The eastern half of the ground floor contained an open-plan space encompassing the living room at the center, flanked by the dining room to the north, the library to the south and a large veranda to the east. This space was enclosed by leaded-glass windows and French doors in a pattern now known as “Wisteria.” The windows of these spaces were revolutionary in their abstract design, composed of predominantly clear glass touched by sparks of iridized colored glass—these were especially unusual designs compared to the predominant use of opalescent picture windows and floral leaded-glass lampshades during the period.
Wright began using laylights in his buildings as early as 1898, when he created two complex designs for his office in Oak Park, Illinois. It was part of his effort to eliminate the boxiness of the typical American house, which he achieved through the use of expansive bands of leaded-glass windows instead of opaque walls. These and the laylights “brought the outside in,” as he said, by enabling the inhabitants to see through the walls to the gardens and plantings.
The present lot is one of five sections of the living room laylight, located in recessed coffers framed by the ceiling moldings, above the doors to the veranda. They were lit by natural light during the day, unlike other laylights in the house that were artificially illuminated. The end panels of this laylight are in the collection of the Hirshhorn Museum; the locations of the remaining two sections are unknown. The design is loosely based on elements of the floor plan, particularly the pier clusters around the front hall, “wrought,” as Wright said, “from the warp and woof of the structure.”1
The laylights of the Martin house, like all of Wright’s laylights, were made with mostly colored glass, to obscure the structure of the skylight or the artificial light fixtures above them. The present lot features instead translucent white and yellow opalescent glass, and moss green and amber cathedral glass, intended to imitate the quality of sunlight passing through bowers of leaves. The cathedral glass was also iridized, or fumed with metallic salts, to create a multi-hued reflective surface, similar to that of Tiffany’s Favrile glass. The kaleidoscopic pattern of the laylight has very little clear glass and is far more intensely colored than any windows in the house, even the famous "Tree of Life" windows, making the laylights perhaps the most beautiful of the Martin house glass.
—Julie L. Sloan
1 Frank Lloyd Wright, “In the Cause of Architecture,” March 1908, in Frederick Gutheim, ed., In the Cause of Architecture (New York: Architectural Record Books, 1975), 59.
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