Visitors encouraged to channel their inner artist in ‘The Studio’

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published April 7, 2015

 A drafting table, paper and pencils are available in the Design Studio for people to create their own blueprints or landscape designs in the pattern of people such as architect Albert Kahn and landscape designer Jens Jensen, who both famously left their mark on the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House and grounds, respectively.

A drafting table, paper and pencils are available in the Design Studio for people to create their own blueprints or landscape designs in the pattern of people such as architect Albert Kahn and landscape designer Jens Jensen, who both famously left their mark on the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House and grounds, respectively.

Photo by K. Michelle Moran

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GROSSE POINTE SHORES — They may not have been fine artists themselves, but Edsel and Eleanor Ford were thoroughly engaged with the creative community, supporting the arts and surrounding themselves with inspired art and design.


Edsel Ford provided funding for Diego Rivera’s famous “Detroit Industry” murals on the walls of the Detroit Institute of Arts, and with the DIA now hosting the exhibition “Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in Detroit,” the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House is celebrating the relationship between the automotive scion and the activist artist.


“The Studio: Edsel & Diego” — now open inside the home’s South Cottage — is being billed as an “immersive space” where visitors can explore the mid-1930s, when Rivera was in Detroit creating his murals and his then-unknown wife was finding her voice as an artist.


“The Studio,” which opened at the beginning of April, will remain on view through the annual Fairy Tale Festival in late June, said Ann Fitzpatrick, vice president of communications at the Ford House.


Each room in the cottage is named and follows a particular theme. The Lounge, which is made to resemble a 1930s living room, features books, magazines and games from the 1930s — including Sorry, Monopoly and Anagrams, an early version of Scrabble — along with a vintage record player and radio, iPads with film clips from the 1930s, and contemporary books about that time in history. Although the books are first editions and the magazines are originals from the era, “everything here is meant to be touched,” said Diane VanderBeke Mager, education and learning specialist at the Ford House. Visitors can sit down with any of the books or magazines and read them at their leisure.


While most items in the main house are museum pieces and come with a hands-off policy, Fitzpatrick said the literature displayed in the Lounge is meant to be handled by the public.


“We purchased them for this purpose,” she said.


There are seating areas in the Lounge with modernist furniture and complimentary coffee, tea or hot chocolate, thanks to a contemporary Keurig brewer. There’s a dish of wrapped Lifesavers nearby, because they were “a popular candy in the 1930s,” VanderBeke Mager said.


The Design Studio spotlights the contributions that people like architect Albert Kahn, landscape architect Jens Jensen and designer Walter Dorwin Teague made to the Ford House and grounds, along with offering a wider view of their work elsewhere. Teague, a “renowned industrial designer,” designed the modern rooms in the Ford House, VanderBeke Mager said. Kahn not only designed the Ford House, but other famous structures, including the Belle Isle Conservatory, Ford River Rouge plant and Fisher Building. Visitors can look at blueprints or make their own at the drafting table, sketch a design on the chalkboard just like automotive designers once did in the 1930s, or share their thoughts and ideas on a vintage typewriter set up in the corner for that reason.


“We have all of these resources and interactives so people can really get a sense of these designers of the 1930s,” VanderBeke Mager said. “The idea is that each of the spaces has some sort of interactive element.”


An iPad in the Design Studio gives visitors a chance to hear Edsel Ford share his thoughts on the importance of design during a talk at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.


In the Craft Studio, visitors can learn more about ceramist Maija Grotell, whose pieces were collected by people like the Fords.


“She became instrumental in the studio ceramic movement in America,” said VanderBeke Mager, adding that Grotell was known for her glazes, one of which was used on bricks at the General Motors Tech Center.


Film footage from 1939 shows Grotell at work, and visitors can see a 1930s-style potter’s kick wheel — for creating vases and other items — along with other ceramic tools from that time period.


The Artist Studio features books and other information about Rivera and Kahlo, and a mirror and sketchpad with pencils give visitors the opportunity to draw self-portraits. A magnetic board with a variety of local images lets people come up with their own version of a Detroit mural. They can also borrow a pencil and sketchbook to draw on Ford House grounds, where gardens, waterways and wildlife provide plenty of natural subject matter for amateur and professional artists alike. The grounds were closed early this spring for major infrastructure improvements, but at press time, they were slated to reopen for visitors April 25.


In addition, there are letters, telegraphs and photos that reflect the lives of these artists and designers in each of the rooms.


“There’s a lot of authentic documentation that provides background (about these individuals),” VanderBeke Mager said.


Unlike the more formal house tours, visitors to “The Studio” can spend as much, or as little, time as they want.


“It’s providing a space for people to explore at their own pace and with their own interests,” Fitzpatrick said.


The Ford House is located at 1100 Lake Shore in Grosse Pointe Shores, between Vernier and Nine Mile roads. Admission to “The Studio: Edsel & Diego” is free with either a house tour or a grounds pass. There are also a number of special programs during the run of the exhibition, including hands-on art workshops, for which reservations are required. For more information, call (313) 884-4222 or visit www.fordhouse.org.

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