Saarinens’ son, Eero, made when he was a child. On these are black plates, on these folded yellow napkins and on top of these yellow cups and saucers. Each guest unpiles his cup to get his napkin as the plump brass coffee pot is brought around. It’s delicious coffee and amber enough as it streams from the slender spout to fit into the color scheme.

“Mr. Saarinen looks vastly amused when he tells us the chairs, with their Spanish comb look and sunny as the table itself, are made of Hollywood. He has designed them as he has the other furniture in the house, and they are dramatic. The walls of this golden room, seeming sunny on a gray and snowy day, are of waxed California pine. One of them is nearly covered with a Finnish tapestry made by Greta Skogster in soft terra cotta tones. The ombre [sic] shaded carpet is creamy white and brown.”

She ends the description of dinner:

“A pineapple upside down cake is part of the edible harmony, but Mrs. Saarinen refuses to admit she serves food to carry out the architectural scheme.”

Last weekend we reopened Saarinen House for tours, and many of the items Ryan describes are again on view in the house (the yellow place mats, the black dishes, the golden coffee pot, etc). And on Friday night, as part of our first Finnish Friday, we even brought back pineapple upside down cake! Sweet and Savory Bakery in Oxford, Michigan, generously donated plenty of pineapple upside down cake for guests to enjoy. Without Loja’s recipe but trying to be historically accurate, we used a recipe found in Good Housekeeping in February 1938.

Good Housekeeping Feb 1938 p 167

“Hit ideas for any meal with pineapple taking the lead,” Advertisement in Good Housekeeping, February 1938, Courtesy of the Winterthur Library.

Since this weekend is Mother’s Day, and, for many of us, our mothers are especially connected with memories of food and cooking, I wanted to talk a bit more about food in the Saarinen home. Bob Swanson, Loja’s oldest grandson, told me a few weeks ago that Loja was an excellent cook. He remembers her serving lots of ham and lutfisk at the holidays. As great of a cook as Mormor (Swedish for grandma) was, Bob recalled that most meals were prepared by the housekeeper and served in the kitchen dining area (not on tour). That dining area had plain chairs and a rectangular table with a black Formica top—not quite the drama of the main dining room.

His own mom, Pipsan Saarinen Swanson, was also a great cook. Bob remembers her making wonderful and inventive wartime meals—specifically liver and onions, lamb shanks, and calves brains. Pipsan, whose dresses are currently on display in Saarinen House, was (unknowingly) living journalist Aileen Ryan’s own wartime interests: “rations, passions and fashions.”

Bob laughed when I asked him if he remembered Loja serving pineapple upside down cake to match the décor. He didn’t recall her serving it to him, but said it was just her humor to do something like that. He also remembered how much Loja loved pies, particularly peach pie and pineapple pie–both pies that would coordinate with the décor!

For more Saarinen family stories, come join us for a Saarinen Home tour: Fridays and Saturdays at 2:00pm and Sundays at 1:00pm and 3:00pm. To try out our interpretation of a period Pineapple Upside Down Cake (served in the Saarinen House courtyard outside the dining room) join us for an upcoming Finnish Friday (May 19th, June 9th,  and June 23rd). In addition to admission to Cranbrook Art Museum and an open-house in both Saarinen House and the Archives Reading Room, we’ll also have period board games, Saarinen family films, a pianist at the family designed piano, and a cash bar for your enjoyment!

-Kevin Adkisson*, Collections Fellow, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

*My mother, for the record, is also an amazing cook.

May The Fork Be With You

 

 

forkeditedEliel Saarinen taught his students to always consider how the design of one object fits within the next largest context; the building within the city plan, the furniture within the room, down to the fork on the table. Kingswood School for Girls embodies this philosophy, and is considered a “total work of art” designed by the Saarinen family. But that doesn’t mean the Saarinens designed everything in the building: Eliel knew when to delegate, not only to his wife Loja, daughter Pipsan, and son Eero, but also to others, like rugs and fabrics in the school designed by Studio Loja Saarinen weavers Maja Andersson Wirde, Lillian Holm, and others.

Instrumental in decorating the school, Loja Saarinen also used her design eye to choose existing wares from the market to compliment the environment being created at Kingswood.  The 1938 Kingswood School Cranbrook Inventory of Equipment and Supplies is full of entries like this one from May 1934: “Voucher No. 5547, Nessen Studio, Inc., 18 Nut Dishes for Kingswood School (ordered by Mrs. Saarinen).”  The flatware in the Kingswood Dining Hall is another prime example of an existing design used to complete the Saarinens’ vision.

The International Silver Company was a conglomerate of New England silver producers formed in 1898. Subsidiaries of International Silver, like Rogers Bros. and Wilcox Silver Plate Company, continued using their marks on works created under the new organization.  The silver-plate pattern selected for the Kingswood School for Girls dining hall was the International Silver Company’s “Silhouette” pattern.  Though Eliel Saarinen collaborated as a designer with International Silver on a number of projects—including his famous Tea Urn and Tray—the “Silhouette” pattern was designed by Leslie A. Brown, who held a number of design patents while working for International Silver Company. “Silhouette” was produced under both the International Silver Company name and the 1847 Rogers brand.

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Advertisement from Hotel Management, Volume 17, Issue 6 (June 1930), Section 2, page 365.

The ladies of Kingswood used these beautiful pieces on Saarinen designed tables, with plates from the Syracuse China Company (hotel ware division) with a Saarinen-designed Kingswood School crest on them.  Dinners at Kingswood were formal affairs, so there were many pieces to each complete set of flatware.

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Detail from an image of the Junior-Senior Banquet at Kingswood School, June 1941. Notice the “Silhouette” flatware, the crested serving ware, and the Saarinen-designed Silver Centerpiece (KS 1991.1). Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

The 1938 Inventory lists the following forms purchased through Marshall Field & Company for use in the dining hall: Viande* Knives, Viande* Fork, Individual Salad Forks, Individual Fish Forks, Bouillon Spoons, Butter Spreaders, Teaspoons, Dessert Forks, Cocktail Forks, Dessert Spoons, Table Spoons, Coffee Spoons, Soup Ladles, and Cold-Meat Forks.  The flatware had a “Butler finish” – a matte or frosted finish — on 18% nickel silver blanks — a metal alloy of copper, nickel and zinc, highly resistant to corrosion and tarnish.  All pieces were marked “Kingswood School.”

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Viande fork (top of page), butter spreader, and bouillon spoon from the Cultural Properties Collection, Kingswood School for Girls. Courtesy of Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

The flatware was used for everyday dining as well as more formal dinners, but as dining at Cranbrook became less formal and the student body increased in size, more utilitarian commercial-grade knives, spoons, and forks were introduced. Luckily, we still have many of these original pieces in storage for study and display.

*”Viande” is French for “meat” but in this case refers to a form of flatware with longer handles with shorter blades or tines.  It was supposed to fit more comfortably in the hands, advertised as having “smartness and being chic.”

Leslie S. Mio is the Assistant Registrar for the Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research and the Cranbrook Art Museum.

 

Photo Friday: Europa and the Bull

The year 1975 marked the centennial of the birth of Swedish sculptor, Carl Milles. In honor of this event, the Swedish Council Detroit held a reception at Cranbrook Art Museum on June 12, 1975. Those in attendance included the Swedish Counsel General, Karl Henrick Andersson, and Count Wilhelm Wachtmeister, Swedish Ambassador to the United States (1974-1989).

The Swedish Council Detroit places a wreath atop Milles' sculpture, Europa and the Bull. Henry Scripps Booth is holding the ladder and Cranbrook photographer, Harvey Croze, is in the foreground, to the left of the ladder. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

The Swedish Council Detroit places a wreath atop Milles’ sculpture, Europa and the Bull. Henry Scripps Booth is holding the ladder and Cranbrook photographer, Harvey Croze, is in the foreground, to the left of the ladder. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

In conjunction with the Jenny Lind Club of Detroit, they presented the Academy of Art with $1500 in support of the Carl and Olga Milles Scholarship Fund (which is still in existence today). It was part of $75,000 raised by Cranbrook as part of a Ford Foundation matching grant.

Dedicated to the preservation of Swedish cultural heritage, the Jenny Lind Club also participated in Cranbrook’s celebration of Carl Milles’s 75th birthday in 1945. The first vice-president at that time was Ingrid Koebel. The Koebel House, located in Grosse Pointe, was designed by J. Robert F. Swanson with interior decorations by Pipsan Saarinen Swanson.

Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

Cranbrook Up North

For many of us who grew up in Michigan, going up north during summer vacation was (and still is) something very special – a way to escape the hustle and bustle of city and suburban life and become one with the natural beauty it has to offer. Throughout the 20th century, Cranbrook scientists, artists, architects, students and faculty, as well as members of the Booth family, took advantage of the native woods, white sandy beaches, and waters of Lake Michigan.

Logo for Pinehurst Inn, Indian River, 1940. Cranbrook Archives

Logo for Pinehurst Inn, Indian River, 1940. Cranbrook Archives.

Shelley Selim, Cranbrook Art Museum’s Ralph and Jeanne Graham Assistant Curator, curated the exhibition Designing Summer: Objects of Escape which features Michigan designers and companies who have contributed to summer innovations including tents, boats, and bicycles as well as a summer home designed by Florence Schust Knoll. In response to the opening of the exhibition on Saturday, June 20th, I opted to post a few highlights of Cranbrook’s ongoing relationship with northern Michigan.

Dudley Blakely painting at group site, Bois Blanc Island, 1938. Cranbrook Archives.

Dudley Blakely painting at group site, Bois Blanc Island, 1938. Cranbrook Archives.

As early as 1929, staff and faculty from the Institute of Science traveled north to conduct studies of animal and plant life on the many islands in Lake Michigan – from Bois Blanc to the Manitous. Reports of these research trips were documented in photographs, field notes, and ultimately published in Institute of Science newsletters and bulletins.

During the 1940s and 1950s, Henry Scripps Booth took his family up north for several summers, often vacationing with friends. One of their favorite spots was Good Hart, where they stayed either at The Krude Kraft Lodge or the Old Trail Inn.

Carolyn Farr Booth and Chauncy Bliss on the Fire Tower at Good Hart, ca 1940. Cranbrook Archives.

Carolyn Farr Booth and Chauncy Bliss on the Fire Tower at Good Hart, ca 1940. Cranbrook Archives.

Communities like Cross Village, Harbor Springs, and Glen Arbor have been inspirational for Cranbrook artists and architects for centuries. Former head of architecture, Robert Snyder, designed an A-Frame beach cottage for Wally Mitchell, while architecture student Harry Weese designed a trifecta of summer homes (two for the Weese family) at Glen Arbor. “Shack Tamarack” (named after the tamarack logs used in its construction) was built in 1936 and is still used by Weese descendants today. Harry followed that with “Cottage Two” in 1939, a one story house designed with his brother John, and the Pritchard House which spoke to the modern aesthetic Weese experienced as an architecture student at Cranbrook Academy of Art.

Robert F. Swanson and Pipsan Saarinen Swanson spent decades designing commissions up north including the ultra-modern MacDonald Building in Harbor Springs, the L’Arbre Croche Condominium development, and the family’s own summer cottage at Menonaqua (along with son, Bob). Check out Shelley’s blog about Pipsan’s Sol Air furniture which is featured in the Designing Summer exhibition.

While architect Tod Williams (Cranbrook School ‘61) served as project manager for Richard Meier’s Douglas House project also located in Harbor Springs, other Cranbrook-related projects up north include The Munising Design Strategy Matrix – a community design project managed by The Community Design Advisory Program (CDAP). Established in 1987 by Design Michigan, a non-profit, state outreach program housed at Cranbrook Academy of Art, CDAP provided tailored community design and revitalization services to the city of Munising.

And, in 2013, Peter Pless (CAA ‘02) lead a design collaboration between the Human Centered Design Program at Northern Michigan University and the Lloyd Flanders furniture company of Menominee, Michigan.

Thankfully, there is seemingly no end in sight to the inspiration and possibilities of art, architecture, science, and plain old fashioned relaxation one can find up north.

Promotional Literature, Charlevoix Chamber of Commerce, 1941. Cranbrook Archives.

Promotional Literature, Charlevoix Chamber of Commerce, 1941. Cranbrook Archives.

Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

Fashioning Architecture

In 1931, attendees at the Beaux-Arts Ball in New York came dressed to impress. An annual party thrown by the Society of Beaux-Arts Architects, the ball featured a different theme each year. 1931’s theme of “Fete Moderne — a Fantasie [sic] in Flame and Silver” was inspired by the New York skyline and the iconic skyscrapers that had recently come to define it. Fully committing to the theme, many guests came dressed as famous New York buildings. In this photo William Van Alen holds center court as the Chrysler Building (of which he was the architect) while other personified buildings crowd around him.

William Van Alen as the Chrysler Building, with other masquerading architects around him. On the far right is Joseph Freelander as the Museum of the City of New York.  Source: NY Times/untappedcities.com.

William Van Alen as the Chrysler Building, with other masquerading architects around him. On the far right is Joseph Freelander as the Museum of the City of New York. Source: NY Times/untappedcities.com.

 

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Dispatch for the Archives: the Joys of Processing

Although we live in an age of technology, databases, and the digital representation of collections, one of the most interesting and rewarding jobs for an archivist (at least this one!) is still the processing of a collection.  What does this encompass? It is the way in which an archivist takes the paper records of an individual, group, or institution and sifts through them, weeding out duplicates, sorting, organizing, and  rehousing in acid-free folders and boxes, all to make it accessible for you, the user!.  To some this may seem a tedious task (and it certainly can be depending on the nature of the collection) but the rewards are usually worth it.  Finding that one gem that tells a new story, or that group of documents that sheds new light on an old story—this is the stuff archivists dream of!

I am currently processing the Swanson Associates Records that document the partnership between architect J. Robert F. Swanson and interior designer and textile artist Pipsan Saarinen Swanson.  Right now I am looking at the project files that relate to the firm’s architectural commissions from 1926 to 1977.  So, as a sneak preview (the collection is not yet open for research), here a couple of interesting discoveries:

 

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