How a 19th Century Blog Led to a Museum

In 1881 James Edmund Scripps, founder of the Detroit Evening News (later the Detroit News) and father of Ellen Scripps Booth took a five-month trip to Europe with his wife Harriet Messenger Scripps and daughter Grace. As they traveled, Scripps wrote about his experiences and sent the blog-like entries back to his newspaper to publish. Detroit readers loved it.

James Edmund Scripps, ca 1870. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Because the response to his entries was so positive, Scripps compiled them into a book, Five Months Abroad: Or, The Observations and Experiences of an Editor in Europe, published in 1882. Scripps visited Italy, France, Germany, England, and the Netherlands exploring museums and churches. He wrote about art and culture and also sketched the details of many churches and cathedrals.

James Edmund Scripps bookplate from Five Months Abroad, ca 1882. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

William H. Brearley, the advertising manager for the Detroit Evening News, was so impressed with the response from Detroit residents about Scripps’ travel entries, that he decided to organize an art exhibit. Brearley gathered paintings, sculptures, etchings, and engravings (in all, 4,100 items) from collectors in Detroit, Boston, and Cleveland, and even a painting, “The Betrothal of St. Catherine,” from Pope Leo XIII.

 

 

Brearley’s “Art Loan Exhibition of 1883” was held in a temporary hall on Larned Street. The exhibition ran for 10 weeks and attracted more than 134,000 visitors at 25 cents each, covering the costs of the promoters and making a profit. With this success and a generous offer from Senator Thomas Palmer, Brearley and his associates undertook the task of raising money for a permanent museum of art.  A group of 40 Detroit citizens each gave $1,000, Sen. Palmer provided $12,000, and soon the group had raised $100,000.

In 1884, Brearley announced a $50,000 gift from James Edmund Scripps, and on April 16, 1885, the Detroit Museum of Art (later the Detroit Institute of Arts) was incorporated. The museum opened in 1888, and in 1889 Scripps bought and donated 70 European paintings. At a cost of $75,000 (roughly $2.1 million dollars today), this gift was among the first major accessions of European Old Master paintings for any American museum.

Gina Tecos, Archivist

Additional Sources:

Burton, Clarence, William Stocking and Gordon K. Miller. The City of Detroit, Michigan 1701-1922. S.J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1922.

Detroit Museum of Art Hand Book of Paintings, Compiled by James E. Scripps. John F. Eby and Co.,1895.

 

Manship’s Memorable Memorial Medal

As the Assistant Registrar for Cranbrook Educational Community, it is my job to keep track of the objects in the collections of the Art Museum and the Cultural Properties across the campus.  Though not trained as a Museum Registrar, George Booth had a similar goal: he fastidiously kept his many collections and cultural properties around his home and the various school buildings inventoried or appraised.

The inventory, “Cranbrook Museum Art collection: 400 thru,” led me to a wonderful collection of coins and medals.  Some were ancient, some were more contemporary, but one in particular stood out: a memorial medal for soldiers who died during the First World War.  What was the story behind this medal?  Since none of the Booth children died during the war, I wondered why George Booth would have one of these medals in his collection.

During World War I, many prominent Americans spoke out against the war in Europe, including Henry Ford and Reverend Samuel Marquis (who in 1927 became the first rector of Christ Church Cranbrook).  As the editor of The Detroit News, George Booth oversaw “the leading newspaper in the country to give open and courageous expression to criticism.”  The News editorial staff had “sincerity of purpose and courage to voice temporarily unpopular principles.”  The United States entered the war in 1917 but The Detroit News continued its criticism. That criticism, however, was focused on governments and policies, not at the soldiers who put their lives on the line.

Indeed, Booth was very supportive of the fighting men who went off to war and of the families of those who did not return. He, architect Albert Kahn, and Clyde Burroughs (Director of the Detroit Museum of Art) established the Welcome Home Committee of Detroit – similar committees were formed in other major U.S. cities. The committee made sure all soldiers who returned from the front received the thanks of the nation and distributed rings and certificates of service to them upon their return.

The Committee’s recognition did not end with the men who returned.  It also distributed the memorial medal to the families of the war dead from Detroit. This medal, designed by sculptor Paul Manship and forged by Medallic Art Company in New York, was given as “a token of sympathy and gratitude to the nearest kin of those who gave their lives in the country’s service” during the Great War.

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Detroit Soldiers Memorial Medal, 1919 (obverse). Image Courtesy of Cranbrook Art Museum.

The front of the medal bears a winged female figure representing Victory striding forward while holding a sword wrapped in a palm leaf (sword of war and palm of peace) with a radiant sun in the background. The text around Victory reads, “VIXIT VIVIT VIVET” [lived, lives, will live].

memorialmedal-2

Detroit Soldiers Memorial Medal, 1919 (reverse). Image Courtesy of Cranbrook Art Museum.

The back of the medal reads, “Presented by the City of Detroit 1919.” At center is a scroll inscribed, “In Memory Of One Who Died in the Cause of Freedom and Humanity.”  Above, an eagle holding a laurel wreath is perched atop the end of a cannon and ball.

The Burton Historical Collection at the Detroit Public Library has a great image of a large crowd at Campus Martius for a memorial service to honor WWI soldiers.  I suspect that one of the men on the dais is George G. Booth, there to honor the Detroit war dead and their families.

For more on George Booth and his opinions on the war in Europe, see the George Gough Booth Papers and for more on Manship’s work at Cranbrook, check out Cranbrook Archives Digital Collections and Cranbrook Art Museum.

– Leslie S. Mio, Assistant Registrar

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