Indiana Jones and the Search for the Pergola Picture: My Senior May Experience

Growing up so close to the Henry Ford Museum, or watching my family’s favorite go-to movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark, I knew that I was interested in history from an early age. Yet, I never stopped to think about Cranbrook’s own fascinating and world-renowned past. To me, this community was just “home”, and the only history I thought of was of my family’s connection with the school. Nevertheless, for my Senior May project, I wanted to learn more about the inter-workings of the educational community as a whole. With this in mind, I chose to intern at the Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research and the Archives for my last senior assignment.

Elizabeth Fairman, CKU ’17

The purpose of Cranbrook’s Senior May project is to give soon-to-be Upper School graduates a taste of a “real world” job for the month of May in their field of interest.  Initially, I assumed I would be either in Art Museum storage moving art pieces or doing research on the computer every day, but I could not have been more wrong.

Over the course of my three weeks, I had behind-the-scenes tours of Cranbrook’s many historic landmarks, firsthand looks at restorations, handling and moving donated art pieces, and countless hours of both digital and primary source research. I met many people who are tasked with adding to and preserving this living historical landmark, no small task given the expansive campus. My perspective of the community, initially as the place of my education and a source of livelihood for my family, was altered, and I began to see it as an operational historical site.

In short, I had a very full, albeit whirlwind experience of almost everything that being an archivist or registrar entails.

Organizing original Kingswood School silverware in Heaven.

My favorite experiences were the tours of campus. Although I have attended this school for 14 years, very rarely did my classes study the history of Cranbrook or take field trips to different buildings on campus besides Cranbrook Institute of Science. In fact, I had only visited Saarinen House and Thornlea once before Senior May, just three weeks before I am set to graduate. My supervisor, Mrs. Mio, added another element of the visits, a look at them through the eyes of a registrar who is tasked with upkeep and restoration of historic sites. Through tasks such as cataloging Booth dinner plates at Cranbrook House, identifying historic bookbinding tools used at the Academy of Art, and even checking mouse traps at Thornlea, I developed a deeper appreciation for the amount of work it takes to showcase the history of this community, as well as a chance to see rooms or storage out of the public’s eye.

Clothing collection at Cranbrook House storage.

Another aspect I enjoyed was the research itself, like searching through “the stacks”, where many of the important archival files are kept. It is a place where you can find both important and unexpected things. For instance, one afternoon while searching for photos and records of the Cranbrook House Pergola for Ms. Edwards, I came across security reports from the 1960’s detailing the dangers of “hippie types” on campus. I was also able to piece together more of the history of Cranbrook firsthand through organizing and filing other primary sources created by prominent figures in the Community’s past.

Elizabeth Fairman, CKU ’17

Editor’s Note: Elizabeth Fairman is a “lifer” at Cranbrook, having attended school here since Kindergarten. In addition to that, her father Andy is the upper school baseball coach and physical education teacher at Brookside School. Both of Elizabeth’s grandmothers (Sue Tower and Marilyn Sutton) taught school at Brookside for many years. We thank Elizabeth for her exemplary work ethic and positive attitude and wish her the best of luck in her new adventure at Bates College in Maine.

I Have a Crush on James Scripps Booth

After the second week of May, I readily began my Senior May Project, an intensive program that allows second semester seniors to explore a field of study for three weeks. Pulling open the imposing silver doors of the Cranbrook Archives on my first day, I had no idea what truly occurred on the other side. As I, with the fumbling hands of a novice, used fundamental archival tools such as finding aids, vertical and photo files, indexes, backlogs, and the digital image database over the course of the three weeks, I began to understand what an archivist does behind those argent doors.

Margaret Harney, CKU '15

Margaret Harney, CKU ’15

Honestly, it is a lot of filing. Archivists receive chaotic and often decaying papers, photographs, and other documents deemed worthy of being preserved, and they organize them into various categorizes and topics. Everything has a place, and that place is well recorded in differing indexes and inventories. As a person whose nickname as a child was “Messy Meg,” I inevitably struggled to learn the complex organizational system. Often, I would stand in a dim corner of the archives, afraid of disarranging the gray archival boxes like some omnipotent entropic force, or a two-year-old. Thus, in the second week when I was tasked with organizing three filing cabinets of photographs from Cranbrook Kingswood post-merger, I inwardly panicked. Once I removed the folders, I discovered that they were in complete disarray from the disinterested teenager who had supposedly organized the cabinets before me. While their quite arrogant lack of effort often made me want to pry my muscles from my bones, it also relieved my anxiety, for I knew no matter how badly I mismanaged the cabinets, it would never be nearly as appalling as it was prior.

Study for Blessed Damozel, 1920.  James Scripps Booth

Study for Blessed Damozel, 1920. James Scripps Booth

After finishing the cabinets, I helped Ms. Edwards rummage for posters in the metallic archive vaults, and there in James Scripps Booth’s yellowing, rigid pastels, I discovered why an archivist undertakes all that grueling and mind-numbing filing. Beneath the waxy paper shielding the drawings, nude female figures innocently and exquisitely revealed themselves among impatient pastel strokes. While I was beguiled by the striking beauty of the sketches, I was equally as captivated by their ability to reveal the whims of Booth. Thus, not only the women, but Booth as well lay exposed. Such drawings and degenerating documents that archivists strive to preserve are like little vitrines displaying various aspects of the past. Each frame depicts a story and when all the frames combine, a larger impression is formed. Like an ink blot, this impression allows the viewer to decide what the greater story is. The ability to interpret the past for yourself is a rare and remarkable privilege, and that was the greatest gift my time in the archives gave me.

Cranbrook House, 1917.  James Scripps Booth

Cranbrook House, 1917. James Scripps Booth

Margaret Harney, CKU ’15

From an Intern’s Eyes: Old Drama and Timeless Art

In the second week of May, I began my first day at the Cranbrook Archives for my Senior May Project, a program ran by the Cranbrook Upper School to send anxious fourth quarter seniors off campus for internships and adventures.  And now, after two weeks of dealing with numerous dusty, yellowed papers (and one suspicious wooden box featuring some dead bugs and cobwebs) my initial excitement only grew.

One of my first projects here was to research the tenure of past Academy of Art faculty and staff members between the years of 1932-1976, and to make a comprehensive spreadsheet on the matter. That project led me to read through old faculty files comprised of payroll information (“how did people survive on $200 a month!” I thought to myself), retirement records, old correspondence­—I even came across the first telegram I had ever seen. I wondered, from time to time: “Did the secretary who typed this letter up ever think that a teenaged intern from China would one day behold this work and marvel at its antiquity?”

The first telegram I've ever seen.  1943, Cranbrook Archives.

The first telegram I’ve ever seen. 1943, Cranbrook Art Museum Exhibition Records, Cranbrook Archives.

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