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New art exhibit explores Michigan's design history


Close your eyes for a moment and think about America in 1962. What images come to mind?

Chances are, those images, whether furniture, architecture, or cars, have roots right here in Michigan.

A major exhibition that's begun at the Cranbrook Art Museum in Bloomfield Hills explores Michigan's major role in what America looked like in the mid-20th Century. And much of that design is linked to Cranbrook. It's called "Modern Michigan: Design that Shaped America."

“What distinguishes Michigan as opposed to California Modern is the fact that you had the constellation of these three industries here in Michigan,” said Greg Wittkopp, the Director of the Cranbrook Art Museum and the Cranbrook Center for Collections and research. “You had the architects that were coming out of schools like the University of Michigan and Cranbrook academy of art. But you also had the furniture industry, which of course its roots go back to when we were the basis of a lumbering center. And then you had the automobile industry. Other states might be able to claim one or two of those, but really nobody else can claim three of them.”

It was out of these three industries that modernism flourished. During the 40s and 50s, designers such as Ray and Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen rose up.

“We had these great geniuses at Cranbrook and we had research at the University of Michigan, and it really was, I believe, due to the fact that we had these resources, these industries, coming out of the war,” said Greg Saldana, the curator of the Exhibition.

“This started as a project 4 or 5 years ago to really lay claim to this design history that we were seeing other states around the nation claiming,” said Wittkopp. Originally it was a research project to identify 100 modernist landmarks in the state, which developed into a website, and then a symposium, and eventually manifested into this exhibition. But it’s not stopping there.

“Hopefully the final phase of this will be a major research publication,” Wittkopp stated.

The exhibit is called "Modern Michigan: Design That Shaped America," and it will be running until October 13th at the Cranbrook Art Museum in Bloomfield Hills.

-Michelle Nelson, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Listen to the full interview above.

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