Friday, June 5, 2009


Being an ongoing series of postings on missing artifacts from Frank Lloyd Wright's Martin House complex [not the hapless passengers of Oceanic Flight 815].

This week: "Morris" chairs:

As part of the tout ensemble of furnishings for the Martin House, Frank Lloyd Wright designed a series of easy chairs for the living room and library. Darwin Martin began referring to the design as a "Morris" chair, likening it to a form of early recliner popularized by William Morris (and subsequently Gustav Stickley). The chairs were presumably oak framed, with broad, flat arms and loose cushion seats and backs.

The Martin "Morris" chairs are sparsely documented in the letters, photos and drawings related to the Martin House and, more importantly, none remain in the Martin furnishings collections at the New York State Bureau of Historic Sites collection facility at Pee
ble's Island. The chair design appears in one of Wright's presentation drawings for the living room furniture, and in a few of the Fuermann photos of the living room (though only parts of the chairs are visible in the photos). The evidence indicates that there were at least two, and as many as four, of these chairs produced for the living room an library.

The operation of these chairs is an open question. Did they recline? Darwin Martin refers to them as "Morris" chairs, and a reclining back (utilizing a simple system of stops, not an internal mechanism like modern recliners) is the most characteristic feature of such a chair. However, at the time Martin may have made this association based on the presentation drawing and little else. Later, Martin asks of Wright, "Do you wish to send us any instructions regarding the Morris Chairs (sic) in view of our elimination of the Morris feature" (DDM to FLW, letter of 17 April, 1906), suggesting that the Martins desired to forgo the reclining feature. Wright replies, "I think the 'Morris' chair without the Morris (I don't know where you get the idea that this was a Morris chair anyway) is bum, but if you want it why have it" (FLW to DDM, letter of 18 April, 1906), suggesting that the Martins were requesting the elimination of nothing more than a misunderstanding.

The ultimate question lingering around these chairs is: what became of them? Like so many furnishings and fixtures from the Martin House, they may be in private collections or warehouses somewhere in the wide world. But, with no leads on the whereabouts of even one of these chairs, the MHRC intends to commission reproductions (based on the available evidence and a few educated guesses) to furnish the Martin House once interior restoration is complete.

Of course, if you happen to be sitting in one of these chairs as you read this, we'd love to hear from you...

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