Recently, I received an email from David Joe. At his graduation in 1977, as President Elect, I was the speaker. This month, he wrote the following……
Once again you’ve woven words and fond memories into delightful and magical reading!
I hope you will write more on the grounds, greenhouses, “daffodil hill” as the students called it (just behind Cranbrook house), the Foo Dogs guarding the stairs from the parking lot to the museum/library area. I can remember walking those magnificent grounds and running into Mr. Booth picking up bits of paper and trash. I recall (will your magical help) bits of detail of the grounds that most folks missed….a bit of statuary in amongst the trees, the waterfall, the mosaics of the boathouse or the grotto.
Please keep writing!!
David Joe (10/26/08)
I have tried to respond by describing my daily walks. I thank him. (RS 10/30/08)
Every morning, for almost two decades, from 1977 onwards, I walked the grounds of Cranbrook. I have written about the history and architecture and will now try to convey the beauty of the place. Words fail me; that is why I started with the following quote of “ceremony and celebration, creativity and pleasure”. I felt all of these in my daily walks and I agree with the other writers; Cranbrook is “a masterwork” and “one visual symphony”. Wolf Von Eckardt was a friend from my days in Washington DC; he visited Cranbrook on a number of occasions. He stayed at Saarinen House and shared my enthusiasm for the grounds and architecture. After one of our many walks, Wolf turned to me and said, “Roy, you are the last squire of the twentieth century; a cultural squire!” “
Behind all the designs at Cranbrook was the belief that every activity of daily life is an opportunity for ceremony and celebration, creativity and pleasure.” Martin Filler ‘The Teacher is Beauty’ House & Garden April 1982
In the words of Paul Goldberg of the New York Times, Cranbrook…”is now considered one of the masterworks of American architecture”. Another critic Wolf Von Eckardt wrote in The New Republic that Cranbrook is “one of the most enchanted and enchanting settings in America” and went on, “the dormitories, faculty houses, museum and workshops are earthy, rustic, direct and a delightful adventure of pathways, enclosed gardens, open malls and meadows and constant surprises. The place abounds inside and out with art and decoration… beautiful wrought ironwork, handsome lamps and benches… specially designed rugs and the wall hangings, furniture, light fixtures, ceramics and woodwork… All harmonize in one visual symphony.”
I will try to describe, in my own words, my walks through the grounds; each day, a different direction, a different walk. Saarinen House was on the edge of the property; I could walk across the road to the Boys’ School or up Academy Way to Jonah Pool. Most mornings, I went the other way, out a side door, to woods and walkways. I walked a pathway around the reflecting pool; through an ornamental gate to steps that led to a small waterfall. In winter, water froze creating a winter wonderland with the frozen fall and glittering grotto below. Changing seasons dramatically changed the landscape: from winter white to golden glow of autumn. In spring, beauteous blossoms broke through; crocus and daffodils. Barren trees, stripped stark by frigid cold, brought forward buds and tender green leaves. By summer, full blossoming of flowers, bushes and trees, with succulent shades of green and colorful plants, brought rich and gorgeous growth to the grounds. In Michigan, fall is a special time with an abundance of changing colors and handsome hues: reds, yellow, orange, russet, brown, tan, sienna, gold; a full palette of autumnal riches.
Walking around the grounds was like being in a changing canvas with both mighty and delicate strokes of contrasting seasons. Light, color, mood and movement changed constantly. In late fall and winter, there would be week after week of grey sky; low clouds haplessly hanging over the Great Lakes. Overcast skies were dismal and dreary; the slightest shaft of sunlight was a rarity. Winds could howl; snows swirl; ice crackle; stark winter enveloped the grounds. Towering trees and bare branches stood black against the white snows and grey skies. The dull dreariness of endless winter had a bleakness that never seemed to end. Even so, wrapped up in layers of clothes, I continued to walk until I could slip and slide no more. I tried cross country skies and snow shoes but of no avail. Those born and bred in Michigan waited anxiously for cruel cold and snow storms so that they could ski; snow mobile; ice fish. I must admit that, after fresh snow and crisp ice, the landscape looked pure; as driven snow! To see the rare weak winter sun touch ice, sparkling on a branch, was nice; especially when viewed through a window from inside a warm home. I never liked winter.
On my walk, past the waterfall, I would go along a path up a gentle hill. In autumn, leaves changed color and fell as a crunchy carpet underfoot; overhead, canopy of ever changing sky. White clouds would be scurrying across blue sky; the sun sinking sooner and ever lower. At the top of a slight incline was the Greek Theatre; a stage set between open air amphitheater and large pool. In May, weather permitting, Commencement was held for graduates of the Academy. Always a stressful day, as weather was so unpredictable; forcing many a ceremony inside with rain and wind. Commencement outside was perfection; trees and foliage embracing audience and graduates in this moment of completion and celebration. Always I hoped, as did everyone, that the clouds would part and the sun shine. On my walk, often, I would stand on that stage, thinking of those graduates receiving their degrees. From different countries and cultures, students were dressed as never before, some in national costume; all immaculate. Graduates would take with them not only a diploma but the life changing experience of having been at Cranbrook.
I continued my walk through archways and past the pool; once the Booth family swimming pool, built shortly after they moved into their home. A sculpture was reflected in the still waters. I walked across a narrow iron bridge that traversed a vehicular road to the Booth house. In a small wooded knoll, overlooking their home was a tall column topped by the large sculptured head of a Greek deity; a loose flagstone below. Standing on that flagstone would cause water to cascade from an eye of the marble head on to the unwary visitor. Few knew of this watery trap; many were tricked. A few steps below was the entry courtyard to the family home; an English Tudor manor, designed by Albert Kahn in 1908. Many the times, I thought of the irony of me ending up in the most English of places! I came to America because of tall skyscrapers; Times Square; Broadway; Las Vegas; neon lights; jazz; movies; mountains; diners; deserts; freeways; helicopters; palm trees and pelicans. Here I was in Cranbrook, named after a village in England, and most English in architecture and appearance; even to formal gardens that surrounded Booth House. At times, on my daily walks, I thought that I was back in the old country? This feeling was never more so than when wandering around outside the manor with those ornamental gardens; beautifully maintained by volunteers. The House and Garden Auxiliary not only tendered for the gardens, they grew and planted flowers, colorful and changing. The greenhouse was rich with seedlings, plants and flowers; cared for by these volunteers. There were roses, gladiola, daisies, chrysanthemums, tulips and many flowers; even an herb garden. In spring and summer, the colors and scents were gorgeous. Again a full palette was seen with reds, purple, yellow, crimson, blue and orange. On the west side of the house, below formal gardens and brick wall, were steps that led down to hill; in the spring, the slopes were covered with daffodils. A seasonal delight, Daffodil Hill is no more; I am told that, over the years, the ground had become too compacted for further planting? At Booth House, from these gardens, were two of my favorite views; one was the ever popular view of flowers and fountain in an ornamental garden, then down the hill, looking up a ramp through woods to, away in the distance, the statue of the Chinese Dog that guarded the museum steps. A lesser known view from the house was by The Turtle Fountain, on a buttress overlooking Kingswood Lake; between trees, a glimpse of water and the girls’ school beyond. The work of architects, Albert Kahn and Eliel Saarinen, was visually linked by nature; through broad and undulating landscape, the grounds of Cranbrook.
The original land was for farming and apple orchards. Cranbrook started as a farm, became an estate and, eventually, a campus where landscape played an aesthetic and intrinsic role. Many hands and minds helped evolve and develop the grounds; initially, of course, an English landscaper and later the firm of the Olmstead Brothers; even Loja Saarinen played her part. Situated in Bloomfield Hills, the community is blessed with an undulating landscape; unlike the dull flatness that prevails in Michigan. Hills were enhanced; lakes and ponds formed; woods and gardens planted; vistas created; all to fulfill the founders’ vision. In this creative concept, architecture played a critical role; to be seen in every direction, at times hidden and at other times revealed, within the undulating landscape.
From the formal and ornamental gardens, I would walk down towards Brookside School, admiring a quaint bell tower, designed by Henry Booth. Son of the founder, Henry was to be found wandering the grounds, picking up trash, caring for his family estate; a perfect country gentleman. He had many a tale to tell; my favorite was the sinking of a gondola in the lake; fortunately in shallow waters. Years ago, the tale goes, ladies in their finery enjoyed an elegant party by the lake. Out they went in the gondola which promptly sank in shallow water; ladies with dresses wet and muddy scrambled ashore. The gondola was banished to the boat house on the edge of Kingswood Lake. Like other original and older outhouses, the boat house was in disrepair; crumbling concrete and rambling vines. I would walk up worn out steps and stand on a flat roof, across the lake, reflected in the still waters, was the girls’ school. Throughout the grounds, countless nooks and crannies existed; small sheds and structures that were crumbling ruins, no longer used. The boathouse was such a building; of no true architectural merit, merely an echo of yesteryear. Henry Booth remembered and represented that era; he was protective of his family legacy. Educated as an architect, he studied under Eliel Saarinen, Henry was an advocate for repair and restoration; he supported my efforts and commitment to the past. Henry Booth was part of that past; he kept traditions alive, his favorite being “Twelfth Night”.
I will interject a story here about Henry Booth; recalled by former assistant, Bob Yares: One of my most vivid memories was the first time I attended "Twelfth Night" at Cranbrook House. It was a tradition to invite staff of two out of the three divisions of Cranbrook, rotating every year, to the house for a reception and a Pageant. People were asked to volunteer to participate and dress up as either: Mary, Joseph, Shepherds and the Three Kings. If there was an infant available, it would be the Christ Child. Everyone came down the main staircase in the main hall followed by the "Spirit of Christmas" which was Henry Booth. I was standing off to the side, next to John Booth, nephew of Henry. When I saw Henry Booth (very thin and shriveled), coming down the staircase, dressed in very loose tights, long flowing velvet cape, large puffy hat with ostrich plumes...and Mark Spitz Speedo Trunks (sagging)...my jaw dropped and I said "Incredible!" (and chuckled to myself). I looked at John Booth who shuddered and said "It's sooo humiliating..." And I chuckled to myself...
Henry Booth may have been considered eccentric but served as a community conscience for us all; his memories and tales gave insights into a bygone era. He was supportive of my efforts in restoration; always informative and kind. Henry and his wife lived in his large house across the road from the grounds and next to Brookside. ‘Thornlea’ had lovely lawns and gardens with a large studio; Henry liked to dabble with pencil and paint. That home is now part of Cranbrook Educational Community and used for meetings and guests; while the studio houses the Archives. I felt fortunate in knowing Henry Booth and his sister, Mrs. Beresford; living links to the past and kin of the founders. Florence Booth Beresford lived in a brick house and grounds near Christ Church on Lone Pine Road; on occasion, I visited with her. She was a quiet lady with the charm of an earlier era; she liked to weave in her studio. Cranbrook is all about people and place.
I would continue my walk by going through the Japanese Gardens; which were exactly that! With ponds, plants, rocks, bridges, benches, the gardens were of the Orient; the work of a dedicated volunteer. I would sit on a low bench and watch the stream with water trickling over pebbles; running under a small, red decorative bridge. The garden was located close to the girls’ school; architecture that was compared to that of Frank Lloyd Wright. What an odd coincidence to have this garden in juxtaposition with architecture, both reminiscent of the Orient? As the path went alongside Kingswood Lake; a favorite prospect came into sight. To my right was the girls’ school, architectural masterwork of Eliel Saarinen; while across the waters were hills, woods, lawns and distant buildings; a landscape ever changing with the seasons.
After going around the lake, I would either return to the Academy or scramble up a hill, through the woods, to the Institute of Science. Again, views and vistas of earth and sky that changed by the hour and season. On my walk, I was aware of architecture and art; sculpture was visible and evident throughout the community. The grounds are huge, over 300 acres; walks are endless, with paths and trails through woods and hills. I would explore and experience every corner: down Valley Way to Vaughan School; across the Athletic Fields to Lake Tamarack; in the woods behind St Dunstan’s Playhouse; up the hill above Kingswood; along the trails around Lake Jonah, down to the smaller pools and ponds. In the summer, I would swim in Lake Jonah; named after the Milles sculpture that was at the end of and a focal point for Academy Way. My early morning walks were a time to return to nature; to enjoy art and architecture; to step on crunchy dead leaves; stroll along narrow trails and pine covered pathways; and admire babbling streams; glistening rocks; green lawns; meadows; colorful flowers; bushes; bramble; buds; plants; ivy; vines; towering trees; thin branches; rustling reeds; woods swaying; slopes; mounds; mud; ice; swirling clouds; blue skies; sun; shadows; morning mist; dawn; dusk; wind; rain; gentle breeze; geese; swans; corners; curves; crags; crevices; clearings; copse; ironwork; urns; statues; lamps; mosaics; murals; columns; courtyards; benches; bridges; glimpses; gullies; lake; pond; pools; water cascading; a falling leaf; a floating leaf; reflections; up a hill then down again. I have many moments and memories of this magical place, indeed “enchanted”: Cranbrook.
To share this sense of enchantment, I have selected a few images taken by Koichirio Tanaka, !985 graduate Architecture. Ko was from Japan; his insightful and poetic photographs give a sense of this enchanted place through the seasons.
Out the front door of Saarinen House, across Academy Way, was a narrow brick walkway that led on to a walled courtyard. In the center was a tall Doric column; to the left were redbrick buildings and to the right a long brick path with hedges. The buildings were part of the Academy; on the second floor was my office, from the bay window, I could glimpse the courtyard and column. Below my office was a brick wall and enclosed grass yard; faintly, I could hear traffic nearby on Lone Pine Road. If I walked along that road, I would reach the entrance to the boys’ school; large ornamental iron gates. Like everything else, I do mean every thing, the gates and enclosing arch, were designed by Eliel Saarinen. The main entrance was a pedestrian entrance for, in 1925, the school was planned to be residential with dormitories, dining room, library, classrooms, a small hospital and a barber’s shop! When I arrived, over fifty years later, a barber was still cutting hair; days of yesteryear. Like the rest of our community, the school was very English, particularly the huge courtyard and beyond, hidden from view, were the spacious playing fields.
For a moment, I will return to the original Booth home; designed in 1908 by Albert Kahn. Mention has been made of the outside of this manor, red brick and Tudor in appearance, with ornamental gardens. The interior of this home looked even more English; with large entrance lobby, grand staircase, dark wood panels, carvings, ceramics, carpets, tapestries, statues, paintings, ornate furniture and opulent furnishings. The house is now used by the community and named Cranbrook House; sometimes referred to as Booth House. Upper floors are offices for Cranbrook Educational Community; the ground floor restored to its original appearance with lobby, living room, library and dining room. The library has shelves of books, with original bindings from the Cranbrook Press; priceless volumes. CEC Trustees held their meetings in this library; I would sit, looking through leaded windows to views outside or admiring decorative details of the interior. The large stone fireplace is resplendent with carvings; each one has a story. Tours are given and worth taking; the interior is enriched with many an art object, each with a story. My first and lasting impression is of being back in England; George Booth as lord of the manor but I was in America! (However, as stated earlier, I was described as “the cultural squire”?!) Tapestries covered the walls; at first glance, appearing medieval but, on closer inspection, above woven knights in armor were images of soldiers with tin hats! These were warriors not from the Middle Ages but World War One; my introduction to work in a style called “The American Renaissance”. Is this phrase not a contradiction in terms? Behind the library was a small room that Henry Booth was using as his office; an exquisite space with elaborately decorated ceiling. In other rooms were large candelabra, ornate standing lamps, hanging chandelier and decorative leaded windows, some with stained glass. George and Ellen Booth admired the designs of William Morris and were patrons of the Arts and Crafts, evident in their home and throughout the community.
In my mind, Christ Church Cranbrook, built 1924-28 and designed by Goodhue Associates, looks as if an authentic English church was plopped down on American soil. The interior with stained glass windows, ornate pews and mighty altar was like the church where I was christened as a babe; ‘The Church of England in Wales’, another contradiction in terms? The baptismal font at Christ Church, with other celebratory objects, reflects the best of the Arts and Crafts movement. Boys from the school sang in a choir and attended services; they walked back along the road to Cranbrook School (1925-28).
I liked to look at and use that main entrance to the boys’ school. How ironic that near to Detroit, home to the automobile, the school entrance was for pedestrians. Boys were boarders; they walked to their classrooms and to church. Nowadays, day students are dropped off by parents or drive their cars to school, while yellow school buses cross between coeducational schools. Not so in those founding years, as boys walked through these gates; designed by Eliel Saarinen and fabricated by Oscar Bach in 1928. I studied these gates intensely; I learnt what I know about Saarinen from looking. Articles and books were published later but, initially, I looked and looked; although long dead, Eliel Saarinen was my teacher. I walked past the school entrance, rarely used; with wrought iron gates closed. Later, I stopped to look as I was curious; I noted a pair of ornate birds atop the gate, each one was different. One peacock like bird had its elaborate tail going up; the other iron bird had a tail dropping down. How odd?! I looked again; this time, more carefully. I realized that nothing was as it appeared; the decorative elements were different on either side of these gates that opened inward to the courtyard. Not only were the birds different; so were their decorative supports. I began to look more intensely at these ornamental gates; the vertical bars were strengthened and decorated with horizontal braces. To my surprise, the braces were not placed equally but were seemingly random; up, down, in different alignments. Nearly forty of these decorative braces were arranged like a musical notation; creating a visual discord, yet in harmony? The gates were set within an archway of brick; above the gates was a stone lintel and brick gable of elaborate design with decorative niches. I counted twenty eight of these small curved niches on either side of a deep centered recess that held a carved owl. Each of these niches was of a different width and depth and, in a few instances, height. There were three rows stacked on one another as the triangular façade narrowed to its pinnacle. The bottom row had seven on either side; each different. The middle row had five and four; the top row was two and three. I was fascinated with this elaborate decorative asymmetry; may be as obsessed as the architect himself? Had I found the visual key to Saarinen’s architecture; enriching that which was symmetrical with asymmetrical decorative detail? Or was I was being naïve? Did the scholars know this? Who cares; I had fun and fulfillment looking!
The idea of these decorative elements as visual musical notations now seemed obvious. I began to understand how Eliel Saarinen was creating a grand orchestration of all the elements of art, architecture, design and nature. Cranbrook became one overwhelming creative concerto; a performance and production to walk through and enjoy. I was embraced and enriched by the virtuosity and genius of the architect.
I looked with greater scrutiny at buildings and decorative elements, from stone carving to leaded windows; nothing was what it appeared to be? The Cupola, designed by Eliel Saarinen in 1929, is an elaborate wrought iron construction atop four stone columns. On each column are four stone squares, each of equal proportions; in the center is a carved decorative detail. At first glance, the fact that each carving is of a different design can be missed. Unfortunately, we tend to be visually lazy and do not look?! I would take students and visitors on walks through the buildings; inside and outside. I would point out the details and decoration. I made people look intently and intensely; I wanted them to share my excitement and enthusiasm for the creative genius of Eliel Saarinen. I did the same with my lectures; using slides of images and details that I took myself for no others existed. To look is to see; sadly, our nation is one of visual illiteracy? Saarinen’s architecture offers an ongoing enrichment; each day is opportunity for another visual discovery and delight. Every day, I saw some new detail or element; a visual joy! Each day, I turned a new page in the architectural encyclopedia that is Cranbrook.
The cupola is placed to the side of the large courtyard of the boys’ school. In itself, the courtyard is a masterpiece of intricate design and decorative brickwork. Whether looking down on the ground or up to the side of a building; visual delights abound. As expressed in the words of a critic, Cranbrook is “a visual symphony”. The story is told that Eliel Saarinen would wander over to the school during its construction. He would ask the masons to pull out a brick slightly or, using his walking stick, point to a place to put in a darker brick. The architect wished to vary the surface and patina of the side of a building; look carefully and these subtle variations can de seen, here and there, just a few! Eliel was a master planner, acknowledged as a great city planner; at the same time, he had an obsession for detail and decoration, evident throughout Cranbrook. At the boys’ school there is much to see on the outside; brickwork; arches; ironwork; facades; walkways; benches; the pergola; the dining room. The magnificent interior of the boys’ dining room brought to my mind the tales of “Oliver Twist” while, may be, to my grandchildren, “Harry Potter”? The towering interior, supported by wooden beams, housed long tables and benches, tall candelabra and leaded windows. Again, details delight as each elegant window appears the same, yet subtle differences are evident. Many moments overwhelm me as I take this walk, decades later, down memory lane. Thanksgiving dinner for Academy students was held in the dining room; always memorable as we shared candlelight and camaraderie; turkey and thanks! I digress, let us continue our walk; this time to the girls’ school.
Kingswood (1929-31) is regarded as a defining work by Eliel Saarinen; some say that the design was influenced by the prairie style of Frank Lloyd Wright. Dare I suggest that the design was more to do with function; that the architecture is of gender? Is this too sexist? Nevertheless, I think that the school for boys is male; formal and regulated in appearance, rather military maybe? Even the tower, vertical and dominant, appears phallic? On the other hand, the girls’ school appears horizontal, gentle and delicate; to do with bonding and friendships? Of course, today none of this seems to matter, as the schools are coeducational; but the original form and function remain, evident in the design and architecture. The columns; cloister like corridors; courtyards; facades and roofs of the exterior are wondrous to behold. Mention must be made of benches, often stone, carved along or into a wall or courtyard. Throughout the community, Saarinen created places for people to sit, read, think, contemplate, meet, bond and talk. In quiet courtyards and gardens or in entrances and lobbies, benches exist; most apparent at Kingswood. To look at delicate detail of a carved column, formal and fluted, or at a beautiful bench, intricate and inviting, are amongst the delights of the girls’ school.
The dining room and auditorium are awesome and awe inspiring; certainly, I was in awe when I stepped into these breathtaking interiors. Eliel Saarinen designed these interiors in 1929; the entire family was involved. Eero Saarinen designed the furniture, the chairs and tables for the dining room; the chairs were in birch with pink paint and linen upholstery. The auditorium armchairs, more modern in appearance, were of tubular steel and wood, covered with green upholstery. To compare the chairs, the developing modernistic design of Eero becomes apparent. For the dining room, Eliel and Loja Saarinen designed the large wall hanging “Festival of the May Queen”; woven by Studio Loja Saarinen. The hanging is flanked by two tall torches, designed by Eliel. For the auditorium, daughter and designer Pipsan Saarinen Swanson, designed the stage curtains; wall decorations; and the ceiling with circular aluminum reflectors and silver leaf decoration. That ceiling is one of the wonders of modern design; when the lights come on, the feeling is of sheer wonderment. Eliel Saarinen was masterly in the use of light, natural and artificial; as seen in his home.
To return to Saarinen House seems right and proper; as we talk of the family working together on Kingswood. The multi talents of each enriched buildings and interiors: Eliel was painter, architect and designer; Loja was sculptor, designer and weaver; daughter Pipsan was a designer of costume, fabrics, interiors and furnishings; Eero was sculptor, designer and the most recognized and influential architect of his time. What a remarkable family; their aesthetic abilities and achievements evident throughout their home. Visitors came from afar to visit; architects Le Corbusier, Alva Alto and Frank Lloyd Wright. To tell a story that was told to me by Richard Thomas seems timely; he was at the house when Wright visited. Eliel enjoyed cocktail hour; his martinis were legendary at, what he described as, “the happiest hour of the day”! Naturally, the discussion was of architecture and design; the talk turned to symmetry and asymmetry. Wright became outspoken; in his volatile manner, he went over to the beautiful fireplace with its ornate iron peacocks. Dramatically, he pulled over the fire screen and pointed at white pine carefully balanced and unlit. Wright kicked the wood apart and said, “That’s what I think of symmetry and balance!” For a moment, his hosts, Loja and Eliel Saarinen said nothing; then Eliel quietly retorted, “You may be named Wright but, usually, you are wrong!” From that day on, that visiting architect was referred to as to as “Mr. Frank Lloyd Wrong”!
Sculpture has been part of Cranbrook from its inception; from marble statues and bronze antiquities to the large abstractions of contemporary times. On the grounds is the collection of sculptures by Carl Milles.
Carl Milles Carl Milles was born in 1875 in Sweden. Initially apprenticed as a cabinetmaker, he became a sculptor, lived in Paris and worked in Rodin’s studio. He travelled and studied in Europe; returning to Stockholm, where he was professor at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts 1920-31. Milles became renowned for his fountains; notably, “The Orpheus Fountain” 1936, outside the Stockholm concert hall. In 1931, the sculptor was invited to Cranbrook, where he taught and his wife Olga lived for twenty years. The sculptures of Carl Milles were acquired by George Booth in the 30s. The collection is the next largest after Millesgarden in Sweden. I have visited that sculpture park and museum on a number of occasions; to see familiar works by Milles, in a different context and country, is fascinating. At Cranbrook, the most famed works are “The Orpheus Fountain” and “Europa and the Bull”, installed in 1938 and 1935, on either side of the Museum; the works are distinctive and integral to that building. The fountain does not include the huge figure of the god Orpheus; Mr. Booth thought too large and ostentatious?! Other sculptures are scattered throughout the community and are referred to as Milles’s “Myths and Legends”.
Another respected sculptor, Marshall Fredericks, a student and former assistant of Milles, has works within the community; most noticeable is the life size bronze “Persephone” 1972 at the Greek Theatre. In my first few weeks in America, that summer of 1967, I saw the work of Carl Milles. In the large restaurant of Metropolitan Museum of Art was “Aganippe: The Fountain of Muses” by Milles 1951-55. The work seems too large and inappropriate for that space; never a favorite of mine nor the curators of the Met? Later, in 1982, the sculpture was move to Brookgreen Gardens, South Carolina, with spacious grounds and works by Milles; Marshall Fredericks; and other figurative sculptors. (These remote gardens are along the waters of the Intracoastal Waterway; Agnes and I visited during our cruising life.) Many other sculptures and commissioned fountains by Carl Milles and, also, his protégé Marshall Fredericks are evident throughout the country; among the most famed is Milles’ fountain group “The Wedding of the Waters” in St Louis Missouri. Unveiled in 1940, the fountain caused a local uproar with its playful naked figures; officials insisted the name be changed to “The Meeting of the Waters”! Incase prudish sensibilities were offended, Milles was said to have a ‘fig leaf’ maker available; fortunately, never used at Cranbrook.
Over the years, the patina of bronze sculptures deteriorated; the figures of the Orpheus fountain were subject to changing climate and were in terrible shape, with rusted and flaking metal. The curators and I thought that efforts should be made to restore these bronzes; a lengthy and costly undertaking. Milles’s “Horse’s Head” 1927, on a plinth outside the library, was the first work to be removed and restored. Discussion occurred over whether the patina stained and rusted gave a sense of age to the sculpture? However, the restoration proved otherwise; the restored bronze, height 3’, now with green patina, truly revealed form and detail as sculpted originally by the hand of Milles. The ‘before and after’ photographs made a compelling case for restoration; I made a slide presentation to the Governors. They concurred and voted unanimously to use funds restricted for restoration. Removal of Orpheus was a complex process; the flaking figures by were lifted by cranes on to large flat bed trucks. These figures were taken to conservation labs in St Louis and the restoration began. The restored bronzes, dark green with shiny surfaces, returned and were placed back on their plinths; in a circle, as if new, shimmering in the sun and spray of the fountain. I had wondered why Milles and, later, Fredericks were fascinated with fountains to be placed in the cold and cruel winters of Finland and Michigan; water froze and fountains stilled. Water was an integral to their sculptural compositions; figure and fountain designed with that in mind. Without water, missing half the year, the sculptures appear static and barren; no interplay of sparkling water that enlivens glistening bronze. I thought of how still the restored sculptures looked that winter when the waters ceased to flow; to our surprise, there was to be movement!
Early one morning, as the frost and freezing cold of winter blanketed the ground, I received a phone call; most unusual for anyone, leave alone staff, to call me so early, before dawn! Bruce Hartman, curator, apologized and explained that he had gone to the museum early and could not believe what he saw! In the cold morning light, Bruce had walked passed the sculpture “Orpheus”; he thought he saw movement. Standing still, shivering, he looked again; a sculpted figure moved, slightly upward. Bruce waited, not knowing whether to be scared or concerned; when another sculpture moved, he was both. Hartman had a rare sense of humor with an infectious laugh; I asked him if this was some sort of sick joke. He said not at all; he knew better than to joke about this. Desperately, he asked me would I come over as, in his words, “Figures of the Orpheus sculpture are levitating!?”
Putting on warm overcoat and scarf, I walked, through bitter cold, the short distance to the museum; slipping and sliding up frost covered steps to Orpheus. Bruce stood shivering, pointing to the sculpture, covered in snow and frost. The figures, shoulders of snow, were sculpted as if gesturing upward; as I looked, the sculptures were beginning to move upward. Bruce was right; the sculptural figures were levitating slowly, almost imperceptibly, heaven ward. What made this levitation even stranger is the story of Orpheus; although the figure was not in this grouping, the story remains. The god was descending into Hades and encounters eight figures rising from hell; with this accession may be fantasy was becoming reality. With the figure of Beethoven conducting the muses; music is an inspiration for the sculptor. Milles listened to classical music; as the sculptures slowly ascended, thankfully, Bruce and I had heard no musical score but just creaking and crinkling ice. Figures continued to ascend, ever slowly but inevitably upward. We called security but then realized the maintenance crew may be of greater use? After discussing this improbable movement, the decision was made to remove the figures; a delicate process but achieved successfully. Bronzes, wrapped in blankets, were carefully laid on the ground. The fountain and plinths were carefully examined; the cause for the uprising became obvious. While bronzes were away being restored, the fountain had been repaired, including those plinths. The sculpted figures had a long base that narrowed to a point; these shafts slipped into the decorative bases, an integral part of the sculpture and critical to these free standing forms. In the repair process, drainage holes at the base of these supports were inadvertently closed. Although water could flow around and drip to the bottom with little adverse affect; when the frost came, water trapped inside the plinth froze, forcing sculptures slowly upward. Eventually, bronzes forced free would fall; a catastrophe. Bruce was congratulated; bases were redone with adequate drain holes. The power of nature, force of frost, caused levitation of those sculptures. Yet, for a moment, the figures of Orpheus did appear to be escaping, as in the myth, ascending upward.
When I arrived in 1977, at the edge of, and dominating, Kingswood Lake was a huge abstract sculpture of steel, painted bright orange red. The work was by renowned sculptor, Mark DiSuvero; "Le Petit Clef" was known as ‘The Kingswood Swing’. During my tenure, a program of contemporary sculpture in the grounds was aggressively pursued in the late 70s and 80s; initiated and implemented by Michael Hall, Head of Sculpture. His own large sculptures, abstract and impressive, adorned the grounds. Michael invited other sculptors to place work at Cranbrook; often site specific and temporary. Most dominant was a huge installation, in steel and wood, by Dennis Oppenheim, situated adjacent to the Library and Museum. A group of wooden sculptures by Alice Aycock were placed in the woods above Lake Jonah; a wooden sculpture, 163’ long, “Cranbrook Dance” 1978, by Robert Stackhouse, was on a hill above Kingswood Lake. Again, to see these installations at varying times of year added to our experience and enrichment. Recently, I was talking to Stackhouse and he recalled his delight in seeing his work in the snows of Michigan; at other times the sun made shadows that varied with the time of day and year. Siah Armajani and Richard Nonas were other artists who created works for Cranbrook. Tony Rosenthal made a permanent work, a site specific sculpture in rusted steel, “Cranbrook Ingathering”, installed near the museum in 1980; a work large enough to walk through, loiter and sit. Much more has, and could be, written about these sculptures; suffice to say that the works were part of walking the grounds.
Tony Rosenthal "Cranbrook Ingathering" 1980 Roberta Stewart, RS, Tony and Linda Dunne.
Saarinen House Dining room and living room with fireplace.
In recent years, much has been written on Cranbrook; mention has been made of these articles and publications. Eliel Saarinen had written “The City” published 1943 and “Search for Form” 1948. The first book on Eliel Saarinen, that I read, was by Albert Christ-Janer; reprinted by University of Chicago Press in 1979. At that time, the only book available; writings are based on 1946 interviews with Eliel in Saarinen House. The illustrations of his architecture are informative as is the text. As usual, I spent more time looking at the photographs and drawings than studying the text. Nothing seemed relevant or revealing in regard to asymmetrical decorative detail. In regard to Kingswood, the author writes, “In the realization of his mature years Eliel Saarinen achieved that individuality which is in harmony with what he called ‘fundamental forces’. The structure of Kingswood invites a comparison with the form of plants. Like a plant, this building pushes upwards from the soil, reaching for air and light…..Perhaps, in Kingswood, Eliel Saarinen realized the benefit of all his observation of nature, translated into terms of architectural design…..‘The plant grows from its seed. The characteristics of its form lie concealed in the potential power of the seed. The soil gives it strength to grow, and the outer influences decide its shape in the environment,’ he said.”
In my writing on the grounds and buildings, of nature and architecture, these words of Saarinen seem appropriate. Christ-Janer confirms that the architect spent many hours supervising the construction of buildings at Cranbrook; directing the bricklayers. The author writes also of decorative designs that catch light and cast shadows; and of discreet placement of ornamental ornaments. Later in the book, Eliel Saarinen is quoted as saying, “Frequently, I am asked the meaning of these supposed symbols. Perhaps I am expected to answer that they are Finnish script; however, they are pure abstractions.”
Albert Christ-Janer mentions how the architect studied painting; Eliel Saarinen did paint, evident in his remarkable portrait of wife Loja. His sense of color, line, texture, shape and composition served Eliel well in his career as an architect. In the book on Saarinen House, I write of him as a colorist with a rich and subtle palette; evident throughout his home.
Saarinen House courtyard
“Saarinen House and Garden: A Total Work of Art”, edited by Gregory Wittkopp, includes an essay by Diana Balmori on the garden. Her writing and illustrations are most informative; giving insights into the history and development of the community’s landscape. Her writings are most pertinent and relevant to the grounds; the connection between interior and exterior is a focus of her essay. From her, I looked anew at the house; the relationship of dining room to outside courtyard. The design of the carpet echoed the flagstones outside; a wall hanging behind the dining table is “Landscape with Trees and Birds”. The weaving reflects the landscape outside; repetitions of nature, making an interplay of outside and inside. The author details plantings and flowers that were integral to the creative concept of house and garden. In the book, I write of living there before Saarinen House became a museum. The following is the last paragraph. I started these present writings on ‘The Grounds’ by describing the seasons, this seems a fitting conclusion:
“To live in Saarinen House for almost fourteen years was a rare joy, revealing Eliel’s ability to subtly manipulate space, details and color. Experiencing the harmonious spaces and proportions on a daily basis and witnessing the range of light in the house, which transformed the interiors from dawn to twilight, were ongoing pleasures; ever changing with the seasons of the year. The dappled greens of spring and summer, the white snows of winter, the golden glow of fall, affected the coloration and mood of the interiors. To open this masterful house, a total work of art, to the public as part of the architectural legacy of our nation has been an honor. Saarinen House will remain as testimony to the architect and his family: the home of genius.”
Saarinen House studio.
On 11/14/08, I received the following response from David Joe; his original email was the reason that I wrote on the grounds of Cranbrook.
All I can say is ‘WOW’! Once again you have breathed fresh new life into and blown the dust from memories. You have taken me on a very personal walk with you down hidden paths and to oft times, rarely seen vistas that I am sure few (aside from me….many times!) in my year had or have explored.
My favourite was going to the waterfall and round to path beneath the trees along the bank…there were little hidden treasures there…a small bits of statuary (some partly buried and some overgrown) and even a very small hidden fountain. I spent many hours alone drawing out by the Turtle fountain by Cranbrook House or drawing the vista across the lake from the boathouse or drawing details of the decaying mosaics in the boathouse or drawing small plants in the sunken gardens by the greenhouses or trying to capture the beauty of the lush purple wisteria draped on the walls along the back walls of the buildings lining Academy Way.
Once after talking with Mr. Booth walking on the grounds, I understood what a privilege it was to be temporarily allowed to share this space…these grounds. To be living in a bit of beautiful art history while trying to make a primary art experience of my own. It gave one a feeling of temporarily owning a piece of Cranbrook ….much like owning a living animal (literally feeling its heartbeat and warmth…both of the animal and of Cranbrook) but knowing that eventually you would have to let it go free. Cranbrook is truly a living being that we own for a time but release it to the care of itself and to others.
David W. O. Joe
Eliel Saarinen: Cranbrook School cupola 1929-30.