Caring for the forsaken

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ndhayes
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Location: Elizabeth Murphy House, Shorewood, WI
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Caring for the forsaken

Post by ndhayes »

We bought Frank Lloyd Wright's forgotten Elizabeth Murphy House with a plan to restore and care for her, but quickly discovered a curious and unexpected form of stewardship. Like nuns in a 19th century orphanage, we find ourselves caring for the forsaken. Read about it here. https://elizabethmurphyhouse.com/2021/0 ... -forsaken/

DRN
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Re: Caring for the forsaken

Post by DRN »

Thanks for this link to your insightful and detailed blog! I enjoy keeping up with your efforts and those of other Wright Homeowners....the ASBH family of Prairie houses has long needed this spotlighting.

To be clear, though I noted in our conversation that mistakes in construction tell a story about the circumstances of bringing a building into being, it was not my intent to suggest that windows being recreated fresh to replace long gone units should necessarily repeat a historical error found elsewhere on the building.

Wright's wood glazing bead detail was a near constant throughout his career, despite occasional dalliances with glazing putty in the '20's and '30's. The room of the Sweeton house in which I'm typing this post has windows with the glazing beads incorrectly placed on the window sash interior rather than the exterior. This is a manifestation of the mill that made the windows mistakenly using superseded drawings which depicted the windows as they were prior to Wright's mirroring the plan when the house was shifted on its site to reduce cost. This mistake required any "handed" window (windows with sloped tops) to be installed reversed to fit the openings built at the site per the final drawings.

If I were to replace any of the affected windows, I would consider rebuilding them with the glazing stops where they should be, on the exterior. As it has turned out, the existing windows at the Sweeton house were in very good condition at the time of our restoration, only requiring painting to complete the project (I even left the 4 windows in the workshop with their original 1951 interior paint untouched which was faded but tight). Yes, we are currently living with unweatherstripped, single glazed 1/4" plate glass in our numerous windows. I'm not opposed to improving house's energy efficiency, but costs being what they were, we needed to triage efforts.

Dan Nichols

ndhayes
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Joined: Thu Feb 18, 2021 3:05 pm
Location: Elizabeth Murphy House, Shorewood, WI
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Re: Caring for the forsaken

Post by ndhayes »

Dan -

So glad to have your support and your clarification. Hope to meet soon.

Nick

Roderick Grant
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Re: Caring for the forsaken

Post by Roderick Grant »

However fervently FLW may have wanted ASHB to vanish after the disastrous experience, he may have softened his view later in life: In his last book, "A Testament," on page 122, there is a drawing of the duplexes (oddly a perspective of one version with the as-built plans). The book is basically a summing up, which one can reasonably assume included only those works that he approved of. Whatever he felt, your work to resurrect as much as you can is a worthy effort.

I have never favored as-built over as-planned when it comes to restoration. In some instances, such as Barnsdall, which went through more iterations than one can count, it is truly problematic. But generally speaking, restoration should be considered a return to the original plan, even when an alteration - like the location of the second-story windows above the entrance to DD Martin - was executed by FLW himself at the direction of the client. In the case of your house, refinishing the chimney would not be a bad thing. Just record what was done in the narrative, and be done with it.

A problem with FLW buildings is that people who visit them assume that everything they see is evidence of FLW's handiwork. Visitors to Ennis, where I gave tours when it was open to the public, were accustomed to seeing pictures of the interiors with the (box) beamed ceilings, an alteration to the plan by Mable Ennis which FLW abhorred. I wasn't always persuasive enough when I corrected their beliefs by telling them it should be board and batten. It was also difficult to convince tourists who recounted visits to other FLW sites that House on the Rock was not designed by FLW.

ndhayes
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Location: Elizabeth Murphy House, Shorewood, WI
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Re: Caring for the forsaken

Post by ndhayes »

Roderick Grant wrote:
Tue Jul 06, 2021 11:28 am
However fervently FLW may have wanted ASHB to vanish after the disastrous experience, he may have softened his view later in life: In his last book, "A Testament," on page 122, there is a drawing of the duplexes (oddly a perspective of one version with the as-built plans). The book is basically a summing up, which one can reasonably assume included only those works that he approved of.
The fact that he and Arthur Richards re-engaged as active and friendly pen-pals later in life may have helped "soften" things, as you say.

SDR
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Re: Caring for the forsaken

Post by SDR »

Some misinformation is so attractive---believable and/or entertaining---that it will resist all efforts at correction. At least we can be glad that there aren't miscreants on (anti-)social websites willfully spreading lies about Frank Lloyd Wright, as they do about matters of national importance, now . . .

Because an artist has a bad experience with a particular work doesn't necessarily mean that he will turn his back on the idea that produced that work. I can sympathize with Wright's disgust at what happened to the ASBH program; one is reminded of his waggish suggestion that while a doctor can bury his mistakes, the architect can only suggest to a client that he "plant vines." But he must have retained in his heart a conviction that there was potential there, and not a "bad seed" at the heart of the thing.

The well-meaning conservator's impulse to maintain clarity of the history of objects he is involved with, by (among other things) seeing to it that new work be clearly and obviously distinct from original fabric, could have originated in the sad fact of the ignorance that hampered historians in ages past: records lost or otherwise missing, no photography or sound recordings from the time of the object's creation, poor understanding of how best to safeguard historic material for future understanding. Today we have all of those bases covered. Is there any doubt that, with present-day practices and technology in use, there will be no excuse for mistaking old work from new ? Is there no longer any need to contort ourselves, to spoil aesthetic perfection when adding to or otherwise modifying an historic building, merely to assure that future historians (as well as present-day art-lovers) will be able to distinguish old from new ?

S

ndhayes
Posts: 38
Joined: Thu Feb 18, 2021 3:05 pm
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Re: Caring for the forsaken

Post by ndhayes »

SDR wrote:
Tue Jul 06, 2021 6:13 pm
Is there no longer any need to contort ourselves, to spoil aesthetic perfection when adding to or otherwise modifying an historic building, merely to assure that future historians (as well as present-day art-lovers) will be able to distinguish old from new ?
In this place, oddities and errors are the rule, not the exception, and almost all have original roots. So we have learned to love and care for them. Our contortions can't be toward perfection, but to the truth in imperfection. I take a certain relief from this. -N

SDR
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Re: Caring for the forsaken

Post by SDR »

Indeed. I itch to see that enclosed porch re-fenestrated to match the standard ASBH details adjacent to it---out of respect for our long-suffering genius architect, if nothing else---but I see that won't be happening on your watch (at least) and I fully understand. Let someone else (with the big bucks) build an A203 from scratch somewhere else, as a "demo" spec house or outdoor museum ?

S

ndhayes
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Re: Caring for the forsaken

Post by ndhayes »

SDR wrote:
Wed Jul 07, 2021 10:14 am
Let someone else (with the big bucks) build an A203 from scratch somewhere else, as a "demo" spec house or outdoor museum ?
I'd go out of my way to tour that site. -N

SDR
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Re: Caring for the forsaken

Post by SDR »

Yes. I await the faithful and properly-sited recreation of Wright buildings, whenever and wherever that might occur . . . just as I encourage the creation of copies of Wright furnishings---the chairs, specifically---to be placed in the buildings they were designed for, specifically so that visitors can have the experience of sitting on them without being upbraided by staff !

(Ironically, this is the only recourse for owners whose houses have been stripped of their original furniture . . .)

S

ndhayes
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Re: Caring for the forsaken

Post by ndhayes »

SDR wrote:
Wed Jul 07, 2021 5:07 pm
I encourage the creation of copies of Wright furnishings---the chairs, specifically---to be placed in the buildings they were designed for...
Or in the case of an ASBH, a bench.

SDR
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Re: Caring for the forsaken

Post by SDR »

A bench ? By all means. Was one designed for the ASBH program, along with other pieces (never apparently realized, until five years ago---see below) ?

Image

Image

An alternative, found unidentified in Taschen I:
Image


A replica was made by Stafford Norris III in 2015. Digital model by Jeff Myers:

Image

Image
Image
Photos Stafford Norris

ndhayes
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Re: Caring for the forsaken

Post by ndhayes »

My working theory on ASBH furniture is that only a table, a bench, and possibly a chair were designed and built specifically for constructed homes - and that other pieces shown in renderings were concepts, not finished designs. Or, some rendered pieces (possible the chair) originated pre-ASBH or in parallel with it and were drawn to show interior character in sales materials. The evidence for this is basic: none of the construction sets (drawings in the Avery collection with working plans to build a specific model) show in-situ furniture other than the table, benches, and sometimes a chair (and an icebox - built-ins are always specified), and the specifications are explicit about what will be supplied, saying "All cabinets, ward-robes, casing, base and carpet strips, apron, door lamps, etc., are in included in the contract. The contractor also provides the benches and tables indicated in the plans and all other items of interior finish as shown on the drawings, including medicine cabinet." (Absence of chair suggest that it wasn't ready in 1917.)

Indeed, our floorplan drawing shows the benches (and chair) clumsily erased perhaps because the builder hoped to "value-engineer" them out and that the buyer would not catch it. Yet, the Krause V. Murphy/Kibbie lawsuit says that "the plaintiff (builder) did not furnish or provide for shades, screens, a proper plate glass mirror for the medicine cabinet, benches for breakfast nook, a scoop shovel, our pipe covering in basement..." (Again - absence of chair. Is it a ghost?)

Image

Incidentally, on a visit to the nearby Herman Newman Home (Russell Barr Williamson - 1923), which has had only two owners, (which is up for sale, is well preserved, but needs some TLC) we saw offspring of the ASBH table shrunk and turned built-in.

Image
Image

Any resources or links to prove or discredit this theory are appreciated.

-N

SDR
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Re: Caring for the forsaken

Post by SDR »

So, were the benches and table at the breakfast nook to be built in, or were they loose pieces ?

Image

Image

Image

SDR
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Re: Caring for the forsaken

Post by SDR »

Just one sheet of furniture shows up at Artstor, searched under that title. Benches loose, table fastened to wall.

The low stretchers, structurally useful, might have served as foot rests, intentionally or otherwise, and would have taken a lot of abuse over time . . . Do we have any built vintage examples ? Have any owners today fabricated these pieces ?

The table shown in the isometric view above could have been free-standing, as it has a wider leg structure. But the furniture sheet is specific as to the table being anchored to the wall.


Image
Last edited by SDR on Fri Jul 09, 2021 9:36 am, edited 1 time in total.

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