Cranbrook & More !

6 Oct

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I love this time of year; days are still warm, leaves are just beginning to change, evenings are getting cooler-hinting at what’s to come. Here in the Mitten it is harvest time, farmers markets are bursting at the seams with fresh produce; apples are plentiful this year. Today we are at the Birmingham Farmer’s Market, going on every Sunday from May to October, it takes place in Municipal Parking Lot #6 at the bottom of the hill on Old Woodward, each year it gets a little bigger. We are greeted by bunches of fresh-cut Zinnias, pots of Mums and music in the distance.  We meander down the aisles, baskets are overflowing with ripe red tomatoes, peppers in a rainbow of colors from red to purple, fancy skinned eggplant and potatoes in a variety of shapes and shades. The marketplace continues to the left, behinds the Woodward storefronts, prepared foods are readily available, the hot dogs smell delicious. Jars of local honey are stacked on a table, they glow in the sunlight, plastic containers are filled with popcorn kernels, artists display their wares. The back of the lot is wooded, picnic tables invite shoppers to indulge in breakfast, lunch, or just sit with a cup of coffee and enjoy the surrounding activities. Vendors are set up under rows of white canopy’s offering baked goods, artistic gourds and gardening advice. Pots of fall perennials are in bloom, tomatoes come in grape, pear and cherry varieties, bundles of Japanese Lanterns look ready for Halloween. With about 70 booths each Sunday seems to be a little different, the quality and selection will make you want to visit often. With only a few weeks left in the season, check it out soon! Time to go, our tour at Cranbrook begins soon.

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In 1887 George G Booth married Ellen Warren Scripps in Detroit; he was the publisher of the Evening News Association and later co-founder of Booth Newspapers, she was the daughter and later heiress to her father James E Scripps, founder of the Detroit News. The exceptionally wealthy couple lived in a magnificent home on Trumbull in Detroit-now the site of Scripps Park, in 1904 they purchased land in Bloomfield Hills and hired Albert Kahn (who else) to build them a summer home, it was called Cranbrook House. In 1908, after the death of James Scripps, the Booth’s made Cranbrook their full-time residence. In 1922 these most generous philanthropists (the Booth’s were also benefactors of the DIA) believed their estate should serve a public purpose, they called on Eliel Saarinen to help complete a master plan and the building of six new institutions began. Booth was an avid student of the Arts and Crafts movement, along with Saarinen he worked closely with sculptor Carl Milles; what they fostered is now a 319 acre campus consisting of the Brookside School for Children, Christ Church Cranbrook, Cranbrook School for Boys, Cranbrook Academy of Art, Cranbrook Institute of Science and the Kingswood School for Girls. The men worked together for decades designing, shaping, forging an enchanted center for learning, thinking and creating. This National Historic Landmark features the works of Eliel Saarinen, Albert Kahn, Steven Holl, Carl Milles, Marshall Fredericks, Peter Rose, Tod Willaims and Billie Tsien. A center of education, science and art, it serves students from Pre K to Graduate students, the Booths deeded their home, contents and surrounding property to the Cranbrook Foundation in 1944 and continued living on the premises until their deaths. Today we are doing a walking tour,The Cranbrook Vision: Architecture, Landscape and Sculpture.

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We meet our guide inside the Cranbrook Art Museum, designed by Eliel Saarinen and built in 1942 it is a wonderful example of Mid Century Modern architecture. It is only the two of us on the 1:00 tour, we begin just outside the museum; to one side is the well-known Orpheus Fountain completed in 1937 by Carl Milles, to the other the Triton Pools; a long pool made up of a series of three tiered basins designed by Saarinen and bronze Triton sculptures by Milles, the sight is breathtaking. The entire campus was designed on an axis, standing in this location our eyes are treated to panoramic views leading through arches, past sculptures ending at thoughtfully placed structures; every tree, every walkway was planned. Walking towards Lone Pine Rd we stop and gaze at the Triton Pools, the Nichols Gate (Saarinen 1941) parallels the narrow roadway, a delicate design in wrought iron flanked by Milles sitting boars.  Cranbrook is beautiful year-long but there’s something special about visiting in the fall, the students have moved in, the grounds are buzzing with activity, the scenery is outstanding. As we walk towards the dining hall we pass Milles Sunglitter sculpture and his Siren with Fishes fountain, I simply have to stop and look at each piece. We encounter walkways of patterned brick, walls with stone accent pieces, and arched passageways, all embellished with amazing detail, many with an Art Deco flair. It’s as if we’ve been transported to a different place and time, as close to Europe as you’re going to get in the Midwest.

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Our guide is filled with interesting stories and information, once we step inside the dining hall her voice falls on deaf ears as we take in this extraordinary room. Designed by Saarinen, the rectangular dining room looks like it’s straight out of Harry Potter; barrel-vaulted ceiling, long, narrow leaded glass windows allow sunlight to flood the room-no two are alike, original tables and chairs still serve the students well, the parquet floor gleams in this light. Indoor lighting consists of 2 rows of unique fixtures resembling inverted glass shades that dangle from long chains, they are elegant and again create a bit of an Art Deco feel, a large fireplace anchors one wall. Back outdoors we study the building, everything here is a work of art; doors, windows, brickwork, it seems we are never far from the sound of water splashing in a fountain or a marvelous Milles sculpture. Buildings and spaces were created by architects, artists and gardeners, creating areas of beauty, respite. We are now in the quadrangle, an expanse of green grass softens the hardscape, architectural elements include copper gutters, carved wood doors, bronze sculptures, archways and the Quadrangle fountain, it is all so picturesque.

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Our walk leads us to the Williams Natatorium, built in 1999, designed by Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, this 20,000 sq ft building is spectacular. Housing an eight-lane swimming pool, it feels as if you are swimming outdoors; a deep blue ceiling opens to the elements through skylights, outside the large windows, trees and plantings give the impression of seclusion. The building received an award in 2001 from the AIA. Used for competitive and recreational swimming, it appears to be popular. Continuing through campus the pergola has recently been restored, great wrought iron pieces innocently attract our attention, a concrete column looks as if it is tufted,  we learn the school is still made up of 2 single-sex campuses. Back to the Art Museum, stopping inside we wander around the new Modernism exhibit, we are so in our element here. Great displays of furniture, textiles, photos, blue prints and renderings make us ohh and aahhh, in the very back a room is set up where you can actually sit in an Eames chair or at a Saarinen table, pretty cool! The permanent collection contains pieces by Charles and Ray Eames, Harry Bertoia and Maija Grotell. The Academy of Art, founded by the Booth’s in 1932, is one of the nations leading graduate schools of architecture, art and design, is also found in this building. George and Ellen’s desire to create a place of learning, meaning and beauty was the catalyst for Cranbrook, their dream lives on today.

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Lunch anyone? The Griffin Claw Brewing Company opened not long ago to great fanfare in Birmingham. Owned by one of the families who has ownership in Big Rock Chophouse just down S Eton St, it is one of the top 10 largest breweries in Michigan. It is another gorgeous day, the roll-up doors are fully opened, folks are evenly distributed throughout the patio, dining and bar area, the Lions are on TV. Taking a high-top table near the bar I first read over the beer menu, they have 12 beers on tap including seasonal and specialty beers. After a series of questions and answers with our server I choose the Bourbon Imperial Stout, Kris orders one of their sour beers with a splash of homemade raspberry syrup, yum. The casual menu features high quality ingredients in a selection of starters and local favorites. The 12,000 sq ft facility is dedicated mostly to the brewery, Dan Rogers is their world-class brewmaster and is no stranger to winning top awards for his creations. My beer is fantastic, luckily our food arrives before I finish it off. The Caesar salad is excellent, crisp lettuce, great dressing. The Claw Burger is made from chopped brisket, this one is a double decker, very flavorful and cooked just the way we like it, the seasoned fries are tasty too. My beer was outstanding, service was excellent, the food delicious, to top it off, the Lions won!

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