Since the restoration of Frank Lloyd Wright's Darwin Martin House began, furniture, windows and household objects that were long ago removed from the house have been making their way back to the Jewett Parkway site.
For Wright, these movable pieces were just as important as the ones nailed to the floor or walls.
"Wright had a plan for the furnishings. He had exact ideas where the furniture could be," says chairwoman of the Artifacts Recovery Committee, R. Lorraine Collins. "He even designed a dress for Darwin Martin's wife to wear. What that says is he had a vision of the entire complex -- not just the house but the interior furniture, the art glass and the landscaping. What we're trying to do is bring the house back to his vision in 1907."
One important donor has been Darwin Martin Foster, the grandson of Darwin and Isabelle Martin, who commissioned the house 1902. Two years after Martin died in 1935, Isabelle left the Jewett Parkway home due to the financial hardships caused by the stock market crash and the Great Depression. A Wright-designed footstool ended up in Foster's mother's attic and he took it with him when he moved to Michigan. In September 2001, after years of use, Foster sent the footstool to the Restoration Corporation.
"I understand at one point there had been two of them, but one had been stolen," he said. "The least I can do is bring that one back, because I know it was definitely designed to go in the Martin House."
Although it may seem small and obscure, Foster also donated a table-top thermometer in June 2004. "As the restoration progressed and I became more involved, I decided I should give this back so it didn't get lost in the shuffle when I either moved from my house or passed away and had to have my heirs sort things out," says Foster.
While Foster still uses the china and enjoys the Japanese prints from the Martin House, he intends for it all to eventually return to the house. "He's been generous with his time and artifacts," says Eric Jackson-Forsberg, associate curator for the Restoration Corporation. "If there's anybody who has a claim to this stuff it's family members, but he's stepped up and done the right thing."
> Bathroom door found
Also back home, though awaiting installation until the restoration is completed, are two original oak doors with two very different stories. Henry Sontag, owner of Horsefeathers Architectural Antiques, was cleaning the Hotel Stuyvesant in the early 1990s when a men's bathroom door caught his eye. Being architecturally savvy and knowing Martin's son, Darwin Reidpath Martin, had owned the hotel, Sontag realized it was a door from the Martin House.
"I figured there had to be a men's and ladies' room so I looked for the other one and found the other door," said Sontag. "Part of the deal was I could take those two doors so I decided to keep one and donate one."
The second oak door came from an unsuspecting Steven Leous. Having heard about the door's possible location, Jackson-Forsberg asked Leous if he could take a look at the mismatched furniture in his garage. "They knew this one belonged to the house, based on the hardware," said Leous, who happily sent the door on its way with Jackson-Forsberg. "One person's rubbish is another's treasure."
Many other artifacts were scattered when the Martin family left the house in 1937. Richard Gunn lives in a Buffalo house that was commissioned by the Martins around the same time the Martin House built.
"When I bought the house in 1995 I was alerted to the fact that there were some pieces that were believed to have been from the Martin House," said Gunn.
Eight years later, Jackson-Forsberg stopped in for a visit. After identifying kitchen cabinets, utility cabinets, and a wardrobe as Wright-designed originals, Jackson-Forsberg "jokingly said if I'd like to donate them they'd certainly be interested in accepting them," said Gunn. "I thought while they're nice pieces, they're replaceable for me and I thought the best home for them was back where they came from."
> Finds at auctions
Sometimes artifacts make their way to auctions, and in 2001, when a very rare piece of furniture showed up on the auction block, Howard and Leslie Zemsky jumped at the chance to bring it back to the Martin House. The piece? One of four stanchions that sat at each corner of the Martin's dining table. At 24 inches in height and 18 in diameter, the unusual decoration features a center bowl for plants and four pedestals for lighting, though it is not known whether electric or candle lighting was used.
"From time to time pieces show up in auctions but we don't know how they left the house," said Howard, who also serves as the president of the Restoration Corporation's board of directors. "Depending on the significance of the item, we try to assemble the fund to reclaim it."
Of course, no Frank Lloyd Wright architecture homecoming story would be complete without the return of his famous stained glass windows. Like the fate of many other artifacts during the house's 1937-55 period of abandonment, a pair of sidelights disappeared from the house.
In 2004, the 6-foot, colorful panels surfaced at Christie's auction house. The Landmark Society of the Niagara Frontier outbid all other contenders, to applause by onlookers witnessing the beginning of the homeward-bound journey the windows were about to make. "It is one of the great legacies of the Landmark Society," says society president Dennis Galucki. "We will be the protectors of the windows, but the Martin House is their final destination." The windows will be installed near the completion of the restoration.
Thus, with nine artifacts successfully back home, the Darwin Martin House is on its way to looking like it did in 1907. To get the desired finished product, the restoration corporation is rebuilding the pergola, conservatory and carriage house that were demolished in 1960. How do they know what they looked like? Photographs. "They are very valuable and help us understand what was planted in various places and what was in the rooms," said John Courtin, Martin House executive director.
Although reproductions will be made of artifacts that don't make it back home, the Restoration Corporation is hoping many are still on their way.
"I would ask any other citizen who has any inkling that they have any artifacts to take the same course of action," says Leous. "It's a great project for an area that's really rich in architectural history."