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Michigan (and Detroit) defined the look of 20th century design

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Michigan is the epicenter of Modern design that has touched nearly every aspect of American life. A bold statement, but true.  Michigan has a stronger history and presence of design than anywhere else in North America, and Detroit has played a key role in much of it.

Picture1Here are some proof points.

Michigan’s designers and architects defined the look of the 20th century with iconic pieces like the Eames Lounge Chair from Herman Miller as well as the office environments it has revolutionized, the expressive styling of the fins on a Cadillac and corporate campuses like the General Motors Technical Center.

Michigan is home to more than a dozen corporate design centers.

General Motors advertisement for the 1959 Buick Electra 225 on Cranbrook Academy of Art campus. Photo courtesy of General Motors 2013.

General Motors advertisement for the 1959 Buick Electra 225 on Cranbrook Academy of Art campus. Photo courtesy of General Motors 2013.

Design is central to Michigan’s complete portfolio of industrial talent, skill, experience and commercial success.

Michigan’s colleges and universities are training designers.

Michigan’s industry, prosperity, and educational institutions attract exceptional talent today just as they did in the past.

Design is intrinsic to Michigan’s key cultural centers.

Lafayette Park, Detroit, designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Photographer: Steve Vorderman for the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office.

Lafayette Park, Detroit, designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Photographer: Steve Vorderman for the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office.

Now our state wants the world to know more about our design expertise. The Michigan Modern: Design that Shaped America symposium on June 13 – 16 on Cranbrook’s Eliel Saarinen-designed campus is designed (forgive the pun) to do just that. The event is hosted by the State Historic Preservation Office, Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA), the Cranbrook Art Museum and MPdl Studios of Ann Arbor.

Reynolds Metals Regional Sales Office, Southfield, designed by Minoru Yamasaki. Photographer: Balthazar Korab. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Reynolds Metals Regional Sales Office, Southfield, designed by Minoru Yamasaki. Photographer: Balthazar Korab. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

“The architects and designers met the challenge of a new century with optimism and spirit,” said State Historic Preservation Officer Brian Conway. “What happened in Michigan – in the automotive industry, the furniture industry, in architecture, and in education – influenced design throughout the country and internationally. This project looks to celebrate Michigan’s outstanding contributions to Modern design and the stories of the people who made it happen.”

The four-day symposium and four-month exhibition at the Cranbrook Art Museum will showcase how Michigan’s industrial and design history intertwined during the middle of the 20th century and created an epicenter of Modern design that touched nearly every aspect of American life.

William Muschenheim House, Ann Arbor, designed by William Muschenheim. Photographer: Rob Yallop for the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office.

William Muschenheim House, Ann Arbor, designed by William Muschenheim. Photographer: Rob Yallop for the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office.

Those attending will hear stories directly from designers who were part of Michigan’s mid-century design boom, such as Gunner Birkets and Ruth Adler Schnee.

Michigan Consolidated Gas Building, Detroit, designed by Minoru Yamasaki. Photographer: Steve Vorderman for the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office.

Michigan Consolidated Gas Building, Detroit, designed by Minoru Yamasaki. Photographer: Steve Vorderman for the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office.

“In the late 1930s, a remarkable group of artists and designers were at Cranbrook – notably Eliel and Loja Saarinen, their son Eero, faculty members such as Harry Bertoia and promising young students like Charles and Ray Eames, Ralph Rapson, Florence Knoll, and many others,” said Gregory Wittkopp, director, Cranbrook Art Museum and Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research. “Collaboratively, and then individually, they used the Academy’s studios to experiment and create the furniture and products that became the icons of the 20th century. It is no exaggeration to say that mid-century Modernism was conceived at Cranbrook.”

Saarinen Tea with Eliel Saarinen and J. Robert F. Swanson (standing). May 1941. Photo courtesy of the Cranbrook Archives. (5681-16)

Saarinen Tea with Eliel Saarinen and J. Robert F. Swanson (standing). May 1941. Photo courtesy of the Cranbrook Archives. (5681-16)

Thirty speakers will discuss Modernism’s Michigan roots during the symposium:

  • Architecture critic and historian Alan Hess
  • Paul Makovsky, editorial director of Metropolis Magazine
  • Eames Demetrios, the grandson of Charles and Ray Eames
  • Columbia University Professor and PBS History Detective Gwendolyn Wright.
Alden B. Dow Home and Studio, Midland, designed by Alden B. Dow. Photographer: Steve Vorderman for the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office.

Alden B. Dow Home and Studio, Midland, designed by Alden B. Dow. Photographer: Steve Vorderman for the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office.

There will also be tours:

  • A rarely offered tour of the General Motors Technical Center, designed by Eero Saarinen
  • The Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Palmer House in Ann Arbor
  • Wayne State University campus, planned by Minoru Yamasaki
  • Lafayette Park, which has the largest collection of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s International style residential work in the world
  • A tour of Midland including the Dow Home and Studio where guests can have lunch in the drafting room and understand Alden Dow’s philosophy that “gardens never end and buildings never begin”
Aerial view of the Cranbrook Academy of Art and Art Museum, 2004. Landslides Aerial Photography. Photo courtesy of Cranbrook Educational Community.

Aerial view of the Cranbrook Academy of Art and Art Museum, 2004. Landslides Aerial Photography. Photo courtesy of Cranbrook Educational Community.

The celebration of Michigan design doesn’t end with the symposium. The Michigan Modern: Design that Shaped America exhibition at the Cranbrook Art Museum will open to the public on June 14 and run through October 13, 2013. It will establish Michigan’s role in American Modernism from the early industrial architecture of Albert Kahn to the role of the automobile and furniture industries that contributed to Michigan’s design explosion after World War II.

While you’re there check out Cranbrook’s two additional exhibitions in its lower galleries.

The first is What to Paint and Why: Modern Painters at Cranbrook, 1936 – 1974, which examines the productive tension between Cranbrook’s painting instructors Zoltan Sepeshy and Wallace Mitchell. The second is A Driving Force: Cranbrook and the Car, which is produced in conjunction with the new Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research and will explore the way Cranbrook has played a role in shaping the landscape of American automobile ingenuity. Both exhibitions will run from June 14, 2013 through March 2014.

Hours and Pricing

Michigan Modern: Design that Shaped America
Symposium
June 13-16
Cranbrook Educational Community
Symposium registration is now open at michiganmodern.org. Advance registration is required. Registration closes June 7.
Michigan Modern: Design that Shaped America
Exhibition

June 14 – October 13, 2013
Cranbrook Art Museum

Cranbrook Art Museum Summer Hours (June through August)
Wednesday – Sunday, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Closed: 4th of July and Labor Day

Cranbrook Art Museum Academic Year Hours (September through June)
Tuesday – Friday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Saturday – Sunday, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Admission:
ArtMembers and Children 12 & under, Always Free
General: $8
Seniors (65+): $6
Students with ID: $4

For more information go to the Modern Modern website or download the brochure.

Michigan Modern: Design that Shaped America is supported by the Kresge Foundation, Cranbrook Art Museum and Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research, DeRoy Testamentary Foundation, Alden B. Dow Home and Studio, the McGregor Fund, Herman Miller, Knoll, The Clannad Foundation, Eleanor & Edsel Ford House, the Michigan State Historic Preservation Network, the Michigan History Foundation, the Michigan State Housing Development Authority, and Bob Daverman+AIA+LEED-AP – Architect+Designer+Planner.

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