Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Happy Holidays

As the Weekly Wright-up staff heads off for its traditional year-end retreat (to study the effects of wassail on blogging), we'd like to wish you a new year where the world is more peaceful, where prosperity grows, where good health is a right and not a privilege, where education equals opportunity, and where art and culture are celebrated.

Happy Holidays and New Year from the Weekly Wright-up!  

We'll return the week of January 4, 2010.

Friday, December 18, 2009

A Rare Chair

By EJF, Honorary Chair

L and below:  Rohlfs dining chair from the collection of David Whitney 

The Martin family collection of furnishings includes a virtual who's-who of turn-of-the-twentieth-century designers.  Pieces by Stickley, Tiffany and Heintz Art Metal graced the Martin House c. 1907, and many of these remain in the collection today.  But one distinctive Arts and Crafts designer - Charles Rohlfs - is represented only at the periphery of this collection.

For years, an anecdote circulated that "the Martins" once owned a "Rohlfs dining chair or chairs" - an urban myth, perhaps, but a tantalizing one, given Rohlfs' legendary stature as one of most original designers associated with the Arts and Crafts scene of Western New York.  This tale remained unsubstantiated until 2006, when a Rohlfs chair with provenance pertaining to the Martin family came to light in Sotheby's sale of the collection of David Whitney.  

The Whitney chair can be traced confidently to "Mrs. D. R. Martin," though it is unclear which of the three wives of Darwin R. Martin was the owner.  The Sotheby's catalog entry attributes the chair originally to Mr. and Mrs. Darwin D. Martin "by repute." Although the chair was made in Buffalo in 1901 and would have been a plausible part of the elder Martins' decor, I consider the attribution unsubstantiated. There is no corroborating evidence that indicates that Darwin D. and Isabelle Martin had such chairs, either in their first home on Summit Avenue, or in the Wright-designed Martin House on Jewett Parkway.

Today, an apparently identical Rohlfs chair is included in the touring exhibition, "The Artistic Furniture of Charles Rohlfs" (American Decorative Art 1900 Foundation).  This example is from the collection of the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum.  Additionally, other examples of the same chair are found in the LA County Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Two Red Roses Foundation.  The question remains: were these five chairs once part of the same dining suite?   

Given Darwin and Isabelle Martin's well-known interest in Arts and Crafts furnishings, it's tempting to think that they may have had a set of four to six of these chairs around a dining table in their Summit Avenue home.  But until we can connect these "dots" more clearly, we only know that one of their daughters-in-law once had one of these throne-like chairs, but apparently abdicated her throne years ago.  

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Spectacular Structures

By EJF, Chicag-o-phile 

 L:  corner detail showing slender, stainless steel columns, Greatbatch Pavilion 

The accolades for the Eleanor and Wilson Greatbatch Pavilion just keep coming, and not just for the building's overall merits.  Earlier this year, the Structural Engineers Association of Illinois (SEAOI) gave the Pavilion its "Best Medium Structure" award via Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, LLP (SOM), the structural engineers who worked with Toshiko Mori Architects on the "garden pavilion" at the Martin House Complex.

This award should be of interest to more than just the "slide rule set;" it underscores SOM's role in making Mori's bold design vision for the Pavilion a reality.  SOM looms large in the history of modern architecture - from the Willis Tower (aka Sears Tower) to the 1962 Bunshaft addition to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, to the incredible Burj Dubai.  Moreover, this award from the Chicago-based SEAI provides a sense of historical symmetry to the Martin House / Greatbatch Pavilion project:  Chicago has long been the seat of innovation in modern architecture, from the birth of the skyscraper to the launch of the young Frank Lloyd Wright's career from the tower of Adler and Sullivan's Auditorium building.

R:  The Nichols Bridgeway 

But this award takes on even more gravitas if you consider the competition.  The runners-up in the medium projects category (recipients of "Awards of Merit") included the Nichols Bridgeway (Arup / Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, Inc.), a graceful pedestrian bridge linking Millennium Park and Renzo Piano's new Modern wing for the Art Institute of Chicago.  Also in the running were structurally distinctive new buildings for Loyola University (Halvorson and Partners) and Northern Arizona University (OWP / P).  The breathtaking structural achievement of each of these projects attests to the cutting-edge company that Mori / SOM's Buffalo Pavilion keeps.    

Friday, December 4, 2009

Stranger Than Fiction

The scattered pieces of the Martin House - art glass, furniture, fixtures and family ephemera - sometimes seem like holy relics from a Saint (Saint Martin perhaps?).  Like such revered bones, pieces of the Martin House have been taken to the far corners of the earth, transported and traded in secret and, at times, tragically lost.  The recent rediscovery of two fingers and a tooth from persecuted Italian astronomer Galileo attests to the lengths that people will go to preserve seemingly insignificant bits of history (or figures from history) and elevate them to sacred status by association.  It also attests to the grim absurdity of how such bits are squirreled away, only to resurface years later.  

The various vignettes concerning Martin House art glass in particular are stranger than fiction.  There's the case of the two pier cluster laylights that Darwin R. Martin once traded to a business associate for an anodized aluminum ashtray that caught his eye;  one of these exquisite panels sold via Sotheby's this year for over $200,000.  Then there's the pier cluster casement window that was rescued from sooty oblivion (behind a furnace) in an Elmwood Avenue basement by a UB student with a good eye.  That one's alive and well and retired to Ohio.

But perhaps the most bizarre and harrowing tale of lost art glass surfaced recently in response to the Buffalo News article about our new art glass book:  a reader called to say that, circa 1962, when the pergola, conservatory and carriage house were being demolished, an associate of his was witness to the demolition contractors using pieces of fallen art glass windows - broken glass and caming - as traction for their equipment on the muddy site.  I guess this would be a case of art-glass-as-kitty-litter.  I'm hard pressed to think of a more ignoble fate for these masterworks of Wright's design;  it's akin to using a Vermeer to patch a hole in the roof.

So please, when you need a little help getting your car out of the driveway this winter, don't put your Martin House window under the rear tires - give us a call instead.  We can think of a better use for it.