Friday, November 18, 2011

Thank You, Lou

The MHRC announced this week that LPCiminelli has issued a challenge grant to the MHRC in the amount of $250,000.  LPCiminelli has been a long-time supporter of the Martin House, and this announcement reflects the firm’s commitment to ensuring that the restoration is completed.  In addition, the gift will assist the MHRC to prepare for the future with a leadership gift to the endowment.  Under the terms of this unique challenge grant, gifts can be made to either the restoration campaign or to the endowment fund.  The MHRC will need to raise $750,000 in order to earn the $250,000 gift. 

“This year marks the 50th anniversary of LPCiminelli, so we wanted to do something significant to say thank you to the Western New York Community,” said Louis P. Ciminelli, President and CEO of the firm.  “That’s why we are proud to announce that we will pledge $50,000 a year for the next five years to the Darwin Martin House through this challenge grant.”

“LPCiminelli understands the importance of the Martin House and our efforts to restore it,” said MHRC president John N. Walsh, III.  “The company and Lou Ciminelli have been loyal and capable partners, and this challenge grant takes that relationship to the next level—it will be a tremendous boost toward our fundraising goal.”

To date, $45 million has been raised for the restoration of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Martin House Complex, with both the public and private sectors contributing almost equally.  Funds raised through this challenge will be used for the interior restoration of the Martin House, including Wright’s intricate finishes and integral design elements.

The interior restoration of the Martin House is underway but only partially funded.  The MHRC seeks to raise $5 million to complete the restoration effort.  This final major phase of restoration work will involve all three levels of the 15,000-square-foot Martin House.  Work to be completed includes reinstallation of Wright’s elaborate interior woodwork, restoration of intricately layered wall finishes and recreation of the wisteria-patterned glass tile mosaic on the central fireplace.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Buffalo, A Home Where the Architects Roam

It's Not Easy Being (Yellow)-Green

An important aspect of Frank Lloyd Wright's concept of organicism in architecture was drawing design inspiration from natural forms, textures and colors.  Wright describes his preference and prescription for a natural palette in his his 1908 essay "In the Cause of Architecture:"
...go to the woods and fields for color schemes. Use the soft, warm, optimistic tones of earths and autumn leaves in preference to the pessimistic blues, purples, or cold greens and grays of the ribbon counter; they are more wholesome and better adapted in most cases to good decoration.

The interior of the Martin House is an outstanding example of this prescription fulfilled; in this case, however, Wright didn't exactly go to the "woods and fields."  Rather, he went to the Olmsted-designed landscape of Parkside.  The color palette of the Martin House - greens, golds and browns - is inspired by the leaves of a Parkside October - more specifically, by the vibrant yellow-green of ginkgo trees in autumn.

The resonance between the color of autumn ginkgo leaves and the colors of the Martin House interior came as a revelation in 2006, when the Reception room was partially furnished and painted in an temporary approximation of the original wall colors (left).  This palette of wall color, upholstery, carpeting and art glass is all the more evident today, when the room is fully restored.  For that matter, the ginkgo connection to the Reception room is all the more strategic when you consider that the young ginkgoes were planted at (or around) the same time the colors for textiles and walls in the house were being planned.  So Wright didn't so much draw his palette from the existing landscape, but from his ideal vision of an artificial "prairie" in Parkside, accented with Asian species (ginkgo and wisteria).

Although the ginkgoes that once graced the south lawn of the Martin House had to be removed (due to their roots that threatened the house's foundation), an even more mature example stands almost directly across Jewett Parkway (above), providing a luminous array of yellow-gold leaves that easily could have been Wright's original inspiration for the autumnal palette for the Martin interior. 

Reception room / Biff Henrich, 2011


Friday, November 4, 2011

Piano Mann

The return of the Martin family piano to the Martin House living room has inspired renewed curiosity about the instrument and about Wright's unexecuted design for a custom piano case, part of his 1905 "tout ensemble" furnishings plan.

Dorothy Martin at piano, 1912
To be clear:  the "family piano" is a 1909 Steinway grand with quartersawn oak veneer.  It appears in the 1912 photo of Dorothy Martin at the piano, with Aunt Polly (Cora Herrick) at her side.  In later years, Dorothy donated the piano to the Elmwood Franklin School, where it was used for decades before the school graciously re-gifted it to the Martin House.  in 2006, Illos Piano Rebuilders restored the piano with funding from the Western New York Foundation.  It was put through its paces during an unforgettable performance by BPO soloist Claudia Hoca in 2007, and has been on hiatus at the home of MHRC board member Donna DeCarolis for safekeeping since the beginning of Phase 5 of restoration.

Detail, "tout ensemble" drawing
But what of Wright's more unusual piano design?  It exists only in two drawings:  the "tout ensemble" plan, and a perspective drawing held by the Deutsches Architekturmuseum, Frankfurt.  The tout ensemble indicates that the piano was intended for the northeast corner of the living room (whereas the family's Steinway settled in the southeast corner).  Both plan and perspective drawings suggest that the design is a curious hybrid of baby grand and upright, with pier-like front legs that sport ovular planters.  Overall, the design is an altar-like, Jugendstil-inspired piece that would have harmonized (no pun intended) with various other components of the Martin tout ensemble.

Wright's design for the Martin piano

Wright's design for the Shaw piano (background)
Wright's rare piano design for the Martins has at least one other relative:  a similar instrument proposed for the living room of the C. Thaxter Shaw house, Montreal (also unbuilt).  The Shaw piano is similar to the Martin design, with heavy piers supporting the front of the instrument.  But here, Wright incorporates cantilevered lamps rather than planters (surely a more practical option), and book storage in the pier/leg cavities.  The latter would have been right at home in the Martin House tout ensemble, with its extensive accommodations for book storage (e.g. the living room sofa arms).

The Shaw living room drawing is an exquisite example of the draftsmanship of Wright's collaborator, George Mann Neidecken; the Martin drawing, though unsigned, has a quality of line that suggests it may have been by Neidecken as well.  But, as with many of Wright's unexecuted designs, the Martin piano remains a tantalizing vision of what might have been, with nearly as many unresolved questions as it has keys.