Art & Architecture

The Architecture

A prime example of Mid-Century Modern architecture, the Central Library bridges style and substance into a single structure. Architect Marcel Breuer was both a student and partner of Walter Gropius, who is best known as the founder of Bauhaus, a radical arts and crafts school in Germany founded shortly after World War I. The school was designed to combine architecture, crafts, and an academy of the arts, hoping to “create a new guild of craftsmen, without the class distinctions, which raise an arrogant barrier between craftsman and artist.”

The Central Library was one of Breuer’s first major public commissions in the United States. Keeping with the Bauhaus style, the modernist design is visible in not only the façade, but also in the interior design, furniture and artwork. Breuer designed many custom pieces of furniture for the library, which included the original circulation desk, shelving, a record listening desk, the card catalog file, and several tables.

In 2008, Central Library was included on the World Monuments Watch as part of the “Main Street Modern” category, which intended to call attention to at-risk modernist buildings that characterize the civic architecture of post-war America. The World Monuments Fund has led the way in conserving irreplaceable architectural and cultural sites throughout the world. A grant from the World Monuments Fund supported the preservation and conservation of the library architecture and principal works of art.

The Art

In speech given by W. Hawkins Ferry, he described Breuer’s vision for the library as such, “Art, which has so long been relegated to museums, would assume its rightful position in the pattern of our daily lives as it has done in past epochs.” To realize Breuer’s vision for the interior of the building, W. Hawkins Ferry commissioned four pieces of Mid-Century Modern artwork designed specifically for public display at the Central Library.

The Calder Mobile was evaluated and cataloged by the Calder Foundation in New York City and restored by Calder conservation expert Abigil Mack in 2015.

Calder Mobile

Renowned sculptor and artist Alexander Calder created the colorful steel and aluminum mobile which hangs in the main room of the Grosse Pointe Central Library. Calder was commissioned by W. Hawkins Ferry through a relationship that architect Marcel Breuer had with the artist. Calder is best known as the originator of the mobile, a type of kinetic sculpture made with delicately balanced or suspended components that move in response to motor power or air currents. These sculptures were groundbreaking as they departed from the traditional concept of art as a static object and introduced the ideas of motion and change as aesthetic design factors.

Calder’s manufacture of this type of mobile dates back to 1940 and continued to his death in 1976. Not long after the library acquired this important piece, Calder’s works became more widely known by the general public.

Photo by Holly Babiarz 

Cleaned and restored in 2015 by European-trained textile expert Howard Sutcliffe.

Kandinsky Tapestry

As part of the original plans for the Central Library, Marcel Breuer designed a hand-woven tapestry, which was made in Aubusson, a region in France famous for tapestry work. This tapestry was created from designs and paintings of Bauhaus artist and Breuer friend, Wassily Kandinsky. Although known as the “Kandinsky Tapestry”, the piece was neither designed nor created by Kandinsky (who died ten years before the library’s opening). The 6’ by 8 ½’ tapestry hangs on the back wall of the main room of the Central Library, a location selected by Breuer, allowing patrons to see the work from nearly any position within the room. The tapestry exhibits a work that draws from many elements of Kandinsky’s later works, closely resembling his pastel-on-black Composition from 1940.
Calder’s manufacture of this type of mobile dates back to 1940 and continued to his death in 1976. Not long after the library acquired this important piece, Calder’s works became more widely known by the general public.

Photo by Holly Babiarz 

“The History of Writing” by Herbert Matter
Restored in January 2014 by Valerie Baas, former Head Paper Conservator for the Detroit Institute of Arts DIA, with funds from the Library budget and a gift from the Friends of the Grosse Pointe Public Library.

Matter Mural

Found in the adult reading room, the 25’ by 9’ photomontage mural “The History of Writing” was created by photographer and graphic designer Herbert Matter and installed in 1955, shortly after the opening of the Central Library. Matter wanted to picture “the inspiration or revelation one gets from reading books”, and, rather than creating a mural of local scenes, chose to draw from “faraway lands the world over to which one never gets and only reads about”.

The mural features photo examples of the development of letters from prehistoric images through modern day font, illustrating the evolution of writing from the Paleolithic period to the 20th century. It includes, among others, elements of Greek, Roman, Hebrew, Arabic, Sanskrit, Chinese and the typeface of the Gutenberg Bible.

Photo by Holly Babiarz 

“Salute to Knowledge” by Lyman Kipp
Repainted September 2013 with funds generously given by the Grosse Pointe Questers #147

Kipp Sculpture

In 1981, W. Hawkins Ferry commissioned the sculpture which sits outside the front entrance of the library, fulfilling architect Marcel Breuer’s original intention for the design of the Central Library. “Salute to Knowledge” is a towering 23’ by 13’ by 5’ contemporary sculpture comprised of vivid red panels held in the air by bright blue steel beams, complementing the modernist architecture of the library, and standing in striking contrast to the surrounding neighborhood.

Support the Breuer Preservation Fund

Click the Button Below Make a Donation.

Share This