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.