Man and the Starry Heavens—The Story of Michigan’s First Public Planetarium

“Science and Art are not only for the scientist and the artist, but are for everyone who longs to enrich himself with true cultural interests.”

-George G. Booth, letter to Dr. Samuel Marquis, June 6th, 1934

Astronomy was included in the curriculum at Cranbrook School from its beginning in 1927. Judge Hulbert was chairman of the Observatory Committee and, with Prof. Curtis of the Astronomy Department at the University of Michigan, pursued plans to create a school observatory in what is now called Hoey Tower. The tower conditions were not conducive to keeping a telescope and an alternative location was sought. Consequently, an observatory was included in plans for an Institute of Science designed by George G. Booth in 1930 and the telescope was moved there. William Schultz, Jr. supervised the relocation of the telescope. Schultz was a general science teacher from 1930 to 1969, and Head of the Science Department at Cranbrook School (1938-1965). He was also an Associate in Astronomical Education with the Cranbrook Institute of Science from 1945. You can read more about the history of Cranbrook Observatory here.

William Schultz, Jr., October 1967
Copyright Cranbrook Archives, Photographer: Harvey Croze.

By 1932, it was clear that expansion and a new CIS building was necessary. Eliel Saarinen designed the second building between 1936-1937, and it was dedicated in 1938. The CIS Newsletter of April 1937 reported:

“Even in its uncompleted state one is impressed by the beauty of the new building—the sheer simplicity of the architecture, the artistry of its mathematical precision. One feels that it not only embodies the spirit of a scientific institution in its severity of line, but that the details of design give it a unique individuality. From the empty air, as it were, Mr. Saarinen has created one more evidence of his architectural genius.” (Aimee S. Lambie (Ed.), CIS Newsletter, April 1937).

The newsletter also reported the addition of a Copernican planetarium, a gift of Mrs. George G. Booth. The planetarium was made to order in Munich, Germany.

In the spring of 1953, the Astronomy program began to include demonstrations of the constellations on the inside of the observatory dome, using a star projector designed and built by William Schultz, Jr. Schultz was already using the projector to teach astronomy in general science class at Cranbrook School because it produced, “an amazingly good illusion of the starry heavens”. Developed with a materials cost of 45 cents, Schultz’ innovation was a distinguished addition to the astronomy program, but it also created the impetus for a facility and a projection instrument of wider application.

Cover of the Cranbrook Institute of Science Newsletter, December 1952

In June 1953, the Committee on Education made a proposal for the purchase and installation of a Spitz Planetarium to the Annual Meeting of CIS Trustees. In December the same year, L. James Bulkley and Dr. Robert McMath were appointed and authorized to act as a committee of two to pursue the Spitz Planetarium. During 1954, CIS Trustee William Edward Kapp drew up architectural plans for the Planetarium addition at no fee as his contribution to the project. The Spitz Model A-1 projection instrument was also obtained, a gift of Detroit Edison Company. The construction contract was awarded to Killfoile-Wendeln Construction Co. and groundbreaking took place on March 30, 1955.

Groundbreaking ceremony for the Planetarium, March 30, 1955
Copyright Cranbrook Archives, Photographer Harvey Croze

Construction went on through the summer of 1955. The Planetarium was formally dedicated on September 30, 1955, with an Invocation by Rev. Robert L. DeWitt, remarks by Mr. Kapp, a dedication address by Dr. Alexander G. Ruthven, President Emeritus of the University of Michigan and Institute Trustee, comments by Dr. Robert McMath, and demonstration by Armand Spitz, the designer of the projector.

The dedication of the Robert R. McMath Planetarium, September 30, 1955
Copyright Cranbrook Archives, Center for Collections and Research

When it opened in October 1955, Robert R. McMath Planetarium was the first public planetarium in Michigan. The following photograph shows Dr. Robert McMath (left), Mr. Armand Spitz (center), and Mr. William Edward Kapp (right) at the dedication event.

The dedication of the Planetarium, September 30, 1955
Copyright Cranbrook Archives, Photographer Harvey Croze

Between 1956 and 1971, there were 17,289 demonstrations in the Planetarium and it was time for a new projector. Schultz supervised the renovation of the planetarium, which reopened in October 1973 with a new Spitz 512 Planetarium instrument. The planetarium has since undergone further renovation and upgrades, courtesy of the Michael and Adele Acheson family. You can learn more about astronomy and the current programs at the Acheson Planetarium here.

“The planetarium reproduces the great panorama of the heavens, supplementing the telescope, which provides the intimate view… [It] is a successful adjunct to other forms of teaching science, from elementary to university levels, and to the study of navigation, mythology, literature, and spherical trigonometry. But it is above all a useful, ever-ready device for aiding people of all ages and degrees of education to study the sky around them and to set them thinking in terms of a “master plan.” (Robert T. Hatt, March 1956, CIS Newsletter, Vol. 25, No.7.)

Laura MacNewman, Associate Archivist

 

New Digital Collection Focusing on the Middle East

Thanks to a generous grant from the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation, thousands of negatives from the collections at Cranbrook Archives have been re-housed to ensure their long-term stability and preservation. One of these collections, which documents a research trip conducted in the Middle East by Cranbrook Institute of Science (CIS), has been digitized and is now available to users from our online database.

Domed Structures near Babylon. Photograph by Robert T. Hatt.

From 1952-1953, Dr. Robert T. Hatt (Director of CIS from 1935-1967) led an exhibition in Iraq, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt. Hatt recorded his observations in a travel journal which is part of the Robert Torrens Hatt Papers at Cranbrook Archives. In addition to his research and work as a scientist, Hatt was an avid photographer. Our collection includes more than 400 photographs taken by Hatt during his travels.

Dr. Hatt’s travel diary, 1952-1953. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

We are excited to share this unique collection that documents communities and antiquities which may no longer exist. Users can browse the collection image by image, or use the Search box at the top of each page in the online database.  To browse the 400+ images in the collection, click the Browse All button (next to Home).

Dr. Hatt (right) and an unidentified man in Babylon.

We hope you enjoy this new collection! Special thanks to Archives Assistants Veronica Wood and Kaitlin Scharra Eraqi for their hard work and the many hours they spent on this project.

Gina Tecos, Archivist

 

The Art and Science of Numbers

“La science du nombre devient la clef de toute culture scientifique,” prefaces an article by then-director, Robert T. Hatt, in the May 1966 Cranbrook Institute of Science newsletter. Roughly translated – the science of numbers becomes the key to any scientific culture – an idea promoted through a long-term exhibition at the Institute, titled Mathematics Emporium.

Sponsored by International Business Machines Corporation (IBM), the exhibition was a replacement for the World of Numbers, which was a mathematics-focused exhibition on display at the Institute from 1961-1966. The goal of the Mathematics Emporium was to discover the character of mathematics or as Dr. Hatt explained, “what mathematics is all about.”

Invitation to preview the Mathematics Emporium exhibition, Apr 1966.

The exhibition was created by well-known designer, Gordon Ashby, who previously worked with Charles and Ray Eames.  During Ashby’s tenure with the Eames Office, he worked on the Mathematica exhibition (also sponsored by IBM) for the California Museum of Science and Industry in Los Angeles (now the California Science Center) and later for the IBM Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair (1964/1965). For the Cranbrook exhibition, Ashby worked in consultation with several mathematics teachers in the San Francisco Bay Area to design displays about geometry, calculus, the properties of space, the giving of form to algebraic equations, and the measurement of motion and change.

Letter from Ashby to Hatt, Feb 1966.

Ashby’s goal with the Mathematics Emporium was to depict mathematical subjects in an imaginative way to stimulate the curiosity of visitors and encourage further investigation. The exhibition was enclosed in an 18-foot modular showcase that contained a graphic panel with sketches or diagrams, as well as a collection of thirteen small displays. Ashby said he hoped to create an exhibition “that would make mathematics ‘look-at-able’ and bear repeated visits.”

Mathematics Emporium exhibition. Photograph by Harvey Croze, Apr 1966. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

The exhibition showcase was trimmed in gold-leaf and included photographs, mathematical limericks, and quotes by famous mathematicians. Within each display there were thought-provoking questions, such as “what has a can of baking powder to do with calculus?” and “which mathematical science sees a coffee cup and a doughnut as alike?” The Mathematics Emporium was very popular with visitors, and it remained a permanent exhibition in the Institute’s collections for more than 14 years.

Gina Tecos, Archivist

A Place Where Art and Science Meet

Some of my favorite blogs, such as My Modern Met, capture the connections between science and art. At Cranbrook, the intersection of these two worlds often occurs when I delve into a research request. I recently found myself in this happy place as I discovered information about the Mary Soper Pope Memorial award, while researching botanist Emma Lucy Braun. Cranbrook Institute of Science awarded the medal to Braun in 1952.

First award of the Mary Soper Pope Memorial medal, 1946.

First award of the Mary Soper Pope Memorial medal, 1946. From L-R: Marshall Fredericks, Gustavus D. Pope, George Booth, Franz Verdoorn (recipient), Robert R. McMath, and Robert T. Hatt. Photographer, Harvey Croze.

Mary Soper Pope (1872-1940) was the wife of Gustavus Debrille Pope (1873-1952). Gustavus Pope, a Detroit manufacturer and humanitarian, was among many things the director of the Detroit Museum of Art, president of the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts, a Cranbrook Foundation Board of Trustees charter member, and a board member of both the Cranbrook Academy of Art and the Institute of Science.

In 1946, the Trustees of the Institute announced the foundation of the Mary Soper Pope Memorial medal to be granted as often as the Board deemed desirable for “noteworthy and distinguished accomplishment in the field of plant sciences.” The award was a memorial to Mary Soper Pope as a tribute to her “thoughtful nature, her quiet yet inquiring spirit, and her constant pleasure in the beauty of growing things.” The Institute Trustees commissioned sculptor Marshall Fredericks (1908-1998) to design the medal. Fredericks taught at Kingswood School and Cranbrook Academy of Art from 1932 until he enlisted in the armed forces in 1942. According to correspondence in the Cranbrook Institute of Science Director’s Papers, this was Fredericks’ first commission since his return from service as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army Air Forces.

I love Fredericks’ design. On the obverse, the medal bears the figure of a woman holding a delicate seedling before the eyes of a child. The reverse is a profusion of vegetal growth and in it a chameleon.

Marshall Fredericks sketches

Marsall Fredericks sketches, ca 1946.

The 3” diameter medals were cast in bronze by the Medallic Art Company in New York. The Committee of the Mary Soper Pope Memorial medal agreed on the following principles: 1) the medal should be given for noteworthy and distinguished accomplishments in plant science, 2) the medal may be given in any field of plant science, 3) the medal should be given in different fields of plant science, 4) the medal should be given without limitation (nationality, race, creed, and academic career or position), and 5) the medal is to be given at any point in a person’s career.

Mary Soper Pope Memorial Award

Mary Soper Pope Memorial Award. (T.2014.1.19)

With these principles in mind, the Institute awarded the medal to seventeen scientists between 1946-1970, including botanist Emma Lucy Braun, ecologist William Vogt, and soil scientist, Edgar T. Wherry. While I enjoyed the initial research about Braun that led me to reading about this award, I loved following the Detroit and Cranbrook connections between art and science.

Gina Tecos, Archivist

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