Friday, July 30, 2010

A Posthumous Roast

OK, so the ad agency should have known better and sought permission, but, really, have we no sense of humor when it comes to Mr. Wright?  

Click HERE for the full story from the The Morning Call, Allentown, PA.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Architectural "Inception"

If you're like me, you don't remember the characters or plots of your dreams as much as you remember the architecture - the built environment that your mind somehow conjures every time you dream.  Dreams and dream analysis are often framed in architectonic terms, and Christopher Nolan's new movie Inception is just the latest example, writ large in the language of film.

The premise of Nolan's mind-bending (and city bending) action thriller about agents who hack into others' dreams to retrieve - or plant - information relies heavily on architecture and the role of architects.  Near the beginning of the film, Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) must find a new architect for his "dream team" of operatives.  He consults his father-in-law (Michael Caine), an architecture professor, who recommends a promising student named Ariadne (Ellen Page).  As it turns out, the design of maze-like "levels" planned to disorient the dreaming quarry is the crucial groundwork for the dream hackers' craft.  This presents a dream job (so to speak) for an ambitious architect, as she gets the opportunity to design entire cities, with the added perk of incorporating certain uncanny, super-spatial illusions inspired by the drawings of M. C. Escher.  The results are rendered with eye-popping digital effects that feel essential to the narrative - rather than a gratuitous distraction from it.

Somewhat predictably, Frank Lloyd Wright elements show up in the design palette of the Inception dreamscape.  The pseudo-Japanese palace of Saito (Ken Watanabe) features barrel chairs (of the Cassina / Wingspread variety [right], not the Martin House variety) in the dining room, and boxy pendant lights in a stair hall reminiscent of those from Unity Temple.  But these Wrightian appropriations are fairly subtle, and seem right at home in the japonisme of the set.  And these nods to Wright place the film on a growing list of Hollywood fantasies that utilize Wright buildings or designs, including Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982) and Gattaca (Andrew Niccol, 1997).

Wright's reviled fellow architect, Le Corbusier, steps in as architectural inspiration for two levels of the film's dream architecture:  for the first layer of the team's convoluted attempt at an "Inception" job, and for "limbo," the ominous waiting room of the dream world (think Dante meets The Matrix, with few exits).  The latter appears to have been inspired specifically by Le Corbusier's grandiose, imperialistic vision of the modern city, his Ville Radieuse plan (below).  Thus, we find DiCaprio's character wandering the canyon-like street grid of a seemingly infinite urban core, where a few vernacular buildings drawn from his personal history are dwarfed by steel-and-glass sentinels.

Depending on your assessment of the International Style, this Corbusian inspiration for the film's vision of synthetic, Utopian architecture is either insulting or apropos.  No doubt Wright would have thought the latter.  

Friday, July 23, 2010

Best in Show

Congratulations to Martin House volunteer and staff member Janet Akcakal for her prize-winning photos in the Ephraim Faience Pottery photo contest, "Ephraim at Home."  Janet's photo of three Ephraim pieces displayed proudly in front of the Martin House (above) won the Grand Prize, her image of three other vessels with autumn leaves won First Prize in the Best Holiday or Seasonal Display category, and a third image of her cat with a whimsical Ephraim pot got an honorable mention in the Best Home Interior category.  Was there a little catnip in that pot, Janet?  

Janet's images will be featured in the Ephraim Faience 2011 Collectors' Calendar.  Her Grand Prize winning photo is on the cover, and the image with autumn leaves is featured for October.  The calendar includes information about the Grand Prize photo and the Martin House inside the back cover.  

More information coming soon about how to order a copy of this beautiful calendar. 

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Copley House (aka Barton House)

This week, I had the pleasure of a lengthy chat with Mr. Almon Copley, a member of the Copley family that occupied the Barton House from 1932 to 1945.  My contact with Mr. Copley, who is now in his 90s and retired to Nevada, came by way of his nephew who had visited the house last year and signed the guest book.  Almon Copley has many vivid recollections of living in the Barton House during a period that is under-documented in Martin House history, and here are some highlights of our conversation:
  • Almon's father, Frank W. Copley, a manager for Bemis Bag Co. (a maker of potato sacks and other food packaging) was drawn to Wright's design for the Barton House, but declined to purchase the house because he doubted the performance of certain features such as the gently pitched roof and broadly cantilevered eves.  He also noted that the broad copper gutters succumbed to ice build-up on more than one occasion, and were knocked off the house in the middle of the night (to the shock of the sleeping family).  So the Copleys, perhaps wisely, rented their house from the Martin family.
  • Almon is a walking encyclopedia of his education and work history:  he graduated from Bennet HS in the class of '37, the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor in '41, enlisted in the Army in '42, received his Army commission in November of '45 and was married the next day - he recalls having spent his first night as a married man at 118 Summit Avenue.  He was in Harvard Business School at the time, and soon became an executive with the Barcalo Manufacturing Company (famous for their Barcalounger reclining chair).  He noted that Barcalo originally made metal beds, and sold a great deal to the Larkin Company for their premiums.
  • Mr. Copley had some interesting character sketches of Martin staff from the 1930s:  Ruben Polder, a "Dutchman," was the gardener, and diligently tended the hedges and other enduring flora around the property, though the conservatory was not in use at that point and the kitchen garden was also fallow; Copley also noted that his own half sister, Fannie, was married on the Martin House grounds (or what was left of them) in 1937; William Thorpe, the chauffeur, may have worked previously (prior to 1915) for Sir Henry Rider Haggard, an English writer of popular adventure novels; Thorpe's son, Arthur ("Art") was described as a "big, good-looking guy" and a lieutenant in the National Guard cavalry. 
  • Mr. Copley had a few notes on the plantings of the Martin House grounds.  Although the conservatory was locked and disuse for then entire time his family lived on the site, he said that he could see into the many windows and the Nike at the north end, obscured by neglected vines, was a fascinating source of mystery.  He added that Mrs. Martin had a beloved dogwood tree that flourished just outside the conservatory - miraculous to the neighbors because it thrived in a zone where it shouldn't.  And he noted that the urn at the Barton House entrance was planted regularly with lantana.
  • Mr. Copley had some interesting anecdotes about details and changes in the Barton House itself.  For example, he confirmed that there was an intercom terminal in the short hall from the dining room to the kitchen (at the top of the basement stairs).  The intercom system was not working by the time his family moved in, but he liked to pretend that he was using it to call-up Dracula.  It seems that he spent a good deal of time in the basement as a boy:  there was a ping-pong table in one of the rooms, where he painted the foundation stones various colors.  Another antechamber of the basement was used as a sort of clubhouse and often candle-lit (a bad idea in retrospect, he thought).  Upstairs, he said that his mother used the horizontal frieze rails to hold potted plants, and in the summer, she would make an "outdoor living room" of the veranda by putting out an oriental rug and wicker furniture.  Perhaps most notably, the family had a Steinway piano somewhere in the entry hall, and Frank Lloyd Wright urged them to move it into the living room, closer to the fire, when he visited in the early 1930s.  I suspect that this may have been the same visit documented by Edgar Tafel in his book Apprentice to Genius.  Copley said that this same piano is still in the family - restored and used by his son, Al Copley, who is an accomplished jazz pianist.
  • Overall, Mr. Copley seems to regard his family's time in the Barton House as a pleasant and colorful period, tinged with regret at seeing the rest of the Martin estate crumbling away.  And he said that the experience of living in a Wright-designed house left him with two enduring concepts:  first, that Wright's ability to "get inside the clients' heads" and respond to their personalities in the resulting designs was unique and influential, and second, that Wright's sense of melding landscape and grounds with the buildings had an effect that he appreciates to this day.
Perhaps the most memorable sound byte from our conversation was Mr. Copley's wry reflection on the Barton House, that it was "horrible to heat...but beautiful to look at."  

We know what you mean, Almon.  Wright provided the beauty, and we're working on the heat issue. 

Friday, July 9, 2010

A Matter of Trust

It was a full house at the Albright-Knox auditorium Wednesday night as the ranks of Buffalo "Trustafarians" gathered for a public forum to introduce the 2011 National Preservation Conference organized by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and bound for Buffalo in October of next year.  Representatives from all corners of the preservation community gathered to meet the conference organizers and begin to brainstorm on the main themes, ideas and venues for this World Cup of Preservation. 

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown and representatives from Ontario enthusiastically threw their support behind the effort, the first Bi-national National Preservation Conference.  Like the annual "In / Beyond WNY" art extravaganza, this conference was conceived by local organizing partners Preservation Buffalo Niagara and the Buffalo Niagara Convention & Visitors Bureau as a regional showcase of cultural assets that crosses borders - not only between the counties of Western New York, but between the US and Canada.  Over 2,000 attendees are expected to visit this region for the conference - many, no doubt, for the first time.  And, with an impressive ground-swell of enthusiasm from all quarters, the region has begun to get ready for its close-up.

If you couldn't make Wednesday night's session, not to worry:  Preservation Buffalo Niagara is soliciting input and volunteer offers via its website.  So, you too can become a "Trustafarian" and participate in Buffalo-Niagara's biggest Preservation party. 

With a successful National Preservation Conference, perhaps Buffalo can finally stop atoning for tearing down the Larkin Administration Building...

To the Moon, Alice!

I was pleased (and rather amused) to see that the public dialogue in response to Steve Brachmann's art glass story in the Buffalo News continues.  The discussion thread has taken a turn for the surreal with this comment: 

Thank goodness the original pieces of this house are returning. If we could only find out what happened to all the moon rocks that NASA gathered from outer space. Go to garage sales and keep on looking. [post by hotdog, June 29]

Not a bad idea to scour local garage sales for Martin House items - we already know that some pieces of the house didn't stray far from the corner of Jewett and Summit. 

And rest assured that those chunks of rock for sale in the Wisteria Shop are 100% terrestrial (from the original foundations of the conservatory).

Table (re)Turned for Graycliff

Don't miss the story of an original, Wright-designed cypress table returning to Graycliff [Buffalo News]

Congrats to the Graycliff team of furnishings detectives!  

R:  vintage photo of Graycliff living room showing table / University Archives, University at Buffalo

Friday, July 2, 2010

No Dead End for Bradley

Photo:  Panoramio / Bruce Amsbary

An entrepreneur and a budding architect.  A repeatedly "remuddled" house.  A struggle to wrest art glass and furnishings away from the rapacious art market.  A house-cum-museum... 

Sound familiar? 

Wright's Bradley House in the New York Times.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Live Long and Prosper

Darwin R. Martin, son of Darwin D. and Isabelle Martin, had a way with a colorful phrase.  His brief, unpublished memoir, passed down to us via his nephew, Darwin Martin Foster, is replete with idiomatic gems that read like bits of a vaudeville routine.  Here's how he describes his outlook on life, in the introduction to his biographical sketch:

Looking back on it all, I think I have had a very full and unusually interesting past and, since I hope to be shot by a jealous husband in 2008, I look forward to an equally exciting future.  

Darwin R. didn't get his wish - he died in 1979.  He wasn't gunned down by a jealous husband, but if his writing is any indication, he left 'em laughing...

Darwinus Urbica

I couldn't resist adding this "martin house" cartoon from the fine folks at Mighty Taco!