Wednesday, January 2, 2013

DARWIN D. MARTIN, AUTODIDACT

Frank LLoyd Wright: Encyclopedia Britannica bookshelf for the Darwin D. Martin House (photo: New York State Bureau of Historic Sites)


In the early 1980s I sought out Everett K. Martin, Darwin Martin's nephew, at his home in Hyannisport, on Cape Cod where, over lunch, he recalled that during visits to his uncle Darwin's home in Buffalo Darwin would quiz him and the other children on a variety of topics. If they didn't have an answer he would direct them to the Encyclopedia Britannica for which Frank Lloyd Wright had designed a special shelf.


Detail of Wright's Encyclopedia Britannica bookshelf
During those same years I made several visits to the home of Dorothy (Martin) Foster at 95 Highland Avenue in Buffalo who told me that her father often took a volume of the Encyclopedia  Britannica to read as he traveled to work on the Belt Line.



Recently, while trying to organize my home office, I came across a single page of carbon-copied typescript. I don't know how I came into possession of it but it includes the following paragraph:

"I had a client once -- Darwin D. Martin -- he made the Larkin Company what it was when it was something; behind him on the table in the dining room was a big dictionary. After I had built the house, I was building other buildings and I used to dine there often, and this thing would come up and Mr. Martin would go over to that dictionary two or three times during a meal -- finding out. And he was a self-educated man; never went to college, didn't have much schooling: he was "the boy from Missouri [Valley]" that Elbert Hubbard wrote a piece about once. But his tireless, ceaseless curiosity concerning everything! And he became a remarkably educated man. He was a Christian Scientist, so far a religion went -- which was kind of a bar across his path -- but still he got somewhere; he was a religious man, and he was the man who had me do the Larkin building. So, the dictionary act is a thing I have inherited; I don't do it often enough. Every morning, we should have this dictionary behind here, because we are going to need it..." 

Tantalizing ! Who is this man? What more does he have to say in the rest of the manuscript? (This is from page 14) The line "after I built the house" would seem to indicate that this is an interview with Oscar Lang, contractor of the Martin House, but the line "the man who had me do the Larkin building" points elsewhere since Paul Mueller is generally credited as the principal supervisor of Wright's Larkin Administration Building. Given that Mueller was based in Chicago and was generally occupied with large urban buildings it is highly unlikely that he was building frequently in Buffalo. It is possible that the mysterious speaker, possibly Lang, was in charge of some part of the Larkin Building project, such as masonry or carpentry.  We may never know, but the collective  testimony of three people -- Dorothy Martin Foster, Everett K. Martin, and this builder who was a frequent visitor to the Martin house -- tells us that Darwin Martin's considerable success in life was driven by an insatiable quest for knowledge.




3 comments:

Anonymous said...

FLLW could say "I had a client once --Darwin Martin..."
"After I built the house I ...used to dine there often"
"..and he was the man who had me do the Larkin building.."

AND John Young-Hunter, who painted the portrait of DDM and was visited by FLLW, in reporting on the visit, wrote to DDM that FLLW called Martin "the boy from Missouri". Note that "Valley" is dropped then as well.

Anonymous said...

After more thought I am convinced that this "builder" is FLLW, the Architect or "Master Builder" . FLLW could say everything in the text and there is nothing in the text that he could not say. Here you have FLLW's verbal portrait of DDM.
One might check out a letter from FLLW to DDM re: Wright building a church for DDM's congregation, for another FLLW use of "The Boy From Missouri [Valley]" to see if he dropped "valley" then too.
The pamphlet can be found on Google Books. The copywrite has lapsed. It's important to read it with DDM's response to a letter he received from a man with a relative in the real town of Missouri Valley, Iowa ( or so I remember it) to get DDM's opinion of the pamphlet. It is fictionalized, so false, and he didn't like that. To Young-Hunter he huffed, "I was born in New York".
I suggest this pamphlet be reprinted, with the above exchange of letters, and perhaps with this transcript, maybe the Young-Hunter exchange, and sold in the gift shop. However much it annoyed DDM, it clearly meant something to Wright.
Matt Guerin

Anonymous said...

My favor was a five and dime globe with this poem--
Now father is our traveler to continents far,
But yet for his travels needs no boat or oar.
He sits in his arm chair and journeys for miles
From books and from papers from out of his files.
And if you ask questions 'bout any country
He'll give information exact as can be.
You never can stump him and he always is right
For he has heaps of references laid away and in sight.
He bobs out of the room to look for a map
And if you disaree, look out for a scrap!
He has volumes is sets and volumes alone,
He has volumes down town and volumes at home.
He reads when he's awake, he reads 'til asleep,
He reads 'til his fam'ly is ready to weep.
He reads on the car where ref'rences are rare,
So here is gift to use when he's there.