Friday, December 21, 2012

Christmas at the Martin House

On December 25, 1907, Darwin D. Martin wrote in his diary, Memorandum of Events in the Life of Darwin D. and Isabelle R. Martin, the following words:

A beautiful Christmas.  We sent and received many gifts--one from Belle [Isabelle Martin] to DDM [Darwin D. Martin] a lovely miniature of Darwin's.  As usual Grandma and Margaret out Christmas eve until 26th.  Grace Peckham also overnight Christmas eve, Christmas dinner guests were these, Mrs. Peckham, Mrs. Parmalee, and family.  To supper with these except Parmalee, also Moreys, Simpsons and their friends Mr. and Mrs. Austin of Ithaca.  Assets reach a million for first time. 

Here, Darwin D. Martin describes the familiar traditions we often associate with the holidays--the exchanging of gifts, the welcoming of house guests, and the hosting of dinner parties--and he concludes with the proud, yet factual, declaration of his newly-reached status as self-made millionaire.  Yet in reading this journal entry, one begins to wonder what more do we know about Christmases past in the Martin family household?

Martin Family Photographs, University at Buffalo Archives

An archival photograph sheds some light on the Martins' custom of decorating the family Christmas tree.  A tall, slender spruce rises to the height of the ceiling frieze rail and stands adjacent to the southeast pier cluster at the point where the living room and the library meet.  Clusters of multi-shaped glass ornaments and sparkling strips of silver tinsel adorn it, underneath which sits an overflowing pile of gifts--including what appears to be a large box "wrapped" in a plaid blanket--all awaiting to be opened.

Nellie Gardner and volunteer members of the Interior Beautification Committee trim the Martin House Christmas tree.

Taking inspiration from this historic snapshot, staff and volunteers have brought the yuletide spirit back into the Martin House through the temporary installation of a Christmas tree evocative of the one that was once trimmed by the Martins--right down to the very detail of using a period-appropriate tree stand by North Brothers Manufacturing Company, an early 20th century iron and brass foundry from Philadelphia, PA.

We hope you will come for a tour of the Martin House and discover it with your own eyes.  And until then, best wishes for a holiday season filled with much joy, peace and success--from our house to yours!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


1. Edgar Kaufmann, Jr.
2. Edgar Tafel (photo by Al Sabatini)

Edgar Kaufmann, Jr. never attended college, instead he studied painting in Europe and in 1933 joined Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin Fellowship for a year before returning to his family's department store business in Pittsburgh. Possessed of an exceptionally  keen eye for design, in 1940 Kaufmann became the head of the Department of Industrial Design at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In that capacity one of his tasks was to locate and select objects for the Museum's collections. On May 20, 1947, while lecturing in Buffalo, he wrote to Frank Lloyd Wright about the status of Wright's Buffalo buildings, with an eye toward finding likely specimens. Following a discussion of the Larkin Building he wrote:

"I visited the Martin and Heath houses. The first is almost as shocking as the [Larkin] office building and parts of it are already being demolished. The furniture is not in the house. The Heath house is up for sale and by the owner whom as you know, installed a picture window opposite the fireplace; and I'm hoping to get for us a pair of the leaded glass doors from the bookcases which were removed in order to insert this window. I hope you will agree that they are among the glass designs of that period most likely to look well isolated from their original surroundings. I'm sorry to say that the Heath house too has been pitifully neglected, although it remains entirely liveable." 

Both New Yorkers and Taliesin Fellows, it is obvious that Kaufmann visited the Martin House with Edgar Tafel when the photograph (#5. below) was taken, probably by Tafel. According to Tafel, Wright distinguished them as Edgar "Son-of-Tafel" and Edgar "Son-of-Fallingwater." Rumor has it that some of the Heath furniture was acquired by an apprentice to Wright from Buffalo who turned it over to Wright when the house was altered by a subsequent owner. And there it remains today.

3. Heath House door as installed at Taliesin today (photo: JQ)
5. The Martin House interior with Edgar Kaufmann barely visible at the right (Edgar Tafel photo)
4. Heath House window alongside the birdwalk at Taliesin (photo: JQ)

Monday, December 17, 2012

Jewett Refrigerators: Looking for Leads

Do you or someone you know own a refrigerator from the turn of the last century manufactured by  
The Jewett Refrigerator Company?   

The Jewett Refrigerator Company, logo, 1904

In our quest to accurately replicate two original ice boxes, we seek extant Jewett refrigerators that are similar to the units once held by the Martin House—whether they are working or not.  Our primary goal is to locate hardware, specifically latches and hinges, found on surviving large-scale models from the early 1900s—the kind, for example, that might have been used on historic Jewett refrigerators installed in such places as grand residences, restaurants, taverns, or possibly even meat packing houses.  

We’re counting on you—if you have any leads, please contact Stephen Oubre, Cabinetmaker, at the Martin House, Or feel free to post your comments directly on this blog.  Thank you!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Writing a Novel is Like Building a House: T.C. Boyle Visits the Martin House Complex

The Martin House was delighted to welcome novelist T.C. Boyle and his family for a tour of the complex during a recent visit to Buffalo.  Boyle is the author of twenty-three books of fiction, including the PEN/Faulkner Prize for best novel of the year (World's End, 1988); the PEN/Malamud Prize in the short story (T.C. Boyle Stories, 1999); and the Prix Médicis Étranger for best foreign novel in France (The Tortilla Curtain, 1997).

Novelist T.C. Boyle (right) with Martin House Curator Susana Tejada (left)

Boyle lives in a home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1909--the George C. Stewart House--located on the California coastal town of Montecito, a community just outside Santa Barbara.  "What is is like to live there?  It's pretty illuminating," states Boyle, "we'll never get tired of it."  The property is the architect's first California commission, his sole example of the Prairie style west of the Rockies, and a source of inspiration for Boyle's novel, The Women (2009)--a fictionalized story of Wright's life as told through the perspective of the four very different women who loved him.

At a reading that took place on February 12, 2009, at the Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington D.C., Boyle noted that "writing a novel--building a novel--is sort of like building a house." To listen to T.C. Boyle deliver an excerpt from The Women, or to hear his musings on such topics as "Writing and Architecture," "Living in a Frank Lloyd Wright House," and "Visiting Taliesin," click on the recordings on this section of the NPR website:

Monday, December 10, 2012


MANNY KIRCHHEIMER (from Low Budget Legends)

The distinguished documentary filmmaker, Manny Kirchheimer ( "Claw," 1968; "Stations of the Elevated," 1980; "Tall: The American Skyscraper and Louis Sullivan," 2004) jumped at the opportunity to show his work at Hallwalls recently, in part because he is a great fan of Frank Lloyd Wright and wanted to see the Martin House which he last saw about ten years ago. His enthusiasm dates back to 1956 when, after numerous calls to Wright's apartment in the Plaza Hotel, the twenty-six year old filmmaker obtained an hour long interview with the eighty-eight year old architect about the possibility of filming the construction of the Guggenheim Museum. Alas, the film never materialized but Manny was so elated by Wright's accessibility and keen interest in the details of the project that he went home and immediately wrote up the entire event. This piece of history richly deserves publication. The question is, where?

Correction: The correct name of the author of "Taliesin Diary: Year with Frank Lloyd Wright" is Priscilla J. Henken (December 3, 2012 blog)

Monday, December 3, 2012


Ron McCrea's Building Taliesin

One of the pleasures of being a Frank Lloyd Wright scholar is the periodic appearance of something of real insight amidst the annual deluge of picture books and hagiographica. Ron McCrea's Building Taliesin: Frank Lloyd Wright's Home of Love and Loss (Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2012) and Priscilla J. Henken's Taliesin Diary: A Year with Frank Lloyd Wright (W.W. Norton & Company, 2012) are filled with visual and written revelations.  McCrea concerns himself with Wright's relationship with Mamah Borthwick Cheney from their decision to abandon their respective families and go off to Europe late in 1909 to her tragic death in 1914. That story has been told many times, but what distinguishes McCrea's book are revelations about the construction of the first Taliesin in 1911, illustrated in numerous previously unknown photographs from three collections -- the Utah State Historical Society, the University of Utah Library, and the Wisconsin Historical Society. Most of the photographs in Utah collections were taken by Taylor Woolley, the draftsman who accompanied Wright to Fiesole, Italy, in 1910 to work with Lloyd Wright and his father on the production of the Wasmuth Portfolio (Ausgefuhrte Bauten und Entwurfe von Frank Lloyd Wright). Woolley eventually established his own office in Salt Lake City, became the State Architect of Utah, and passed away in 1965 leaving this cache of photographs to posterity. McCrea draws heavily upon Woolley's photographs as well as some by Wright himself, and those of the distinguished Chicago architectural photographer, Clarence Fuermann, who photographed the Martin House in 1907. Since the first Taliesin was destroyed by fire in 1914, McCrea's book provides a superabundance of invaluable images including some taken right after the fire.

Priscilla V. Henken's Taliesin Diary

Priscilla J. Henken offers quite a different, insider view of life at the third Taliesin (begun after a fire in 1925). Mrs. Henken, a New York City school teacher, accompanied her husband, David, to Wisconsin when he joined Wright's Taliesin Fellowship in 1942.  The diary she maintained over the duration of their stay chronicles the rigorous day-to-day life of the Fellowship during World War II. Very much an outsider at the start, she learned to cook for everyone when her turn came (one meal for the Wrights, another for everyone else), spent entire days weaving, canning pumpkins and making apple sauce,  mastering the recorder, and was eventually asked to assist with the drafting of Wright buildings, including the Arch Oboler House. A person of considerable sophistication, erudition and writing skills, she tells of gaining the respect of Wright, and of the intense interpersonal relationships between members the Fellowship. She is able to convey a sense of what it was like to be there. Eventually, in the 1950s, David Henken engaged Wright in the creation of "Usonia" in Pleasantville, New York, a cooperative community of thirty families who agreed to build on circular plots of land populated by houses designed by Wright, Henken, Aaron Resnick, Ulrich Franzen, and others. 

Film buffs will be interested in the list of 46 films that Wright had shown at Taliesin during the year that Priscilla Henken was there. (This was a practice that Wright continued from the founding of the Fellowship in the early 1930s until his death in 1959)  Directors such as Orson Welles, Preston Sturgis, and Alfred Hitchcock, share the stage with Sergei Eisenstein and numerous other Russian directors, at the request, no doubt, of Mrs. Wright (née Olga Ivanovna Lazovich) who was born in Montenegro and educated in Russia.

Thursday, November 22, 2012


Dan Graham, a major force on the international art scene since the 1970s, toured the Darwin Martin House earlier this week with several artist friends from New York and Toronto. As a gallerist, artist, photographer, filmmaker, and critic, Graham cites early inspiration from Sol Lewitt and UB’s Leslie Fiedler, and has written about many contemporary artists and architects including Mies van der Rohe, Robert Venturi, John Lautner (one of Wright’s original apprentices), and Switzerland’s Peter Zumthor.  Graham was particularly drawn to the vistas within the Martin House where it is possible -- now that the pier clusters have been restored -- to see through as many as six layers of scintillating art glass windows across several rooms and into the bright outdoors.
Left to right: Asad Raza, Jack Quinan, and Dan Graham (photo: Sandra Q. Firmin)

In recent years Graham has produced a series of steel-framed glass "pavilions,” that employ special mirrored and half-mirrored sheets of glass that are both reflective and transparent. The pavilions offer an ambiguous immersive experience that is popular with the public everywhere. His work can be found in parks and art museums all over Europe, North and South America, and Asia. (see below)

Graham, whose work lies somewhere between architecture and sculpture  enjoyed the Martin House but said Wright’s Johnson’s Wax Building in Racine, Wisconsin, is his personal favorite for its qualities of submersion under those lily-pad like dendriform disks. But in time maybe the Martin House will work its magic on his restless creative imagination.

Two Dan Graham pavilions from "I like this Art" blog

Friday, November 16, 2012


"Minding Design: Neuroscience, Design Education, and the Imagination," a symposium organized for November 9-12, 2012, by architect Sarah Robinson, brought together an impressive roster of neuroscientists, phenomenologists, architects, students, and others at Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright's sprawling desert compound near Scottsdale, Arizona. The general idea was to bring together Wright's intuitive organicism and the philosophy of embodiment and direct experience of Edmund Husserl, Martin Heidegger, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty, with the very recent insights into the human brain made possible through MRI and PET scan technologies, in order to explore how neuroscience and phenomenology might be brought to bear on the practice of architecture. Juhani Pallasmaa, Finland's distinguished architect-philosopher and author of "The Eyes of the Skin," shared the stage with Alberto Perez-Gomez (scholar of the History of Science and phenomenology at McGill University), Michael Arbib (Director of the USC Brain Project), Iain McGilchrist (Psychiatrist, writer, and former Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford), and Jeanne Gang of Studio Gang (architect of the Aqua Building in Chicago and a MacArthur Fellow). The event coincided with a reunion of members of Wright's Taliesin Fellowship (of which there are around 1,500 world wide). 
Left to Right: Victor Sidy (Dean, FLW School of Architecture (in red tie)), Michael Arbib, Alberto Perez-Gomez, Iain McGilchrist, ,Juhani Pallasmaa, Jeanne Gang, and Sarah Robinson

Drawing upon a broad spectrum of philosophers, writers, artists, and architects, Pallasmaa presented a compelling argument for direct experience, empathy, embodiment, and a primordial timelessness in architecture and concluded that he felt that neuroscience would validate his position. The two neuroscientists -- not always in agreement -- explained various aspects of brain functions as they are currently understood. Arbib posited a neuroscience examination of how Computer Assisted Design (CAD) works as opposed to free hand drawing; what is gained, what is lost.  McGilchrist focused upon the differing functions of the two halves of the brain, the left brain's narrow focus, isolation, and orientation toward detail; the right brain's broad concerns, accepting of the new, seeing the whole, etc., and went on to suggest that the two halves have been in balance at certain moments in history (such as the Renaissance) but today the left brain is dominant.  Jeanne Gang, a rising architectural star based in Chicago, gave a straightforward presentation of her work that, for all of its inherent interest and promise, did not accord with the phenomenological tenor of the rest of the program. Architect Steven Holl, whose work is deeply influenced by phenomenology, was unable to attend as planned.

Eric Lloyd Wright (seated, left) talking to Larry Woodin, President of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy (standing, right)
While the symposium bubbled with ideas and represented an important step for the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture the decision to disperse the audience into three break-out sessions with individual speakers (Arbib, McGilchrist, and Pallasmaa) following the formal presentations obviated an expanded plenary discussion of the interface between phenomenology and neuroscience.  
Phenomenology does have a direct bearing upon the way that the Darwin D. Martin House and other Wright houses are understood and presented to the public. While at Taliesin West I took a tour -- the third in three years -- and paid close attention to what was said to our group. My docent, like docents everywhere, had a wide range of potential subjects to cover in an hour: Wright's personal history, the history of the building(s), the function of each building and room, the materials used, the desert site, and a healthy measure of anecdotes were included. From a phenomenological point of view my tour and most tours that I have made come up short in terms of experience, by which I mean attention to all of the sensory experiences that Wright made available to his clients, an orchestrated onslaught of visual splendor, sound (water, for instance), touch (the textures of stone), the body in space, a sense of movement, time, and even smell all come into play. Wright was good at many things but none more than engaging us through every sense of our being, not only the visual.

Taliesin West: A view toward the drafting room and drawing vault (JQ)

Thursday, November 1, 2012


According to Brian Carter, professor and former Dean of UB’s School of Architecture and Planning, Li Xiaodong, a rising star in the world of Chinese architecture, was so determined to visit Buffalo during his brief stay in the U.S. that in the face of hurricane Sandy, the storm that has devastated the east coast, he and Leslie, his wife, rented a car and drove to Buffalo in heavy rain where they were housed in the Martin House gardener’s cottage and dined in the George Barton House. It all made perfect sense when, in his presentation at UB he outlined the recent history of Chinese architecture and his emerging place within it. By studying first in China, then in Holland, then working in Shanghai where he watched the feverish race to import American and European architects to build entire high-rise cities virtually overnight, Li sensed the loss of significant chunks of Chinese culture and a need for an authentic, regionally-based, sustainable architecture.  His Liyuan Library, glass-enclosed and sun-shaded by thousands of salvaged sticks, is designed to draw cool air off a nearby pool in the summer. The interior tiered hall reveals its timber structure with a hint, perhaps, of Wright’s Larkin Building.  Li’s School Bridge for the village of Pinghe (2008-9) won an Aga Kahn Award for its multiple functions as school, stage, playground, and bridge all of which connect two ancient round castles to form a new civic core for the village.  Given the obvious affinity to Wright’s concern for the nature of materials, we think Li Xiaodong and Leslie slept happily in the gardener’s cottage.
Interior Liyuan Library by Li Xiaodong

School Bridge, Pinghe, China, 2008-9 by Li Xiaodong
Thanks to the heroic efforts of a task force of board members of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, the Mayor and other enlightened persons in Phoenix, and some very generous benefactors, it appears that the David and Gladys Wright House in Phoenix will be preserved. For a Phoenix-based account see Whew!
Frank Lloyd Wright, David and Gladys Wright House, Phoenix, AZ, 1950

Monday, October 22, 2012

“It Will Be Your Window, It Will Be Our Best Window”

Conservatory Window. Photograph by Janet Akcakal.

Most anything is possible—particularly when you combine the idea of a simple “pickle jar” with the enthusiastic spirit of an entire group of Martin House volunteers. Through their inspiration and support, our tireless volunteers embarked on a quiet fundraising campaign with the goal of purchasing a “single-stem” window for the conservatory building of the Martin House Complex.  What was once a missing piece of original Frank Lloyd Wright-designed art glass lost to the throes of history is now a beautifully crafted light screen replicated for the Martin House by the Oakbrook Esser Studios.  Board President John N. Walsh, III made the announcement at a special presentation held at last week’s Martin House Volunteer Recognition Party where the completed window was formally unveiled and subsequently installed on site.  Mr. Walsh expressed our collective gratitude best when he gave the following remarks, which have been redacted for reprint here:

left to right:  John N. Walsh, III (board president); Richard Chamberlin (volunteer); Maggie Cammarata (museum store associate); and Mary Roberts (executive director).  Photograph by Bernhard C. Wagner.

“Thank you for inviting me to your party! ... A wise woman, my Mom, urges us to ask this question when our personal temperature is rising or when setting priorities in a stress-filled day.  The question is, “Will this really matter a year from now?” Well, what we are about to discuss right now will definitely matter a year from now, ten years from now, fifty years from now, and as long as the Martin House flourishes in our community, and greatly because of what we are about to talk about.  So what is it? Well first, it’s an honor, beyond words, to be here and to be almost ready to talk about that thing that will matter a year from now.  Because, once again, the fabulous Martin House volunteers, the best volunteer army in the free world, the over-worked, underpaid, under-saluted but deeply loved fans of Frank--you, all of you, have, just as you have done for so many years, spectacularly done it again! ...Totally funded by the fabulous Martin House volunteers, because of you—the envied by all other non-profits Gang of 400—the very first replica window for the conservatory has been created and is now ready for installation. Hooray! As you know, this was a one hundred percent volunteer effort.  It first sprang from the fertile minds of Maggie Cammaratta and Rich Chamberlain…. And so, thanks to Maggie and Rich, the Pickle Jar Campaign was created! Rich brought in the jar. Maggie made the sign, and the project was officially kicked off at the volunteer business meeting back on April 5, 2008 …. In ten days, you and they had raised sixty dollars…. One gift was a generous one thousand dollars. Others were equally generous at lesser amounts…. In all, a total of $11,668.19 was raised, and a single-stem conservatory window has been beautifully produced by Oakbrook Esser and arrived just a few days ago at the site. It will be installed towards the north end of the conservatory directly adjacent to the door closest to the Wisteria Shop entry. It will be your window. It will be our best window. It will be right there, every time you walk by. Mostly, it will remain evergreen in our hearts as a reflection of spectacular devotion and generosity.  It does matter and will do so for years. Mary [Roberts] and I, amidst the millions raised, have agreed that it’s the best gift we have ever received.  We humbly thank you on behalf of the entire Martin House family.”

Saturday, October 20, 2012


Following a meeting in Buffalo titled “Frank Lloyd Wright’s Publicly Accessible Buildings: Problems and Programs,” in 1985, Ginny Kazor, Curator of Wright’s Hollyhock House in Los Angeles, agreed to stage a similar conference the following year in L.A., and what a treat it was! We toured sites with buildings by three generations of Wrights -- Frank, Lloyd, and Eric (with Eric) – as well as some by Richard Neutra and Rudolph Schindler. The programming brimmed with former apprentices and clients. One panel of clients that included the Lovnesses (who could have been a comedy team if Don Lovness wasn’t otherwise occupied with Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company and Virginia with her art) was especially memorable. I took notes on the presentation by Arch Oboler, a Hollywood producer-director-screenwriter, who commissioned an ambitious hillside house (fig. 1) that Wright dubbed “Eaglefeather.”
(Unfortunately the conference was not filmed.)

Frank Lloyd Wright, "Eaglefeather" project for Arch Obeler (Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation)

According to Oboler, a masterful storyteller, he wrote to Wright about the commission and did not hear a word until the architect appeared at his door two years later. Wright and Oboler went to the site and as they approached it Wright put his arm around Arch (making him rather uncomfortable, he said, as he didn’t feel that he knew Wright) and said, pointing with his cane, “Arch, we are going to build something wonderful over there.” Oboler later heard that  someone asked Wright how he approached clients and he replied, “Well, take Arch Oboler. He is a sentimental man, so I put my arm around him and talked to him about the enduring qualities of the building we would build.” Oboler eventually declined to build Eaglefeather but completed a smaller retreat (fig. 2) and gatehouse on the site in its stead. 
Arch Obeler Retreat, Malibu, CA 1941 (Image from Wright Chat)

The following year (1987) Sandra Wilcoxon continued the meeting in Oak Park, Illinois,  and the year after that we met at Fallingwater where Thomas Schmidt, Vice President of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, proposed that we form an organization that became The Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, today nearly 800 strong. [Dates of conferences and spelling of Oboler were corrected Oct. 22, 2012 thanks to Martha Neri, Eric Jackson-Forsberg, and Stephen Rebello]

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

All in the Family

Fig. 1 Dining table and chairs, George Barton House (Minneapolis Art Institute)

Many of Frank Lloyd Wright’s clients were unable to afford to have the architect design a full complement of furniture for their houses. The George Barton House is  case in point: Darwin Martin commissioned the house with the understanding that his sister, Delta, and her husband, George, would rent the house from him. Wright designed a built-in buffet, a built-in bookshelf, a free-standing table for the living room and a splendid dining table and eight side chairs (fig. 1) for the Bartons. Presumably they brought the rest of their furniture from a previous home.  George Barton died in 1928; Delta remained in the house until 1932 when she moved to Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, to be close to her daughter, Laura.  How did their Wright-designed dining table and chairs find its way to the Minneapolis Art Institute? 

Fig. 2 Living room, William Drummond House, River Forest, IL, c1910

fig. 3 living room, William Drummond house, River Forest, IL (1910) (Photo: Richard Nickel for HABS 1965)
The scene shifts to Oak Park, Illinois, where William and Winifred Martin settled into their Wright-designed house in 1905 and raised four children. Their youngest daughter, Lois, married Edwin Judson Mann, and in 1929 the Manns purchased the River Forest home of William Drummond, a prairie architect who had worked in Wright’s office prior to 1910. Owing to the Great Depression, the Manns were forced to rent out their (Drummond) house in 1931 or 1932 and moved back to their parents home until 1937 when they were able to reclaim their home. According to Jack Lesniak, who supplied a lot of this information, the Manns remained in the Drummond-designed house until the 1960s. Interior photographs of the living room from c1910 (fig. 2) when the house was designed and built, show a screen of vertical slats separating the living room from a dining room beyond, but an HABS photograph by Richard Nickel from 1965 (fig. 3) indicates that the screen has been partially removed and beyond it are the Barton House dining table and chairs with their characteristic octagonal elements. When the Manns sold the house the dining set was removed from the Drummond house, presumably by a family member who recognized its value. The set was put on the market at a New York gallery in the early 1980s and was purchased by the Minneapolis Art Institute.  Perhaps one day a duplicate  will be reinstalled in the Barton House.