Oskar Stonorov was born in Frankfort, Germany in 1905. In the 1920s, he studied at the university in Florence, then at the university in Zurich and later apprenticed with the French sculptor, Aristide Maillol. The German economy was not prosperous during the years of the Weimer Republic in the 1920s. Stonorov migrated to the United States in 1929 and began working with the famous Philadelphia architect, Louis Kahn. During the Depression decade it was challenging for architects to find employment since few building were going up. However, President Roosevelt’s New Deal followed a Keynesian policy and sought to stimulate the extremely weak economy with public spending. At that time, there were many dilapidated and dangerous tenements built before the days of modern fire codes in the larger cities. Building public housing became a major endeavor after 1935. Many social reformers in the United States assumed that intelligently planned public housing could help lift thousands of families out of poverty.
Stonorov and Kahn designed a number of government sponsored housing projects in the Philadelphia area in the 1930s and into the early 1940s. One of them, The Carl Mackley House in Philadelphia, has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places. This is a modernist housing project of single family apartments dating from the mid 1930s. Stonorov and Louis Kahn also published a book in 1943 about neighborhood planning.
After World War II, Stonorov went into practice for himself but continued to specialize in designing attractive multi-family housing units. He also became an architectural historian and edited an eight volume collection of the papers and writings o Le Corbusier.
Perhaps because of Stonorov’s interest in public housing, he may have come to the attention of Walter Reuther, the president of the United Auto Workers. Reuther asked him to design a UAW recreational and educational facility at Black Lake in northern Michigan. Walter Reuther wife’s May had a strong interest in the arts and dance. She asked Oskar Stonorov to design an appropriate sculpture. His product is what you see pictured above—a sculpture of joyous young women dancing. This was installed along a stream at the Reuther estate.
In early May of 1970, Walter Reuther asked Stonorov to accompany him on a visit to the UAW building in Black Lake that he had designed. This was just three weeks before the building’s dedication. Unfortunately, the Lear Jet upon which they were traveling crashed at the Pellston, Michigan airport killing Walter Reuther, his wife, May, Oskar Stonorov and three others. The will of the Reuthers’ called for the donation of this sculpture to Wayne State so it was removed from the Reuther home where it had been for about a decade.
Sculptor: Oskar Stonorov
Date of Casting: 1960
Date of Installation: 1973
Use in 2011: Public Art
Photograph: Ren Farley
Description prepared: July, 2011
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