Cranbrook’s Other Kahn

What many people do not know is that Albert Kahn had a famous daughter, Lydia Kahn Winston Malbin (1897-1989). She was not an architect, nor a famous actress or TV personality, but was referred to as the “First Lady of Modernism” in a 1984 Detroit News magazine article by art critic Joy Hakanson Colby. Malbin, a lifetime trustee and honorary curator of the DIA, chairman of the Detroit Artists Market, and a member of the Detroit Arts Commission, was also a student at Cranbrook Academy of Art in 1934 and then again from 1940-1944 when she received her MFA in Ceramics. (Malbin took additional ceramics classes with Maija Grotell and painting with Zoltan Sepeshy through 1950.)

img_5334

Lydia Malbin in her Manhattan apartment, 1984. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

But what she was best known for was her vast collection of modern art, an interest that began for her in the 1930s and continued throughout her lifetime. This week I received a query from an art auction house in London, England. They have a work by German-American painter, Lyonel Feininger, that had once been in Malbin’s collection and was on display in a 1951 exhibition at Cranbrook Art Museum called “The Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Harry Lewis Winston.” (Winston was Lydia Kahn’s first husband.) As auction houses often do, they wanted to verify that Feininger’s painting “Becalmed” had indeed been in this exhibition. As I researched this work, it reminded me of Malbin’s additional connections to Cranbrook.

 

winstoncatalog099

Exhibition Catalog, 1951. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Not only was Malbin a student at the Academy of Art, she was also one of the six Cranbrook-related artists who contributed to the Saarinen-Swanson Group, an affordable, coordinated line of modern home furnishings, which debuted in 1947. Malbin designed the oven-ware pottery, manufactured by Frankoma Pottery Company, and china with glazes meant to “simulate the quality and color of semi-precious stones” manufactured by Glenco Porcelain Company. She also designed ash trays and vases – a line of “red ware” – which featured clay and glazes from Ferro Enamel in Cleveland, Ohio.

img_5331

Detroit Free Press, September 1948. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Malbin began collecting modern art in the 1930s. Though her father, Albert Kahn, couldn’t stand modern art, he did instill in all of his children the lesson that they should be independent thinkers. So, Malbin sought out what SHE liked – “tough, off-beat things” rather than popular artists or “pretty pictures.” She and her first husband, Harry Winston, were an art collecting team until Harry’s death in 1965, and Malbin’s second husband, Barnett Malbin, while not a collector himself, supported her collecting activities and even made photographic records of her art for her archives.

For more on Malbin’s collecting interests, check out the Lydia Winston Malbin Papers at Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library and the Barnett and Lydia Winston Malbin Papers, 1940-1973 at the Archives of American Art.

Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

Photo Friday: Cranbrook’s Contractor

Wermuth House, Fort Wayne, Indiana.  Designed by Eliel and Eero Saarinen, 1941. Cranbrook Archives.

Wermuth House, Fort Wayne, Indiana. Designed by Eliel and Eero Saarinen, 1941. Cranbrook Archives.

This distinctly modern house was designed by the architecture firm Saarinen, Swanson & Saarinen for a man whose introduction to Cranbrook happened in a somewhat old-fashioned way—the construction of Christ Church Cranbrook, George Booth’s ecclesiastical ode to the British Arts and Crafts Movement.

In 1923, Albert Charles (A.C.) Wermuth was contracted by the architect Bertram Goodhue to oversee construction of the Trinity English Lutheran Church in Fort Wayne, Indiana.  Goodhue was so impressed with his construction work that he contracted with Wermuth again for the upcoming Christ Church Cranbrook commission in 1924.  Goodhue died before construction on the church could begin in 1925, but the firm Goodhue & Associates retained Wermuth as general contractor for the project.

When Christ Church Cranbrook was completed in 1927, the Booths immediately snatched up A.C. Wermuth for more Cranbrook projects—the building of the Cranbrook School campus and an addition to Brookside.  Thus began a decades-long professional relationship between Wermuth and Cranbrook, with Wermuth serving as general contractor for Kingswood, the Cranbrook Academy of Art, and the Cranbrook Institute of Science.  Wermuth also did private work for the Booth children as they built their own homes in the area.  Eliel and Eero Saarinen used Wermuth for their non-Cranbrook projects as well; he served as contractor on the First Christian Church in Columbus, Indiana, as well as on other Saarinen buildings.

With professional connections like these, it seems only fitting that Wermuth turned to the Saarinens when it was time for him to build his own house in Fort Wayne. While the Wermuth House, which was completed in 1941, was built under the names of both Eliel and Eero, the design of the house speaks a bit more to the son than the father.  A Saarinen, Swanson, & Saarinen project, however, Wermuth ended up with a home for his family that expressed many of the same modernist ideals that he himself helped bring to life as the general contractor for Cranbrook.

Shoshana Resnikoff, Collections Fellow, and Robbie Terman, Archivist

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: