by adeline talbot

How to capture the sense of a place that one has never visited? It’s nearly impossible and yet, of course, we try with the only tool ever to available to us--our existing knowledge of the world. We make the places we have not experienced fit into the places that we have; make what we don’t know fit into to what we already know. 

No matter how fantastical and fine my notion of a place may be there is often a real if muted shock once I am actually there.  Fantastical and fine, yes, but rarely in the way I had imagined—or in a way I could have imagined having never been there before. Each place is, in fact, not a simply some dot on a carefully drawn map but a whole new way of experiencing the world.

Even so I persist in creating an anticipatory notion of a place which usually runs along the lines of ‘this place will be a lot like that place with some of that other place thrown in…’

…that is until now.  Now I seem to have met my match in Cranbrook. I cannot quite get it to fit into one unified whole, one imagined place. Is it a school?  Well, yes, it is a renowned graduate school for studio art, craft, architecture and design.  But it is also a boarding school for boys.  And it’s a boarding school for girls. (Thankfully that at least has a semi-separate name—Cranbrook Kingswood).  Cranbrook is a world-renowned art museum.  But then again the name can also refer to one or to both of two house museums, an early 20th century grand manor house and a 1950’s modernist’s dream.  For some Cranbrook may denote an important botanical garden.  Cranbrook is the proud and visionary legacy of the Booth Family, publishers of the Detroit Free Press.  On the other hand, Cranbrook will be forever considered the proudest achievement of architect and educator Eliel Saarinen.  Forever linked with the Arts and Crafts Movement while at the same time forever linked with Mid-Century Modern design.  See what I mean?  I simply can’t get all of this to fit into one fixed notion. The more I learn the less able I am to make all of the pieces come together.  Despite my best efforts Cranbrook resists being contained in one pre-visit picture...  

There are some places in this world that have no parallels.  Cranbrook seems to be one of one of them…

That is why I am particularly pleased about our upcoming visit to Cranbrook, offered as an optional excursion following our early June trip to Detroit. At long last I will experience this glorious place firsthand.

Click here for our full ‘Detroit Pop Up’ itinerary including information on our excursion to Cranbrook, one of two optional day trips.

By the way, the complexity that is Cranbrook is well-reflected in the recent obituary of one of its renowned alumnae. Frances Knoll Bassett died earlier this month at age 101.  An extraordinary life of achievements shaped by her early experiences at Cranbrook.