Born 1873, Rantasalmi, Finland;
died 1950, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan
Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen immigrated to the United States in 1923, using the acclaim and $20,000 he received for his second-place entry into the 1922 Chicago Tribune Tower Competition to relocate his family and career to America. After a year teaching at the University of Michigan, Saarinen and his family moved to the Cranbrook in 1925 at the invitation of George Booth, who dreamed of building on his private estate a community of art, science, and education.
Working with his wife Loja, daughter Pipsan, and son Eero, the Saarinens created what came to be known as Saarinen House to be the residence of Cranbrook Academy of Art’s president. Designed in 1928 and ready for use in 1930, Saarinen House is one of the most significant examples of a Gesamtkunstwerk, or total work of art, in America. The house combines the Arts and Crafts ethos of beauty and utility with the high-style aesthetic of the Art Deco. Although Saarinen stepped down as president in 1942, he continued living in the home until his death in 1950. Loja Saarinen remained in the house until 1951.
“Cranbrook Academy of Art is not an art school in the ordinary meaning. It is a working place for creative art.”
THE ACADEMY, 1932 - 1946
Under Saarinen, the early Academy was highly experimental and informal. Most students were advanced students who came here for post-graduate work with Cranbrook’s international faculty. Instructors were practicing artists, and students learned by watching the masters.
The educational program was informal: instead of classes or departmental requirements, there was what Saarinen called “self-education under good leadership.” Students learned by working long hours in the studio, interacting with other artists in the community, and experimenting with projects and media.
In 1942, this openness was curbed slightly with the chartering of the Academy by the State of Michigan as an institution of higher learning with the privilege of granting degrees.