Might Willy not carve something for you?

Oberammergau, a small Catholic village in Bavaria, Germany, is known for its woodcarvers and for its almost 400-year tradition of mounting an elaborate Passion Play.

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The Village of Oberammergau, 1922. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

The Passion Play is performed in years ending with a zero. Due to economic instability, however, the 1920 performance of the Passion Play was postponed to 1922.

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Oberammergau Passion Play Theater, 1922. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

That year, Henry Scripps Booth and his friend J. Robert F. Swanson were traveling on a ten-month-long European tour and decided to see the rescheduled Passion Play. Henry and Bob stayed at Max Spegel’s pension in Oberammergau, Germany. It was there Henry met Herr and Frau Spegel, their sons Wilhelm and Max, and their daughter Sophie. After the trip, Henry corresponded with Frau Spegel and her son Wilhelm, until about 1937.

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Wilhelm and Max Spegel at their father’s Pension, 1922. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

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Henry Booth with Wilhelm and Max Spegel at their father’s Pension, 1922. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

In January 1924, Frau Spegel suggested, because some items Henry had ordered in Oberammergau had never arrived, “Dear Friend, might Willy [Wilhelm] not carve something for you?” From then on, Henry was agreeable to having the Spegel family carve wood panels, gates, doors, and ceilings for his new home, Thornlea.

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Wilhelm Spegel, 1922. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Carvings by the Spegels can be found throughout Thornlea:

Warming Doors

Warming Oven Doors in Thornlea Dining Room, 1926.

Wilhelm writes, in 1926, “I am sending you with this letter a pascel (sic) containing the two doors for the plate warmers . . . I myself have done all the carving and it took me about 55 hours . . . there is not much work for the wood carvers people have no mony (sic)

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In the Thornlea Dining Room is a Three-section Sideboard with Carved Panels, 1926-1929, incised with geometric, floral, figural, and animal decorations. Wood panels depict figures such as Adam & Eve, Lindberg, Chief Pontiac, and Columbus.

In order to help his friends, Henry designed a three-section sideboard, into which he inset carved panels done by Wilhelm and Max Spegel — the original idea was to have the panels used as a frieze around a room, but that never materialized. Henry paid the Spegels $8 per panel and let them have creative input into the design and subject matter.

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The ceiling of Thornlea Oratory, circa 1926.

The Spegels next created an elaborate set of ceiling panels for use in Thornlea’s Oratory. In a letter to Wilhelm in October of 1928, Henry writes, “The ceiling looks exceptionally well and we are thoroughly pleased with it. Everyone who sees your work certainly is complimentary towards it.

In 1929, Wilhelm had the idea to come to America, as jobs for woodcarvers were scarce at the time. He had asked Henry to “write a letter to the American Consulate in Stuttgart . . . so that they know who I am and that you have known me for many years.” There is no mention of the said letter in any of Henry’s replies but later letters indicate the move to America did not happen.

Henry and Carolyn Farr Booth visited the Spegels in Oberammergau in 1930, likely to see that year’s Passion Play. In the play, Herr Spegel was Rabbi Jakob, as he had been in 1922; Wilhelm was one of the man-servants of Pilate; and Max “will figure amongst the people.”

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Wilhelm Spegel, Carolyn Farr Booth, and Max Spegel in Oberammergau in 1930. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Letters from the Spegels stop in 1937. We do not know what happened to Wilhelm Spegel after 1937 except that he was married on April 17 of that year and died in 1951. We do know that Max Spegel (the younger) served in the German Infantry during World War II and died in service in 1942 at the age of 30. His name appears on the war memorial in Oberammergau.

One item of note, and a fact that Henry S. Booth himself pointed out in a letter to his sister: George G. Booth’s favorite woodcarvers John Kirchmayer and Alois Lang were from Oberammergau, Germany. Henry seemed happy to have found his own carvers in the same city.

Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar

Making Wartime History Come Alive

Last spring I gave a presentation about Cranbrook during World War II to the 8th grade history classes at the Girls Middle School. So, when our blogmaster asked for a post this week about WWII, I thought I would share that experience. After working in the archives for more than 14 years, I knew we had a myriad of materials relevant to WWII and I was excited to share these stories with the 8th grade girls. I was hopeful that it would help make a part of history more real to them. I began by asking each class (there were four that day!) how many thought Cranbrook was affected in ANY way by the war? Throughout the day, maybe 8 of the nearly 60 girls raised their hands. While I was surprised, I was also excited to enlighten them.

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Other ways in which the Cranbrook community supported war relief efforts included the British Children Refugee program, the Finnish War Relief Fund, and the Red Cross and Victory Book Drives

Cranbrook’s war-related activities were far-reaching – from Cranbrook School boys practicing military drills on the football field to Academy of Art ceramicist Maija Grotell who collected sweaters and unraveled them to repurpose into balls of yarn that she sent to families in Finland. War Bond drives were held at each of the school campuses, the Booth family closed off the west wing of Cranbrook House to conserve fuel due to rationing, and a previous blog post highlights one of Cranbrook’s own Monuments Men.  The 8th grade girls were particularly amused by the photograph of the Red Cross class which was held at Kingswood School, and that girls their same ages had collected waste fat from the school dining hall. There were a lot of “EWW!s”

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Cranbrook School Scrapbook, April 1942

I told the girls about the war memorial plaque which hangs at the base of Hoey tower and lists the names of all 678 Cranbrook School alumni who served in the war, including the 37 who lost their lives. We talked about the Cranbrook Committee on Civilian Defense and the air raid sirens/drills on campus, and how students from both Cranbrook and Kingswood Schools entertained the troops at Selfridge Air Force Base.

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Cranbrook had air raid sirens in numerous locations across campus.

At the end of each class, I asked the girls again how many thought Cranbrook was affected by World War II, and nearly all of them raised their hands. It was gratifying to be able to share primary source documents from our collections to help bring history out of the textbook and onto the campus. I’m looking forward to teaching again this school year!

Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

 

“A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are built for.” — John A. Shedd

Marthe Le Loupp, 1930. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Marthe Le Loupp, 1930. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

As the newest Cranbrook archivist it is my privilege to support our researcher’s investigations into the Cranbrook archival collections. On any given day we might review school yearbooks, catalog historic photographs, or learn about one of Cranbrook’s earliest scandals. After only two weeks, my husband has taken to assigning all credit for my cheerful and inquisitive demeanor to the adventuresome interactions I engage in at the archive. “You’re welcome!” is often my knee-jerk response.

Paths are a funny sort of thing—laid out to direct us, guide us, and ensure we don’t run astray. Life’s paths (kind of like research in an archives) often lead us to places we never imagined. This was the scenario in which Mademoiselle Marthe Le Loupp (1898-1987) found herself when she embarked on her return to Cranbrook from her annual trip back home (Plogoff, France) in 1939.

Marthe Le Loupp taught French language at Kingswood School Cranbrook from 1930-1956. As one of the original seven faculty members (classes were actually taught the first year in Brookside School), Le Loupp came to Cranbrook after completing three quarters of graduate study in French at the University of Chicago. A stern but well-liked teacher, Le Loupp led many Kingswood girls to excellence awards from the Michigan Chapter of the American Association of Teachers of French.

Le Loupp remained close with her family while living abroad and returned to France every summer. In 1939, Le Loupp’s return vessel, the SS Normandie, was reassigned under the WWII war effort and she was unable to return to Cranbrook for the start of the fall semester. Ultimately, she was able to secure passage via alternative methods.

Correspondence from Kingswood School to the American Consul, 1939. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Correspondence from Kingswood School to the American Consul, 1939. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

When people think about WWII they don’t usually think about a French schoolteacher in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, but in reality, maybe we all should think about the effects that war has on common folk. Our daily lives may seem unaffected, but this is not the truth now, as it was not the truth for Mlle Le Loupp and countless other teachers and staff at Cranbrook.

Le Loupp retired from Cranbrook in 1956 due to poor health. She lived the remainder of her years in Bénode, Finistère, France until her passing in 1987.

The opportunity to rediscover countless histories, such as this, is among the many honors of working in the archive here at Cranbrook. An honor I look forward to sharing with students and scholars in my daily work.

Belinda Krencicki, Associate Archivist

Photo Friday: Wartime Conservation, Kingswood-Style

Kingswood students Blenda Isbey, Irene Bard, and Nollie Campbell collect waste fat after their Home Economics class at Kingswood School, 1944. Harvey Croze, Cranbrook Archives.

During World War II, students at the Cranbrook and Kingswood Schools became increasingly involved in homefront activities. Here, Kingswood students Blenda Isbey, Irene Bard, and Nollie Campbell collect waste fat after they’ve finished their Home Economics class. Fat could be used to make soap, in great demand because of wartime rations, but was also consolidated for use in explosives.

Poster advocating the re-use of waste fats in explosives. Henry Koerner, Printed by the Office of War Information, 1943. National Archives.

Poster advocating the re-use of waste fats in explosives. Henry Koerner, Printed by the Office of War Information, 1943. National Archives.

Shoshana Resnikoff, Collections Fellow

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