Our Collections

International Institute of Metropolitan Detroit is proud to own collections, artifacts exhibits and historical rooms that illustrate various nationalities and cultures around the world and tells parts of the history that makes International Institute of Metropolitan Detroit the way it is today.

International Doll Collection

In 1994, the International Institute was surprised to receive a letter from a woman in New York who was, up to then, unknown to the International Institute. Ethel Averbach explained that she had been collecting dolls since she was a small girl. When she was very young, in the early 20th century, she had an idea that she wanted to assemble a collection of dolls from all over the world, dressed in native costumes. She obtained a list of all the world leaders and their addresses and wrote them all letters. She explained that she was a little girl in New York and explained her plan for a collection of international dolls. She asked if she could be sent a doll from their country, dressed in a native costume. Much to her surprise, many countries replied by sending her a package containing the requested doll. This was only the start of her collection. In her adult life, she traveled all over the world and added many more dolls to a collection that eventually numbered over 2,500, from 150 countries.


In her communications with the International Institute, she explained she was worried that, when she passed on, her doll collection would not be appreciated and would scatter to the wind. While she was alive, she wanted to donate her collection to a museum or other organization that would appreciate her collection and display it so others could appreciate the richness of cultural heritage around the world. She explained she had spent much time researching museums and other organizations, all over the United States, and chose the International Institute of Metropolitan Detroit to receive her donation. The Board of Directors of the International Institute of Metropolitan Detroit sent a representative to New York to meet with Mrs. Averbach and gratefully accepted her donation. She was later invited to visit Detroit and attend a function in her honor, where many supporters of the International Institute personally thanked her for her very generous donation.

The International Institute is now proud to display the Ethel Averbach International Doll Collection, the world’s largest collection of dolls dressed in native costumes. Thirty-five showcases of exhibits feature antique to contemporary dolls, as well as teddy bears, artifacts, and miniatures. Visitor are welcome during hours the International Institute is open for business and when the exhibit area is not closed for private functions. Please call ahead for details to (313) 871-8600.















Knudsen Room

The Knudsen Room at the International Institute is named in honor of William S.Knudsen (1879-1948). He is a true success story of immigration to the United States. Born of humble beginnings in Denmark, he immigrated to the United States, passing through Ellis Island in New York. He eventually made his way to Detroit and, in time, became the President of General Motors. As World War II broke out, President Franklin D. Roosevelt named Knudsen to oversee command of all U.S. war production and he was commissioned a three star general in the U.S. Army. Detroit became the “Arsenal of Democracy,” and a major factor in the Allied victory in World War II, in major part through the efforts of William S. Knudsen. A large portrait of William S. Knudsen proudly hangs in the lobby of the International Institute. “The Knudsen Room contains a fireplace, reminiscent of the fireplace at the original Detroit International Institute, in the cottage at Adams at Witherell, in Downtown Detroit, that welcomed immigrants to the Detroit area starting in 1919. The International Institute is grateful to the Knudsen family for its support of the International Institute through the years. For more information on William S. Knudsen, click on the image at right to enlarge it.

Lucille Miller International Cultural Artifacts Exhibit

Lucille and her late husband, Marshall, spent several years traveling all over the world and meeting people from every corner of the globe. During their decades of travel, they accumulated many fascinating cultural artifacts. The International Institute is honored and very grateful that these artifacts have been donated by Ms. Miller to be an
 important addition to the Museum of International Cultural Artifacts, housed at the International Institute of Metropolitan Detroit. The Miller collection is available for viewing at this time by appointment. The collection represents artifacts from the following locations: 

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  • Easter Island
  • Papua New Guinea
  • Afghanistan
  • Burma
  • Nepal
  • South Africa N’Debele Tribe
  • Yugoslavia
  • Syria
  • Papua New Guinea – Ongae Tribe
  • Masai Tribe
  • Hong Kong
  • Brazil
  • Ecuador
  • India
  • Kenya – Turkana Tribe
  • Ethiopia
  • Turkey
  • Israel
  • Mexico
  • Japan
  • Romania
  • Bulgaria
  • Indonesia
  • China
  •  Poland
  • Germany
  • Haiti
  • Peru
  • Guatemala
  • Bolivia
  • Wyoming, USA Cheyenne Indian
  • Wyoming USA Sioux Indian
  • Tonga
  • Jordan
  • Uganda
  • Philippines
  • Yeman

Miles Memorial Lobby

In September of 2011, the Lobby of the International Institute Building was named in honor of Cyril and Arnold Miles – “The Cyril and Arnold Miles Memorial Lobby.” The International Institute is extremely grateful for the generous memorial bequest by Cyril
 and Arnold Miles that made possible the recent renovations of the beautiful Lobby that welcomes hundreds of new immigrants and other visitors to the International Institute Building on a daily basis. We are also grateful to the nieces and nephews of Cyril and Arnold Miles for their support.


Cyril, beloved friend and teacher, had the unique ability to bring her art, her experience and her focus to every project she undertook. As founder of the Ethnic Enrichment Experience programs, her vision and scholarly research enhanced the quality of her workshops for people of all ages. She brought a sense of history and compassion to her work. Through her all-encompassing sense of humanity, Cyril was able to showcase the common thread of universal expression that, through the arts, binds together the diverse cultures of the world.

Folk Art Curator 1944-1993

A plaque on the Lobby wall reads: International Institute of Metropolitan Detroit, Inc. In Loving Memory of Cyril Miles 1918 – 1993 Artist, Educator, Art Historian

Wilkinson Immigrant Model Ship Collection

The International Institute is very grateful to Lawrence Scripps Wilkinson and the generosity of the Wilkinson family for the kind donation of the Wilkinson Immigrant Model Ship Collection. The collection consists of 165 scale model ships, ranging from three-masted 18th century sailing ships to modern cruise ships, as well as paintings, posters, and other memorabilia of the proud legacy of immigration to the United States. Each ship carried, at one time or another, immigrants from distant points around the world to the United States. The ship collection is housed in protective glass cases on permanent display in the American Room at the International Institute building.


The collection is available for viewing during hours the International Institute building is open, unless the American Room is being used for a class, meeting, or other function. Please call the International Institute, at (313) 871-8600, to check for availability and to plan your visit. A trip to the International Institute to see our International Doll Collection and Immigrant Model Ship Collection, followed by a delicious lunch at our International Cafe restaurant, makes for a great afternoon.