In early 1952, Floyd Starr received a telephone from Carl Marr, a Detroit attorney well known to him. Marr told Starr about a client who is in the process of making out her will, whose husband died many years ago, and whose son was recently killed in a traffic accident. Because her son had been a promising artist, an anonymous friend of the lady and Commonwealth suggest that she might consider donating a museum to the Commonwealth in memory of her son.
Within one year Mrs. Emelie H. Brueckner herself died and the $100,000 bequest came to the Commonwealth with the specific instruction that an art gallery and museum be constructed as a memorial to her son and as a creative agency in therehabilitation of young boys.” It was a directive with which Floyd Starr the environmentalist was in full accord. Many times he had told his boys that “beauty is a silent teacher,” and the presence of an art center on the campus could only work for good.
For the setting Starr selected a commanding site well beyond the Chapel-in-the-Woods. Once again the architecture was modified Norman in design, complete with a cloistered entranceway that gave it a somewhat monastical appearance. Unlike the sanctuary, however, the roof lines are low and the windows limited by display areas.
According to the original plan, in a wing north of the gallery lay the unexpected. There, as Starr proudly explained to visitors, “We built rooms duplicating as nearly as possible the first floor of Gladsome Cottage.Through the whole addition we arranged family pieces of Victorian furniture from mychildhood home as well as miscellaneous items I had picked up over the years.”
In a somewhat different sense, the unexpected also invaded the basement of the museum. There one finds an eclectic collection of museum pieces from around the world. One inventoryconsists of pages of such items as wall scrolls from Japan, carved wooden plates from Switzerland, tin masks from Mexico, and a boomerang from Australia. For the boys, this was theirfavorite spot in the whole building. As one early annalist reported, “The boys spend many an evening browsing among the display cases or listening to Mr. Dwight Starr, director of the museum [and Floyd Starr’s nephew], spin long tales of the people and places represented there.
As Starr cheerfully acknowledged, the museum has always been a miscellany of intriguing relics from many cultures rather than a definitive collection ofartifacts from any one place or people. Starr himself was an inveterate collector, with interests ranging from carved horses to inlaid pillboxes, from temple bells to shimmering crystal. Many of his eventualcontributions were from travels about the world in his late years. Others came to him as gifts from friends who knew of his special interest in miniatures and antiques.
Source: Keith Fennimore. Faith Made Visible: The History of Floyd Starr and His School. Albion, Michigan: Starr Commonwealth. 1988.