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Cranbrook: The Invisible Landscape

Diana Balmori
Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians
Vol. 53, No. 1 (Mar., 1994), pp. 30-60
DOI: 10.2307/990808
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/990808
Page Count: 31
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Cranbrook: The Invisible Landscape
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Abstract

As a study of the landscape of the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, this essay has three objectives: to make visible a previously unacknowledged landscape, to define its relationship to the image of Cranbrook as a whole, and to begin an exploration of the ways in which a landscape draws us into a bond of affection with it. This study is the first to identify landscape designers at Cranbrook and to explore the importance of their design to the institution that was the most successful and long-lived of Arts and Crafts manifestations in America. It thus gives particular attention to the landscape ideas of the Arts and Crafts movement, as this was the last major aesthetic movement to value the art of landscape. Influenced by the principles of this movement, publisher George C. Booth founded Cranbrook in 1925, envisioning a combination school, studio, and art colony, where artists together could develop an integrated design practice. Under the influence of Arts and Crafts, landscape had a very early, critical role at Cranbrook and was part of the vision for the institution. But the later history of Cranbrook shows the decline of landscape as an art, a loss of scope and vision, especially as the Arts and Crafts aesthetic waned and that of the modern movement emerged. The study gives attention to this decline; the observation of how this happened at Cranbrook provides some clues as to the overall diminution of landscape in the twentieth century, a decline heretofore noted, but not explained. The essay begins with the recollection of a personal experience that is critical to the author's interest in the Cranbrook site and to an understanding of the exploration of our connections to landscape. Visits to the site and the use of the resources of the Cranbrook Archives (the papers of George Booth, designs, plans, photographs, and writings by the Cranbrook landscape practitioners) have made it possible to give visibility to the Cranbrook landscape and to allow an assessment of the landscape's relationship to the larger institution.

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