Friday, August 5, 2011

Wright Away

The influence of Japanese architecture - however indirect - is often cited in analyses of Frank Lloyd Wright's Prairie designs.  It may be somewhat surprising then to note that Wright did not truly see any Japanese architecture first-hand (the Ho-o-den notwithstanding) until the middle of the Prairie period, when he first traveled to Japan in the early spring of 1905.

That's right - at exactly the same time that the Darwin D. Martin House was taking shape at the corner of Jewett Parkway and Summit Avenue, Wright went half-way around the globe for three months, leaving a disconcerted Darwin Martin with an unfinished "opus" in need of detail.  During this period, Walter Burley Griffin held down the fort of Wright's Oak Park studio, corresponding with Martin concerning open items such as art glass and landscaping.  But, with little contact with his friend, architect and daily pen-pal (Martin continued to send letters to Wright, and got a few in return), how did the anxious Mr. Martin bide his time until Wright's return?  Here's a summary of Martin's activity that spring, from his journal:

Mr. Wright starts 14th with Mrs. W. for Japan [journal, February]

Coldest night of winter.  Snow is perhaps 2 1/2 feet deep [journal, February]

Baby girl, Lois, born to Winnie and Will, a CS. birth [journal, 10 March]

DDM attended stag dinner at Mr Barcalo's [journal, 16 March]

John Curtis, coachman, moved into stable [journal, 1 April]

Harry Hebditch left us, (sailed for England 22nd) and George Frampton took his place [journal, 19 April]

DDM at luncheon given by trustees Chamber of Commerce to Rear-Admiral Schley (retired) after which Henry E. Boller took the Admiral and Major Cutler of Niagara Falls for auto ride and stopped to view our new house whence I went to receive them.  Had flags flying.  Took party into Delta's where Belle and children joined us.  The Admiral kissed Dorothy and Darwin. [journal, 27 April]

About 60 trees, 260 shrubs and 1200 perennial plants set out on Jewett Ave place.  Two white pines, [...] feet high age of Dorothy, two small ones, two hemlock, & four arbor vitas from Bouckville set out on the 12th [journal, 9-12 May]

Mr Wright here after three months trip to Japan [journal, 20-22 May]

Upon his return Stateside, Wright penned a classic of breezy correspondence, casually complimenting (and playfully challenging) Martin as if he'd never left at a crucial juncture in the implementation of his most ambitious domestic commission to date:

My dear Mr. Martin -- 

We, Mrs. Wright and I, have come back much improved in health and spirits -- can lick my weight in wild-cats.  How would you like to be a wild cat? 

A three month's absence and entire change of scene meanwhile has given me my clients and friends in perspective and the spirit of one D.D. Martin shines our clear and white.  I shall be glad to see him in the flesh once more... [letter of 18 May 1905]

I think it's safe to assume that Martin's reaction to Wright's return must have been one of relief.  No doubt he maintained his "clear and white" spirit, but harbored some consternation beneath that angelic facade.

No comments: