ACADEMY OF ART
Cranbrook Academy of Art is part of the Cranbrook Educational Community. Below is the 1925 drawing for Cranbrook School for Boys by Eliel Saarinen.
I served as President of the Academy & Director of the Museum. 1977-1995.
Eliel Saarinen: drawing Cranbrook School for Boys 1925
Carl Milles "Orpheous Fountain" 1936 Cranbrook Art Museum
BRINGING BACK SAARINEN
Thirty Years Ago
(The following is an extract from the introduction by Roy Slade to the book “Saarinen House and Garden: A Total Work of Art”. The story of the restoration of Saarinen House and its transformation into a museum. Published by Abrams, 1995. Gregory Wittkopp, Editor.)
"Having accepted the invitation to be the fifth president of Cranbrook Academy of Art, I visited Saarinen House early in the spring of 1977. Completed in 1930, the house had been used as the home of the president of the Academy and, over the years, it had been altered and adapted by the different residents in many ways to meet their personal tastes and needs. My first impression of the house was one of endless corridors, rooms and doors. By the summer of that year, the decision was made to open up the spaces; the partitions and false walls were removed and the interiors painted white.
Like those of my predecessors, my initial intention was to refurbish the house to accommodate my needs, rather than to restore it. During that first visit to the house, the long room in the rear seemed to be an ideal place for my painting studio. My curiosity was aroused, however, when the false walls were removed and the scale of the room revealed. On first experiencing the grandeur of the space, with its dramatic proportions and barrel- vaulted ceiling, I was impressed. Of particular interest to me was the uncovering of the columns, which retained remnants of the paint that accentuated their delicate detailing and fluting. The room was so intimidating and chapel-like that no painter could use it as a studio.
…..Mary Riordan, then curator of Cranbrook Academy of Art Museum….. volunteered to collect vintage photographs of the Saarinen interior. So impressive were the period views of this interior with its carpets, wall hangings, leaded windows and furniture that I innocently asked, “Why not restore this room?” Mary was almost overcome, for although she had always cherished the idea, no one had ever proposed restoring this work of Eliel Saarinen. So began an undertaking which was to turn eventually into a quest, a search for knowledge on Eliel and Loja Saarinen and Saarinen House.
In those early months, Cranbrook seemed to me an architectural oddity, so English in appearance, yet just over 20 miles north of Detroit. How ironic that I, having been born and educated in Wales, would after only a decade in America come to view Cranbrook as an English “home away from home”. As far as my knowledge of Saarinen was concerned, I knew only the work of Eliel and Loja's son Eero Saarinen, who had designed Dulles Airport outside Washington, D.C. Having spent 10 years at the Corcoran Gallery and School of Art, eventually as its director and dean, I was familiar with the airport’s futuristic and sculptural architecture. Without realizing it, moving into Saarinen House signaled for me the beginning of intense appreciation of the work of Eliel Saarinen. My intention was not to come to Cranbrook to restore Saarinen House nor to celebrate Eliel Saarinen, yet both were inevitable."
In this introduction, I talk of my initial visit to Saarinen House but never discuss how I originally came to Cranbrook. My first visit was in October 1975 when the National Association of Schools of Art and Design was hosted by the University of Michigan and Cranbrook Academy. At that conference, Wally Mitchell, then president of the Academy, and I had dinner in which he urged me to consider coming to Cranbrook to take over as president for he was about to retire. I had met Wally, a fellow painter, at previous conferences and was flattered but uninterested.
The following day, deans and presidents from across the country took a bus to Cranbrook and my first impressions were most disappointing. The museum galleries were empty due to an installation and there was a certain arrogance about the staff as they told us the museum was closed. Obviously, the opportunity to show off Cranbrook to this distinguished group was not taken and the experience was unpleasant. After visiting the museum, we wandered the grounds and ended up at Cranbrook House for a reception. Members of the board, including Pat Hartmann, were most gracious and asked if I was interested in becoming a candidate. Naturally, my first impressions of the Academy and Museum were not favorable; again, I politely declined. Moreover, I was director of the Corcoran Gallery of Art in the heart of the nation’s capital about to celebrate the Bicentennial.
At the end of 1976, a headhunter came to me at the Corcoran and urged me to rethink my position; he was most persuasive. After 10 years at the Corcoran, I thought maybe it was time, at least, to go back to Cranbrook and meet with the Board of Governors. By the time I accepted the position that following spring, Wally Mitchell had died and never knew that I accepted the position to be his successor; rather sad, as he wrote to me often.
When the announcement was made of my appointment, the first question asked by Washington journalists was, “Why did I leave the nation's capital for suburban Detroit?” I replied that “I was going from the nation's capital to the world capital of design!” I went on to point out that Dulles Airport was designed by Eero Saarinen; the Metro Rail and Arena Stage by Harry Weese; the Air Space Museum by Gyo Obata; all from Cranbrook as were the designers Ray & Charles Eames; Florence Knoll and many others who had helped shape our nation and world.
The initial and partial restoration of Saarinen House, in 1977, included the original architecture of Eliel Saarinen with furniture by Eliel and Eero Saarinen and textiles by Loja and daughter Pipsan Saarinen Swanson. In the theme of “Cranbrook Past and Present”, furniture by former Academy students and faculty including Harry Bertoia, Charles & Ray Eames and Florence Knoll along with textiles by Jack Lenor Larsen further enriched the interiors.
In the spring of 1978, architectural critic Paul Goldberger wrote on the restoration in the New York Times Sunday Magazine. The article, “Bringing Back Saarinen”, lavishly illustrated with color photographs, greatly impressed the Trustees and Governors of Cranbrook; leading to renewed appreciation of Saarinen and restoration of his architecture throughout the community. The director of the Detroit Institute of Arts, Fred Cummings, invited me to meet with him as he was interested in doing an exhibition on Cranbrook. That meeting eventually led to the major exhibition and publication “Design in America: The Cranbrook Vision 1925-50”. The exhibition opened in 1983 at the Detroit Institute of Arts and was shown the following year at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, and in Helsinki at the Museum of Finnish Architecture and Museum of Applied Arts. Many scholars, curators, individuals and institutions were involved in the exhibition and publication but that is another tale to be told. Suffice to say that, in 1985, I was honored to receive Finland's most prestigious decoration 'Knight First Class of the Order of the White Rose of Finland' for my part in promoting knowledge of the works of Eliel and Eero Saarinen.
This month, further acclaim and deserved recognition will come to Eliel and Eero Saarinen at Cranbrook Art Museum with the international symposium and major retrospective exhibition, “Eero Saarinen :Shaping the Future”.
Cranbrook Art Academy and Museum
Carl Milles: "The Triton Pool" and "Europa & the Bull"
Eliel Saarinen: Saarinen House courtyard.
Cranbrook was my life and home for nearly two decades; the memories are many. In “Bringing Back Saarinen”, I write of my first visit and impressions; then of the restoration of Saarinen House. The “Cranbrook Lecture” gives basic facts; in the Cranbrook Archives are tapes of interviews with me and my papers. There is much more to tell.......
What is important are the personal reminisces and writing of the recognition that came to the Academy for its importance in design, art and architecture. That influential role is fully documented in the 1983 book “Design in America: The Cranbrook Vision 1925-50”; that quarter of a century coincided with Eliel Saarinen’s time at Cranbrook. In 1925, Eliel came as its architect and later became head of the Academy. He died in his home there July 1, 1950; supposedly after his wife had read him a letter from his friend, the composer Sibelius.
The critic, Wolf Von Eckardt, wrote in The New Republic, June 1978, that “In retrospect, Cranbrook…by its more prominent graduates…had a decisive influence on the look of Twentieth Century America.” What I will recall, and write of now, may give further insights into this remarkable institution and place.
I left Cranbrook in late November 1994. ! was, according to my contract, President of the Academy through June of 1995. I gave the commencement address that May with my successor; now 'director'of the Academy.
During my tenure, 1977-95, I was honored to be President of the Academy. I held that title longer than Eliel Saarinen and may be the last to do so?! Also, during my tenure, I was Director of the Museum. Now, I am happy to hold the title Director Emeritus; bestowed on me by the Board of Governors, who approved my initial appointment in 1977.
My decision to come to Cranbrook as President involved various issues and took me over year to make. I felt that I could offer much as the fifth President and the first from outside the Academy since Saarinen himself; the first President of the Academy, formally founded in 1932. I had a reputation both in the academic and museum world; nationally and internationally. At the Corcoran, I headed one of the greatest American institutions; the first art museum in the nation’s capital and the third oldest in the nation. I had been there for ten tumultuous years, five as director. I was proud of what had been achieved but time to move on.
Cranbrook was of international repute but was languishing; the need for fresh ideas from the outside became obvious. European born and educated, I related to the international nature of Cranbrook; even named by the founder, George G Booth, after the family town in Kent, England. The early artists in residents were from Finland, Sweden, Hungary and Italy; women artists were amongst these early teachers who helped create this unique community. Not only did I feel that I was coming at the right time and could offer much, I realized that Cranbrook offered me opportunities to grow. I was a painter, involved with fine arts; the Academy offered the opportunity to learn about architecture, design and crafts. I felt that the appointment was of mutual benefit to the institution and to me as an individual. Fortunately, the Board of Governors felt the same and I accepted their offer to be President.
How ironic that when I arrived, in 1977, there was little interest in the architecture, history and heritage of Cranbrook. Indeed, when I announced my intention to partially restore Saarinen House, there was resentment, particularly from some faculty. I was asked why should time and money be wasted on an old dead architect from Finland?! As I was European born and educated, I had been brought up with a respect and appreciation of the past; although my commitment was to the present. However, some of the faculty seemed only concerned with their work and newness. The maintenance staff shared that concern; the intent was to tarmac the beautiful brick walkways and replace leaded windows with plain glass. Fortunately, I arrived in time to prevent further destruction and desecration.
The national acclaim that came to the initial restoration of Saarinen House helped further interest in restoration throughout the Cranbrook community. Alumni wished to support efforts to restore their schools to their former glory. I attended a meeting of alumni of Cranbrook School for Boys; they wished to restore the magnificent courtyard. The question was asked, “Who shall be the architect?” to which I replied, “There is only one architect for Cranbrook and that is Eliel Saarinen!”
Most fortunate, our curators had found the original drawings for Cranbrook by Eliel Saarinen. These invaluable drawings and plans, now part of the Cranbrook Collection, had been left in storage in the basement of Booth House. The large and detailed drawings are a testimony to the draftsmanship and creativity of Eliel and proved invaluable in the restoration of his buildings. Kingswood School is shown in rich detail; a vision of intricate and delightful design. To view these drawings for the first time was a revelation for me; bringing not only a greater appreciation of Eliel’s genius but a growing commitment to furthering an awareness of his vision.
How strange, I found myself at Cranbrook doing what I had done at the Corcoran: bringing back a sense of understanding and appreciation of these different but great institutions. The Corcoran Collection had been neglected as had Saarinen’s architecture; I was proud to bring recognition and respect back to both. In each case, I had not come to the institution with the intention of bringing back the past; yet that became inevitable.
As far as Eliel Saarinen was concerned, I found myself curious about the man and his architecture. I read what little was available; most of all, I relied on my eye, wandering around the community, looking at his wondrous architecture. I appreciated his genius for design and decoration, evident in the exteriors and interiors of his building. His architecture was to enrich the lives of those fortunate enough to live and work at Cranbrook. I studied the buildings, took photographs and, although self taught, I began to lecture on his architecture. I wanted to share my passion and his genius with others.
deSalle Auditorium 1987. Artists in residence front row left to right Carl Toth (with beard), George Ortman, Gary Griffin, Michael Hall, Steve Murakishi, Dan Hoffman, Katherine and Michael McCoy.
At the same time, I was learning to deal with the nine artists in residence that comprised the faculty. I will never forget our first meeting. The Head of Sculpture was Michael Hall, who lived in Milles House, regarded himself as a spokesman for his colleagues. He stood and stated that the Academy was different from other schools in that, like an inverted pyramid, the faculty were at the top and their ideas and opinions filtered down to the President; presumably me?! I sat for a while as he stood, then replied, “Michael, you are a sculptor and must know that an inverted pyramid is a weak and unstable structure? From this moment on, as President, I will be at the top of the pyramid and my decisions will filter down to the faculty!” There was a moment of silence; then Michael looked at me and said, “Yes, Chief” and sat down. To this day, Michael still calls me “Chief”.
I hoped that Michael was referring to the founder, George G Booth. In his book, ‘The Only Thing Worth Finding’, the author Arthur Pound writes on the founding of the Academy: “Booth pondered the human side of the equation…the inhabitants…the teachers…The faculty he envisioned as being guided by a chief who would be a contact for all…his influence would permeate every studio, exhilarating and appraising all, a living stimulus to achievement and a rebuke to inferiority.”
The founder’s words had a profound impact on me and I could not agree more with his forward looking thoughts. Booth wrote, “…there is a spirit of fertility, which through imaginative treatment and prophetic experiment will bring Art forth to interpret itself and seed again…art belongs to each age anew and there is something for this day to record as its record, monument and inspiration to another generation.”
I read more about the founder and his wish for “the leadership of artists of the highest standing”. As far as permeating every studio, I constantly visited the studios of my students. To me, the students were the reason for the Academy and my commitment was to them. At the end of each academic year, I reviewed each and every students’ work; both in their first and second year reviews. The faculty worked in teams; only I saw the work of every one of the 140 students. I made notes and sketches of each students work, showing their progress and aesthetic endeavors. These notebooks are in the Archives; a record of their creative efforts and my tenacious interest.
ARTISTS IN RESIDENCE
The Academy comprised of nine departments covering nine disciplines: architecture, ceramics, design, fiber, metalsmithing, painting, photography, printmaking, sculpture. Each department was headed by an artist in resident who was the sole faculty member for that discipline. The artists mostly lived on Academy Way in close proximity to one another and their students; for the dorms and studios were also on or adjacent to this street. The Academy was, and remains, a small community; in the words of Eliel Saarinen, “a working place for creative art”.
During the academic year, I decreed that a faculty/staff meeting was to be held monthly on the first Wednesday of the month. Attendance was mandatory, no exceptions, not even the President; schedules were to be arranged accordingly. From the beginning, the meetings were held to share information on the activities and achievements of faculty and staff. No issues or problems were addressed in these meetings; no whining or complaining. My mandate was that if you have a problem come to me with the solution that would be discussed and considered; one to one. I was not, and never have been, a believer in collective decisions or rule by committee. I told the faculty that my neck was in the noose and asked if they wanted to join me? The faculty declined. As President, I made the decisions, right or wrong, and took the consequences.
Joan Mondale, wife of VP USA, Roy, Richard Thomas
When I arrived, the senior faculty member was the Head of Metalsmithing, Richard Thomas. Accepted as a student in 1946, he reopened the metal shop the following year and graduated in 1948; becoming the head of the department that year. For thirty years, Richard had been at Cranbrook, developing a reputation as an outstanding craftsman and teacher. Being of the old school, he quietly offered me his resignation; I declined and he continued on as artist in residence. His knowledge of Cranbrook and its early days were invaluable as was his commitment. In the book “Design in America: The Cranbrook Vision 1925-50”, his legacy as teacher and craftsman is clearly articulated, as is his “place in the Cranbrook tradition”. Worthy of note is the fact that Richard saved the famous ‘Andirons 1929’ by Eliel Saarinen. These priceless works had been thrown away as Saarinen House was gutted. He returned the bronzes to the fireplace and the work is now acknowledged as from the “Collection of Richard Thomas and Cranbrook Academy of Art”. In many other ways, Thomas was supportive and his knowledge indispensable during the restoration of the house and community.
Richard Thomas had many a tale to tell of the early days. I could rely on him as a resource of institutional knowledge. I remember being puzzled by the long Christmas vacation, over six weeks; that meant graduation occurred in June. The long vacation disrupted studies and creative continuity; the late graduation meant that our students had difficulty getting jobs. Everything seemed wrong and I asked Dick why the long vacation. He smiled and said, “Well, Eliel Saarinen always went home to Helsinki for Christmas”! My response was, “But Eliel has been dead for a quarter of a century”. Immediately, the Christmas recess became two weeks; students were allowed to stay in the dorms; everyone was pleased, particularly with the graduation in early May. Old habits do die hard; often are kept going out of ignorance.
When Richard Thomas retired in 1984, the problem was what to give him after his decades of service to the Academy. Later that year, the exhibition “Design in America” was to open at the Detroit Institute of Arts and travel to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and then to Helsinki. Dick was one of the few living artists included in the exhibition. I had an idea and that was to pay for his trip to Helsinki; the Board of Governors readily agreed. At his farewell party, fittingly held in Saarinen House, I gave a short speech in which I thanked him and wished him well in his future travels along life’s way. Solemnly, I presented him with a package which he slowly unwrapped, revealing a travel bag with shoulder strap. “Now, I said you are ready for life’s travels”. Dick looked nonplussed and then I told him to open the bag; inside were travel vouchers for the trip to Finland. For the first time, the ever stoic Richard Thomas showed emotion, thanking us for his first visit to Helsinki. The following year, he was part of the group that was welcomed at the Museum of Crafts and Richard Thomas was acknowledged as one of the exhibiting artists. In 1988, he died and the family asked me to speak at his memorial service. I was privileged to speak at Christ Church Cranbrook and paid tribute to an artist, teacher, colleague and friend. I concluded my remarks by recalling how Richard would acknowledge people, passing on Academy Way, with one finger twirling in the air, his salute; one that was tearfully recalled by everyone.
As I think back, I can recall other memories from visiting Dick on Lake Muskogee in Canada to the famed cocktail flaked with gold leaf, served in his studio to celebrate the end of the week or whatever was a good reason. For the other artists in residence, there is an abundance of memories for we lived and worked closely together in a small community. In these particular writings, I will try to keep reminisces to those that relate to their work and art as teachers and artists.
My next door neighbor was Michael Hall with his wife Julie and their two children. They lived in Milles House, originally the home of Carl Milles, the Swedish sculptor who taught at the Academy and whose sculptures adorn the grounds of Cranbrook. Milles was renowned as a figurative sculptor; Michael was far different, concerned with construction, large and monumental abstractions that also enriched the grounds. Much has been written on his work; suffice to say that I wrote in a 1978 catalog: “The element of construction is blatantly apparent and becomes the sculpture, as does the concern for changing space and environment.”
At that time, Michael and Julia Hall were known nationally as having one of the best collections of American Folk Art. Both were articulate and wrote well; Julie Hall was the author of “Tradition and Change: The New American Craftsman”, published in 1977. I was to learn a lot from Mike and Julie on Folk Art and the Crafts. In 1989, I was crossing Academy Way, when Michael invited me to Milles House for champagne. “We’re celebrating”, he said. Much to my astonishment, in his house was Russell Bowman, director of the Milwaukee Museum, who told me that his museum had just acquired the Hall’s American Folk Art Collection. I knew Russell and congratulated him and those board members that were with him. What a coup for their museum; what a surprise for me; and what riches for Michael and Julie; subsequently they divorced. Michael left Cranbrook in 1990.
The gift at his farewell party was a TV with a built in player and a video of Mel Gibson in “Mad Max”. That macho character was very much the persona that Hall projected; the male, earth moving sculptor of grunts and grunge. However, Michael was, and is, a highly intelligent artist, author, lecturer and collector. His knowledge is encyclopedic and he is an authority on a wide range of subjects from Folk Art to Mid West Painters of the 1920’s. He and his wife Pat Glascock are avid collectors and have published a number of books including “Table Top Icons: Novelty Salt and Pepper Shakers” and “Great Lakes Muse: American Scene Painting in the Upper Midwest 1910-1960”.
Last year (2007), we met at USF Tampa at a dinner party. Hall had been invited to write an essay on the sculptor Robert Stackhouse, a distinguished grad of USF and a friend of mine from our days together at the Corcoran. In 1978, thirty years ago, Michael and I had invited Stackhouse to create a sculpture on the grounds; “Cranbrook Dance” was a 160’ wooden structure, installed on a hill above Kingswood Lake. The work is illustrated in the USF 2008 publication “Robert Stackhouse: Editions Archive” with the essay by Michael Hall.
Michael and I talked of Cranbrook and of yesteryear. During his tenure, Michael Hall did a fine job as Head of Sculpture, both as teacher and artist. Moreover, he was supportive of and contributed well to my efforts in the Academy and Museum; particularly with visiting artists; the General Studies program; and sculpture installations throughout the grounds. Michael was a lively and valued colleague; he remains a friend.
Gerhardt Knodel, fabric commission.
Gerhardt Knodel had been Head of the Fiber Department since 1970; the same year that Michael Hall and George Ortman joined the faculty. Knodel had studied and taught in California; he was highly regarded as and artist and teacher. Like me, he had taught in high schools; whereas I taught in a mining village in Wales, Gerhardt taught in the Los Angeles City Schools. We shared that common experience of teaching youngsters and a commitment to teaching. He was the consummate teacher: cajoling; critiquing; informing; and inspiring through his words and own creativity.
In the old days, fiber was known as weaving in which the Academy had a strong tradition, beginning with Loja Saarinen. She had a studio and loom and played an important and influential role at Cranbrook. In 1980, an exhibition was presented at the Museum, entitled “Studio Loja Saarinen”; with a modest catalog and insightful essay by John Gerard, Curator of Collections. John was born and educated at Cranbrook Schools; his knowledge and commitment to the community and its history was deep felt and valuable. He writes of Loja Saarinen and of Maija Wirde, Lillian Holm and Marianne Strengell who worked in the studio. More is written on Loja and her contemporaries in the book “Design in America: The Cranbrook Vision 1925-50”. The chapter “Textiles” by Christa Thurman describes those early days and also the work of later distinguished alumni: Robert Sailors; Jack Lenor Larsen; Ed Rossbach.
In writing these reminisces, I am reminded constantly that, in recent years, so much has been written on Cranbrook, from its architecture to its artists. No doubt, much more will be written as students and scholars do more research. Of course, ever present is the internet with endless entries and infinite information on anything and nothing?! Information may not be knowledge in the true sense of awareness and understanding. Hopefully, my writings will give first hand insights and informed opinion of my time at Cranbrook; that is my intention.
Through its teachers, students and alumni, the Academy changed the nature of weaving with innovative use of new materials and innovative form. Gerhardt Knodel was more than aware of that tradition; indeed, he was most knowledgeable about the history of textiles throughout the world. His travels were extensive as were his acquisitions; his collection of textiles was highly regarded. He was most generous in sharing these textiles through exhibitions and lectures; his students were given an invaluable and lengthy history of textiles.
In his own innovative work as an artist, he extended and expanded the boundaries of weaving and fiber. I wrote that he was making: “art without epoch; sensitive to past traditions but concerned with future concepts…..he has made a synthesis of realism and abstraction, surrounding the viewer with shimmering threads of light, imagery, space and sensation.” To view his work in his large studio in Pontiac was always as a delight as was seeing his exhibitions and commissions; often vast works that change and challenge our perceptions. I admired his work as an artist and as a teacher; his students benefited greatly, as did we all . Elegant and eloquent, Gerhardt lived on the upper floor of a faculty house across the street from Saarinen House. His apartment was richly decorated with textiles and objects; always a pleasure to visit..
Carl Toth photograph.
Carl Toth, wife Judy and their two sons lived on the lower floor. Carl, the youngest faculty member, headed the Photography Department; considered the “youngest” department as the degree program started with his appointment in 1972. However, photography had been used at the Academy as a media from the early 40’s; certainly in the design department. Over the years, I had become knowledgeable about photography and had presented exhibitions at the Corcoran of major American photographers. I had also supported the photography department of the school and intended to the same at Cranbrook .
Carl Toth was born, educated and taught in Buffalo, New York. Writing of his work, I stated that, “Toth manipulates photographs to break away from conventional restraints. His early work was of montages combining many prints together to form one image of many sides, not contained by the rectangle but liberated in a kaleidoscopic juxtaposition of imagery.” Later I write of his “the sensitivity and vision”. Carl Toth was indeed sensitive, particularly in his reviews of student work. His caring critiques were sought out by students who respected his quiet and thoughtful opinion.
George Ortman was a painter of national repute. He had studied in California; Paris; and New York. He and his wife, Connie Whitten, studied with Hans Hoffman; both were knowledgeable of the artists of the New York School. Ortman had exhibited widely and his work was included in the collections of the major museums, including the Museum of Modern Art, Whitney, Guggenheim and Hirschorn. His resume was impressive, almost intimidating for those that studied with him in the Painting Department. He was born in 1926, the same year as Connor Everts who headed the Printmaking Department. Connor had established himself as an innovative printer on the West Coast; he returned there after his time at the Academy. As I was a painter myself and having studied printmaking, I did not have as much to learn from George and Connor as I did from other faculty, particularly the McCoys.
Michael and Katherine McCoy 1985 Formica Corporation Chairman's Office
Kathy & Michael McCoy
In 1977, with one exception, the faculty was all male; not unusual in that day and age as the same held true for college presidents and museum directors. The exception at Cranbrook was that the design department was headed by a husband and wife, Mike and Kathy McCoy. As Kathy reminded me constantly, “one pay check”; they did work as a team, backing one another up, allowing for more outside professional activities. The design department had been started by Ray and Charles Eames, the famed designers; Kathy and Mike were continuing a grand tradition. Indeed, they furthered the Academy’s reputation in their own way and were a delight to work with. I will never forget my journey to Japan with Kathy and Mike or, later, the visit that Agnes and I made to their home in Colorado. Mike and Kathy left Cranbrook in 1995; as I was retiring, they decided to move on with their careers. I learnt so much about design and designers from them; for that and their friendship, I am grateful.
“Cranbrook Design: The New Discourse” was published in 1990 by Rizzoli. The publication, with lavish illustrations, provides an overview of innovative design in the decade 1980-1990 when Cranbrook designers “challenged the accepted notions of what design can accomplish”. The Academy became “known as an experimental laboratory of cutting-edge design. Much of the recent work has been a challenge to the mute or neutral Modern design aesthetic that eliminates any reference to the life around design. These are designs that celebrate life’s diversity, that bring technology out of its black box, and that engage the audience’s interpretative powers and participation.”
"Cranbrook Design:The New Discourse", Rizzoli, 1990.
In the introduction, I write that ”Katherine and Michael McCoy cochair the Design Department and, through their teaching and work as designers of national and international repute, extend the finest traditions of design at the Academy.” I go on to write of design alumni and of students who study in”a mutual atmosphere of investigation and experimentation that infuses the studios with energy and common purpose.” Other essays include those by the McCoys; Lorraine Wild; and Neils Diffrient. As ever, when looking back at these publications and catalogs, I am amazed at the amount of writing that I did; much of which seems relevant today.
From the beginning, I was insistent that Academy publications be of the same size and style; easily recognizable as being from and of Cranbrook. I had done the same at the Corcoran; and, at Cranbrook, I had a willing ally in Kathy McCoy. Initially, Kathy was responsible for the graphic design and type face, establishing ‘a house style’ for all printed material. Later, her students took over and designed fine catalogs, invitations, brochures and posters. These publications remain as a testimony to her and her students; outstanding and innovative design of the highest quality, for which I remain appreciative.
When I arrived, Richard De Vore headed the Ceramics Department. He had studied, 1955-57, under the famed Maija Grotell; by many, regarded as “the mother of American ceramics”. Dick took over the department in 1966 but decided to move on in the spring of 1978. I respected the work of De Vore as an artist and teacher.
Overall, the enrollment at the Academy averaged annually about 140 students in the nine departments. However, the Architecture Department had only two students enrolled. Before I arrived, consideration had been given to closing the department as there were few students wishing to enroll. Architecture could be considered the first of the disciplines taught at Cranbrook as Eliel Saarinen was the architect. To close the department seemed unthinkable.
As president, I felt that the faculty regarded me as “a benevolent dictator’; which, indeed, I was. May be “emperor” was a better analogy for I treated them as heads of the individual fiefdoms, like dukes of olden days. However, mine was the ultimate authority within the Academy. As artists in residence, the faculty had not only housing and studios but implied tenure. The President appointed the faculty; reviewed their performance; and set their salaries. I did have the opportunity to appoint new faculty; usually because faculty left, died, or when, as with Architecture, a new appointment seemed inevitable.
Cranbrook School for Boys model made by students of the Architecture Department, under the direction of Daniel Libeskind. c1982/3
Before I go further, I should admit that I am relying on my memory for most of what I write; I do use Academy publications for dates and quotes. The Cranbrook Archives have my papers and correspondence that may give more accurate information but not be as personal as my reminisces? I did find my appointment calendars but these contain only appointments and travel. Sketchy at the best, I find these calendars of little value as they are not diaries of what I did. However, as I write, I do find that I remember more and more. Certainly this is true as I write of Daniel Libeskind; his name does appear on my calendar for June 1978 and he did take charge of the Architecture Department that September. There is much more to the story than that…..
As there were only two students studying architecture in 1977, some action had to be taken to increase enrollment and sustain the department. I realized that of the nine departments, although architecture could be considered the oldest, the study was an anomaly. During their two years at the Academy, other students created art in their various disciplines from painters making paintings to ceramicists creating ceramics. Even the designers created actual graphics from posters to publications or prototypes and three dimensional models. The architecture student could not see a building built? I realized a more radical approach was needed and sought advice.
Fortunately, I knew George Sadek who was Dean of Cooper Union School of Art in New York City; that institution had a fine reputation, particularly in architecture. George and I had known one another over the past years, meeting at conferences and visiting together in Manhattan. George was an artist and educator, like me; also from Europe. I regarded him as a good colleague and friend. I asked George for his thoughts and he suggested that I talk with John Hejduk.
A few years earlier, I had been on an accreditation team at Cooper Union. At that time, I met Hejduk who was Dean of the Architecture Department. John was highly regarded as an artist, architect and teacher. Intelligent and articulate, his was a towering presence in every way. He was taller by far than my 6’. I looked up to him in every way; even his voice was more resonant and louder than mine, that says a lot. I sought his guidance.
John Hejduk knew and admired Cranbrook and its architects, particularly Eero Saarinen. I respected Heyduck and was delighted that he was willing to discuss the issue; more important, he did have a suggestion. One of his 1970 graduates had gone on to England, gaining his Masters in the History and Theory of Architecture. His name was Daniel Libeskind; he was currently teaching at the University of Toronto.
My discussion with Hejduk was forthright and honest; John warned me that Libeskind had difficulties with other architects and teachers. Daniel was brilliant, articulate, intelligent and self opinionated; he did not work well within the normal architecture department. At the Academy, that would not be an issue, as he would be the sole teacher. Libeskind was regarded as a theorist, visionary and rebel; sounded perfect for Cranbrook?! After careful discussion, John Hejduk and I agreed that I should contact and meet with Dan. As I felt that radical action was necessary, may be a radical would be an ideal choice to head the Department of Architecture. I invited Dan Libeskind to visit Cranbrook.
I have clear memory of that meeting in the office of John Hejduk; a meeting that would bring Libeskind to Cranbrook and, eventually, to the architectural world. However, I can not recall how contact was made with Daniel nor am I sure of the date of our first meeting; may be that date in June 1978? What I do remember was how impressed I was with him on our first walk around Cranbrook; we walked and talked and talked. We discussed the grounds and architecture; Dan shared my appreciation of the work of Eliel Saarinen. With his studies in England and teaching in London at the Architectural Association, we shared much, including the fact that we were both born in Europe. From the beginning, I knew that Daniel Libeskind was the ideal choice and, as President, I had the authority to offer him the position as Head of Architecture; he accepted.
My decision and his appointment were not unanimously accepted nor embraced within the community. The most outspoken criticism was that Libeskind had never designed a building that had been built; how could he be considered an architect? Local architects were most critical and skeptical. How ironic that Daniel Libeskind would become one of the most famed architects in the world; even though still controversial.
Indeed, I have been told that the best thing that I did for Daniel was to “hire and fire him”! Of course, there is more to that statement but I am proud of my initial decision to hire Libeskind. Some faculty were uncomfortable with his forthright manner and outspoken opinions; attributes that I admired and shared. Indeed, his impact on the community was immediate: he supported the restoration with professional advice and encouragement; he gave lectures; his interviews with the press went well; overall, he made an impression.
As Head of Architecture, Dan did a remarkable job and revitalized the department; his accomplishments were admirable. Immediately, some of his former students came with him to Cranbrook to pursue graduate studies. Other students came, having heard of his innovative approach through word of mouth; already, the architectural profession was becoming aware of Libeskind through his teaching, drawings and published writings.
His drawings and collages were exhibited in “Cranbrook Artists in Residence. 1978”; shown in the museum that September. Libeskind had just arrived and his work was on public view. In the catalog, Dan writes, “My work has been concerned with the constructive possibilities of architecture, especially those dealing with the poetics of form. More specifically, I have been interested in finding the points of contact and correspondence between architecture, the fine arts, poetry and philosophy. To that end, I felt it necessary to reappraise architectural ‘language’ not only in terms of its traditional syntax but also in the light of a symbolic and perceptual recovery of meaning. The use of collage with which I have been involved, both as a conceptual dimension and a methodological means, allows for a direct access to perpetual transformation, assembly and reassembly of human emblems embodied and sedimented in architectural form.” (catalog footnote: Daniel Libeskind to Roy Slade, August 16, 1978.)
Also in that catalog, I included an extract from an article “Intermediate Unit 9”, Architectural Association Projects Review 1976-77 (London, 1977). Writing on the problems of urban architecture, Libeskind state, “We believe that it is within our possibility to re-think and to re-dream, once again, the effacement of wonder, the expropriation of time and the labyrinth of present-day mediocrity.” Of course, Dan was right in that most of architecture and architectural teaching was awful, worse than mediocre; but such views did make him popular with other architects and teachers.
In a later catalog, “Artists in Residence 1984”, the Architecture department of Daniel Libeskind summarizes its philosophy: “The study of architecture has, since classical times, embodied the roots and concepts of the fine arts, the humanities and the sciences with a view toward enriching human life.” Other than his revitalization of the department, I was most grateful to Dan’s emphasis on and support of interdisciplinary study. As President, I kept stressing the need for collegiate and creative activity between the departments. I stated that the art of tomorrow would be created between the disciplines: my favorite phrase and continual exhortation was to look “between and beyond the boundaries”.
In my first year at the Academy, I had received a letter from Finland written by the architect Erik Kragstrom. After Eliel’s death, Erik had promised Loja that he would try to sustain ties between Finland and Cranbrook. His earlier letters had met with no response; when he heard of my appointment, he wrote again. I was interested in his ideas and suggested that he visit Cranbrook; which he did with a younger architect, Juhani Pallasmaa. We had dinner and talked, little realizing the many consequences of our conversation. In summer 1979, I visited Finland for the first time; the first of many trips to Scandinavia. Our further discussions led to more collaborative endeavors, including Daniel Libeskind teaching and exhibiting his work in Helsinki, and culminating in the exhibition “Design in America” being presented at the Finnish Museum of Applied Arts and Museum of Finnish Architecture.
Libeskind had taught at the Architectural Association of London and took off a semester to teach in Helsinki. In much demand as a speaker and teacher, he was travelling extensively. His 1983 awards included a Graham Fellowship and a National Endowment for the Arts Grant; in1979, he had received a US/ Scandinavia Society Travel Grant. Through his lectures, teaching and writings the reputation of Daniel Libeskind continue to grow. On the one hand, his activities and accomplishments gave him growing recognition, nationally and internationally; and brought attention and students to the Architecture Department and Cranbrook. On the other hand, his activities and absences were beginning to have a detrimental effect on his responsibilities as the Head of Architecture and its sole faculty member, supposedly full time and in residence?!
As President, I was in a dilemma as I admired Dan as an artist and teacher. I appreciated everything he had done in revitalizing his department. At the same time, my commitment was to the Academy and its students. Other faculty expressed their resentment and felt that Libeskind was not fulfilling his teaching commitments. My concern grew as architecture students came to me with their frustration over his absences; the feeling that their education was being neglected; and other complaints. In fairness, Dan was an energetic teacher and brought in Visiting Artists to cover for him; nevertheless, resentment and frustration festered and grew. I was accused of treating him as a favorite; may be that was true as he done so much in bringing international acclaim back to Cranbrook.
In 1985, the issue came to a head as Libeskind was awarded the Venice Biennale First Prize Stone Lion Award. He came to the office, asking for more time off, having just been away teaching in Finland. For me his request was the breaking point; our meeting ended in angry rage, both of us being somewhat belligerent and intolerant. I believe that, in an emotional outburst, I said, “You have bitten the hand that fed you”?! Our next meeting was at a lawyer’s office; his dismissal in 1985 was not my finest hour but his appointment in 1977 was.
Of course, there is more to the story; I am sure that there is correspondence in the Archives. On a personal note, I did enjoy the company of Dan and his wife, Nina. She was, and is, a remarkable woman; intelligent and articulate, forever and fiercely supportive of Dan, his career and creativity.
My appreciation for his accomplishments at Cranbrook remains; as did his legacy. Since then, I have watched with admiration his achievements as an architect. I have written a lot on Daniel Libeskind at Cranbrook; subsequently, considerably more has been written on his architecture. What a twist of irony that when I appointed Dan, I was criticized for appointing an architect who, at that time, had never built a building?! Now, I do feel that my decision “to hire and fire” Dan did help place him on the world stage of architecture; deservedly so.
When Dan Libeskind abruptly left Cranbrook, I had little alternative but to take over the Architecture Department. For the academic year 1985-86, I was acting Head of Architecture, dependent on the cooperation of the students and an active visiting artists program.
The architecture students were fully committed and cooperative. During that academic year, the students produced a publication, “Architecture at Cranbrook: Works 1985-86”. In the introduction, I concluded that, “The poetic, visionary and innovative aspects of architecture and art are exemplified in this publication. The future of the department is assured by the commitment of the Academy and its students to architecture.”
The eight students worked together on this publication with photographs and writings on their work. The graduate program attracted students with wide experiences from teaching architecture at college level to working in architectural studios. These students were mature and knowledgeable; many questioning the established and current field of architecture; mediocre at best? They were intelligent and articulate; their preface began: “The coherence and substance of the Cranbrook studio is derived from a commitment to ideals of architecture that can only be addressed through confrontation with objects and the art of making them. We seek to explore through our work the essentials that constitute what architecture can be, these cannot be found by the unquestioning acceptance of particular ordering systems or formal styles. The lesson history clearly teaches is that no methodology or dogma can claim to constitute architecture.”
Among the students, I relied on the opinion of one student in particular: Frank Fantauzzi. He was most helpful, mature and expressive. He wrote, “The object is the enigma, and for the architect, the object of necessity is even more so. There is a profound relation between the hand and its object. At times touch is the purest reason.”
I knew that another appointment had to be made; again I turned to John Hejduk. Although I had dismissed Libeskind, I think John understood and may be even sympathized. Whatever he felt, John was willing to come to Cranbrook and be a visitor to the Architecture Department. At the same time, he remained a friend and mentor to Daniel. I was appreciative of everything that Libeskind had done for the Academy and was pleased that I had accepted Hedjuk’s suggestion. Once more, I turned to John for advice and guidance; again, he had an idea of a possible candidate and another of his graduates, Dan Hoffman.
I invited Dan Hoffman to be part of the Visiting Program of the Architecture Department. He did participate but, if I remember correctly, he seemed reluctant to take over the department. I do know that I met with him in New York. Dan was a practicing architect and was working in the studio of Ed Barnes; I visited him there. I continued to pursue him and eventually persuaded him to come to Cranbrook; I think at a coffee house on Columbus Avenue in Manhattan. Again, I was grateful to Hejduk for his suggestion; Dan Hoffman was the ideal choice, for he sustained the program and furthered the reputation of the Architecture Department at Cranbrook.
Although Libeskind and Hoffman were “Dan”, they were different in many ways, yet shared a commitment to challenging and changing the nature of architecture; both in teaching and practice. Intense and intellectual, as was his predecessor, Hoffman, in contrast, was quiet and calm; persuasive in his own way.
Hoffman had taught and worked in Detroit. He took over as Head of Architecture for the academic year 1986-7. The following is quoted from the Academy Graduate Studies Catalog: “Dan Hoffman received his architectural training at The Cooper Union in New York City. After completing his studies, he moved to Detroit to teach at the University of Detroit and practiced in the office of William Kessler Associates.” The brochure goes on to describe his teaching in Canada and Italy; his work as project architect for Edward Larrabee Barnes Associates in New York; and concludes that, “He currently maintains an individual practice while continuing his speculative studies at the studio at Cranbrook.”
In 1994, Rizzoli published the book, “Architecture Studio: Cranbrook Academy of Art 1986-1993”. The book presented more than thirty studio projects, produced over that seven year period, with extensive photography and commentary. Dan wrote the introduction and project essays; there can be no greater tribute and lasting testimony to his tenure at Cranbrook than this publication. Dan Hoffman had not only a profound effect on the Architecture Department but left a lasting legacy throughout the community; for which he served as advisor and, in his later years, as architect. His design for the guard booth and Woodward Avenue entry remains the official and public access to Cranbrook Educational Community.
In the foreword, I acknowledged how Daniel Libeskind and Dan Hoffman had brought further international attention and acclaim to Cranbrook. I go on to write, “The maturity and ambition of the projects in this volume demonstrate the intensity with which work is pursued at Cranbrook. Students are keenly aware of the passion for work that inhabits the walls like a ghost, calling forth a commitment to the traditions of the place, as well as bearing witness to the importance of individual pursuits.”
On a personal note, the Studio members in their acknowledgements thank Roy Slade “for his foresight and irrepressible enthusiasm” and Agnes Fleckenstein and the Women’s Committee “for their hard work”. Rather a timely and touching tribute for we were to retire in 1994 and leave Cranbrook at the end of that year.
New faculty appointments
I have written at length about the architecture department. The situation was dire when I arrived, with the possible closure of the department due to lack of enrollment. My appointment of Daniel Libeskind not only revitalized the department but, eventually, had a profound impact on architecture itself. Dan Hoffman was another fine appointment as, through his efforts, a fine tradition and reputation was sustained and furthered within the Architecture Department.
In other departments, I would have appointments to make and, eventually, I did bring in new faculty to the Academy. I knew that I needed to look outside Cranbrook for new faculty; to infuse new ideas and fresh ‘blood’. The search process started with me getting into contact with fellow presidents and deans and by asking my faculty for ideas. The position was advertised nationally. Those candidates that I felt worthy were invited to come to Cranbrook. If different applicants came to be interviewed, they were never brought in at the same time. The candidate met with faculty. When I was being considered as potential President, I met with the entire faculty; watching the egos and personalities clash. However, I instigated a process where the candidate met with faculty on a one to one basis, in their individual studios and departments. In this way, candidates got to know the Academy, its facilities and faculty. Later, as needed, I could then seek out the independent opinion of faculty.
Within the department, candidates were asked to review the equipment and facilities and make suggestions for improvements. They met individually with students in the department, reviewed their work, and collectively discussed their needs. Most important to the interview process was the lecture to the student body, faculty and staff. The talk was to be a slide presentation of the candidates work; this was most revealing. I would take each candidate to dinner for a lengthy and leisurely conversation. I encouraged the spouse to come on the visit and to dinner; as they would be living at the Academy. I felt that the interview was a two way process, particularly at Cranbrook, where the applicant and spouse needed to know about our community. I was finding out as much as I could about the candidate over a couple of days, in order to make an informed decision. Finally, I would get a sense of the consensus among faculty and students about the different applicants. Eventually, the decision to offer a position and make an appointment was solely mine as President. Of course, the candidate had to accept my offer. As will be seen, such was not always the case but, once my mind was made up, I was nothing if not persistent.
Other than architecture, the most challenging appointments were to occur in Ceramics and Metalsmithing. For years, these departments were headed by legendary Cranbrook teachers: ceramicist Richard De Vore and metalsmith Richard Thomas; both were graduates of the Academy. As De Vore left in my first year, I had to deal first with the Ceramics Department. Initially, I asked George Mason to take over in an interim capacity. He had studied with De Vore and, for a year, would carry on the fine traditions of ceramics at Cranbrook.
In ceramics, after meeting with various candidates, an obvious choice emerged and that was Jun Kaneko. He was reluctant to accept my initial invitation to come to Cranbrook. Eventually, he accepted and was Head of Ceramics from 1979-1986.
The story of his coming to the Academy is documented in the book “Jun Kaneko” by Susan Peterson (publishers Laurence King 2001). This publication is an in depth survey of Kaneko and is a stunning tribute to his accomplishments in art. The author writes of Jun giving a lecture in 1979 at Cranbrook and says,” It did not occur to Kaneko that it was more of an interview. Slade, the entire faculty, and most of the 150 students attended his lecture.” At that time, Kaneko declined my offer to become Head of Ceramics but I persisted; as did Connor Everts, his good friend and Head of Printmaking. “Connor Everts called Kaneko every day, urging him to accept the job offer. The Japanese ceramicist was insistent in his refusal, but did agree to spend a week on the Cranbrook campus to observe activities more closely.” In his own words, Kaneko describes how bad the ceramics equipment and kilns were. He then made a serious evaluation of what was necessary.
The author writes that “Kaneko’s proposal was for an amount of money that he was certain that Roy Slade would find unconscionable. In a few days, the president responded positively to the artist’s request, but admitted that it would take him two years to raise the funds. Slade asked Kaneko if he could spread the project over that period of time and still teach. The ceramicist said he needed a day to think about it: ‘I’ll figure out if it makes sense or not.’ He accepted.”
Jun Kaneko was perfect for Cranbrook and that is why I was persistent and insistent. Jun was a painter, printmaker, sculptor and ceramicist; the complete artist. The book “Jun Kaneko” fully documents his career and achievements with lush and colorful photographs of his work. Nothing can duplicate or describe the sheer scale and huge size of some of his recent work. His vision and vitality as an artist served him well as a teacher. Jun inspired his students who adored him. At times, Kaneko had difficulty expressing himself in the English language but his work and work ethic spoke volumes. He taught through example as a true artist; his is a life committed to creativity. When visiting his studio, I was in constant awe of his innovative and expressive art, whether in paint or clay. Jun had an impact on all students in the Academy, and the faculty, through his work and commitment. His work transcended the disciplines and went ‘beyond boundaries’; he dealt with the totality of art: form, color, craft, decoration, design, space, expression, image, imagination and innovation.
While at Cranbrook, Jun visited Omaha and was intrigued with the large kilns at the Brickworks. He began to work on a huge scale and started his “Dango” series, large scale painted forms. I was fortunate to visit Jun at the Omaha Brickworks and saw another dimension of his ongoing creativity. This year (2008), at the St Petersburg Arts Center, Agnes and I saw an exhibition of his current work, as fresh and as vital as ever, awesome in its scale and color. I continue to admire his work and appreciate his tenure at Cranbrook; he was the right choice!
In the 1978 initial search, one of the candidates that I considered was Graham Marks. Although his work was widely exhibited and highly regarded, Graham was young, then in his twenties. By 1987, when he was appointed Head of Ceramics, his reputation had grown and matured through his teaching, awards, exhibitions and publications. In his philosophy, printed in the Academy brochure, he stated, “Clay has been used throughout time to make the intangible real and express the immaterial through material. The Ceramics Department at Cranbrook strives to be a place in which one can work toward a vision of the thing one doesn’t quite yet know.” Graham Marks served the Academy well as a teacher and his own work in ceramics was impressive.
His successor was Tony Hepburn who was appointed Head of Ceramics in 1992. He was visiting artist and I had asked him to take over the department for a semester after Marks had left. As the search was going on, a group of ceramic students came to me and suggested I invite Tony to stay at Cranbrook. An obvious suggestion but one I had not considered as Hepburn had tenure at Alfred University. However, I immediately talked to Tony and, eventually, I am happy to say he accepted my offer to be Head of Ceramics. Much has been written on Tony Hepburn as an artist; I would like to quote his words, “A material that is liquid in one state and stone like in another will sustain its fascination for the next 35,000 years.” Certainly, Tony’s work was fascinating as was evident in his 1993 exhibition at the Museum entitled “Do Not Think About a Blue Door”. The show presented his work to the community and revealed his multimedia approach to art. Hepburn advanced the exploration of art between disciplines, as had Jun Kaneko. I was proud of these appointments that furthered the rich heritage, started by Maija Grotell, and the innovative traditions of ceramics at Cranbrook.
Gary Griffin, gates Bloomfield Hills MI.
Gary Griffin took over the Metalsmithing Department in 1984; to replace the legendary Richard Thomas had been a challenge. I met with distinguished alumni who had studied with him, including Brent Kington and I do believe that he mentioned Griffin. Whoever brought us together, I am grateful; as soon as I met Gary, I knew he was the right person. I admired his work and his knowledge of the craft. Gary Griffin had taught at Rochester Institute of Technology; lectured extensively; and his work had been widely exhibited. He was involved with Metalsmithing through conferences and publications. (In 1987, he organized and hosted the North American Goldsmiths Annual Conference held at Cranbrook.)
I was pleased to invite him to come to Cranbrook; even more pleased that he accepted. Gary Griffin was a fine faculty member and contributed well as artist in residence; his work and opinion were highly regarded.
In early 1985, the exhibition of his work, “Recent Works in Steel”, was presented at Cranbrook Art Museum. A group of these tall, elegant and fine sculptures revealed his technical mastery and personal imagery. For the accompanying brochure, I interviewed Gary and my final question solicited his views on Metalsmithing and his own work.
Gary Griffin responded: “The field of Metalsmithing is currently extremely diverse. It encompasses people who are working from the hollowware tradition that deals with the vessel or an orientation towards toward volume, to those who are dealing with architectural or environmental situations. I include myself in the latter group.
“The qualities in my work that I view as uniquely American are extremely important to me. Not only do I include the American landscape as subject matter, but the work embraces the notion of fantasy, of the tall tale, of playfulness. Though the work is designed, it is not an expression of design concept. Rather it reflects a less rational approach, a more fundamental sensibility such as, ‘Hey, let’s go build a gate!’.”
He did build gates as was evident in the museum exhibition “Critical Mass”, celebrating his tenure 1984 thru 2005, and showcasing his work and the careers of over one hundred of his students. As was stated at that time: “During his Cranbrook tenure, Griffin – considered one of the nation’s foremost metalsmiths – maintained an active practice focusing on utilitarian works for residences and institutions, resulting in regular commissioned work, from tables, furniture and lighting to gates, fences and railings. Interest in his work has resulted in pieces being placed throughout the country including the award-winning vehicular and pedestrian entry gates to the Academy of Art at Lone Pine Road and Academy Way – something Griffin credits as one of his greatest achievements at Cranbrook.”
Equally evident and impressive was his teaching for he influenced and inspired his students to work in diverse ways; both traditional and experimental. Through his own creativity and that of his students, Gary Griffin furthered the fine traditions of Metalsmithing at the Academy; a remarkable achievement for which, as President, I was grateful.
On a personal note, a gift from Cranbrook that I appreciated was that of a sculpture by Gary Griffin. The steel sculpture is 81” tall; one of the 1984 series shown at the museum. The work is in our Florida apartment; for Agnes and me, one of our treasured possessions, giving us daily delight and visual pleasure.
Steve Murakishi was invited to be Head of Printmaking in 1981. Born in 1949 in Hawaii, he studied in Michigan with a BFA from Michigan State and an MFA from the University of Michigan, where he also taught. Steve worked in multi media; again, an artist who pushed between disciplines and beyond boundaries. Writing of his department, he writes, “Within Cranbrook’s experience or experiment is the challenge to renew creative freedoms and to regain the substance of meaning. Making prints, making art mirrors our lives and our thoughts. We are curious, enlightened, disappointed and humored by these connections and assessments. The reflexitivity of our modern landscape is recorded and a new generation born…..Printmaking must realize visions.”
Murakishi read and wrote; published articles included “The Teasing of Empowerment: Big Hair and Tromp L’oeil” and “Morphability in America”. His exhibitions had equally challenging titles: “Murder as Phenomena” at San Francisco Camerworks; “The Cult of Aesthetic” at Wesleyan University; and “Mo Colors, Mo Better” at Florida State Museum. The titles reflect Steve’s wide ranging interests and curiosity; reflected in the multi media of his own creativity. At times, he appeared confrontational; at others, he was conciliatory. Nationally, like other faculty, he furthered his own reputation through his lectures, writings, exhibitions and participating in panel discussions; in so doing, he promoted the Printmaking Department.
Again, as I write of these appointments, I advise the reader to access the internet to find out more about these artists. Through its website, Cranbrook presents the artists and work, often with colorful images of recent work; much more information is readily available in cyberspace. To the best of my ability, I try to recall and record my memories of these artists in residence: colleagues and friends. My favorite story of Steve was of his playing golf with Buddhist monks; he told of their colorful vestments, flowing and billowing across the course. This image, graphically described, remains in my mind as incongruous and particular; as was the work and teaching of Steve Murakishi.
Heather McGill, sculpture.
When Michael Hall left in 1990, I would have another challenging appointment to make. Although Michael had neither the longevity nor legendary status of Richard Thomas, he was a larger than life character, a volatile presence within the Academy. The fact that I replaced this macho sculptor with a woman was because Heather McGill was the best candidate for Head of Sculpture.
Heather McGill became Head of Sculpture in 1991; she immediately took charge of the department, facilities and students. From the beginning, I was impressed by Heather as an artist, teacher and colleague. I remember a lecture she gave as part of the interview process. She talked and showed slides of installations that she created throughout the West Coast; site specific work, dealing with historical and environmental issues.
Her department’s philosophy as stated in the brochure: “Questions, not answers are what engage us as artists. Questions that expand our capacity to understand our sphere of existence. Questions that challenge the very forces that have influenced us and carried us to this point in time………The Academy functions as a creative bell jar, an environment to explore, define and develop potential.”
In her own art, Heather McGill continues to realize her own potential in works that a critic recently described as “austere but playful, severely masculine and ridiculously feminine. She uses advanced automotive technology to embellish her minimalist aluminum wall sculptures, lending the metal that usually takes the form of an incredibly powerful machine a bit of a sense of humor.” I do know that I was impressed with her art, innovative and accomplished, and with her transformation of the sculpture department. My regret is that we never had those many years to work together; the same could be said of her colleague in the Painting Department.
When George Ortman left, another void and vacancy occurred; once more, my choice was to be a woman, Beverly Fishman, the best candidate by far. I knew painters well but most were established, unwilling or unable to move full time to the Academy as an artist in residence. Moreover, I wanted someone with new ideas, an experimental approach and interest in the potential of painting. As usual, I sought out suggestions. I had known Barbara Price for many years; she had taught for me at the Corcoran and I had persuaded her to join me at Cranbrook as Dean of the Academy; another story. She was Vice President at Maryland Institute at the time that I was looking for a painter to come to Cranbrook. Barbara suggested I talk with Beverly, who was teaching there; I did so and was intrigued. Beverly Fishman accepted my invitation to become Head of Painting in 1992; another good decision and right choice for Cranbrook.
The 1992/3 brochure philosophy reveals her attitude that reflected my own thoughts. Beverly stated: “Painting today is a rich and complex activity. While existing in a continuum with centuries of painting craft, styles and issues, contemporary painting may encompass media that go far beyond the brushstroke. Elements of sculpture, photography, printmaking, collage or writing may well be part of a painter’s craft today.” I could not agree more. In her painting, Beverly went between the boundaries of art and science; indeed beyond boundaries, spatially and conceptually.
Beverly Fishman and Heather McGill are artists that enriched the programs of the Academy through their work, teaching and professional activities. Both are artists who exhibit widely; lecture; gain awards and ever growing recognition. I am proud of them and of those appointments that I made, as President of the Academy, over my years at Cranbrook.
Le Corbusier and Eliel Saarinen
Eliel Saarinen and Frank Lloyd Wright
Agnes Fleckenstein,RS and painter John Alexander
The Visiting Artist Program was a critical part of the education of Academy students. Distinguished artists, designers and architectures were invited to lecture, teach, work and interact with students and faculty. The visits could be for a day or much longer, dependent on the individual and invitation. The visitors came based on the recommendation of faculty or suggestions of students; with my approval as President. The visiting artists offered a range of possibilities: lectures, critiques, workshops, panel discussions, studio visits and sabbatical teaching. The richness and diversity of opinion offered by visitors was an invaluable enrichment of the educational program. In addition, artists came to the Museum for exhibitions and installations; these artists were integral and invaluable to the program. I was committed to bringing in as many diverse ideas and opinions as possible to broaden education and give enrichment.
From the early years, visitors came to Cranbrook; Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier curious to see the work of Eliel Saarinen. The opportunity to see Cranbrook was often enough in itself; for air fare and lodging, many notable names visited. Artists were proud to participate in programs and exhibitions; much was achieved, programs and reputation enhanced. During my tenure, visitors included Magdalena Abakanowicz, Vito Acconci, John Alexander, Siah Armajani, Rudy Autio, Alice Aycock, John Baldessari, Robert Blaich, Pieter Brattinga, Daniel Buren, Ralph Caplan, William Christenberry, Mildred Constantine, Niels Diffrient, Ray Eames, Peter Eisenman, Dale Eldred, Dan Flavin, Kenneth Frampton, Sam Gilliam, Frank Gehry, Keith Haring, Grace Hartigan, Lloyd Herman, Roni Horn Patrick Ireland, Richard Meier, George Nelson, Louise Nevelson, Isamu Noguchi, Yoko Ono, Dennis Oppenheim, Judy Pfaff, Philip Perlstein, Aldo Rossi, Alan Shields, Carol Summers, Ann Sutton, Lenore Tawney, Stanley Tigerman, Peter Voukos, Massimo Vignelli.
On a personal note, I must mention Ann Sutton; she was a fellow student at Cardiff College of Art. She was invited by Gerhardt Knodel to visit the fiber department in 1985; I was delighted to see her again, a lifetime later! Ann is a notable fiber artist, living in England; her lecture was fascinating. Not only did students benefit from the visiting artists; so did the President and the entire community
Students & Alumni
Student Orientation deSalle Auditorium c1987
Students were the reason that the Academy existed; their education was of paramount importance. Over the years, the student body had changed and grown. After the Second World War, with the GI Bill and the changing nature of education, programs were formalized and degrees offered. When I arrived a few BFA students were still at the Academy; immediately, I phased out the BFA program. The Academy became a graduate program only; offering the MFA. Graduation occurred in December and May; again, I did away with that, so graduation took place only in May. Students were to enroll in September for the two years of study in one of the nine departments. Of the 140 students, 100 lived in dorms on Academy Way. Each student had their individual working space or ‘studio’.
Ceramic studio c1979
The studios needed to be updated and expanded; the student body grew and the nature of art and design changed. Moreover, over the years, photography and printmaking had been added to the original disciplines: architecture, ceramics, design, fiber, metalsmithing, painting and sculpture. Space studies were made and long range plans developed; eventually, the New Studios by Rafael Moneo, were opened in 2002.
As President, I worked closely with the students, encouraging the Student Council to be active and supportive. In the studios, I would visit, often in the evenings, to talk with students. During reviews, both for first and second year students, I went to the studios to critique the work of each student. I made small sketches of their work, with notes; in their first and second year. In this way, I could discuss progress not only with the students but with the faculty. At the end of each day of review, I chaired a meeting of the faculty to discuss collectively each student. The faculty was not expected to do as I did, see the work of every student; rather they worked in rotating teams. Over the course of two years, faculty did eventually review each students work. Students set up their work in their studio, critique space or anywhere suitable. Other students and staff were encouraged to visit but never during a faculty critique.
Cranbrook Art Museum lower galleries: degree show. RS 'one last word........'
The critique was on a one to one basis; student and faculty. I had done away with the old system of faculty going around as a group. I saw faculty arguing amongst themselves, the loudest voice prevailing and egos clashing. Often, the poor student was forgotten as arguments raged on between faculty. To have individual faculty visit and discuss each student’s work was far more humane and constructive. I benefitted greatly from seeing the work in each department; a way of evaluating faculty as well as students. Nothing in my schedule was to intrude or interfere with students reviews; the critiques were sacrosanct. At the same time, reviews were demanding and exhausting for faculty, students and the President!
Nick Cave 1989 fiber graduate: performance in front of Keith Haring mural, north gallery, Cranbrook Art Museum.
What better way to relax than at the ‘Bad Art Bar’; I got to know my students well at work and play! The students, being in a graduate program, were aged from their mid twenties to early forties; some were even older. The ratio of male and female students varied but, overall, was about equal. Students came from all over the country and world. The international nature of the Academy, starting with the founder George Booth and architect Eliel Saarinen, was established from the beginning and continued through the student body. Students came from the Far East, Europe and Latin America. The diversity of ethnic and contrasting cultures was evident; presenting an invaluable opportunity to learn from one another. I always felt that our emphasis was less on teaching and more on learning. The Academy offered many opportunities to learn from fellow students, faculty, staff, curators, visiting artists and, hopefully, the President.
Academy students dressed according to their discipline. The painters and sculptors wore torn jeans and sweaters, stained with paint, plaster or whatever! The ceramicists were covered with clay; the printmakers wore their ink stains proudly. Fiber students had woven clothes or printed textiles, colorful and rich. In contrast, the designers were easy to identify; always dressed in black.
Amongst the many social activities, the annual Christmas party was always fun. I was dressed up, often with the help of the fiber students, as Santa Claus. With my white hair and beard, red rouge cheeks and padded stomach, I gave many a loud “Ho Ho”! Naturally, I had to have an elf and that was Bob. I should mention here that I was, and I am, known as “Roy” to everyone, from students to staff; that’s how I expected to be addressed and was.
Robert Yares, known as “Bob”, was my assistant and is a friend forever! I met Bob when he was working for the Michigan Art Train. I had flown to Marquette, a god forsaken place, particularly in the winter. Bob met me at the airport and drove us to the hotel. By the time we got to the hotel, a short ride, I was so impressed by our conversation that I offered Bob a job as my assistant; just like that! I never regretted that immediate decision; he accepted. Bob had an art degree, knew the state of Michigan, its communities and legislature. His quiet personality, humor and dedication were appreciated. Words can not express my gratitude to Bob for all that he did for the Academy and me during my years as President. His responsibilities were many including working with the Women’s Committee; Studio Council; Annual Auction; Design Michigan; College Art; receptions and fund raisers. His work with the students and alumni was invaluable; he knew them all. I am happy to say that Bob was appointed this year (2008) to be Alumni Director for the Academy; well deserved.
As my Christmas elf, he was unforgettable and, to the designers, unforgivable! Bob would dress for his role at Yuletide, including a resplendent false beard. On, and in, the beard he would sprinkle lots and lots of talcum powder. Bob would then make a point of warmly embracing the design students, as ever, dressed in black. His embrace deposited the white powder on their black dress, among hilarious laughter. The Japanese students were unsure if this was a Western tradition; there was much bowing and smiling, in clouds of white talcum! Kathy and Mike McCoy tried to avoid this annual dusting; without success. The black dressed designers were dusted with white; appropriate for a Michigan winter?!
The future careers of our graduates varied according to their discipline; as did the way they got jobs. Usually, designers and architects went into offices to pursue their individual careers. Other students were planning on trying to survive by making art. Many graduates, particularly in the Fine Arts, would seek teaching positions; hopefully in higher education. The usual way was to attend the annual meeting of the College Art Association.
The meetings occurred in late January; I will never forget my first meeting in 1969 at Chicago. As an impoverished faculty member, I boarded an airport bus to go downtown to the conference hotel. On the bus, a young lady got up, waving in the air a plastic sheet holding slides. “Anyone want to see my slides?’ she shouted as she went up and down the aisle. I was newly arrived in America and thought that she may be a hooker!
Later, in the hotel lobby, I found lots more young men and women offering their slides and portfolios; a prostitution of a different kind. These were young art students and graduates eagerly seeking jobs; soon to be sadly disillusioned. After scurrying around, looking at job announcements, arranging interviews, waiting in corridors and being interview, the aspiring teachers soon got disillusioned; few got jobs. Three thousand attendees included college presidents, deans, department chairmen and faculty from coast to coast. The meetings rotated in the same way from New York to Los Angeles. Of course, lectures and panel discussions were taking place but the real drama was in the job hunt; a cultural slave market.
Years later, these meetings for me became a blur of people: colleagues and friends. The milling crowds in lobbies and bar were teachers and artists I knew; some to meet, others to avoid. At times, I thought that these conferences were hell on earth; certainly that was true for those job hunting, particularly naïve and aspiring graduates.
At Cranbrook, to prepare our students, I met with those intending to go to College Art. I explained the grim reality of the search and interview; too often, a harrowing and demeaning process. The resume, application and search process was discussed; the students were prepared. Moreover, one of my best decisions, the Academy provided a suite where our students could come; rest; make contacts; meet one another. A staff member was there to help in whatever way possible; faculty would visit the suite as would alumni. I was ‘in and out’, giving encouragement and advice whenever I could. On one evening, we would have a Cranbrook reception for alumni and students; contacts were made and goodwill assured. Everyone was pleased with this initiative; to have a place to meet and leave messages was invaluable and much appreciated.
In 1978, the conference was in New York at the Hilton; a large enough hotel for the thousands that attended. At that time, John Mills was Dean. He had worked, as Registrar, with my predecessor, Wally Mitchell. While I was considering coming to Cranbrook, John was most influential and persuasive. He worked with me as Dean for a year; then he passed his Bar Exam and became a lawyer. John and his wife Kathy remain good friends to this day; he is also our legal advisor and has served us well with his advice and guidance.
John Mills felt that an alumni reception should be held at the Hilton to introduce me as President of the Academy. The idea was a good one as there were alumni from around the country and many in Manhattan. Over 200 people turned up and crowded the meeting room; overwhelming. I met many distinguished alumni, famed artists and designers. The bar bill was such that John had to get additional credit to pay.
At a later meeting, again at the New York Hilton, a suite was rented; the views down Sixth Avenue were spectacular but the windows were dirty. I must admit to a fetish about clean windows and phoned reception to see if the windows could be cleaned. Being fifty floors up, that may sound ludicrous but the windows were accessible from within the room. The next morning, at 7AM, there was a knock on the door. A female staff member, sleeping in the adjoining room, was rudely awakened. She came to the door asking who was there and the reply was, “I’m the window cleaner”! “No, it’s not” was her reply, thinking that it was some student or even me, always an early riser. With choice language and much cursing, in her curlers and nightgown, she opened the door to find the window cleaner standing there with bucket and squeegee. I am not sure who was more embarrassed; her or the window cleaner. She fled to the bathroom and locked the door.
I do not think I was forgiven for not telling her of my request. She never thought windows could be cleaned at that high a floor; not knowing the windows were accessible from the inside but only by the hotel staff. She admonished me but the windows were cleaned! As ever, many a tale could be told but this one reflects the fun we had. My staff shared my sense of humor, may be one of the reasons that they were with me. We laughed a lot but worked hard.
During my eighteen years as President, over a thousand students graduated. Commencement took place in the Greek Theatre, weather permitting. That day was the most anxious time for me; the most tension and pressure I had all year. I had to make the final decision whether the weather would permit us to go outdoors. At that time of year in Michigan, the weather is unpredictable with showers and storms. By 1PM, three hours before the ceremony, I had to decide if the 400 chairs, stage and theatre could be set up outside. Everyone wanted Commencement to occur outside, as the Greek Theatre was a gorgeous setting, perfect for graduation. The parents, visitors and students sat in a rising hemicycle, with the faculty and speakers on stage; the graduating class sat in the front row. With sun, blue sky, passing clouds, tall trees and colorful blossoms, the setting was idyllic. Much better for the ceremony to be outside; rather than held in an assembly hall at the schools or a lecture theatre. Rainy weather made that inevitable at times. I did have ultimate authority over many issues but had no control over the weather?!
Commencement was a time of celebration and sadness. To see our graduates receive their diplomas was cause to celebrate but to see them leave, in a way, was sad. Over two years, we got to know our students. I talked to each and everyone; reviewed and critiqued their work. At the Academy, we worked, lived and played together as a community of artists. I can not remember every student but I have memories of many. I always said that the Academy is not to be judged by what the students do but rather by what the alumni do. In the achievements of its artists, designers and architects lies the ultimate judgment and lasting influence of Cranbrook.
Speeches were made and diplomas awarded at Commencement. On one occasion, a ‘gorilla’ appeared on stage and, on another, a dance performance occurred. For me, the words of the student who spoke on behalf of the graduating class were the most important. Indeed, that was the true in 1981, when graduating student Lynn Barnhouse spoke.
“Hopefully, we will all leave here realizing the Cranbrook experience was planned. Now we are on our own. To experience the best means we have to give our best. This is really only the beginning.”
To compare the bowl by Maija Grotell with a teapot by a recent graduate, the fact that there is no pervading style at Cranbrook is obvious; yet there is innovation and influence.......... “
In retrospect, Cranbrook, by its more prominent graduates, had a decisive influence on the look of Twentieth Century America.”Wolf Von Eckardt, The New Republic, June 24, 1978.
From the beginning, I realized how important and influential the alumni of the Academy were. Unfortunately, they felt neglected; many were angered. The initial restoration of Saarinen House, with the subsequent press in the fall of 1977, did much to reassure them of my intentions to honor the past. As the newly appointed President,
I made every effort to reach out to alumni. In New York, at that College Art reception I met distinguished alumni: Tony Rosenthal; Mary Walker Phillips; David Rowland, Donald Lipski and many more. I made contact with other alumni by mail and, during my travels, through personal contact. I met Florence Knoll, Architecture ‘39; Edmund Bacon, architecture ’41; Jack Lenor Larsen, Fiber ‘51; Fumihiko Maki, Architecture ’53; Chungi Choo, Metalsmithing ’65.
The common thread was a commitment to innovation and excellence; apparent in the many alumni that I met in this country and abroad. From California to New York to Japan, I visited with our alumni in their homes and studios. The influence of Cranbrook is truly international, with alumni throughout the world. Their achievements and influence are widely acclaimed; rightly so.
To reach out and keep in contact with alumni, I introduced an alumni publication that I named “Outline”. The quarterly magazine, coordinated by Agnes Fleckenstein, was sent to alumni, containing news of their achievements and Academy activities. Each faculty member contributed with news of their discipline and students. The magazine, designed by design students, was an invaluable outreach to our alumni. Eventually, with the help of the staff, Agnes published an Alumni Directory; designed by Denise Heckman ’95.
Alumni receptions, visits and meetings occurred throughout my travels as President. As ever, my assistants Roberta, Bob and Agnes organized and arranged such meetings; the efforts were worthwhile. The support forthcoming from alumni was evident in many ways: from financial support through annual giving and bequests to gifts of works of art to the museum collection or for the annual art auction. Alumni who were college professors had faith again in the Academy, which they recommended to their students for graduate study. Other alumni gained support, financial and otherwise, from the companies with which they worked. Alumni acted as advocates; bringing support and funds to the Academy.
At Cranbrook, again, I had a multitude of roles; president, director and artist. I dressed accordingly; always most comfortable in jeans and sweatshirt. In Michigan, in the snows and bitter cold, I had to dress warmly. On my first Thanksgiving there, in 1977, I went out to dinner. When I returned, after a blizzard, I found the snow drifts had covered the grounds. Out in the courtyard of Saarinen House were Bertoia wire chairs, lost under the snows; I never saw the chairs again until the following April. Years later, I told that story to Graham Beal; he was in Los Angeles, being considered for the position of director of the Detroit Institute of Art. I wished to advise him of the Michigan winters. He did become Director of the DIA; later, Graham sent a Christmas card. The photograph was of the yard of his Detroit home; his garden chairs were under snow. Inside was written the message, “You were right! Merry Christmas!”
Talking to the students in their studios, I wore jeans. The studios were working places, covered in clay and paint; as were the stools! The graduates seemed to remember what I said. My favorite phrase was to talk of “the primary experience” of art and life. I railed against the secondary experience of reproduction and video; I wanted my students to look at original art and at nature. In this regard, I agree with Eliel Sarinen who believed that to understand art and life, “One must go down to the source of all things: nature.” Students would talk on the primary experience; few would forget. I met with many alumni throughout the world; all were changed by their time and studies at the Academy. For those fortunate enough to have been at Cranbrook; the experience lives with you forever. I continue to keep in touch with my students and they with me. Agnes and I have had many a meeting in recent years with alumni. Rarely a week goes by without hearing from, talking to or meeting with a former student. Dean Sakamoto is at the School of Architecture at Yale; he is director of the gallery. We have visited him there and in Hawaii. In Miami, Richard Miltner is at the Wolfsonian Museum; we visit often and correspond regularly. Richard studied metalsmithing with Richard Thomas; now he is an outstanding exhibition designer and curator. In East Hampton, the designer, David Gresham has a summer home just across the ferry from Shelter Island. We visit and dine; always laughter. Nick Cave is Head of Fashion at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago; he studied fiber. We were fortunate to see, in Chicago, his exhibition of fantasy costumes, objects and huge fabrics; a most impressive and colorful event. Our embrace was a warm one for Nick is an extraordinary artist. Each year, we get a Christmas card from another fiber artist, Kyoung Ae Cho; she never forgets and neither do we. Indeed, we hear from and see many students; too many to mention here. We take pride in their achievements and accomplishments; that is the true value and evaluation of the Cranbrook experience.
Always, I tried to encourage students in their endeavors; never wanting to impose. I made suggestions and gave support for their individual creativity. During one review, I was looking at the work of a metalsmithing student, Sandra Osip. Her work intrigued me; a shell like form in curved metal sheets, rather beautiful. I talked to her about the beach, shells and rocks. I mentioned how Henry Moore studied natural forms of wood and rock for inspiration; the library had books on drawings by Moore. Sandra was delighted with my support and suggestions; I felt no one else had seen the potential and promise in her work. My enthusiasm and encouragement seemed to motivate her. Years later, at a Michigan Artists Award ceremony, Sandra was honored for her sculpture. After receiving her award, she came down from the stage and straight to me. To my complete surprise, she embraced me and whispered, “Thank you”.
Unexpected but welcome, such appreciation means everything to the teacher; that is what I am and, hopefully, will be always. A few years ago, on a rare visit back to Cranbrook, Agnes and I met Heather McGill on Academy Way. I had appointed her Head of Sculpture and was pleased with everything she had achieved. However, on this occasion, Heather wanted to thank me; not on her behalf but that of students. She said that she had met endless graduates and they talked of me and my influence on them. As new students, I insisted as part of orientation, they must hear my lecture on Cranbrook. I felt that every incoming student should know about the history, architecture and influence of the Academy. After that, I got to know them through formal student reviews and informal studio visits. Late in the evening, or any time, I would wander through the studios. I would talk to the students about their work; hopefully, making constructive suggestions and encouragement. Heather said that so many graduates had told her how influential I had been and how much they appreciated my advice and encouragement. I was deeply touched by their comments and the fact that Heather wanted me to know. I thanked her.
As I travelled and met alumni, I had many experiences. Often, I was unaware that some distinguished artists, whom I admired, had studied at Cranbrook. When I first arrived in 1967 in America, I spent six weeks wandering the streets and visiting the museums of Manhattan. I remember being most impressed by a large sculpture in the middle of Astor Place, near the Cooper Union. “Alamo” 1966 was a 15’ high cube of steel, painted black, planted upright on its diagonal axis; that could be rotated. The installation had taken place that year; one of the first outdoor and contemporary sculptures on permanent display in Manhattan. The sculpture is there to this day, a familiar landmark of the East Village. The sculptor is Tony Rosenthal.
I was impressed and wrote about the work in ‘Studio International’; I included a slide of the sculpture in my lectures. At the Hilton Hotel, in that first alumni reception of 1978, a quiet and grey haired gentleman came up to me and introduced himself, “I am Tony Rosenthal”. I was delighted to meet him and told him how much I had admired his sculpture, which I had first seen ten years ago. Tony smiled and said, “Well, I did study with Carl Milles at the Academy.” I was dumfounded to find that the sculptor, who created one of my favorite sculptures, was a Cranbrook artist! Rosenthal was studying journalism at the University of Michigan. He was invited to make some sculptures for the 1939 Worlds Fair and decided he needed to study; he did so, for six months at the academy, with Carl Milles. Tony regarded himself as an Academy graduate. We became firm friends and remain so to this day. Agnes and I look forward to visits with him in Southampton; across the ferry from Shelter Island where we spent our summers.
Tony Rosenthal was invited to create an outdoor sculpture in the grounds adjacent to Cranbrook Art Museum. The work in rusted steel was 10’ high x 26’ wide x 25’ deep and titled “Cranbrook Ingathering”. Tony considered the work as his homage to Ray and Charles Eames, Eero Saarinen and his fellow artists at the Academy. The installation occurred in 1980; with an exhibition and brochure “At Cranbrook: Tony Rosenthal”. In the publication, I concluded my introduction, “As an individual, Tony Rosenthal has sensitivity, humanity and wit. His eye and understanding allows him to manipulate forms of great scale and size. He is always sensitive to the surroundings and knows well how to articulate a space and form. From the cube sculpture at Astor Place to the Cranbrook sculpture, the work has provided great enrichment and excitement for many. His art is an art for the people, that without compromise, remain sculpture.”
Rosenthal has created large works installed outside to free standing sculptures to wall pieces. He has received commissions; exhibited widely and his work is in major museum and private collections. My favorite sculpture remains the cube; there are versions other than “Alamo”. At the University of Michigan is “Endover”; “Marty’s Cube” is on view in Miami; and “Cube 72” is at the Guild Hall, East Hampton. I was happy, as was Tony, that “Cranbrook Cube” 1984 was part of the exhibition “Design in America” shown at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Rosenthal had studied with Carl Milles in the early days of the Academy; forever afterwards, Tony was considered a Cranbrook artist.
Another artist that I had admired for years was Duane Hanson. I had seen his figurative sculptures in Europe where the artist first gained recognition for his tableaux of war and of Bowery bums. Later, he began his series of life like figures of the American middle class; his social satire. Hanson’s sculptures are of everyday people; rendered so real, wearing actual clothes, you expect them to walk and talk. In the late seventies, a travelling exhibition of his sculptures was organized; at the Whitney Museum drawing record crowds. As Director, I signed the contractual agreement that would bring this touring exhibit to the Corcoran in late 1977. I regretted not being able to do the installation and meet the artist at the Corcoran as, by that time, I had left to be President of the Academy. Much to my surprise, after arriving at Cranbrook, I found that Hanson was a graduate, having studied with Carl Milles.
After two years of study, Duane Hanson graduated with his MFA in 1951. Duane admired the Swedish sculptor Milles and was of Swedish descent himself. I got to know Duane well; visiting him and his wife, Wesla, in their home in Florida. The first visit was memorable. Agnes and I had driven to Davie, arrived at his address, parked the car and approached a simple ranch house. We knocked the door, no answer. The door was ajar and we pushed open to see Duane sitting at the table talking to a woman. A child was standing against the wall and a dog lay sleeping in a basket. I called out his name but no response. Suddenly, the back door opened and in walked Duane Hanson. We were nonplussed until we realized that the figures, even the dog, were sculptures. Duane explained that he had bought the house from an elderly couple; the furniture was theirs, the sculptures were his. “The Self Portrait with Model” 1979 was the work that I had talk to; mistakenly. The Hanson family lived next door in a large, contemporary house; we got to know them well.
At Cranbrook Art Museum, I had the privilege of presenting two exhibitions of his work in 1985 and 1990. The exhibitions were a great success, receiving lots of press and TV coverage and bringing in the crowds. Even in the museum world, there were divergent views as to whether these figures were art or merely wax works. I thought that Hanson was a great sculptor; Duane thought otherwise. He once confided in me that he regarded himself as a painter?! Of course, he liked to pose his models, dress the figures but, most all, the painting fascinated him. I was intrigued and began to look afresh at these sculptures; indeed, the painting and rendering of flesh and detail is remarkable. The articulation and representation of surface is to be admired. At another time Hanson is quoted as saying, “First of all, and above all, I’m a sculptor.” Whatever, I have always felt these sculptures to be true Americana, like Pop Art, a part of our life and culture.
Not only did I visit with Duane on a number of occasions but he came with me and a Cranbrook group on a visit to Sweden. He was proud of his Swedish heritage and had shown me his grandfather’s entry papers to America. For the first time, Duane saw Millesgarden and he met King Carl Gustav.
Many books have been written on him from “Duane Hanson” by Kirk Varnedoe to the Plains Art Museum “Duane Hanson: Portraits from the Heartland”. Duane Hanson visited me at Cranbrook on a number of occasions; he was happy to come back. The Edwin A. Ulrich Museum of Kansas organized the exhibition “Sculptures by Duane Hanson” that was presented at Cranbrook in 1985. Martin Bush wrote the catalog. Later in 1990, at the time of another Hanson exhibit, Duane and his family visited and stayed at Cranbrook; on that occasion they inscribed the following in my copy: “To my good friend, Roy the ROI. Thanks for a great time at Cranbrook. Yours in art. Duane, Wesla, Duane Jr. Jan 15, 1990.” In 1996, Duane Hanson died in Florida at the age of 70; his art lives on.
Millesgarden summer 1986 "10 American sculptors- Carl Milles' students at Cranbrook". The artists included Fran Rich, Tony Rosenthal, Duane Hanson, Carroll Barnes, Harry Bertoia, Marshall Fredricks, Tex Schiwetz and Lilian Swann Saarinen.
Millesgarden is situated on an escarpment overlooking Stockholm (top). At a reception, words of welcome were given by the director, Staffan Carlen. Above right to left: Staffan Carlen, RS, Duane Hanson, The King of Sweden Carl XVI Gustav, Pat Hartmann and Queen Silvia.
Another sculptor that studied with Carl Milles was Fran Rich. I decided to say a few words on Fran as she was a good friend and a supporter of the Academy. No three artists could more unlike in their work than these three sculptors: Rosenthal, Hanson and Rich. I selected them for this reason; more needs to be written, and has been, on many more alumni.
From Tony’s abstractions to Duane’s realism to Fran’s bronzes, the differences are marked and obvious. The reason to bring this forward is to emphasize that there is no such thing as a Cranbrook ‘style’. The emphasis is on individual creativity, imagination and innovation. The one common thread is the pursuit of excellence.
Frances Rich studied with Carl Milles and kept up a correspondence with him throughout his life. She came to the Academy in 1937 and was a sculpture graduate 1940. Her story is fascinating. She was the daughter of the famed Hollywood actress and movie star Irene Rich and appeared in movies before becoming a sculptor. Her marble sculpture, known as “The Spirit of Nursing”, was unveiled in Arlington National Cemetery in 1938. Fran reached the rank of lieutenant commander in the Navy WAVES, leaving the service in 1946. She moved to Palm Springs where she worked in her studio. She spent years in Santa Barbara, caring for her mother.
Fran became a good friend. In the early 80’s, I visited her in Palm Springs and in Santa Barbara, where I met her mother, Irene; then in her nineties. Fran came to Sweden on a Cranbrook trip. She visited us at Cranbrook and we had an exhibition of her bronzes. On one unforgettable evening, while Fran was staying at Saarinen House, the phone rang; I answered. A woman’s voice, throaty and deep, asked “Is Frances there”. I replied she was and asked who was calling. I will never forget that regal reply, “This is Katherine”!
Katherine Hepburn was a close friend to Fran, who had met the young and aspiring actress on her arrival in Hollywood; at the train station. Katherine was calling to wish her friend with her exhibition at Cranbrook. The call and conversation went on and on; at times, even from a distance, Fran sounded annoyed. She came back to the living room and said, “Katherine was going on and on about how people will forget her whereas my bronzes will last forever; life was unfair. It’s always the same when I have a show. I tell her that she is a great actress and will be remembered as such.” Of course, I agree; who will ever forget “The African Queen” with Humphrey Bogart or her many movies with Spencer Tracy? Who knows? Art does live on; for today, we do continue to enjoy and appreciate the art of past centuries and civilizations.
In the early 90’s, Fran moved to Payson, Arizona; where Agnes and I visited her. Frances Rich died there in 2007, at the age of 97. I was grateful to her for her friendship and support. For the Cranbrook Collection, she gave her sculptures and financial gifts. In 1982, Fran had generously supported the publication “A Search for Form” that was part of the celebration of the founding of the Academy in 1932; a glorious fifty years!
I made contact with other alumni by mail and, during my travels, through personal contact. Many alumni, throughout the country, were gracious to open up their homes and studios; I thank them for their kindness and hospitality. Agnes and I remember alumni receptions at the design office of Gerry Kavanaugh in Los Angeles; the showrooms of Knoll in New York City; the home of Chad Overway in San Francisco; the studio of Richard Fluhr in Houston; the beach house of Jean Fahey in Hawaii; the design office of Larry Kesler in Washington DC; the architecture studio of Don Knorr in San Francisco; the design showroom of Jack Lenor Larsen in Manhattan.
Meeting with alumni and gaining their support was most satisfying; they were pleased with the restoration and recognition of Cranbrook Academy’s great past and ongoing influence. Indeed, that renewal of alumni commitment and support was one of the achievements of which I was most proud. Most of all, I appreciate their guidance and friendship.
Over the years, I met Marshall Fredericks, Sculpture ’33; Carl Feiss, Architecture ’33; Harry Weese, Architecture ’38; Florence Knoll, Architecture ‘39; Ben Baldwin, Architecture ’39; Carroll Barnes, Sculpture ’40; Ralph Rapson, Architecture ’40; Ray Kaiser Eames, Painting ’41; Don Albinson, Sculpture ’41; Brigitta Bertoia, Painting ’41; Edmund Bacon, Architecture ’41; Robert Sailors, Fiber ’43; Gyo Obata, Architecture ’46; Ruth Adler Schnee, Design ’46; Ed Rossbach, Ceramics ’47; Don Knorr, Design ’48; Louis Redstone, Architecture ’48; Stuart Hodge, Painting ’49; Robert Beauchamp, Painting ’50; Ivan Majdrakoff, Painting ’50; David Rowland, Design ’51; Harvey Littleton, Ceramics ’51; Jack Lenor Larsen, Fiber ’51; Kent Cooper, Architecture ’52; Gerry Kavanaugh, Design '53; Fumihiko Maki, Architecture ’53; Toshiko Takazeu, Cremics ’54; Niels Diffrient, Design ’54; Lyman Kipp, Sculpture ’54; Julius Schmidt, Sculpture ’55; Lawrence Barker, Painting ’55; Frank Gallo, Sculpture ’55; James Hubell. Sculpture, '56; George Bayliss, Painting ’56; Marie Woo, Ceramics 56; Diane Fitzpatrick, Painting ’57; Glen Michaels, Painting ’58; Townsend Wolfe, Painting ’59; Shunsuke Yakamoto, Architecture ’60; John Glick, Ceramics ’62; Ray Fleming, Painting '62; Martin Prekop, Painting ’62; Mary Walker Phillips, Fiber ’63; John Torreano, Painting ’63; Robert Kidd, Fiber '64; Lynton Wells, Sculpture ’65; Chungi Choo, Metalsmithing ’65; Susan Smyly, Sculpture ’65; Tino Zago, Painting ’66; Aris Koutroulis, Printmaking ’66; Carol Wald, Painting ’67; John Berry, Design ’68; Winifred Lutz, Sculpture ’68; James Surls, Sculpture ’69; Daryll Hughto, Painting ’69; Eugene Pijanowski, Metalsmithing ’69; Gretchen Bellinger, Fiber ‘70; Tom Bonhert, Ceramics ’71; Margie Hughto, Ceramics ’71; Alanzo Sandoval, Fiber ’71; DeLoss McGraw, Printmaking '72; Nancy Brett, Fiber ’72; Anne Wilson, Fiber ’72; Don Lipski ‘Ceramics ’73; McArthur Binion, Painting ’73; Linda Arndt, Ceramics ’73; George Mason, Ceramics ’73; Joan Livingstone, Fiber ’74; Susan Yelavich, Painting ’75; Lorraine Wild, Design’75.
I tried to make an initial selection to represent the various disciplines over the years; these are names of but a few alumni with established reputations. The list is endless and is ongoing, for many recent graduates are distinguishing themselves………
Over one thousand students graduated during my time at Cranbrook. I have kept in touch with some and remember even more: Albi, Sven, Nora, Lynn, Gladys, Chris, Michael, Andrew, Peter, Jennifer, Charles, Barbara, Karl, Mary Anne, Ada, John, Mary, Dana, Gerry, Robert, Andrea, Steve, Camille, Tom, Richard, David, Patricia, Addison, Ted, Wendy, Govert, Alice, Allen, James, Richelle, Gard, Carole, Jane, Tom, Paul, Kirk, Terence, Ed, Craig, Leila, Ben, Laura, Lisa, Sandra, Chad, Ralphie, Neal, Dean, Kate, Ko, Gary, Harry…………..
A Search for Form
Eliel Saarinen: Kingswood
Carl Milles: Orpheous “
Art is not a thing apart, an ornament added to life. It is the outward expression of man’s struggle toward the ideal.” George G. Booth, founder. 1917.
“George Booth’s idea (Cranbrook) has immeasurably improved the human environment of our nation and the world…it has given American craftsmen an international preeminence in the world of art.” Lloyd Herman, Director, Renwick Gallery, Smithsonian Institution. 1982.
“A Search for Form” was published in 1982; part of the celebrations of the Academy’s founding in 1932. For fifty years, the Academy has inspired artists, architects and designers. Their influence has been profound in this country and throughout the world. The achievements of these alumni is evident in art, design and architecture; certainly worthy of celebration. The publication described the founding, architecture, philosophy, alumni, achievements and influence of the Academy. The people and place were represented in black & white photographs; along with quotes from distinguished individuals, writers and alumni. This modest brochure was a precursor to the major exhibition and catalog, “Design in America: The Cranbrook Vision 1925-50”. Indeed, the brochure was useful in raising funds for that exhibition; another presentation folio, with the same title, was part of successful fund raising.
As President, I felt that the Fiftieth Anniversary was a perfect opportunity to celebrate both the architecture and achievements of the academy. Already, the initial restoration of Saarinen House had brought national attention; particularly the article by Paul Goldberger in The New York Times Sunday Magazine, April 1978. Later, in June, an article by Wolf Von Eckardt appeared in The New Republic. The critic wrote of the decisive influence of Academy graduates on the appearance of contemporary America. In April, 1982, Martin Filler wrote an article, well illustrated, in House & Garden; in which he stated that at Cranbrook there was a belief in an opportunity for ceremony and celebration, creativity and pleasure. I agreed and felt our anniversary was a perfect opportunity for celebration. I did so not only with the publication but through exhibitions, alumni reunions, events and a portfolio of faculty prints. I am nothing if not a promoter; most importantly, the recognition and acclaim deserved to come to Cranbrook. Much more press and acclaim came with “Design in America” but the fiftieth anniversary publication, “A Search for Form”, was the beginning. The following extracts give insight into life and work at the Academy, 1982.
‘Today, the Academy comprises 150 graduate students working in nine major disciplines: architecture, ceramics, design, fiber, metalsmithing, painting, photography, printmaking and sculpture. Granting the Master of Fine Arts degree and the Master of Architecture degree, this unique institution has consistently encouraged two basic goals: the pursuit of excellence and the exploration of interchange between artistic disciplines.
‘Unlike many institutions, the Academy has always sought to remain small in size. This unusual philosophy reflects a desire to afford students and teachers a closeness that would be unobtainable in a larger institution. Despite its small size, or perhaps because of it, The Academy and its exceptional Museum play an important role in the cultural life of the region and the state.
‘Nine artists-in-residence, each one heading a department, make up the faculty. Like the President, each is a practicing artist whose continuing growth helps stimulate and guide the students. Each student finds the Academy an environment where self-knowledge and skills may be obtained along with a broadening of aesthetic capabilities. These educated and talented students of many ages, races and nationalities have completed undergraduate work and have been accepted at the Academy on the basis of their potential as professionals.
‘True to the Academy’s basic philosophy that every faculty member is an outstanding professional in his or her own right; working, growing, exhibiting and demonstrating in a living way and without dogma, the pursuit of excellence is not for the student alone – but also for the teacher. The result of this philosophy, coupled with personal closeness and strongly individualistic methods, is almost a tutorial approach to artistic development. As one student commented, ‘The most important thing here is desire. We can make the experience whatever we want to make it….but all the elements – superb facilities, inspiring landscape, challenging peers and open minded faculty – are here to help us along the way.’
‘To some, life at the Academy may seem idyllic and even sheltered, but such a simple impression belies the intense work ethic and struggle to which faculty and students alike are committed. Indeed, that intensity, excitement and excellence is something one can feel in the air at Cranbrook. A student arrives to find, just as it was fifty years ago, that there is no formal curriculum, no distinct style or aesthetic dominating the learning environment but an expectation of hard work. Said one faculty member: ‘I try to impress immediately upon my group that waiting for inspiration is a romantic fantasy that rarely yields results.’
‘But the 150 colleagues at Cranbrook do not just disappear behind closed doors. As a place of living art, Cranbrook’s raison d’etre continues to be an intense exchange of feelings and ideas between people and departments. Life at the Academy goes on 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and the potential for encounter is cultivated at every turn. Each student has an individual working space, which with outstanding facilities, is ‘conducive to artistic productivity.’ A recent graduate expressed her thoughts in this way, ‘It’s been my feeling that the Cranbrook experience is a primary experience. We all come here for different reasons and we all have different goals…but we interact with each other in very direct firsthand ways, and these encounters generate energy and ideas that influence our work.’
‘Individual growth has always been fundamental to the educational philosophy of the Academy. In the early years 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 outer forces. He felt that,’…in order to understand both art and life, one must go down to the source of all things: to nature.’
’Today, growth continues to be emphasized. One artist-in-residence talks of the Academy as ‘a place where the student germinates, grows and evolves, for the environment encourages an in-depth questioning of self.’ Students arrive with the natural curiosity of a graduate and the high expectation to do something very important. That expectation, founded on the tradition of past influences and present achievements, is the continual challenge and opportunity afforded by Cranbrook.’
I was grateful to Fran Rich for providing funding and to the many individuals who worked on the publication. The design was by a student, Craig Minor, and cover photo by another student, Steve Rost. My photographs of the architecture and grounds were included; I worked on the drafting with Richard Taft and Janet Burke. A friend from Washington DC, Dick was President of Taft & McKibben Inc.; he had worked on fund raising and development at the Corcoran and was a consultant for Cranbrook.
Janet Burke was Director of Public Relations for Cranbrook Educational Community, 1978-84. She took a special interest in the Academy and made a significant contribution to publications of all kinds for the Academy and Museum. Janet helped establish the first copy of ‘Outline’, the alumni quarterly. In discussing the initial concept, Agnes Fleckenstein remembered Janet saying ‘we had to define our audience’ and ‘publish at least four times a year to retain reader interest’. I suggested the title ‘Outline,’ a word with a multitude of meanings; a term for drawing; outreach; a line to alumni? At the time of “Design in America,” Janet produced a related special section as part of ‘The Cranbrook Quarterly’, the community-wide journal she edited, and worked with Agnes and me in assisting journalists from across the country, all eager to cover the major exhibition. Janet regularly promoted Cranbrook Art Museum exhibitions, large and small. On one occasion, in promoting a modest display of rock and roll album cover art, she recalls,” As I was very familiar with the local rock radio stations, I blanketed them with information about the exhibition. They all loved the idea and repeated the Public Service Announcements as if it were breaking news. As a result, the Museum was besieged by young people that weekend, overwhelming the small staff on duty.” That Monday morning, I asked what she had done; an overachievement?!
After leaving Cranbrook, JB Communications was the firm she started; with Academy graduate Bonnie Detloff Zielinski as designer. Together they won many prestigious awards for their work. Janet (who now uses her maiden name, Chorkey) continued to work on various Cranbrook endeavors including "The Cranbrook Vision: A Community Perspective," a 1986 master plan document. She was, and is, a good friend. Today, she and husband Ron Rosalik reside in Michigan and Florida; Agnes and I have happy visits with them. Like many staff, we remain friends sharing memories and, as with Janet, a lively sense of humor.
To honor the alumni and their achievements was one of the purposes of the anniversary celebrations. In “A Search for Form”, many were mentioned, some were quoted; let us conclude with their words.
“It was a place where people from all over the country – all over the world – came to work. The impact of different thoughts, different people from different places, made it the most exciting and challenging of environments.” Susan Symly, Sculptor.
“Cranbrook was the genesis for my developing a serious commitment to my work. The situation was not unlike working in my studio today. There you were in your own space, faced with yourself and your problems and with your own decisions.” Nancy Brett, Painter.
The work of Eero Saarinen epitomizes the search for form; his architecture has no one style yet is distinctive. Cranbrook Academy of Art has been referred to as ‘the Bauhaus of the Midwest’, but there is no one dominate style or apparent aesthetic. The commitment is to diversity of expression and excellence; as evident in the work of artists of the Academy.
Eliel Saarinen and the young Eero
Eero and Eliel Sarinen with J Robert F Swanson
Eero Saarinen was born 1910 in Finland; he moved with his family to United States in 1923, to Cranbrook in 1925. He travelled and studied in Europe; he gained his BFA from Yale in 1934. His practice with father Eliel started in Bloomfield Hills 1936; Eero’s brother in law Robert Swanson a frequent associate. Eero taught at the Academy 1939-41. He died at the age of fifty one; his architecture brought him international acclaim and recognition. The recent exhibition and publication “Eero Saarinen: Shaping the Future” pays tribute to this remarkable and influential architect; part of the Cranbrook family and legacy. These images are of his architecture that helped change the face of twentieth century America.
Dulles Airport Terminal
St. Louis Arch