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Cranbrook: Now & Then

August 11, 2015

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L ong before High Craft had become hot and trendy among today’s galleries of design, one graduate school in America has been thinking about the art of making and meaning for almost a hundred years.  Influenced by the Arts and Crafts Movement of England and the American Academy in Rome, Cranbrook Academy of Art established a community of artists in the 1920s where traditional craft, technical skills, and creative art were at the heart of the education.  What began as America’s answer to artistic apprenticeships and a fight against industrialization grew into what the school now terms “studio-based graduate education.”

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 Founded by Detroit newspaper baron and philanthropist George Gough Booth [1864-1949] on a 319-acre plot, the school today has ten departments led by an Artist or Designer-in-Residence: a single full-time artist or designer who is the primary mentor for students and the head of their studio program.  Students work directly alongside their Artist-in-Residence and learn what it means to be a working artist and how a leading practice is built and maintained.  There is no set curricula, required classes, or conventional grades. But, this atypical approach has been well rewarded as one of the top-ranked graduate programs in the United States, the Academy remains, per capita, one of the highest producer of student Fulbright scholars—named one of the Fulbright program’s “Top Producing Institutions” by the Institute for International Education.

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Booth began the craft legacy by hiring Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen who had been working as a visiting architectural professor at University of Michigan at the time.   Saarinen oversaw the architectural and landscape development of the Cranbrook campus opening studio workshops which supported the final building designs.  Those workshops would become the basis of the program known today at the school and Saarinen would be appointed President of the school in 1932.

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The legacy of thoughtful handicraft has attracted important designer to Cranbrook including: Ray and Charles Eames, Florence Knoll, Jack Lenor Larsen, Donald Lipski, Duane Hanson, Lorraine Wild, Nick Cave and Hani Rashid among others.  Community is an important aspect of the school which houses the Artist-in-Residence and their partners and families on the campus near their studios.  Cranbrook today offers an MFA in 2D Design, 3D Design, Ceramics, Fiber, Metalsmithing, Painting, Photography, Print Media and Sculpture and an M.Arch in Architecture.

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Cranbrook Academy of Art

Cranbrook Academy of Art

Cranbrook Academy of Art

Cranbrook Academy of Art

Cranbrook Academy of Art

Cranbrook Academy of Art

Cranbrook Academy of Art

Cranbrook Academy of Art

Cranbrook Academy of Art

Cranbrook Academy of Art

Cranbrook Academy of Art

Cranbrook Academy of Art

Cranbrook Academy of Art

Cranbrook Academy of Art

Cranbrook Academy of Art

Cranbrook Academy of Art

Cranbrook Academy of Art

Cranbrook Academy of Art

Cranbrook Academy of Art

Cranbrook Academy of Art

Cranbrook Academy of Art

Cranbrook Academy of Art

Cranbrook Academy of Art

Pipsan and Eliel Saarinen in the atelier at Hvittrask Studio, c.1910.


About the author: Bill Indursky
Bill Indursky is an architect, trend expert, and digital entrepreneur. He is the former founder of V&M (Vintage & Modern (2006-2013)) and the current founder of Design Life Network (DLN). DLN is a MAGAZINE + DESIGN AGENCY + MARKETPLACE + TV CHANNEL promoting inspiring design of all eras online and on TV.


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