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Barry Schacht and Bert Bexell share their

ll created th
John P. Bexe 1930s.
love of the Cranbrook loom at Bert and
loom in the
Cranbrook Mollie’s home in Gaylord, Michigan.

Building lo

The Legacy of the
oms was
Bert Bexe
ll’s passio


ot many kids grow up aspiring to be loom makers, but familiar work in the lumber trade. At times he worked as a bridge
Bert Bexell knew from an early age that this was what builder and was even employed occasionally by Yellow Cab.
he wanted to be. In junior high school, he apprenticed Marie, like many other Swedish immigrants, found work as
in his Dad’s wood shop through what we’d call today a work- a domestic in a wealthy Pontiac home. When friends urged her
study program. Eventually Bert joined his father’s business, which to leave her position to join them in the weaving studio of Loja
became J. P. Bexell and Son, makers of the Cranbrook loom. Saarinen, Marie gratefully took her place among the Swedish
weavers already working there. (For a rug inspired by Marie Bex-
A Swedish woodworking heritage ell’s weaving, see “Legacies from the Past: A Pile Rug,” pages
In April 1899, Bert’s father, John P. Bexell, was born in Korstrask, 64–66, HANDWOVEN, September/October 2002.)
Sweden, to a long line of Swedish woodworkers. During the first
quarter of the twentieth century Sweden’s population grew rapid- The Cranbrook Community
ly, and its over-extended agricultural society suffered from not Studio Loja Saarinen, located at Cranbrook Community in
enough land, crop failures, and a recession in the lumber indus- Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, was founded as a result of the work
try. John Bexell experienced the economic difficulties of the pe- of Loja’s husband, Eliel Saarinen. A Chicago Tribune competi-
riod, finding only temporary work at a variety of jobs: in lumber tion brought Eliel, a renowned Finnish architect, to the Unit-
camps, in a brickyard, and as a carpenter. ed States, where he stayed to teach at the University of Michigan.
Encouraged, no doubt, by his relatives already living in At one of his lectures he met George Booth, a wealthy news-
Minnesota, John decided to leave his beloved Sweden. In June paper baron and arts advocate who was the founder and bene-
1923 with financing from his mother’s brother, John and his wife factor of the emerging Cranbrook Community.
Marie and their young son Bert set out for the month-long trip Booth and Saarinen shared the arts and crafts principles of
to Quebec and then to Clouquet, Minnesota. Here John found William Morris. They both embraced the importance of striving
to integrate life and art. Booth felt he could create an educational
community around these principles and invited Saarinen to design
Jane Patrick, of Schacht Spindle Company, thanks the buildings and help shape Cranbrook’s overall philosophy.
Bert and Mollie Bexell for their kind hospitality and
for sharing Cranbrook loom history and family pho-
Cranbrook Community would eventually encompass three
tos. She also thanks Robert Kidd, Ray Fleming, and schools, separate science and art academies, and even a church.
Dave Johnson for additional Cranbrook lore. George Booth encouraged Loja Saarinen, who was trained as
a sculptress, photographer, and model builder, to design the
1 HANDWOVEN www.inter

With this change. at another Scandinavian. Though this number never ma- na terialized. rugs. Bert rejoined his dad and decided to make that the textiles be woven in Finland. Loja is purported to have woodworking his life’s occupation. A offering the services of her husband John. Bert recalls traveling with his Dad to Detroit for a meeting with FSA representatives and the long time it took for an actual order to arrive: one sample loom with a promise of 2000 more. tion with the looms they were using. Bert. Loja Saarinen gave her blessing to naming the contacted Bert. “I was never sorry. and at Cranbrook. the two men developed another Cranbrook In the late 1930s. further ensuring at that time. and the two worked closely together to improve loom Cranbrook after its Cranbrook origins. weaving at Cranbrook. second loom led to an order from the University of Ann Arbor Because time was money and weaving was labor intensive.textiles for the new Cranbrook buildings. When John retired in 1964. the John P. Bexell and Son. which allows a the Farm Security Administration treadle to be depressed and locked into with a commission to make looms place without the necessity of holding it as part of an effort to find other down with a foot. Bert recalls that his Dad thought this was a mistake. then in the seventh grade. He married Mollie on May replied. where he employed he built two: one for the Studio and one to sell. father through his school’s vocational training program. John was approached by hallmark. The birth of a loom but loom building was Bert’s passion. and it is easy to imagine Marie enhanced through Bert’s collaboration with Robert Kidd. Carl Milles. Bert chose to focus solely on mak- ing looms. made missions only. The traditional Scandi- navian-style rope tie-ups were changed to chains with exact The John P. To this end he A few years later. Bexell Company measurements to avoid having to make shed adjustments. The sale of the eighteen weavers to fulfill large corporate commissions. at that time resident sculptor about the same time. sion. so did Loja Saarinen’s dissatisfac. Bert and Bert continued helping his father in the business. but toward John in the wood the end of 1942 he was called into the service. and the two.” cabinets as well as looms. along with four employees. “Why not design and weave them here?” first of the same year. and cabinet making for its survival. This connection and Marie Bexell’s work in the weaving studio led John in the direction that would shape the remainder of his The evolution of the Cranbrook loom working life. When he returned shop CRANBROOK LOOM 2 . the treadle lock. hired John Bexell to build the shipping crates he the company depended more and more on architectural millwork required for the many bronzes he frequently shipped to Sweden. Accord. Robert constantly strove to find efficiencies. Bexell Company became J. To loom business. Once he made the deci- As the weaving studio grew. certain aspects of the Cranbrook loom. At Booth’s suggestion in February 1946. Thus Studio Loja Saarinen was established in October 1928 with a solitary loom that would quickly become thirty. P. for six more as well as other commissions for Studio Loja Saarinen. the loom business began to decline. them in his production weaving business.” says Bert. Studio Loja Saarinen specialized in “hand. He loved Cranbrook looms and used Though Loja commissioned John to build one loom for her. However. Robert Kidd had also taught looms in his native Sweden. and window hangings by special com. who’d built various Cranbrook Art Academy graduate. worked with his facilitate keeping the shed open for weaving on wider looms. vocations for southern sharecroppers suffering from crop failures and the aftermath of the depression. She wanted a loom built In the 1970s. a commitment of 200–400 eaving o Mollie w in the 19 50s 45"-wide looms was security enough for k Loom Cranbroo John to quit work at the truck plant to devote himself full time to loom build- ing. He hired several Swedish friends to work with him. he began purchasing equipment for the fledgling clean and consistent sheds with a minimum of adjustment. woven art fabrics. outgrew its location and moved to larger quarters. the traditionally Swedish Cranbrook design was exactly to her specifications. The Though John was working for General Motors Truck Company straight treadles were changed to tapered ones. Bert joins the company ing to its brochure. Within three years the company Soon after Marie Bexell came to work in the weaving studio.

wood had purchased it. individuals. During the years at Norwood. cause it was a loom I felt I’d be proud to make. purchased it from Dave. His legacy continues today. Adele. Nancy.” Schacht in 1969 during the back-to-the-earth movement and its His offer appealed to Bert because the business did not have accompanying craft resurgence. Les Hudson. Looms division to Webs. would Barry points out. weaving. so in 1978 he sold it to Les and Les’s simple tapestry and table looms. Barry Schacht. The optional worm gear was another important addition. In 1984. 1983. They introduced the Cranbrook loom However. and the company became Heritage Wood. or fabrics with . Inc. joined them in the company. Michigan mer classmate. he realized his early boyhood aspirations to build changes were made to the Cranbrook loom. company’s longtime foreman and Cranbrook loom expert. Their son Dave. however. Wallace. the tie-up chains and are permanently installed on the treadles. Texsolv cords replaced Melvina’s husband. In ing). “He went all around terest in the Cranbrook loom. In 1974. I was disappointed. Oregon.” recalls Bert. it brought the knowledge that his life’s work it earned the respect of rug and production weavers. 3 HANDWOVEN www. looms in the early 1980s. but he creased 18" (also making the loom roomier inside for thread- became interested in loom building through his wife. the lamms were The new owners: Norwood Looms lengthened and the distance from front beam to back beam in- Ted Johnson’s main business was in orchard chemicals. were the initial developers of Nor. where they gleaned other ventures. Ken Woodiwiss. A few years later Jim sold Heritage Woodcrafts important feedback that led to the first extensive redesign since to Ted and Dave Johnson of Norwood Looms. and in 1996 he the place looking things over. wood Looms in Baldwin. her weaving teacher. the sturdy countermarch Cranbrook is ideal for any a strong legacy of solid design and superb craftsmanship. I was spray. for Bert.inter weave. Resources In the mid 1990s as the market for handweaving weakened. isfaction. “Les was entranced ed in Boulder.” remarks Barry. During (Dave Johnson subsequently sold the Norwood the interim Bert received another offer. “I always admired the Cran- you be at all interested in selling this busi. Bert stayed on as vice president and continued working their Standard floor loom with the Baby Wolf and Mighty Wolf full time in the wood shop. Westbrook. breadth to Schacht Spindle’s line of looms. by Barry and Dan with the business and had all kinds of plans. line of jack-style looms. at Convergence 1978 in Ft. when they were eliminating the need to change cords/chains for each new tie- ready to retire. ed. and institutions. still in use and in the new versions currently made by Schacht. Over its seventy-six years. who formed a part- Ber t and Mollie in this time from a Pontiac realtor and for. including an looms. brook loom. Norwood took possession of the Cranbrook at a time when Bert Bexell and Barry Schacht finally met in June 2001. Barry’s goal was the ing at the time.) Gaylord. tive!” After a bit Ted asked. he does so with well-deserved pride and sat- dense warps (such as warp rep). a few more continuance. had expressed in- Bert’s recollection.” ed more time to make a decision. Bert retired and Les left the business for at Convergence 1996 in Portland. For the next was valued and would endure. New York: Abrams. when I heard that Nor- ness?” Bert says he told Ted that he would. I didn’t really pay much same as Norwood’s in acquiring it: adding attention. Schacht followed crafts. For handweaving in this country was enjoying strong growth. especially for the high and consistent tension required for rug ologist by training. “I feel we took the best parts of the Cranbrook and The Cranbrook loom was a welcome addition to Norwood’s made it better. With its large frame and solid con. Dave Johnson was ready for a change. who hired the the Bexell-Kidd collaborations. introducing their first floor loom nephew Jim Hudson. and Ann Yarowsky. a ge. According to Schacht Spindle Company. fabrics with Bexell reflects on this. both in the early Cranbrooks improvement of the brake release system. “For some Schacht Spindle Company. brook Vision 1925–1950. the Cranbrook loom has established struction. The Barry the experience brought increased respect for the loom’s loom filled an important niche in the large-loom market where history. To streamline the tie-up. When Bert weaving requiring high warp tension (such as rugs). For additional leg room during treadling. that he need. was found- reason. it into a space in one of Ted’s buildings. nership with Toika of Finland to produce them. The Schacht brothers first made to move from its location. and increased 2". Collins. Colorado. Schacht’s improvements to the Cranbrook loom To make the shed larger and the treadling easier. Melvina McGarr. to assist with the transition. twelve years. Colorado. Michigan. loom height was the early 1950s. I just thought he was inquisi. Ted and Nancy bought the company and moved up. “Bert. be- Ted decided.New owners for Cranbrook Looms Cranbrook looms are now made by In 1977—over thirty years after Bert joined Schacht Spindle Company the company—Ted Johnson from Norwood Over the years. fine. in 1980. Not only did he craft a quality product and oversee its or mixed warp fibers. Norwood manufactured Cranbrook looms for weav- ing shops. Design in America: The Cran- however. founder of Looms visited Bert’s shop.