From Arts and Crafts to Modernism: Discovering Detroit, Cranbrook, and Toledo

Aug 31, 2023

In July 2023, Decorative Arts Trust members enjoyed our second annual Sojourn, this time traveling to stunning sites in Michigan and Ohio. 

Wednesday Walking Tour 

The tour kicked off on Wednesday, July 26, with a walking tour from our digs at the historic Foundation Hotel to must-see buildings in downtown Detroit. Our guide, Kevin Adkisson, Curator at the Cranbrook Center for Education and Research, shared stories of the development of the city center, which boasts an impressive concentration of Art Deco buildings constructed in the boom years of the 1920s. The 1929 Guardian Building with its colorful ceiling of Pewabic and Rookwood tiles was something to behold. We braved a late afternoon downpour, but the rain did not dampen our spirits! We capped off the tour with cocktails and refreshments in the Monarch Club, located at the top of the Neo-Gothic Metropolitan building and providing a fabulous view of the skyline. Our evening concluded with an introductory lecture by Kevin at the nearby Caucus Club, where we also enjoyed dinner.

Thursday at Cranbrook 

Journeying to nearby Bloomfield Hills, members toured Cranbrook, a renowned educational and artistic community on an idyllic campus north of Detroit. Kevin Adkisson, Greg Wittkopp (the Director of the Cranbrook Center for Education and Research), and Nina Blomfield (the Center’s Decorative Arts Trust Marie Zimmermann Collections Fellow), started their tour at Cranbrook House, designed in the English Arts and Crafts style by Albert Kahn for Cranbrook founders George and Ellen Scripps Booth in 1908. Christ Church Cranbrook, created in the 1920s after English Gothic parish churches, features a timberwork hammer-beam roof and colorful, exuberant frescoes executed by Katherine McEwan in the 1920s. Saarinen House, Eliel Saarinen’s Art Deco masterwork, was the home of the architect and his wife, textile trailblazer Loja, from 1930 to 1950. Our special tour of the house included a close look at Saarinen’s thoughtful choices for day-to-day living and entertaining. From the architectural design to the materials and colors used throughout, the house is considered a total work of art. Stops to the Cranbrook Schools’ Dining Hall and Kingswood Dining Hall featured more artistry by the Saarinen family. We continued to examine influential objects created by Cranbrook graduate students at the Cranbrook Art Museum and in the Center for Collections and Research’s archival collection. The day ended at the warm and inviting Smith House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1946, which housed past owners Melvyn and Sarah Smith’s collection of artwork by the Cranbrook community. We benefited from insights by Nina Blomfield, who has been documenting the house’s decorative arts collection for a future publication. Refreshments on the rear porch allowed a welcome opportunity to appreciate Wright’s harmonious integration of the home with the surrounding landscape. 

Exploring Detroit Museums on Friday 

Friday’s adventures began at the Detroit Institute of Arts, where participants were captivated by Diego Rivera’s monumental and enveloping Detroit Industry murals and the museum’s unique architectural details. Curators Ben Colman and Chaz Kirchhoff treated us to special tours of highlights from the American and European decorative arts collections, permitting a close study of the museum’s astounding holdings, which were assembled over the course of more than 100 years. Fine examples of American furniture and European armor were particular favorites. We gathered for lunch at the Park Shelton Building across the street, noted for its exterior design and the fact that Rivera and Frida Kahlo stayed there in 1932 while he was executing the DIA’s murals. Jaunting over to Dearborn, members explored The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation. Highlights included a fine collection of art glass, a fascinating assemblage of American furniture displayed to showcase the evolution of design, and many examples of machinery in the modern era.

Pewabic Pottery and House Tours in the Grosse Pointes on Saturday 

Members had noticed Pewabic tiles decorating a variety of spaces in Detroit, so we were thrilled to have the opportunity to visit the Pewabic Pottery Company for unforgettable tours and demonstrations. Our behind-the-scenes experience included seeing where ceramic objects continue to be molded, fired, and glazed in the captivating Arts and Crafts designs and colors Pewabic has been producing since the turn of the 20th century. (Register to watch our pay-what-you-can Pewabic Pottery Virtual Tour!) Continuing to Grosse Pointe, attendees reveled in the English-countryside-inspired Edsel and Eleanor Ford House and its anglophilic interiors. Closeby but miles away in design perspective, the W. Hawkins Ferry House is a 1964 Modern gem on Lake St. Clair. The current owners, avid supporters of contemporary artists, use the light-filled spaces to display their colorful collections to their best advantage. We marveled at the William Kessler-designed staircase and the unparalleled lake views. The Stratton House, built in 1927 for Pewabic’s Mary Chase and William B. Stratton, presented an altogether different aesthetic. Imbued with warmth, the house features a thoughtful use of natural materials as well as a brilliant incorporation of superb tilework and brickwork. Our kind hosts treated us to refreshments in their magnificent garden. After returning to downtown Detroit, we capped off the day and the Sojourn with dinner at the London Chop House, a storied Motor City institution. 

Post-Tour at the Toledo Museum of Art 

A portion of the group continued on to a special post-Sojourn tour at the Toledo Museum of Art, famous for its glass collection. Bespoke curator-led tours let participants examine objects up close, including the 1925 Glass Dress and Parasol by Libbey Glass Company. The dress is made entirely of glass and is undergoing careful conservation. Rarely seen by public audiences, it inspired awe from our members. Tours of the museum’s astounding decorative arts collection included close examination of special objects, including a recently acquired c.1905 Tiffany Studios lotus lamp and the exuberant marquetry work on an 1856 Joseph Cremer cabinet. Our tours concluded with a delightful lunch in the museum’s atmospheric Glass Pavilion and a glass-blowing demonstration.

All will agree that the Detroit and Cranbrook Sojourn was an enormous success, and we look forward to planning more exciting outings in the future! Learn about the Decorative Arts Trust’s upcoming Sojourns, Symposia, Study Trips Abroad, and Special Programs on our Calendar of Events. Participants must be Trust members, but joining is easy

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Formerly known as the "blog,” the Bulletin features new research and scholarship, travelogues, book reviews, and museum and gallery exhibitions. The Bulletin complements The Magazine of the Decorative Arts Trust, our biannual members publication.


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