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History of Cranbrook Art Museum

On January 19, 1904, George and Ellen Booth purchased 175 acres in rural Bloomfield Hills and set into motion a vision that ultimately transformed their vacation property into one of the nation's foremost educational communities. At the heart of what is now Cranbrook Educational Community stands its Art Museum, one of the older art museums in the nation.

In 1927 Booth formally presented to The Cranbrook Foundation a portion of his personal collection of art objects as well as books on art and architecture. These collections found a home in the building designed by George and Ellen's son Henry Booth and his partner J. Robert F. Swanson (Pipsan Saarinen Swanson's husband) at the northwest corner of Lone Pine Road and Academy Way. The collection was an eclectic mix of art and artifacts spanning the centuries, including stained glass, architectural fragments, sculpture, paintings, ceramics, glass, furniture, textiles, metalwork and know reproductions. In the winter of 1930 the Academy of Art published the first inventory of the "Cranbrook Museum" and the collection opened for the use of the art students at Cranbrook and the enjoyment of the residents in the surrounding communities.

In an interview that was printed that winter in the Detroit News, Booth outlined the mission of his Museum which was meant to serve both students and the larger public community and to emphasize the acquisition of contemporary art; at the same time he was careful not to present the Museum as a rival to The Detroit Institute of Arts: "Perhaps the word museum suggests something a little too ambitious for the group of objects here. But we use the word for want of a better term. In any event, we are not trying to create a second Art Institute, or an art museum comparable in size to some of the great collections in the country; but rather a collection of material primarily suitable for the use of the students in the schools here, and secondarily, for the study and enjoyment of the people in the community."

Booth also emphasized the symbiotic relationship between the art library and the art collection, housed across the hall from each other at that time: "It is one thing to study a design in a book, another thing to examine the actual object. Thus if an art student happens to be studying Gothic design he will want actually to see some object which expresses the feeling of the period. For an art library, no matter how extensive, can not tell the whole story." Finally Booth also stated his commitment to contemporary art: "Then, too, by creating a modern collection, we want to remind our students that art is a living thing and that the record of our times is being created from day to day by the artists of this age, and in so doing perhaps to stimulate the creative spirit among those who work here."

By spring, the Cranbrook Museum had presented its first temporary exhibition, a traveling exhibition on contemporary interior design organized by the American Union of Decorative Artists.


Top Image: Cranbrook founder George Booth and Charles Eames, who came to the Academy as a student in 1938, reviewing installation
for faculty exhibition, 1939.
Photographer: Richard G. Askew
Credit Line: Copyright Cranbrook Archives

History