Symposium And Exhibition Highlights Michigan’s Contributions To American Modernism

“Michigan Modern™: Design that Shaped America” Opens at Cranbrook in June

LANSING, Mich., March 26, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — The official launch of the ground-breaking Michigan Modern symposium and exhibition is set for the week of June 13-16, 2013, at the Cranbrook Educational Community in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. Symposium registration is now open at

The goal of the project is to showcase how Michigan‘s industrial and design history intertwined, creating an epicenter of modern design that touched nearly every aspect of American life. The project celebrates Michigan‘s outstanding contributions to Modern design and the stories of the people who made it happen.

National experts in Modern design will converge on Cranbrook, June 13-16, 2013, for Michigan Modern™: Design that Shaped America, a symposium hosted by the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA).

“What happened in Michigan – in the automotive industry, the furniture industry, in architecture, and in education – influenced design throughout the country and internationally. Michigan‘s Modern designers truly shaped America,” said State Historic Preservation Officer Brian Conway. “Detroit automakers didn’t just produce automobiles; they styled them to become synonymous with the American dream. West Michigan furniture companies didn’t just make furniture, they revolutionized the look of the American office and home. Michigan architects didn’t just build buildings, they defined an American modern era.”

The Cranbrook Academy of Art and Art Museum is at the heart of the Michigan Modern story. “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.”

Influential Modern designers—architect Gunnar Bickerts and textile designer Ruth Adler Schnee—will be interviewed as part of the symposium program. Thirty speakers in all will discuss modernism’s Michigan roots, including architecture critic and historian Alan Hess; Paul Makovsky, editorial director of Metropolis Magazine; Eames Demetrios, the grandson of Charles and Ray Eames; and Columbia University Professor and PBS History Detective Gwendolyn Wright.

Tours of significant Modern sites are part of the symposium schedule, including: a rarely offered tour of the General Motors Technical Center, designed by Eero Saarinen; the Wayne State University campus, planned by Minoru Yamasaki; and Lafayette Park, the largest collection of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe‘s International style residential work in the world.

The SHPO partnered with Cranbrook Art Museum and MPdL Studios of Ann Arbor to present the first major exhibition to tell the Michigan Modern story. “Michigan Modern: Design that Shaped America” will open at Cranbrook Art Museum 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.

According to Conway. “Michigan‘s designers and architects met the challenge of a new century with optimism and spirit. Many of the objects in the exhibition are recognizable iconic Modern pieces that in many ways represent the 20th century.”