Design in America: The Cranbrook Vision, 1925-1950

Edited by Robert Clark and Andrea Belloli (1984)

As Neil Harris explains in one of the book’s most interesting essays, Cranbrook derived from the arts and crafts movement that started in mid- 19th-century England as a reaction against shoddy industrial output and that, spreading speedily through northern Europe, resulted in the foundation of several schools aimed at reforming design by relating it more to art and life.

The Cranbrook complex, consisting of a church, schools for children, residences, studios and workshops, took about nine years to complete, by which time it had become – not an art school, but, in the words of the architect Eliel Saarinen, ”a working place for creative arts.” The emphasis, says Robert Judson Clark in his essay, was more on ”place, people and experience than on curriculum and methods.” Still, during World War II, this shifted to more orthodox concerns – credits, degrees and specific courses in, for instance, industrial design.

The influence of the Saarinens diminishes as the first generation of Cranbrook students comes of age, in the 1940s. The students include Ray and Charles Eames, represented by architecture and furniture; Florence Knoll, with interiors, and Harry Bertoia, with welded-metal sculptures.

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