As we continue to celebrate the women of Cranbrook during Women’s History Month, our Friday post is dedicated to sculptor and teacher, Svea Kline (1902-1989). Born in Karlskrona, Sweden, Kline came to Chicago in 1928 with her twin sister. Following her mother’s advice to find a “practical profession,” Kline studied physiotherapy at Northwestern University for two years and practiced with a physician. She also took art classes at the Art Institute of Chicago during this time.
In 1940, Kline came to Cranbrook Academy of Art to attend the summer session, which she also did the following year. In 1942 she received a scholarship award that provided her residence at the Academy during the academic year during which she won first prize in a student competition. From 1942-46 she studied sculpture with Carl Milles and ceramics with Maija Grotell. She became a lifelong friend of Milles, and often lectured about the sculptor and his work.
In 1943, Kline started the Sculpture Department at the Flint Institute of Arts, and began teaching there part-time. From 1950 she taught there full-time and also at the Saginaw Museum of Art. Kline also taught at what was then the Bloomfield Art Association and Haystack School for the Arts in Maine, worked as Milles’ assistant from 1949-50, and was one of the founders of the Sculptors Guild of Michigan. Founded in 1952 as the Terra Cotta Sculptors, the group “provided an umbrella for women to prove their validity as artists to the community and to provide support and inspiration to each other.” (Men were invited to join in 1977.)
As a sculptor, Kline worked in metal, bronze, wood, ceramic and glass. Her innovative work with glass was considered “ahead of her time.” She molded glass, fused glass, painted on glass, and embedded pieces of colored glass into a background layer of glass—a process she called “gemaux.” In Michigan her works are displayed at the Berkley Public Library, Flint Public Library, Genesee Merchants Bank and Trust, Detroit Broach Company, Koebel Diamond Tool Company, Michigan Credit Union League, and the First Baptist Church of Royal Oak.
In a December 1983 interview in the Birmingham Eccentric, Kline fondly remembered her days at Cranbrook. “I thought it was just heaven on earth—so well-kept, so many interesting people from all over the world. There was a marvelous spirit.” She also recalled with pleasure the great artists with whom she was associated—Eliel Saarinen, Carl Milles, Maija Grotell, and Harry Bertoia. Coincidentally, we have an image (displayed below) of Kline wearing a brooch designed by Harry Bertoia. In honor of the Cranbrook Art Museum’s exhibition of Harry Bertoia’s jewelry (which opens tonight), we are featuring a photograph of Kline wearing a Bertoia brooch.
– Gina Tecos, Archivist