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Martin House

Martin House.Courtesy of the Buffalo
and Erie County Historical Society.

Oakbrook Esser Studio Development of
Tree of Life Display.

Of the 394 art glass windows that accented the completed Darwin Martin House a century ago, none was more intricate or has grown more famous over the years than the Tree of Life.

Created by Frank Lloyd Wright for the mansion's second-floor bedrooms and first-floor reception room, this vertical pattern with iridescent and opalescent green, brown, yellow and gold pieces ingeniously complemented the mansion's interior earth tones, and served as prisms through which those inside viewed the passage of daylight and the seasons.

Shifting light conditions activated various colors, producing harmony between the materials and the cycles of nature.

In The News

October 2006: Light Shed on Tree of Life
Reproduction of Wright's Famous Art Glass Windows wil be on display at dedication of Martin House

News Staff Reporter

10/3/2006 Of the 394 art glass windows that accented the completed Darwin Martin House a century ago, none was more intricate or has grown more famous over the years than the Tree of Life.

The Buffalo News - October 2006

Martin House
Bill Wippert/Buffalo News
Buffalo News Publisher Stanford Lipsey shows a reproduction of the Tree of Life window at the Darwin Martin Carriage House, part of a display Lipsey and his wife, Judith, donated. Wednesday is the dedication of the "lost buildings" in the Martin House Complex.
Tree of Life
Oakbrook Esser Studios reproduction (left)
and original Tree of Life (right)
The Darwin Martin House windows, which contain 11 different patterns including the Tree of Life, have gone into many locales, said Mary F. Roberts, chief operating officer of the Martin House Restoration Corporation.

"Over the years some windows were given away, some were sold by the descendants, some were literally put at the curb," Roberts said. "Some went into private collections and to museums all around the world. They've had a varied path.

"But we also own a large number that are now in storage and meant to be kept out of harm's way while the frames are restored," she said.

During Wednesday's dedication of the "lost buildings" in the Martin House Complex on Jewett Parkway, Wright's Tree of Life design will be seen in a new light.

As Gov. George E. Pataki and other guests step into the carriage house, they will encounter a display donated by Buffalo News Publisher Stanford Lipsey and his wife, Judith, that includes a replica Tree of Life window and, directly behind it, a frosted glass panel on which many of the brass strips and glass pieces for a Tree of Life window are shown in an "exploded" pattern - as they might have been laid out by craftsmen prior to assembly.

Though this particular art glass design is considered Wright's best-known, it has never been reproduced until now, said Eric Jackson-Forsberg, associate curator of the Martin House Restoration Corp.

"We've had other kinds of windows made, but this is the first Tree of Life," he said.

The individual pieces of colored glass in these windows are surrounded by metal strips called came, or caming, which are then soldered together and fitted into metal frames, which in the Martin House are brass.

The sheer number of individual pieces of glass - more than 750 per window - and the painstaking work that went into assembling them inspired the Lipseys to commission the exhibit.

It will be unlike any other in the nation's vast realm of restored and recreated Wright works, said Paul Phelps of Oakbrook Esser Studios in Oconomowoc, Wis. Licensed by the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation to restore or replicate the architect's art glass designs, Oakbrook Esser produced both pieces for the Martin House Restoration Corp.

The Tree of Life display room and explanatory graphics were designed by Hadley Exhibits of Buffalo.

"It's going to be something special. It has a real architectural and dimensional quality," Phelps said.

It took craftsmen at Chicago's Linden Glass Co., which tackled the Martin House challenge a century ago, 300 hours or more to produce each of the nearly 400 panels, which the architect called light screens, Phelps said. The order included 60 Tree of Life windows and doors, about half of which remain.

"Depending on the size and complexity, I think a current Tree of Life window costs in excess of $20,000," Roberts said.

Most tourists passing the windows can easily identify the pattern: a base or "pot" from which a central axis or "trunk" extends to an upper "branch" configuration of chevrons. Wright set the windows in a continuous band around the second floor and the downstairs reception room to simulate a "grove" of abstract trees.

But the same tourists would have no idea how truly intricate the design is, Phelps said. Hence the interpretive display that will debut Wednesday.

"It will be really effective in showing the intensity and amount of work involved," he said. "It will help people look at these windows a little differently."

Wright designed more windows for the Martin House than any other building in his portfolio, including the other well known prairie houses.

"It was one of the most phenomenal uses of art glass ever," Phelps said. "The Martin House will truly be a worldwide draw."

"The idea of this exhibit is to appreciate the genius of Wright, and show exactly what people like Paul Phelps put into making these windows," Stanford Lipsey said.

The Lipseys earlier gave money to buy back the Gardener's Cottage at 285 Woodward Ave., the last of four residences Wright designed for the complex bounded by Jewett, Woodward and Summit Avenue, and paid for a new greenhouse to supply flowers for the buildings and grounds.


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