The Day Cranbrook Went Bananas

You probably know Cranbrook Kingswood Upper School has a football team, and you might remember that the Detroit Lions held training camps here in the 1970s, but did you also know that Cranbrook Academy of Art is an undefeated intercollegiate football team?

Homecoming Queen Barbara Tiso takes a convertible ride around the field with Academy President Wallace Mitchell.

Homecoming Queen Barbara Tiso takes a convertible ride around the field with Academy President Wallace Mitchell. Cranbrook Archives.

As The Cranbrook Magazine reported in the Winter 1971 issue, “Before winter zeroed in [the Academy] had a rousing football weekend similar in events, at least, to those at large universities that specialize in such things.” There was a bonfire pep rally, organized cheering sections, a Homecoming Queen, the game itself with a halftime show from both schools, and a victory banquet.

Sculpture head Michael Hall regarded the weekend as a conceptual art project, and said “as spectacle, pageant, formation and participation football is a direct parallel to art forms as disparate as the Baroque Mass and Alan Kaprow’s ‘Soapsuds Event’.”

The idea for a game began after conversations between Hall and a colleague at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. The students at both schools accepted the challenge, and Cranbrook’s bucolic suburban setting (replete with Thompson Oval) seemed the idea location.

The game of flag football was covered by newspapers in Detroit and Chicago, with radio DJ’s in Detroit billing the game on Cranbrook School’s field as a season highlight. Cranbrook’s seventy-six male students were augmented with faculty and Nick Vettraino, groundskeeper. After an extensive (minor) injury list, only twenty players made the roster. I’ll let the Magazine coverage of the game speak for itself:

Emma Kay Szabados was a big hit as the Academy's mascot banana.

Emma Kay Szabados was a big hit as the Academy’s mascot banana. It is unclear why we were the bananas. Cranbrook Archives.

“Hog Butchers and Bananas were noticeably self-conscious when they trotted onto the field. But as the game progressed and the crowd of 300 cheered vociferously, players and spectators alike were caught up in the spirit of true athletic competition.

Cranbrook grabbed an early lead on the swift running of Nick Vettraino and the spectacular pass catching of Dick Ewen. But the Hog Butchers kept fighting back.

Quarterback George Sorrels used a “flexible formation from the pro set,” allegedly adapted from Detroit Lions plays by Coach Mel Baker. Cranbrook Archives.

“Cranbrook grabbed an early lead on the swift running of Nick Vettraino and the spectacular pass catching of Dick Ewen. But the Hog Butchers kept fighting back.

the pro-Bananas crowd flocked onto the field and hoisted heroes onto their shoulders.

The crowd going wild as Cranbrook marches on to victory. Notice Gerhardt Knodel, Artist-in-Residence of the Fiber department (and future Director of Cranbrook Academy of Art) in the foreground. Cranbrook Archives.

 

“As darkness descended Cranbrook led 27-25 with time left for just one play. Chicago tried a field goal that would bring victory. The kick failed, and the pro-Bananas crowd flocked onto the field and hoisted heroes onto their shoulders.

Patrick and Mary Mitchell, son and wife of Academy President Wallace Mitchell, manned the sideline markers.

Patrick and Mary Mitchell, son and wife of Academy President Wallace Mitchell, manned the sideline markers. Cranbrook Archives.

“Art or not, it was a helluva weekend. And after it was all over the campus was permeated with a camaraderie never seen before in Academy history.”

As the Upper School kicks off its season against U of D Jesuit tonight, I’d like to wish everyone a happy football season (Go Cranes!) and welcome Schools and Academy students back to campus. Perhaps we will see a rematch of the Bananas and the Hog Butchers on the gridiron soon? If so, there’s a new press box from which to call the game. I volunteer to provide color commentary!

Kevin Adkisson, Curatorial Associate

Portrait of the Vettraino family children. From left: Dominick, Sam, John, Concetta (Connie), Rose, Annette.

Portrait of the Vettraino family children. From left: Dominick, Sam, John, Concetta (Connie), Rose, Annette.

Cranbrook Archives is excited to announce a new online collection of material that highlights the contributions of the Vettraino family at Cranbrook. The collection includes a sampling of photographs and documents of the family, as well as other Italian immigrants who worked on campus clearing the land and building roads and stone walls; maintaining the landscape; and working in the Cranbrook Fire and Police Departments.

Michael (Mike) Vettraino came to Cranbrook in 1905 to work with one of George Booth’s first landscape architects, H.J. Corfield. Mike served Cranbrook for more than 50 years and received the Founders Medal in 1955. For more than 110 years, his children and grandchildren have continued to honor his legacy, serving the Cranbrook community not only as grounds-keepers, but in many other areas of the campus. We are pleased to be able to share their amazing legacy.

Cranbrook Archives Staff

Photo Friday: Ciao Cranbrook!

Italian workers at Cranbrook

Italian laborers at Cranbrook, ca 1906/Cranbrook Archives

For many Americans, Labor Day’s most popular meaning is a “last hurrah to summer,” but its national significance is much greater than that. In 1894, Grover Cleveland designated the first Monday in September as a national holiday paying tribute to the contributions and achievements of the working force in America. The Italian laborers pictured here arrived at Cranbrook in 1905. Hired by George Booth, men with the last names of Angelosanto, DiPonio, Roselli, Soave, and Vettraino built roads and stone walls, dug ponds, contoured the land, planted, and cared for the property. In 1955 the Cranbrook Foundation Board of Trustees dedicated a plaza north of the Brookside School in appreciation of groundskeeper Michael Vettraino’s 50 years of service to the Cranbrook community. In his speech at the “Piazza Vettraino” dedication, Henry S. Booth said, “We acknowledge a debt to his native Italy, his affection for the world of growing things, his quest for beauty, his tireless hands and feet, and the part he has played as one of the many founders of Cranbrook today.”

Click here to listen to a clip from our oral history collection of Dominick Vettraino speaking about the work the Italians did on the grounds of Cranbrook.

Gina Tecos, Archivist

Old Words, New Sounds: Oral Histories from the Cranbrook Archives

For the past nine months I have been working on a project to breathe new life into an oral history initiative at Cranbrook that began as early as 1964 as a collaborative project between Cranbrook School and the Cranbrook Foundation. These oral histories give us an intimate view of life here at Cranbrook over the past half century with interviewees spanning across the entire community. They range from Dr. Lee Dice at the Institute of Science, to Cranbrook Academy of Art painter Zoltan Sepheshy, as well as interviews with members of the Vettraino family, whose time living on the grounds spanned several generations. These interviews give us the kind of glimpse into the past of Cranbrook that is difficult to find anywhere else.

Cranbrook’s oral histories are found in the archives in analogue sound formats, namely on magnetic tapes. In order to preserve these interviews and provide access to a wider audience, the Archives is implementing a plan to digitize all of the content. Each oral history is digitized in real time and then transcribed, with each hour of audio taking anywhere from 8 to 10 hours to transcribe, depending on sound quality.

One of the latest gems to be uncovered is a recording of a conversation with brother and sister James and Doris Smith who worked as model makers and production designers from the mid-1940s for many of the artists and architects associated with Cranbrook. James began working with the firm of Saarinen, Swanson, and Saarinen in 1943, while Doris joined them in 1946. Both had their hands on many of the largest projects, such as creating the models for the General Motors Technical Center, and their insight into the daily work and life in the office is unmatched and cannot be forgotten.

In the following clip you can listen to James Smith discuss events and the atmosphere that surrounded the winning entry from Eero Saarinen & Associates for the Gateway Arch in the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in St. Louis, Missouri–better known as the St. Louis Arch.

Image

Construction of TWA model at Eero Saarinen & Associates taken by Claude de Forest, 1957.Cranbrook Archives.

Justine Tobiasz– Archives Assistant

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