Arnold Blanch’s The Hunters

Arnold Blanch
The Hunters
Circa 1947
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.

Arnold Blanch, The Hunters, circa 1947

Arnold Blanch, The Hunters, circa 1947

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!

Jacqueline Honet
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.

“Nick Cave: Here Hear” to Open at Cranbrook Art Museum on June 20


Museum Exhibition and Performance Series Run Through October

Bloomfield Hills, Mich., May 28, 2015 – The stage is being set for Nick Cave’s most ambitious project to date – Nick Cave: Here Hear. The exhibition will open at Cranbrook Art Museum on Saturday, June 20, with a special ArtMembers’ Opening Reception on Friday, June 19. A media preview of the exhibition will be held on June 18 from 10am-noon.

The celebration will continue through the weekend, with a special performance in Detroit’s Brightmoor and Old Redford communities on Sunday, June 21. Join us at 2pm for a screening of Cave’s video work at the historic Redford Theatre, followed by a celebration from 3-6pm at The Artist Village featuring food, music, and dancers in soundsuits – who will join the party in an impromptu flash mob. Both events are free and open to the public.

The Brightmoor celebration is just one of several events Cave is staging over the course of seven months throughout metro Detroit. The performance series kicked off last month when Cave began “invading” the city of Detroit for a series of site-specific photo shoots. He was spotted at locations such as Eastern Market, the Dequindre Cut, the African Bead Museum, and many more. The photos will be published in the forthcoming book, Nick Cave: Greetings From Detroit, which will be available for purchase at Cranbrook Art Museum. The book is designed by Bob Faust, with photographs by Corine Vermeulen and an essay by Laura Mott.

The Exhibition at Cranbrook Art Museum

The exhibition at Cranbrook Art Museum will begin in the Main Gallery with a collection of approximately 30 sculptural soundsuits, 11 of which are new and on display for the first time. The Museum’s North Gallery is devoted to a newly commissioned installation of nine black and white soundsuits surrounded by a new wall-based tapestry inspired by Cave’s childhood watching the night sky. An additional gallery will feature a selection of his recent wall-based artwork and sculpture, including a new work inspired by Trayvon Martin. Finally, the “Map in Action” room will serve as a hub for the Detroit Performance Series and display the wearable soundsuits that will come and go to performances throughout the city of Detroit. Video footage of the performances will be added to the room throughout the duration of the show, thereby becoming a living document of the entire project. The exhibition is curated by Laura Mott, Curator of Contemporary Art and Design at Cranbrook Art Museum.

The Performance Series

This exhibition is Cave’s first solo exhibition in the state of Michigan, and for him, it was critical to involve the city of Detroit in the project. Cave is a 1989 graduate of Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, and he has said the time he spent in Detroit was critical to his growth as an artist. “My goal,” says the artist, “is to work with those who live in and love the city, and to reimagine Detroit as an always-surprising environment of creativity, excitement, and engagement. My dreams for the city are big, because I believe it is important for Detroit to be dreaming ambitiously at this moment about its own future.”

Cave will be using his time in Detroit to engage the area in a philosophy he calls “collective dreaming.”

This will be Cave’s largest performance series to date. He will design Dance Labs in partnership with the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD); work with LBGTQ young adults from the Ruth Ellis Center in Highland Park to create the performance Up Right Detroit; and work with students from the Detroit School of Arts and the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy for Heard•Detroit, a procession of 30 life-size horse sculptures operated by 60 high school dancers that will parade along Detroit’s riverfront on Saturday, September 26. Cave’s project will culminate at the end of the exhibition in October, when the artist will stage Figure This: Detroit, a massive public performance at Detroit’s Masonic Temple on Sunday, October 4.

This project has attracted a wide variety of sponsors and community partners who are eager to share Cranbrook Art Museum’s desire to spread creative positivity throughout Detroit. The Presenting Sponsors are the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Ford Foundation.

The Knight Foundation, through their Knight Arts Challenge Detroit initiative, looks to fund ideas that engage and enrich Detroit through the arts. Cranbrook Art Museum received a matching grant of $150,000 from the Knight Foundation to kick-off this ambitious project. According to Dennis Scholl, vice president of arts for Knight Foundation, “Detroit’s future is being driven by the cultural creatives who have big ideas for their city. It’s an honor to help bring visual artist Nick Cave back to the Michigan, to engage many more people in thinking creatively about their lives, their neighborhoods, their Detroit.”

The Ford Foundation also understands the impact of the creative sector on the city’s restoration. “The creative sector is playing a significant role in the revitalization of the city of Detroit and the power of Nick Cave’s work to transform those who interact with it is limitless,” said Hilary Pennington, Vice President of Education, Creativity and Free Expression at the Ford Foundation. “We believe in The Art of Change to create economies of empathy and build movements on the path to social justice, especially in Detroit.”

Leadership Sponsors include Quicken Loans with their Opportunity Detroit mission and The Kresge Foundation. The Major Sponsor is The Taubman Foundation. Supporting Sponsors include Strategic Staffing Solutions, the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs and the National Endowment for the Arts, the Masco Corporation Foundation, Maggie and Bob Allesee, and the Jack Shainman Gallery. Community Partners include the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy, the Ruth Ellis Center, Detroit School of Arts, the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD), and Detroit Public Television.

The ambitious 2015 schedule of events for Nick Cave: Here Hear, includes:

June 19
Nick Cave: Here Hear ArtMembers’ Opening Reception at Cranbrook Art Museum. Memberships may be purchased in advance via our website or at the front desk the evening of the event.
June 20
Nick Cave: Here Hear opens to the public at Cranbrook Art Museum
June 21
A screening of Cave’s video work at the historic Redford Theatre, followed by a celebration at The Artist Village, engaging the Brightmoor, Old Redford and Northwest Detroit communities. Free and open to the public.
July Up Right: Detroit. Nick Cave will create a new film featuring a performance with participants from the Ruth Ellis Center. Conceived by Cave as an “act of initiation” and a preparation of the mind, body, spirit, and selfhood, a group of African-American men will undergo a ritual of being costumed in elaborate soundsuits, before they reenter the city, transformed. The new film will premiere at Cranbrook in September.
July/August: Cranbrook Art Museum will partner with the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD) to present three Dance Labs designed by Nick Cave. He will pair three local dance companies with three groups of musicians to create their own choreographed works with his extraordinary soundsuits. The free public performances will be staged at the following locations:

Sunday, July 19, 4pm
The Ruth Ellis Center
77 Victor St
Highland Park, MI 48203

Sunday, July 26, 4pm
The Dequindre Cut
A below-street level path that runs parallel to St. Aubin Street, between Mack Avenue and Woodbridge Street just north of the riverfront in Detroit.

Friday, July 31, 6:30-7:30pm
Campus Martius
800 Woodward Ave
Detroit, MI 48226

Sept. 26
As a continuation of his renowned performance series, Nick Cave will present Heard•Detroit as a partnership between Cranbrook Art Museum, the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy and the Detroit School of Arts. The project will feature a procession of as many as 30 life-size horse sculptures operated by 60 high-school dancers along the Detroit riverfront. A dreamlike vision that stops everyday life for a collective transformative moment, Heard•Detroit will be performed by talented dancers and musicians attending the Detroit School of Arts, one of four magnet schools in the Detroit Public School system. The performance along the riverfront will be free and open to the public. Meet at Milliken State Park (near the hill), and across from the Outdoor Adventure Center. Rain date is September 27 (time TBD).
October 4
The culmination of the project will be Figure This: Detroit, a large-scale performance comprised of the dances and music from the Dance Labs, a presentation by children of their Cave-inspired creations, and be the live performance premiere of the artist’s new artwork Up Right: Detroit. This final performance will be staged in Detroit’s Masonic Temple for an audience of hundreds. Tickets for this free event will be available through Cranbrook Art Museum. Details will be posted on our website later this summer.

Follow the project on our website: Nick Cave: Here Hear.

For high-resolution images, visit this link:

EDITOR’S NOTE: If you plan to attend the media preview on June 18, from 10am – noon, please contact:

Julie Fracker
Cranbrook Academy of Art and 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

Warhol on Vinyl (It’s Record Store Day Tomorrow!)

We’re big vinyl connoisseurs here at the Art Museum. One of us collects albums with covers featuring mid-century furniture (like this one!). Another spent a weekend scouring every record store in Stockholm for a Swedish pressing of Lee Hazlewood’s Cowboy in Sweden, to no avail. So it’s no surprise that we are pretty pumped for Record Store Day tomorrow, an annual nationwide event–held on the third Saturday of April–for which record stores feature limited edition pressings and exclusive releases from hundreds of musicians, new and old.

Record collecting has experienced a surge in recent years, particularly for my generation. If we want to get diagnostic, it all could be chalked up to a cultural response to the immateriality of music (and more broadly, our lives in general); a longing for the days past when music–in its vinyl manifestation–was tangible, permanent, and thus held more personal value. But there’s also that big, beautiful album cover to consider. It’s just not the same in its 72-pixel form on the screen of a smartphone. How is one to appreciate the true graphic genius of an Alex Steinweiss at that scale?!

Warhol Album Art

This summer, Cranbrook Art Museum will celebrate one artist’s mastery of the album cover with Warhol On Vinyl: The Record Covers, 1949-1987+, opening June 21st. Andy Warhol designed over fifty album covers in the duration of his career, and in the first exhibition of its kind, the world’s preeminent collection of these works–generously donated to the museum by Frank M. Edwards and Ann Williams–will be on display in its entirety. Viewers are invited to examine the interplay between Warhol’s mass-produced graphic designs and the fine artworks that brought him his greatest notoriety–and with the additional display of record covers appropriating the artist’s imagery after his death, we can also examine the impact of the art world’s greatest “borrower” on future generations of creatives. More details about the exhibition are on our museum website.

But this isn’t Cranbrook Art Museum’s first foray into the motley realm of album art. In January of 1979, the museum mounted Record Album Art and the Recording/Artist, a touring exhibition from Syracuse University’s Joe and Emily Lowe Art Gallery, curated by Nancy Alder. The show featured a melange of album covers spanning the twentieth century, and considered the historical progression of the design process, visual trends, and the interplay of fine and commercial art.

Zephyr, Sunset Ride, 1972

The cover illustration for Zephyr’s Sunset Ride (1972) by David Willardson was highlighted for its allusions to the Art Deco travel poster–like this one or this Villemot.

Erich Leinsdorf and the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, Wagner: Prelude and Love Death and Strauss: Death and Transfiguration, 1962. Cover art by Ben Shahn. Image via

The Social Realist painter Ben Shahn is celebrated for his contributions to graphic design–perhaps the most recognizable being his incredible posters created for the Office of War Administration during World War II, all but two of which went unpublished. He designed many original album covers (one amazing Pinterest user has assembled most of them here), but was also known to simply reuse works from his painting repertory. The above Leinsdorf-conducted recording of Wagner and Strauss, which was also displayed in the exhibition, features Shahn’s The Phoenix on its cover, a gouache and ink work he executed a decade earlier.

Fortuitously, a review of Record Album Art and the Recording/Artist in Art Journal noted, “[A]lthough the show’s emphasis seems to have settled on the historical evolution of record packaging as an art form…the direct hand of “fine” pop artists has also been visible. Some seven years ago I was belatedly introduced to the Rolling Stones via Andy Warhol’s witty album for Sticky Fingers: a screen print of jeans incorporating a real zipper opening to an inner print of hirsute nudity. The time didn’t seem ripe to donate  it to our favorite stuffy museum’s graphics department, but it should surface again in a Warhol retrospective–and the Syracuse show paves the way.”

We look forward to seeing fellow vinylphiles at the Warhol exhibition this summer, and feel free to share your favorite album artwork in the comments. I’m pretty partial to Nick Price’s illustration for Never For Ever myself.

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


“College Museum News: Exhibitions,” Art Journal 37, no. 3 (1978): 256.

Catherine Murphy’s Nighttime Self-Portrait

Catherine Murphy
Nighttime Self-Portrait
Oil on canvas
16 ¾ x 16 1/8 inches
Gift of Rose M. Shuey, from the Collection of Dr. John and Rose M. Shuey
Image © Catherine Murphy

From this gusty tundra of unrelenting frigidity (-20 degrees with windchill today!), we here at Cranbrook Art Museum would like to extend our warmest and most heartfelt congratulations to Catherine Murphy, the 2013 winner of the Robert De Niro, Sr., Prize, awarded to one outstanding mid-career artist each year. Since the 1960s, Murphy’s representational paintings have been widely exhibited and prolifically produced, but the artist’s talent for nuanced channels of perception remains at times underappreciated.

Catherine Murphy, Nighttime Self-Portrait, 1985

Cranbrook Art Musum holds Murphy’s Nighttime Self-Portrait (1985) in its permanent collection, acquired as part of a generous gift of contemporary paintings and sculpture from the Collection of Dr. John and Rose M. Shuey in 2001. The Shueys were principally drawn to abstraction during their many decades of collecting, but the somber power of Murphy’s Nighttime so deeply enthralls, it is no wonder they made an exception for this piece. (And, when pressed, Rose Shuey told museum director Gregory Wittkopp that this painting was one of her personal favorites). Confronting the roles of observation and audience, Murphy’s own darkened countenance is captured within a window reflection, conflating the positions of both artist and viewer. Hidden behind a window mullion, a fracture in elevation between the porch and the front of the house subtly reveals the passing of time. Here Murphy challenges the immediacy of the captured image and highlights the minute variables in every mode of awareness.

Personally, I delight in Murphy’s work from the 1980s for its inquisitiveness of perspective and examination of the ordinary. With a quality reminiscent of Vilhelm Hammershøi’s haunting domestic vignettes, her glances up stairwells and through windows and doors are muted in tone and both meticulous and hazy, evoking the dreamy disquiet of a vivid memory. As Linda Nochlin has noted, Murphy’s paintings are “charged with a very contemporary awareness of the ambiguities of the domestic, of the ways, both dramatic and subtle, that the known shades into the mysterious, the personal into the objective, the cozy in to the uncanny.”

Bravo, Ms. Murphy! We are so thrilled for you, and look forward to many more years of enchanting artistic output.

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

Diane Kirkpatrick, “Catherine Murphy,” in Three Decades of Contemporary Art: The Dr. John & Rose M. Shuey Collection, ed. Dora Apel (Bloomfield Hills, MI: Cranbrook Art Museum, 2001), 66.

A Tale of Two Paintings – Cranbrook and the University of Michigan

At the Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research, we spend a lot of time thinking about ourselves.  That sounds self-centered, but it’s the nature of the job – we uncover connections between different areas of Cranbrook, building historical and cultural relationships that help us to better preserve Cranbrook history and shape its future.  Cranbrook doesn’t exist in a vacuum, though, which is why it’s important for us to take a step back and look at the larger Cranbrook connections out there in the world.   And really, what better place to start than 18th-century Canada?

I know that sounds crazy, but run with me on this.  In 1759 the British war hero General Wolfe was killed at the Battle of Quebec City on the Plains of Abraham, a battle which the British won.  Posthumously celebrated as one of the great British military leaders, General Wolfe and his heroic death were immortalized in both art and literature.  In 1770, the American expat artist Benjamin West tried his hand at the subject, painting The Death of General Wolfe.  Ultimately, that painting, and the five later versions also made by West, went on to become the iconic image of General Wolfe and a symbol of the British empire.

The Death of General Wolfe, Benjamin West, 1776
William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan

But what does this have to do with Cranbrook?  Well, in 1928 William L. Clements bought one of the six identified General Wolfes and donated it, along with his extensive library of early Americana, to the University of Michigan in order to build the William L. Clements Library.  In the same year, George Booth bought a version of The Death of General Wolfe on the understanding that it was also a Benjamin West.  Booth’s General Wolfe is very different from the other versions, however, and there has long been debate over whether the painting is actually a West.  Regardless of its origins, however, The Death of General Wolfe has hung in Cranbrook School for over 80 years.

The Death of General Wolfe, attributed to Benjamin West, 1791
Cranbrook School

Fast forward to 2012 when the University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA) borrowed the Clements Library’s The Death of General Wolfe to showcase it in an incredible exhibition called Benjamin West: General Wolfe and the Art of Empire.  When the information about this exhibition came across a desk at the Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research, it was like a light-bulb went off.  Two versions of The Death of General Wolfe just 45 miles apart, each purchased in 1928 by avid collectors?  Could there be a more perfect Cranbrook connection?  And with that the Day Away program was born.

The Day Away program is about exploring Cranbrook connections with the wider world, and so on December 1st a group of Cranbrook enthusiasts spent the day immersing themselves in all things Wolfe and West.  We started the day at Cranbrook School’s Page Hall, where CS instructor Jeffrey Welch described the historical context for Booth’s acquisition of General Wolfe and I gave a brief overview of Benjamin West, providing a visual analysis of the features of both paintings.

Day Away participants bravely gathering early in the morning for a brief lecture on West and Cranbrook at Page Hall.

From there we boarded a bus and drove to Ann Arbor.  At UMMA we were met by exhibition curator Carol McNamara, who took us through Benjamin West: General Wolfe and the Art of Empire.  Her masterful analysis integrated the painting into a constellation of objects that ranged from a lock of Wolfe’s hair to mundane household goods.  By examining the material culture related to General Wolfe, Carol was able to show how West’s painting became the defining image of the general, transforming him into a symbol for the newly formed British imperial identity and enshrining Wolfe within the pantheon of great British leaders.

UMMA exhibition curator Carol McNamara explores connections between the material culture of the late 18th century and the mythology surrounding General Wolfe.

Following lunch at the Kelsey Museum of Archeology (where a few of us slipped away to catch a glimpse of the incredible Tiffany window installed in the Kelsey’s reading room) we finished our day at Clements Library.    Housed in an Albert Kahn-designed building that the architect described as his greatest achievement, the Clements is one of the worlds’ greatest repositories of early American written and printed material.  Director Kevin Graffagnino spoke with us about the history of the Clements and its future plans.  He set us loose on the library and even let us page through some of their treasures.   Not only did the visit further contextualize The Death of General Wolfe into the world of 18th century colonial politics, but it highlighted even greater the Cranbrook connections.  Here was a temple to history and learning, dreamt up by a passionate collector and designed by a great architect of the twentieth century.  Replace “early Americana” with “art and education” and you have Cranbrook in a nutshell.

Alfred Kahn’s masterpiece, the William L. Clements Library at the University of Michigan.

With our time at the Clements coming to a close, we boarded the bus and headed back to Bloomfield Hills.  On the bus ride back we took an informal vote whether or not we thought Cranbrook’s General Wolfe was really a West.  As a group we decided that no, it probably wasn’t.  Still, we won’t know for sure until a West expert checks it out.  Even if the bus group is right, though, and Cranbrook’s Death of General Wolfe is not by West, we can still look at the painting hanging in Cranbrook’s Page Hall and see not only a history of 18th century British military heroism but also a record of Cranbrook connections that extend beyond the 319 acres of this campus far out into the world.

Zoltan Sepeshy’s Mural on Beaver Island

Sighter: Gregory Wittkopp
Sighted: Zoltan Sepeshy, Hauling in the Nets, 1940
Location: Beaver Island, MI
Date: August 18, 2012

“Dad, have we ever gone on a vacation without visiting a museum?” My daughter, who now is a college Junior, asked me that question some ten or twelve years ago. While I don’t remember where we were when she asked the question, I do remember the answer:  “Probably not.”

So here I am on vacation on Beaver Island, a relatively remote island in the middle of northern Lake Michigan, writing my first blog entry for Cranbrook Art Museum. And yes, my daughter and I are in a museum, the island’s Maritime Museum, sitting in front of a large mural by none other than Cranbrook Academy of Art’s second president, Zoltan Sepeshy.

To get an idea of how incongruous this Cranbrook “sighting” really is, you need to get a sense of the context. While quite large (picture an island the size of Manhattan), Beaver Island has a year-round population of less than 500 people, many of whom are descendents of its nineteenth-century Irish fishermen. Now and again you meet someone that has a connection to the island’s most infamous resident, King James Strang. Strang was Brigham Young’s rival who, instead of leading his flock of Mormons to Utah, brought them in 1846 to this Michigan island where his self-proclaimed kingdom could exist—literally on the edge of state law. While this kingdom lasted but a few years (he was shot and killed in 1856, ostensibly by disgruntled followers), his legacy continues to this day in many of the island’s place names, including Lake Geneserath, King’s Highway, and Mt. Pisgah, to list just a few.

Although Sepeshy and his family vacationed on Crystal Lake near Frankfurt, southwest of here on the Michigan mainland, it is doubtful that the Cranbrook painter ever took the ferry from Charlevoix to the island’s only town, St. James. But the mural he painted in 1940 for the Lincoln Park Post Office near Detroit somehow made its way to the island in the summer of 1967 where it remains in the care of the Beaver Island Historical Society. The thirteen-foot long, egg tempura mural, Hauling in the Nets, depicts three brawny fishermen as they struggle to lift a net-load of whitefish into their small open boat. No, it is not a depiction of local fishermen. The imagery, nevertheless, connects with an important chapter of local history, which is why it continues to resonate with the island’s residents generations after commercial fishing ended in Lake Michigan. And to the rest of the museum’s visitors—including my daughter and me—the mural is a compelling work by an American Scene painter who deserves far more attention than he has received. But enough about art and museums, it’s time to walk over to the shed across the street and buy some fresh whitefish to grill tonight.

Posted by Gregory Wittkopp
Director, Cranbrook Art Museum and Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research