Friday, June 26, 2009

The Art Glass Chronicles: Dining Room Buffet Windows, Part I

As research and preparation for Phase V of the Martin House restoration (interiors) ramps-up, many docents and visitors alike are curious about the existing, three-panel "frieze" of art glass above the original location of the dining room buffet (to be reconstructed). Are they original to the house (that is, to 1907)? If not, will they be removed in the course of Phase V? If so, what will become of them?

To attempt to address these questions, one must comb through the Martin-Wright correspondence from 1904 to 1906. There, a convoluted narrative begins to emerge, and the amount of ink dedicated to the saga of these three relatively minor "notes" in Wright's "domestic symphony" is surprising:

Beginning in October, 1904, Darwin Martin complains to Frank Lloyd Wright that "...we haven't a scratch of a pen or pencil to show us where these windows over sideboard come." Nine months pass, and Martin is compelled again to nudge Wright on the issue, asking "When will you do - what? About the three lights over the sideboard?...shall we fill them with plate and let it go at that?"

That same month (July 1905), Wright finally responds to these questions with a jaunty assertion that "The cartoon for windows over sideboard is finished - very pretty!" Here, unless he is stretching the truth to placate his client (it wouldn't be the first time, or the last), we can assume that Wright - or a member of his Oak Park studio - has sketched a basic concept for the buffet panels.

Two months later, another piece of the puzzle turns up when Isabel Roberts (Wright's office manager) writes to Martin: "Linden Glass Co. are aware that Giannini and Hilgart are to make the Dining Room windows." This letter indicates Wright's intention that Giannini and Hilgart, the contractors for the wisteria fireplace mosaic, should also execute the buffet panels. Some ambiguity lingers around Roberts use of the work "make." Does this mean design and fabricate, or just fabricate? To this point, the available evidence in the letters most clearly suggests that the panels were designed by Wright (or a member of his studio), to be executed by Giannini and Hilgart.

In October, 1905, Wright follows up on Roberts letter with an apparent progress report on Giannini's work: "Giannini is making good progress with the mantel and glass windows, I have turned in to look at it once or twice." But later that same month, Martin says that he is "creditably" (sic) informed that...he (Giannini) has not yet begun on the windows," and asserts that he (Martin) will be forced to "glaze the windows with plain glass" to prepare the space for the family's impending occupancy. On November 2, just a few weeks before the Martins move into the house, Wright makes another promise: "The window is however as I told you all cut and pieces partly glazed. It will come along surely within days."

Next week: the thrilling lack of conclusion!

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