Tree of Life

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Object Name: 
Stained Glass Window from the Darwin D. Martin House, Buffalo, New York
Title: 
Tree of Life
Accession Number: 
92.4.175
Dimensions: 
Overall H: 100.9 cm
Location: 
On Display
Date: 
1904
Credit Line: 
Clara S. Peck Endowment
Web Description: 
The Tree of Life window is the most well-known design for stained glass made by the celebrated American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. In this window, Wright has reduced the tree to its most elemental, geometric form—with a square for the roots, simple straight lines for the trunk, and chevrons for the branches. Leaves are indicated by pieces of gold, red, and green glass. Wright conceived of windows as filters to control the quality and play of light in a room. Each of the small pieces of glass in this window is set into the brass came at a slightly different angle to enhance light reflection, much like the shimmer of leaves waving in the breeze. An ancient symbol, the tree of life appears in the traditional textiles of many cultures. This window was designed for the residence of Darwin D. Martin, an executive with the Larkin Soap Company based in Buffalo, New York. Martin’s success as a businessman had made him a millionaire by 1902, which was the year he commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright to design a home for him and his family. The Darwin D. Martin House Complex, as it is now known, includes the George Barton House (built in 1903 by Martin for his sister and brother-in-law), the Darwin D. Martin House (built in 1904–1905), a conservatory, pergola, and carriage house (built in 1903–1905, demolished in 1962, and reconstructed in 2004–2007), and a gardener’s cottage (built in 1909). The complex includes gardens designed by the Wright’s studio superintendent, the landscape architect Walter Burley Griffin. The low, horizontal silhouette of the Martin complex is characteristic of Wright’s Prairie Style, which evokes the long, flat vistas of the American prairie. Completed in 1907, the complex was abandoned from 1938 until 1954. During this period, much of the furniture and decorations designed by Wright were removed. The remodeling of the Martin House and other buildings in the 1960s resulted in the further loss of original elements. There were originally 394 pieces of art glass in the Martin House complex, and all of the windows were made by the Linden Glass Company in Chicago. Although the fifteen different stained glass patterns for the Martin complex were not given specific names by Wright or Martin, the most famous pattern has been referred to as the "Tree of Life" for several decades. The Darwin D. Martin House Complex was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975, and in 1986, it was named a National Historic Landmark. In 2000, a major restoration project of the buildings and grounds was begun by the Martin House Restoration Corporation, a non-profit organization in Buffalo. Although the restoration of the Martin complex is not yet complete, many of the buildings are open to the public. For more information on the Darwin D. Martin House Complex, go to www.darwinmartinhouse.org.
Department: 
Provenance: 
Monaghan, Thomas S., Source
1992-10-29
Category: 
Primary Description: 
Colorless, several shades of transparent green, transparent amber, translucent white (some amber striations), opalescent, iridized gold, gold mirror? (Some descriptions say this is gold leaf sandwiched between colorless) non-lead glass (window, some antique), zinc and/or possibly brass cane, possibly gold leaf; cut, assembled, possibly some patination on cane. Vertical rectangular window with symmetric abstract geometric design depicting three stylized trees or plants reduced to a grid of straight lines (cane is raised V-shaped) and small panes of colored glass on a background of colorless; format subdivided into three, almost identical vertical rectangles, in turn subdivided into "foliage", "trunk" and "root" sections (these subdividing the entire space into three unequal horizontal rectangles); "foliage" occupies slightly more than the top third of window and is comprised of three vertical rectangles formed of pairs of diagonal lines meeting to form rows of "V" "branches", ends of diagonals have "leaves" of small triangles of green glass, then small vertical rows of small square blocks of green and amber alternating with colorless; main portion of window is colorless divided by cane into three vertical rectangular sections each in turn bisected by three narrow parallel "trunk" lines; "roots" are represented by row of three large lightly gold-iridized squares at base surrounded by grid and regularly spaced small squares; wider metal framing (came) around six larger rectangles at top and three large squares at base; non-original wooden frame painted dark gray.
Frank Lloyd Wright: Preserving an Architectural Heritage, Decorative Designs from the Domino's Pizza Collection
Venue(s)
Seattle Art Museum 1990-03 through 1990-06
Chicago Historical Society 1990-07 through 1990-09
Albright-Knox Gallery 1990-10 through 1991-01
Denver Art Museum 1991-01 through 1991-05
Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts 1991-05 through 1991-07
Dallas Museum of Art 1991-08 through 1992-01
Pennsylvania Museum of Art 1991-08 through 1992-01
American Craft Museum
Escort Guide to the Galleries (2013) illustrated, p. 38, top; BIB# 134015
Escort Guide to the Galleries [V4/2013] (2013) illustrated, p. 40, top; BIB# 134856
Recent Important Acquisitions, 35 (1993) illustrated, p. 126, #18; BIB# AI32226
The Corning Museum of Glass Annual Report 1992 (1993) illustrated, pp. 10-11;
Stained Glass: Jewels of Light (1988) illustrated, p. 75; BIB# 59584
The Stained Glass Panels of Frank Lloyd Wright (1968-11) pp. 34-35;