Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Top Ten of Twenty-Ten

As the calendar winds down (or speeds up?) to the end of the year, I thought it a good time to reflect on what has been an eventful time in the life of a Martin House curator.  So here, in no particular order, are my Top Ten Curatorial Moments of 2010:

10)  Serving on a panel with Neil Levine, Scott Townsend, Mark Hertzberg and Tom Kubala at the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy conference in Cincinnati;  it was an honor just to share the same podium with these fellow scholars, curators and architects...

9) Travelling to Philadelphia to meet former UB First Lady and Martin House resident Margy Meyerson, reconnecting with a living piece of Martin House history, and driving home with a trunk load of artifacts...

8) Taking possession of the first-ever piece of horizontal art glass from the Martin House.  Say it, Billy:  this one was HUUUGE!

7) Seeing the publication of the first book on the Martin Gardener's Cottage by Karen Tashjian, AIA.  Karen - thanks for bringing a fresh perspective to a building we thought we knew...

6) Our very own episode of "Extreme Makeover:  Martin House Website Edition."

5) Receiving a "Tree of Life" window from the Grey Art Gallery of NYU.  Thanks to the Grey for redefining collegial...

4) Giving a talk on the Martin House art glass for the "alumni college" of my Hamilton College 20th reunion in June.  Yes, I'm older than I may look...

3) Receiving four additional Japanese prints, originally from the Martin House collection, from extended Martin family.  Sorry about the blank spots on your walls, folks, but we can't thank you enough.. 

2) Hosting Fallingwater Director Lynda Waggoner, Heinz Architectural Center Curator Ray Ryan and Architect John Patkau for the first of our "Design Dialogues" in the Greatbatch Pavilion.  A new kind of "cabin fever" set in...

1)  The commencement of Phase Five of Martin House restoration - in some respects, the most ambitious, challenging and intricate phase of work thus far.  As Wright himself said, "the space within becomes the reality of the building."  Welcome back to reality... 

If I were to add a number 11 to this list, it would have to be the cumulative experience of updating this blog every week.  Thanks to all of you who take a few minutes each week to read these musings;  it's truly a pleasure to provide them. 

Best wishes to all for happy Holidays with family and friends.  See you in 2011!


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Wright Flakes Out in Michigan

Growing up in Wisconsin, Frank Lloyd Wright was no stranger to snow.  

In fact, the poetic image that begins the "Prelude" of Wright's Autobiography is one of traversing a snowy Wisconsin field with his Uncle John, and taking the "path less traveled" through that starkly beautiful landscape (see "Frank Says" in the sidebar) in order to gather "weeds" that caught his eye.  If past is prologue, this sort of childhood vision may have inspired Wright the architect's later interest in the complex geometry of snowflakes.

The hexagonal geometry of a snowflake
Enter Carlton David and Margaret Wall some sixty-five years later, a twenty-something couple asking for a Usonian house.  Wright gave them what he described in Architectural Forum as "one of the more elaborate Usonian homes."  The Wall House represents the first time that Wright employed a 60-120-degree equilateral parallelogram module, adding this inherently dynamic shape to the Usonian plan vocabulary of rectangles, triangles and hexagons.  In the resulting plan, these parallelograms generate larger versions of themselves, as well as triangles and hexagons:  the shape that Wright cited as most conducive to natural human movement and to the union of house and environment.  From a bird's-eye view, the house's hip roof and pierced, cantilevered eaves produce snowflake-like forms, earning the house its distinctive name: "Snowflake."

The hexagonal hip roofs of the Wall House
Wright found hexagons in nature - whether produced by industrious bees or ice crystals - and employed them in other prominent Usonian-era structures, most notably the Hanna or "Honeycomb" House (Palo Alto, CA, 1937) and the Auldbrass Plantation (Yemassee, SC, 1938).  But the Wall House becomes associated with the snowflake form in particular, perhaps by virtue of its site in southeastern Michigan (whereas such a wintry association would be inappropriate for Auldbrass or Hanna).  And Wright surely realized on some level that the Usonian houses were akin to snowflakes in that they share common systems of generative geometry, and yet no two are alike. 
Partial Plan

And, as if to underscore this juxtaposition, PrairieMod currently features a selection of Holiday cards from "organic" architects.; the card by John Randal McDonald features abstracted snowflakes that look like progeny of the Wall House plan...

Friday, December 10, 2010

Brad Pitt and the Tree of Life

Sometimes, "free association" yields interesting results when it comes to Frank Lloyd Wright's Martin House and it's iconic art glass.

The "Tree of Life" window
Take, for example, the upcoming film The Tree of Life [Terrence Malick, 2011] which shares an evocative name with the best-known art glass window from the Martin House.  Coincidentally, the film stars one Brad Pitt, known to be an architecture buff and fan of Wright's work. 

Pitt's wife, equally world-famous actress Angelina Jolie, appealed to his love of architecture in finding the perfect birthday gift for her husband in 2006, when she booked a private tour and champagne toast for the two at Fallingwater, Wright's masterpiece on Bear Run in southwestern Pennsylvania.  Fallingwater has had some famous visitors before, including Albert Einstein and Ted Kennedy, but the visit by Hollywood power duo Pitt and Jolie brought some dazzling star power to the Kaufmann estate, despite the intimate nature of their visit.  

Jolie and Pitt at Fallingwater, 2006.  Photo by Cara Armstrong
Although details of the Tree of Life film are still sketchy, it has nothing to do apparently with Frank Lloyd Wright or the popular, tree-like art glass motif he designed for the Martins.  But could the release of the film be an opportunity for a sort of Wright-meets-Hollywood marketing integration?  Could the Buffalo or Toronto debut of the film be an opportunity for Mr. Pitt and Ms. Jolie to visit the Martin House (whether it's his birthday or not)?  Is it too late for product placement in the film (set in the Midwest in the 1950s - a Usonian in the background, perhaps?)?  Pitt wearing a t-shirt with the Martin "Tree of Life" motif during press conferences? The possibilities are endless.

Brad, if you're reading this, we could use some star power here in Buffalo.  And we have many "Tree of Life" windows yet to reproduce, at a mere $29,000 each.


Thursday, December 2, 2010

"I wanted a home where icicles by invitation might beautify the eves... icicles came to hang staccato from the eaves."
[Frank Lloyd Wright, An Autobiography] Photo: Janet Akcakal

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

New Website Goes Live

After months of digital tinkering and virtual design charettes, the NEW (and vastly improved) Martin House website has hit cyberspace!  

And with that, I'll let it speak for itself...


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Martin-Wright Thanksgiving Chronology

1621: The Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians share a harvest feast

1623: The aforementioned hold the second Thanksgiving feast (to finally finish the leftovers from 1621?)

1789:  President George Washington makes the first proclamation of Thanksgiving by the United States government

1863:  In the midst of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln calls for a "National Day of Thanksgiving"

1865: Darwin Martin is born in Bouckville, NY

c. 1873  Darwin Martin is attacked by a "bull turkey" in Nebraska

1867: Frank Lloyd Wright is born in Richland Center, WI

1893: "Lieber Meister" Louis Sullivan calls Wright a turkey (among other names)

1903-05:  Wright and Martin collaborate to create some buildings in Buffalo, NY

1934:  NBC radio broadcasts the first Thanksgiving Day football game (Lions vs. Bears), giving Americans everywhere a new form of turkey-day entertainment

1941:  FDR signs legislation officially making Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday in November

2010:  The Martin House Restoration Corporation adds additional Thanksgiving weekend tours to help entertain your in-laws

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Cottage Industry

The MHRC is pleased to announce its publication of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Gardener’s Cottage at the Martin House Complex, a new book on the Martin family gardener’s cottage (1909), part of the Martin House Complex.  Written and produced by Karen J. S. Tashjian, AIA, the book is the first-ever publication exclusively about the smallest and simplest structure in the array of Wright buildings at the historic site.
Tashjian’s book is comprised of a visual essay of images accompanied by short quotations, primarily by Wright himself.  Tashjian’s photographs document the house through the eye of a painter and compel the viewer to take a closer look at the building’s details.  The quotations invite the reader to contemplate the ideas behind the physical reality of the structure.   The book also includes an essay on simplicity, and a history and dialogue on the issue of authenticity as it relates to the expanded and renovated cottage.

Tashjian’s inspiration for the book came from visiting the site as a tourist "in her own backyard.”  As she describes this experience:  “I was enchanted by the richness of this small structure.  It demonstrates many ideas which I believe are essential to good design, as well as qualities of a small structure that make it graceful rather than confining.  As interior photographs are not permitted, I went to purchase a book on the cottage so that I might linger in some of these spaces.  There was no such book available, so at that moment this book was conceived: a small volume about a small Frank Lloyd Wright structure.”

Frank Lloyd Wright held many philosophical beliefs about materials, light, circulation, and spatial experience that inspired his work.   All of these ideas are evident, to varying degrees, in the gardener’s cottage.  Though the spaces are small, they are rich haptically, inviting interaction and the imprint of experience, rather than detached observation. 

The author will be signing books from 10 am to 2 pm during our Holiday Sale at the Wisteria Shop on December 4.

Here's an interesting blog post which contemplates the Gingko tree and it's role in Wright's Prairie-period plant inspirations - from Budge Gierke, via PrairieMod.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Digital Cathedrals

Blake Carrington:  Cathedral Scan / Asbury Hall @ Babeville / Wednesday Next

I think this performance promises a unique and all-too-rare dialogue between architecture, digital media and performance...

Wright? Wrong.

Multiple parties have asked us over the past few days about a piece of art glass that's up for auction in December, via Morphy Auctions of Pennsylvania.  The piece is attributed to Frank Lloyd Wright, and came from "a residence in upstate New York," leading some to speculate that it may have originated from the Martin complex.

Well, don't start bidding just yet.

This window is, without a doubt, not from the Martin House, Barton House or any other building in the complex. I would also add, with almost total certainty, that it does not hail from the Heath House, the Boynton House, or any other Wright building in upstate New York.  Or downstate New York, or the United States... In other words, I don't think it's a Wright design at all, and I suspect that Morphy is playing fast and loose with this attribution in hopes of a more lively auction.

The pattern does seem inspired by Wright windows, and bears some resemblance to some of the Martin windows, particularly in the top and bottom segments.  But the series of Klimt-like triangles that march up the center of the composition introduce an awkward geometry that's just not "Wright." 

Caveat emptor.   

Friday, November 5, 2010

It's a Matter of Trust

If you haven't see it, be sure to check out Buffalo:  This Place Matters, featuring the MHRC's own Mike Osika, restoration architect Ted Lownie, and a fleeting cameo by UB School of Architecture and Planning Dean and man-about-town, Brian Carter...

Thanks to the CVB for producing such an amazing portrait of Buffalo!

Thursday, November 4, 2010


Pink Floyd Wright

The Martin House has made the number four spot on the "Ultimate Frank Lloyd Wright Tour," posted recently on the Huffington Post.

Now, if you can overlook the curious misspellings of various sites (Taliesen, Falling Water, etc.), this is pretty cool!  

Perhaps due to the creative spelling, the Post's post inspired one follower to comment:  Oh, for a minute there I thought they said "Pink Floyd Wright." Those would be awesome houses too.

See you on the dark side of the pergola...

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Houston, That's a Go for Re-entry

Fuermann and Sons' 1907 photo of the entry hall / pergola.
Following several months where the Martin House was hermetically sealed for the painstaking process of ACM (Asbestos Containing Material) removal, the "all clear" has been issued, and public tours will again be allowed to enter the main house - albeit in a limited fashion - beginning on Monday, November 1.  Tours will enter the front door of the Martin House, and proceed along the entry hall axis, exiting onto the pergola.  This pathway through the Martin House will afford visitors a view of spaces to either side of the hall, where restoration work is ongoing.  

While only a partial reclamation of the Martin House interior, this change to the compromised tour route is significant, because visitors will once again have the full experience of the breathtaking vista from the front door of the house down the telescopic pergola and into the top-lit conservatory, where Nike presides over all.

Greatbatch Shines in AL

The "enlightening" collaboration between Toshiko Mori and Arup to infuse the Eleanor and Wilson Greatbatch Pavilion with light - both natural and artificial - is profiled in this month's edition of Architectural Lighting.  More HERE.

Friday, October 22, 2010

One Down (Sixteen to Go)

At one time, the Martin House was graced by seventeen pieces of art glass in the horizontal plane:  skylight and laylight panels in the Bursar's office, living room, unit room pier clusters and main stairway landing.  A few of these pieces have been identified in public and private collections, and a few have shown up on the auction block.  But all have eluded the MHRC's best efforts to return them to the Martin House.  Until now.

Yesterday, the MHRC took possession of a stunning skylight / laylight panel from the three-panel Bursar's office array.  This acquisition was the result of over a decade of patient, careful research and relationship-building by our restoration architect, Ted Lownie.  The panel was loaned from the anonymous owner for the "Windows" exhibition at the Burchfield Penney Art Center in 1999, and it has been high on our "wish list" ever since.  

The importance of this acquisition cannot be overstated;  having just one such example will allow us to perfectly reproduce all the other horizontal art glass for the house with complete accuracy as to the color and type of glass used, as the same palette is shared by all the skylight and laylight panels in the house.

Greatbatch Goes Global

Adding to its growing list of accolades, Toshiko Mori's Eleanor & Wilson Greatbatch Pavilion has been shortlisted for an award from the World Architecture Festival held in Barcelona this November.  

Joining the Greatbatch Pavilion in the nominations for the "Display" category are the likes of Foster + Partners Fortaleza Hall at the Johnson Wax complex in Racine, Wisconsin, and the Danish and Spanish Pavilions from the 2010 Shanghai World Expo.  

Now, how do you say "I'd like to thank Mr. Wright" in Spanish? 

Friday, October 15, 2010

AIA Accolades

Ted Lownie, with NYS Parks Commissioner Bernadette Castro
The American Institute of Architects New York State (AIANYS) will present a 2010 Design Award to Hamilton Houston Lownie Architects (HHL) of Buffalo for the firm’s restoration of the Martin House Complex.  This “Award of Excellence” in the Historic Preservation category will be conferred on HHL during the AIANYS’  President’s Dinner and Design Awards Presentation tonight (10/15) in Buffalo in recognition of their outstanding  work in the reconstruction of the pergola, conservatory and carriage house and the exterior restoration of the Darwin Martin House.
This award is among  selected projects representing exceptional work by AIANYS members in eleven categories:  Adaptive Reuse, Commercial / Industrial (Large and Small Projects), Historic Preservation, Institutional, Interiors, International, Residential (Large and Small Projects), Unbuilt and Urban Planning / Design.  The criteria used by the juries included design quality, program resolution, innovation, thoughtfulness and technique.  HHL shares accolades in the Historic Preservation category with restorations of New York’s Beacon Theatre and Empire State Building (both by Beyer Blinder Belle Architects and Partners LLP).
HHL has been involved in the renewal of the Martin House Complex for more than a decade.  The work is now in its final phase, focusing on the interior of the Martin House, and is the most ambitious restoration and reconstruction of a Wright-designed structure ever undertaken.  The project has been recognized by the national and international media as an outstanding effort to preserve one of Wright’s masterworks of the Prairie era.

“The Martin House restoration and reconstruction, which we began in 1992, has been and continues to be, a project which continually provides unparalleled opportunities for professional growth architecturally.  Working on the Martin House is a genuine privilege,” reflected HHL Founding Architect Theodore L. Lownie.  Managing Partner Matthew W. Meier observed: “As architects, it’s truly been a privilege to devote nearly two decades of our professional service to research, stabilize, repair, reconstruct and restore Frank Lloyd Wright’s self-proclaimed ‘opus' – located right here in our own back yard!”

Toshiko Mori, speaking at the opening of the Greatbatch Pavilion
The Martin House Restoration Corporation is also extremely gratified that the AIANYS will present another award for its campus’s Eleanor and Wilson Greatbatch Pavilion (2009) to Toshiko Mori Architect (TMA) of New York City.  Mori will receive an “Award of Excellence” in the Institutional category. TMA previously received an “Honor” Design Award from the Buffalo/WNY Chapter of the AIA in 2009, and another from the AIA New York (New York City) Chapter in 2010 for the design of the Greatbatch Pavilion.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Asbestos We Can

The MHRC is rejoicing this week at receiving the "all clear" from Phase 5A contractors who have been performing asbestos abatement over the summer.  The removal of massive amounts of ACM (Asbestos Containing Materials) from the Martin House is complete, and the air and surfaces of the interior thoroughly cleaned. We are all too happy to bid farewell to this potentially hazardous material (PHM, perhaps?).

This is great news for the Martin House staff as well as for our visitors.  We've cleared a major, messy hurdle in pursuing the complete, interior restoration of the house, and it also means that we may regain access (albeit limited) to the house - a pathway from the front door through the entry hall to the pergola - in the near future.  For the public, this means the return of a semblance of our "traditional" tour route, but also an opportunity to see other interior restoration in progress.

As a curator, it's always difficult to have one's collection (in this case a building) so compromised and inaccessible.  This first segment of Phase 5A has obfuscated various research and interpretation efforts at the Martin House; but in the long view, it has paved the way for the full experience of Wright's richly detailed interior to take shape once again.  The rewards will be well worth enduring this temporary "siege" on the house.  

Friday, October 1, 2010


Louis Sullivan:  The Struggle for American Architecture looks like a great film - and the first ever - on the life and work of Lieber Meister Louis Sullivan, coming to a theater near you (specifically, the Market Arcade Film and Arts Center, Wednesday, Oct. 6, 8 PM)

Click HERE to purchase tickets...

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Check out an interesting article on restoration efforts at our Rochester cousin, the Boynton House [click HERE]

Cincinnati Journal

I recently returned from the annual Conference of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy - this year in Cincinnati, Ohio.  This annual gathering of Wright scholars, homeowners and representatives of public sites was built on the theme of "Modifying Wright's Buildings and Their Sites:  Additions, Subtractions and Adjacencies."  This made for some interesting panel presentations and related discussions concerning buildings from the Guggenheim Museum (New York) to Taliesin West (Scottsdale) to the Freeman House (Los Angeles).  

I had the pleasure and privilege of sharing a presentation on the Martin House Visitor Center competition in a panel with some very distinguished company:  Neil Levine discussed Gwathmey Siegel's 1992 addition and renovation of the Guggenheim, Mark Hertzberg addressed Wright's own addition of the research tower to the S.C. Johnson and Son complex, Tom Kubala discussed his firm's recent addition to the Unitarian Meeting House in Madison, and Scott Perkins presented Zaha Hadid's dynamic project to expand the Price Tower Art Center.  All of these fascinating case studies grappled with the complex question of what makes a successful (and sustainable) partnership with a Wright building.  Other sessions explored the effect - perhaps inevitable - of changes to the built and natural environments adjacent to Wright's buildings.  And some delved into the question of whether a dormant Wright building can be re-purposed and still maintain something of its original form and meaning.

A highlight of these conferences is always the afternoon bus tours to various buildings by Wright and his contemporaries in the host region.  These tours offer continuing educational opportunities of a different sort - rare chances to experience the haptic dimension of these buildings in real time and space.  Memorable among these field trips was a visit to the Westcott House in Springfield, product of an ambitious (and downright heroic) restoration effort, and a tour of the Tonkens House in Amberley Village, a meticulously-preserved Usonian Automatic where gold leaf graces the ceiling of the bedroom wing.

The Building Conservancy and its annual conference have a special relationship to Buffalo:  the conference has been held here twice - first in 1997 and again in 2009.  Moreover, the Conservancy's mission - and its logo - stems from one of Buffalo greatest mistakes:  the demolition of the Larkin Administration building in 1950.  Senior Martin House Curator and UB Distinguished Service Professor Jack Quinan was among the founding vanguard of the Conservancy, and has dedicated a great deal of his time and expertise over the past two decades to seeing that no more "Larkins" are lost to the wrecking ball.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Gurdjieff! (gesundheit!)

If you're interested in Oligivanna Wright and intrigued by her mystical mentor (or if you're just into impressive mustaches), here's a free lecture that's right up your alley:

Exchanges on the Ideas of Gurdjieff:  Mathematics, Philosophy and Psychology, by Scott Williams.  Click HERE for details. 

Heavy Metal

Two prominent fixtures of the Martin House reception room - the pair of bronze firewood boxes that flank the arched fireplace - point to the multiple connections between Frank Lloyd Wright's clients, his decorative designs, and the custom fabrication of the same. 

Detail, Carson, Pirie, Scott and Company Building
The Martins' unique (and uniquely heavy) boxes were fabricated by the Winslow Brothers Company of Chicago, makers of architectural metalwork in iron and bronze.  Winslow executed intricate designs for Louis Sullivan and other designers of the "Chicago School" that emerged at the end of the 19th century, filling the blank slate left by the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 with their proto-modern Arabesques.  An outstanding example of such work is the corner turret grille of Sullivan's Carson, Pirie, Scott and Company Building (Chicago, 1899).

The relative simplicity of Wright's angular design for the Martins' firewood boxes may have been a welcome departure for Winslow.  But William Winslow personally was no stranger to Wright's designs:  he lived in one.  Winslow's house in River Forest was Wright's first independent commission upon leaving Adler & Sullivan in 1893. 

Wright's presentation drawing for the Winslow House

The Winslow house may seem conservative in the scope of Wright's full career, but at the time it raised eyebrows with Winslow's late Victorian neighbors.  Winslow claims to have hidden behind his newspaper while riding the commuter line into Chicago because his River Forest neighbors were teasing him about his unorthodox new house.  Darwin Martin may have had his share of such incognito train rides, circa 1905 - though his nose would have been buried in a volume of the Encyclopedia Britannica. 

Friday, September 10, 2010

Extra! Extra!

The Martin House utilizes most every building material known to man - concrete, brick, tile, wood, brass, bronze, magnesite and...newspaper.

Phase Five contractors recently found crumpled newspaper from 1920, used apparently as impromptu insulation to fill a hole around pipes in a second floor bathroom (between bedrooms five and six).  The date discernible on some of the pages of the Buffalo Commercial Evening is March 20, 1920.  This would suggest that the stuffing coincided with the changes made to the second floor in that year, when the south wall was moved outward and the northwest cantilever filled-in to create a trunk room.

This accidental time capsule yields some interesting snapshots of that day in the life of Buffalo and the nation.  The bold headline on the front page declares RESOLUTION TO DECLARE PEACE REPLACES PACT, a reference to Congressional rejection of the Treaty of Versailles and the United States' unilateral treaties negotiated with Germany and her allies to bring the American involvement in World War I to an official close. 

Local news was somewhat more frivolous:  one story tells of a quirky heist, and it bears publishing in its entirety:   

Auto Thieves Steal Pretzels, Machine, Too

Automobile thieves yesterday stole a large automobile truck loaded with 600 pounds of pretzels, property of the Lititz Pretzel Bakery, 111 Grey Street.  The machine and baked goods were pilfered from the corner of Hertel Avenue and Niagara Street while the driver, James Sweeney 40 years old, 611 Wyoming Street delivered goods in a saloon at that point.

Sweeney came out of the saloon in time to see the truck going west on Hertel Avenue and cross over the canal bridge passing down the towpath toward Tonawanda. 

The truck was recovered by police of Tonawanda early this morning.  It was abandoned and several hundred pounds of the pretzels were missing.  The tires were stripped from the machine also.

Perhaps the Tonawanda police should have put out an APB for crooks seeking to hijack a mustard truck...

Friday, August 27, 2010

Wayward Wisteria

In the course of researching an old issue of The Frank Lloyd Wright Newsletter (vol. 1 no. 5, September-October 1978), I happened upon a curious piece of Martin House art glass, not previously "on our radar."  

This piece - clearly of the "wisteria" family from the unit room - was, at the time, in the collection of the Department of Architecture and Design of the Museum of Modern Art, NY.  Unfortunately, the newsletter's listing does not give the dimensions of the panel, identifying it only as a first floor window. This obfuscates the process of pinpointing its original location in the house, but by scrutinizing the pattern and historic photos, I can say with some certainty that it must be one of the windows that flanked the five French doors leading from the living room to the veranda.  These windows were the same width as the doors, but about half the height.  The dimensions of this piece (by eye) would seem to fit the bill, along with its characteristic series of eleven abstracted "blossoms" across the center of the composition.

The caption indicates that this window was acquired by the MoMA in 1970 - most likely from the show and sale of Martin House art glass at the Richard Feigen Gallery, New York.  Today, however, a search of the MoMA collection online does not list any such piece among its impressive array of Wright-designed decorative objects.  Here - for the moment - the trail of this fugitive piece of art glass goes cold. What became of it between 1978 and today?  It could well have migrated to another museum collection or private collection; further research may pick up its trail once again.  

One important clarification for art glass connoisseurs:  the caption in the newsletter indicates that "the came in this instance is zinc."  Anyone familiar with the art glass from the Martin House knows that this is in error - it must be brass (versus the caming of the Barton House art glass, which is zinc). 

If anyone reading this has any clues as to the whereabouts of this rare piece, our phone lines are always open! 

Friday, August 13, 2010

Mark Armesto, 1929 - 2010

The Martin House family lost a prominent member on August 1st when Mark James Armesto, Sr., passed away in Quincy, Florida.  Born in Buffalo in 1929, Mark married Pattie Martin, adopted daughter of Darwin R. Martin and granddaughter of Darwin D. and Isabelle Martin. 

Mark graduated from the Harvard School of Business in 1968, and went on to a seventeen year career with Sheraton Hotels.  Mark had the opportunity to travel the world through his work, and souvenirs from these many destinations decorated his home in Havana, FL (near Tallahassee).  Mark became an avid golfer, wine enthusiast and member of various boards and organizations in his community.  But he had a special place in his heart for Buffalo and for the Martin House, honoring his wife's connection to the Martins' "domestic symphony" with the gift of an original Japanese print in 2008.  He also gave the MHRC items of personal ephemera related to Pattie's grandfather, Darwin D. Martin:  a silver cup commemorating Martin's retirement from the Larkin Company in 1925, and a copy of his booklet, "The First to Make a Card Ledger."  

I had the pleasure of meeting Mark at his home in Havana to receive these gifts and interview him and his brother-in-law, Alexander Martin.  Even in this brief meeting, I could see that Mark was a true gentleman - generous, thoughtful and personable - surely a pleasure to all who knew him.

Mark Armesto (back row, on left) with Martin family in the gardener's cottage, 2009.  Martin grandchildren are in the front row (L to R):  Margaret Foster, Darwin Martin ("Jerry") Foster and wife, Hanne.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Just a Little Trim

Incredible Martin House factoid of the week:

Of the eighty-nine different wood molding profiles from the Martin House, only three have a curve.  The other eighty-six are composed almost exclusively of right angles.  

The significance behind this factoid, of course, is that it attests to the pervasive rectilinear quality of Wright's design.  Plugged into the interwoven grid of the complex, the trim details follow its language of squares and rectangles.  But Wright slips a few gentle curves into the baseboard trim.  Why?  One answer may be:  to make a less jarring transition from floor plane to wall planes and piers.  Another answer may be purely practical:  the wear and tear that furniture and shoes tend to exact on such woodwork would soon reduce a crisp edge to a blunt one (so Wright blunts it by design).  Ultimately, the baseboard of the Martin House comes to resemble water table trim in other houses such as those of the Graycliff estate (below). 

Amazingly, all of this intricate trim from the Martin House - some eight miles of it, end-to-end - has been removed, cataloged and stored, to be restored and returned to the house in the course of completion of Phase 5 of restoration.