The Thinker

Marshall Fredericks
1940, Black Granite

Carl Milles invited Marshall Fredericks (1908-1998) to Cranbrook in 1932 as his studio assistant and to teach at the Academy of Art and at Cranbrook and Kingswood Schools. Fredericks had studied previously at the Cleveland School of Art and received a traveling scholarship to work with Milles in Sweden. He left Cranbrook in 1942 to join the armed forces. After World War II, he built a studio in Royal Oak, Michigan. Fredericks received commissions from all over the world, but there are many examples of his work in Michigan. These include The Spirit of Detroit (1958), located in front of the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center in Detroit, the four-ton figure of Christ on the Cross (1959) at Indian River, and the Star Dream Fountain (1997) in Royal Oak. There is a museum dedicated to the work of Marshall Fredericks at Saginaw Valley State University in University Center, Michigan (

Cranbrook’s founder,  George G. Booth (1864-1949), was active in several local cultural institutions including the Detroit Institute of Arts. The DIA has a copy of French sculptor Auguste Rodin’s famous bronze The Thinker located on the front steps. Booth decided that “a thinker” should sit near the entrance of the Cranbrook Art Museum as well. He asked Marshall Fredericks to sculpt his own version. Frederick’s unique carving of a great ape deep in thought depicts his humorous reply to Booth’s request.