Eliel Saarinen with LeCorbusier on Academy Way
History and Influence
Cranbrook Academy of Art, known as the cradle of American modernism, continues to have a significant impact on the world of art, architecture, and design completely disproportionate to its size. Outstanding artists, architects and designers – the Saarinens, Ray and Charles Eames, Florence Knoll, Jack Lenor Larsen, Donald Lipski, Duane Hanson and Hani Rashid, to name only a few - have been a part of Cranbrook’s community of artists. Lasting friendships formed at the Academy lead to future professional collaboration. Our alumni have an international influence through their individual artistic practices and teaching professions.
Cranbrook Academy of Art is part of the 315-acre Cranbrook Educational Community, described as “one of the most enchanted architectural settings in America.” The community was founded by George Gough Booth, a Detroit newspaper baron and philanthropist, and Eliel Saarinen, the Finnish architect who occupies a major position in the history of modern American design and architecture. Both were inspired by the vision of the Arts and Crafts movement, which began in England in the mid-nineteenth century and soon spread to the United States. The Arts and Crafts movement appealed to George Booth aesthetically and morally. He hoped its influence would banish tasteless, mass-produced goods from American homes. He believed that craftsmanship would result in superior products and provide the foundation for an ethically responsible life. Cranbrook would come to support those ideals and satisfy the desire of its founders to achieve something of lasting value and significance.
Eames molded plywood lounge chair, LCW
In 1904, George Gough and Ellen Scripps Booth bought the property that would become Cranbrook, and spent their first years at Cranbrook landscaping the property and constructing their family home designed by Albert Kahn. With their estate established, they began the buildings for public use. The Greek Theatre was built in 1915, Christ Church Cranbrook was completed in 1928, plans for boys and girls schools were begun and foremost in their minds, plans were made for an art academy based on their visit to the American Academy in Rome. At the suggestion of his son Henry, George Booth approached Eliel Saarinen, a visiting professor in architectural design at the University of Michigan, with his idea for an art academy. Ultimately Booth invited Saarinen to move to Cranbrook from Finland to oversee the architectural and landscape development of the campus. The Cranbrook School for Boys was completed in 1928, Brookside School Cranbrook in 1929, and Kingswood School (for girls) in 1931.
Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen(pictured above) began their lifelong collaboration at the Academy. Photo courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.
Informal art education began at the Academy in the late 1920s, in studios built for the artists and crafts people working with Saarinen. The Academy of Art was officially sanctioned in 1932 with Saarinen installed as president. He continued to design new buildings for the campus with Academy student apprentices. The original Cranbrook Institute of Science building was completed in 1937 and the Academy art museum and library in 1942. The campus is a National Historic Landmark, considered the most complete example of Saarinen’s genius. It is an architectural and horticultural treasure where Academy students live and work today, inspired to write their own history in an environment of beauty and innovation.
Recent additions to the Cranbrook Educational Community campus uphold the international standard of excellence set by Saarinen. Spanish architect Rafael Moneo designed the New Studios Building addition to the Academy and Art Museum that opened in Fall 2002. Other new buildings at Cranbrook built in the 1990s include the Stephen Holl designed addition to Cranbrook Institute of Science, the Todd Williams and Billie Tsien designed Natatorium at Cranbrook School, and the Peter Rose designed addition to Brookside School.
Saarinen House Dining Room, designed by Eliel Saarinen 1928-30, restoration 1993-94. Courtesy Balthazar Korab/Cranbrook Art Museum.
The assistant to Carl Milles, the Sculpture Department's first Artist in Residence. Photo courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.