Monday, April 7, 2014

Each day is a journey, and the journey itself home.

Each day is a journey, and the journey itself home.
--Matsuo Bashō, (Japanese poet, 1644-1694) from Oku no Hosomichi
Jack Quinan and Sandra Q. Firmin.(Photograph by Janet Akcakal)

In a diary entry dated September 4, 1883, a young Darwin D. Martin once longingly wrote: 
 The sweetest song on earth is ‘Home, Sweet Home.
Martin’s expressive words resonate as clearly today as it did when he first composed them.    

And it is with those sentiments in mind that we extend our heartfelt thanks to our dear friend and colleague, Martin House Senior Curator Jack Quinan, as he embarks on his newest journey home to Boulder, Colorado with his wife, Sandra Q. Firmin.  While the Rockies are beckoning, know that the prairies of Parkside will certainly miss you—and no matter where you are, the Martin House will forever remain your home. 

Best wishes and bon voyage!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014


Elbert G. Hubbard

Frank Lloyd Wright

Given their associations with the Arts & Crafts movement, their respective penchants for longish hair and distinctive ways of dress, and their connections to the Larkin Company in Buffalo (Hubbard was second in command of the company until 1893; Wright designed the Larkin Administration Building in 1903-6), western New Yorkers and others have often asked, did Wright and Elbert Hubbard know each other? In the Arts & Crafts Quarterly in May of 1992 I gathered the following evidence:

First, Darwin Martin visited Wright's Home and Studio in Oak Park, Illinois, in September 1902 and wrote a letter to Elbert Hubbard, his former employer at the Larkin Company, encouraging Hubbard to visit Wright saying:

You need an example of Wright's architecture on the Roycroft grounds. The Wright studio -- it would be a shame to call it an office -- is very Roycroftie." To which Hubbard responded, "I am glad to say that I know about the work of brother Wright of Oak Park. He certainly is a genius in his line and no man admires him more than I.

Second, Evelyn (Heath) Jacobsen (Elbert Hubbard's niece)  recalled in an interview with me in 1990, when she was 94, that  she remembered Wright and Hubbard meeting in her family's Wright-designed William R. Heath House in Buffalo, but unfortunately she did not elaborate.

Third, John Lloyd Wright  made a similar claim and did elaborate, in his fatuous way, in his My Father Who Is On Earth of 1946: 
Elbert Hubbard was almost as picturesque as Father -- they talked arts, crafts and philosophy by the hour. Said Elbert the Hubbard to the Papa one night, 'Modesty being egotism turned wrong side out, let me say here that I am an orator, a great orator! I have health, gesture, imagination, voice, vocabulary, taste, ideas -- I acknowledge it myself. What I lack in shape I make up in nerve...' Said Dad the papa to the Hubbard, 'Not only do I intend to be the greatest architect who ever lived but the greatest architect who will ever live. Yes, I intend to be the greatest architect of all time, and I do hereunto affix 'the red square' and sign my name to this warning.' Just a couple of boys trying to get along."

Elbert Hubbard perished on the Lusitania in 1915 but in the late 1920s, when Wright was being pursued by legal authorities, he deposited Olgivanna Milanov Hinzenberg, soon to be his third wife, and her child at Hubbard's Roycroft Inn in East Aurora.

The new evidence comes from a letter written in 1966 by Lloyd Wright, Wright's oldest child (born 1890), to Linn Cowles, who was then a student in New York preparing a seminar report on Wright. Lloyd Wright writes:

At the studio about this time came also, Roy Crofters, Elbert Hubbard and relatives, and others involved in the English William Morris School of Arts and Crafts, and Architect, C.R. Ashbee and his wife. Mr Ashbee later designed the first building for Tel Aviv in Israel. He and his wife visited us in Oak Park about 1896 and taught us children, four of us then, the Morris songs and dances..."

How does it matter that Wright and Hubbard might have known each other? John Wright is the only account that elaborates a meeting and it is written in a way that does not inspire confidence. There are no footnotes. When did it occur? How did it happen? How old was John? An oblique insight comes by way of an unpublished manuscript written by Clark W.Heath entitled"Eagle BayFarm 1907-1920; Soldiers
place 1904-1923" Dr. Heath writes:

But more about Frank Lloyd Wright. Father had the capacity (mother thought it a fault) of attracting unusual and creative people. He loved discussions of the philosophy of life, of religion, of purpose and would sometimes stay up late talking with someone with whom he felt at ease. Sometimes these men had one eye on his financial help. so it was with frank Lloyd Wright, though I believe that Wright was challenged by father's skepticism and argumentativeness... Mother was always gracious to these people but recognized their divided intentions and would warn father.

The Heath home was something of a hotbed of interesting discourse. The record shows that when Walter V. Davidson joined the Larkin Company in 1906 he and his wife were invited to the Heath home on at least two occasions to discuss the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson. 

Wright did lean on the Heaths (and the Martins and other prominent clients) in times of need so it is not unlikely that Elbert Hubbard and Frank Lloyd Wright did engage in lengthy discussion in the Heath House though perhaps not the way that John Wright has portrayed it.

Saturday, February 15, 2014


Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer (Image (c) Mark Hertzberg via PrairieMod)

When the Archives of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation opened to scholars around 1980 a wealth of scholarship ensued as the 1980s and 90s saw an outpouring of excellent books by Neil Levine, Anthony Alofsin, David DeLong, Robert McCarter, Kathryn Smith and others that expanded and refined what had been pioneered by Grant Manson, Henry-Russell Hitchcock and Vincent Scully in the 1940s and 50s. 

Even as this proliferation of scholarship occurred there was a seismic shift in the academic world toward such new theoretical approaches as gender studies, post-colonial studies, semiotics and deconstruction, vernacular studies and Neo-Marxism with the result that  the cult of the Modern Master (Wright, Mies, Le Corbusier, Gropius, and Alvar Aalto) fell out of favor with graduate students and dissertations and scholarly books on Wright diminished dramatically, though the flow of populist picture books and Wright-related tchotchkes have never abated.  

Throughout these years Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer, Director of the Archives of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation in Scottsdale, Arizona, since 1947, has organized, catalogued, and photographed Wright's vast legacy (said to include 22, 000 drawings and 198,000 letters, manuscripts and documents) in preparation for his own fiercely dedicated effort to disseminate Wright's ideas in the form of books of writings and books illustrated with Wright's drawings and photographs of his buildings. Mr. Pfeiffer has published something like 150 such books (some too big to carry)  and has mounted or collaborated on a continuous flow of exhibitions, keeping the legacy of Frank Lloyd Wright ever present in the American psyche and the world's imagination. Recently Mr. Pfeiffer has had to withdraw from his relentless productivity for reasons of health and the archives have been turned over the the Avery Library at Columbia University with artifacts going to the Museum of Modern Art in New York. 

Wasting no time, Barry Bergdoll, Acting Chief Curator of Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art together with Carole Ann Fabian, Director and Janet Parks, Curator of Drawings and Archives of the Avery Library and Phoebe Springstubb, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art have mounted an exhibition titled "Frank Lloyd Wright and the City: Density vs Dispersal" which is to run from February 1 to June 4, 2014. A more ambitious Wright exhibition is planned for 2016. What does this mean for the future of Frank Lloyd Wright scholarship? When I visited the Avery Library archive in December I was the fourth researcher present, all of us veterans of the 1980s and 90s, but the expectation is that graduate students from Columbia and other nearby northeastern schools will make good use of the archives and a second wave of major scholarship will eventuate. Wright's work is so extensive that much remains to be done.

About that other matter: Sandra Firmin, my wife, has taken a position as Director of the University of Colorado Art Museum in Boulder and we will be moving there in early April. Since I believe that Eric Jackson-Forsberg's original intention was that "The Weekly Wright-Up" would be Darwin Martin House and Wright-in-Buffalo-centric I will be relinquishing my authorial role to Susana Tejada, Curator of the Martin House, except for occasional missives from the Rocky Mountains if I can fin anything Wrightian out there. I'll miss Buffalo and the close proximity to the Martin House and its wonderful staff and volunteers. Thanks for reading.


Sunday, January 19, 2014


Carlo Scarpa (R) and Frank Lloyd Wright (L) (Photo: Phaidon Press)

At the beginning of the twentieth century, Frank Lloyd Wright created an entirely new organic architecture informed by elements of Nature, geometry, the Japanese print, music, engineering, a love of landscape, a healthy disdain for historicism and his own expansive vision, to create an architecture that was distinctly his own and virtually unassailable to imitators. Apprentices and distant admirers tried in vain to emulate Wright’s work but invariably fell short.

An exception is the Italian architect, Carlo Scarpa (1906-1978) who is the subject of a new book from Phaidon Press by Robert McCarter who wrote so enthusiastically about the Martin House (“…one of the greatest spaces ever built…”) in his Frank Lloyd Wright, Architect, in 1997.  In his various roles as scholar, architect, and Dean of the School of Architecture at Washington University in St. Louis, McCarter has had the opportunity to spend many summers in Italy’s Veneto exploring Scarpa’s work in depth.  Scarpa’s trajectory in architecture is quite unusual; following graduation from the University of Venice in 1926 he began working in the age-old Venetian glass industry, joining the Venini company in 1932 and worked for them until 1946. Scarpa’s relatively short architectural career mostly post-dates his work for Venini. Owing to the circumstances of World War II he never obtained an architectural license. Indeed, Wright never was licensed either.

The relationship of Scarpa’s work to that of Frank Lloyd Wright is visually apparent but not easily characterized. If Wright was a product of the rolling, sky-filled American prairie, Scarpa was indigenous to the labyrinthian urban waterways of Venice. Whereas Wright venerated the horizon as the “line of repose,” much of Scarpa’s work involved interventions into pre-existing ancient buildings and sites in an around his native city and the rest of the Veneto. Wright rejected history; Scarpa interacted with it, brilliantly.  Scarpa venerated Wright from a distance of space, and time, and vast cultural differences but the influence always manifests itself as a fresh and startling reinvention as the following  comparisons indicate:

Corner window at Wright's Sam and Harriet Freeman House, Los Angeles, 1923 

Corner window and skylight, Scarpa's Museo Canova, Possagno, 1955-57 (Photo: Gipsoteca)

Interior illuminated by Scarpa's combined corner window and skylight, Museo Canova (Photo: Gipsoteca)

Front door lock mechanism, Wright's Aline Barnsdall House,  Hollyhock,  Angeles, 1920

Logo, Olivetti Store, Venice (J. Quinan)

Wright traveled to Venice in 1951 to receive an honorary degree from the University of Venice.  According to McCarter Wright was greeted at the airport by a welcoming committee of architects from the University but Scarpa, not licensed to practice, was not included. Wright refused to acknowledge the committee and called out, “Which one of you is Scarpa?” and selected him to be one of a two-man escort around the city.
The only available image of Scarpa and Wright during Wright's 1951 visit to Venice
Coincident with McCarter’s book, Scarpa’s glass designs for the Venini Company in Venice are the subject of an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York until March 2, 2014. 
Battuto glass for Venini ( Photo: Susanne DeChillo, The New York Times)

Green pulegoso glass, 1932

Not much of a glass enthusiast, my recollection of shops in Venice awash in tourist-oriented Murano glass made me somewhat ambivalent about attending the Scarpa exhibition at the Met a few weeks ago, but I was wrong. The scope and richness of the work is truly breath-taking.  The images above and below convey something of the work but not the scale, the gradations of color, the surface textures, nor the play of light on and through the surfaces. If only Scarpa and his Venini team were available today for the restoration of the living room fireplace of the Darwin D. Martin House.

From the Incisi series, 1940-42 (Photo: Metropolis Magazine's blog)

Corroso glass, Venini, Murano
Carlo Scarpa