Monday, October 22, 2012

“It Will Be Your Window, It Will Be Our Best Window”

Conservatory Window. Photograph by Janet Akcakal.

Most anything is possible—particularly when you combine the idea of a simple “pickle jar” with the enthusiastic spirit of an entire group of Martin House volunteers. Through their inspiration and support, our tireless volunteers embarked on a quiet fundraising campaign with the goal of purchasing a “single-stem” window for the conservatory building of the Martin House Complex.  What was once a missing piece of original Frank Lloyd Wright-designed art glass lost to the throes of history is now a beautifully crafted light screen replicated for the Martin House by the Oakbrook Esser Studios.  Board President John N. Walsh, III made the announcement at a special presentation held at last week’s Martin House Volunteer Recognition Party where the completed window was formally unveiled and subsequently installed on site.  Mr. Walsh expressed our collective gratitude best when he gave the following remarks, which have been redacted for reprint here:

left to right:  John N. Walsh, III (board president); Richard Chamberlin (volunteer); Maggie Cammarata (museum store associate); and Mary Roberts (executive director).  Photograph by Bernhard C. Wagner.

“Thank you for inviting me to your party! ... A wise woman, my Mom, urges us to ask this question when our personal temperature is rising or when setting priorities in a stress-filled day.  The question is, “Will this really matter a year from now?” Well, what we are about to discuss right now will definitely matter a year from now, ten years from now, fifty years from now, and as long as the Martin House flourishes in our community, and greatly because of what we are about to talk about.  So what is it? Well first, it’s an honor, beyond words, to be here and to be almost ready to talk about that thing that will matter a year from now.  Because, once again, the fabulous Martin House volunteers, the best volunteer army in the free world, the over-worked, underpaid, under-saluted but deeply loved fans of Frank--you, all of you, have, just as you have done for so many years, spectacularly done it again! ...Totally funded by the fabulous Martin House volunteers, because of you—the envied by all other non-profits Gang of 400—the very first replica window for the conservatory has been created and is now ready for installation. Hooray! As you know, this was a one hundred percent volunteer effort.  It first sprang from the fertile minds of Maggie Cammaratta and Rich Chamberlain…. And so, thanks to Maggie and Rich, the Pickle Jar Campaign was created! Rich brought in the jar. Maggie made the sign, and the project was officially kicked off at the volunteer business meeting back on April 5, 2008 …. In ten days, you and they had raised sixty dollars…. One gift was a generous one thousand dollars. Others were equally generous at lesser amounts…. In all, a total of $11,668.19 was raised, and a single-stem conservatory window has been beautifully produced by Oakbrook Esser and arrived just a few days ago at the site. It will be installed towards the north end of the conservatory directly adjacent to the door closest to the Wisteria Shop entry. It will be your window. It will be our best window. It will be right there, every time you walk by. Mostly, it will remain evergreen in our hearts as a reflection of spectacular devotion and generosity.  It does matter and will do so for years. Mary [Roberts] and I, amidst the millions raised, have agreed that it’s the best gift we have ever received.  We humbly thank you on behalf of the entire Martin House family.”

Saturday, October 20, 2012


Following a meeting in Buffalo titled “Frank Lloyd Wright’s Publicly Accessible Buildings: Problems and Programs,” in 1985, Ginny Kazor, Curator of Wright’s Hollyhock House in Los Angeles, agreed to stage a similar conference the following year in L.A., and what a treat it was! We toured sites with buildings by three generations of Wrights -- Frank, Lloyd, and Eric (with Eric) – as well as some by Richard Neutra and Rudolph Schindler. The programming brimmed with former apprentices and clients. One panel of clients that included the Lovnesses (who could have been a comedy team if Don Lovness wasn’t otherwise occupied with Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company and Virginia with her art) was especially memorable. I took notes on the presentation by Arch Oboler, a Hollywood producer-director-screenwriter, who commissioned an ambitious hillside house (fig. 1) that Wright dubbed “Eaglefeather.”
(Unfortunately the conference was not filmed.)

Frank Lloyd Wright, "Eaglefeather" project for Arch Obeler (Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation)

According to Oboler, a masterful storyteller, he wrote to Wright about the commission and did not hear a word until the architect appeared at his door two years later. Wright and Oboler went to the site and as they approached it Wright put his arm around Arch (making him rather uncomfortable, he said, as he didn’t feel that he knew Wright) and said, pointing with his cane, “Arch, we are going to build something wonderful over there.” Oboler later heard that  someone asked Wright how he approached clients and he replied, “Well, take Arch Oboler. He is a sentimental man, so I put my arm around him and talked to him about the enduring qualities of the building we would build.” Oboler eventually declined to build Eaglefeather but completed a smaller retreat (fig. 2) and gatehouse on the site in its stead. 
Arch Obeler Retreat, Malibu, CA 1941 (Image from Wright Chat)

The following year (1987) Sandra Wilcoxon continued the meeting in Oak Park, Illinois,  and the year after that we met at Fallingwater where Thomas Schmidt, Vice President of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, proposed that we form an organization that became The Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, today nearly 800 strong. [Dates of conferences and spelling of Oboler were corrected Oct. 22, 2012 thanks to Martha Neri, Eric Jackson-Forsberg, and Stephen Rebello]

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

All in the Family

Fig. 1 Dining table and chairs, George Barton House (Minneapolis Art Institute)

Many of Frank Lloyd Wright’s clients were unable to afford to have the architect design a full complement of furniture for their houses. The George Barton House is  case in point: Darwin Martin commissioned the house with the understanding that his sister, Delta, and her husband, George, would rent the house from him. Wright designed a built-in buffet, a built-in bookshelf, a free-standing table for the living room and a splendid dining table and eight side chairs (fig. 1) for the Bartons. Presumably they brought the rest of their furniture from a previous home.  George Barton died in 1928; Delta remained in the house until 1932 when she moved to Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, to be close to her daughter, Laura.  How did their Wright-designed dining table and chairs find its way to the Minneapolis Art Institute? 

Fig. 2 Living room, William Drummond House, River Forest, IL, c1910

fig. 3 living room, William Drummond house, River Forest, IL (1910) (Photo: Richard Nickel for HABS 1965)
The scene shifts to Oak Park, Illinois, where William and Winifred Martin settled into their Wright-designed house in 1905 and raised four children. Their youngest daughter, Lois, married Edwin Judson Mann, and in 1929 the Manns purchased the River Forest home of William Drummond, a prairie architect who had worked in Wright’s office prior to 1910. Owing to the Great Depression, the Manns were forced to rent out their (Drummond) house in 1931 or 1932 and moved back to their parents home until 1937 when they were able to reclaim their home. According to Jack Lesniak, who supplied a lot of this information, the Manns remained in the Drummond-designed house until the 1960s. Interior photographs of the living room from c1910 (fig. 2) when the house was designed and built, show a screen of vertical slats separating the living room from a dining room beyond, but an HABS photograph by Richard Nickel from 1965 (fig. 3) indicates that the screen has been partially removed and beyond it are the Barton House dining table and chairs with their characteristic octagonal elements. When the Manns sold the house the dining set was removed from the Drummond house, presumably by a family member who recognized its value. The set was put on the market at a New York gallery in the early 1980s and was purchased by the Minneapolis Art Institute.  Perhaps one day a duplicate  will be reinstalled in the Barton House.