Cranbrook Museum of art
Eliel and Eero Saarinen; Cranbrook Art Museum and Library 1938-42.
These views clearly show the museum and library, linked by a propylaeum; in the lower photograph, the library is on the right and the museum to the left. The main gallery and north and south galleries are visible, with the 'Orpheous Fountain' by Carl Milles. In the top photograph are other Milles sculptures: 'Europa and the Bull' and 'The Triton Pool'. The copper roof in left corner is the Painting Department; studios, dorms, houses, museum and library are located close together as the Academy is a "working place for creative art" said Eliel Saarinen.
Among the reasons that I decided to move to Cranbrook was the Art Museum. As I had served for five years as director of the Corcoran Gallery of Art, I wished to remain involved with museums. As director of the Corcoran, I had been elected to membership in the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD). I intended to continue with AAMD as an active member.
Moreover, I defined an art school as “a private place concerned with process” whereas the art museum was “a public place committed to product”; both were educational institutions. I realized the museum had the potential to bring national attention, public recognition and greater support to Cranbrook.
The museum has had various names and, when I was director, was called Cranbrook Academy of Art Museum. In 1995, the name became Cranbrook Art Museum; I prefer and use that today.
As I have written, my first visit to Cranbrook was in October 1975 at the time of the annual meeting of the National Association of Schools of Art and Design. My initial impressions were not favorable; particularly of the museum. The galleries were closed as an installation was in progress. The opportunity to show off Cranbrook to Presidents and Deans of art schools from throughout the country was squandered. I was not impressed.
Later, when I was considering taking the position at Cranbrook, I made visits as part of the interview process, meeting with students, faculty and staff. Among those meetings were talks with the museum director, curators and staff. I began to realize that not only opportunity but money was being squandered. Again, I was not impressed.
At that time, the museum director reported to the President of the Academy. The museum was regarded, like the library, as a department. However, the museum was open to the public and was more visible; with real potential for bringing in recognition and support. I made my views clear and stated that if I came to Cranbrook that I would assume greater control of the museum.
Indeed, the day that I arrived to take up residence in Saarinen House, a furniture van was on Academy Way; the director and family were moving out. In that summer of 1977, I assumed the title of Director of the Museum in addition to be President of the Academy. In effect, I reported to myself, an amicable arrangement without arguments!
I had to cut back on costs at the museum, particularly in reduction of staff. Art classes for children were conducted through the museum in a space beneath the library and, to me, were not worthy of continuing. The education effort would be directed to art appreciation through lectures and tours. A docent program staffed by volunteers existed and was sustained, enriching the museum education for children and adults.
As I reviewed the activities of the museum, I felt the commitment should be towards contemporary art. The museum was an invaluable resource and learning tool for the graduate students of the Academy. At the same time, the museum could enrich the Cranbrook community and surrounding area. The art museum had considerable promise, in many ways, for furthering an understanding and appreciation of art; in doing so greater support could come to Cranbrook.
As I reviewed and reduced museum staff, I asked Linda Dunne to take over the museum administration on a dad to day basis. With the dual responsibility of Academy President and Museum Director, I needed someone who was experienced, knowledgeable and reliable; I found that person in Linda. She was young and personable, good with people; most important she had worked at the museum as receptionist and secretary. Linda knew the museum as well as anyone and was well liked, particularly by the volunteers. Her pleasant personality and sense of humor were assets when dealing with s visitors, faculty, students, artists, trustees and the museum constituency. I was more than impressed and, within months, gave her the title Museum Administrator.
Linda did far more than administration for she worked in helping in curatorial issues and exhibition organization. Her responsibilities were considerable and she more than fulfilled them and my belief in her. Through her efforts and support, I was able to develop exhibitions and programs; the museum flourished.
(Later, Linda left Cranbrook to go to New York; she became Deputy Director at the Cooper Hewitt. Now, she is Deputy Director/ Chief Administrative Officer at the American Folk Art Museum. She remained a dear friend and trusted colleague. Ironically, in early 2001, Agnes and I visited her and her husband John Egner in Clearwater. John, a respected painter, had inherited a condo there on the Gulf. We ended up, by sheer luck, in buying the condo next to them! We are now neighbors; although presently they only visited a few weeks of the year.)
At the Corcoran, I had limited funds but had learnt how to put together low budget exhibitions of excellence with the help of artists; dealers; and collectors. Again, at Cranbrook, I had limited funds but great resources and contacts. The artists of the Academy were the best asset: faculty, students and alumni offered endless opportunities for exhibitions and programs. The Academy had a fine reputation in the visual arts; crafts; architecture; and design. These needed to de brought forward and presented to a broader public through exhibitions, catalogs and programs.
I have always realized how fortunate and privileged I was to head two great American art institutions. The Corcoran is the oldest art museum in the nation’s capitol and the third oldest in the nation. Cranbrook is the most influential graduate art academy in the country; particularly in the crafts, design and architecture. Corcoran has a national reputation and Cranbrook is of international repute and influence. I feel blessed that I led both institutions; helping to restore their stature and bring back respect and recognition. How ironic that both the Corcoran and Cranbrook had ignored their past; whether the American Collection or Saarinen House, both institutions were guilty of neglect.
With the support of staff and trustees, I did help bring back their glorious pasts and cultural wealth. Here I was a Welsh born American leading these great institutions; although my commitment is to the contemporary, I have deep respect for the past. Cultural institutions, particularly museums, have a tendency to ignore their own histories and traditions. To study that institutional history is important; even more critical is reading the words of the founders. Each American institution is different; that was true for the Corcoran, founded 1859, and for Cranbrook, founded in 1925. The words of William Wilson Corcoran were visionary and relevant to this day. His wish “to promote and encourage the American Genius” became our mission; most relevant at the time of the Bicentennial.
The writings and sayings of George Gough Booth are equally worth reading and remain pertinent today. He and his wife, Ellen Scripps Booth, founded the Cranbrook community with a commitment to education and to the arts and crafts. He wrote, in 1917, that “Art is not a thing apart, an ornament added to life. It is the outward expression of man’s struggle toward the ideal”. More farsighted and my favorite statement by Booth is that “There is a spirit of fertility, which through imaginative treatment and prophetic experiment will bring art forth to interpret itself and seed again. It will be further invigorated by the conviction that there is something for this day to create as its record, monument and inspiration to another generation.” How admirable that Booth knew that art would change and be of its day.
The founders, the Booths, are said to have wanted a museum for their collection across from a library. Their intent was for students to read about art history and then cross a peristyle to look at original works of art in the museum. How wonderful to gain an appreciation of art by looking at actual objects rather than viewing slides or, even worse, postcards.
In my early years in Michigan, on a visit a nearby institution of higher education, I visited galleries that were filled wall to wall with postcards. On closer scrutiny, I realized that these were postcards of reproductions of art throughout the ages; obviously culled from museum gift stores. My first impression was that few rooms were some sort of conceptual art project; may be a humorous parody of art? Nothing could have been further from the truth for these rooms were indeed the history of art. I found some students taking notes and intensely studying these postcards. I questioned them and found that they were studying ‘Art History 101’ and later would take an exam in which they would have to identify the art and artists represented in these reproductions! For them, art had been reduced to the size and scale of a postcard?
How ludicrous a way to study art for, when I questioned them further, most admitted that they had never studied an original work of art; never been to a museum. Although there are fine art museums in Michigan, the students had never been given that opportunity, nor been encouraged, to visit art museums and look at original art; how dreadful. Then I began to think how art history was studied, normally through slides; not much better than postcards or any reproduction. In this way the student has no sense of the size, texture and surface of a painting or of the scale, patina and dimensions of a sculpture. The study of art must begin with the original work of art; in this regard, the art museum plays an invaluable and indispensable role.
National Museum of Wales
I was fortunate in having a great museum within walking distance of my childhood home in Cardiff. I could walk to the National Museum of Wales and, for five years, did so daily on my way to art school. As a high school student, I was taken there occasionally on a school tour but went far more regularly by myself; the museum was so close to home. What better place than this for an adolescent boy to meet girls? I have described Wales as “the only place in the world where it rains indoors”! Over the weekends, in the dismal drizzle, the museum offered a dry and free place to roam. Inevitably, I got drawn to the art galleries, fascinated by the portraits and landscapes. I have always said that art museums are the best place to study art and meet beautiful women; many of whom work there!
The National Museum of Wales is a museum and art gallery; part of the Civic Center. The museum opened in 1927; some parts being completed in 1932. A new wing is still being considered; as a youngster, I cycled and played around that place. Recently, as part of a master plan study, I was asked my opinion on whether the proposed extension should be completed in Cardiff or built elsewhere in Wales. I replied that as a child that I had expected the wing to built adjacent to the original edifice and, 70 years later, I hope that would occur at last?! In the galleries, there were works from the Renaissance to the contemporary. Artists such as Botticelli and Poussin were on view; along with portraits by Reynolds and Romney. Four large tapestries were attributed to Rubens. Paintings in ornate frames and sculptures on pedestals adorned the large and elegant galleries.
The collection of French Art assembled by Margaret and Gwendoline Davies was bequeathed in the 1950s and 1960s; a gift that brought instant international recognition to the museum. The collection included the largest group of paintings by Daumier in the world; paintings by Monet of Venice, Rouen Cathedral and Water lilies; Van Gogh’s “Rain at Auvers”; and the famed portrait “La Parisienne” by Renoir. Another famous work was a bronze version of “The Kiss” by Rodin. For me, as a young art student and struggling artist, these works were overwhelming and inspiring. Of particular importance was “Midday L’Estaque” by Paul Cezanne; initially, I had real problems with this painting. I thought the work was awkward and crude; but I persisted in my study of this masterpiece. Today, I agree that Cezanne is indeed ‘the father of modern art’; among all painters, he is my favorite. I learnt much thanks to this generous gift that enriched the museum and those, like me, who could study the magnificent works of art. The Davies Bequest had a profound impact on me as did the museum. One summer, while a student, I worked at the National Museum of Wales; I even remember, from a lifetime ago, the director and his name, Rollo Charles. Looking back, at those years visiting the museum and that summer working there, I realize that this may have been the beginning of my museum career.
The greatest benefit of that nearby museum was the opportunity to view original works of art. However, slides of art became the accepted way to teach art history or to talk about art. If I remember correctly, my art school classes on art history were initially from books and reproductions; then lectures, given with slides projected on to the screen. How many lectures have I been to? How many have I given?
Over the years, I have given endless lectures throughout the world; always using slides. I think I may have become known as ‘Roy Slide’?! By the late 1950’s, as I started teaching and painting, I began to use the camera more and more. Photography has always fascinated me; when a young teenager, I made a pin hole camera and visited a camera obscura on Clifton Downs in Bristol. As a painting student, I photographed the nearby beaches, shorelines and rock polls; the Welsh coast is varied and dramatic. The abstraction of nature fascinated me and I would project images as inspiration.
Before I first came to America, in 1967, I visited famed British artists from Barbara Hepworth to Patrick Heron and photographed them and their work in their studios. I recorded the work of students at Leeds College of Art; these images were invaluable when lecturing throughout the States. At the same time, throughout my travels from coast to coast, I took photographs of cities, deserts, mountains, museums, skyscrapers, seascapes, neon lights, signs, skies and the contrasting continent that is America. I used those images in later lectures; now I wish I had printed those slides as photographs, works of art in their own right.
The Primary Experience
Over the years, I became committed to the idea of studying original art and nature. One day, I was lecturing at the Corcoran in the magnificent hemicycle that was the auditorium. I was talking on the Washington Color School; on the screen was projected a slide of a painting by Morris Louis. To my chagrin, I realized that the original painting was hanging in the gallery, on the wall the other side of the auditorium screen! I stopped the lecture and took the students out into the gallery to look at the original work of art.
From that day on, when lecturing with slides, I stressed that the images were points of reference and gave no indication of size, scale, surface, sensuality or soul that was evident in the original. Increasingly, I tried to include original works of art within my talks; for a sculpture and a painting next to the podium can be a constant reminder of art itself. To have audiences go into an exhibition or a collection, following a lecture, is most beneficial. Of course, in teaching art history, the lecturer can not take the audience around the world or back in time. Nevertheless, the emphasis must be on the fact that slides are mere indicators and points of reference; about art but not art.
Years ago, in England, I was in a flower shop when some fresh flowers arrived. Two dear old ladies looked, with admiration, at the colorful and fresh blooms. One matron said to the other, “these flowers are so beautiful that they could be plastic!” At that time, plastic was relatively new to these ladies but had already warped their sense of what was real? More recently, I told that story to a meeting of art museum directors; the discussion was on technology and art. Talk was taking place on interactive computers; holograms; electronics and cyberspace. I warned my colleagues not to overlook or neglect the original work of art.
Eliel Saarinen talked often of the growth of the seed, relating this phenomenon to design and the creative process, the balance of inward energy and outward forces. He felt that, “In order to understand both art and life, one must go down to the source of all things; to nature.”
Each year, for incoming students, I gave a talk on Cranbrook. I did so in the first week and attendance was mandatory; I felt students must understand and appreciate the history and architecture of Cranbrook. Although using slides, I emphasized the primary experience of architecture and nature that surrounded them daily. I talked of Saarinen’s commitment to the totality of design from the grand concept to the finite detail. I took students visually on the walk they took to the cafeteria in the basement of the boys’ school. They passed through arches with decorative embellishment and the words of the founder. The courtyard and the dining room of the boys’ school were masterpieces of art, architecture and design; Saarinen was a genius. I shared my awe and wonderment for our surroundings through my slides of his architecture; of decorative details; of asymmetrical design; of changing seasons; of nature that encompasses and enriches us. I was unabashed in my enthusiasm and appreciation of Cranbrook; the place, its history and influence. I took students outside to show them around Cranbrook; an original work of art. I preached of my passion for the primary experience of art and nature. Later, students came to me, sharing my enthusiasm and talking of, a phrase to be used often by my graduates, “the primary experience”.
Museum and Library
The art museum was the last of Eliel Saarinen’s buildings at Cranbrook and is regarded as his most formal and monumental. The design has been attributed to Eliel but son Eero Saarinen is acknowledged as the building is described in publications as by “Eliel and Eero Saarinen: Cranbrook Museum and Library 1938-42”. Planning began in 1938 and the original drawing for the museum and library is by Eliel Saarinen, dated 1940.
The publication “Design in American: The Cranbrook Vision 1925-50” deals in detail with the architecture of Eliel and Eero Saarinen. In his chapter “Interior Design and Architecture”, Craig Miller describes the museum and library, writing that, “The composition is a tripartite arrangement of two rectangular blocks separated by a propylaeum. The Museum is by necessity a closed volume and reflects the now familiar subtle palette preferred by Eliel Saarinen; in this instance, travertine floors and fabric covered walls and plaster ceiling originally finished in shades of warm grey. The most interesting features were the sculpted plaster coffers in the ceiling. The library, on the other hand, is a sunny reading room, and the light blond wood bookcases and furniture lend a sense of added warmth.”
The library was invaluable in fulfilling our educational role. There were rare folios; priceless volumes, originally owned by the Booths; reference books; art books; catalogs; magazines; periodicals. The collection contains over 25,000 volumes on art and related fields. In addition, there are slides; audio visual equipment; and tapes of Academy lectures. This resource was staffed by a librarian, Judy Dyki, and her assistants. Judy was most helpful, supportive and pleasant; a delight to work with and one of my appointments. I appreciated her professional commitment and dedication.
The library was used by staff, students and scholars. Most fascinating were the bound theses of graduates; essays on art or their work or interests. These volumes were insights in to past students, now distinguished artists, architects and designers.
The Museum and Library are distinguishing features of Cranbrook; an architectural masterwork by Eliel Saarinen, enhanced by the sculptures of Carl Milles. The formal gardens with the “Triton Pool” and “Europa and the Bull” form an axis for one approach; the other is past the famed “Orpheus Fountain”. These sculptures by Milles are illustrated in the book “Design in America”; on the cover is the fountain with the grand façade and propylaeum. The museum and library doors are large and bronze with decorative designs by Eliel Saarinen.
In my Cranbrook Lecture, on this website, are slides of the Museum and Library: an aerial view; the Triton Pool; and the interior of the museum. As ever, one picture is worth a thousand words.
Earlier, I stated that I felt blessed to have headed the Corcoran and Cranbrook; even more of a blessing was the magnificent interior space of both buildings. The enormous atrium and galleries of the Corcoran, a beaux arts building designed by Ernest Flagg in the 1890s, were unequalled, particularly for exhibiting the vast canvases and huge sculptures of contemporary art. When I arrived at the Corcoran in 1967, the sculptures "Smoke" by Tony Smith and "X" by Ronald Bladen were being built. These huge wooden works, built in situ, towered above the viewer, filling both the north and south atriums and reaching up two floors high to the skylights; indeed, memorable. Later, I used these spaces and the huge galleries to full advantage to present contemporary art. The Corcoran had seven of these huge galleries, on the first and second floors, for exhibitions plus the two atriums, rotunda and over twenty other galleries for the collections.
At Cranbrook, the museum space was far less with four galleries on the main floor and smaller spaces below. However, the galleries were large and impressive, again ideal for showing contemporary art. Again, I was fortunate; although, when I arrived the south gallery was being used as a lecture hall and the north gallery was blocked off with a huge false wall. The only access was through a small door. When I asked why, I was told that there had been an exhibition of jewelry with precious gems; for security reasons the wall had been built and never taken down. I had that removed to open up the beautiful north gallery. The main gallery was 79’ long x 36’ wide x 20’ high; wonderful proportion and size. The center gallery was 36 ’wide x 29’; the north gallery was 31’ x 34’. These three galleries provided fine spaces for exhibitions.
Originally, the museum had been designed to house the collections of the founders. The Booth Collection had been eclectic and diverse; rich in textiles, ceramics, tapestries, sculpture, metalwork, paintings from different countries and periods; many objects reflected their passion and patronage of the Arts & Crafts. I have only heard and read of their collection which was sold at auction before my arrival at Cranbrook. The sale appears to have been controversial and caused concern in the community and among the museum profession.
Again, I repeat that the founders’ wish and intent was admirable: to have students read about art and then cross over to the adjoining museum to see original works from throughout the ages within the Booth Collection. Initially, my concern was with exhibitions.
James Surls (Sculpture 69)
Duane Hanson (Sculpture 51)
Winifred Lutz (Sculpture 68)
The above exhibitions at Cranbrook Art Museum are of the work of distinguished and notable Academy Alumni. Each studied sculpture but, as is obvious, there is no one style or dogma; only individual innovation and expression. The installations occured at various times during 1977-94.
As I started my tenure at Cranbrook, I was pleased to find that there was no exhibition program; most important, no commitments had been made except for one exhibition to be presented that September, 1977. Fortunately, that exhibition was “Design in Michigan”. Kathy and Mike McCoy, co chairs of the Design department were involved with this endeavor. Kathy had compiled and edited “Design in Michigan 1967/77”, published in by Wayne State University Press, Detroit, 1978. I was more than delighted to present the work of Michigan designers, many of whom were Academy graduates. As part of the installation, a helicopter was flown in and placed on the peristyle; unforgettable, as was the local interest and response.
During my time at Cranbrook, many exhibitions were presented; almost too many! The frantic schedule of exhibitions shown at the Corcoran seemed to continue at Cranbrook; with new shows and openings every six weeks. The ever changing exhibitions brought activity and attention to the museum but I realized that this was getting ridiculous? Work, preparation, time and money went into these catalogs and exhibitions that were shown for such a short time. The schedule changed so that fewer exhibitions were shown for a longer period of time. The staff, students, docents and members benefitted from having more time to study and appreciate the exhibitions and related programs.
Another change was with the members’ openings. When I arrived at Cranbrook, the openings were held late on Sunday afternoon. I could not think of a worse time as the weekend was ruined for everyone from staff to members. Those families that went away, for weekends at their cottage, had to return early. Even worse, the openings interfered with watching football games; husbands were upset at being dragged away from their television sets; I included!
I asked why the openings occurred on Sunday afternoons. No one seemed to know; that’s the way it had always been! Eventually, someone remembered that they had heard the openings were held that day because, on Monday, the maids could come in to tidy up and clean! What maids? We no longer had maids; they had left in 1950 with the Saarinen family. Here we were, nearly thirty years later, holding openings at the worst possible time because no one had asked the question: why?!
The members’ openings were changed to Friday evening at 5PM; everyone was happy and relieved. The openings became a popular way to start the weekend, now free for family and sports. The attendance at openings increased as did the interest in exhibitions. I was able to spend weekends away at the cottage; happily boating, fishing and watching sports!
Another decision that I made was in regard to the summer. During the summer, I decided that there would an exhibition of work by the graduates of the Academy. The show opened in mid May, at the time of commencement and ran through the summer. I felt that this gave visitors an opportunity to see the work of our graduates and, in doing so, promote the Academy. Later, “The Summer Show” was broadened to include the best of work, including some first year students. When the “Cranbrook Collection” was installed in the main gallery, the work of our students was seen within a broader context and ongoing tradition of excellence. Of course, this decision gave the museum staff time for research and preparation for future exhibitions. Most important, the summer was more relaxed for me, allowing time to cruise the Great Lakes.
I should mention that during the reorganization of the museum, I was helped by students and staff; particularly John Guse, a graduate of the Academy. His skills were invaluable as walls were removed and rebuilt. The entrance to the museum and the front desk was redesigned and rebuilt. Changes were ongoing. Near the front desk was a sign that welcomed visitors and simply explained the mission of the museum. I wish each museum would do the same, particularly using the simple word: “Welcome!”
To summarize the numerous exhibitions is difficult if not impossible? The program presented the work of Academy artists; different media; contemporary art; ever changing exhibitions.
The work of the artists in residence was presented. Over the years, exhibition catalogs of their work were published, with my introductory essays. “Cranbrook Artists in Residence 1978”, shown in the fall of that year, presented the recent work of the faculty. Another exhibition “Artists in Residence 1984” was presented at the Grand Rapids Museum of Art and then at a private gallery in New York to coincide with the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s presentation of “Design in America: The Cranbrook Vision”. A year later, The United States Information Agency organized the exhibition “Cranbrook Contemporanea: Artistas Residentes 1985-86”” that toured South America, including Venezuela and Brazil. Solo exhibitions devoted to individual faculty members were presented, along with brochures on their work. Exhibitions and brochures were presented on artists of the past from Loja Saarinen to Harry Bertoia. The same was done for alumni who had distinguished themselves from Niels Diffrient to Winifred Lutz. An exhibition that celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the Academy in 1982 was “CAA USA”; painting and sculpture by fifteen alumni. The selection and catalog essay was by Dennis Barrie, Midwest Director, Archives of American Art; he worked closely with Linda Dunne, museum administrator. In this way, the public were given an appreciation of the achievements and influence of Cranbrook artists throughout the world.
The museum also presented the work of area artists in a series “At Cranbrook”. My personal favorite was “Downtown Detroit: Twenty One Artists”. I selected the artists but this was another collaborative effort involving staff and students. The catalog, an outstanding design by student Jim Houff, included my introduction along with essays by dealers, curators, collectors and critics. As I remember these shows and catalogs, I am grateful for the support of many individuals; like the exhibitions, too numerous to mention but thank you!
Yoko Ono Exhibit, Cranbrook '89
Yoko Ono "The Bronze Age" opening, September 1989
Yoko Ono meets with the press, deSalle Auditorium
Yoko Ono with RS and Pat Hartmann, Board Chair
Yoko Ono is a dear friend and an artist that I highly respect. Exhibitions of her work were presented at Cranbrook in 1989 and 1993. For her first exhibition “The Age of Bronze”, I wrote the following introduction.
“With great pleasure, I write these words on the occasion of the exhibition of the work of Yoko Ono. Personally, I am delighted that the work of this distinguished artist is being shown at Cranbrook Academy of Art Museum. I first met and heard Yoko Ono in the mid 1960s. At that time, I was Director of Post Graduate Studies at Leeds College of Art. Yoko Ono was regarded as one of the most avant-garde artists of the time and her performances, presentations and work were eagerly sought after in England and Europe.
“A few years later, I was able to see an exhibition of drawings done in collaboration between John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Of course, that relationship is known world wide. In a way, her celebrity status has over shadowed Yoko Ono’s reputation and achievements as an artist.
“Accordingly to see her exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art earlier this year (1989) was a pleasant surprise….I was eager to bring an even bigger exhibition to Cranbrook in order to reaffirm the position of Yoko Ono with the aesthetic vanguard.”
Through the collectors, Lila and Gil Silverman and their Fluxus Collection, I met Jon Hendricks, who was a friend and curator for Yoko Ono. He arranged for me to visit her at the Dakota; I did so with Agnes. Subsequently, we have become close; a friendship that we cherish and respect. I will say no more except to quote again from my catalog introduction: “Yoko Ono is a remarkable woman and artist: sensitive, caring and innovative. Her ideas have influenced many younger artists. To see her work at Cranbrook is most appropriate.”
Both exhibitions were most successful; with huge crowds and great press. The first exhibition presented 60 works of art with bronzes, paintings, drawings, photographs and writings. The work was a retrospective of her innovative ideas and international influence. Yoko Ono was generous with her time; she gave a lecture/ performance and met with students. I will always remember one of our graduate students, a woman in her late twenties, coming up to Yoko and shaking her hand. With deep sincerity and emotion, the young woman said, “I want to thank you most sincerely. As a woman and an artist, you are my inspiration. You have changed my life.”
Sam Gilliam 1975 Corcoran Installation
below 1977 Sam Gilliam's Cranbrook Installation in main gallery with work by Martin Myers and Terence La Noue in the exhibition 'Viewpoint 77'. Also in picture: (l) Mary Ann Igna (r) Linda Dunne.
My commitment and involvement is with contemporary art. At Cranbrook, I presented a series of exhibitions on contemporary American painting. I selected the artists and wrote the catalog for each exhibition; the series was titled “Viewpoint”. The first presentation was in the fall of 1977 and dealt with paintings that are no longer stretched in the formal sense upon a canvas stretcher. The work included the large hanging canvases of Sam Gilliam to free standing painted structures of skyscrapers by Martin Meyers.
I had shown the large hanging canvases of Gilliam in the large galleries of the Corcoran; now, I had the opportunity to do the same in the main museum gallery at Cranbrook. However, I was cautious as I did not want to overwhelm the Academy with my friends and artists from Washington DC. I had felt the same when arriving at the Corcoran. I did not bring in British artists but rather sought out artists within the community; that was easy in Washington DC with an outstanding group of innovative artists. The same was true at Cranbrook where there were the artists of the Academy and of Detroit. Moreover, my resources and riches in contemporary art were considerable; as were my contacts with artists, dealers and collectors across the country.
These contacts were invaluable as was evident in the “Viewpoint” series that continued as one of my favorite shows. Of course, that was inevitable as I selected the theme and the artists; also I wrote the catalog. As a painter, my bias and knowledge were the basis of the shows; dealing with new developments and trends in contemporary painting. In my extensive travels, I visited studios; galleries; museums; and collections. I was always looking for new ideas in painting. My passion was intensified as some critics wrote of video and film as the art form of the future; painting was dead. What nonsense! Humans will always make marks and have done so since the dawn of civilization. What is more mysterious and magical than those early paintings in the caves of our ancestors?! The magic of the mark will continue as long as humankind. Even in the horror of the holocaust, prisoners made drawings. The will to survive and live is strong; as is the desire to make marks, to create images and ideas visually.
Gene Davis 'Magic Circle' 1975 Corcoran rotunda.
Gene Davis 'Black Yo-Yo' 1981 Cranbrook main gallery
“In January 1981, six artists created works for the gallery walls in the Museum. The works were made specifically for the spaces in the museum and existed only for the time of the exhibition. This publication acknowledges and records these monumental paintings. The museum, designed by Eliel Saarinen in 1940, affords magnificent spaces for contemporary art…..the changing of the interior became of prime interest in Viewpoint 81” These words were the beginning of the introduction to the exhibition, the second of the series. The artists invited to participate were Gene Davis, Sol LeWitt, Patrick Ireland, Dorothea Rockburne, Rick Paul and Daniel Buren. Other extracts from the brochure follow; giving insights into the concept.
The transient nature of the paintings, lasting only a few weeks, is both an attraction and frustration. To be able to take risks and create a work of a passing moment attracts many artists….The opportunity to deal with new spaces and scale allows the artist to experiment, innovate and grow. Although the work does not endure….In past years, the tendency has occurred to say that painting ‘is finished’, ‘is done with’, ‘has no future’. “Viewpoint 81” confirms that painting is vital and vibrant with potential. The act of painting will continue to fascinate and offer much to explore and discover for the artists and the viewer, presenting ever changing viewpoints of art.”
Gene Davis was an artist from my days at the Corcoran; where he taught at the school and exhibited at the gallery. Davis had gained an international reputation through his endless paintings of stripes. Through the use of vertical stripes, color, interval and repetition, he created large canvases that were a visual orchestration. I admired his work and regarded Gene as a friend. For the 1976 Corcoran Biennial, I had invited him to create a work for the exhibition; “ Magic Circle” covered the walls of the Rotunda. The work lives on in the memory of those fortunate enough to have experienced this painting that encircled and enveloped the viewer. Gene Davis was used to creating works of monumental scale that were transient and of that moment. His enormous stripe painting on the road in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art is fully documented as are other works. As usual, information is readily available on Davis, other artists and whatever on the internet.
At Cranbrook, Gene Davis created the work “Black Yo-Yo” in the museum’s main gallery. The work was executed by Academy students working ( pictured above) from the artist’s design, developed by Davis after an earlier visit to the museum. For ten days, students worked intensely to complete the painting; the artist was pleased.
The critic Joy Colby wrote of “fracturing the 104 feet of running space with two paintings on facing walls – one black with gray stripes and one dark blue with lighter blue stripes. The intervals between the stripes are reversed in the two paintings to set a softly rolling cadence down the walls and lights spotting the painting emphasize unfolding rhythms.” Gene Davis said of the work that “The Cranbrook piece has to do with fracturing the unity of the room by creating a gentle conflict between the two walls….I decided it should be a gentle fracture; you can see a conflict, a tug between the two sides but it is a very gentle tug.” Whatever, the critic or artist said, I felt that the work was a great success; in a dramatic way, enriching the walls and transforming the space.
To achieve this modern mural had required the commitment and work of those students. The painting students had worked hard but benefitted a great deal, learning a lot from the experience. The Cranbrook Museum fulfilled many roles, most important was the ongoing education and enrichment of the student. Exhibitions and lectures were obvious and ongoing benefits; other opportunities were less apparent. Students were encouraged to work within the museum as preparators in preparing and installing exhibitions; to help with lighting; to unpack and pack works of art; to catalog; to write labels; design invites and catalogs; to assist in the bookstore; to work at openings. In many of these activities, students were part of student work program and gained financial aid. I always said that I had the best museum staff, particularly the student work crew; many had prior professional experience in galleries or as designers. In all this activity, one of the most invaluable experiences was working directly with artists; either in an installation or on a site specific work as in the ‘Viewpoint’ series. For the 1981 presentation, students were responsible for the Gene Davis painting and also worked on other installations, particularly the painting of the walls in the south gallery for the white chalk geometric figures of Sol LeWitt. Students not only worked within the museum but were most involved with the program of sculpture on the grounds. Sculpture students worked on the construction and installation of works by sculptors from Alice Aycock to Dennis Oppenheim. Of course, the artists benefitted from the work of the students who in turn learnt so much from this aesthetic apprenticeship. Through exhibitions and installations, the opportunities were endless for students to be involved with artists in the creative process.
In my conclusion to the publication on “Viewpoint 81”, I wrote “The transient nature of all these works is one of the fascinating aspects of the exhibition. The works will remain in memory and documentation but not as object. The changing of our perception to the environment and the experience of these monumental paintings should remain as a stimulating and everlasting memory for those who were fortunate to view the works.”
Out of Square
The third in the ‘Viewpoint’ series was presented in 1984 with the title “Out of Square”; paintings no longer within the traditional rectangle but that were shaped canvas. Indeed, in 1965, Lawrence Alloway had organized an exhibition for the Guggenheim titled “The Shaped Canvas”. The idea of the shaped canvas had fascinated artists for decades.
In my own work, I had experimented with such paintings; I did a series of chevrons, shaped and shield like. The best of these is “Ivory Quartet” four shaped panels with acrylic; painted and later exhibited at the Kidd Gallery in 1981. The work is now in the collection of Shirley & Frank Piku and is illustrated under ‘Paintings’ on this website. In the early 70s, I had painted some columns 72” x 8” x 8”; the intent was to break away from the flat rectangular canvas. The works were exhibited in Washington DC, initially at the Jefferson Place Gallery; then in my retrospective at the Pyramid Gallery. Again, under ‘Paintings’, there is slide of that 1977 installation showing a black column; also a diamond shaped painting. Later that year, after my arrival in Michigan, I went to the home of Lila & Gil Silverman. I was surprised and delighted to find two of my column paintings among their large and impressive collection. Recently, I have returned to that column form; fascinated by the fact the three sides can never be seen at once. The viewer has to walk around the work; viewing art is not a passive enterprise.
Of course, I suppose it is not quite proper to be talking of my own work while discussing my exhibitions as a museum director. Well, that is the privilege of old age and retirement, I can do as I wish; particularly on my own web site? Moreover, these reminisces give insights into my interests; the rationale and reason for certain exhibitions.
“Out of Square” showed the wide diversity of ideas and ongoing possibilities for the shaped canvas. Art becomes object rather than representation. The exhibition presented the work of twenty two artists. One of the pioneers of the shaped canvas in the 60s was Charles Hinman; his was the first shaped canvas that I saw in America. Apparently, Ellsworth Kelly was credited with making the first shaped canvas in 1952. Frank Stella was another artist breaking away from the rectangle; as were others. Hinman and Stella were included in the ‘Viewpoint 81’ exhibition; along with Mel Bochner, Ron Gorchov, Elizabeth Murray, Judy Pfaff, Ellen Phelan, Alan Shields, Gilda Snowden and John Torreano to name but a few. Experimentation, diversity, abstraction, figuration and innovation were evident throughout the show; a testimony to the rich potential and promise of painting.
As part of the exhibition, the work of George Ortman was included along with, in the brochure, his statement “A Perspective”. Ortman was Head of Painting at the Academy. He wrote of his days in Paris; then New York during its heyday in the 50s. George was working on his painted and built constructions. He writes “To me, it was a way I could explore. Once the picture plane was cut into, much was to be done. I could now deal with illusion and reality, the painted image in context with an invented object or found object. I could introduce new materials. A picture plane could be not only paint but plaster, aluminum, wood, cloth or anything I could get my hands on. It offered the opportunity to work with relief, to make colors work in a new way and to work with light and shadow. The possibilities were exciting.”
The Third Dimension
'Viewpoint 86': Judy Pfaff and Al Held
The fourth and final of the ‘Viewpoint’ series was presented in 1986, titled “Painting and the Third dimension”. Without doubt, this exhibition was one of my favorites, with the finest catalog; a brilliant design by an academy student, David Frej. I worked hard on the essay; a culmination of my thoughts on painting developed over the years.
I was once told that to quote oneself was not proper; was gauche? Well, I do not agree; often I think what I write makes the most sense; at least to me it does! As I have said, old age and one’s own website, does allow indulgences. I wish that I could share all my catalog writings; may be one day, by scanning, I will? For now, extracts will suffice, starting with the following.
“The current exhibition, Viewpoint 86: Painting and the Third Dimension, presents the work of American painters of national renown. The seven painters deal with the issue of space in different ways in their work which ranges from figuration to abstraction. These painters continue to be fascinated with the creation of the illusion of deep space on a flat surface or space that perceptually pushes outward from the canvas or works which physically extend into actual space.”
“Throughout time, space has fascinated viewer and artist alike. Space can be the vast cosmos of the universe or the immediate space in which we live. The interpretations of space and spatial relationships have intrigued the artists for centuries. In the late Middle Ages, the artist began to create the illusion of recession and depth through mathematical perspective. The artist persuaded the viewer that upon looking a t a flat surface, the illusion of three dimensional depth was implied and that, for example, a road vanished into the distance. The use of foreground, middle distance and far distance appeared to give depth to the paintings. The manipulation of surface and space has continued to fascinate, frustrate and fulfill the eye of the painter.’
I went on to write of space; perspective; perception; illusion; interpretation; imagination; representation and abstraction. I described the evolution of painting from the caves through the Renaissance to cubism and modernism. I mentioned painters from the Renaissance: Masaccio, Uccello, Mantegna and Caravaggio to those of Modern Art: Cezanne, Picasso, Braque and Matisse. I described how each had dealt with spatial illusion. I then went on to write of the exhibition, of the seven painters and their work: Jennifer Bartlett, Jonathan Borofsky, John Egner, Al Held, Philip Pearlstein, Judy Pfaff and Philip Wofford. Some extracts follow from the catalog, mentioning a few of the painters who most dramatically illustrated the theme of painting and the third dimension; starting with Al Held.
“The paintings of Al Held illustrate to perfection a perception and puzzlement of space. His earlier black and white series are masterful examples of how geometric and abstract form can still be placed and manipulated in an endless illusion. His latest work, where colors contrast and converge with form, gives an even greater cosmic space.”
Jennifer Bartlett "Sea Wall" 1985.
“Over the past years, Jennifer Bartlett has been a prolific painter. Her recent works, scenes of houses, cabanas, boats, pools and fences, comprise painted objects that exist as two dimensional representation on canvas and as scaled, three dimensional extensions of the scene in front of the canvas. These installations explore the progression of a motif from depicted space into actual space. In ‘Sea Wall’ 1985, presented in this exhibition, the relationship between depicted and actual spaces is obvious. Objects are painted upon the canvas and then these objects are recreated in actual space. The entire work is a commentary upon the illusion of objects….”
Judy Pfaff "Apples and Oranges" 1986
“The work of Judy Pfaff poses many questions and challenges the perceptions and traditions of painting. The movement into actual space is evident; not so apparent is the feeling of breaking away from the rectangle. The structures still relate to the wall, an implied canvas, from which the forms move forward, struggling for release and going beyond the bounds, unhindered and uninhibited. Her work also relates to the issues of room and environment, but in gesture, movement, composition and intent remain paintings.”
My essay finishes by discussing the writings of Rudolph Arnheim and E. H. Gombrich. A visiting lecturer at Cranbrook, Arnheim writes of two spatial systems: “cosmic” and “parochial”. In his book, “Art and Illusion”, Gombrich has a chapter “Ambiguities of the Third Dimension” in which he talks of “our baffled perception” and “the elusive tangle of unresolved ambiguities”.
The last word and final quote came from our son John, at that time 11 years old. On seeing the huge and cosmic paintings of Al Held, he said, “Looks as if you can walk into it. Can you?”
At the time of the reopening of the south gallery, the presentation of space as an exhibition theme was most appropriate. Converted to use as a lecture hall, this space was returned to its original use and purpose as a gallery; the first exhibition shown was “Painting and The Third Dimension”. Like the main gallery, the south was large space, 79’ x 31’; perfect for contemporary art. The reclaiming of this gallery space was made possible with the construction of a new auditorium. The generous gift of the late Peggy deSalle had made possible the building of the Albert and Peggy deSalle Auditorium, which opened at the same time of the exhibition, November 1986.
Peggy was born in Hungary in 1904 and arrived with her family in Detroit six years later. Her first marriage was to the painter Zoltan Sepeshy, also Hungarian. He was Head of Painting at the Academy, later becoming the second president. In 1933, Peggy married Albert deSalle. In 1949, she opened the Little Gallery. During her life, she befriended and supported artists and musicians. Peggy was a colorful character, a dear friend and supporter of the Academy. Her financial gift made the possible the auditorium; she also gave gifts of art from her personal collection. In 1984, at an Academy party celebrating her eightieth birthday, Peggy deSalle officially gave her gift; she died two years later, before the completion of the construction. Her memory and name lives on.
The deSalle Auditorium was designed by the architects Robert Swanson, the grandson of Eliel Saarinen, and George Zonnars, an alumnus of the Academy. Their design placed the auditorium under the propylaeum that linked library and museum. In this way, Saarinen’s original design remained intact and the Academy gained an impressive, underground auditorium that seated 200. The programs of the academy and museum were enhanced through this generous gift and architectural addition. Not only did Peggy deSalle deserve thanks; other donors made possible the completion of this unique undertaking. These fund raising efforts were coordinated by Agnes (Fleckenstein) Slade; she is owed a debt of gratitude.
The building of the auditorium allowed the museum to implement its plan to reorganize its spaces. The lecture hall became again a gallery; the bookstore was enlarged; lower galleries renovated and expanded; and additional storage space provided. Most important was the installation in the main gallery of the Cranbrook Collection.
The Cranbrook Collection; installation in the main gallery of Cranbrook Art Museum 1986. In the foreground is "Orpheous" 1925/30 by Carl Milles with the Saarinen House dining room chair 1929/30 by Eliel Saarinen. "The Cranbrook Cube" by Tony Rosenthal is also visible.
The Cranbrook Collection
The original Booth collection had been auctioned before my time at Cranbrook. Much dismay and disgust seem to linger after that sale of art from different countries and cultures. I knew little about that sale except that work of Eliel Saarinen and his contemporaries had not been sold; there was little or no interest in acquiring their work. Cranbrook was fortunate as was I, for now a collection of Academy artists could be developed. In the summer of 1978, a year after my arrival, the collection was created which I named “The Cranbrook Collection”. The intent was to pay tribute to the remarkable achievements of our Academy’s artists, architects and designers. The nucleus came from the original Booth Collection; works of Academy artists that had not been sold and remained at Cranbrook.
Often, works of art were found in unlikely places; the most dramatic was the discovery of the original designs for Cranbrook by Eliel Saarinen. The curators Mary Riordan and John Gerrard told me of these plans that had been in storage under the custody of the Building Supervisor. I had met with Bill Powell and explained my commitment to the restoration of the buildings and architecture. He was of the mind to cover the brick walkways with black asphalt and to replace the leaded windows with plain glass; evidence of this had begun to appear in the community. My coming to Cranbrook stopped further destruction; the article in the New York Times, April 1978, on Saarinen House restoration made my task easier. Restoration began in earnest and, hopefully, continues to this day.
In my conversations with Bill Powell, I mentioned that my curators had talked of some plans. He said that they were in cabinets in the basement of the Booth House, now the offices for the community. Bill took me with the curators down to the basement, saying he wanted to get rid of the sketches as, for him, they were of no use without electrical wiring or plumbing evident?! As the large drawers were opened, the most remarkable drawings were revealed; true treasures. I knew then what it must have been like to be at the opening up of the tomb of King Tut. These were the original designs for Cranbrook by Eliel Saarinen.
Throughout the publication, “Design in America: The Cranbrook Vision 1925-50” are illustrations of the drawings and plans of Eliel Saarinen. However, these reproductions can not show the size nor do justice to the intricate detail of these drawings. To see the originals for the first time was an unbelievable and breathtaking experience; to think that these works may have been destroyed, lost forever. In that basement, each plan and drawing was another delight, a confirmation and acclimation of the abilities of Eliel Saarinen; I was and remain in awe of his genius. The plans and drawings were large; some nearly six feet long. The partial plan and north elevation for Kingswood School is a drawing of remarkable detail that measures 33” x 69”; along with a drawing of column details illustrated on page 62. What fascinated me about the drawings was the combination of plan, elevation, interior, exterior, detail and decoration on one huge page. Drawing after drawing was seen that day, the plans and designs for Cranbrook; actually, I can not remember the exact number, twenty or thirty. I do know that, later, these works were accessioned into the collection and care of the museum.
I must admit that, by nature, I am curious. At the same time, I do have a respect for the past. At Corcoran, that was true. I had never studied the history of American art, I knew little about the art of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that was the basis of the collections at the Corcoran. However, I was curious and respectful; I learnt a lot, as usual by looking. My eye as a painter served me well as a museum director. I have always said that the best museum directors have a good eye. I was self taught in regard to American art of the past and the same was true at Cranbrook: I learnt from looking at the art and architecture of Eliel Saarinen. Walking around Cranbrook, studying his buildings and admiring the decorative details, brought greater understanding and appreciation of his creativity.
I do not read that much, although I do speed read and like to look at the illustrations in a book. I prefer to write. The book on Eliel Saarinen that I did look at was by Albert Christ-Janer, published in 1948; with a foreword by Alvar Aalto. This documentation of Saarinen’s life is well illustrated. The revised edition, 1979, mentions the restoration of Saarinen House and talks of its “expressiveness”. The book “Eliel Saarinen: Projects 1896 -1923” dealt with his work in Finland during that time. This copiously illustrated, published in 1990 by the Museum of Finnish Architecture, was the result of a decade of research. I was most impressed; most recently, I was delighted to find my name amongst many in the acknowledgements. I did encourage the ongoing project in my visits to Finland. Worthy of mention are Eliel Saarinen’s two volumes “The City” and “The Search for Form”. As I have said, rather than read, I like to look and prefer to write.
Maija Grotell, Vase c1943
Eero Saarinen: Auditorium Armchair and Dining Hall Side Chair, Kingswood School, 1929-31.
More works were found in the community; gifts came from across the country; acquisitions and accessions were made to the ever growing Cranbrook Collection. The work of the founding artists; Eliel Saarinen, Carl Milles, Loja Saarinen, Maija Grotell, Marianne Strengell and Zoltan Sepeshy were amongst those first shown; initially, in the lower gallery. When the auditorium opened, the presentation moved to the main gallery.
I had invited my colleague Peter Marzio to be commencement speaker. Peter had succeeded me as director of the Corcoran; he is now director of the Houston Museum of Fine Arts. I was showing him the Cranbrook Collection in the main gallery. Marzio admired the work of the distinguished artists, designers and architects of the Academy. He remarked “Cranbrook is the only educational institution that can collect the art of its alumni and create a collection of international significance; truly unique!”
New acquisitions were made and formed the basis of an exhibition “The Cranbrook Collection: New and Notable Acquisitions, 1989-1991”. The exhibition organized in 1991 by Gregory Wittkopp, curator of collections, included over fifty works by artists associated with the Academy.
The associate curator, David D.J. Rau, wrote: “The Cranbrook Collection is a record of artistic excellence created by the artists of Cranbrook Academy of Art. The achievements of these artists, who studied or taught at Cranbrook, have had a profound influence on art, architecture and design for sixty years. The Cranbrook Collection has educated countless visitors....exhibited in the main gallery is the more recent work of sculptor Tony Rosenthal, ceramicist Toshiko Takaezu, designer Niels Diffrient and sculptor Don Lipski. Most acquisitions come to the collection from alumni directly, but many are the gifts of artists’ families, friends and patrons.”
Acquisitions and reminisces
The last exhibition of my tenure was held in November 1994; I was about to retire. “Building the Cranbrook Collection” presented works acquired during my years 1977 thru 1994. I was most proud and honored by this exhibition and celebration. The acquisitions included work by Robert Beauchamp (painting ’50), Chris Berti (ceramics 1983), Harry Bertoia (metal ‘37), Ray and Charles Eames (design ’39), Aris Koutroulis (painting ’66), Lisa Krohn (design ‘88), Joan Livingstone (fiber ’72), Winifred Lutz (sculpture ’68), Laura Foster Nicholson (fiber ’92), James Surls (sculpture ‘69), John Torreano (painting ’63), Ann Wilson (fiber ’72) and Tino Zago (painting ’65).
For the exhibition, I wrote out some reminisces; one was about a visit to James Surls. I had visited the artist on a number of occasions in his studio at Splendora, Texas; he was a hard working artist. During a visit with our students, we toured his expansive studio which is larger than an aircraft hanger. One student remarked in awe that he could create great art in this vast space. Surls responded, “Before this, I worked for many years outside, under a tarp stretched between trees in the forest.” Jim then gestured at space in which we stood, now his studio, and said “Great art created this place!”
Many of the acquisitions have a story attached to them; a funny one is the gift of a large ceramic from Toshiko Takaezu. The Allentown Museum of Art was presenting a touring version of the exhibition ‘The Cranbrook Vision’. At that time, Agnes and I decided to rent a car and drive to the studio of Toshiko. She graciously invited us to lunch, along with curator David Rau. We toured her studio and over a delightful Oriental lunch, we talked of a possible gift to Cranbrook. Some large ceramic pieces were particularly impressive. Suddenly, Toshiko stood, walked over to one of the works, probably the best, and said, “You mean like this?” I stammered that to have such a major work in the collection would be important for her and Cranbrook. To our delight and surprise, she agreed; saying, “This is one of my best works. A patron has offered to buy. I want you to have it, now!” She called her assistant, got a blanket and, between us, we placed the huge ceramic vessel in the back seat of our rental car. David clambered in the back seat, stretching the safety belt around the work. He barely had room to squeeze in next to the ceramic, which was bigger than he. Carefully, with David cradling the work, we drove back to the Allentown Museum. I had phoned ahead and asked the registrar to meet us; our plan was to have the Takaezu ceramic be returned, with the exhibition, to Cranbrook. When the registrar saw the work, she almost burst into tears saying sorrowfully that her museum had only small ceramic pieces by Toshiko; the gift to Cranbrook was major! Agnes and I were grateful for the visit, lunch and gift; Toshiko remains a dear friend.
Another gift came in odd circumstances. One day, I received a phone call from a woman who wanted to donate, to the museum, a sculpture by Carl Milles. I became skeptical when she described the work as being of a man, wearing trousers and shoes, holding a small automobile. The description was most uncharacteristic of any work by Milles that I knew. Agnes and I visited the lady at her home in Ann Arbor; she was Rose Kahn. Her husband, Edgar, had died and she was disposing of their belongings and home. Edgar was the son of the distinguished architect, Albert Kahn, who had been the architect for the original home of the Booth Family at Cranbrook; the River Rouge Automobile Plant; the headquarter offices for General Motors; and many other important buildings.
The sculpture was as described: a man stripped to the waist, wearing trousers and shoes, holding aloft an automobile. Although atypical of his work, the bronze certainly looked like a Milles. Moreover, the artist had inscribed the base “To my dear friend Edgar Kahn from Carl Milles 1933”. I realized that I was holding a unique piece; this was a work by Milles that dealt with an automobile in modern times. I thanked Rose, now tearful. Hoping that she wouldn’t have second thoughts, we left. Wrapped in a blanket, the sculpture was placed gently in the trunk of the car; hastily, we drove off in a cloud of dust.
Later, research would show that this was the model for a much larger version that was created in plaster for the General Motors Pavilion of the 1933 World Fair in Chicago. Newspaper articles of that time had a photograph and description of that towering work. Milles made a bronze cast for his friend; how fortunate. The sculpture is a bridge to contemporary times for a sculptor who had created mermaids, gods, tritons, animals, fish and figures of fantasy. Here was a man holding an automobile; appropriate for Detroit and important for the Cranbrook Collection.
Other stories exist like seeing the Harry Bertoia bronze screen at the home of Peggy and Stanley Winkleman. This wall sculpture was commissioned by them in 1957 and installed the following year in their residence. On my visits, I always admired the work and, in 1984, was delighted with their gift of this bronze to the collection.
Gifts came not only locally but from across the country. In California, we met alumni; amongst them was Carroll Barnes. He had studied with Milles in 1940 and moved to Sebastopol. Agnes and I drove from San Francisco to visit him. Agnes was responsible for fund raising and development; in addition, she worked on alumni relations and developed an alumni directory. She was invaluable when meeting people; that was true when we met with Carroll, his wife and son. The family was hospitable and kind; Carroll showed us his home and studio on a remote and wooded hill. He had succeeded in making a living as a sculptor in this remote rural area. He liked to work in wood and his style varied from early figuration to later abstraction. An exhibition of his work was presented at the museum. In 1981, Carroll Barnes gave his 1938 sculpture “Paul Bunyan”, 40 inches tall, carved in cherry, to the collection, along with other works. A 16’ version of this work was carved in redwood and took him years to complete. The mammoth statue at Three Rivers, California, was the world’s largest wood carving.
One acquisition came about because of a lecture that I gave at Rice University in Houston. The School of Architecture had the huge model for Dulles Airport designed by Eero Saarinen. I was asked if Cranbrook was interested in this work. Of course, I was and the gift came to the museum in 1983. The model is 18” x 145” x 44” and was made of wood, masonite, plastic, gesso and paint; circa 1960. The curators at Cranbrook were rather overwhelmed by the size of the model. Fortunately, the model maker was still living in the area and Jim Smith helped with its restoration. This summer, I saw the work on view in the “Eero Saarinen” exhibit at the National Building Museum; “Model for the Dulles International Airport Terminal Building” remains an impressive work.
I was pleased by the gifts that the artists in residence gave in my honor: Beverly Fishman, Gary Griffin, Tony Hepburn, Dan Hoffman, Gerhardt Knodel, Katherine McCoy; Michael McCoy, Heather McGill, Steve Murakishi, Carl Toth. Earlier, I wrote about these artists, six were my appointments; all were my friends and colleagues. Their generous gifts of their own art meant a great deal to me and greatly enriched the collection. In every way, I owe them thanks.
Tony Rosethal "Cranbrook Cube" CAM Collection and Duane Hanson sculpture.
Work of two other artists that I have written about were accessioned to the collection: Duane Hanson (sculpture ’51) and Tony Rosenthal (sculpture ’40). “Bodybuilder” by Duane Hanson designed 1989, executed in 1992, is a bronze sculpture, polychromed in oil, mixed media with accessories. The work was a gift of the artist and Lila and Gil Silverman with assistance from the Imerman Acquisition Fund. The life like sculpture epitomized the best of Duane’s work.
Since the 1950s, I had been a great admirer of the work of Duane Hanson. His depiction of Bowery bums and violence was better known, at that time, in Europe than in this country. His later work deals with popular and everyday figures in American life. Two exhibitions of his work were presented at Cranbrook and he generously loaned a self portrait and model to the museum for several years. During my long friendship with Duane, I had hoped that he would give a major work to the collection…..I was delighted to learn that my wish was to become a reality.
The gift by Tony Rosenthal of his sculpture “The Cranbrook Cube” was particularly meaningful. When I first visited Manhattan in 1967, I saw the large cube in Astor Squareoutside Cooper Union. The sculpture was one of the first abstract sculptures placed in New York City. I was in awe and admiration of this remarkable work which I photographed and included in my lectures. Later, I saw versions of the cube from the campus of the University of Michigan to Coconut Grove in Florida.
Much to my delight, I discovered that Tony had studied for six months with Carl Milles. I have written about our first meeting and friendship. To have “The Cranbrook Cube” in the collection was coming full circle for me; from my first visit to New York to my leaving Cranbrook. I thank Tony for his gift and ongoing friendship; as I do the many artists, alumni, people, patrons and friends that gave generously to the Cranbrook Collection.
The accession of works of art is a complex issue, governed by many guidelines and procedures. The power to acquire works of art ultimately rests in the hands of the Museum’s Trustees. Normally, the Trustees delegate recommendation authority for acquisitions to the professional staff, while maintaining final approval authority themselves.
Written accession proposals for works of art must address many issues, including the quality and significance of the object in its category; the role of the object in and appropriateness of the object for exhibition; the physical condition of the object; provenance; price if a purchase and so on.
As AAMD states: “Art museums develop collections of works of art for the benefit of present and future generations. The conservation, exhibition, study, and documentation of the collection are the heart of a museum’s mission and public service. Collection stewardship requires planning, resources, and professional acumen to ensure the maintenance of a dynamic collection that supports the museum’s mission, serves its community, and contributes to the appreciation of human creativity. The process of adding objects to a museum collection is known as acquisition.
The counterpart of acquisition is deaccessioning, the practice by which an art museum formally transfers its ownership of an object to another institution or individual by sale, exchange, or grant, or disposes of an object if its physical condition is so poor that it has no aesthetic or academic value. Deaccessioning is practiced to refine and enhance the quality, use, and character of an institution’s holdings.”
There are two fundamental principles: deaccession is made solely to improve the quality, scope, and appropriateness of the collection and proceeds from a deaccessioned work are used only to acquire other works of art—the proceeds are never used as operating funds, to build a general endowment, or for any other expenses.
Much has been written on these issues in art magazines and in AAM News; the official publication of the Association of American Museums. Ironically, the 1972 sale and auction of work from the collection at Cranbrook may have caused or hastened the development of these policies and procedures in regard to deaccession?!
On a personal note, I made a most unusual decision in regard to Saarinen House. Once the decision was made to restore the house, I was concerned how to protect the house for future generations. I asked the Board of Governors to assign an accession number to Saarinen House! In this way, the house was subject to the policies of accession and deaccession; nothing could be done without the approval of the Board of Governors. The Board agreed and formally accessioned the house as part of the museums collections. Saarinen House may be the only house anywhere with a museum accession number?!
The year that I left Cranbrook, the magnificent restoration was complete, coordinated by Gregory Wittkopp. He edited the admirable book “Saarinen House and Garden: A Total Work of Art”; published 1995. Saarinen House has the accession number “CAAM 1992.25”. The numbers refer to the year of accession and the sequence. Obviously, I am pleased and trust the house has the ultimate protection as a work of art.
To acknowledge all the groups and individuals is difficult, if not impossible. Thanks are due not only to those who gave to the collection but also to those that gave generously to support the exhibitions, catalogs and programs of the museum. To those volunteers who worked as docents; on fund raisers; at auctions; gave tours; on events and endless activities: thanks! To collectors, dealers, critics and connoisseurs who gave support and gifts: thanks! To the staff, students, sponsors and scholars: thanks. To the alumni, artists, architects and designers: thanks! To the Women’s Committee and to the Board of Governors: thanks!
The Board of Governors were my supporters and advocates; they were responsible and the authority for the Academy and Museum. In the reorganization of the Cranbrook Community in 1973, a Board of Trustees was formed consisting of divisional governors and members at large. I attended their meetings as the Trustees were the ultimate authority for the community. Nevertheless, I regarded the Governors as my “boss”; I worked closely with them. I had little use for centralization, particularly when based on the corporate model and mentality of quantity not quality; the downfall of the auto industry. The Governors supported my dedication to quality and excellence; agreeing with the decision to stay small and not increase enrollment. I respected and depended upon my Governors for their commitment, work, support, generosity and friendship. These board members were generous with their time and money; many were collectors, willing to lend their work for exhibitions. The Museum presented “The Gilbert and Lila Silverman Collection”; “Vantage Point”, photographs from the Warren J. Coville collection”; “The Decoy as Folk Sculpture”, waterfowl and fish decoys from the collections of Ronald Swanson and Julie & Michael Hall; with illustrated catalogs. Gil, Warren and Ron were members of the board; other collectors included John Booth, Irving Burton, Mary Dennison, Robert Larson, Sally Parsons and George Zonnars. Members of the Board were active in the arts; many acquired student and alumni work. I am grateful to them all.
Most important, they were hard working and involved but rarely interfered; we accomplished much and had fun. The Board meetings occurred monthly; the third Thursday of every month, except during the summer. The meetings were held at 4PM, lasted an hour or so and were followed by an informal get together. I introduced presentations on exhibitions and activities; members were kept informed and involved. Committees dealt with various issues: finances; buildings and grounds; development; museum issues; capital campaign; and nominating. The committee chair reported to the full board; as did I, President of the Academy and Director of the Museum. The minutes of all meetings are in the Archives, as are the Annual Reports, giving invaluable insights and a record of my tenure. My assistant, Roberta Stewart, was Secretary of the Board; her minutes are excellent as are the annual reports that she prepared. I was blessed with great governors, too numerous to mention, and outstanding chairmen; Ernie Jones, Pat Hartmann and Les Rose. I write of Ernie under ‘Friends’ because he was that; as are Pat & Jan Hartmann and Les Rose. In development and fundraising, Pat was like a tenacious terrier; she would never let go or give up! She used the phrase “Give, get or get off”! She gave generously herself and worked effortlessly to raise money in every way; including fundraisers.
Crandemonium Ball 1936, Loja and Eliel Saarinen
Mae West party 1934, Pipsan (right) and Eero Saarinen
Guy Fawkes Ball, Cranbrook Art Museum c 1987 Duane Hanson, DIA Director Sam Sachs and Beth Sachs, RS.
Judith Martin 'Miss Manners' at Women's Committee fundraiser 'Brolly Day' with Roy & Agnes. Cranbrook Art Museum c1986
Fundraisers did that and more; besides raising necessary funds, the events brought in new people, potential museum members and donors. The press coverage on the social pages was also good; even photographs in “Town & Country” magazine. The praise and press was well deserved and the ladies and everyone were pleased. Dedicated volunteers worked hard throughout the year. Academy major fundraisers were ‘The Art Antique Auction’; ‘Guy Fawkes Ball’; and ‘Brolly Day’; these last two occurred on alternative years. Work on the auction went on constantly; objects and donations sought and alumni solicited. My assistant, Bob Yares, worked tirelessly on these events. He was my liaison with the Women’s Committee; event chairpersons & committees; and coordinated the efforts of volunteers. Bob was in constant contact with alumni and solicited students to help with events; they did so willing and unselfishly. He and Agnes Fleckenstein, Director of Development, worked together on these events; their commitment and that of our supporters and students were critical to the success of these events. The preparation, hard work and actual fundraisers brought everyone together; pledged to help raise funds and bring support for the Academy and Museum.
At Cranbrook, I proposed that a major fundraiser to be called the Guy Fawkes Ball to be held in early November. Guy Fawkes Day was celebrated in Britain with bonfire and fireworks. He was the English conspirator (b 1570) executed on November 5, 1605, for his role in the Gunpowder Plot against James I. To this day, I am not sure whether we celebrated his execution or his attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament?! I thought to have this theme was appropriate; Cranbrook had such an English heritage, the founders having named the place after their family home in Kent. The Ball became an instant success as an event and fundraiser; tables and tickets were sold out. There were cocktails, dinner and dancing; in the decorated lower galleries, there was the hummer bar and music. The students build bonfires, year by year ever larger, and burnt an effigy of Guy Fawkes, always in my likeness! Students creatively decorated the walls of the museum, each year with a different theme; from Guy Fawkes in Paris to Outer Space to Sailing. With these striking decorations, British banners, table arrangements, lighting and music, the galleries were transformed and elegant. Curators worked hard to empty the galleries and store the works of art; everybody put a lot of effort into the Ball. Black tie or formal attire or costume was the dress; with a few students as mummers or court jesters: a colorful crowd. Eventually, the bonfires got too big; on one occasion, melted the pavement and then, when placed on grass, melted the sprinkler system! Searchlights and smoke replaced the bonfires and, after I left, Guy Fawkes was no more. In its time, the Ball prospered and pleased; bringing in press, prestige, funds and support.
The Art Antique Auction committee members were always seeking objects and donations that were stored in the garage. Volunteers worked with Bob to sort and store these things; from paintings to pots to chairs and cabinets. Before the event, a committee met and made selections for the actual auction; the remainder of the objects went into a ‘garage sale’. Both sales were popular; again bringing in much needed funds. The auction had a catalog; patron’s party; and a professional auctioneer. The evening was a fun event, much bidding and joking; excellent art was available, bargains too. What offers?! Again, a great deal of work by staff, students and volunteers; the same could be said of Brolly Day. The umbrella is known as a “brolly” in England; for this event, artists decorated and donated an umbrella. This spring event auctioned and sold these brollies at a dinner that was another elegant and favored affair.
In all these activities, the Women’s Committee was invaluable and supportive. This group of dedicated women met monthly. They were involved with fundraisers; organized trips to art museums in other cities; published a newsletter; hosted students and artists at their homes; raised funds for student scholarships; sponsored lectures; supported exhibitions; attended museum openings; provided food for receptions; acted as hostesses; held an annual luncheon meeting; sought out potential donors; and acted as advocates for the academy. Their bylaws stated that “The object of the Women’s Committee shall be to promote and to undertake activities and projects that will further the mission of Cranbrook Academy of Art and Museum.” In my time, the women more than fulfilled that objective; I thank them sincerely. The committee no longer exists but, I feel sure, volunteers and patrons continue to offer support.
Finally, last maybe but not least, thanks are due to museum Docents. The group of docents that served the museum were dedicated and devoted. These volunteers were carefully selected and well trained. They received a rigorous orientation from the curatorial staff, attended lectures and museum events. For each exhibition, instruction and information was provided by curators and artists. In turn, docents were responsible for giving tours to visitors and school children. Their efforts and experience furthered the educational role of the museum; indeed the docents were the public voice of the art museum. With the formation of the Cranbrook Collection and restoration of Saarinen House, their role and responsibilities increased as did the opportunities to learn and educate.
In exhibition catalogs and elsewhere, every effort was made to acknowledge this support that came from throughout the local community and country. Thanks are due to the Michigan Council for the Arts and their ongoing financial aid; also to the National Endowment for the Arts. Corporations; Banks; Firms and many contributed to exhibitions and catalogs. Funds came from individuals and groups for scholarships; equipment; projects and much else: thanks!
Our great nation has a history and tradition of philanthropy and volunteerism unlike any other country in the world. Patrons and volunteers are uniquely American and have greatly enriched our country and culture. Cranbrook was founded by the visionary generosity of the Booths and is sustained today by countless supporters who volunteer their time and give their money: thanks!
In all this, I have said that I felt that I was a conductor, with a great score by Saarinen, and a wonderful orchestra: the players were students, staff and supporters! I thank you all for your commitment and support!
The exhibitions and collection were made possible by the outstanding work and commitment of curators. Words can not fully express my gratitude to them. Over the years, individual curators changed but the commitment was constant. I believe that the role of the director is to do just that: my mantra is “direction, decision, delegation”. I think I was good at that, particularly delegating. I appointed the best people and trusted them. I have mentioned Linda Dunne; she served the museum magnificently as administrator and curator. With her, in those early days were curators Mary Riordan and John Gerard; both were knowledgeable about the history, architecture and traditions of Cranbrook. I learned a great deal from them; I am eternally grateful.
Keith Haring in North Gallery with students from Cranbrook Schools.
Indeed, I always was learning from curators; willing to listen, yet I made the decisions. In 1983, Michele Rowe Shields took over as Museum Administrator. I appointed her not realizing that I knew her father, Reginald Rowe. I had met him in San Antonio, where he taught and painted. Michele was enthusiastic and excitable with insights into the latest trends; she introduced me to the work of Keith Haring. The artist was invited to do a mural on the walls of the north gallery. His visit was memorable as was the mural; now painted over. The collector Gil Silverman wistfully noted that on the walls of the north gallery work by Sol Le Witt and Keith Haring existed, under layers of white paint?!
Michele also introduced and exhibited video art at the museum. I was not a fan; having once proclaimed that if the art had to be plugged in, I didn’t want to show it. I never did trust art dependent on electricity; over the years, too many blank television screens at the Whiney. Of course, I was not easily swayed and Michele tells the following: “I realized that if I was meeting with Roy and he folded his arms, then that was that. I could have poured gasoline over myself and lit a match but, with his mind made up, Roy would not have noticed me!”
However, on this occasion she did persuade me to present video; the work of Bill Viola. His multimedia installation “Room for St John of the Cross” was shown in 1990 in the museum’s north gallery. I was curious but not swayed; video art is not a favorite of mine. Michele also presented the video “The Way Things Go” by Peter Fischli and David Weiss. I am grateful to her for her persistence and for this information. She also recalls our trips to New York; impressed by meeting with many artists and dealers in Manhattan that I know well. In particular, Michele remembers that “we were in a taxi in the middle of traffic on Park Avenue, when someone yelled out ‘Roy’ from another taxi”. I opened the car window and saw Harry Lunn, a dealer in photography that I knew well from my DC days. We had done many shows together at the Corcoran, including Ansell Adams. In the slow moving traffic, Harry and I started talking from taxi to taxi. Within three blocks, we agreed on an exhibit for Cranbrook and made a deal; much to Michele’s amazement. Harry and I could not shake hands on this deal; we just waved.
Gregory Wittkopp, who was at Saginaw Museum, joined us as associate curator. Greg went on to become Curator of Collections and is currently Director. He said the same thing about me; if my arms were folded, my decision was made and, for all intent and purposes, the conversation was over.
Another curator was Susan Waller who worked diligently with the collection and on exhibitions. Her husband, graduate Ron Leax, also worked in the museum on installations. Bruce Hartman was a curator who had a laugh louder than mine; he had a wicked sense of humor and an invaluable knowledge of contemporary art. Bruce brought the work of Ursula Von Rydingsvard to the museum. Each curator contributed in their own way; each had different attributes. David Rau was the best wordsmith that I have known; he had a way with words that was invaluable for catalogs, invites, mailings, anything and everything. The individual curators went on to pursue curatorial careers and assume directorships in other institutions. Cranbrook owes them, each and everyone, a debt of gratitude; I know that I do.
100 Treasures / Greg Wittkopp
“Cranbrook Art Museum: 100 Treasures” was an exhibition organized by director Gregory Wittkopp and presented in late 2003. The catalog presented 100 works from the collection; each with a color illustration and brief essay. Thirty different scholars and artists associated with Cranbrook were invited to write; scholar and historian Dora Apel (Greg’s wife) was the editor. I was pleased to be asked to participate. My writing was on the Harry Bertoia screen, the gift of the Winklemans; most appropriate
The publication has a fine essay by Greg Wittkopp on “Challenges and Opportunities: The Evolving Mission of Cranbrook Art Museum.” He writes insightfully about the history of the museum; as ever, I learnt a lot from my former curator.
Greg says “This essay traces the tumultuous history of Cranbrook Art Museum, from the evolution of the private collection of founding patron George Booth……including artistic high points to near permanent closure.” His writings trace the beginnings of the museum; the collection of the founders; the 1940 ‘new’ building by Eliel Saarinen; growing tensions, fiscal crisis and the ’72 auction; a celebration of the Academy 1977 -1994; and planning for the future. This history was fascinating, particularly “the proposed selling of numerous art possessions” that resulted in the 1972 auction at Sotheby, Parke-Bernet which “remains a controversial decision”. I knew little about this; to read Greg’s essay was informative and revealing.
In his writing of my seventeen year tenure, Greg reminded me of things long forgotten. He wrote of my statement in April 1977, prior to my moving to Cranbrook, in which I addressed the Board of Governors. At that time, I outlined the three primary functions of the museum: 1) a permanent installation….works of art and design that have emerged from the Cranbrook Academy of Art and influenced international design and vision. 2) The museum should devote a gallery to on-going exhibitions from the Academy of Art, students and faculty. 3) Exhibitions from throughout the world, showing the best of contemporary art and design….Greg writes of my arrival; the Cranbrook Collection; exhibitions and achievements during my time; then on to the present day of his tenure.
Gregory Wittkopp has been Director of Cranbrook Art Museum since 1995. As Curator of Collections, he was responsible for the restoration of Saarinen House. I had initiated this undertaking which Greg fulfilled in an exemplary manner. His scholarship and expertise were invaluable in coordinating the work involved in restoring the house and gardens. Greg has been a resource for ongoing restoration throughout the community; his knowledge is invaluable. He continues to sustain a relationship with Finland through visits and exhibitions. Saarinen House, restored to its original glory, is a tribute to Greg and those that worked with him. Many a tale can be told; my favorite is when Greg arranged for doors to be x rayed at a nearby hospital. I wonder what the patients thought. The bedroom doors were said to have decorations by Pipsan Saarinen Swanson; they were revealed and redone. This meticulous research and attention to detail epitomized Greg’s work on the house; evident in the book “Saarinen House and Garden: A Total Work of Art”. Greg edited this book; he wrote an insightful essay. For the collection, gifts were sought; as he knows, I questioned the gift of the Shuey Collection. The paintings were by artists that I admired greatly but were not Cranbrook artists; that’s what is unique about the Cranbrook Collection. I will say no more except that I am pleased to see the continuing commitment to artists of the Academy; evident in recent exhibitions and gifts. Greg has sustained a lively exhibition program; overseen the addition of new exhibition areas; made plans for additional museum space; introduced the popular “Serious Moonlight” fundraiser; and much else. I wish him well; again, I thank him for his past support and ongoing friendship.
To end my writings on the museum, to use my words as quoted by Greg seems appropriate. I introduced my Statement of Intent to the Governors by stressing that the museum could bring “greater support from the community and renewed recognition throughout the country.”
Eliel & Eero Saarinen: Cranbrook Museum propylaeum with sculpture by Carl Milles: 'Europa' and 'Triton Pool'.
The New Studios
Over the years, much discussion had taken place over the need for additional space for the Academy and Museum. Various plans and schemes were proposed to create spaces appropriate for the changing nature and needs of the disciplines and departments. Documents of the discussions are a matter of record, lost in the archives and minutes of endless meetings. The process was lengthy and laborious; here I will deal with the conclusion and celebration.
The dedication of the new studios occurred in September, 2002. Agnes and I were invited to participate; we had been present at the ground breaking a few years earlier. The architect was Rafael Moneo. I met Moneo on his first visit to Cranbrook; I was President of the Academy. I had been impressed by his architecture and was even more impressed by the man. Rafael is a soft spoken and sensitive person; his architecture is visionary. We walked around the grounds and I shared my irrepressible enthusiasm for the architecture of Eliel Saarinen. I showed him Saarinen House. I was delighted that he was chosen to be architect for the new studios.
Early that dedication morning, Agnes and I went to see the new studios for the first time. The exterior was impressive; the architecture being “factory like, flexible and functional”. These were the words that I used in that first meeting with Moneo, years earlier. Inside the building were open studios and generous spaces and, by happenstance, the architect himself. He came over to us, grasped my hand, and, with sincerity and intensity, asked “Roy, is it alright?” Overwhelmed, I answered, “Rafael, this is a dream come true”. We embraced warmly, knowing that our initial conversation about the studios had become reality; the studios were built. Later, in his remarks, I was the first person that he acknowledged; I was deeply touched.
The dedication program stated “The 35,000 square foot New Studios Building is connected to the Art Museum’s south wing, a conscious decision on Moneo’s part to extend the linear progression of Eliel Saarinen’s building.” The writings describe the studios, workshops, galleries, lobby, lounge, exhibition spaces. In addition to the new studios for ceramics, fiber and metal, there was overall reorganization and renovation of other facilities and departments throughout the Academy. A new Media Lab was created; in all this much of the original Arts and Crafts interiors were restored.
I remember our impressions that morning as Agnes and I walked through the studios, renovated and new. We were delighted with what we saw and with our meeting with Moneo. The new studios were impressive in the morning sun. The building was so respectful of Saarinen, as Moneo had promised. From the Triton Pool, the studios are understated; a red brick continuation of the original museum building. Approaching from the Orpheus Fountain, down the steps of the Chinese Dog, the new studio building reveals itself, yet echoes Saarinen. The wall of glass windows are like the original painting studios, whereas the factory elements of the kilns are metallic memories of Kingswood. Although these subtle tributes to Saarinen exist, the overall impression is of a new building, of its own time and character, reflecting the inventive ingenuity of Rafael Moneo. Walking through the interior spaces was an even greater delight. The high ceilings of the fiber department; the spacious metal working studios; and the huge, white ceramic kilns were admirable and awesome. Through the large windows were views of nature and courtyards; of the decorative detail of architecture. To us, perfection!
Of course, Moneo gave thanks to Gerhardt Knodel, director of the Academy, for bringing the project to completion. We thanked Gerhardt for inviting us to be part of the ceremonies and congratulated him. In the program was a list of those generous donors and patrons who provided the funds to make this possible. Our names “Agnes and Roy Slade” were listed among the Benefactors; also, a group named “The Friends of Roy Slade”. I was most appreciative and honored by their gift. Gerhardt wrote in the program that “this is a moment worth remembering”. How true!
In our visit to Cranbrook, different people stopped to talk to us. Each made comments that were meaningful and heartfelt. Three of these reflect the different parts and people of Cranbrook. John Lord Booth, a descendant of the founders, was taking friends around the gardens of Cranbrook House, originally the home of the Booths. He stopped us and, in introducing me to his companions, said “Here is Roy Slade, the person responsible for starting the restoration of our community and bringing back recognition to Cranbrook.”
On Academy Way, we met Heather McGill; my appointment as Head of Sculpture. She was happy to see us and spoke of the sculpture students who were there when I was President. Heather said, “I’ve wanted to tell you that these students always talk of you, with many stories. They always ask about you, for to them, in their memories, Roy and the Academy are inseparable; you are as one.”
From the very beginning of my time at the Academy, Jack Lenor Larsen had, in every way, been most supportive. The greatest of weavers and fiber artists, distinguished alumni Larsen was highly respected; his advice and support was greatly appreciated. In our summers, we visit him in the Hamptons at his home Longhouse. After the dedication of the New Studios, at a reception, Jack came up to us. He stood there, wearing his inevitable cap and scarf. Quietly he said, “Roy, you are the pied piper. You led the way and we all followed; you made everything possible.” Jack stood still, his eyes sparkling, and smiled.
Parties and friends
For the dedication ceremonies, we stayed a few days; we met with friends and parties were given in our honor. Our first night, we stayed at the beautiful home of Bob Kidd and Ray Fleming; both alumni of the Academy but much more to us! Ray is one our dearest friends; the director of the Kidd Gallery in Birmingham, the gallery which shows my paintings. I have had two one man shows at the gallery; I was, and am, appreciative of his support of me as an artist and as President of the Academy. Over the years, we have had many adventures and fun times with Ray; he is one our family. A wonderful, warm and generous person, Ray Fleming has been supportive and dependable; always there for us, always with a smile. Many laughs and good times from the coast of Southern California to the Upper Peninsular of Michigan; too numerous to recall but fun to remember.
Pat and Jan Hartmann are our dear friends; Pat and Agnes brought up children together. For countless years, Pat served on the Academy Board of Governors; she and Jan were Trustees of Cranbrook Educational Community. I do remember Pat as one of the people that I met on that first visit to Cranbrook in 1976; her red hair and outgoing personality were unforgettable. Later, as Chair of the Academy’s Governors, she was spirited and tireless although we are both outspoken and opinionated, we worked well together. She and Jan served the Cranbrook community well and unselfishly; they epitomize the best of our country’s traditions of philanthropy and volunteerism. The Hartmanns gave generously of their time and money; they are patrons of art and friends to artists.
Nowadays, Agnes and I visit them at Naples in their penthouse, where the view and their collection of art are equally breathtaking. On the occasion of the dedication, we stayed with them at their home in Michigan. Pat and Jan are both generous and kind; they gave a party for us to meet our friends. We were delighted to see so many familiar faces, too many to mention here but friends indeed. During our few days, over coffees and lunches and dinners, we met so many friends; bringing back happy and warm memories of our years at Cranbrook. Many of these friendships continue to this day.
The evening before we left a dinner party was held at the home of Lila and Gil Silverman. I will always remember the first time that I visited them; I arrived at their house and over the garage door was art. I was amazed to see a small version of the huge flag by Mimi Herbert that adorned the façade of the Corcoran at the time of the Bicentennial. How did this get here in suburban Detroit? Lila and Gil Silverman are avid collectors of contemporary art; their Fluxus collection is the best ever! On entering their house, I was even more surprised to find my own paintings on view; two of the columns, purchased in one of their visits to Washington DC. We became good friends; I was privileged to present, at Cranbrook Art Museum, ‘The Gilbert and Lila Silverman Collection’; ‘Instructional Drawings’; ‘Fluxus Art’. Not only were Lila and Gil generous with loans from their collections; they generously supported installations and exhibitions by Dennis Oppenheim, Keith Haring, Yoko Ono and others. Again, the Silvermans epitomize the best traditions of patronage and philanthropy.
At that dinner, Gil gave a toast saying that two people had enriched the community and his life as a collector: “Sam Wagstaff at the Detroit Institute of Arts and Roy Slade at Cranbrook”. I could not have been more pleased by his linking me with the legendary Wagstaff. That night we stayed with our other dear friends, Shirley and Frank Piku; their names appear elsewhere in these reminisces. Agnes and I are blessed with many friendships and endless memories; too numerous by far to mention here but, nevertheless, deeply appreciated and cherished.
On that last evening, Agnes and I took time to visit the Academy; quietly, by ourselves. At night, the Triton Pool sculptures were illuminated and the lights of the new studios reflected in the water. In the reflections was the merging of the past and present, a magical moment that was memorable; as was our visit. For the Academy, new studios, a building for the future! For us, celebration and closure!