|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|
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.