Friday, December 4, 2009

Stranger Than Fiction

The scattered pieces of the Martin House - art glass, furniture, fixtures and family ephemera - sometimes seem like holy relics from a Saint (Saint Martin perhaps?).  Like such revered bones, pieces of the Martin House have been taken to the far corners of the earth, transported and traded in secret and, at times, tragically lost.  The recent rediscovery of two fingers and a tooth from persecuted Italian astronomer Galileo attests to the lengths that people will go to preserve seemingly insignificant bits of history (or figures from history) and elevate them to sacred status by association.  It also attests to the grim absurdity of how such bits are squirreled away, only to resurface years later.  

The various vignettes concerning Martin House art glass in particular are stranger than fiction.  There's the case of the two pier cluster laylights that Darwin R. Martin once traded to a business associate for an anodized aluminum ashtray that caught his eye;  one of these exquisite panels sold via Sotheby's this year for over $200,000.  Then there's the pier cluster casement window that was rescued from sooty oblivion (behind a furnace) in an Elmwood Avenue basement by a UB student with a good eye.  That one's alive and well and retired to Ohio.

But perhaps the most bizarre and harrowing tale of lost art glass surfaced recently in response to the Buffalo News article about our new art glass book:  a reader called to say that, circa 1962, when the pergola, conservatory and carriage house were being demolished, an associate of his was witness to the demolition contractors using pieces of fallen art glass windows - broken glass and caming - as traction for their equipment on the muddy site.  I guess this would be a case of art-glass-as-kitty-litter.  I'm hard pressed to think of a more ignoble fate for these masterworks of Wright's design;  it's akin to using a Vermeer to patch a hole in the roof.

So please, when you need a little help getting your car out of the driveway this winter, don't put your Martin House window under the rear tires - give us a call instead.  We can think of a better use for it. 

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