To See a World in a Grain of Sand…

A recent research inquiry made me curious about the Great West Window, also known as the Women’s Window, at Christ Church Cranbrook.

Bloomfield Hills was sparsely settled when the church was built and, reporting on his visit to Cranbrook in July 1924, the architect Oscar H. Murray speaks of George Gough Booth’s intention to build a community church and school “to form the core around which this new district shall develop”.

The church was a gift to the Bloomfield Hills community from George and Ellen Booth, their five children and their families, all of whom donated to its construction and fabric. The local history of settlement in Bloomfield extends some hundred years before the building of Christ Church Cranbrook; yet its flourishing as a community for families and as a center of cultural activity begins with the church, the first of the original group of Cranbrook institutions. All the artworks at the church are beautiful and unique, but to me, none more so than the Women’s Window.

View of the Great West Window, Christ Church Cranbrook.

View of the Great West Window, Christ Church Cranbrook. Jack Kausch, photographer. Copyright Cranbrook Archives

The Women’s Window is the gift of James Alfred Beresford and Florence Booth Beresford. It was designed by James H. Hogan and fabricated by James Powell and Sons, (Whitefriars) Ltd, then based in Wealdstone, London, England. Established in 1680, their insignia is a whitefriar monk wearing a white cowl. Their original location on Fleet Street was in the Whitefriar district where a Carmelite order had once resided. The insignia is included in the Women’s Window, but at just a few inches high, it is impossible to see from the church floor.

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The whitefriar insignia of James Powell and Sons (Whitefriars), Ltd on Panel 16 of the Women’s Window of Christ Church Cranbrook. Kevin Adkisson, photographer. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

The key component of stained glass is silica from river sand. Modern stained glass is made of sand, lime, and soda and is more durable than the stained glass of the middle ages, which used ash instead of lime, making it more susceptible to the elements.

“The coloured glasses used in the making of the window are all the product of the Whitefriars works, in fact what comes to us in the form of sand, leaves us as a work of art in the form of a Stained Glass Window.” Adrian A. Buck, October 31st, 1927 (1981-01 20:9)

The glass pieces are fitted into cames—H or I shaped lead fixtures—which are then soldered together at the ends to form the design, and the whole window is supported by larger T bars and saddle bars. The Women’s Window stands 19 ½  feet tall and 8 feet wide.

As with most of the windows at Christ Church Cranbrook, the Women’s Window is made of antique glass—this does not refer to the age of the glass, but rather to its method of manufacture. It is hand-made glass using the traditional medieval method of glass blowing, giving it an irregular surface that adds to the effect of jewel tones. Other types of stained glass (cathedral and opalescent) are machine made and do not convey the same vibrancy of antique glass.

The Window’s aesthetic style is Gothic Revival and its coloring is thought to suggest the pre-Raphaelite influence of William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones, with whom Powell was acquainted and with whom George Booth found deep inspiration and kinship.

It features 60 women within 16 panels arranged in 4 tiers. Each panel depicts an area of contribution to sacred and secular life, including motherhood, Christ’s associates, early missionaries, early saints, religious orders, American church missionaries, educators, nurses, musicians, artists, poets, novelists, sovereigns, liberators, suffrage workers, and actresses. These panels are mediated by 6 smaller panels, each depicting two angels with shields portraying the fiery cross, the word of God, the mirror of truth, the flame of inspiration, the regal crown, and tragedy/comedy.

The women were selected from across history, from biblical times to 1920s, by the Rev. Samuel S. Marquis, the first rector of the church. Inscribed at the base of the window is the verse, “Her children rise up and call her blessed, and her works praise her in the gates” (Proverbs 31:28, 31).

The window has long been beloved by members and visitors to Christ Church. It was also the featured window of the Michigan Stained Glass Census in June 1998. The Women’s Window underwent restoration in 2004-2005 by Thompson Art Glass to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the church. Speaking at the time of its completed restoration, the Rev. Edward L. Mullins remarked that, “when the light shines through it, we see a wonderful picture of the world”.

– Laura MacNewman, Associate Archivist

The Peacock in the Hallway

On the second floor of Cranbrook House is a very lovely painting I’ve appreciated since I started here, but never knew much about.

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Jessie Arms Botke, The Mirror, 1926. Oil on Canvas. 32×26 in. Bequest of George Gough Booth and Ellen Scripps Booth to The Cranbrook Foundation.

I can confidently say I now know much more about the painting, even if I still know frustratingly little about how it got to be here in the house.

I wasn’t familiar with artist Jessie Arms Botke (1883-1971), even though in her lifetime she was considered the greatest decorative painter in the American West. Botke was prolific, painting six days a week and sketching on Sundays. She had a predilection for white birds (including pelicans, geese, ducks, and cockatoos), and our white peacock is a motif she returned to many times in her career.

Jessie Arms was born in Chicago and studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Modeled after Paris ateliers, students at the Art Institute were responsible for setting their own goals and objectives and worked among many teachers and classes to develop their individual skills. She noted that the basic curriculum was “practice, practice, practice.” In the summer of 1903, she enrolled in John C. Johansen’s outdoor painting classes in Saugatuck, Michigan.

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John Johansen’s Summer Art Class at Saugatuck, Michigan, 1903. Courtesy of the Botke Family Archives/William A. Karges Fine Art.

After training in Chicago, she began producing wall decoration and book illustration. Taking a grand tour of Europe in 1909 provided even more artistic influence and inspiration. Following her year aboard, Botke applied to work at the Herter Looms in New York. She applied and was rejected, however, determined to work for the firm, she reapplied directly with Albert Herter. Hired on her second attempt, she produced tapestry cartoons and decorations for the firm. Discussing her experience working for Herter in 1949, Botke reflected:

“Thus began what was a most educational experience. Mr. Herter could have imported trained tapestry cartoonists from Europe, but he wanted to make American tapestry and he filled the studio with young artists just out of school, untainted by stereotyped traditions, with ideals and enthusiasm. We all had to learn the technique of making the tapestry cartoon by doing it. When we were stuck, we were free to go to the Metropolitan and study the tapestries there [and] try to figure out how they did it and apply our conclusions to our modern problems.”

I find this insight into the workshop of Albert Herter fascinating, as Herter Looms would produce its masterpiece, The Great Crusade tapestry, for Cranbrook House Library in 1918 (four years after Botke left).

At Herter Looms, Botke also produced decorative interior schemes and painted panel decorations. A commission for the dining room of actress Billie Burke (famous for her later role as Glinda the Good Witch) led Botke to a lifelong interest in birds. As she recalled, “Mr. Herter came to me with the scheme for the dining room, it was to be in shades of blue and green and he wanted a peacock frieze using the same colors, with white peacocks as notes of accent. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a white peacock and went up to the Bronx Zoo to find out, and they had one. It was love at first sight and has been ever since.”

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Reprint of one of seven paintings by Albert Herter in the Mural Room of the Hotel St. Francis, San Francisco, with border attributed to Jessie Arms Botke. 1912. Courtesy of Tavistock Books.

Botke was also an activist, marching up New York’s Fifth Avenue in 1911 and 1912 in the suffragette parade. She also strongly advocated for the rights and representation of women artists.

In late 1914, Botke left Herter Looms and New York, moving to Chicago to marry Cornelis Botke, a Dutch artist and architectural renderer. They settled first in Chicago and then California, where they moved to the artist community of Carmel in 1919. It was at her Carmel studio where Botke likely painted the peacock now in Cranbrook House, in 1926.

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Jessie Arms Botke and Cornelis Botke, n.d. Courtesy of Carmel Art Association.

In 1928, the couple relocated to Los Angeles and then Wheeler Canyon. They continued to paint, with Jessie’s income providing the bulk of the couple’s wealth. In her California home, Botke kept an aviary with peacocks “where I can enjoy and paint peacocks to my heart’s content.” Cornelis died of diabetes in 1954, and Jessie continued to paint until a stroke in 1967. She died in 1971, aged 88, with an enormous body of work and awards to her name.

So how did this Botke peacock come to Cranbrook? After looking in the object records we keep for all of Cranbrook’s art objects, as well as through photo albums, slide albums, record books, and receipt books, I cannot find any records pertaining to when the Botke painting was purchased! On the back of the painting is written the title of the work, the artist, and “Price 750.00.” There is also a stenciled “CF” for Cranbrook Foundation. This might mean the work was purchased by the Foundation for use at Cranbrook, or, more likely, was accessioned by the Foundation directly from Cranbrook House at the time of the George Booth’s death.

Although I’m currently unable to pin down who bought the painting and when, it was probably purchased by George Booth as a decorative piece for the home rather than part of the collection for Cranbrook Art Museum. This would explain why the painting isn’t in the Museum’s records (it is a Cultural Property, not a work in the Art Museum). Botke sold many of her pieces at Gump’s in San Francisco, from which Mr. Booth regularly purchased art, decorative objects, and furniture (and for which we have many receipts, none of which include the peacock).

Detail of The Mirror

In the 1980s, the painting was stored in the Cranbrook House attic. Was it moved there from one of the second-floor bedrooms, which were converted to offices in the 1970s? Sometime later, it was moved to Tower Garage, where the House and Gardens Auxiliary is located. In 2012, it was hung in its current location after the removal of the Cranbrook House vending machine.

I do love that the work features a peacock, as the bird was a favorite motif across Cranbrook and is found all across campus in gates, andirons, tapestries, and inlays. Although Saarinen (frustratingly) never wrote about why he loved the peacock, Jessie Botke did:

“My interest in birds was not sentimental, it was always what sort of pattern they made, and the white peacock was so appealing because it was a simple, but beautiful white form to be silhouetted against dark background, and the texture and pattern of the lacy tail broke the harshness of the white mass without losing the simplicity of the pattern.”

– Kevin Adkisson, 2016-2019 Collections Fellow, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

For more information on Jessie Arms Botke, see Patricia Trenton and Deborah Solon, “Birds, Boughs, and Blossoms: Jessie Arms Botke, 1883-1971” (Los Angeles: William A. Karges Fine Art, 1995).

 

A Rugged Individualist: Luella Schroeder

One of the best things about being an archivist here is learning about the amazing people connected to Cranbrook’s history. Part II of our posts for Women’s History month focuses on Luella C. Schroeder (1918-2004). In 1946, Schroeder was hired as an Assistant Preparator at Cranbrook Institute of Science. A woman of many talents, she worked at a book binding studio in Delaware and as a draftsman during World War II for Chrysler before taking the position at CIS.

Schroeder’s college studies were divided between the natural sciences and art. She later studied photography – a skill she relied on heavily at CIS – as the photographer of the Institute’s collections and exhibitions. A member of the Photographic Guild of Detroit, she was one of 100 photographers to be awarded a prize in Popular Photography magazine’s 1957 photo contest.

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Schroeder preparing an exhibition, 1956. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

In addition to her photography work, Schroeder created dioramas and models for exhibits and taught lapidary classes. Her love of nature was evident in her creations for the Institute – from plant life to insects to bee hives. In 1954, she built an elaborate hive illustrating the lifecycle and production cycle of bees. Her work was admired and praised by her colleagues and visitors alike.

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Bee Hive exhibition, 1954. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

After working at CIS for 12 years, Schroeder left her position in 1958 to pursue her hobby of silver jewelry making. She fell in love with Vermont, and moved there to devote herself to her craft. In a 1961, Times-Argus article she was quoted, “I wish I could tell you why I love Vermont, maybe it’s because it is the last stand of the rugged individualists – the one place where people still really make their lives for themselves.”

Schroeder’s hobby became her life-work. She credited the Institute in making her jewelry more creative (due to her ability to cut gems which she learned while at CIS). Her work was on display at several museums nationally and abroad, and was exhibited at the 1964 World’s Fair. In 1965 she created a pin she titled, “Forged Sunburst.” America House re-named the pin “Solar Flair” in an advertisement in New Yorker magazine and Schroeder was deluged with orders.

schroederpin

Burlington Free Press, 13 May 1965. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Several pieces of Schroeder’s work were selected by the American House retail store in New York, which is sponsored by the American Craftsman Council. Her jewelry was also marketed by the Detroit Artist’s Market and the Boston Society of Arts and Crafts. In 1985, the Vermont Handcrafters bestowed a Lifetime Membership to Schroeder for her dedication to Vermont Crafts. Clearly her work and dedication made an impression on many – including the Cranbrook community.

Gina Tecos, Archivist

 

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