Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Top Eleven of Twenty-eleven

As another year fades to black, it's time to reflect on what has been another busy one in the life of a Martin House curator.  So here, in no particular order, are my Top Eleven Curatorial Moments of 2011.
And yes, for you Nigel Tufnel fans, this list does go up to eleven:

11) Meeting legendary Taliesin photographer, Pedro Guerrero and his wife, Dixie, and touring them through the Martin House.  Pedro has taken some of the most iconic photos of Frank Lloyd Wright, and his stories of his long association with the architect are equally vivid.

10) Travelling with fellow Martin House staff and volunteers to Michigan to visit Saarinen's Cranbrook Academy, Wright's Affleck House, Turkel House, Meyer May and others.  An added bonus in Grand Rapids was the opportunity to hang out with Martin grandson, Jerry Foster and his wife Hanne 
(on their turf, for a change).  

9) Assisting Rich Kegler of the Western New York Book Arts Collaborative in creating an ingenious image of the Martin House, formed entirely from metal and wood type and ornaments.  These unique, limited edition prints are still available in the Wisteria Shop.

8) Welcoming two great speakers to the Martin House:  David Patterson, who spoke on the fascinating topic of Wright and music, and Jonathan Massey, who introduced the intriguing life and work of Rochester-born designer Claude Bragdon.  These guys will be hard acts to follow!

7) Receiving a beautiful carriage house art glass window from Buffalo collectors Will and Nan Clarkson.  They miss it in their house, but are welcome to visit it in our house, any time they like.

6) The announcement of an extraordinarily generous gift of three pieces of Wright-designed furniture and a "Tree of Life" art glass window from the collection of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.  I wish we could reciprocate, but we're fresh out of Clyfford Stills...

5) The return of a number of Martin House furnishings from the New York State Bureau of Historic Sites, just in time for the visit by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.  The Preservation conference was a big success by all accounts, and folks say the furnished spaces of the house have never looked better.

4) Installation of two precisely-reproduced tables (dining and library) from craftsman Tim Coleman.  Tim clearly took a great deal of pride in his work, and the tables add an invaluable dimension to the unit room.

3) Giving a panel presentation with my NY State Parks conservator colleagues for the National Trust conference - a rare opportunity to showcase the close collaboration between the ivory tower and conservator's lab.

2) Presenting the ups and downs of the Weekly Wright-up to the Public Sites committee at the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy conference in Philadelphia.  There was lots of interest in the potential that blogs and social media hold for Wright sites that want to stay relevant in the 21st century.

1) Substantial completion of Phase 5A of restoration in the Martin House.  We now have state-of-the-art mechanical systems, new plaster throughout, restored or reproduced trim in the Reception room, restored floor tile, reproduction light fixtures and the re-installation of some art glass.  We're so close to the finish line, you can almost touch it...

Here's to the year ahead!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Larkin Building, in Graphic Detail

Copyright PrairieMod
The Buffalo Bills' record isn't the biggest loss in Western New York.  No, that would be the demolition of Frank Lloyd Wright's Larkin Administration building in 1950.

Fortunately, the building is well-represented by a series of professional photographs and drawings published in Wright's Wasmuth portfolio (1910).  But now the folks at PrairieMod have made the Larkin Building even more iconic.

This logo-like image is the latest in PrairieMod's series of graphic architectural illustrations.  Its abstracted silhouette invokes Wright's precis for the building:  "...a simple cliff of brick hermetically sealed." (An Autobiography, 150).

Friday, December 9, 2011

Burning Down the House


With the half-century anniversary of Frank Lloyd Wright's death and three recent books on the intrigues of his personal life (The Fellowship, Loving Frank and The Women), perhaps it was inevitable that a big-screen biopic would come next.  "Driving Ms. Daisy" director Bruce Beresford will shoot "Taliesin," from a screenplay by Nicholas Meyer.  The film will focus on - you guessed it - the lurid murders and conflagration at Taliesin (Spring Green, WI) in 1914.

While I'm happy to assume the film is innocent until proven guilty, I'm proactively skeptical about two things:  the casting of the figure of Wright (to be determined) and the movie's treatment of his architecture.  The former could easily make or break the production.  Who on Hollywood's A list (or any other letters of the alphabet, for that matter) could tackle the role?  It may be tempting to imagine a British actor for the role, but inappropriate given the inherent importance of the American identity to Wright's story.

The potential depiction of Wright's architecture is equally fraught with pitfalls.  I will be pleasantly surprised if Meyer manages to make the buildings characters in their own right, as I think they should be.  Wright  anthropomorphized Taliesin in such a way that a powerful opportunity may be missed if the structure is reduced to a lavish set.  

So, I'll suppress my inner curmudgeonly critic for now and await the final product.  

At least it's not a musical...right?

Friday, December 2, 2011

Shop Till You Drop

Now that you've run the gauntlet of Black Friday, we invite you for round two of your Holiday shopping:  the Wisteria Shop's Home for the Holidays Shopping Spree, this Saturday at Frank Lloyd Wright's Martin House Complex.

The Martin House Complex originally had nearly 400 pieces of art glass, and the shop is replete with related merchandise.  There's something art-glass-inspired for everyone, from postcards to jewelry to decorative wood or glass reproductions.  But perhaps the most functional and elegant items inspired by art glass are the place mats and table runners in the "Tree of Life," wisteria and Bursar's office patterns.  These accessories are just the thing to add some Prairie panache to your table, and the Bursar's pattern items are new to the shop.

If you're intrigued by the art glass of the Martin House Complex, be sure to pick up a copy of Frank Lloyd Wright Art Glass of the Martin House Complex, a beautifully illustrated compendium of Wright's "light screens" created for his Prairie masterpiece. 

For kids, check out the whimsical book Iggy Peck, Architect.  With Andrea Beaty’s irresistible rhyming text and David Roberts’s puckish illustrations, this book will charm creative kids everywhere, and amuse their sometimes bewildered parents.  For "big kids" (aka adults), indulge in one of the ingenious LEGO sets of Frank Lloyd Wright masterpieces (the Robie House, Fallingwater, or the Guggenheim).
The sale is this Saturday, December 3rd, 10 AM - 4 PM at the Wisteria Shop at the Martin House Complex. The event includes free gift wrapping, holiday refreshments and special sale items.  The shop also has extended hours through December - click HERE for more details.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Welcome, Novice and Expert Alike

Toronto Star Theatre (that's theatre with an "re," mind you) Critic Richard Ouzounian declares that "the Darwin Martin House is high on everyone’s list, because it proves that Buffalo has the Wright stuff. Frank Lloyd Wright, that is. This is one of his most emblematic houses and it’s being lovingly restored by a staff who can communicate their enthusiasm and knowledge to even a novice visitor."

Whether novice, intermediate or Wrightian Zen Master, we aim to please!