Monday, October 12, 2009

A Marriage of Art and Nature

This past weekend, I flew to Michigan for my brother's wedding. The ceremony took place at Cranbrook House and Gardens, part of a 319-acre National Historic Landmark campus which includes three schools, two museums, a church and an academy of art. It's one of my favorite places on earth.

(Courtyard of Cranbrook House.
The Little Prince and I are next to the car.)

Designed for George Booth and Ellen Scripps Booth in 1908 by architect Albert Kahn, the house is a glorious example of English Arts and Crafts style.
(The house in 1925)

But even more than the house, it is the gardens which absolutely transport me. Everywhere you turn, there is a hidden corner aching to be photographed...

...a lush fountain nestled in a copse of forest...

...or a crumbling urn marking the way to a secret lawn.

And everywhere, everywhere, art sheathed in the unruliness of nature.

We still have a few minutes before we have to take our seats. Let's pass through this archway at the side of the house. See that black railing on the right? We're going down there.

That path is so calling out to us.

Look, a sunken garden. Despite being in the throes of decay and dormancy, it's still captivating. I'd like to get a closer look at that crest, though.

From this angle, it's getting harder and harder to believe I'm not in England.

And look over to the right: a little gardener's cottage straight from the novels of (take your pick) Thomas Hardy, Elizabeth Gaskell or Anthony Trollope.

I think I need to sit down for a moment.
Would you look at those stunning casement windows? Why, oh why, do so many people in period houses replace them with the vacuous deadpan stares of plate glass? To me, gazing out through a framed vista is so much more pleasing.

(Lest you assume -- as I did -- that they don't make flat iron casement windows anymore, I found this one after an exhaustive ten second search.)
(via here)

Come on, one last adventure. Let's walk up the steps and take a look at that stone fountain in the distance.

Am I alone or does anyone else think that the discoloration on it adds to its charm? It gives it a well-earned patina that heralds the years of service those two muscular gentleman have provided. And do you see that bust of Zeus in the background?

Here's a little secret: Stand on a certain brick at its base and you trigger a secret mechanism that makes it "cry."
(Thanks to Amy B. for this photo)

How do I know this? Because I spent many preteen summers attending theater school at Cranbrook and am well-acquainted with this fellow. On performance nights, my friends and I would lead unsuspecting guests along a dark trail to Weeping Zeus. After uttering an incantation, we would surreptitiously press the lever and completely unnerve them. Oh, the glorious gullibility of young minds.

According to the Cranbrook website, no less than The New York Times Magazine called it "the most enchanted and enchanting setting in America."
I can't disagree.

16 comments:

Tara Dillard said...

The Poverty Cycle is an element of every great garden.

Perhaps one of the greatest parts? An element necessary to new landscapes.

Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

katiedid said...

Oh my goodness....where in the world have I been?! I was just over at Tartenscot's blog and noticed your link...so here I am! And I have been spending the last half hour scrolling through your lovely blog and thinking to myself, "I have got to start thinking about my writing skills!" You,my dear, have a way with words that is quite wonderful, and an eye that will draw me back again quite often! And your home! Their is a story behind every piece I am sure! No wonder Courtney claimed it as her ten most favorite things!......I have added your link so I can keep abreast of your latest.

smallbutcharming said...

cranbrook and belle isle, two good reasons to remember michigan. thank you, i had forgotten about them.....and the gardens at cranbrook, thanks for painting such a beautiful picture.

smallbutcharming.com said...

oh, and the diego rivera murals in the detroit art institute

balsamfir said...

I've heard about it for years but never knew it was beautiful before. Your point about windows is well made. I found out that despite popular belief, retrofitting double panes into old windows often doesn't improve the R value much more than really good reglazing, with storms and sealing. Its also, at least around here, three times the price of custom made real sash from a local carpenter.

Simply Mel said...

What a magnificent garden escape! I loved 'our adventure' and have marked this on my must-see list!

A Super Dilettante said...

It's so beautiful Lisa. It's like a little England! I'd like to have a garden like that.

pve design said...

Mother Nature at it's best - truly an ever changing and enchanting work of art.
pve

Tavarua said...

Fantastic Post (as always) - Great Photos......All the Best from ...a cold Warsaw

Lisa Borgnes Giramonti said...

Tara: Love the phrase" poverty cycle." So poetic. It certainly brings a whole new aspect to the off-season.

Katiedid: Thank you so much for your lovely words! So glad you made it here... xx

smallbutcharming: yes, those diego rivera murals are something, all right. Thanks for the reminder...

balsamfir: Very interesting about the windows. So not only do casements look better, but they're just as heat-retaining as the new ones? Even more of a reason to stick with the pretty ones.

SimplyMel: If you go, be sure to visit the Saarinen House, which is open to the public on certain days. It's a revelation.

http://www.cranbrookart.edu/museum/images/saarinen/saarinen_guide.pdf

ASuperDilettante and PVE: I knew you both would like it! xx

Tavarua: Your peripatetic travels leave me breathless. I must catch up on your blog immediately. xx

Ana Maria said...

I have never been to Michigan, but I'm sure if by any chance I find myself around Cranbrook House and Gardens I'll visit it. In all my trips, include business ones, I try to find places like the one you have shown us. I'm amazed on how much your photos look like the ones that I have taken around in similar places, not that they are the same, but the angle and subjects are very similar. I have been visiting your blog over the weekend and I’m enjoying every piece of it. Congratulations!!

Lisa Borgnes Giramonti said...

Ana Maria: I know exactly what you mean by finding similarities in disparate places. The universal nature of beauty can make a crumbling tower in Scotland seem like the long-lost twin of a Hindu temple in Jaipur. I've seen it, too. Welcome to A Bloomsbury Life and thank you for finding your way here! xx

Sweet_Tooth said...

This is such a fairy tale!!

and those casement windows are exquisite, especially with the leafy vines... this place makes me swoon.
x

Vandenbergler said...

Lisa-I just came across this post of Cranbrook and loved it. I'm in the process of planning a wedding there as well. I wondered if your brother has pictures of his wedding posted anywhere online? If so, could you point me in the right direction? Thank you!

Miss Muddy Paws said...

Thanks for sharing! That is my great grandfather and grandmother's home, where my grandmother grew up, and my father lived just down the street, and spent many a family holiday! Oh how I love going back to Cranbrook to visit.

My favorite part of Cranbrook is the stained glass window of the dog which accidentally hung itself while the family was out-of-town. Now a days, people know not to tether dogs, but things were different back then. Animals were such a huge part of this side of my family's life. You now know where Miss Muddy Paws gets it from! I love looking through all the photos from Cranbrook and the Detroit homes of my grandparents, great grandparents, and great great grandparents with their dogs and horses.

Cranbrook is truly a perfect setting for a wedding!

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