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...