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Maija Grotell Papers

An inventory of her papers at Syracuse University

Finding aid created by: EL
Date: Jul 1976

Biographical History

Maija Grotell (1899-1973) was an award-winning Finnish-American ceramist and teacher of the potter's art at Cranbrook Academy of Art.

Born on 19 August 1899 in Helsingfors, Finland, the daughter of Carl Gustav and Selma (Wiens) Grotell, she studied painting, sculpture, and design at Helsingfors' Central School of Industrial Art "Ateneum," where she graduated in 1920, she joined a textile firm as an artist while continuing her study of pottery,

She immigrated to the United States in October 1927. During her first year in the United States she attended summer school courses taught by Charles Fergus Binns at Alfred University. For the next ten years she taught in New York City, first as an instructor at the Inwood Pottery Studios from 1927 to 1928. She taught children at the Union Settlement from 1928 to 1929 and was an instructor in ceramics at the Henry Street Craft School from 1929 to 1938. From 1936 to 1938 she was an instructor of ceramics and a research assistant at Rutgers University. She was naturalized as a U.S. citizen in 1934.

In 1938 she moved to the celebrated Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, where her associates included architect Eliel Saarinen and sculptor Carl Milles. She remained there as head of the department of ceramics until 1966. As both artist and teacher. she was one of the leaders in the development of ceramics as a medium of expression by the artist. In her twenty-eight years at Cranbrook she taught dozens of students who explored with her the practical and decorative uses of clay. Her research on glazes for Eliel Saarinen (who later made extensive use of ceramics in his General Motors Technical Center) made possible the widespread architectural use of colored glazed bricks.

The numerous awards presented to Maija Grotell include the Diploma di Colabrador at the Barcelona International Exhibition in 1929, the silver medal at the Paris International Exposition of 1937, the Charles Fergus Binns Medal of Alfred University (1961), the Cranbrook Founders Medal (1964), and the Cranbrook Academy of Art Faculty Medal (1966). She had solo shows at (among others) the Art Institute of Chicago in 1950, the Cranbrook Museum in 1952, and a retrospective at the Cranbrook Academy of Art, the Joe and Emily Lowe Art Center of Syracuse University, and the Museum of Contemporary Crafts in 1967. During her career she participated as both artist and judge in invitational exhibitions, and her works are represented in the permanent collections of many leading museums. After her retirement she continued to live in Cranbrook. She died in Pontiac, Michigan on 6 December 1973.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Maija Grotell Papers comprise correspondence, memorabilia, a photographic file, and a small file of biographical material. Correspondence is arranged chronologically and amounts to 332 letters, postcards, telegrams and memoranda, mostly incoming but including a few letter drafts, carbons of outgoing correspondence, and odd letters. Beginning with letters of recommendation from her early employment in New York, there are offers of teaching positions at the Henry Street Craft School, Rutgers, and Penn State; announcements that her work had won awards; requests that she serve as juror; offers of purchase from museums and university art collections; congratulatory letters, ceremonial letters, student letters, and letters of reminiscences from former students after her retirement. Subjects of the correspondence include arrangements for loans of her work to museum exhibits both in the U.S. and overseas, exhibition sales, awards, purchases of her work, and the National Ceramic Exhibitions. Among the correspondents are Charles Eames, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Syracuse Museum of Fine Arts. A few late letters, untranslated, are in Finnish.

Memorabilia dates from Grotell's pre-Cranbrook days; the earliest item is her 1923 certificate of completion for ceramics work at the Centralskolen för Konstflit in Helsingfors. Other items span her career from immigration through retirement. Three address books, also containing some other notes, date from ca.1954 to ca.1968. With the papers are some of the awards that were presented to her, among them the Charles Fergus Binns Medal and the Cranbrook Founders Medal. Also there are magazine and newspaper clippings, scrapbook fragments, and exhibition catalogs that feature her work. Details on individual items are provided in the shelf list.

The Photographic file contains color slides as well as photographic prints. Subjects of the slides (which may have been a teaching collection) include exhibits, candid shots, artwork, architectural features, natural phenomena, and ceramic pieces from many periods. Some 228 photographic prints and five albums document Grotell's life and creative work. Most are 8x10 glossies; many are signed by the artist; some are dated.

Arrangement of the Collection

Correspondence is arranged chronologically. The other series are arranged alphabetically by title or topic.


Access Restrictions:

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Use Restrictions:

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

Related Material

A book, The Creative Spirit of Cranbrook: The Early Years, published by the Cranbrook Academy of Art/Museum, has been transferred to Rare Books for cataloging. Please refer to the Classic Catalog to locate this item.

Subject Headings


Eames, Charles.
Grotell, Maija.

Corporate Bodies

Cranbrook Academy of Art.


Art pottery, American -- 20th century.
Finnish Americans.
Potters -- United States.
Pottery -- 20th century.
Women artists -- United States.
Women potters -- United States.

Genres and Forms

Address books.
Clippings (information artifacts)
Exhibition catalogs.
Slides (photographs)



Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Maija Grotell Papers,
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

Gift of the estate of Maija Grotell, 1974 and 1975.

Table of Contents

Biographical material


Photographic file