The Central Library building and its modern art collection were commissioned in 1951 by Dexter M. Ferry, a local business and civic leader, philanthropist, and patron of the arts. Ferry’s son, W. Hawkins Ferry, was studying under Marcel Breuer at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Hawkins encouraged his father, who served as the head of the library building committee, to recommend the renowned Bauhaus architect.
Built with donations from Dexter M. Ferry, Jr. and Murray W. Sales, the Central Branch was completed in 1953. Carrying out Breuer’s vision for the Central Library to function as the community’s living room, W. Hawkins Ferry commissioned four key pieces of art to complement the modernist building design. These pieces, a hand-woven tapestry created from the designs of Wassily Kandinsky, a steel and aluminum mobile created by Alexander Calder, a mural created by photographer and graphic designer Herbert Matter, and a sculpture created by Lyman Kipp are valued at over $10M. Together, the art and architecture of the Central Library is classic illustration of the Midcentury Modern Movement.
The ideas and planning of many people went into the realization of this building, but its final form as we see it today is the creation of the architect Marcel Breuer. He visualized the building not as a mere repository of books but as a social, cultural, and civic crystallization point. Literature and art were to be made more accessible in an inviting home-like atmosphere…W. Hawkins Ferry
The Grosse Pointe Library Foundation established the Breuer Preservation Fund in 2013 to support the restoration of the building’s art and architecture, and to honor the significance of the Central Library’s role in the modernism movement. Through the generosity of our donors and with a grant from the World Monument Fund, restoration of the Central Library’s four major works of art was completed in 2016. The Breuer Preservation Fund has created a reserve for future restoration needs, and will continue to raise and distribute funds to support period-specific improvements to the Central Library and to provide programming and education inspired by the mid-century modern movement.
The mission of the Breuer Preservation Fund is to preserve and maintain the art and architectural integrity of the Central Library, the only Marcel Breuer-designed building in the Detroit area, in the spirit in which it was built, and to educate the community on the integrated approach to modernism design.