CRANBROOK SIGHTINGS: INSIDE THE VAULT
Oil on canvas
30 x 48 inches
Collection of Cranbrook Art Museum (CAM 1970.28)
Gift of J. L. Hudson Company
With summer fast approaching (though it does not always feel like it in mercurial Michigan!), it’s about time that we let ourselves take a break from our everyday lives of work and obligations to imagine ourselves in the soon-to-be summer sun, carefree and radiant. For some children, summer means boundless days, free from the shackles of oppressive homework. For others, summer is merely a lazy day on the hammock or a leisurely bike ride to the ice cream parlor. For some of us here in Michigan, summer promises treks up north, to the glistening lakes and sun-kissed days. It is truly beautiful here, whether summer or any other season, and it is this beauty that Arnold Blanch captures in his oil painting, The Hunters, which the Cranbrook Art Museum holds in its collection.
In 1946, the J.L. Hudson Company, a Detroit-based department store chain, commissioned ten artists to convey every phase of Michigan life—natural and urban, agricultural and industrial—to portray to the people of Michigan the unique beauty of living in their great state. These artists were presented with the phrase that emblazons the Michigan seal: “Si Quaeris Peninsulum Amoenam Circumspice,” or for those of us who do not speak Latin, “If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you.” This is exactly what these artists did, Blanch, as one of the selected painters, included. They looked about them and they let what they saw and experienced in Michigan pour out of them onto the canvas.
At the time when these works were being commissioned, thousands of vacationers flocked to Michigan to enjoy the abundant fishing and plentiful water sports that this peninsula and its numerous lakes have to offer. Blanch was among these fishing enthusiasts, saying, “In choosing the painting subjects for this project, I considered recreation, which included hunting and fishing, the most exciting thing to me.” Such excitement can be seen in Blanch’s piece aptly named, The Hunters. In this woodland scene, two men seem to be rounding out a successful day hunting as they cook a meal over their campfire. Their tent is perched open and their makeshift drying rack suspends a deer and a bear, two unlucky animals that these skilled hunters happened upon. Trees stand in the background at varied angles while clouds hover overhead, creating the ideal atmosphere for our two hunters.
For Blanch, a scene first presented itself as an unorganized and often confused pattern of people and objects, elements of which he then flung into his own jumble to create his final work. In many cases, a childish abandon and sense of sincerity and spontaneity pervade his strokes. In his other works, such as The Hunters, a feeling of fortitude and maturity radiate from Blanch’s bold lines. In this way, his work encapsulates the natural beauty of Michigan and embodies the words written on our State seal. The Michigan that Blanch depicts is indeed a “pleasant peninsula.”
Next week, Cranbrook Art Museum mounts Designing Summer: Objects of Escape. The exhibition—which exclusively features works by Michigan designers and makers—examines how summertime in the Great Lakes State is embodied through objects of the past and present. With its campfire and tent, giant pines, and glimmering lake waterline in the distance, The Hunters captures through imagery the same summertime natural romanticism that is represented by many of the works in the show. Come see for yourself—Designing Summer opens Saturday, June 20!
2015 Cranbrook Art Museum Senior May Project Intern
References: Davies, Florence. Michigan on Canvas: The J.L. Hudson Company Collection. N.p.: n.p., 1948.
CRANBROOK SIGHTING #2
Sighter: Chad Alligood
Sighted: Tony Rosenthal, T-Square, 1975-76
Location: Detroit, MI
Date: September 24, 2012
Monday morning, 9 a.m. On a typical Monday at this time, I’m settling in to my sweet Knoll-designed desk in our newly-renovated office space at the museum. “Settling in” for me means checking my calendar and email, guzzling Diet Coke, and chowing down on granola bars. But this is no typical Monday: I stepped out of the car with my three museum colleagues into a gritty, industrial corridor on Detroit’s East Side—worlds away from the meticulously manicured lawns and bubbling fountains of Cranbrook’s campus.
This is the setting for Venus Bronze Works, a local firm specializing in the conservation and restoration of outdoor sculpture. Giorgio Gikas, the founder and president of Venus, met us in his massive, hangar-like space to examine and discuss his ongoing conservation of T-Square (1975-1976), a large-scale outdoor steel sculpture by Tony Rosenthal (1914-2009) in the museum’s collection. Works of art that are situated outdoors present their own unique challenges of preservation, and T-Square is no exception: after decades of sitting directly on those aforementioned manicured lawns, the massive sculpture plainly begged for restoration and repair. Years of exposure to rain and snow had caused some elements to rust through, threatening the work’s long-term stability and preservation. Of course, Rosenthal anticipated that his outdoor steel sculptures would develop a layer of rust as they aged. In fact, these installation photographs from the object file show a lovely orange oxidation over the surface of the object in 1978—just two years after its completion!
But by the middle of the 2000s, the deterioration of the steel at the sculpture’s base had begun to compromise its structural viability. In 2004, Gregory Wittkopp, Director of Cranbrook Art Museum, contacted Rosenthal to discuss best practices for conservation and preservation of his outdoor sculpture. The artist recommended a number of steps to conserve the work, including repair of the steel tubes followed by sandblasting, priming, and painting with industrial epoxy coating to preserve the steel. Enter Giorgio, a highly skilled sculptural conservator with over 25 years of experience, and voila—we have the first step in a repaired T-Square.
So far, Giorgio has refabricated interior brackets that had rusted through and reinforced the interior sidewall and other portions of the steel tubing. The next step: sandblasting the weathered surface so that the sealant can adhere. When all is said and done, T-Square can triumphantly return from Giorgio’s workshop—30-odd miles away—back to its home at Cranbrook, where it will rest atop a newly-poured concrete pad to protect it from pooling moisture. One of the potential sites for the sculpture is just outside my window here at the museum…perhaps one Monday morning at 9 a.m. in the not-too-distant future, I can look out my window with a mouth full of granola and smile, knowing that T-Square is in better shape than ever.
Posted by Chad Alligood
2012-13 Jeanne and Ralph Graham Collections Fellow