In the Archives: My Senior May Experience

I went into my Senior May Project hoping to find the “secrets” of Cranbrook. On the second or third day, Mr. Adkisson asked Desai, another Senior May student, and me why we chose the Archives. I said because I wanted to learn more—and because I thought it would be easy. What I meant to say is that I thought it would be low stress. Even though I didn’t uncover any “secrets,” I learned a lot about the history of Cranbrook Schools and had a very enjoyable (and low stress) Senior May experience.

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Aya Miller, CKU ’19, at work in the Archives Reading Room. Photo Kevin Adkisson.

My project was primarily scanning copies of The Cranbrook Kingswood Crane-Clarion to create a database of The Crane and moving the archival files to different shelving units. Along the way, I helped out with other Archives related tasks that came up. These included transferring larger files to and from Thornlea Studio, preparing displays for small tour groups, and picking out photos that could be used on the Center for Collections and Research Facebook page.

One of the high points of my experience was a task we did on the first day. Laura MacNewman, my supervisor, Mr. Adkisson, Desai, and I went to Christ Church Cranbrook in search of a friar within the Women’s Window. The friar was an insignia from the designer and glassmaker who constructed the window. We took a very narrow staircase, hidden in the wall, up to the bottom of the window. The area was so small that Mr. Adkisson could barely walk over with his tripod to take the picture. While we were up there, they turned the lights out in the main sanctuary. The daylight filtered in through the stained-glass window and gave the church a faint pink tint. I was awe struck; it was simply stunning. I felt like I was in a picture from National Geographic. That view and many other small things I learned helped make my time in the Archives memorable.

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A view from the Women’s Window at Christ Church Cranbrook. Photo by Aya Miller, CKU ’19.

As for scanning, I learned a lot about stories that were covered in the past. In the March 2006 issue of the Crane-Clarion there was a two-page article called “The Problem of ‘Self-Segregation’ at Cranbrook.” The article covered how minorities often group together and how white students don’t notice that the majority of their friends, as well as the majority of the school, is white. It takes editors that find these issues important to bring them to the forefront. Although for many it may be an uncomfortable subject, it is a necessary one to discuss.

I also read interesting articles about the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue that used to stand in Gordon Hall of Science. In reading the articles, I was surprised that the students had many contrasting opinions. Some people quoted were against the statue’s removal because they saw Lee as an American hero in terms of his post-War accomplishments and his fight for states’ rights in the Civil War. In the end, the faculty choose to remove it because Lee’s role as a leading general in support of slavery during the Civil War was offensive to many students and families. The coverage opened my eyes to different opinions and reaffirmed my belief that there are always many sides and opinions to a situation.

No. 3, February 2004, Opinion, Pg.2

Opinion section of The Cranbrook Kingswood Crane-Clarion, February 2005. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

To put it simply, Senior May was great. The Archives was a relaxing and enjoyable place to work for the last three weeks of my Senior Year. I’m proud that I was able to help and make a difference, even if it was a small one. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I’ll be staying on throughout the summer to continue working as a volunteer. I’d like to thank those who work at the Center for Collections and Research as well as my supervisor, Laura MacNewman, for welcoming and hosting me.

Aya Miller, Cranbrook Kingswood Upper School 2019

Editor’s Note: The Senior May Project is a school-sponsored activity that encourages Cranbrook Kingswood Upper School seniors to acquire work experience in a field they are considering as a college major, a potential profession, and/or as a personal interest.

Aya Miller is a native of Kalamazoo, Michigan, and has been a boarding student at Cranbrook since 2015. Aya will be enrolling at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo this fall. The Center thanks her for her tireless efforts scanning important documents about Cranbrook’s history, and her volunteering to continue with us this summer. We know she will be a success as she embarks on the next phase of her education!

 

Cranbrook, Unseen: My Senior May Experience

When I first visited Cranbrook on a snowy January day, the campus felt magical. I knew nothing about its history—not of the Booths, Saarinens, Milles. Yet when I pulled open the heavy leaded glass doors and stepped into a green-tiled lobby, I was in awe of its beauty.

Desai Wang, CKU ‘19, with Jim Miller-Melberg’s Porpoise play structure at the Cranbrook Middle School for Boys.

Desai Wang, CKU ‘19, with Jim Miller-Melberg’s Porpoise play structure at the Cranbrook Kingswood Middle School for Boys. Photo Kevin Adkisson.

For the past three years, I have been fortunate to study here and to call Kingswood dorms my home. The names previously foreign now ring close to heart.

Or do they?

As senior year came to a close, I realized that perhaps my understanding was no more than the facts handed to Gold Key student tour guides. I knew “the names,” and roughly, their accomplishments, but not why; I did not know their stories.  

I knew I wanted to use my Senior May Project to better understand Cranbrook. My wish was vague, and if asked to define it I probably would have said something about wanting to learn more about the buildings and “the names.” As my three-week internship with the Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research comes to an end, I think my time working with Mrs. Mio and Mr. Adkisson can be summarized by one word: unseen.

I finally toured Cranbrook House, Saarinen House, and the Smith House, and the past three weeks were filled with discoveries of details I never noticed before. However, I think the most important thing the Center gave me is a change in perspective.

Previously, my interest rested directly on what was visible: the existing architecture, their designers and their history. But, as trips to Cranbrook Archives proved, plans unbuilt are just important as those built. I saw George Booth’s plan for a school attached to Christ Church, Saarinen’s original designs for the Institute of Science and Academy of Art (only parts were realized for both), the multi-story elevations for Gordon Hall of Science, and a guest house proposed by John Hejduck that would have sat behind Lake Jonah.

Further, I was introduced to Cranbrook beyond its schools and museums. I joined Eastern Michigan University historic preservation students as they surveyed Tower Cottage and Lyon House. The former previously hosted a water tower, Cranbrook’s fire truck, and apartments that were in use through the 1980s. The latter was a family home built in the 1920s and acquired by Cranbrook almost twenty years ago. Both historic buildings have been repainted many times, so a paint analysis was performed. I found the process of slicing out small pieces of the buildings, analyzing them under a microscope, and studying the layers of paint and dirt to determine original colors, exciting. For the Tower Cottage window frames, layers of green appeared under the current brown.

Ron Koenig, the owner of Building Arts & Conservation, takes samples of paint on the window frame at Tower Cottage.

Ron Koenig, the owner of Building Arts & Conservation, takes samples of paint on the window frame at Tower Cottage. Photo Desai Wang, CKU ’19.

Most importantly, I saw Cranbrook from behind the scenes. I spent some of my first week scanning photographs and slides of Andrea Arens, a local artist who wove pillows for the Smith House.

Slide of Andrea Arens's pillows on display on the bench in Smith House. Courtesy Arens Family.

Slide of Andrea Arens’s pillows on display on the bench in Smith House. Courtesy Arens Family.

Yet the small stack of material I digitized is nothing compared to the cabinets after cabinets of pictures and files stored in the Archives. Just thinking about the amount of time it took to digitize my small binder sends a shiver through my spine about how much work it takes to digitize records, and about just how vast the collections of Cranbrook Archives are.

Scanning aside, at the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Smith House Mr. Adkisson, Mrs. Mio and I cleaned the Smiths’ exterior cabinets and organized a closet full of their pamphlets and magazines. We vacuumed and moved around artworks so UV protection film could be installed on windows to prevent further textile damages.

One day, we drove to Ken Katz’s conservation studio in Detroit to deliver a wood panel painting, a lamp, and a jade piece—all in need of restoration. Mrs. Mio and I applied inventory numbers to George and Ellen Booth’s silverware and china, and we even scrubbed Menelaus with Elephant Snot (a cleaning product).

Ken Katz, Mrs. Mio, and Mr. Adkisson discuss restoration plans for the painting on wood panels— Flora, Ceres, Pomona (Three Goddesses) by Corrado Scapecchi.

Ken Katz, Mrs. Mio, and Mr. Adkisson discuss restoration plans for the painting on wood panels— Flora, Ceres, Pomona (Three Goddesses) by Corrado Scapecchi. Photo Desai Wang, CKU ’19.

Desai, brushing Elephant Snot onto Menelaus.

Desai, brushing Elephant Snot onto Menelaus. Photo Leslie Mio.

I feel privileged to have organized items in a Frank Lloyd Wright house-museum, handled art created by famous painters, sculptors and ceramicists, and labeled plates and spoons that were used by the Booths. Above all, I am grateful to have met some of the people who dedicate themselves to preserving and sustaining Cranbrook’s history and beauty.

Desai, applying removable adhesive on Booths’ saucers to attach inventory numbers.

Desai, applying removable adhesive on Booths’ saucers to attach inventory numbers. Photo Leslie Mio.

Mr. Adkisson, at Smith House, organizing Smiths’ pamphlets, brochures and magazines.

Mr. Adkisson, at Smith House, organizing Smiths’ pamphlets, brochures and magazines. Photo Desai Wang, CKU ’19.

Three years ago, I opened a door that led me to Cranbrook, and to my interest in its past. Three weeks ago, I opened a door that led beyond history and urged me to see the present. I leave here with “the names,” some stories, but most importantly, acknowledgment and appreciation of the ongoing work that keeps this place running.

Desai Wang CKU ‘19

Editor’s NoteThe Senior May Project is a school-sponsored activity that encourages Cranbrook Kingswood Upper School seniors to acquire work experience in a field they are considering as a college major, a potential profession, and/or as a personal interest.

A native of Xi’an, China and Ann Arbor, Desai Wang has been a boarding student at Cranbrook since 2016. This fall, she will head off to Cornell University to study architecture. We thank her for her willingness to assist in projects across campus and her enthusiasm for Cranbrook history. We wish her luck as she embarks on another chapter of her life!

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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