Monday, September 30, 2013


Isabelle or Dorothy Martin? (photo: UB Archives)

The photograph above has long been identified as Isabelle Martin wearing a dress designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. In fact it may be her daughter, Dorothy but that is beside the point. A document on Department of Art, University of California Berkeley letterhead with the title "Conversation with Darwin Martin, Jr., on April 12, 1979" but unsigned, includes the following:

[The] Conservatory was Mrs. Martin's idea: she loved flowers, and used them in abundance to give warmth to what she (or certainly he) considered to be a cold house. The photograph of her in a dress like a [John Singer] Sargent portrait: the dress is not by Wright at all (that's bullshit!); it is by Ivan Ivanovitch (??) a friend and student of Sargeant."

The document is intriguing given that Wright is known to have designed dresses for his wife, Catherine, and it enhances the idea that Wright would design everything if allowed by his clients. According to Daniel I. Larkin his grandfather had to stop Wright from designing the telephones and wastebaskets of the Larkin Administration Building. 

I found Darwin R. Martin unreliable in our meetings when he visited Buffalo. He told me that Wright designed the Larkin R,S & T Building when it was definitely designed and built by the Lockwood, Greene and Company of Brooklyn which specialized in reinforced concrete framed "daylight factories." [see Reyner Banham, A Concrete Atlantis: U.S. Industrial Building and European Modern Architecture, 1900-1925 (1986)] He also said that the William R. Heath House was initially designed by William Heath and the contractor, Oscar S. Lang, but Heath brought in Wright to help them out. That is fiction. Martin Jr. and his sister had an intense dislike of Wright because he was the recipient of so much generosity from Darwin Martin -- possibly as much as $60,000 over the years. When Darwin Martin died during the Depression Wright ignored the destitute Mrs. Martin.

Who recorded this interview in April 1979 just a month before Darwin R. Martin passed away?

Saturday, September 28, 2013


Professor Paulo Fujioka (photo: J. Quinan)

In order to teach the history of architecture at the university level it is necessary to have a specialty and a PhD but also to be able to teach knowledgeably about the entire history of architecture as well as surveys of periods. This means that one often has to teach buildings known only through images in books, usually an elevation and a first floor plan. Consequently it is particularly exciting after five or ten or more years of teaching to finally visit one of the great monuments of architectural history. Professor Paulo Fujioka has been teaching, among other things, American architecture at the University of San Paulo, Brazil, for seven years and  finally got to tour the U.S. this month to see the work of Frank Lloyd Wright (a favorite among others) in Chicago, Wisconsin, Pittsburgh, and Buffalo. The weather here has been perfect all week. Paolo's reaction to the Darwin Martin House defies description but I enjoyed showing him the house because I have had that first-time experience often at places like the Villa Savoie, the Parthenon, the Glasgow Art School, etc. Suddenly it is there, it is real and palpable. Instead of staring at a page you can experience the building fully, with all your senses. So Paulo's visit was a vicarious thrill for me, and his Brazilian students will be so much better off for his experience. We toured  all the Wright sites and he toured downtown as well but we also had the unique pleasure of joining Sandra Firmin and Tra Bouscaren, co-curators of an exhibition entitled "My Future Ex" (17 local and international artists at eleven sites around Buffalo from Sept 17 through November 23), along with artist Kamau Patton aboard a barge on the Buffalo River where Kamau is preparing a performance "Float My Resident" that will involve numerous UB dancers and a series of sonic compositions by Kamau from signals gathered from antenna processed through a computer and routed through a sound amplification system located on the pontoon and barge. It all happens tonight from River Fest Park to Mutual Riverfront Park and Silo City starting at seven today. Meanwhile Paulo is off to New York city to do some research among Columbia University's newly acquire Frank Lloyd Wright archives.


Saturday, September 14, 2013


William Wesley Peters (1912-1991)

In the early 1980s I began making periodic visits to Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Arizona, to research a book on the Larkin Administration building. Because the Frank Lloyd Wright archives (22,000 drawings and nearly 200,000 documents) were only recently opened to such research I was provided a room and was given meals along with everyone else in the Taliesin Fellowship, a substantial group of architects, students, support staff and various others. The apprentices and students cooked the meals on a rotating basis much as they had since the start of the Fellowship in1932 and everyone ate together except for Mrs. Wright who was then quite elderly and partially blind. I was surprised when, after a few days, Wes Peters, sat next to me at breakfast and proceeded to regale me with stories about his experiences out there in Arizona. This was a man who had married Mrs. Wright's daughter, Svetlana, subsequently killed in an automobile crash, and later married Svetlana Alliluyeva daughter of Joseph Stalin so I listened to him through a scrim of recollections of the Cold War in the 1950s when as school kids we had to practice getting under our desks (in Keene, New Hampshire, a likely Soviet target) in case "they" dropped an atomic bomb on us. Wes was a big strapping fellow who liked to talk about going out in the desert to shoot javalinas but he told one story that I especially appreciated because it was the re-telling of one that Wright told him that dated back to 1903. Wright designed a second Hillside Home School in 1902 for his aunts Nell and Jane to replace the wooden building that he designed for them in 1887 but this one is made out of that warm, yellow-brown dolomitic sandstone local to southern Wisconsin  Wright was then living in Oak Park, Illinois, and left the construction of the new school up to an old but trusted mason whose name was Kramer, as I recall. Wright would periodically visit to supervise. As a finishing touch, Kramer carved a cornerstone inscribed "FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT ARCHITECT 1903."  Wright vehemently objected saying "I don't do that," by which he meant that his work announced itself as his and needed no labels. Kramer simply answered, "But I do," and the cornerstone has been there ever since.

Cornerstone of Hillside Home School