Thursday, December 18, 2008

O Christmas Tree

The Weekly Wright-up editorial staff will be taking a Yuletide break starting next Wednesday, but here's a historic holiday treat before we fire-up the sled dogs and head to northern New York, where a broadband connection is as scarce as a chai latte:

University Archives, University at Buffalo

This holiday snapshot, likely taken by Darwin D. Martin, shows the family Christmas tree near the pier cluster at the southeast juncture between living room and library. The tall, slender tree rises above the frieze rails, reaching almost to the common ceiling shared by the unit room spaces.

An array of presents is piled under the tree, including one that appears to be wrapped in a plaid blanket. The tartan of this wrapping provides a coincidental reflection of the "tartan grid" of Wright's plan for the Martin House itself.

Although the photo is undated, another snapshot of the same tree shows family members assembled in front of it; judging by Dorothy Martin's appearance, the photo should be circa 1920.

I hope you enjoy this memento from a bygone Christmas at the Martin House, and best wishes for the Holidays to you and yours!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Beethoven Shtick's Around...

Here's and excerpt from Jack Walsh's (President, MHRC) comments to the Board of Directors yesterday (courtesy of his ghost writer):

As you may know, in his Autobiography, Frank Lloyd Wright described a steady diet of Bach and Beethoven growing up in his parents’ household, and he professed to hear strains of Beethoven in his head as he composed his own masterpieces of architectural space.

Goethe’s comment on his friend Beethoven could easily have been applied to Wright as well: “I can well understand how hard he must find it to adapt himself to the world and its ways.” Both were mavericks who changed the course of their respective arts, and one of many things we have to celebrate about the Martin House complex is how it defied architectural convention at the turn of the twentieth century.

And, in the seasonal, Dickensian tradition of Marley’s Ghost, this reminds me of the old story about the visitor to Beethoven’s mausoleum: upon entering the crypt, the inquisitive visitor was taken aback to find a dusty, disheveled Beethoven sitting at a small table, still working by candlelight—apparently unaware that he should be inanimate. But rather than producing notes with his pen, Beethoven appeared to be erasing lines from an existing score. Terrified, but still curious, the interloper asked, “my God, Herr Beethoven, what are you doing?” Beethoven slowly looked up and replied, “decomposing.”

But seriously, now that both Wright and Beethoven have shuffled off their mortal coils, it is up to us to preserve, interpret and share with the world their immortal works, of which we have a prime example here in the Martin House. Unlike the posthumous Beethoven, we are in the midst of re—composing Wright’s “domestic symphony,” note by note and line by line.

Chainsaws and Charity

OK, so maybe my tree / Wright / organicism musings here are a bit of stretch, but the students of the Canisius College Video Institute did a great job profiling the "Carvings for a Cause" project (among others, including Frank Lloyd Wright's Rowing Boathouse):

Amazing what you can do with digital video. I'm not even in the conservatory...what's next, holographic curators? I won
't even have to get out of bed.

Thursday, December 4, 2008


Many thanks to all those docents and volunteers who braved an icy evening to attend my presentation earlier this week, "Confessions of a Furniture-Obsessed Curator - or - Mysteries of the Martin House Historic Furnishings Report, Vol. II." Sure, the title was probably more intriguing than the talk was, but one runs out of Wright puns eventually, so I had to go for the sensational.

A section of the unit room from Wright's "tout ensemble" furnishings plan

The talk brought to mind this quote from "Dune" author Frank Herbert:

The beginning of knowledge is the discovery of something we do not understand.

Now that you know what a science fiction geek I am, we can move on.

If there's any wisdom in Herbert's statement, then the Martin House Historic Furnishings Report is replete with the beginnings of knowledge (at least). In the course of research on various aspects of the Martin House complex - buildings or their contents - it often occurs to me that there's a sort of backlash in having too much documentation: one starts to assume that one can know everything about a work that was designed, built, furnished and occupied over a century ago. In other words, the more we know, the more the small holes in that knowledge come into sharp focus, becoming ever more challenging to fill.

I'd like to follow up on a few points raised in my presentation which bear clarification:
  • Bursar's office: the suggestion of a Larkin building metal desk chair (like the one currently in the collection of Martin-related furnishings) is certainly a good option for seating at Darwin Martin's desk. I did not mean to suggest that the possibility was off the table because Martin wouldn't have pilfered a piece of furniture from work. But I have a hunch that he may not have wanted to sit in the same type of chair in his home office that he sat in all day at the Larkin building. Also, a good point was brought to my attention about the supposition of a typewriter on the desk: it is unlikely that Martin would have typed all that correspondence to Wright himself. However, Martin's diary does mention a personal typewriter, and I think it plausible for the more personal correspondence (to his brother William and others) that he may not have wanted to dedicate to the Larkin Co. typing pool.

  • Dining room: I fully understand that the decision to reproduce the four corner stanchions for the dining table is surprising and controversial to some. Our reasoning, however, is based in what seemed most didactically beneficial for interpretation of the space. We think it will be easier for docents to explain that the stanchions were soon removed by the Martins, rather than to task docents with describing an elaborate and unusual detail that visitors can't actually see...

  • Living room: I think I forgot to mention the various pieces in the proposed plan to furnish the east alcove of the living room which will have to be reproduced: the piano bench, two "Morris" chairs, the barrel chairs and the four-sided, rotating bookcase (in the northeast corner). The "Morris" chairs will likely be particularly challenging to reproduce, as the only documentation is one presentation drawing (without dimensions or construction detail) and a few of the Fuermann photos.

  • Library: the two rocking chairs that we propose to include (not Wright-designed or "approved") will have to be reproduced, or represented by period-appropriate antiques. More research is necessary to identify the likely maker and model for these chairs. Regarding the library table: our assumption is that the as-built table will have to be completely reconstructed, as the original table was modified so extensively as to make the reversal of these modifications infeasible. Also, we do not intend to attempt reconstruction of the corner stanchions on this table originally proposed by Wright. The construction of these stanchions is much less clear than their counterparts on the dining table; there is far less information as to the detailing, materials and construction of the corner lamps in particular. In other words, any reconstruction of these fixtures would be largely based on conjecture and, I think, a fool's errand. These stanchions can always be added to the table later, if further research yields instrumental detail.

  • Master Bedroom: In general, it was particularly difficult to illustrate the unique configuration of this room through a few drawings. The wardrobe / dressing units protruding into the space from the large, south piers are particularly complex, and utilize mirrors as a device to convey the illusion of open space (where built-ins threaten to close off Wright's otherwise open plan). The master bedroom is one space that may only be understood when fully restored.

That's just scratching the surface of scratching my head. Much more to come in future missives, talks and various docent training efforts.

Thursday, November 20, 2008


Part of an ongoing series of postings on missing artifacts from Frank Lloyd Wright's Martin House complex [as opposed to the hapless passengers of Oceanic Flight 815].

This week: a Martin House martin house.Of the four limestone birdhouses that originally crowned the conservatory of the Martin House complex, two originals have returned to the reconstructed building, thanks to the outstanding, collegial generosity of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. Two exacting reproductions were made to complete the set of four. Only then did we hear, on good authority, that there may be another original birdhouse on the estate of Virginia and Donald Lovness - a late Usonian house (1955) in Stillwater, Minnesota - that's up for sale through Sotheby's International Realty.

Sotheby's International Realty photo

Numerous calls and emails to Sotheby's have not yielded the desired substantiation that a Martin birdhouse is on the grounds of this estate. Images in the property listing show three "Sprite" figures from Wright's Midway Gardens (possibly reproductions), but no sign of a birdhouse. The property is still on the market, and we're striving to at least substantiate this artifact lead before it changes hands again.

If you have any additional information about this wayward birdhouse, or if you know anyone in the Minneapolis / St. Paul area who might visit the property to confirm (or deny) this lead, please let us know!

Told Beauty

In case you've been sequestered on a jury or dispatched to Siberia for the past week, New York Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff's excellent feature on Buffalo's architectural treasures, "Saving Buffalo's Untold Beauty," can be read online.

Along with telling the story of Buffalo-as-architectural-museum in a fresh and compelling way, Ouroussoff touches on issues raised by Bruce Fisher's recent Artvoice article
(The President for Cities, cover story for v7n45) when he (Ouroussoff) observes: "At a time when oil prices and oil dependence are forcing us to rethink the wisdom of suburban and exurban living, Buffalo could eventually offer a blueprint for repairing America's other shrinking postindustrial cities." We continue to work on that blueprint, building by building, documenting Buffalo's role as an epicenter for American architecture. Ouroussoff's article should provide a profound boost to the ongoing efforts of many to refine and market this role.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Don't miss the Sunday Times!

This just in: dateline, New York, New York: THIS SUNDAY'S New York Times to feature an extensive article on Buffalo architecture, including the Martin House complex and other Frank Lloyd Wright treasures of Western New York.

When you're done with the crossword, check the Arts and Leisure section for this major article by Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff.

As Billy Fuccillo is want to say: this is HUUUUUGAH, Buffalo, HUGE!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Disappearing City?

The President-elect enters an SUV after a campaign stop. AP photo / Jae C. Hong

Bruce Fisher's thoughtful article in last week's Artvoice (The President for Cities, cover story for v7n45) invoked for me some of Frank Lloyd Wright's late-career visions for urban planning, and inspired speculation about how successful - and sustainable - they might have been if implemented.

Fisher offers an erudite discussion that weaves together the potential of the American Presidency (a sort of "memo to President-elect Obama"), Urban planning (or lack of planning, as the case may be), energy policy (and independence) and suburban sprawl. Wright's radical re-visioning of the built environment of America - the Broadacre City model debuted in the mid-30s and widely exhibited and published for years after - was dependent on personal automobile ownership as the primary means of traversing the decentralized, "disappearing city." Wright's love affair with the car was sparked by his first roadster that terrorized sleepy Oak Park circa 1905, and reinforced by the annual automobile pilgrimage of the Taliesin Fellowship, from Spring Green to Scottsdale (and back again).

Wright's 1929 Cord L29 Phaeton

As Wright observed of his beloved 1929 Cord Phaeton: 'it looked becoming to the houses I design!' Designs in concert with the products of Detroit (which at the moment seem to be stalling...again) wend their way through Wright's later work: Usonian house carports, filling stations, elegant bridges for San Francisco and Pittsburgh, spiral parking ramps (the Kaufmann Garage project) and destinations for the Sunday drive (Automobile Objective for Sugarloaf Mountain, Maryland). In Wright's vision, we would all be driving streamlined cars (in Cherokee red, of course) between integrated spheres of work, play and education.

But did Wright consider long-term issues of fuel supply (mini atomic reactors, like those proposed to power the elevators in the "Mile High" skysc
raper?) or emissions that would eventually change the climate and consequently the American landscape that he held so dear? If implemented on a large scale, would Wright's Broadacre City have brought each of us closer to the office, the market and the theater? Would it have reduced our carbon footprint and headed-off various wars in the Middle East?

No one can fault Wright for not foreseeing the "end of oil," but one has to wonder how fossil fuel-driven transportation across seemingly endless ribbons of concrete figured into his fundamental concepts of organicism and designing in harmony with nature.

Pavilion Party

Last Saturday, Martin House volunteers joined over one hundred of their closest friends for the annual all-volunteer party at the Martin House complex. The highlight of the morning was preview tours of the Eleanor and Wilson Greatbatch Pavilion, the Martin House Visitor Center that is rapidly taking shape. MHRC Executive Director Mary Roberts and Museum Planning Project Coordinator Lesley Neufeld led groups of volunteers through the incredible space of the new building, slated for significant completion by the end of the year.

As the building takes shape, certain spatial and material harmonies come to the fore; some are subtle, others more bold. This photo illustrates how the dramatic horizontal sweep of the pavilion's roof line meshes with that of the Martin House porte cochere. A more subtle harmony lies in the separation between the pavilion's slender, stainless steel columns and its glass curtain wall, echoing the many vertical "rifts" in the Wright buildings. Both of these details are examples of the emerging dialogue between the pavilion and the historic complex.

The view of the west side of the Martin House, pergola, conservatory and carriage house from inside the pavilion is nothing short of breathtaking. Mori's deceptively simple building dramatizes the view of the historic complex; the sense of enclosure on the campus feels complete. The Greatbatch Pavilion is a sensitive consort to the historic structures, one that collaborates with the experience conveyed by Wright rather than competing with it.

Photo courtesy of Bernhard Wagner, fotoGraphix.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

"Spring" Mix

The original cast of "Spring" on the grounds of the Bock Museum

This just in from the Bock Museum at Greenville College, Greenville, IL: the first phase of work to reproduce "Spring," the Richard Bock sculpture originally created for the grounds of the Martin House complex, is now complete!

Artisans from Skylight Studios, Woburn, MA - the same studio that produced the Nike cast now in the Martin conservatory - recently traveled to the Bock Museum to produce preliminary molds from the original sculpture on site. Back at Skylight Studios, these sculptors will work in the coming months on a full-sized clay model in order to fine-tune details not captured by the initial molds. A final mold will then be produced from that positive, with the final cast produced from that mold.

This work should be complete by early 2009, with the new cast of "Spring" ready to unveil in the Spring of next year.

Stay tuned for more details on this ongoing process, and "Think Spring!"

Dorothy Martin posing in front of "Spring"
on her wedding day, 1923

Life is a Tabouret

Furniture acquisitions have been relatively rare for the Martin House, so imagine my delight when we were able to acquire a Stickley tabouret (a small, round table) following my August trip to Florida.

The Craftsman tabouret was owned by Ms. Lora O'Kosky, whose ex-husband is Alexander Martin, son of Darwin R. Martin. The piece passed down through the Martin family and eventually landed in Lora's home in Tallahassee.

Use and location of the piece in the Martin House is uncl
ear, but plausible enough that we decided to add it to the collection. The piece can be traced to Darwin R. Martin's possessions; it's shown in one photo from a series of images taken of the younger Darwin's penthouse at 800 West Ferry (see image at left). Our assumption that it likely came from Darwin D. and Isabelle Martin's estate is based on the fact that they had other Stickley pieces of the same vintage (a tea table and chairs), and that Darwin R. retained a number of Wright-designed and Wright-approved pieces in his own estate. I think the tabouret was most likely used as a plant stand by the Martins, and as such there are a number of logical locations for it in the Martin House. For that matter, it's the kind of small, portable piece that they may have moved about frequently, so it may not have one particular historic "home base."

The majority of our collection acquisitions in recent years have been pieces of art glass, decorative objects or family items related to the Martin House. Furniture from the Martin House is less plentiful (as the Martin collection held by the New York State Bureau of Historic Sites already includes a majority of the original furniture) and thus comes to light in auctions or private collections less frequently.

We'll look forward to restoring this tabouret - made by Wright's Arts and Crafts contemporary just down the road in Eastwood, NY- and to finding a good spot for it in the restored Martin House interior.

Lora's cat will have to find a new spot to nap!

Friday, October 31, 2008


Being the second in a series of postings on missing artifacts from Frank Lloyd Wright's Martin House complex [not the hapless passengers of Oceanic Flight 815].

The idea: I feature an item sold, lost or stolen from the Martin House (at some point in its past), and you, sleuths and Wright aficionados that you are, r
espond to let us know if you have any information on the whereabouts of such items.

This week: Martin House sconces

Frank Lloyd Wright designed custom light fixtures for the Martin House, comprised of a glass globe suspended in an intricate, bronze bracket. Dozens of these fixtures were specified, fabricated and installed in the Martin House, c. 1905. The sconces came in two major types: "short stem" and "long stem" variations. The "short stem" sconces were installed on walls and possibly in a few outdoor locations, while pairs of "long stem" sconces emanated from each side of the pier clusters (see detail of the Fuermann photo above).

With so many of these sconces originally in the Martin House, it's curious that so few of them have come to light. Only two have made their way back to the Martin House collection, and two others have appeared on the auction block in recent years. These fixtures were certainly among the most easily removed parts of the house, but their scarcity today begs the question of whether there may be a large repository of them somewhere in the world, or whether they are rusting in attics and basements in Buffalo, Chicago or Wasilla.

Who knows? - maybe some of them were scrapped for the War effort in the forties, or melted down and recast into equestrian sculpture or Olympic medals.

If you can help prove or refute any of these fanciful theories, please contact us!

Dorothy's 1913 Masquerade

The Seminaria, vol. X (June, 1914), yearbook of the prestigious Buffalo Seminary, includes a story on the annual "Hallowe'en Masquerade" of the previous October 31. Included in the photo layout is one "canny Scothm[a]n," a.k.a. Dorothy R. Martin (in upper left). The following excerpt from the text describes the array of disguises donned at Dorothy's alma mater that year:

And the costumes - the very soul of the masquerade - why, they spelled wit and imagination, beauty and absurdity, just as in the days gone by. They delighted and convulsed, just as they will in the days to come. There were beggars and blind men gaily chatting with elegant couriers and jesters, all faithfully protected and attended by more than one gallant middy and impudent little clown. Gentlefolk of two and three generations ago were present in magnificent attire to wonder at the pranks of Miss Twentieth Century. There were nurses, to heal; and Gold Dust Twins, to cleanse; there were convicts , to avoid; and a messenger boy, to abuse. There were Teddy Bears, to growl; and a wondrous giraffe to over-top them; there was a bride to glitter, and a groom to be congratulated. There were ravens to bill and coo right in the faces of canny Scotchmen...

An evocative account of the days before Halloween costumes were overrun by mass media icons. Please consider rewarding anyone coming to your door tonight in a homemade costume with an extra piece of candy!

Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Roots of the "Tree of Life"

Many in the "Martin House community" are well aware that the famed "Tree of Life" art glass design bears a popular name, one not given by Frank Lloyd Wright or Darwin D. Martin. The term first appears in print around 1968, coinciding with a major exhibition and sale of art glass from the Martin House complex through the Richard Feigen gallery, New York (1968-70). The Feigen gallery bought a number of pieces of Martin House art glass (including one or more "Tree of Life" windows) from John Crosby Freeman, then Curator of the nascent Maltwood Art Gallery at the University of British Columbia, Victoria, BC. Freeman had the enviable task of assembling an "Arts and Crafts" collection for the Maltwood, and had obtained 21 pieces of Martin House art glass from a dealer who most likely acquired them from Darwin R. Martin.

As to the burning question of the origin of the "Tree of Life" term (alternately written "tree-of-life"), Freeman has stated that he thinks the Feigen gallery may have come up with the name as a marketing device - a way to boost sales of the Martin glass by applying an evocative, romantic name. We may never know exactly when the term was first applied, or by whom, but one thing is clear: it stuck. The "Tree of Life" window soon became one of the most iconic of Wright's Prairie house art glass designs, and this "brand" has been sought by major collections of decorative and fine arts world-wide. Via Freeman and Feigen, "Tree of LIfe" windows and doors have made their way to the following collections:
  • The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA
  • The Grey Art Gallery, New York University
  • The De Young Museum (San Francisco Art Museums), San Francisco
  • The Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, NY
  • The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago
  • The Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo
  • The National Gallery of Australia, Canberra (a modified window)

among others...

With ongoing recovery efforts by the MHRC's Artifacts Research and Recovery committee, we hope that some of these "trees" may some day be returned to their original "grove" at Jewett
Parkway and Summit Avenue.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

History Repeats Itself

In discussing turn-of-the-twentieth-century economic and social conditions, architectural historian Robert Twombley observes:

Few individuals could count on uninterrupted upward mobility, permanent employment or a happy future for their children. Even the upper middle class, especially people like Wright's clients who did not possess inherited wealth, faced the specter of possible downward mobility.
(Robert C. Twombley, "Saving the Family: Middle Class Attraction to Wright's Prairie House, 1901-1909." American Quarterly, vol. XXVII #1, March 1975, p. 59).

Sound familiar?


Being the first in a series of postings on missing Martin House artifacts [not the hapless passengers of Oceanic Flight 815].

The idea is simple: I feature an item sold, lost or stolen from the Martin House (at some point in its past), and you, dear readers, respond to let us k
now if you have any information on the whereabouts of such items.

No questions asked.

We're interested in identifying and recovering lost pieces of the Martin House, not in pointing fingers.

Maybe you've seen some of these items in local antiques shops, or Grandma's attic, or your living room... maybe you know someone who knows someone whose brother has one of these items.

This week: Tiffany floor lamps

Four floor lamps by Louis Comfort Tiffany with glass shades once graced the Martin House. Some of them appear in a series of family photos taken in 1912. Sadly, all four lamps walked out of the Martin House in January, 1980, when a number of original furnishings were in the historic spaces with little security.

The saving grace may be that various models of Tiffany lamps very similar to these are frequently available on the market - so replacing the Martin lamps with similar pieces is feasible.

We would prefer, however, to track down the originals - and perhaps you can help.

If you have any information as to the disposition of these four lamps, please post a comment, or, alternately, send an email to, or call (716) 856-3858.

Greatbatch Pavilion Takes Shape

Photos courtesy of Bernhard Wagner, fotoGrafix

That amazing structure emerging from the western side of the Martin House site is the Toshiko Mori-designed Eleanor and Wilson Greatbatch Pavilion, visitor center for the Martin House complex. Slated for substantial completion by the end of 2008, the building is well under way, with foundations, structural steel and dramatically cantilevered roof already in place. Contractors are currently preparing to install large, tripl
e-glazed sections of the building's curtain wall to complete the enclosure. When complete, the pavilion will form a platform for sweeping, horizontal views of the Martin House complex, and a multi-use space for visitor reception, orientation and special programming.

The powerful structure of the building is already evident, demonstrating Mori's great sensitivity to the tenets of Wright's Prairie design
s: prominent, sheltering roofs, cantilevers that visually gather outdoor space into the composition, dematerialized walls that foster a connection between site and enclosure, and an open interior plan that promotes a profound freedom of movement and interaction within the building.

Toshiko Mori will speak on "The Integration of Architecture and
Engineering in the Eleanor and Wilson Greatbatch Pavilion," in a panel discussion with three of the project's engineering consultants - Dmitri Jajich of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Paul Kreitler of Landmark Facilities Group, and Bruce Nichol of Front, Inc. - at the Albright Knox Art Gallery Auditorium, Wednesday, October 22, 8:00 p.m. Doors open at 7:45. The event is co-sponsored by the UB School of Architecture and Planning. Admission is free, but seating is limited. Call the MHRC at (716) 856-3858 for more information.

Fall "Homecoming"

Last weekend saw a family reunion at the corner of Jewett and Summit -a gathering of descendants of William Martin: brother to Darwin D. Martin and Wright client in his own right. Gathering in Parkside from various corners of the nation were five of William's grandchildren, numerous great-grandchildren, great great-grandchildren and spouses. Many had not visited the Martin House before, and the enthusiasm for family history and ties to Wright was in the air. MHRC Executive Director Mary Roberts and Senior Martin House Curator Jack Quinan led an in-depth tour of the complex, followed by lunch at the Gardener's cottage.

William's grandchildren plan to endow the reproduction of a "Tree of Life" window in honor of the family and William's important role in the Wright-Martin relationship. Our thanks to the family for this wonderful gesture.

Toward the end of the tour, it occurred to me that, with this reunion and many recent visits from other Martin relatives, Darwin Martin's dream of reuniting his family was coming to pass in an unexpected way. It may have been a century late, but I think DDM would have been pleased.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

American Bungalow Article Profiles Reception Room

The fall issue of American Bungalow magazine (available in the Wisteria Shop) contains an article by yours truly - with the invaluable assistance of colleague Lesley Neufeld - entitled "The Music of Their Lives: Remembering the Darwin D. Martin House." The article profiles the Martin House reception room as the center of harmonious domestic life fostered by the House's design, building on Wright's own metaphor of the "domestic symphony."

Editorial note for our learned Martin House Docents and volunteers: if you notice some factual errors in text or captions, they are just that, and unintentional. My apologies to all those readers who will no doubt notice these errors immediately.

Lambri's Slices of Art Glass on View at the Albright-Knox

Captivating, minimalist photographs by Italian photographer Luisa Lambri are now on view at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, part of the REMIX exhibition "Inner Space: Photography from the Collection" (in the Link gallery, through 1/4/09). Lambri's Untitled (Darwin D. Martin House) images (#04 shown at left), taken in the master bedroom of the house in the Spring of 2007, show the "slot" art glass windows in the space literally in a whole new light. The glowing bar of art glass slices through the darkness of the room like a miraculous, liminal parting of heavy curtains of masonry. Many of Lambri's images of architectural interiors feature windows, which seem to become luminous apertures in the plane of the photograph itself. At the same time, they are meditative essays on the nature of enclosed space. As Brian Sholis put it in Artforum, "Lambri's idiosyncratic documents, often depicting individual windows or glass curtain walls, are more somatic than panoramic, attending closely to the phenomenology of the built environment." (Artforum, Summer 2006, pp. 352-353). Viewing Lambri's work at the Albright-Knox is sure to enhance anyone's perception of Wright's equally idiosyncratic windows in the Martin House master bedroom.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

This Just In...

I recently returned from a trip to Florida, where I met with Martin family descendents in the Tallahassee area and followed up on some long-standing leads on family artifacts. Mark Armesto, son-in-law to Darwin R. Martin, welcomed me into his home in Havana, FL (largely spared by tropical storm Fay), where I also met Alex Martin, Darwin R. Martin's son.

Mark presented the MHRC with this beautiful Japanese woodblock print, passed down from his father-in-law to his late wife, Pattie Martin Armesto. Its original location in the Martin House is yet to be determined, but there's no doubt that it was part of the Martins' complement of prints obtained through the auspices of Wright.

Mark also gave us a copy of the booklet "The First to Make a Card Ledger / The Story of the Larkin Card Indexes," by Darwin D. Martin (1932). The booklet tells the story of the innovative Card Index system, first developed at the Larkin Company. Martin was evidently proud of this major contribution to the history of business systems, writing "...I think the card-ledger was born in the Larkin office, and the fact deserves its honored place in future encyclopedias."

I had an intriguing conversation with Alex Martin, who related a number of anecdotes about his father, Darwin R. Martin. One of the most amusing involved the discovery of a case of Civil War era whiskey (complete with Confederate trademarks) under the floorboards of a former Pony Express depot behind the former Stuyvesant Hotel. The final disposition of the finely aged spirits is lost to history...

From Tallahassee, I drove down to the Orlando area to make an eyewitness inspection of the original Martin House dining room buffet doors held by the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art, Winter Park []. Collections Manager Jennifer Thalheimer allowed me to "commune" with the impressive art glass doors, and later gave me a wonderful insider's tour of the Morse Museum collection which features the work of Louis Comfort Tiffany. The doors are finely preserved examples of Wright's interior art glass for the Martin House, and access to them is crucial to our long-term restoration efforts, as this is the only known example of this particular pattern. For enthusiasts of Turn-of-the-Century American decorative arts, the Morse is a must-see.

Upon my return to Buffalo, Mark Armesto had another surprise in store. He found in his collection an award - in the form of a large, engraved silver cup - to Darwin D. Martin from the Larkin Company, given upon Martin's retirement in 1925. The inscription reads: The Directors of Larkin Co. Inc. to Darwin D. Martin, with affectionate appreciation of his valuable services to the company for forty seven years, and as Director and Secretary. Mark thought that this award should be added to the Martin House collection as an impressive piece of Martin family history.

Who needs a gold watch anyway?

Remembering George Purington

I am saddened to report that Martin House benefactor George Purington died on Sunday, September 21. A veteran of World War II, George will long be remembered for his gentle, generous spirit and his love for his late wife, Nancy.

Personally, it was a blessing to know George, and to work with him in making the art glass doors in the Martin conservatory a reality.

Monday, August 18, 2008

This is an image of the stunning new art glass doors, connecting the Martin conservatory and pergola.

These reproduction doors were funded through the generous gift of George Purington (on the right) and fabricated by the craftsmen at Oakbrook Esser Studios, Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. Jamie Robideau of Hamilton Houston Lownie Architects created a precise drawing of the door pattern, based on photographs of the now-lost originals, and existing examples of the conservatory pattern art glass.

The only known original door of this type was sold at Christie's in 2007, and now resides with a collector in Japan.

Mr. Purington made his remarkable gift to underwrite the reproduction of these doors in memory of his late wife, Nancy. Mrs. Purington loved the Martin House and gardens, so the abstracted floral motif of these conservatory door panels seemed a perfect memorial.