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J. Robert F. and Pipsan Saarinen Swanson Papers

 Collection
Identifier: 1990-01

Collection Scope

This collection includes project files for architectural and design projects of J. Robert F. Swanson and Pipsan Saarinen Swanson. It also includes business, personal, and professional correspondence. It contains photographic materials related to projects and personal life, and has oversize materials which include photographs, project materials, and a scrapbook. Selected envelopes have been retained for the information they provide.

SERIES I: Projects (Boxes 1-6) represents the bulk of the collection and consists of the records and individual projects of the Swanson’s architecture and design business. Included are notes and correspondence relating to design, construction, customer accounts, research sources, clippings, and reviews.

SERIES II: Topical (Boxes 6-8) is divided into three subseries: business records, personal documents, and professional documents. A distinction is made between business and personal correspondence and these documents are foldered as subheadings under the appropriate main heading.

SERIES III: Photographic Materials contains photographs, slides, transparencies and negatives (Boxes 9-14). Of special interest is the collection of glass negatives in Box 14, containing works created by members of the Saarinen Swanson Group, and copies of architectural drawings from selected Swanson Associates projects.

SERIES IV: Oversized Materials (Boxes 15-18) contain oversized photographs, project materials, and a University of Michigan scrapbook belonging to Bob Swanson.

Dates

  • 1900 - 1983

Creator

Access

Access to the collection is unrestricted.

Use

Permission to use collection materials must be requested in writing.

History

Jons Robert Ferdinand Swanson (Bob) was born on June 14, 1900 in Menominee, Michigan to Swan Swanson, a lumberjack, and Anna Nordquist, both of whom were natives of Sweden. The Swanson family moved from northern Michigan to Grand Rapids, and later to Adrian, MI, where Bob graduated from high school.

Eva Lisa Saarinen (Pipsan) was born in Kirkkonummi, Finland on March 31, 1905. Pipsan was the daughter of Eliel Saarinen, an internationally distinguished architect, and Loja Gesellius, an accomplished sculptor, weaver, fabric and textile designer. Pipsan attended the Atheneum Art School and the University of Helsinki where she studied weaving, ceramics, and fabric design.

The Swansons, married in 1926, were lifelong design partners, and their work encompassed exteriors and interiors of many types: residences, schools, universities, churches, airports, banks and government, industrial, and commercial developments. They traveled extensively and raised two sons, Robert Saarinen Swanson and Ronald Saarinen Swanson. Pipsan passed away on October 23, 1979; Bob on March 13, 1981.

Bob studied architecture at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor when he met Pipsan through her father, Eliel Saarinen, who was a visiting professor in 1922-23. Bob also met and became a close friend of Henry (Harry) Scripps Booth. In 1924 after graduating and extensive traveling in Europe, Bob and Harry began work at Cranbrook and created the architectural firm Swanson and Booth. In July 1927, the partnership dissolved. Bob established his own practice; Pipsan joined Bob as interior designer in 1929. During the 1930s , Bob and Pipsan worked with Eliel on a variety of projects including the Koebel House (unbuilt), the Smithsonian Gallery of Art competition (unbuilt),

In 1939, Swanson partnered with his father-and brother-in-law, Eliel and Eero, to form Saarinen and Swanson. The Smithsonian Gallery of Art competition of 1939 garnered the firm national attention, though the project was unbuilt. The firm also designed the Center Line Defense Housing (1941-42), a plan for the Detroit Civic Center (1943-51 unbuilt), Serving Suzy Restaurant and Gift Shop projects (1944 unbuilt), Lincoln Heights Housing (1944-46), a master plan for Antioch College (1944-47), Des Moines Art Center (1944-48 unbuilt), Chicago City plan (1945 unbuilt), Lapeer Veterans Memorial project (1945, unbuilt), General Motors Technical Center, 1945-46, unbuilt), Fort Wayne Art School and Museum project (1945-47, unbuilt), Pipsan and Bob, along with Eliel designed the Flexible Home Arrangements group of furniture. Made of light colored birch and manufactured by Johnson Furniture Company, this line was inexpensive modern furniture.

In 1946, the firm was renamed to Saarinen, Swanson and Saarinen and the partnership ended in 1947. Bob and Pipsan started their own firm, Swanson Associates in 1947 which became the first architectural firm that included interior design. Building upon the FHA line, Bob and Pipsan created the Saarinen Swanson Group which was a collection of furniture and other decorative items including lamps, glassware, fabrics, and pottery.

Extent

15.5 Linear Feet (13 MS, 8 OS)

Language of Materials

English

Abstract

Jons Robert (Bob) Ferdinand Swanson (1900-1981) graduated from the University of Michigan School of Architecture in 1924, where he had and become friends with Henry Scripps Booth. In 1924, they established the architectural firm, Swanson and Booth. In 1927, the partnership dissolved and Bob established his own practice. Eva Lisa (Pipsan) Saarinen (1905-1979), daughter of Eliel and Loja Saarinen, studied weaving, ceramics, and fabric design at University of Helskini. She married Bob in 1926 and joined his firm in 1929. In 1939, Bob joined his father and brother in law, Eliel and Eero, in the firm Saarinen and Swanson. Renamed to Saarinen, Swanson, and Saarinen in 1946, the firm dissolved in 1947. Bob and Pipsan established their own firm, Swanson Associates, Inc., in 1947, and they were lifelong design partners, their work encompassing exteriors and interiors of many types: residences, schools, universities, churches, airports, banks and government, industrial, and commercial developments. Building upon the FHA line, Bob and Pipsan created the Saarinen Swanson Group which was a collection of furniture and other decorative items including lamps, glassware, fabrics, and pottery. They traveled extensively and raised two sons, Robert Saarinen Swanson and Ronald Saarinen Swanson. The bulk of the collection contains project files, including notes, correspondence, accounts, and clippings for architectural and design projects; it contains correspondence of a business, personal, and professional nature; photographic materials including photographs, slides, transparencies, and negatives covering personal events and projects; and oversize materials including photographs, project materials, and Bob's University of Michigan scrapbook.

Arrangement

The Papers of J. Robert F. Swanson and Pipsan Saarinen Swanson are organized into four (4) series: Projects, Topical, Photographic Materials, and Oversized Materials.

Series I: Projects are arranged in chronological order, with undated material grouped before those with dates.

Series II is arranged in alphabetical order within each subseries.

Series III Project materials are arranged by date; all other materials are arranged alphabetically.

Additional Access

An index to the collection is available.

Acquisition

Gift of Robert Saarinen Swanson and Ronald Saarinen Swanson on September 18, 1990, with several additions thereafter.

This collection is a portion of a larger set of documents pertaining to the Saarinen family and donated to the Cranbrook Archives by Robert Saarinen Swanson and Ronald Saarinen Swanson between December 1989 and September 1990. Two separate collections were created as the set included documents relating to: 1) the Saarinen Family Papers including the Saarinen family—Eliel, Loja, Pipsan, and Eero; and 2) this collection, including the Swansons—Bob and Pipsan.

In 2009, additional materials were donated which relate primarily to Swanson Associates, Inc. (2009-01). However, there is overlap in regards to project chronology, and in many cases, there were also documents pertaining to projects already processed in this collection. Depending on the quantity of documents, they were either interfiled into the folders in this collection or pulled and processed as part of the Swanson Associates Records. The finding aid and index were amended to reflect this.

Related Materials

Saarinen Family Papers (1990-08)

Cranbrook Architectural Office Records (1989-01)

Swanson Associates Records (1990-01)

Saarinen-Swanson Reunion Records (2001-14)

Processing History

Sylvia Cantoni, 1996 (processed boxes 1-8, finding aid); Amy Neuville, 2001 (processed additional materials, revised finding aid and index); Leslie S. Edwards, 2013 (revised finding aid and index).
Title
Guide to the J. Robert F. and Pipsan Saarinen Swanson Papers
Status
Completed
Author
Sylvia Cantoni
Date
1996
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
English
Script of description
Latin
Edition statement
Resource record created by Laura MacNewman.

Revision Statements

  • 2001: Amy Neuville processed additional materials and revised finding aid and index.
  • 2013: Leslie S. Edwards revised finding aid and index.

Repository Details

Part of the Cranbrook Archives, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research Repository

Contact:
39221 Woodward Ave.
P.O. Box 801
Bloomfield Hills MI 48303 US