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Pinnacles of Detroit: Steel Skyward

  • 23 Apr 2015
  • 6:00 PM - 9:00 PM
  • Scarab Club


Registration is closed
Pinnacles of Detroit: Steel Skyward
Speaker: James W. Tottis
Architectural Historian 

Chair for the evening is: John Sotir

Join architectural historian, James W. Tottis as he traces the meteoric rise of the American vertical style (the skyscraper) in Detroit; from its nascent phase in 1890 with Harry Edbrooke's Hammond Building to the sudden and abrupt halt of construction in 1930 with Donaldson and Meier's David Stott Building.  During this time, Detroit was a global leader, behind New York and Chicago, in the growth and development of the American vertical style.  Nationally recognized architects, like Daniel Burnham, and local talents, including Wirt Rowland, contributed to the creation of the Detroit skyline.  This legacy, still mostly intact, documents Detroit’s place as a national leader in pre-World War II skyscrapers.  The exploration will virtually wind through the streets and into the very structures that graced the city during early years of the skyscraper – arguably America's greatest contribution to architecture.

About the speaker: James W. Tottis is an architectural historian and museum consultant. Most recently he served as Director of Collections at the Museum of the City of New York where he initiated a reorganization of curatorial staff, led an assessment of the fine and decorative arts collections, while updating overall museum practices. He spent twenty-four years as a curator at the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA). He joined the DIA’s American Art department in 1985 as assistant curator and served as head of the department for seven of those years. There was responsible for one of country’s premier 18th-, 19th- and early 20th-century painting collections, as well as sculpture, furniture and decorative arts. Among his important projects include the third and final volume documenting the American painting collection, Forging a Modern Identity.

Exhibitions he organized include Life's Pleasures - The Ashcan Artists' Brush with Leisure, 1895-1925 (2007), American Beauty: Painting and Sculpture from the Detroit Institute of Arts, 1770-1920, which toured Europe and the U.S. (2002-2004); and Building Detroit (2001). In addition to exhibition publications, Wayne State University Press published his award-winning book The Guardian Building, described as “A work of seminal scholarship” by the Midwest Book Review. Tottis served as Adjunct Professor at Wayne State University in the Department of Humanities where he offered courses in the history of Detroit architecture. He has lectured widely on a variety of subjects in American art and architecture and holds bachelor’s degrees in History, and Art History and a master’s degree in Art History.

Tickets for Dinner/Lecture: $50 Scarab Club members | $65 all others, reserve in advance by Monday, April 20
Lecture only: $15 members & students | $20 all others, payable at the door

Reserve at, 

for questions call 313/831-1250

The Scarab Club is supported in part by awards from the Kresge Foundation, Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs, Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation and the National  Endowment for the Arts.

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