Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

#Architecture That Houses #Creativity

March 26, 2015 Archive Insight

Object ID:

Rediscovery with Ryan: Letter and Drawing by George Washington Carver

Sent to Henry Ford, 1941

One of the themes discussed during #MuseumWeek was that of architecture, challenging participants to “explore the history, architectural heritage, gardens and surroundings of museums” you have visited. Here at the The Henry Ford, our venues provide nearly unlimited potential for you to creatively capture our stunning grounds and architecture. I believe that this potential highlights the inspirational aspect of human creativity. The same creativity that resulted in our beautiful architecture and grounds, now inspires your own personal creativity when you visit. Whether you are trying to get that perfect picture of the village or you are simply sitting back and admiring the grandeur of the museum, it’s hard to ignore the fact that creativity is a key component in what The Henry Ford represents.

As custodians of American innovation, we are guardians of creativity. Inventiveness and innovation would not exist if it wasn’t for the creative spirit. So for this theme, I chose to talk about someone who is represented in our archives, on our beautiful grounds, and is also an ideal example of using that creative spirit: George Washington Carver.

Henry Ford had a cabin built in Greenfield Village in honor of his good friend George Washington Carver. (You can read more about their friendship and the cabin here.) The two became friends over their interest in producing industrial goods from crops. This had been evident in Henry’s creation of Kingsford charcoal in the early 1920’s. After seeing timber waste going unused in northern Michigan (the leftovers of timber being harvested for his Model T), Henry decided to fully invest this “waste” into the creation of charcoal. This wouldn’t be his last interest in using agricultural products either. By the early 1940’s, he was experimenting with turning soybeans into plastic, undoubtedly with input from his friend George Washington Carver.

George Washington Carver was born into slavery and pursued his interest in learning during a time when it was nearly impossible for him to do so. By the time of his death, he had become a Renaissance Man. He was an artist, teacher, scientist, inventor, and humanitarian. He was also a pioneer in conservation and sustainability. He revolutionized agriculture and his creativity led to work that proved plants had nearly unlimited potential in their uses to society.

I think that this letter allows us to catch a glimpse of how remarkable his creativity was, from his ingenious use of elm as ink, to the depth and detail of his picture. You can feel the genuine excitement of a friend writing to a friend about a mutual interest.

During a visit to Greenfield Village make it a point to see the cabin and stop by the Benson Ford Research Center to see our George Washington Carver collection. You never know what might trigger that creative spirit.

Ryan Jelso is Research Support Specialist at The Henry Ford.

art, Henry Ford, correspondence, Greenfield Village, Greenfield Village buildings, African American history, George Washington Carver, by Ryan Jelso

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