Gesamtkunstwerk, Walkerville: An Object-Lesson for the DSAC
McGill University, Montreal, QC, Canada
The first exhibition for an American Society of Arts & Crafts was held in Boston, 1897. It influenced the Detroit Society of Arts & Crafts, founded in 1906. Not only did the first Detroit president, George Booth, exhibit at the Boston Society, but a founding Boston member, Ralph Adams Cram, lectured at the DSAC. More importantly, Cram and his architectural partner, Bertram Goodhue, designed several churches in the Detroit area to showcase their arts and crafts ideology. But the best of these churches was not located in Detroit; it was just across the border in the Canadian company town of Walkerville. The eponymous Walker family was deeply rooted in Detroit's social scene, and their commission of St. Mary's Anglican Church, Walkerville (1902-04), gave Cram the greatest opportunity to orchestrate his architecture with American arts and crafts. Through the Walkerville church, Cram was lecturing to Detroit's society right before the Detroit Society of Arts & Crafts was founded.
Cram used musical metaphors to express the spatial arrangements of a church and the orchestrated use of crafted objects to guide us through them. He considered Richard Wagner to be his idol. Cram's experience at the Bayreuth theatre, where Wagner orchestrated a gesamtkunstwerk of music, stage and setting, profoundly shaped Cram's approach to design. He would allow his selected craftspeople to produce their isolated components but only inasmuch as those components were instrumental to the greater composition of his architecture. As such, Cram designed the Walkerville church with fellow members of the Boston Society. Their local and, at times, familial proximity allowed for greater control and coordination. Perhaps then the architects of the DSAC were interested in nurturing local craftspeople for the same reason.