Tag Archives: Birmingham

Cranbrook: Artiful…

13 May

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Cranbrook Academy of Art is known as the ‘cradle of American modernism’. In 1904 George and Ellen Booth purchased more than 300 acres of land that would eventually become Cranbrook. George Booth, newspaper baron and philanthropist, dreamed of creating a cultural institution on the property. He envisioned Cranbrook Academy as a place where students learned under the guidance of masters in their field. Eliel Saarinen was brought in to oversee the architectural and landscape development of the campus; the environment he created is one-of-a-kind. The campus is a National Historic Landmark, considered the most complete example of Saarinen’s genius, it is a treasure of architecture and horticulture. The original structures were built from the late 1920’s through 1942. Once a year Cranbrook hosts Open (Studios), today the studio doors are open to the public, we are free to wander in and out of places ordinarily off limits. Students will be on hand to answer questions, their work is on display and in many cases for sale. Let’s get started.

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We begin our journey at the Cranbrook Museum of Art (1942), water sprays skyward from Carl Milles Orpheus fountain, water ripples with sunlight in the shallow pool. Inside the museum visitors fill the galleries; Open Studios includes free admission to the art and science museums. I tend to meander in art museums, I let my eyes be my guide; from the colorful lucite display to the metal wall sculpture to the art of projected images I travel this way and that way. I enjoy the photographic light boxes, whimsical paintings and giant canvases, I find architectural models fascinating. On the lower level we check out Stephen Frykholm’s Essence Of Summer posters for the annual Herman Miller Picnic. They truly capture the essence of summer; fruits, vegetables, popsicles, red-checked tablecloths, sunny days; I bet the picnics were quite the shindig. When we finish both museum floors we head out to the studios.

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The Cranbrook Academy of Art is an independent, graduate degree-granting institution offering an intense studio-based experience where 10 artists-in-residence mentor 150 graduate students for a full-time 2-year studio-based study–no classes, no grades. At the end of the 2-year period students prepare a written Masters Statement and exhibit their work in the Graduate Degree Exhibition at Cranbrook Art Museum. Individual studios, shared spaces, production facilities, critique rooms, social areas and kitchens create a unique peer-to-peer community. Let’s start in the painting studio. Interiors are stark white, providing zero distraction from the art on display; from realism to abstract, small to large, multi-hued to monotone the work is amazing. Kris speaks to one artist about her work, she has taken old photographs and turned them into paintings, specifically focusing on one character in the scene, creating a whole new perspective. Katherine Adkins pieces are intriguing; bold colors and designs, funky shapes and textures, bumpy, puffy, shiny, I want to reach out and touch them.

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Here’s what I’m going to do. Kris has taken plenty of photos,  I’ll take you on a walk through studios and campus and let the photographs speak for themselves; not to mention I can’t remember which pieces are where… The next building over is the sculpture studios. Artists strike up conversations, visitors eagerly participate; we are literally surrounded by art. We are as captivated by the architecture as we are the art. Leaded glass windows open to grassy squares or courtyards, thoughtfully placed buildings form connections from one to the other. A cool spring breeze drifts in, natural light floods the space. Up stairs, down stairs, narrow halls, each turn rewarding us with another spectacular view or the outstanding creativity of artists.

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We make our way to 2D, 3D and Print studios, always glad to escape to the outdoor, enchanted kingdom that is Cranbrook. Formal courtyards, brick walkways, ornamental gates, porticos, brick and stone arches. We move from one place to another going from a closed space to an open space, from a narrow tunnel to a wide expanse. We follow arrows and signs from on building to the next, in a basement studio artists are happy to see we found our way to their space, I love the piece on the floor, it looks like a glittery land fairies would like to live. Large windows, artist sinks and storage spaces are a constant reminder these buildings were intentionally created for artists. The Academy of Art was officially sanctioned in 1932 with Eliel Saarinen as President. The artists who lived and worked inside these walls truly changed the design world; Carl Milles, Eero Saarinen, Ray and Charles Eames, Florence Knoll, Harry Bertoia, Marshall Fredericks, Jack Lenor Larsen, Niels Diffrient, Duane Hanson, Nick Cave, just to name a few. Some of the greatest design talents the United States has had in modern times lived here, worked here.

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The Print Media studios are closer to Lone Pine Rd, I enjoy seeing the personal side of the artists in the way they decorate their space; the Desk-O-Matic emblem is super-cool. Water colors, mixed media pieces, each telling a story, sending a message. Cabinets and drawers hold a stockpile of supplies. A group of students has moved outside to drink in the long-awaited spring air; student works are displayed on sidewalks. The Architecture studio is a good distance from where we are, we enjoy the stunning landscape as we walk. The space is somewhat garage-like, concrete floors and huge open spaces, large lights hang above work spaces. Tree stumps rest on the floor, wooden legs and table tops are on display. The Hangar Photo building is really crowded, Kris and I both like photography.

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We walk across campus paying careful attention to architectural details, even the doors are gorgeous. We pause at the Triton pool, I could look at it for hours, Kris photographs it from all angles. New Studios (2002) includes Metalsmithing, Ceramics and Fiber, it’s the last building on our list. Ceramics are my favorite, students create everything from utility items to decorative pieces. One artist has a lovely selection of bowls and cups decorated with an airbrushing of blue, another has a variety of figurines and faces that make me wonder what they’re thinking. It’s getting warmer as we walk, we’re in the area where they fire the pieces; kilns range in size and shape from floor-models to walk-ins. It’s too warm here. I have a soft spot for the stuffed animals often found in Fiber departments, these are quite hugable. We end with the metalsmithing floor, it’s a wonder what they can do with metal.

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We are having a late lunch at Market North End on a quiet section of Old Woodward. We have been by here so many times and never knew what the restaurant was called, the only visible signage is for the ABOOD Law Firm. There are open tables on the screened-in-patio, it feels good to sit. The hostess recommends their pizza, who am I to argue? Ice cold glasses of water hit the spot as we wait for the food– which doesn’t take long. The Market Chopped Salad comes out first; chopped tomato, cucumber, radishes, onion, jalapeno, radicchio, tossed with a little lemon juice and evoo. I like that everything is chopped the same size, it’s so fresh, delicious. The Quattaro pizza has a white sauce topped with ham, caramelized onion and cracked egg. I cut up the egg and evenly distribute it among the slices. We eat at remarkable speed, when finished there isn’t a crumb left. This is the first time we’ve had an egg on our pizza and I have to say it is quite good.

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It has been a remarkable day, going to a place we know so well yet seeing an entirely new side. George Booth hoped to create something of lasting value and significance, a place that would elevate the lives of those near there, those who lived there, visited there; I say he succeeded beautifully.

WOODWARD; Science, Sliders & Sweets

18 Apr

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Southeast Michigan is loaded with fascinating, engaging and entertaining places to visit; one such place is the Cranbrook Institute of Science. Situated in Bloomfield Hills, the museum invites us to take a fun and thought-provoking look at science, technology and natural history. The museum expanded over the years, which is architecturally evident on the exterior of the building. The original structure is complimented by a reflecting pool complete with Mermaids and Tritons sculptures designed by Carl Milles. The main entrance is located in the museums newest wing; the architecture here is modern, large windows allow natural light to pour in. Once you purchase your ticket at the desk you are free to roam. The exhibits are laid out in a manner that enables you to traverse them as you desire. Dinosaurs are ever popular, the Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton gets lots of attention. Did you know the Mastodon was plentiful in Michigan during the last ice age?

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Further on we are introduced to anthropology through the guidance of  a virtual holographic-like woman named Meg, it’s amazing how life-like she is! There’s a wonderful collection of objects  from the Great Lakes native peoples; beautiful items like traditional clothing really caught my eye. I think my favorite area is the Mineral Study Gallery; I can remember coming here as a child and being captivated by the shapes and incredible colors. George Booth (founder of Cranbrook) started this mineral collection in 1926, there are currently over 11,000 specimens. Case after case I stop and stare at the samples, I like to read the names and try  to remember my favorites….it never works….Be sure and check out the Michigan Minerals. As we continued walking we found ourselves in the Hulbert Observatory, we lucked out as it was the first Sunday of the month so it was open to visitors. This is really cool! The observatory is home to a six-inch refracting telescope, I have no idea what that means, but from what I gather, it’s pretty impressive in the telescope world. The motion gallery is also well-liked, here adults and children can participate hands-on. Throughout the museum we are taught about the world in simple ways we can relate to, they really do make learning fun!

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If you have driven down Woodward near 15 mile road you have probably seen the little white porcelain diner known as Hunter House. Established in 1952 by the Papazian family they have been serving up delicious sliders for over half a century, daughter Susan now runs the restaurant. We arrived late afternoon so seating was plentiful, we placed our order at the counter, paid, then took our seats in the front window overlooking one of America’s most well-known streets: Woodward Avenue. The diner seats only 28 on vintage black and chrome stools, either at the counter or facing the windows. After a brief wait our order was ready, I went over to the grill to retrieve them; 2 plates of burgers and an order of fries, I could hardly wait to dig in. After the addition of mustard for me, I replaced the warm steamed bun back atop the hamburger with the grilled onions smashed right into the patty. The first bite is always the best; the soft bun, crunchy pickles, a bit tart to go with the sweet onion, and the burger itself, delicious high quality beef tender and moist…awesome! The fries are the skinny variety, friend to a golden crisp, they are the perfect complement to the slider.  Whether you’re in the mood for a little nostalgia or just have a hankering for a plateful of excellent little burgers, this is the place.

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We made one more stop, this time for something sweet, at another Michigan original, Kilwins on Old Woodward. Opened in 1947 in Petoskey Michigan, Don and Katy Kilwin perfected their recipes for delicious chocolate, fudge and ice cream and shared it with the public. Their original recipe ice cream is still made at the dairy in Hudsonville. Kilwins now has 80 stores across the US, many of them situated in tourist-type towns. The Birmingham location is housed in a 100-year-old building that still retains the original hardwood floor. As soon as you walk in the door your senses are delighted with the sight and smell of ice cream and confections. It was just before Easter so chocolate rabbits and foil wrapped eggs decorated shelves. A batch of fudge was being made, oh how I long to dip my finger in and have a taste. The candy counter is filled with tempting treats, milk, dark and white chocolate all call my name. We just wanted a bite, so we split a Milk Pecan Snapper. Picture this: a large gob of rich chewy caramel pressed into a pile of crisp pecans, topped with a thick coating of  luscious milk chocolate, Yum! UPDATE: This location is now closed.

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Cranbrook Garden Tour, Toast Birmingham

25 Jul


What would you say if I told you you could spend an afternoon at a European estate for only $6, well sort of…… All you have to do is drive to Bloomfield Hills and take Lone Pine Road to the estate of the late George & Ellen Booth, also known as Cranbrook.   Cranbrook House and Gardens began in 1904 when newspaper magnate George Booth and his wife purchased a neglected, barren farm. They hired Albert Kahn to design their home, and scores of landscape architects, gardeners, and laborers to create what is now known as Cranbrook Educational Community. Today you can tour the 40 acres of gardens surrounding the house or take a tour of the house itself, either way you will feel as though you have been transported to the English village of Cranbrook without ever having to get a passport.



Begin your tour at the Gate House, this is where you will buy your ticket and pick up the self-guided tour map. Wind through the entrance path surrounded by woodland plants and wildflowers, you will notice the temperature is a bit cooler here, cross the bridge and arrive at the La Bocca Della Verita fountain, it’s a nice place to sit and listen to the trickle of the water while looking at your map. Over to the side is the bust of Zues, one of the stones in front of him will make him weep, see if you can find it.



As you enter the main courtyard of Cranbrook House stand for a minute and take it all in. The house is an amazing example of the Arts and Crafts Style of the early 1900’s, everything was beautiful then, even the most ordinary utility item was decorated. Imagine what it must have been like to live in this extraordinary home; to be surrounded by nature and elaborate gardens, fountains, scenic vistas, art and sculpture. One look at the Sunken Garden with it’s intricate floral pattern made up of red, white, and pink Begonias will take your breath away. I like to stare it it from above for a while before taking the stairs to walk alongside it. Each year it is made up of different flowers and colors, I think this years display is one of my favorites, Oh how I love a beautiful garden! The Phlox were in full bloom; pinks and white, their perfume intoxicating, standing side by side with Purple Cone flower and Daisies, producing  a magnificent display. The herb garden is such a contrast to the floral displays, but still maintains that formal feeling; a marble sculpture of Ecolo keeps watch, the scent of the herbs is quite pleasing too. There is a Well Wishers Garden and Fountain off to one side, just a small space to enjoy a little peace and quiet before you happen upon the Turtle Fountain.  It is actually a copy of the La Fontana delle Tartarughe in Rome, and is marvelous. Have a seat and take in all the details, you can almost see the turtles moving. Just beyond the fountain is an impressive peek at Kingswood Lake. Remember; this was barren farmland at one time, every detail of this majestic estate was painstakingly planned out, the final result most impressive. The Reflecting Pool is a picture of elegance, the still water reflecting against the blue of the sky, so simple and yet so awe inspiring, spacious, lush lawns on each side. Here again, take a moment before descending the stairs to walk beside the pool and garden. Plantings here are more monotone; greens, yellows and white. At the end of the pool is Mario Korbel’s “Harmony” fountain, quite striking in such a setting.



Take the stairway at the end of the Reflecting Pool down to Kingswood Lake. You can walk the perimeter and observe even more splendor. There was a family of Swans gracefully crossing the lake, we stopped to watch the parents and youngsters pass by, looking so regal as they did. The Oriental Garden is delightful; the bright red bridge standing out among the green of nature. Don’t miss the Pewabic Tile Rainbow Fountain, it’s gorgeous, the tiles finished in their signature iridescent glaze. You will truly feel as though you are somewhere else, there are no sights or sounds anywhere to remind you have only ventured to Oakland County.  




Birmingham is a mere hop and a skip from Cranbrook and boasts a large selection of restaurants. The heat of the day put us in the mood for something cool and refreshing such as a salad or sandwich, Toast would be perfect. Located on Pierce, this “neighborhood joint” serves breakfast, lunch and dinner in a quirky and fun atmosphere. Outdoor seating was plentiful, but out of the question, give me air conditioning! We scored a window table with a great view of the busyness of the day; lots of people on the sidewalk, most with a cold drink in hand. Somewhere along the way our appetites changed from lunch to breakfast, so we picked two items to share. The first was a Granola French Toast; soft challah bread cooked to a golden brown, topped with vanilla yogurt, granola, fresh berries and a drizzle of honey. The second item was the Breakfast Burrito, it is quite large and stuffed with all kinds of goodies; eggs, chorizo, beans, cilantor sour cream, topped off with house made salsa, yum. This is a fun place to have a meal, seating varies from standard table and chairs, to couches, booths and armchairs. Portions are generous and the menu features unusual ingredients. The decor is a mix of vintage and contemporary and looks great, if you like something a little different, try Toast.



The day had passed quickly and it was getting to be time to get back. As we walked back to our car we stopped at the newly renovated Shain Park  located on Merrill St.  This large expanse of public space has a little bit of everything; a large water fountain shooting sprays of water high into the air, it seems a favorite gathering place. The children’s play area was also popular while we were there; things to climb on and through, including a real tree. Cement and granite pathways lead you past a performance stage, the Marshall Frederick Statue, and a variety of benches; I liked the Butterfly bench, there’s also a xylophone bench, which seemed to be well-liked too. It was nice to sit back and watch folks take time out of their day for a little pleasure.