Co-founder Andy Cruz shares how an enthusiast’s disposition and a willingness to experiment helped build his font factory, House Industries
Even if you’ve never heard of House Industries, it’s safe to say you’ve seen its fonts and graphic design work. They’re everywhere, from drive-thru menus to record sleeves to children’s toy blocks to the signage associated with the modern-day burger joint Shake Shack.
House’s output is a connective tissue that runs between such cultural touchstones as hot-rod hero Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, iconic French fashion house and saddlery Hermès, midcentury designers Alexander Girard and Charles and Ray Eames, and renowned pottery and tile manufacturer Heath Ceramics.
House Industries was founded in Delaware in 1993 by graphic designers Andy Cruz and Rich Roat, when, in response to the overwhelmingly corporate clientele in Wilmington, the pair decided to develop their custom lettering into fonts they could sell as products. This additional income acted as a buffer, affording Cruz and Roat a certain measure of freedom when selecting clients and collaborations. Taking visual cues from their various influences and interests — hot rods, skateboarding, punk rock, cycling and modern design, among others — House Industries developed a reputation for enthusiastic experimentation and an idiosyncratic approach to type that has only grown over the years.
Soon much of their work and the stories behind it will be published in the book The Process Is the Inspiration and presented to the public in an exhibition in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation. While preparing for the exhibition, Cruz took some time out of his busy schedule to speak with The Henry Ford Magazine about the underlying philosophy behind House Industries and its approach to collaboration.
DID YOU KNOW? House Industries delivers its space-age 3009 font set in a die-cut spaceship reminiscent of a ’50s sci-fi film.
THF Magazine: Can you talk about the general philosophy behind House Industries?
Cruz: We built House on the simple idea of incorporating personal interests into our work.
The trick was figuring out how to make our hobbies work hard for us, instead of working hard to support our hobbies. We tried to create a world at House where our curiosities and interests help fuel our business and personal lives and created a sense of purpose. So that’s one idealistic pillar of House Industries. Reality eventually kicked in, and we had to get down to figuring out how to apply those interests — that acquired knowledge — to the things that we were making. It started out as fonts, and then our design attention deficit disorder kicked in. Soon we were making clothing and then that became ceramics and then that became bicycles. So it’s always moving. It’s slightly unpredictable. But the cornerstone of House is following our interests and self-led learning.
A DEEP DESIGN DIVE: House Industries spent four years researching the work of designer Alexander Girard, traveling to Germany, Michigan and New Mexico in the process. The result was the Girard collection of fonts and other items capturing the designer’s folk art sensibilities, plus a book documenting the project. House Industries also did its homework when iconic luxury brand Hermès commissioned the studio to “dress” its flagship Tokyo store with its signature alphabetical flair.
THF Magazine: The spirit of collaboration is present and a constant throughout House Industries’ body of work. How do you approach collaboration?
Cruz: A lot of it is mutual appreciation, if you will. I think of the Heath stuff, where we just went out there for a factory tour with no credentials — just sort of rolled in as tourists. I put up a shot of the men’s bathroom [on our blog], where they had some really cool tiles, and [Catherine Bailey, co-owner of Heath Ceramics] reaches out and says, “I wish I’d known you were here. I’ve been following you guys for a long time. Let’s try and figure something out.”
Sure enough, we figured something out. Again, that wasn’t a calculated business maneuver. It was just one of those things where, “Hey, I’m digging what you guys are doing; you dig what we do; let’s put the chocolate in the peanut butter and hope other people like how it tastes.”
The best work always comes out when that relationship is there. When they trust us and we trust them, we end up with something that everyone is excited to be a part of.
THF Magazine: It’s interesting the way you can thread the needle so successfully over and over again — creating something that’s identifiably a House Industries’ creation but also amplifies the message of a world-renowned brand like Hermès, for example.
Cruz: There’s definitely a level of respect there that we try to be sensitive to. I think the Hermès project might be a good example because we wanted to be reverent to the brand, but at the same time, we wanted to bring something to the party that was a little more House Industries. We basically drew their name in the shape of a horse, then cut each letter out of solid chunks of cedar. If you tell someone that, you could definitely get some eye rolls. But that was all part of trying to understand the company’s equestrian history, their design legacy, and bake some of those elements into the project, and usually we can come out the other side looking and sounding like we know what we’re doing. [laughs]
THF Magazine: You’ve taken on other projects during which you’re actively collaborating with brands connected to a family name and, in some cases — such as Charles and Ray Eames or Alexander Girard — with the history of design itself. How do you approach that?
Cruz: That stuff does come from being fans first, and I always try to remind our collaborators — be it an Eames or the Girards, even a Jimmy Kimmel — that we are stoked that they thought enough about us to let us work with their names. So we’re always conscious of that relationship. And as fans, you hate to see when your favorite brand does something, and it’s like, “Oh, man. That’s lame. Why’d they do that?” So that fan mentality helps us keep things honest at times. When we’re dealing with people’s family names and histories you admire, you don’t want to botch things up.
Accidental by Design Throughout the conversation with The Henry Ford Magazine, Cruz is self-effacing and nonchalant, almost as if the success of House Industries has been a happy accident or its collaborations with indelible brands and legacies just sort of happened. But House’s new book, The Process Is the Inspiration, belies some of that.
With the Eames project, for example, it took House Industries a decade to bring that project to fruition. At which point, even after a lifetime of appreciation and a painstaking scouring of the Eames archive at the Library of Congress, House’s sketches of “whimsical display fonts” left Charles Eames’ grandson Eames Demetrios unimpressed. He asked for something more forward-thinking that would contribute to the already established Eames legacy. So Cruz and company attacked the project from another angle, enlisted another collaborator in Erik van Blokland and created a purposeful typographical system of “workhorse” fonts rooted in the utilitarian spirit and playful joy of Charles and Ray’s work. They even applied it to toys.
Having been won over, Demetrios said in retrospect: “Design is a willingness to surrender to a journey ... Every once in a while you encounter a company like House Industries who is willing to go on that journey and grow our brand as well as theirs.”
Despite Cruz’s charming self-deprecation, it’s clear that, far from being accidental, the success of House Industries and its collaborations comes down to the obsessive, enthusiastic hard work and due diligence of wonderfully obsessive enthusiasts. By Bernie Brooks for The Henry Ford Magazine, with photos by Carlos Alejandro.
During the weekend of July 29th-30th, 2017, Maker Faire Detroit will return for its eighth year at The Henry Ford. From robotics to crafts, costume design to homebrewed carnival rides—hack-a-thons to soldering demonstrations—this family-friendly event promises to engage visitors with an immersive experience of ingenuity on overdrive. Hundreds of Makers (nearly one third of them new) will join us from around the globe this weekend, filling over 30-acres of space inside and outside of The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation.
Our Curator of Communications and Information Technology, Kristen Gallerneaux, has put together this list of a few of her most anticipated Makers for 2017.
1. Musical Lightning, Times Four! The Tesla Orchestra from Cleveland, Ohio are creators of “the world’s largest twin musical tesla coils.” For Maker Faire Detroit, they will demonstrate a quartet of mini coils capable of emitting three-foot lightning bolts—lightning that will be transformed into music before your eyes and ears. Each coil can play several notes – four coils put together brings the promise of Tesla harmonies! They will perform six times each day in Anderson Theatre.
2. Robots! In 1992, FIRST Robotics Competition had its inaugural event in a high school gymnasium with a total of 28 teams. Today, there are thousands of FIRST teams around the world. Founded by engineer Dean Kamen, FIRST gives high school students and their adult mentors the chance to collaborate and solve a problem: design and build a working industrial-sized robot. At Maker Faire Detroit, you can see robotics demonstrations by at least 15 competing FIRST teams from Michigan. Put it on your calendars: in April 2018, Detroit will host the FIRST Robotics Global Championship.
3. Flaming Carnival Games! Capn Nemos Flaming Carnival join us from Chicago. This group of artists, Makers and performers has been making the scene with their large-scale interactive projects: Hudor, the fire-breathing dragon boat, and a Halloween Parade that took over the streets of Chicago. This weekend, Nemos will present a selection of their midway carnival experiences including Ping Pong of Doom, High Striker, Zap!, and a “flaming popcorn machine.”
4. Drawing! Camp Pencil Point will host workshops about the ins and outs of drawing comics during Maker Faire weekend. Along with human camp counselors, other inhabitants of the Pencil Point staff such as Drew the Draw-topus will make appearances. Seating is limited, but the workshops will repeat every hour. Bring your pencils!
5. Bikes Shaped like Animals! Fabricator Juan Martinez and author Dave Eggers will bring a small herd of their metal creatures to Maker Faire. The 826michigan project, “The Spirit of the Animals is in the Wheels” is made up of a group of rideable metal animals built onto bicycle frames. A bear, a bison, and a 19-foot scaly mammal known as a pangolin will roam the grounds all weekend. Underneath these graceful creations, these Makers also bring a message—to raise awareness of the transportation challenges that Detroit-area children face when commuting to and from school every day.
6. Fluorescent Coral! Coral Morphologic was founded in 2007 by marine biologist Colin Foord and musician Jared McKay. Each member brings innovative skills in science and art to create lush and mesmerizing media experiences about the world’s endangered coral reefs. Coral Morphologic act as the preservationists, educators, and philosophers for Miami’s unique aquaculture. A 4K projection of a documentary about the group’s work will show three times per day in the Giant Screen Experience.
7. Inflatable Alien Fruit! Wild Aesthetic is the creation of local interdisciplinary artist Sean Hages. His huge inflatable “alien fruit” sculpture will fill part of the museum’s plaza. What else is there to say? It’s a big, colorful, wonderful sculpture with otherworldly tentacles!
8. Art is for Everyone! Zot Artz was a favorite at last year’s Maker Faire, and we are happy to have them return in 2017. Since 1990, Dwayne Szot has been using his talents as an artist and engineer to create adaptive art tools for children who use wheelchairs. Zot Artz will be onsite with an interactive demonstration, showing the creative ways that assistive devices can be transformed to paint, draw, and stamp out colorful art.
9. Fire Breathing Dragons! It will probably be difficult to walk the grounds of Maker Faire and miss seeing a 30-foot-long, 19-foot-tal metal dragon built on top of a GM mini bus. Heavy Meta breathes fire out of her animatronic mouth and shoots fireballs from her tail. This mutant art car dragon will be commuting over the Canadian border from Toronto, and was created by an eclectic group of Makers including high school interns, professional metalworkers, and engineers.
10. Speaker Program! A packed schedule of interesting talks has been programmed for The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation’s Drive In-Theatre. On Saturday, Caleb Kraft, Senior Editor at Make: magazine will talk about open source projects and the Maker community. On Sunday, young “hackschooler” Ben Hodsdon will share experiences about using Makerspaces and alternative learning outlets to hack a skilled education. Two panel discussions about food sustainability and Detroit’s agricultural renaissance will also take place on Sunday: Eastern Market: Innovation in Food Sourcing, and Farming in the City: Plants and Animals. Dr. Carleton Gholz of The Detroit Sound Conservancy will also join us to speak about the importance of Detroit’s sonic heritage and innovative models for its preservation.
Bonus Points! Inside the museum, the immersive design and typography exhibit, House Industries: A Type of Learning will be open for viewing. This exhibit is sure to be a hit with the Maker community, and admission is free with a Maker Faire ticket. Guests of House Industries will hold special programming inside this exhibit over the weekend.
On Saturday, Aaron Draplin of Draplin Design Co. and the popular Field Notes Brand “will take guests on a spirited walk through a wild array of projects and products—both big and small—from the front lines of graphic design.” Demonstrations at: 11-11:30am, 1:30-2pm, 4:30-5pm.
On Sunday, Jenny Hart of Sublime Stitching encourages guests to stop by and pick up an embroidery hoop. Jenny will lead guests through the process of stitching House Industries fonts during her 30-minute embroidery sessions. Demonstrations at: 11-11:30am, 1:30-2pm, 4:30-5pm.
During the week of May 1 - 5, 2017, The Henry Ford invited renowned glass artist Hiroshi Yamano to work in the Greenfield Village glass shop alongside our artists and craftspeople. Watch this exclusive interview to learn more about Yamano's week at The Henry Ford and how he uses glassblowing techniques from the past to influence his work in the present.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your work. I was born in a small town in Ohio in 1946. I received a BFA in Sculpture from the Cleveland Institute of Art, Cleveland, Ohio in 1969 and an MFA in Sculpture from Cranbrook Academy of Art, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan in 1973. I studied sculpture at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, Skowhegan, Maine 1967 and glass at the Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, Ohio from 1970-71.
I am Professor Emeritus, College for Creative Studies. I taught at CCS for 40 years. Currently I indulge myself in the studio, conceptualizing and creating art.
Fire began to dominate my art in 1969, the first time I tried to blow glass. As a sculptor, I was forging steel into “form.” Molten glass was an alternative: a hot, quick and scary medium to make art. Once I immersed myself in the glass process, the material became a “fine art” medium for me.
As my glass skills evolved and I explored a new process, I created the Image Vessel Series in 1976. In this series, I “painted” using color and line, and “sculpted” to produce a three-dimensional image through a blown-glass vessel.
Do you have a favorite piece you’ve created? Not one favorite piece; however, each step in the evolution of my work has produced several pieces that I believe interpret what I am trying to say.
Why do you enjoy working with glass? The three-dimensional world is reflected light and shadow. Glass adds transparency and translucency. Together this considerably expands the vocabulary of sculpture.
Where do you find your inspiration for your creations? Inspiration comes from the “human figure” along with its movement and stance.
What are you most looking forward to while being an Artist in Residence at The Henry Ford? I look forward to working with the highly skilled artisans that make up the Henry Ford glass studio. I hope to produce a three- dimensional interpretation of my Image Vessel Series.
Artist in Residence Hiroshi Yamano at work in the Greenfield Village Glass Shop.
Art in action. It’s one thing to admire a sculpture made of glass through the display case, studying the technique and artistry from afar. How do you take such art appreciation to the next level? Put it into action?
That’s the question Charles Sable, curator of decorative arts, and Joshua Wojick, master glassblower at the Greenfield Village Glass Shop, pondered as they thought about what’s next for The Henry Ford’s studio glass collection.
“We wanted to broaden our involvement with studio glass,” said Sable, the curator behind of The Henry Ford’s two new glass galleries, which feature studio glass. “We didn’t want the collection to become static. We wanted to express our commitment to studio glass, and glass in general, in ways that would keep our visitors engaged long into the future.”
Added Wojick, “We wanted to continue to build on the studio glass collection, build on its connection to The Henry Ford and create more of a story — our own story — that would be integrated into each object.”
That story’s next chapter comes in the form of an artist-in-residence program. This spring and summer, the Glass Shop hosts a quartet of renowned glass artists, as talented as they are different in their approaches. The program is a first of its kind for the Glass Shop.
In May, Japanese glass artist Hiroshi Yamano kick-started the program, spending five days in the Glass Shop working with The Henry Ford’s artisans and giving visitors a close-up view of his creative process. Formally trained sculptor and glass artist Herb Babcock will also take up temporary residence in the village, along with Marc Petrovic (several of his pieces are part of The Henry Ford’s Bachmann studio glass collection) and technical glassblower Janusz Pozniak.
“We wanted artists that were willing to share their individual artistic process with the public at large,” said Wojick. “Within our shop, we show the public mostly early American glass. This program opens up our studio for the first time, really giving us a chance to show visitors how contemporary artists work, implement designs, collaborate and meld concepts into the physical.”
The pièce de résistance of the program — each artist will leave behind a one-of-a-kind finished piece that will undoubtedly add to the evolving story of The Henry Ford’s glass collection.
“Madam X,” a 1939 Cadillac Sixty Special and one of the stars of the 2017 Detroit Autorama.
The car show season usually feels far away in late February. (Usually. Maybe not this year, when Detroit temperatures have already approached 70 degrees.) But the weekend of February 24-26 brought us a tease of the top-down, volume-up cruising weather to come. More than 800 cars filled Cobo Center for the 65th annual Detroit Autorama, among the most important shows in the hot rod and custom car hobby.
The VW Beetle-based “Baja Bandeeto,” showing that presentation is everything.
Naturally, Autorama doesn’t simply open the doors to kick off the event. No, it starts with something special. This year launched with a nod to The Dukes of Hazzard, the downhome television series that undoubtedly influenced every Autorama participant born between 1970 and 1980. The Northeast Ohio Dukes stunt show team patched together a derelict Dodge Charger, gave it the necessary orange paint, and jumped it 134 feet over Atwater Street, just outside Cobo Center. The flight was fantastic, but the landing… well, that Charger needs more care than Cooter Davenport can give it if it’s ever going to fly again.
“More Aggravation,” recipient of the very first Ridler Award in 1964.
Autorama’s top prize is the revered Ridler Award, named for early show promoter Don Ridler. Qualifying cars cannot have been shown publically prior to Autorama. Judges announce their “Great 8” – the eight finalists – at the Ridler’s Ball on Friday night. For the rest of the weekend, anticipation builds until the winner is revealed at the end of Sunday’s awards ceremony. The winning owner earns a small piece of immortality, with her or his name forever engraved on the trophy and added to the Winner Archive, and a not-so-small chunk of change in the form of $10,000. This year’s Ridler Award went to “Renaissance Roadster,” a scratch-built 1933 Ford powered by a GM big-block 427 crate engine.
One of the Rat Rods – the deliberately under-restored cars – that populated Autorama Extreme on Cobo Center’s lower level. Even in this condition the ’55 Chevy’s inherent beauty shines through.
For the fourth year, The Henry Ford presented its Past Forward award. With the prize, we look to honor a car that 1.) Combines traditional inspirations with modern innovations, 2.) Exhibits a high level of skill in its construction, 3.) Captures the “anything goes” attitude of the hot rod and custom car hobbies, and 4.) Is just plain fun.
“Pearl Necklace,” winner of The Henry Ford’s Past Forward award for 2017.
For 2017, we found all of those qualities in “Pearl Necklace,” a 1959 Ford Galaxie 500 built and owned by John Oberg and Roy Oberg. Apart from the pearlescent paint that inspired its name, and the beautiful marbled wheels (with retro Ford Motor Company logos on the hubs), “Pearl Necklace” could almost pass for stock. But this Galaxie’s a sleeper. The 352 V-8 was bored out by .020 inches, the stock differential was replaced with a 3.73 gearset for faster launches, and the transmission was replaced with Ford’s rugged C6 automatic to handle extra torque. Not that the car was too shabby even when originally built. Plaques on the door proudly boast that it’s “Air Conditioned by Ford Select Aire,” a ritzy option that accounted for almost 20 percent of the original $2,500 sticker price!
This 1979 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am was pointed west in Cobo Center, but it was eastbound in spirit.
But the best thing about “Pearl Necklace” was simply this: The car was a labor of love, built by John and Roy (with help from one or two friends) in a two-car garage over the course of 26 years. It’s that kind of dedication that makes a custom car special – and makes the Detroit Autorama a car show like no other.
Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.
You’re in a nightclub. The cavernous space is packed with bodies moving in time to the pulsing, morphing rhythms of electronic music. On a small stage, a shadowy figure hunches over a laptop, typing furiously. Projected computer code scrolls down a wall, The Matrix-style, a digital flurry of numbers, words and brackets as synth sounds build and music loops modulate.
This scene could almost be a slick DJ club set, but there are no knobs, decks or instruments in sight. Yet the code is real, and it’s all live.
This is the world of live-coding music, an art form in which performers create music by programming computers on the fly, in front of an audience, writing and revising instructions that trigger and manipulate sounds, rhythms and effects in real time.
THE MATH OF MUSIC When it comes to expressing musical ideas, computer programming might seem an unlikely outlet. But computer science is grounded in math, and music, with all of its messy, imprecise human expression, is largely built on mathematical relationships — harmonic structure, rhythmic patterns, and at its most fundamental, the unique combinations of sine waves that make up the sounds all around you, from birdsong to the roar of a jet engine.
We’ve been exploring parallels between music and math since the days of Pythagoras. Today, musicians and composers are able to use computers as tools to interpret and express these values and relationships.
“It’s clearer through coding that music can be expressed as essentially patterns of numbers that are processed and transformed in various ways — and that we can add expressivity by changing the sounds we are using and shaping the structure of our sounds,” said Shelly Knotts, a composer, experimental artist and live coder in the United Kingdom.
As a live coder learns to anticipate these mathematical relationships, his or her ears learn to “hear” the relationships, much like in traditional music theory training. Live coders often write code that they can hear in their heads — which, at a fundamental level, relates to Beethoven’s ability to continue composing even after he had completely lost his hearing. BREAKING DOWN BARRIERS Live-coding languages and styles vary. Most performers create music entirely on the fly, constructing ideas from scratch; a few mix in precoded elements, DJ-style. But they all embrace the movement’s overarching philosophy that live coding should be inclusive and accessible to everyone.
For most live coders, exposing their code is part of the performance and serves to demystify their process, forging a connection with the artist through his or her “instrument,” explained Sam Aaron, a British researcher, software architect, educator and live coder. “Why is it important for a guitarist to let you see his or her guitar? People have all held guitars; most of us are not very good at it, so when you see someone who’s good at it, you can appreciate the virtuosity.”
There’s no denying that projecting computer code adds a compelling visual element to a performance, but if you’re not paying attention to the language itself, you’re missing the point. “It’s like saying Jimi Hendrix made amazing music, but he had a fabulous wooden necklace,” added Aaron.
Live coding challenges preconceived ideas about the programmer’s experience by bringing a traditionally solitary process into a participatory realm. “It’s like writing, really; you don’t generally write in a social way,” said British musician and researcher Alex McLean, member of the live-coding band Slub and cofounder of TOPLAP, an organization formed in 2004 to bring live-coding communities together. “I think live coding is not necessarily showing programmers as something different, but rather a different way of interacting with the computer; it’s very different, working alone on a piece of text and having people in front of you, listening intently,” added McLean, who is also credited with co-inventing the algorave, a rave-like club event based around live coding.
Since its inception about 15 years ago, live-coding culture has been rooted largely in Europe and the U.K., but the movement is slowly building international interest through festivals and other live events, long-distance collaborations over video and social media, and creative partnerships with more mainstream artists. But the most powerful force for longevity is education, and right now, it’s Aaron holding the key.
CRACKING THE CODE “I want to make sure the leap from code to music is as small as possible and as clear and simple to as many people as possible,” said Aaron, a passionate advocate for unearthing the creative potential of programming languages. He spends his days as a researcher at the University of Cambridge in England and his nights performing live coding.
In 2012, Aaron created Sonic Pi, a simple yet powerful open-source programming environment designed to enable users at any level to learn programming by creating music and vice versa. Sonic Pi is used all over the world; it runs on any computer platform including Raspberry Pi, the $40 credit card-sized computer designed for DIY projects and for promoting computer science in schools and developing countries.
“Music really helps by wrapping the math concepts and computer science concepts into something that has direct meaning to kids, which is making music,” Aaron said. “And making the kind of music, hopefully, that they listen to on the radio or stream.”
The case for building these new learning paths to computer science is strong. Understanding basic programming improves logical thinking and provides a fundamental understanding of technology we use every day.
“Teaching people what coding is — how precise a language has to be for a computer to understand it — gives people an appreciation of an execution of semantics in a program, affordances of a system, interaction with a system,” said Aaron. “People are telling kids to learn how to program because they can become professional programmers. It’s like saying we should all do sports in school so we can become professional athletes. You don’t teach math because you’re training the future mathematicians. There’s a level of math that’s useful to all of our lives."
Sarah Jones is a writer for The Henry Ford Magazine. This story originally ran in the March-May 2017 issue.
I’ve already shared some thoughts on the 2017 North American International Auto Show, but one important new car wasn’t yet revealed during my visit last week. Of course, I’m talking about the LEGO Batmobile from Chevy.
My tastes in bat-transportation run more traditional, but Chevy has something going for it here. The LEGO Batmobile’s 20,000-horsepower rating makes it eight times as powerful as the Goldenrod land speed racer. Likewise, the V-100 engine’s 60.2-litre displacement is more than eight and a half times what it took for the Mark IV to win at Le Mans fifty years ago. The LEGO Batmobile’s styling achieves that rare combination of aerodynamic and exquisite, certain to turn heads on every street corner. Be sure to order the optional bat hood ornament – superior to anything by Lalique. (Besides, everybody knows that bats eat dragonflies.)
Life is often a juggling act of work, play and family. While current-day clothiers experience the trials and tribulations of being small-town entrepreneurs in the big business of fashion, more than 100 years ago many women were facing similar circumstances, leaning on their sense of style to furnish a living.
In the late 1800s, Elizabeth Cohen had run a millinery store next to her husband’s dry goods store in Detroit. When he died and left her alone with a young family, she consolidated the shops under one roof. Living above the store, she was able to run a business and earn a living while staying near her children.
Cohen leveraged middle-class consumers’ growing fascination with fashion, using mass-produced components to create hats in the latest styles and to the individual tastes of customers. To attract business, resourceful store owners like Mrs. Cohen displayed goods in storefront windows and might have advertised through trade cards or by placing advertisements in newspapers, magazines or city directories.
“While Mrs. Cohen was more likely following fashion than creating it, it did take creativity and design skill,” Jeanine Head Miller, curator of domestic life at The Henry Ford, said of Cohen’s millinery prowess. “She was a small maker connecting with local customers in her community — a 19th-century version of Etsy, perhaps, but without the online reach.”
And she certainly gained independence and the satisfaction of supporting her family while selling the hats she created from the factory-produced components she acquired. “People can appreciate the widowed Elizabeth Cohen’s balancing act,” added Miller, “successfully caring for her children while earning a living during an era when fewer opportunities were available to women.”
Jennifer LaForce is a writer for The Henry Ford Magazine. This story originally appeared in the June-December 2016 issue.
In the summer of 2014 I had the opportunity to study at The Henry Ford through the National Endowment for the Humanities Landmarks of American History and Culture Workshop “America’s Industrial Revolution at The Henry Ford.” I had applied for two NEH programs that spring, one in Boston and the other at The Henry Ford. As a history major, I was very excited about the idea of Boston. Being a Michigan resident, I had been to The Henry Ford numerous times in my life and I "knew" what was there. I knew I would be happy with either location and a week of studying history is pretty much what history nerds want, right?!
I was honored to get the letter inviting me to The Henry Ford even if I was a little disappointed that I would not spend three weeks in Boston. I was somewhat concerned because as I left school in June, I knew that my schedule for the next school year was World History and AP European History - not necessarily classes that I thought related to Michigan or the collection at The Henry Ford.
Was I in for a surprise. My week at The Henry Ford blew me away. Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, Greenfield Village, and the Ford Rouge Factory offered social, economic, and political history for the US and technological artifacts that directly related to the worldwide Industrial Revolution. I came back to school with images of technologies that had propelled the world into the modern era and new ideas of how to share those images with my students. On top of the sheer number artifacts, the staff of The Henry Ford also put together a collection of speakers with expertise beyond any I had studied before.
Learning about steam engines with Chief Curator Marc Greuther.
That first year back I did not have the time or the resources to take my students to The Henry Ford, but I showed clips and shared my experiences. In 2015 I was given the opportunity to teach AP US History and my main goal was to get my students to the museum and village. With the help of a grant from The Henry Ford my first class of 40 AP US History students got to spend a day at both locations. We spent the morning in the rain wandering around the village and seeing the buildings and pieces of history. The afternoon was warmer and drier and we were able to wander through the museum and see artifacts that we were reading about in the classroom.
In 2016 the interior design teacher and I brought two buses of students to see the village and we wandered through time, seeing the changes in American life from the colonies to the 1920s. We rode the train and watched as The Henry Ford’s artisans showed how everyday items were created with past technology. With both visits, my time at the workshop came flooding back. I could share with my students details about the buildings, artifacts, and museum history that are not available to just any visitor. I felt like I took them on a journey through time. Both years I was able to use the trip to make connections that would have been more abstract without those personal experiences. More than half of my students had never been to the village or museum before this trip.
NEH teachers learn by doing on the Weiser Railroad in Greenfield Village.
I asked some students to share their experiences and here is what a few had to say.
"Throughout the field trip I enjoyed seeing many historical buildings that contributed to American History. I didn't think I would ever get a chance to see the laboratory where the Wright Brothers did their famous work. I had seen pictures of their workshop when I created a project on them in middle school. Overall a great experience."
"It was fascinating to actually see the stuff that we read about in textbooks. The Thomas Edison exhibit was interesting because there was indoor electricity but still had an outhouse. "
"I mean personally for me, it was just amazing to see things and stuff that didn't even originate in Michigan. The fact everything there is kept as detailed and accurate as possible amazes me. The old style homes were crazy and definitely reflected the location they belong in in their architectural design. So simply put it was a fantastic opportunity to learn a lot about not just our state, but others and see the different technological advancements."
My last day at The Henry Ford my family came down to visit and we spent an extra day taking our daughters around the museum and village. Needless to say, we left with a family membership and have been back at least three times a year since. We have shared the experience with friends and family and watched the World Series of Historic Baseball and ice skated during the Christmas festivities. We saw Gridiron Glory and grooved to the Beatles in The Magical History Tour. It is our day trip destination of choice.
Leah Markey is a Social Studies Teacher at Heritage High School in Saginaw. Mich.