Russell’s time in the master’s program at the Cranbrook Academy of Art is drawing to a close. In a few days some of his new work will be shown as part of the graduating students’ exhibition at the Cranbrook Museum, followed shortly thereafter by an open studios event and then by graduation in early May.
Kish and I are excited to go up and see Russell’s new pieces as displayed in the museum and also to see what is underway in his studio. In the meantime, we’ve been reflecting on Cranbrook, the institution. It’s an interesting and physically beautiful place, with a fascinating history that finds deep roots in notions of American exceptionalism and the uniquely American ability to find a better approach to education, creativity, and craftsmanship, unbound by traditional notions of class and status and settled ways of doing things found in European cultures. Having a Master’s art program on the same campus as a secondary school, sharing grounds that feature lovely buildings, art objects, and carved expressions of sentiments about the importance of constantly seeking beauty in your daily life, is certainly an unusual concept not found in every educational institution.
Cranbrook has also been, I think, a good fit for Russell. Returning to the Detroit area — Cranbrook is in Bloomfield Hills, a Motor City suburb — after living for several years in Brooklyn has allowed Russell to really reconnect with his Midwestern roots, in ways that have found expression in his artwork and artistic interests. Cranbrook’s multi-disciplinary approach, in which students in the painting program are interacting regularly with student metalworkers, ceramic artists, architects, sculptors, fiber artists, and photographers, has also allowed Russell to experience different perspectives on art and experiment with incorporating some aspects of those approaches into his own artwork.
It might just be the Dad in me talking, but I think Russell’s willingness to experiment and embrace and understand what other students are doing has been true to the vision of a different, open approach that led to Cranbrook’s founding in the first place. I think the people who started the Art Academy would be as proud of him as we are.