Photos

A Visual History of Michigan's Outsize Influence on American Modernism

The state that helped bring design to the masses reflects on its legacy with an upcoming symposium and exhibit.

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Steve Vorderman/Michigan State Historic Preservation Office

With the likes of Albert Kahn, Minoru Yamasaki, Eliel Saarinen, and Charles and Ray Eames all calling Michigan home at some point in their careers, the state is arguably long overdue for a look back on the innovations it gave to the rest of the design world.

It will soon do just that with Michigan Modern, a planned four-day symposium (June 13 through 16) and four-month design exhibit (June 14 through October 13) put together by the state's office of historic preservation and the Cranbrook Art Museum. The exhibit and symposium will highlight the role Michigan played in the history of American Modernism, one that's largely been under appreciated. America's modernist legacy is more often associated with Los Angeles, a city that came of age during the middle of the 20th century while embracing car culture, high design homes and Herman Miller furniture — all ideas that, along with the Eames lounge chair and those iconic Cadillac fins, originally germinated in Michigan.

"When it comes to modern design, Michigan often gets left out of the conversation," says Michigan Modern's project manager, Amy Arnold.

The image collection below, released in advance of the upcoming event by the Cranbrook Art Museum, lets Michigan's design influence speak for itself.

Mount Clemens Savings and Loan, Mount Clemens, Designed by William Kessler. Photographer: Balthazar Korab, Courtesy of the Library of Congress. 

General Motors advertisement for the 1959 Buick Electra 225 on Cranbrook Academy of Art campus. Photo courtesy of General Motors 2013. 

Hilda Longinotti reposing on the Marshmallow Sofa, designed by George Nelson. Photo courtesy of the Herman Miller Archives. 

 

Herman Miller founder DJ De Pree sitting in an Eames Lounge Chair, surrounded by a Noguchi table and an Eames walnut stool. Photo courtesy of the Herman Miller Archives. 

The Herman Miller Furniture Company’s founder and designers. From left to right: Robert Propst, Alexander Girard, George Nelson, DJ De Pree, Ray Eames, and Charles Eames. Photo courtesy of the Herman Miller Archives. 

William Muschenheim House, Ann Arbor, designed by William Muschenheim. Photographer: Rob Yallop for the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office.

Alden B. Dow Home and Studio, Midland, designed by Alden B. Dow. Photographer: Steve Vorderman for the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office. 

William Kessler House, Grosse Pointe Park, designed by William Kessler. Photographer: Balthazar Korab courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Reynolds Metals Regional Sales Office, Southfield, designed by Minoru Yamasaki. Photographer: Balthazar Korab. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

McGregor Memorial Conference Center, Wayne State University, designed by Minoru Yamasaki. Photographer: Balthazar Korab. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress. 

Lafayette Park, Detroit, designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Photographer: Steve Vorderman for the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office. 

Michigan Consolidated Gas Building, Detroit, designed by Minoru Yamasaki. Photographer: Steve Vorderman for the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office. 

Cranbrook Academy of Art Orpheus Fountain and Peristyle. Photographer: Balthazar Korab. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress. 

General Motors Technical Center. Photographer: Balthazar Korab. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress. 

Michigan Modern: Design that Shaped America, runs from June 13 to 16 at Cranbrook Educational Community, in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Registration for the event end on May 31. The Michigan Modern art exhibit runs from June 14 to October 13 at the Cranbrook Art Museum.

Top image: Grand Rapids City Hall and Calder Plaza, designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. La Grand Vitesse by Alexander Calder. Photographer: Steve Vorderman for the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office. 

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