Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Vote for Pedro

Don't miss Mark Sommer's front-page account of Pedro Guerrero's visit to the Martin House in today's Buffalo News.  A legendary documentarian who photographed Frank Lloyd Wright's work and life at Taliesin from 1940 to 1959, Guerrero and his wife, Dixie Legler Guerrero, visited the Martin House complex and Graycliff this week for the first time in twenty years.  Spending a few hours with "Pete" (Pedro) was priceless, but his astonished enjoyment of the Martin House Complex restoration was reward enough.  His spontaneous characterization of the restored complex was memorable: "like a marvelous drawing...from the hand of Frank Lloyd Wright." 

Guerrero's quick wit and charm was infectious, making it immediately apparent why he was - and is - a beloved figure of the "old guard" of Taliesin.

Pedro Guerrero (R) with Martin House Senior Curator Jack Quinan

Friday, August 26, 2011

48 Hours at the Martin House

Check out this short film created by Point & Shoot for the 2011 48 Hour Film Project.  One Small Step might be pitched as a mid-century modern mash-up of Romeo & Juliet, Othello and Mad Men, set, in part, on the "Prairie."


Friday, August 19, 2011

Wrighting the Ship

From the ocean liner appurtenances of Le Corbusier's Villa Savoye to Louis Kahn's floating concert hall, Point Counterpoint II, nautical vessels have figured significantly into the history of modern architecture.  But before Le Corbusier or Kahn's celebration of boats as the ultimate expression of "form follows function," Frank Lloyd Wright referenced them in his work of the Prairie era.

Rendering of the Robie House
The best-known instance of this may be Wright's use of the German term  Dampfer ("steamship") to describe his design for the Frederick C. Robie House (Chicago, 1908-10).  Here, Wright applies the term as a metaphor for the hull-like volume of the Robie main living space, with its belvedere third floor evocative of a ship's bridge above.  Prior to the Robie commission, Wright and his Buffalo client Darwin Martin employed nautical terms in discussing the highly integrated environment of the master bedroom proposed for the Martin House.  In response to the ship's cabin-like qualities of the room's extensive built-in furniture and storage (to be reconstructed in phase 5A of interior restoration of the house), Darwin Martin refers to the "port" and "starboard" sides of the space (letter to Wright, 24 March, 1906).  Such nautical connotations also serve to underscore the generally masculine nature of the room's design, with integrated sleeping berths and stowage units that suggest naval efficiency.  This masculine coding of the master bedroom may have contributed indirectly to Isabelle Martin's exodus from the space some time after 1907.

Detail of Martin master bedroom
Nautical metaphors have been employed by Wright scholars to great effect in interpreting aspects of Wright's Prairie designs.  Robert Twombley poetically describes the sense of shelter achieved in the Prairie houses by saying, "Anchored resolutely in place, looking as if nothing could rip it from its moorings,  the prairie house offered a snug harbor to the family battered about on the uncharted seas of metropolitan life" ("Saving the Family:  Middle Class Attraction to Wright's Prairie House, 1901-1909," American Quarterly, Vol. 27, No. 1 (Mar., 1975), p. 68).  Underscoring this metaphor of house-as-moored-vessel, Jack Quinan characterizes the Robie house as "...a design that so transcended conventional notions of domestic architecture as to resemble a magical brick ship moored alongside East Fifty-eighth Street in Chicago" (Frank Lloyd Wright's Martin House:  Architecture as Portraiture, p. 172).  Quinan extends the seagoing vessel analogy even further in discussing the plan of the Martin House complex:
A metaphorical interpretation of the Martin plan would hold that the buildings are shiplike...Understood as a vessel, the Martin House "steams" eastward, "driven" by Darwin's office at the west end of the main floor, its bow (the east porch) breasting a wave of flowers (the floricycle designed by Walter Burley Griffin, later redesigned as a semicircular pool) in the vast "sea" of lawn in the southeast quadrant of the lot.  The destination of Darwin's metaphorical vessel is the village of Clayville in central New York, the site of Darwin's fondest childhood memories and of his mother's grave.  Delta's house is poised, tuglike, to assist, just as she had assisted Darwin through his most difficult early years in Buffalo... (Quinan, p. 188).
Detail, north end of conservatory
Nike on "prow" in conservatory
In addition, it's worth noting that the Nike of Samothrace, a cast of which is the sculptural consort to the Martin conservatory, was originally part of a Hellenistic monument to naval victory.  The ship's prow of the original Samothrace monument (now part of the Nike's installation in the Louvre) was abstracted by Wright into the prow-like form of the small pool / fountain at the base of the cast in the Martin conservatory.  Along with its larger counterpart at the north end of the west gardens, the Nike pool / fountain conveys a sense of the Martin "fleet" steaming southward, driven by the carriage house and conservatory (with their dual metaphorical engines of nature and technology).  Alternately, the complex is "moored," with an abundance of potential energy provided by its sublimated nautical forms and vigorously axial composition.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Special Delivery

Tim Coleman posing with his handiwork

A very special delivery was made to the Larkin district today:  Furniture craftsman Timothy Coleman delivered the components of the Martin House library and dining tables to Hulley Woodworking for finishing and eventual installation in the house. 

Selected from a talented national pool of furniture-makers through a competitive bid process, Coleman was awarded the contract to reproduce the Martin tables in April of this year.  Since then, he has dedicated the lion's share of time (and space) in his Shelburne, MA workshop to the challenge of creating exacting reproductions of the two large tables that anchor the "unit room" of the Martin House.  The precision of these reproductions begins with Coleman's choice of materials:  all the quartersawn white oak used for the tables came from the same log, ensuring an exceptional consistency of grain between them.  Even in this unfinished state, the joinery and attention to detail evident in these tables is impeccable. 

Once the table components are finished to match the millwork and built-in cabinetry in the Martin House, Coleman will return to assemble and install his masterpieces in the library and dining room.

The Return of Spring

Among the many signs of progress at the Martin House Complex, our reproduction of the Richard Bock outdoor sculpture, Spring, is visible once again.  

The piece, recreated by Skylight Studios of Woburn, MA, was installed in June, 2009, but has been obscured for more than a year behind temporary, plywood protection amid the construction staging area of the east lawn.  With Phase 5A drawing to a close, the staging area is being returned to it's usual condition, and Spring has emerged once again.  

That was a remarkably short winter, wasn't it?

Friday, August 5, 2011

Wright Away

The influence of Japanese architecture - however indirect - is often cited in analyses of Frank Lloyd Wright's Prairie designs.  It may be somewhat surprising then to note that Wright did not truly see any Japanese architecture first-hand (the Ho-o-den notwithstanding) until the middle of the Prairie period, when he first traveled to Japan in the early spring of 1905.

That's right - at exactly the same time that the Darwin D. Martin House was taking shape at the corner of Jewett Parkway and Summit Avenue, Wright went half-way around the globe for three months, leaving a disconcerted Darwin Martin with an unfinished "opus" in need of detail.  During this period, Walter Burley Griffin held down the fort of Wright's Oak Park studio, corresponding with Martin concerning open items such as art glass and landscaping.  But, with little contact with his friend, architect and daily pen-pal (Martin continued to send letters to Wright, and got a few in return), how did the anxious Mr. Martin bide his time until Wright's return?  Here's a summary of Martin's activity that spring, from his journal:

Mr. Wright starts 14th with Mrs. W. for Japan [journal, February]

Coldest night of winter.  Snow is perhaps 2 1/2 feet deep [journal, February]

Baby girl, Lois, born to Winnie and Will, a CS. birth [journal, 10 March]

DDM attended stag dinner at Mr Barcalo's [journal, 16 March]

John Curtis, coachman, moved into stable [journal, 1 April]

Harry Hebditch left us, (sailed for England 22nd) and George Frampton took his place [journal, 19 April]

DDM at luncheon given by trustees Chamber of Commerce to Rear-Admiral Schley (retired) after which Henry E. Boller took the Admiral and Major Cutler of Niagara Falls for auto ride and stopped to view our new house whence I went to receive them.  Had flags flying.  Took party into Delta's where Belle and children joined us.  The Admiral kissed Dorothy and Darwin. [journal, 27 April]

About 60 trees, 260 shrubs and 1200 perennial plants set out on Jewett Ave place.  Two white pines, [...] feet high age of Dorothy, two small ones, two hemlock, & four arbor vitas from Bouckville set out on the 12th [journal, 9-12 May]

Mr Wright here after three months trip to Japan [journal, 20-22 May]

Upon his return Stateside, Wright penned a classic of breezy correspondence, casually complimenting (and playfully challenging) Martin as if he'd never left at a crucial juncture in the implementation of his most ambitious domestic commission to date:

My dear Mr. Martin -- 

We, Mrs. Wright and I, have come back much improved in health and spirits -- can lick my weight in wild-cats.  How would you like to be a wild cat? 

A three month's absence and entire change of scene meanwhile has given me my clients and friends in perspective and the spirit of one D.D. Martin shines our clear and white.  I shall be glad to see him in the flesh once more... [letter of 18 May 1905]

I think it's safe to assume that Martin's reaction to Wright's return must have been one of relief.  No doubt he maintained his "clear and white" spirit, but harbored some consternation beneath that angelic facade.

AND we have Tim Hortons


If our relationship with our neighbors to the north gets any warmer, we may have to raise the Maple Leaf over the conservatory...