GREAT BUILDINGS
FLW geeks find a welcome in Buffalo
By Barry A. Muskat; photos by kc kratt

Once again, Buffalo will host avid Frank Lloyd Wright enthusiasts as the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy comes to town for its annual conference October 7–11. It is the first time the Conservancy has actually brought its conference back to a previously-visited city (their first excursion to Buffalo was 1997), so it is both a treat and a coup to have this prestigious group back. Viewed in retrospect, their first meeting here actually proved to be a galvanizing force that activated many Buffalo volunteers who still form the core of the groups active in preserving, operating, and promoting Buffalo’s Wright heritage and building stock. Motivated by the tragic losses of famous Wright designs like Buffalo’s Larkin Administration Building, the Imperial Hotel in Japan, and many private homes, the Conservancy was formed to attack the demolition trend. The Conservancy’s mission is to facilitate the preservation and maintenance of the remaining structures designed by Wright.

Darwin D. Martin House photo by kc kratt.

Although many Wright buildings are now designated National Historic Landmarks, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, or given similar state or local historic status, such designations have not always guaranteed that the structures aren’t threatened due to reasons such as homeowner disinterest or encroaching development.

Even though there have been disappointments over the years, the organization’s radar screen and network have been important forces that have saved many precious Wright properties.The theme of this year’s conference is “Wright in the Drafting Room: Drawings for the Built and the Unbuilt.”

It’s a topic that’s particularly relevant in Buffalo, where some of Wright’s plans have been constructed posthumously. There’s always the controversy as to whether building one of Wright’s unexecuted designs betrays the architect’s original artistic intent. (In the case of Buffalo’s FLW Boat House, now in use by the West Side Rowing Club, the idea was to tell the story of the original Yahara Boathouse plans and to clearly reveal the hundred-year gap between when the structure was designed and when it was actually built.)

Conference presentations on the vast collection of drawings held by the Wright Archives in Arizona should be fascinating. The execution of these unbuilt designs expands the body of the architect’s work and brings to life what were previously two-dimensional documents, but also raises important questions about authenticity, the architect’s intentions, and today’s interpretation. These make for healthy debate, but no matter one’s feelings on the matter, everyone would have to agree that it is simply amazing that there could be contemporary demand to build architectural plans that were drawn over a century ago. That in itself is a tribute to Frank Lloyd Wright’s genius.

Local co-chairs for this year’s conference are Jack Quinan, Mary Roberts, and Sharon Osgood. The headquarters hotel is the Buffalo Hyatt Regency. The schedule includes educational sessions, lectures, and seminars along with tours of each of WNY’s Wright sites (including the Martin House, Graycliff, private homes, and related buildings). Other significant locations attendees will tour include downtown Buffalo, the Guaranty Building, Kleinhans Music Hall, the Larkin Warehouse, and the Roycroft campus. These are punctuated by various festive events and presentations.

Membership in the Conservancy is open to anyone who is interested in Wright, including architects, historians, scholars, preservationists, architecture buffs, artisans, and building owners. The synergy created by this very diverse blend of members makes the Conservancy’s conferences vibrant and of continuing relevance to twenty-first-century architecture and design. For more about the Frank Lloyd Wright Conservancy or the Buffalo Conference, visit www.savewright.org.

Wright Watercolors Weekend
Renowned watercolorist Rita Argen Auerbach confesses that she once aspired to be an architect—which she describes as “an unlikely occupation for a young girl in the 1950s”—but she’s managed to use that fascination with architecture in her painting. After completing a series of paintings of the Buffalo cityscape and major landmarks, in 2003 she started a six-year project to visit and capture Wright’s existing Buffalo buildings in her own bold watercolor technique. The results are on display this month at the Frank Lloyd Wright Rowing Boathouse, for a weekend show in conjunction with the Conservancy’s Buffalo conference.

The twelve paintings in the series depict eleven buildings, six of which comprise the Darwin Martin estate on Jewett Parkway with two views of Graycliff (Martin’s lakeside estate) in Derby. Instead of labeling these works by the structures’ official titles, Auerbach has freely titled them according to her personal interpretations.

Wright believed in a uniquely American architecture, an organic architecture that related to nature and site in a way entirely free from European precedents. Auerbach proficiently illustrates the architectural features of his works: gentle sloping roofs, wide overhangs, ambitious cantilevers, and strong, horizontal lines. Her colors reflect the autumnal palette prevalent in many of Wright’s Buffalo buildings. Executed on crisp, white papers, Auerbach’s watercolors pop with a bright intensity. The advantage of her visits to the sites a full century after the designs were created is that she was able to capture the buildings in situ with fully-matured trees and greenery. As Wright would have wished, the artist’s images connect his designs and the built structures with the land and site.

Auerbach’s watercolors reflect the simplicity and tranquility of Wright’s domestic work. Bathed in light, serene yet powerful, these vibrant images possess a pleasing personality of their own. The entire series of paintings in the show are from the collection of Richard E. and Nancy R. Morrison.
The Wright Watercolors Weekend is on view October 9–11, at the Frank Lloyd Wright Rowing Boathouse (362-3140). There is an opening reception on October 9, from 5–7 p.m.; a reception for the Conservancy Conference on October 10, from 2–4:30 p.m.; an artist’s reception and wine tasting on October 10, from 5–7 p.m.; an open house on October 11, from noon–4 p.m.; and an artist talk on October 11 at 2 p.m.

—B. A. M.
Rita Argen Auerbach image courtesy of the artist.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Buffalo venture:
From the Larkin Building to Broadacre City
FOR AN EAGERLY ANTICIPATED SHOW AT THE ANDERSON GALLERY, internationally respected Wright expert Jack Quinan has pulled together all of Wright’s Buffalo-related buildings and projects (amazingly, there were twenty-two of them between 1903 and 1932) to demonstrate the full panoply of the Buffalo patronage. Quinan is a Distinguished Service Professor in UB’s Art History department and curator emeritus of the Martin House. His focus for this show is to demonstrate that although all of the Buffalo patrons (Heath, Davidson, Larkin, and both Darwin and Isabelle Martin) played important roles, Darwin Martin was a major client, easily at the level of Edgar Kaufmann, Herbert Johnson, and Solomon Guggenheim. Quinan contends that the real level of his support was overshadowed by time, media developments, Martin’s position at the Larkin Company, and the invisible nature of that support through both good times and bad.

Quinan also conceives the exhibit as a contextual backdrop for visitors viewing the restoration of the Martin complex. It is a summation of Quinan’s many years of scholarship and profound understanding of Wright and of the Martin/Wright relationship. The exhibition unfolds chronologically and is organized around the theme of patronage. Objects include numerous photographs and drawings (some replicas and some original), letters to and from Wright, several architectural models, and artifacts such as original publications and furniture. The narrative begins with a burst of activity around 1903–08, and a long hiatus (1909–1923) during which only Martin is loyal and helps Wright. It continues with Graycliff, Martin’s summer house, and shows Davidson as the link to the farm units of Broadacre City.

This show, filled with gems many attendees have never seen before, continues to the end of the year and is one not to miss. People particularly interested in Wright, Buffalo architecture, the period, or the substantive documentation and theme will probably want to absorb it all slowly during repeat visits. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Buffalo Venture is on view at the University at Buffalo’s Anderson Gallery, October 2–December 30.

—B. A. M.
Davidson Farm drawing courtesy of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation.

Barry A. Muskat is Spree’s Architecture Critic. An architectural historian whose focus is Modern Architecture and Wright, he is delighted the city will have the opportunity to show the progress that’s been made in the Martin House and Graycliff restoration efforts to a particularly knowledgeable audience.


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