Love By Design: The Saarinen Women

Loja Saarinen, 1932, Cranbrook Archives
Loja Saarinen, 1932, Courtesy Cranbrook Archives

Eliel Saarinen’s wife, Loja (Loy-a) was trained as a sculptor, photographer and model builder. She became a textile designer and weaver when Saarinen became the chief architect of the Cranbrook campus located in the Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. The campus consists of Cranbrook Schools, Cranbrook Academy of Art, Cranbrook Art Museum, Cranbrook Institute of Science and Cranbrook House and Gardens.

Studio Loja Saarinen, Loja (seated), 1930, Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives
Studio Loja Saarinen, Loja (seated), 1930, Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives

Studio Loja Saarinen was established to design and weave textiles, carpets, and rugs on a commission basis for many of the Eliel Saarinen designed buildings on the Cranbrook Campus. Consequently, Loja became the director of the weaving department at Cranbrook from 1929 until her retirement in 1942. At full production, Studio Loja Saarinen held close to 30 hand looms.

Kingwood School at Cranbrook, Textile design by Loja Saarinen. 1933, Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives
Kingwood School at Cranbrook, Textile design by Loja Saarinen. 1933, Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives

Eliel Saarinen began designing his house at Cranbrook in 1928, and he and Loja moved into the completed home in fall 1930. They lived in the house until Eliel’s death in 1950.

Living Room Saarinen House
Living Room Saarinen House
Swedish weavers making the rug for the Saarinen House.
Swedish weavers making the rug for the Saarinen House.
Loja Saarinen showing Eliel a cartoon of their tapestry, Sermon on the Mount, for Tabernacle Church of Christ (now First Christian Church in Columbus, Ind.), 1941. Courtesy of  Cranbrook Archives
Loja Saarinen showing Eliel a cartoon of their tapestry, Sermon on the Mount, for Tabernacle Church of Christ (now First Christian Church in Columbus, Ind.), 1941. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives
Marianne Strengell with Loja and Eero Saarinen, 1958. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives
Marianne Strengell with Loja and Eero Saarinen, 1958. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives

In 1942, when Loja Saarinen retired from Cranbrook, Strengell replaced her as head of the Department of Weaving and Textile Design.

Aline Saarinen with art book, 1955. Aline and Eero Saarinen papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Aline Saarinen with art book, 1955. Aline and Eero Saarinen papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Aline was the associate art editor and critic for the New York Times and recently divorced when she met Eero in 1953.  She was on a trip to Detroit to meet the young architect whose General Motors Technical Center had proved to be a great success. She was to write a profile of Saarinen for the New York Times Magazine, eventually published with the title Now Saarinen the Son authored by Aline B. Louchheim. She would become Aline B. Saarinen a little over a year later.

Early Art Criticism by Aline (then Bernstein). 1934. Courtesy of the Archives of American Art, the Smithsonian.
Early Art Criticism by Aline (then Bernstein). 1934. Courtesy of the Archives of American Art, the Smithsonian.

A look into the intimate correspondence between both Eero Saarinen and Aline Saarinen is available online, digitized by the Archives of American Art at the Smithsonian as the Aline and Eero Saarinen Papers, 1906-1977. Their letters track the history of their romance and provide an inside look at how two stars in their respective fields came to be partners.

Correspondence from Eero Saarinen to Aline, 1954. Courtesy of the Smithsonian.
Correspondence from Eero Saarinen to Aline, 1954. Courtesy of the Smithsonian.

After their marriage, Aline relocated to Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, where she continued to work as associate art critic for The New York Times and where she served as Director of Information Service in the office of Eero Saarinen and Associates (from 1954 to 1963). They had a son and named him Eames after Eero’s long time friend Charles Eames.

Eero, Aline, and Eames. Courtesy of Yale University Library
Eero, Aline, and Eames. Courtesy of Yale University Library

After Eero’s sudden death in 1961, she and Saarinen’s longtime partners Kevin Roche and John Dinkeloo traveled around the country, making sure the firm’s nine commissions under construction or in design (including the TWA Terminal, Dulles Airport, two residential colleges for Yale, the Gateway Arch in St. Louis and the CBS Building) were all completed as Saarinen buildings. In 1962, she published a book of his writings, including black-and-white photographs of his projects, Eero Saarinen on His Work. This book is currently on display at KMAC as part of the Eero Saarinen A Reputation for Innovation exhibit.

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Living Like a Mad Man- Saarinen’s Residential Design

The KMAC Radio Hour on ArtxFm (artxfm.com) will be hosted by KMAC’s Communications Director Julie Gross and she’ll be discussing Living Like a Mad Man- 1950s Residential Design. Tune in to the live show on Monday from 11am to 12p and stream it from your computer when you click PLAY on the embedded player located in the upper left corner of the website.

From the end of World War II until the mid-1960s, American architecture went through some very dramatic and exciting changes and the architects who were a part of this creative boom held a certain celebrity status. The now defunct American journal, Arts & Architecture, was a well respected publication that featured the era’s greatest architects, and Saarinen was one of them.

art&architecture

When World War II ended and the United States experienced a residential housing boom from the millions of soldiers who returned home. Houses were needed quickly, efficiently and with low material cost. Thus, the Case Study Houses were born. The Case Study Houses were experiments in American residential architecture sponsored by Arts & Architecture magazine, which commissioned major architects of the day, including Eero Saarinen, to build inexpensive and efficient model homes. John Entenza, editor of Arts & Architecture Magazine wanted the architects to create houses that would capture the public’s imagination by introducing new ideas about how they might live in the future.

Case Study House No.9 or the Entenza House was designed by Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen for John Entenza (1949) and is still located in Pacific Palisades, CA. For details of the house and design, read the original article from A&A magazine HERE.

casehouseno9

The Miller House

Joseph Irwin Miller (1909-2004) was born into a prominent Columbus, Indiana family with business interests in banking and industry. He was also a philanthropist and a patron of architecture where as chairman of the Cummins Engine Company, a leading maker of diesel engines, he established a foundation that fostered new building designs from leading architects turning the small city of Columbus, IN into a modern architectural showcase. So, how did Eero Saarinen come to design the private home and garden for Miller, his wife, Xenia, and their five children?

The Miller family in the "conversation pit", 1961. Photo: Frank Scherschel
The Miller family in the “conversation pit”, 1961. Photo: Frank Scherschel

Eliel Saarinen -> Builds First Christian Church 1942 in Columbus -> J. Irwin Miller hires Eero Saarinen to build Irwin Union Bank & Trust 1950, Completed 1954 -> J. Irwin Miller hires Eero to build private home, The Miller House 1953, Completed 1957.

Photo: Leslie Williamson for Dwell.com
Photo: Leslie Williamson for Dwell.com

It took four years (1953-1957) to design and build the 6,838 square foot home, which sits on 13.5 acres in Columbus, Indiana. The super powers behind this project were architect Eero Saarinen, landscape designer Dan Kiley, and textile designer and architect Alexander Girard.

Structurally, the entire weight of the roof is supported by 16 free-standing cruciform steel columns which defines the 9-square grid of the floorplan.

Miller-house-floorplan

An intricate continuous skylight system forms a grid pattern throughout the house meeting at the columns. The skylight system also has  hidden artificial lighting fixtures to illuminate the interior and exterior of the house at night.

skylight

The Living area has a circular fireplace designed by Balthazar Korab, which was reportedly  his only assignment during the 2 years he spent with the Saarinen office.

Photo: Leslie Williamson for Dwell.com
Photo: Leslie Williamson for Dwell.com

The 50-foot long rosewood and glass storage wall was designed by Girard to be used for books, display of art objects and as concealed storage for the television, stereo, bar and other items. Girard used patterned backgrounds and art objects inter-spaced with the family book collection giving the wall the appearance of a 3-dimensional mural.

1961. Photo: Frank Scherschel
1961. Photo: Frank Scherschel
Courtesy of Indy Star
Courtesy of Indy Star

One trademark feature is the sunken living room (or conversation pit) which holds a square sectional sofa with a multitude of accent pillows. Most of the pillow fabrics were designed or selected by Alexander Girard. The sofa cushions were made in both red and white and would be changed around several times a year. This “pit” was Saarinen’s solution to the “inevitable slum of legs” created by a room filled with furniture.

The dining room which can be closed off with a curtain for food preparation or opened when dinner is served. One of the only interior Saarinen furnishings in the original configuration is the built-in dining table. It has a terrazzo base and a round marble top resembling the pedestal table series. It is lit from below and features a bubbling fountain in the center.

Photo: Leslie Williamson for Dwell.com
Photo: Leslie Williamson for Dwell.com

Seat cushions for the Saarinen pedestal chairs were designed by Girard and Xenia Miller with the help of her bridge club did the embroidery.

Each family members initials can be found inside the cushion designs. Photo: Indy Star
Each family members initials can be found inside the cushion designs. Photo: Indy Star

The Miller House and Garden is owned and maintained by the Indianapolis Museum of Art and daily tours are available. Go to www.imamuseum.org/visit/miller-house for info.

KMAC Donors Tour Mayor Jim Gray’s Art Collection

In November, the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft Donor’s Circle visited the magnificent art collection of Lexington Mayor Jim Gray.  Mayor Gray’s home is situated in the Gratz Park Historic District, one of the most beautiful areas of Lexington, Kentucky.

Lexington Artist Louis Zoellar Bickett offered us a tour through Mayor Gray’s well-appointed rooms, several of which feature Bickett’s assemblages and containers.  In the entrance hall, we admired a large black-and-white piece entitled Welsh Oaks (#3) (1998) by Vancouver School photographer Rodney Graham.

rgraham

Our group especially enjoyed becoming acquainted with the work of Lexington-area artist Mark Goodlett, who assembles ornate picture-boxes out of wadded paper while lying in bed.

Mayor Gray’s residence houses work by many world-renowned contemporary artists, such as Joseph Kosuth, Yinka Shonibare, Kara Walker, Richard Long, Vik Muniz , Claes Oldenburg, Yayoi Kusama, Robert Mapplethorpe, Gerhard Richter, and Fred Tomaselli.  Bickett informed us that Mayor Gray regularly rotates pieces in the house with others from his vast collection.

Great favorites amongst this art loving group were two pieces by English artist and Turner Prize winner Rachel Whiteread.  While viewers may be familiar with Whiteread’s plaster casts of vacant/negative spaces, the sculpture Untitled (Trafalgar Square Plinth) (1999) surprises with its use of resin to create a ghostly double.

r.whitehead

Another of Whiteread’s works, “Switch” (1994), creates a more subtle, playful effect.

On that perfect fall day, the group ventured on to galleries around town.  We are grateful to Mayor Gray and to Bickett for their hospitality.  Please join us on a future trip!

–Leslie Millar
KMAC Board Member
photos courtesy of Jody Howard