Happy Birthday Eliel and Eero Saarinen!

CRANBROOK SIGHTING: SAARINEN HOUSE, CRANBROOK ACADEMY OF ART CAMPUS
Dining Room, completed circa 1930; restored 1992 – 1994
Interior and furniture design by Eliel Saarinen
Placemat designs by Eero Saarinen
Textile designs by Loja Saarinen and Greta Skogster

Eliel and Eero Saarinen, 1941. Photo by Betty Truxell, courtesy of Cranbrook Archives

August 20th is a big occasion here at Cranbrook–the day both our campus architect Eliel Saarinen (Finnish, 1873 – 1950) and his architect son Eero (Finnish-American, 1910 – 1961) entered this world! In honor of two great men from one of the design community’s most accomplished families (read blog posts about matriarch Loja Saarinen here and Eero’s big sister Pipsan here), today on the blog we’ll visit the Saarinen House dining room, where father-and-son birthdays were most certainly celebrated on many an August 20th throughout the 1930s.

Saarinen House Dining Room, designed 1928; restored 1994. Photo by Balthazar Korab, (c) Cranbrook Art Museum.

Eliel Saarinen designed Saarinen House as his personal family residence on Cranbrook’s Art Academy campus, and it was conceived as a total work of art: from the architectural footprint down to the silverware, everything harmonized perfectly as an artistic whole. If you look at the photograph above (taking into account a slightly skewed perspective due to the camera lens), you can see how he’s created a circular table to sit precisely at the heart of the square rug beneath it, both of which were centered under a gilded, domed ceiling with a brass lamp suspended below. You could draw a straight line from the middle of that dome down to the floor and each side of the room would be perfectly symmetrical–an ideal environment for lively conversation during a birthday fête!

Eero Saarinen, Placemat, block-printed linen, circa 1920, CAM 1988.55. Photo by Balthazar Korab, (c) Cranbrook Art Museum.

When the house was restored to its original splendor in the early 1990s (it was renovated many times by subsequent tenants after Eliel died in 1950), Pipsan Saarinen’s son Ronald donated six placemats designed by Eero to Cranbrook Art Museum. They were made around 1920–when Eero would have been just ten years old–and with figures of kings, toiling laborers, and slowly aging vagabonds punctuated by a Finnish flag, I’m inclined to speculate that he was depicting Finland’s struggle for independence from the Russian Empire (and the Swedes before that), which it had only gained in 1917. And if perhaps these placemats were created after Howard Carter’s discovery of King Tuthankhamun’s tomb in 1922, the fad for all things Egyptian–including hieroglyphic forms–may have had an influence on young Eero as well.

Saarinen House dining room, with Gefle dinnerware, Orrefors glassware, and Eero Saarinen placemats. Wall Hanging: Landscape with Tree and Birds designed and woven by Greta Skogster between 1935 and 1939. Photo by Balthazar Korab, (c) Cranbrook Art Museum.

Can’t you just imagine the family gathered at the dining room table, under the glow of that golden ceiling, with Eero’s placemats supporting fine occasional dinnerware as he and Eliel blow out the candles on their birthday cake? Especially if it was this one?

And for those of you that don’t know, Cranbrook Art Museum holds tours of Saarinen House every week, Thursday through Sunday from May to October. Click here to view our tour schedules and rates, and learn more about the home and it’s history!

Posted by Shelley Selim
2013-2015 Jeanne and Ralph Graham Collections Fellow
Cranbrook Art Museum

From the Files: The Viewpoint ’81 Exhibition at Cranbrook Art Museum

One of the perks of my job is the opportunity to sift through our old files when scholars email us with research questions. One such request led me to our records for Viewpoint ’81, an exhibition of works by six artists created for and painted directly on the gallery walls at Cranbrook Art Museum. Daniel Buren, Gene Davis, Sol LeWitt, Patrick Ireland, Rick Paul, and Dorothea Rockburne each contributed to the installation, which was up from January 20 to March 1, 1981.

Cranbrook Art Museum Viewpoint '81 brochure, 1981

I could kiss whoever documented the development of this exhibition. When I got to the old metal file cabinets in storage, I found folders filled with hundreds of slides showing the installation process, along with photographs and mail correspondence between artists and museum employees. Above is the cover of the brochure produced for the show. You can view it in its entirety by clicking this link: Viewpoint ’81 Brochure.

Before the age of desktop publishing, printed materials like this brochure were often created by manually assembling a paste up of each page layout and photomechanically reproducing it. Speaking on behalf of Generation Y, this is mindblowing. But sure enough, in our exhibition files I also found the photographs reproduced in the brochure, encased in paper frames with measurements for the paste up!

Installation of Sol LeWitt's Six Geometric Figures on Red, Yellow, Blue and Black Walls, with measurements for paste up layout.

And some gems from the color slides, most of which were likely photographed by Roy Slade, 1977-1994 Director of the Cranbrook Academy of Art and organizer of the exhibition:

Installation of Sol LeWitt's Six Geometric Figures on Red, Yellow, Blue and Black Walls in Cranbrook Art Museum's North Gallery

Rick Paul's Black and White Series #3 in progress

A CAA student

Cranbrook Academy of Art Director Roy Slade overseeing the installation of Patrick Ireland's (a.k.a. Brian O'Doherty) Wall Painting #6 (without rope) for Joe and Sadie, 1981

Installation of Gene Davis's Black Yo-Yo

Gene Davis's Black Yo-Yo took up the entire available wall space in Cranbrook's Main Gallery

Sol LeWitt was notorious for sending postcards in abundance throughout his life, even for business purposes. This occasion was no different:

Postcard from Sol LeWitt to Roy Slade, December 1980

And finally, the true impetus behind the blog post: a wonderful interview with Gene Davis about the exhibition and his artistic practice, conducted by CAM’s Curator of Collections John Gerard. As far as I can tell, no one has published a monograph on Davis since the paste up days, so perhaps this interview will prove useful for future researchers. Here is a link to the transcript:  Interview with Gene Davis.

Shelley Selim
2013-2015 Jeanne and Ralph Graham Collections Fellow
Cranbrook Art Museum

Saarinen Heaven at the Dam Site Inn

Cranbrook Sighting # 12
Sighter: Shelley Selim
Sighted: Saarinen Tulip Furniture Galore!
Location: The Dam Site Inn, Pellston, Michigan
Date: June 28, 2014

At the end of June my beau and I embarked on a Michigan road trip, driving up north to Mackinac and down the western coast of the state. The Island, Tunnel of Trees, Sleeping Bear Dunes, and plenty of breweries made the list, and when Cranbrook Art Museum director Gregory Wittkopp mentioned to me a restaurant and cocktail bar in Pellston filled with Eero Saarinen furniture, I knew we had to take a special detour.

Cocktail Bar at the Dam Site Inn, Pellston, Michigan

Behold, the Dam Site Inn! A staple on the Maple River since 1953, it seems little has changed about the decor since it opened, and how wonderfully so! It is quite a feeling to sip a Manhattan in this Saarinen tulip garden, and the wood paneling and whimsical brass light fixtures supplement the nostalgic ambiance. Aside from the furniture, my favorite decorative features of the bar were the textile wall panels, visible in the above photo and shown in detail below.

Wall covering at the Dam Site Inn

Biomorphic and boomerang patterns in glistening, silky gold–did a Ruth Adler Schnee textile get caught in a disco inferno? Incredible. A must-see if you ever find yourself in Pellston!

Shelley Selim
2013-2015 Jeanne and Ralph Graham Collections Fellow
Cranbrook Art Museum

Summer Exhibitions are Now Open!

After many weeks of install, Cranbrook Art Museum was thrilled to unveil six new summer exhibitions over the weekend! Our team of preparators at the museum is truly outstanding, and it was a joy to watch all of the shows slowly come to life through all of their hard work. When I’ve had spare moments these past few weeks, I’ve taken the opportunity to walk through the galleries and photograph some of the installation for our Instagram page. Here are a few more highlights of the design and construction process:

Beginnings of the purple rhombus didactic panel for Modern/Moderna

Modern/Moderna Screening Room

Cranbrook Goes to the Movies, ready for object placement

Bust of a Chippewa Man and a stuffed Red Head Duck

Curator Shoshana Resnikoff tests the lighting for the Kingswood School Cranbrook Tennis Championship Bowl in Cranbrook Goes to the Movies

With objects inside their vitrines, the Movies installation evokes a moody specimen shelf!

 

South Gallery, prepped for Paul Evans: Crossing Boundaries and Crafting Modernism

A couch and a coffee table from Evans's Directional Furniture Line

This Paul Evans Cityscape cabinet makes beautiful shadows on the walls

The lower galleries get painted for Warhol on Vinyl: The Record Covers, 1949-1987+

Enter the Vitrines!

Records and wall text after placement in Warhol on Vinyl

 

The Meditator, pre-paint and pholage, for Culture Breakers: The Living Structures of Ken Isaacs. All three Living Structures were built by 2010 CAA 3D Design graduate Reed Wilson.

The long pholaging process

Preparators John, Mario, Michael (hi!), and Mark assemble the Meditator

Shoshana takes the Meditator for a test run

Beginnings of the Title Wall, designed by Detroit's Unsold Studios

Midway through...

The final product!

Our brand new program of exhibitions is now open for the summer and into the fall. Check out some photos from Friday’s Member’s Opening on our Facebook page and come visit in person to enjoy all the fruits of our labor–Cranbrook Art Museum is open every Wednesday through Sunday, 11am to 5pm!!

Shelley Selim
2013-2015 Jeanne and Ralph Graham Collections Fellow
Cranbrook Art Museum