Friday, January 28, 2011

From Milwaukee to Paris (Hilton)

Another major Wright exhibition - Frank Lloyd Wright:  Organic Architecture for the 21st Century - opens in a few weeks at the Milwaukee Art Museum and, once again, this survey of Wright's work features a "Tree of Life" window from the Darwin D. Martin House.

The unique "Tree of Life" window from the MAM
This particular example of the famed window from the Martin House, from the Museum's collection, is a relatively rare variation:  one of only two from the west elevation of the second floor where the familiar "Tree" motif is compressed to produce rectangular "pots" at the bottom, rather than square.  The MHRC holds the other example of this member of the "Tree of Life" family.

As outstanding an example of Wright's art glass design as this window may be, I'm tempted to make a blasphemous association (but Wright himself was known for creative blasphemy, so bear with me):  the "Tree of Life" art glass pattern may have something in common with celebutante Paris Hilton - both are, to some extent, famous for being famous.  

Pick yourself up off the floor, Wrightophiles; what I mean to say is this: the exquisite aesthetic qualities of the Martin windows aside, they have been collected and exhibited so widely by art museums partly because everybody else was doing it.  If the Corning Museum of Glass, the Art Institute of Chicago, the National Gallery of Australia and twelve other prominent institutions all have examples of "Tree of Life" windows, they must be the best, right?

Also, both the "Tree of Life" window and Paris Hilton have their own sense of "bling," but that's another matter...

Friday, January 21, 2011

Turning the Tables in Elmira

With the process to commission reproductions of the Martin library and dining tables under way, research on these unique and complex designs continues apace.  Last Friday, I embarked on a research expedition to examine the Wright-designed dining table from the Boynton House (Rochester, 1908), currently in storage at Naglee Fine Arts in Elmira, while the Boynton House is under restoration by the new owners.  I met my furniture conservator colleague from the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Bureau of Historic Sites, David Bayne there (conveniently, about half way between Buffalo and the Capital region) for some "quality time" with the Boynton table.  Our objective was to learn as much as we could from the table, which in design and year of construction is one of the closest cousins to the Martins' own (now lost). As Wright often left construction details to furniture makers - Matthews Brothers, in the case of the Martin furniture - and these renditions of his designs may reflect in-the-field changes in the interest of feasibility and functionality, built examples often provide the best evidence.

The Boynton dining table, showing its unique expansion mechanism
A primary area of interest in examining the Boynton table was the expansion mechanism, as questions linger around the issue of exactly how the Martin table expanded, how much it expanded, and how the mechanism was incorporated into the construction.  The Boynton table has a unique and fascinating system:  the expansion slides disappear into a void where, traditionally, the stationary apron of the table would be, such that the mechanism becomes invisible when the table is in the closed position.  This is intriguing from my perspective because it represents yet another example of Wright integrating necessary mechanical elements with structure, whether in building or furniture design.  Examples of this in the Martin House Complex include drainage within the main piers and radiators within the secondary pier clusters (unit room).  

All this begs the question of whether the Martin dining table had such an unconventional, integrated expansion mechanism.  The jury's still out on this issue, and, with minimal evidence as to the construction of the Martin tables, we hope to bring the selected furniture maker into the dialogue to assess the feasibility and desirability of the expansion mechanism options.

Thanks to the Landmark Society of Western New York (Rochester) and to Naglee Fine Arts for their collegial cooperation in making this research possible!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

New Look in Cyberspace for Hamilton Houston Lownie

The new City Honors Campus / HHL Architects
Hamilton Houston Lownie, our beloved restoration architects for the Martin House project (now in Phase 5), have a fresh and exciting new website.  Check it out HERE.

You may already know that HHL has worked on historic restoration projects for other Western New York treasures, such as Kleinhans Music Hall and the Roycroft Inn and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, but you might not be aware that they have designed significant, contemporary buildings around Western New York, including  285 Delaware Avenue, and the new wing for Buffalo Public School no. 195 (City Honors).

Hats off to our outstanding restoration architects (who wear many hats themselves)!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Prime Buffalo

This one escaped the attention of the Weekly Wright-up's Editorial Department last year, but it bears looking back to StructureHub's January 2010 post on Buffalo's preservation surge, first in a series entitled "Seven Cities Primed for an Architectural Renaissance."  

Here's an excerpt from this highly positive article:

But unlike Detroit, where historic architecture is marked by sheer quantity and pervasive decay, Buffalo’s historic architecture is most notable for its quality...  Most significant among these is certainly the Darwin D. Martin House.

Now, if that doesn't entice you to read it, I don't know what will.  And no money changed hands with StructureHub, I assure you.

Thanks to Director of Operations Margie Stehlik for bringing this to our attention!
The Richardson Complex, in the early stages of its own "Extreme Makeover"

Stoller's Lens on Mid-Century Modern

Ezra Stoller, Price Tower, Bartlesville, OK (1952-56)
Ezra Stoller is the preeminent American architectural photographer, whose work has defined mid-century modernism. An exhibition of Stoller's photographs opens at Yossi Milo Gallery in New York on January 6 and includes iconic images of major Frank Lloyd Wright buildings such as Fallingwater and the Guggenheim Museum, as well as Mies van der Rohe's Seagram Building and Eero Saarinen's TWA Terminal. In addition, the exhibition includes Stoller's images of lesser-known structures, many seen for the first time. This exhibition provides a fresh look at Stoller's masterful eye for describing architecture and creating important documents of social history.

Along with Pedro Guerrero, Stoller was one of the major photographic talents to document Wright's life and work. Stoller's images of Wright buildings have been published widely, and some well-known examples were utilized in the exhibits in the Greatbatch Pavilion at the Martin House Complex.  

More on the Stoller exhibit in the NY Times...