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Much Closer Than Six Degrees of Separation: Auguste Rodin and Elizabeth Merrill Ring  

“The idea that we’re all connected by just “six degrees”—six other people—is entrenched in our folklore. But Columbia sociologist Duncan Watts is working to see if such small worlds really exist and how they might work.” 


-“The Science Behind Six Degrees of Separation.” The Harvard Business Review, February 2003, online at https://hbr.org/2003/02/the-science-behind-six-degrees 

 


While thumbing through a recent issue of The Magazine Antiques, we made an unexpected discovery – Elizabeth Merrill Ring’s brother and sister-in-law commissioned a work from Auguste Rodin.  

 

Perhaps, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. 

 

The central portion of the Saginaw Art Museum was originally the home of Elizabeth Merrill and Clark Lombard Ring. Designed by celebrated New York artist, architect and landscape architect, Charles Adams Platt, the building and garden were given to the community by their daughters in 1947.  Beyond the fact that the family’s gift enabled the founding of the Saginaw Art Museum, there are many reminders of the of the Ring family’s passion for the arts -  the Rings commissioned a prominent architect to design their home, Mr. Ring engaged American artist Irving Ramsey Wiles to paint a portrait of Mrs. Ring and painter Barry Faulkner  executed a series of watercolors documenting their garden. Perhaps we shouldn’t forget, “The Ludwig,” the Stradivarius violin Mr. Ring purchased in 1927.  Their passion for the arts was shared by their siblings.  

 


Portrait of Elizabeth Merrill Ring by Irving Ramsey Wiles. Collection of the Saginaw Art Museum.

Mrs. Ring’s brother, Thomas D. Merrill, was born in Bangor, Maine, and came with his family to Saginaw as a child. After graduating from Cornell University, he entered the lumber industry with his father. As Michigan’s forests were cut, his family’s business interests extended operations to the west – Minnesota and Washington State. His obituary noted, he was “at one time prominently connected with the industry in the Saginaw Valley . . .” 

 

In 1892 Thomas D. Merrill married Elizabeth Musgrave Croswell. The wedding was held in Adrian. After their honeymoon, the couple celebrated their marriage with a Saginaw reception. Hosted by his parents and the Rings, it was held at the Merrill family home at 1209 South Michigan Avenue, described as “one of the finest on Michigan Avenue.”  The Saginaw Evening News proclaimed the event to be “one of the largest and most brilliant receptions ever given in Saginaw.”   

 


Uppermost Right: Merrill Home on South Michigan Avenue. Home to the parents of Thomas D. Merrill, Jr. and Elizabeth Merrill Ring.

Although Thomas and Elizabeth Merrill lived in Seattle and Duluth, they frequently returned to Saginaw and when Mrs. Merrill passed away, the paper noted: 

 

“Mrs. Thomas D. Merrill of Duluth Minn., who was well known in Saginaw as the wife of a former Saginaw man, died Wednesday at the Senecca hotel in Chicago, according to telegram received by Clark L. Ring. She was about 65 years old and had been ill a long time. 

Mr. Merrill was her second husband. She was the widow of Gov. Croswell of Charlotte. Although she never lived in Saginaw, she was a frequent visitor here. She leaves two daughters, Marie Merrill Sears of Boston and Betty Merrill Hubbard of Chicago, both of whom now are returning from Europe.”  (The Saginaw Daily News, April 5, 1928.) 

 

It was tragedy that would lead them to commission a work from Rodin. According to the auction listing for a cast of Mère Et Sa Fille Mourante (Mrs. Merrill Et Sa Fille), conceived in 1908, Grogan and Company notes: 

 

“This haunting work, a portrait of loss and sorrow, was commissioned by Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Merrill of Duluth, Minnesota to memorialize the death of Mrs. Merrill's daughter Sally. Before marrying Mr. Merrill, Elizabeth was married to Charles Miller Croswell, the governor of Michigan from 1877-1881. Tragically, Croswell died three months before Elizabeth gave birth to their daughter Sally in 1887. After Croswell's death, Elizabeth married lumber magnate Thomas D. Merrill and had two more daughters, Marie and Elizabeth. Mrs. Merrill suffered another tragedy when, in 1904, Sally died at the age of 17. 


Mrs. Merrill was bereft at the loss of her eldest daughter, and, in 1908, she commissioned Rodin to sculpt a work in memory of Sally. The Merrills had traveled extensively in Europe and had made Rodin's acquaintance at Meudon on several occasions. Mrs. Merrill traveled to Paris in the fall of 1908 to sit for Rodin as he began work on the memorial sculpture, creating several plaster busts of Sally and Mrs. Merrill that remain in the Musée Rodin's collection. It was during one of these sittings that he presented Mrs. Merrill with a small relief of young Sally's hand, which today can be seen at the National Gallery of Art in Washington. Upon her return home in December 1908, Mrs. Merrill wrote to Rodin with notes about her wishes for the larger memorial work, including a photograph of her and Sally from when Sally was about six years old. In her letter, she asked Rodin "to reproduce and to make immortal my resemblance and that of my much-loved child." 

 

The execution of the sculpture –  a memorial and not intended to be a literal portrait of Mrs. Merrill and her daughter -  was a lengthy one. Although payment had been made, the work was included in Rodin’s bequest of his work to the people of France in 1916. It would take a decade for Thomas Merrill to resolve the issue – the Merrills received two bronze casts of the work. The original marble would carry Mrs. Merrill’s name but remain in Paris.  

 

These links will take you to auction listings and longer histories of the sculpture – and numerous photographs of the work: 

 

The Recipe: Mrs. Clark L. Ring’s Lemon Tarts 

 

Partly bake pie crust shells. Yolks of 4 eggs beaten till stiff. I cup sugar, juice of 1 lemon, 2 tablespoons water. Bake till the filling is a jelly, and slightly colored; then drop a spoonful of frosting made from the whites of 4 eggs, and brown in a hot oven. 

 

-Mrs. Clark L. Ring. From the Saginaw Cookbook, published by First Congregational Church, 1929 Edition. 


 

CTK Interpretation 



Pie Crust* 

Small amount of flour to seal holes 

 

Filling  

4 large eggs separated 

1 lemon, juiced 1 cup sugar 

 

Meringue  

4 Eggs Whites 

¼+ teaspoon cream of tartar  

¼ + Sugar 

 

Directions: 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  

 

Make pastry in accordance with your favorite recipe. Line pans with pastry. Pierce bottoms of shells with fork. Prebake until lightly cooked – the CTK cooked the shells for a little over 10 minutes. After removing from over, seal fork holes with flour.  

 


Separate eggs. Reserve whites for frosting. Beat egg yolks until stiff. Add sugar and lemon juice and beat until fully combined. Pour filling into shells and bake for 10 -15 minutes – until lightly set.  

 


While the filling is baking, beat egg whites with cream of tartar until they form stiff peaks. Slowly beat in sugar.  



While you are agonizing over the meringue, don’t forget to check on tarts. When set, remove from oven and let cool slightly and continue making meringue. After removing tarts, raise oven temperature to 375 – 400 degrees.  



Using a pastry bag, artfully add a dollop of meringue on each tart.  

 

Return to oven and bake until meringue is lightly browned. 5 -10 minutes.  

 

 

CTK Notes: 


As you are aware the CTK is not noted for empirical testing. While we have started the process of perfecting this recipe, you will need to continue to experiment and adjust. 

 

The CTK had some British tart pans in the back of our cupboards – each opening is roughly a 2 ½" diameter by ¾" deep. We believe they were purchased at Jacobson’s or in Ann Arbor. Until we made Mrs. Ring’s Lemon Tarts, they had not lived up to expectations. However, they provided a perfect balance of flaky pastry and filling. (We saw a muffin top pan at Meijer’s that would be a great substitute. Just think small and shallow. And adjust the cooking times accordingly.) We would have had enough filling for at least two dozen tarts; however, our pastry recipe only made a little over a dozen shells. We made a crustless pudding of the remainder.  

 

We forgot to add the two tablespoons of water and it still worked fine.  

 

We interpreted the frosting made from egg whites as meaning meringue.  

 

This recipe is absolutely wonderful and quite addictive.  

 

*Pastry is very personal. We used a basic pastry recipe from the 1950s edition of the Betty Crocker Cookbook: 2 cups sifted flour, 1 tsp salt, 2/3 Cup chilled shortening and 4 tbsp. water. Combine salt and flour. Cut in 1/2 shortening until the consistency of a fine meal. Then blend in the remainder of the shortening until the size of small peas. Then slowly add water and blend with a fork. When correct consistency, roll out on pastry cloth.  

 

We cheated and were lucky and were able to cut little discs of pasty that were the correct size for our tart pans.  

 

This is a link to an updated version of this pastry recipe: 

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