Friday, February 26, 2010

Reflections on Asheville

by EJF, your full-service curator

Above:  The Grove Park Inn, completed 1913

Having just returned from the annual Arts and Crafts Conference at the Grove Park Inn, Asheville, NC, I'm happy to report that the American Arts and Crafts Revival is alive and well and percolating in bungalows, antiques galleries and the shops of contemporary craftsmen around the country.  Last weekend, over a thousand registered attendees enjoyed the hand-hammered, quartersawn immersion of this three-day summit, with nearly two thousand additional day visitors arriving for the Contemporary Craftsfirms, Books and Antiques Shows.  

The Martin House Restoration Corporation greeted visitors with "Elbert Hubbard and Frank Lloyd Wright:  Welcoming the World," a traveling road show in collaboration with the Roycroft Campus Corporation.  The display included an original "Tree of Life" window from the Martin House, documents pertaining to the relationship between Hubbard, Martin and Wright, and Roycroft publications, historic ephemera, and merchandise.  Conference-goers seemed to enjoy particularly the "Hubbard and Wright" theater, where hourly showings of WNED's "Frank Lloyd Wright's Buffalo" and "Elbert Hubbard:  An American Original" gave them a chance to sit, have some refreshments and take-in the compelling stories of Elbert Hubbard, Darwin D. Martin, Frank Lloyd Wright and the remarkable concentration of Arts and Crafts and Prairie-era cultural assets in Western New York - a well-kept secret no longer! 

On the more contemplative side, the Conference offered morning and evening seminars on Arts and Crafts topics ranging from art pottery glazes to rustic furniture.  Among the most interesting of these seminars for me was a session by Dr. Jonathan Clancy, the director of the American Fine and Decorative Art Program at Sotheby's Institute, that re-examined the Arts and Crafts Revival, some four decades old.  With a healthy (and heady) mix of humor and skepticism, Clancy confronted certain persistent myths about the movement - muddled streams of influence, utilization of machines (gasp!), the role of the craftsman or woman, etc. - in a way that ultimately added value to the audience's understanding of the Arts and Crafts as a movement and as a style.  I applaud such re-examinations and frank discussions (not Frank discussions) of an aesthetic and social movement that still has a great deal to offer scholars, collectors and casual decorators alike - a movement that holds up to such critical stress as well as a through-tenon Stickley chair. 

Now, as for the complex relationship between Frank Lloyd Wright's Prairie work and the Arts and Crafts Movement:  that's a conference unto itself...

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Burj Update

by EJF, High on Architecture / Above: the surreal view from the Burj observation deck.

The Burj Khalifa, the gargantuan spire that now dominates the skyline of Dubai, is experiencing a few growing pains.  Last Saturday, a number of tourists were stranded in the "At the Top" observatory on the 124th floor for about an hour.  The culprit:  an electrical issue with the elevators.  Apparently, no one was physically harmed, though some minor panic set in among the visitors trapped at such a great elevation.  The Burj is doing the inevitable P.R. shuffle over the event, but whatever the spin, it brings to mind a simple truth:  buildings aren't perfect.  And no one knows that better than Frank Lloyd Wright and his many clients.

Wright's audacious, unbuilt design for the Illinois ("Mile High") building may have served as an inspiration for the bundled mega-tower of the Burj, and it's anyone's guess as to the structural and mechanical problems that the much higher Wright tower might have experienced if built.  Wright's built work, for that matter, is somewhat notorious for structural and mechanical problems:  leaky roofs, sagging cantilevers, drafty art glass windows, and et cetera.  The debate over the "success" of Wright's built work is one for an entire symposium - one that should consider Wright's spatial, psychological and even spiritual achievements along with the performance of his roofs.  So, for the tallest building in the world with the longest elevators and other mechanical systems that must also classify it as one of the world's largest machines, one should expect a few bugs in the system, especially in its first year of operation.  

R:  Burj Khalifa's many elevators

And as for those accidental captives on the Burj observation deck: what a space to have to kill an hour in - versus sitting on the runway at JFK for several hours.  

Are you reading this, JetBlue? 

Friday, February 5, 2010

Another Piece of the Print Puzzle

 by EJF

Frank Lloyd Wright prescribed some two dozen Japanese ukiyo-e prints for his "domestic symphony," the Darwin D. Martin House.  At the time (c. 1905), Wright was becoming a connoisseur and dealer in these easily-collectible tokens of Japonisme.  More significantly, he saw in them the sort of organic expression and underlying geometry that resonated with his own approach to design.  An array of Wright-curated ukiyo-e prints once graced the piers of the Martin House, and we are very fortunate to have the majority of this collection reassembled today. Recently, two more Martin family prints have been added to the collection by generous descendants: Darwin Martin (Jerry) Foster and Mark Armesto.
In planning the implementation of the Martin House historic furnishings report, this comprehensive collection of prints has been an invaluable resource.  The locations to hang most of the prints could be determined by scrutinizing the various historic photos of the Martin House interior, but a few mysteries remained.  Some of the blanks could be filled-in with relative certainty via the process of elimination, drawing on various clues as to size, format and subject matter of prints in the collection.  But one nagging spot remained:  a landscape-oriented print shown in one family photo of the living room looking southeast toward the veranda. The reflection off the glazing obscures the image, and the identity of this white rectangle eluded me for longer than I'd care to admit.

Sometimes, the dots are so easily connected that the line can be overlooked.  We knew that the Martins' grandson, Jerry Foster, had a Japanese print hanging proudly in his living room, and he had indicated that he would consider gifting it to the Martin House when the time was right.  Pondering the mystery print in the living room photo, I had a sudden realization: that time was at hand!  Sure enough, Jerry's print appeared to have the same framed size and mat dimensions as the one shown in the puzzling photo.  While we are not able to match the image to that in the obscured photo, the other factors fit;  one of the final pieces of the Martin House print puzzle had snapped into place.  Given our need to create faithful giclĂ©e reproductions of the Martin prints for installation in the soon-to-be-restored interior, Jerry and his wife Hanne have graciously agreed to send the print to us.  

Now, on to the second floor, where the total lack of photographic evidence will make the process of print placement there somewhat like a game of Sudoku with my eyes closed.



 Martin House Director of Operations Margie Stehlik with Hanne and Jerry Foster at the Martin House.