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Detroit's Arts and Crafts Movement(s)

Here's a headline I can get behind: "Detroit a hotbed of cool art? Ah, yes." The Globe and Mail.

How about this one: "Metro Detroit's Homeprenuers."Our own Metromode.

Let it be known that I love stories about Detroit; I have my Google Alerts on full alert for any good word about the city. It's particularly gratifying when the articles could spark new interest in our little neck of the woods.

Give me your artists, your crafters, your small businesses yearning for a place to profit. (Apologies to Emma Lazaru.) I may not be an art critic or know how to knit. But I do know that anyone willing to take a chance on Detroit has the kind of moxie this place needs.

Consider the case of Richard Rogers, president of the College for Creative Studies, a college of art and design. Here's what he told the Globe and Mail for its Feb. 26 story about the growing art movement here:

(Rogers) moved from New York City 10 years ago, much to the surprise of his friends. People think of Detroit as decayed, destroyed, post-apocalyptic, he said, and largely beyond repair. “Artists don't really look at things that way,” he said. “Artists go into places that other people aren't interested in and transform them.”

I've had the good fortune of meeting many local artists over the past six months of this blogging project. There's Spencer and Barbara Barefield, who organize the Music in Homes event for their Palmer Woods neighborhood. Spencer is a noted jazz guitarist; Barbara does photography and other medias. Philip Lauri showed us his mural. And I loved the Scarab Club with its artists in residence. And who could forget the Ice House Detroit project?

These are all good people who are making a difference in Detroit's art scene -- and Detroit as a whole. Note Rogers' comment: Artists go places other people do not. They are the change-makers. They take risks. Detroit is the ideal canvas -- they need big, empty spaces to work. They want relatively open areas to sit, contemplate and play loud music. They need to suffer for their art and drink good coffee (despite what Rogers says in the Globe article, we have plenty of that here.) We have everything they need, and our city government is working on plans to clear out even more.

I also have been hugely impressed with the urban crafts movement as defined by the women of Handmade Detroit. The Feb. 25 Metromode story, while mostly focusing on the idea of working from home, touched on the work of Handmade Detroit co-founder Bethany Nixon.

Equally important is finding like-minded people to keep you focused and enthusiastic about what you're doing, which Nixon found in craft group Handmade Detroit. "I think it's important to surround yourself with people that are going to inspire you and drive you."

As I have blogged before, living in Detroit can beat you down. Or it can raise you up if you find the right tide. People like Nixon, Rogers and even those Ice House dudes are making Detroit a place worth visiting or even LIVING in. So come on, you artists, you creatives, you masses. Find your muse in the Mitten.

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  • 1

    Good one Karen,

    Detroit has always been a great arts center and it was probably the most well ensconced City in America in the Arts and Crafts Movement when it was in full flourish.

    I went to Arts and Crafts when that was the School Name and Later built the Center for Creative Studies "Tinker Toy Building" by Bill Kessler. Yes, the Scarab Club is also a product of that period.

    Detroit was the home of many great auto designers and advertising art people and photographers. Kids graduating from Cass Tech and it's once incredible programs were more proficient than many students graduating from College programs. Have you looked at that building lately?

    The Pewabic Pottery, houses in Highland Park and Grosse Pointe and Indian Village have touches of that movement. I previously mentioned about telling the young craftsman and potter, David Ellison, to get Pewabic Pottery going again making tiles. That was due essentially to the great interest Fred Ruffner had in historic architecture. He loved the potttery in Pennsylvania and it's architectural tiles and so I took him to Pewabic an he exclaimed that he had passed the building so many times and never entered it and was astonished to see what was going on. I think that the Ruffners, especially Peter, got involved and helped get things going when it was limping along. Look at Buck Stratton's house. Notice how the brick blends so beautifully with the Sycamore out front. I would never object to you taking your children there and pointing these things out to them. Cranbrook was very hightly influenced by that movemet and even some of the new buildings have managed to blend modern with the Arts and Crafts ideals of loving materials.

    While the Arts and Crafts movement was eschewed by the modern movement in arts, it has always existed here.
    Look at the great brick colors at Cranbrook. Eliel went down int Ohio and worked with he brick maufacturers to establish those wonderful blends. Eero did something similar on the GM Technical Center, the first of the great corporate parks.

    Detroit is a great arts area and you also have to include Ann Arbor as a part of Metro Detroit and certainly the largest Art Fair in America and the U of M art schools' movement into Pop Art, hence the Blue Man Group.

    The crushing of the Profession of Architecture by the Contractors and Builders here is another topic worth pursuing. It may become Bobb's Downfall.

    "Who needs an architect? Are you going to trust the man with the pencil or the man with the buzzsaw.... zzgringggh? Accompanied with a tough eyed look.

    Does that beget a rational train of thought filled events or has America really gone to hell?

    Starving artists, well heeled artists, Detroit has had them all.


  • 2

    Great post Karen, and how appropriately timed with an upcoming event celebrating the accomplishments of artists and designers in this area, Celebrate Michigan Design. Though the event will be held in Pontiac (not Detroit) the three lecturers, Julie Lang, Jody Levy and Susan Skarsgard will discuss how Michigan and Detroit has shaped their careers as designers. After the lecture the ladies of Handmade Detroit, (among others) will be selling their Michigan themed goods.

    This event is part of an initiative started by AIGA Detroit, created as an opportunity not only to look back at our history for inspiration, but also to toast Michigan design as the magnificent force of innovation it continues to be.

    Celebrate Michigan Design

    March 25th, 2010
    The Crofoot Ballroom

    More information here:

  • 3

    When growing up there was a great emphasis on the American Indians and how wonderful they were and how many cities and towns and lakes and indeed our state name derived from their languages.

    They were held up as examples of people who never destroyed the land and never went on wanton sprees.

    Their greeting was said to be "How." With their hand held up open palmed in greeting.

    It always amazed me that the State never played with that.
    Certainly we were the ones who knew how... to do lots of amazing things.

    The pottery that Fred Ruffner was interested in was the Moravian Pottery in Doylestown... fine architectural tiles appropriate for his former home at 221 Lewiston.

    Pewabic tiles were quite different and could be stunning... irridescences and wonderful earth tones and all.


  • 4

    "Find your muse in the Mitten"

    I love it. Wouldn't it be fantastic if that became our tagline? If we could leverage our assets so simply and so succinctly? Find your muse in the Mitten. I did...

  • 5

    Or say how to Michigan.

    (Do you think that we can figure out how?... I think that we can.)


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