Thursday, October 16, 2008

Roots of the "Tree of Life"

Many in the "Martin House community" are well aware that the famed "Tree of Life" art glass design bears a popular name, one not given by Frank Lloyd Wright or Darwin D. Martin. The term first appears in print around 1968, coinciding with a major exhibition and sale of art glass from the Martin House complex through the Richard Feigen gallery, New York (1968-70). The Feigen gallery bought a number of pieces of Martin House art glass (including one or more "Tree of Life" windows) from John Crosby Freeman, then Curator of the nascent Maltwood Art Gallery at the University of British Columbia, Victoria, BC. Freeman had the enviable task of assembling an "Arts and Crafts" collection for the Maltwood, and had obtained 21 pieces of Martin House art glass from a dealer who most likely acquired them from Darwin R. Martin.

As to the burning question of the origin of the "Tree of Life" term (alternately written "tree-of-life"), Freeman has stated that he thinks the Feigen gallery may have come up with the name as a marketing device - a way to boost sales of the Martin glass by applying an evocative, romantic name. We may never know exactly when the term was first applied, or by whom, but one thing is clear: it stuck. The "Tree of Life" window soon became one of the most iconic of Wright's Prairie house art glass designs, and this "brand" has been sought by major collections of decorative and fine arts world-wide. Via Freeman and Feigen, "Tree of LIfe" windows and doors have made their way to the following collections:
  • The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA
  • The Grey Art Gallery, New York University
  • The De Young Museum (San Francisco Art Museums), San Francisco
  • The Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, NY
  • The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago
  • The Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo
  • The National Gallery of Australia, Canberra (a modified window)

among others...

With ongoing recovery efforts by the MHRC's Artifacts Research and Recovery committee, we hope that some of these "trees" may some day be returned to their original "grove" at Jewett
Parkway and Summit Avenue.


Loren Smith said...

Gorgeous picture of the window, Eric

Anonymous said...

While at first glance, it reminds me of sheaves of wheat, it does bear an uncanny resemblance to the Kabbalistic symbol of the Tree of Life