Thursday, June 2, 2011

Art Glass from the "Other" Martin House

The William Martin "lightscreen" offered by Urban Remains

The recent posting of a Wright "lightscreen" from the William E. Martin house (Oak Park, 1903-04) offered for sale in Chicago prompted some reflection (no pun intended) on the art glass Wright designed for the elder Martin, vis a vis that created for brother Darwin D. of Buffalo.

In at least one letter to Darwin, William indicated that he was unhappy with certain aspects of the art glass that Wright provided for their house:

Our windows seem a little awkward but do their work O.K.  If after seeing Mr. Wright you still want sample will do so - ours came from England via Toronto... Our glass job is not satisfactory = but promised to be made so = don't let W[right] give you any glass doors - or French windows - if you can avoid it they won't stand banging - we have four broken. [WEM to DDM, letter of 7 July, 1904]

Detail of the caming used in the William Martin panel
William's comments are relegated to the functional practicality of Wright's light screens (in a household with children), but the design may have given him pause also, based on his use of the word "awkward."  The light screen designs for the William Martin house are much simpler, though more consistent, than those for the Darwin D. Martin house, where Wright lavished sixteen major patterns on the commission.  William's doors and windows bear some resemblance to the lower portion of the "wisteria" doors from Darwin's house, but lack the cascading gold "flakes" that characterize the unit room glass in the latter.  Interestingly, one of Wright's drawings for William's art glass shows a living room cabinet door proposal with simple chevrons a la the upper "branch" sections of Darwin Martin's "Tree of Life" windows, but this variation had been crossed out on the drawing [see Julie Sloan, Light Screens large edition, p. 157].

Martin House Senior Curator Jack Quinan has observed that the William Martin designs convey a sense of horizontal prison bars.  I'm admittedly biased, but daresay that they certainly lack the balance and refinement of many of the art glass motif from the Darwin D. Martin house. 

Thanks to PrairieMod for the tip on this art glass sale.

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