Friday, January 21, 2011

Turning the Tables in Elmira


With the process to commission reproductions of the Martin library and dining tables under way, research on these unique and complex designs continues apace.  Last Friday, I embarked on a research expedition to examine the Wright-designed dining table from the Boynton House (Rochester, 1908), currently in storage at Naglee Fine Arts in Elmira, while the Boynton House is under restoration by the new owners.  I met my furniture conservator colleague from the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Bureau of Historic Sites, David Bayne there (conveniently, about half way between Buffalo and the Capital region) for some "quality time" with the Boynton table.  Our objective was to learn as much as we could from the table, which in design and year of construction is one of the closest cousins to the Martins' own (now lost). As Wright often left construction details to furniture makers - Matthews Brothers, in the case of the Martin furniture - and these renditions of his designs may reflect in-the-field changes in the interest of feasibility and functionality, built examples often provide the best evidence.

The Boynton dining table, showing its unique expansion mechanism
A primary area of interest in examining the Boynton table was the expansion mechanism, as questions linger around the issue of exactly how the Martin table expanded, how much it expanded, and how the mechanism was incorporated into the construction.  The Boynton table has a unique and fascinating system:  the expansion slides disappear into a void where, traditionally, the stationary apron of the table would be, such that the mechanism becomes invisible when the table is in the closed position.  This is intriguing from my perspective because it represents yet another example of Wright integrating necessary mechanical elements with structure, whether in building or furniture design.  Examples of this in the Martin House Complex include drainage within the main piers and radiators within the secondary pier clusters (unit room).  

All this begs the question of whether the Martin dining table had such an unconventional, integrated expansion mechanism.  The jury's still out on this issue, and, with minimal evidence as to the construction of the Martin tables, we hope to bring the selected furniture maker into the dialogue to assess the feasibility and desirability of the expansion mechanism options.

Thanks to the Landmark Society of Western New York (Rochester) and to Naglee Fine Arts for their collegial cooperation in making this research possible!

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