During the first half of the 20th century, sculptor Carl Milles (1875-1955) dominated the Swedish art world. He received many public commissions in Sweden and abroad. He was a monumental sculptor who received many public art com
missions at a time when many cities expanded and were modernized.
Carl Milles’ art was always figurative and often narrative. The innovation was to be found in his personal interpretation of the motifs and that he, especially in his later years, raised up the sculptures, and with the aid of hidden steel constructions made them appear to be floating in the air.
He sculpted in heavy, hard materials such as granite and bronze and paired the sculptures with the lightest of materials, water and air, by placing them in fountains and raising them up in the air so that they interacted with the sky.
In 1931, Milles accepted the invitation of George Booth to live and work under the auspices of the Cranbrook Foundation in Bloomfield Hills. He held the position of head of the Department of Sculpture at the Cranbrook Academy of Art from 1931 to 1951. In 1932 he settled permanently at Cranbrook and in 1934, the Cranbrook Foundation acquired a comprehensive collection of his work. He continued to win international awards, high praise, and many large commissions.
After World War II, he and his wife, Olga, visited and worked in Sweden. In 1950 the American Academy of Rome invited him to use their facilities, and he worked there almost full-time after his retirement from Cranbrook in 1952. He died at his home in Lidingo, Sweden on September 19, 1955.
The bronze sculpture Spirit of Transportation was originally commissioned for Cobo Center in 1952 by civic leaders and donated by Mrs. Alvin McCauley in memory of her husband, president of the Packard Motor Car Company. It was originally placed in the center of a large fountain on a tall, thin stone pedestal near the main entrance of Cobo Hall. It was removed during reconstruction of Cobo in 1985. It was rededicated inside the entrance vestibule at Congress Street and Washington Boulevard in 1993 and once again it was moved to its present location outdoors on Atwater Street, along the river. It was rededicated in 2015.
Spirit of Transportation, 1955
Bronze, 5’ tall sculpture placed on tall pedestal
Cast by Bruno Bearzi, exterior location on south side along Atwater Street.
This was one of the very last sculptures created by Milles before his death in 1955. It was shipped to Detroit in 1957 and stored for two years at the Detroit Institute of Arts before being installed for the Cobo Hall grand opening in 1960.