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.

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