Wednesday July 31, 2013 | by Gina DeCagna

Rare Frank Lloyd Wright glass window to be auctioned

One of the original glass skylight windows of Frank Lloyd Wright's Martin House is being auctioned on August 3rd after being stored away by a private owner for nearly half of a century. courtesy: schultz auctioneers.
One of the original glass skylight windows of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Martin House is being auctioned on August 3rd after being stored away by a private owner for half a century. courtesy: schultz auctioneers.
On Saturday, August 3rd, a glass skylight window designed by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright will be sold by Schultz Auctioneers in Clarence, New York. The window, which has a pre-auction estimate of $50,000 to $100,000, originates from the Darwin D. Martin House in Buffalo, one Wright’s best known examples of his the Prairie Style. Two Martin House windows have sold at Christie’s for $62,500 and $104,500 each in 2011.

The window is one of the 394 original glass pieces—windows, doors, pier cluster casements, skylights, laylights, and sidelights—that once adorned the Martin House residential complex. Categorized by linear and geometric abstractions, Wright referred to the windows as “light screens,” and used them to create greater flexibility between interior and exterior space.

Constructed between 1903 and 1905 for Darwin D. Martin, a local Buffalo businessman and executive in the Larkin Soap Company, The Martin House embodied Wright’s philosophy of integrating a building into its natural surroundings. Wright took a holistic approach to his design of the building, also designing the furnishings of the house, which made the windows an important element of a completely designed environment.

In a telephone interview with the GLASS Quarterly Hot Sheet, Susana Tejada, the Martin House curator, said the windows are an integral part of an overall vision, and will be different when taken out of their original intended context: “In understanding his work, you have understand the concept behind the entire design—the furnishings, the landscape, the architectural design. One is not exclusive of the other. You have to take into consideration that the art glass is part of this design, and it is one very important element. So, if you were to take a panel out of the context of its original environment, it’s a different experience.”

After Martin died in 1935 and his family abandoned the property from 1937 to 1945, the Martin House was reverted to the City of Buffalo for back taxes in 1946. By the time it was purchased by architect Sebastian J. Tauriello in 1954, about three-quarters of the house’s original glass pieces were gone along with other artworks and furnishings. Today, they are found in museums and private collections across the nation.

Tejada could not speak for why individuals have separated the windows for their private collections, but said, “I can only say that they are very beautiful.”

Arthur Stern, an architectural glass artist, Frank Lloyd Wright glass window specialist, and collector of Wright glass windows told the Hot Sheet in a telephone interview that these windows are very unique and rare. “Back in the day with Tiffany and LaFarge, they were making very dense windows that you couldn’t see through,” he explained. “Wright’s [windows] were more of a screen that you could see through to the outside. He would use the number of lines [in the window] to control the vista and privacy, for example.”

Stern creates his own architectural Prairie Style glass windows and has worked on window restoration projects at the Martin House, including replications of the most famous Martin House glass window, “The Tree of Life,” now housed at the Corning Museum of Glass. He speaks from experience about the windows’ great complexity: “They are made from a diamond crown cane. They have gold leaf sandwiched between two pieces of play-glass. There’s iridescent glass, white glass, and German hand-blown glass. The stuff is very hard to work with, because you need a special wheel to cut little notches in it, and you need miter in between the pieces at the ends.”

The auctioneers, Ben and Kelly Schultz, hope to keep the window in the Buffalo area, though they are receiving both local and national inquires about this particular auction item.

—Gina DeCagna

Glass: The UrbanGlass Quarterly, a glossy art magazine published four times a year by UrbanGlass has provided a critical context to the most important artwork being done in the medium of glass for more than 40 years.