History

View of the Art Museum peristyle through Nichols Gates, 1952

View of the Art Museum peristyle through Nichols Gates, 1952
Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives

 

Cranbrook Academy of Art, known as the cradle of American modernism, continues to have a significant impact on the world of art, architecture, and design completely disproportionate to its size.

Outstanding artists, architects and designers – the Saarinens, Ray and Charles Eames, Florence Knoll, Jack Lenor Larsen, Donald Lipski, Duane Hanson, Lorraine Wild, Nick Cave and Hani Rashid, to name only a few – have been a part of Cranbrook’s community of artists. Lasting friendships formed at the Academy lead to future professional collaboration. Our alumni have an international influence through their individual artistic practices and teaching professions.
Cranbrook Academy of Art is part of the 319-acre Cranbrook Educational Community, described as “one of the most enchanted architectural settings in America.” The community was founded by George Gough Booth, a Detroit newspaper baron and philanthropist, who soon hired Eliel Saarinen the Finnish architect who occupies a major position in the history of modern American design and architecture. Both were inspired by the vision of the Arts and Crafts movement, which began in England in the mid-nineteenth century and soon spread to the United States. The Arts and Crafts movement appealed to George Booth aesthetically and morally. He hoped its influence would banish tasteless, mass-produced goods from American homes. He believed that craftsmanship would result in superior products and provide the foundation for an ethically responsible life. Cranbrook would come to support those ideals and satisfy the desire of its founders to achieve something of lasting value and significance.

In 1904, George Gough and Ellen Scripps Booth bought the property that would become Cranbrook, and spent their first years at Cranbrook landscaping the property and constructing their family home designed by Albert Kahn. With their estate established, they began the buildings for public use. The Greek Theatre was built in 1916, Christ Church Cranbrook was completed in 1928, plans for boys and girls schools were begun and foremost in their minds, and plans were made for an academy of art based on their visit to the American Academy in Rome. At the suggestion of his son Henry, George Booth approached Eliel Saarinen, a visiting professor in architectural design at the University of Michigan, with his idea for an academy of art. Ultimately Booth invited Saarinen to move to Cranbrook from Finland to oversee the architectural and landscape development of the campus. The Cranbrook School for Boys was completed in 1928, Kingswood School (for girls) in 1931, and the Cranbrook Art Museum and Library building in 1942.

Informal art education began at the Academy in the late 1920s, in studios built for the artists and crafts people working with Saarinen. The Academy of Art was officially sanctioned in 1932 with Saarinen installed as president. He continued to design new buildings for the campus with Academy student apprentices. The original Cranbrook Institute of Science building was completed in 1937 and the Academy art museum and library in 1942. The campus is a National Historic Landmark, considered the most complete example of Saarinen’s genius. It is an architectural and horticultural treasure where Academy students live and work today, inspired to write their own history in an environment of beauty and innovation.

Recent additions to the Cranbrook Educational Community campus uphold the international standard of excellence set by Booth and Saarinen. Spanish architect Rafael Moneo designed the New Studios Building addition to the Academy and Art Museum that opened in 2002. Other contemporary buildings at Cranbrook include Stephen Holl’s addition to Cranbrook Institute of Science, Todd Williams and Billie Tsien’s Natatorium on the Cranbrook School campus, Peter Rose’s addition to Brookside School, and Lake-Flato’s Girls Middle School.

Charles Eames (behind camera), Eero Saarinen to the left of Eliel Saarinen (center with hat) and architecture students on peristyle steps of the Cranbrook Art Museum, 1941

Charles Eames (behind camera), Eero Saarinen to the left of Eliel Saarinen (center with hat) and architecture students on peristyle steps of the Cranbrook Art Museum, 1941
Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives

Cranbrook School and Art Academy studios, 1938

Cranbrook School and Art Academy studios, 1938
Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives

View of the design department with students. Charles Eames (center) is crouched on floor and behind him is a prototype chair for Kleinhans Music Hall, 1940

View of the design department with students.
Charles Eames (center) is crouched on floor and behind him is a prototype chair for Kleinhans Music Hall, 1940
Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives

The Swedish weavers in the lower level of the weaving studio. From left, Elizabeth Edmark, Marie Bexell, Peggy Broberg, Gerda Nyberg, 1935

The Swedish weavers in the lower level of the weaving studio.
From left, Elizabeth Edmark, Marie Bexell, Peggy Broberg, Gerda Nyberg, 1935
Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives

 

Academy of Art faculty and students, 1941

Academy of Art faculty and students, 1941
Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives

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