The Martin House Restoration Corporation (MHRC) announces that it has acquired a section of an art glass skylight, originally from the Bursar’s office of the Darwin D. Martin House. Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, this panel—one of three that comprise the Bursar’s office skylight array—represents the first example of art glass from the horizontal plane of the Martin House to be returned to the MHRC. The MHRC will add this panel to its collection of original art glass to be reinstalled in the Martin House upon completion of the building’s restoration.
Upon its completion in 1907, the Martin House was graced by 17 pieces of art glass in the horizontal plane: skylight and lay light panels (electrically illuminated skylights) in the Bursar’s office, living room, unit room pier clusters, and main stairway landing. A few of these pieces have been identified in public and private collections, and some have been sold at public auction in recent years. But until now, all have eluded the MHRC’s best efforts to return an example of horizontal art glass to the Martin House. The Bursar’s office panel was loaned from the anonymous owner for the Windows of the Darwin D. Martin House exhibition at the Burchfield Penney Art Center in 1999, and has been high on the Martin House “wish list” ever since.
The importance of this acquisition goes well beyond the aesthetic and interpretive value of the panel itself; having just one such example will allow the MHRC to perfectly reproduce the 16 other pieces of horizontal art glass for the house with complete accuracy as to the color and type of glass used, as the same palette is shared by all the skylight and lay light panels in the house. “This represents a turning point in our efforts to reproduce the art glass needed for the Martin House,” observed restoration architect Ted Lownie; “this panel takes the guesswork out of reverse-engineering the pieces needed for the horizontal plane.” This acquisition joins other important pieces of art glass that have been returned to the MHRC this year: four pier cluster sidelights from former University at Buffalo First Lady Margy Meyerson, and a “Tree of Life” window acquired from the Grey Art Gallery of NYU. “This has been a banner year for the Martin House art glass collection,” added Martin House curator Eric Jackson-Forsberg; “there seems to be good momentum building in re-gathering the scattered pieces of Wright’s composition.”
About the Art Glass of the Martin House Complex
The MHRC currently owns 197 pieces of original art glass, either in storage or in-situ in the historic buildings of the Martin House Complex. The Barton House (1903), the smaller of the two houses in the complex, retains all of its original art glass windows, doors, cabinet doors and lighting fixtures. The Martin House, however, still lacks many pieces of its full complement of original glass. During the years that the Martin House was abandoned (1937-54), examples of art glass found their way into private and public collections around the globe. The MHRC Collections Committee has located some of these missing pieces and continuously works to repatriate them, that they may be enjoyed by the public in their original context.
The MHRC has made great strides in acquiring key pieces of art glass as part of its overall restoration effort. In 1993, distinguished Senator and preservation champion, Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D, NY), facilitated the MHRC’s acquisition of eight pieces of original art glass which were being sold through Christie’s. Most of these were patterns not yet represented in the MHRC’s collection, including examples from the long-demolished conservatory and carriage house. More recently, an art dealer donated an exquisite pair of interior casement panels, and the MHRC has acquired, through the generosity of the Margaret L. Wendt Foundation, a rare cabinet door from the dining room of the Martin House.
Some examples of Martin House art glass, such as those in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, France, the Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery in Glasgow, Scotland, and the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, Australia, are not likely to be returned to the house; they will, however, act as high-profile ambassadors for the Martin House for international visitors to these institutions. Ultimately, such pieces will be replicated. The MHRC has already commissioned a number of reproduction windows and doors from Oakbrook-Esser Studios of Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, which are highly faithful to the originals in every respect.
Frank Lloyd Wright designed 394 individual works in art glass for the Martin House complex – more than for any other project during his celebrated career. The Martin House is unique among the early works for which Wright created intricate, abstract patterns for glass windows, doors, skylights, light fixtures and cabinet doors, in that he created 16 primary patterns for six buildings on the campus, each with multiple variations on individual themes. Wright drew these themes from site specific, natural forms such as wisteria vines. The “Tree of Life” pattern, for example, has seven variations, some of which are composed of more than 750 pieces of glass.
Wright called his art glass panels “light screens,” as he intended them to be artful filters of sunlight and views from indoors to outdoors and to create decorative patterns within the interior. Wright’s light screens use both colored and clear glass, and one side of many panes has an iridized surface, while others have gold-leaf squares sandwiched between clear panes. The glass is assembled within brass or zinc cames that provide a sturdier structural frame than the lead cames of traditional stained-glass windows.
The extraordinary array of art glass from the Martin House Complex is cataloged and interpreted in the recent book Frank Lloyd Wright Art Glass of the Martin House Complex (Pomegranate, 2009), edited by Martin House curator Eric
About the Martin House Complex
The Martin House Complex, designed and built from 1903-05, is being restored to its condition as of 1907. Wright scholars consider it a significant turning point in the architect’s evolution of the Prairie House. Wright called the Martin House his “opus,” and had its plans tacked above his drafting board for decades. The original complex consisted of the main Martin House, a pergola, conservatory and carriage house, the Barton House and a gardener’s cottage. Reconstruction of the pergola, conservatory and carriage house was completed in early 2007 in the most ambitious restoration of demolished Wright buildings ever undertaken. The Martin House Complex is the largest extant Wright Prairie structure, with six buildings totaling nearly 32,000 sq. feet.
The Martin House Restoration Corporation is a New York not-for-profit corporation founded in 1992. It has a 30-member board of directors and nearly 400 active volunteers. The historic Martin House site is open for tours on a year round basis.