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Cranbrook: The Cradle of Michigan Modernism

Orpheus Fountain photo
Kevin Lavery
The Orpheus Fountain outside the Cranbrook Art Museum

The mid-20th century was an incredibly transformative time in American society. A depression followed by a world war followed by a consumerism boom drove cultural changes that were reflected in art and architecture. Michigan was a hotspot for the modernist movement. Current State’s Kevin Lavery reports from Cranbrook, the famous educational enclave in suburban Detroit.

The late 1930’s was a time of great cultural change in America. In the face of a looming world war, the frivolity of the 20’s was replaced with an industrial atmosphere that gave rise to a new artistic aesthetic. Today, historians call that period Mid-Century Modern, and much of it was created right here in Michigan.

A new book from the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office documents that era. “Michigan Modern: The Design That Shaped America” is a collection of essays about the style that shaped architecture, automobiles and furniture.

Current State’s Kevin Lavery speaks with two experts on Modernism. Brian Conway is the state historic preservation officer and the book’s co-editor, and Leslie Edwards is the head archivist at the Cranbrook Educational Community, the suburban Detroit campus that taught many of the period’s greatest minds. They met at Orpheus Fountain, the gateway to the iconic 1942 Cranbrook Art Museum.

Kevin Lavery served as a general assignment reporter and occasional local host for Morning Edition and All Things Considered before retiring in 2023.
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