Dennis Maher, clinical assistant professor of architecture in
the University at Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning,
provides an inside look at his home, "The Fargo House."
BUFFALO, N.Y. — If it were possible to capture the soul of
a city inside a single home, it might look something like the house
that Dennis Maher has spent the past three years refurbishing on
Buffalo’s West Side.
In the dining room, a city is rising. A panoply of dollhouses
climbs up one wall, sheltering curios like model churches,
miniature barns, vintage train sets and shovel-wielding
construction worker figurines.
Upstairs, more imaginary landscapes are taking shape. Greek
columns, staircases and railings — all miniature —
crawl across bookshelves in a library. A few rooms down, pipes from
a wooden organ fall from the ceiling and rise from the floor,
recalling stalagmites and stalactites in the natural world.
Maher, a clinical assistant professor of architecture at the
University at Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning, scours
flea markets, thrift stores, estate sales and demolition sites for
discarded treasures. He then combines these items to create new
worlds inside his Fargo Avenue home.
In doing so, he has transformed this once-dilapidated structure
into a center for the urban imagination — a house that
mirrors the idea of a city and inspires other artists to embark on
“Many of the objects that I collect are house-like: bird
cages, jewelry boxes, dollhouses, things that seem to suggest
shelter or enclosure. They get absorbed into the walls and start
creating fictitious cityscapes, unknown structures that inspire the
imagination,” Maher says. “I love the idea of a secret
box that promulgates other openings, that acts as a catalyst for
In one project, Maher has invited eight tradespeople, ranging
from a plumber to a roofer, to tour his home and use the visit as
an inspiration to build a structure of their own imagination using
the day-to-day materials of their craft.
Maher is incorporating these models into “House
of Collective Repair,” an installation that opens Jan. 26
at Buffalo’s Albright-Knox Art Gallery, where Maher is the
Two opposing but complementary themes run through Maher’s
work on his home, which he has titled “The Fargo
Accumulation: This is the ongoing process by which Maher
gathers and adds objects to the house. This endeavor marries the
city with the interior of the home, and confuses the boundaries
between these normally distinct spaces. “I’m interested
in thinking about the lives of objects, in the way that things move
in a city,” Maher says. “It’s in the nature of
objects to move around, and this house has become a collector and
consolidator of the animate lives of matter.”
Excavation: Besides adding new objects, Maher has been
working to uncover and preserve previously hidden facets of the
home. Outside, before painting the house a deep blue, he carefully
masked out sections of the old façade to save. In each
blocked-out area, he scraped away old paint layers to reveal past
colors ranging from beige to sea green. He used a similar technique
on some interior walls and floors, exposing materials used in
several generations of renovations.
Like the city around it, The Fargo House is constantly changing.
And as the home evolves, Maher plans to continue engaging the
community in creative projects connected to the residence.
Besides the tradespeople’s sculptures, his upcoming
Albright-Knox exhibit will include the showing of a Fargo House
documentary that students from Buffalo Academy for Visual and
Performing Arts created, he said.
In addition, Starlight Studio and Art Gallery, which supports
adults with disabilities in their artistic development, recently
undertook a project inspired by The Fargo House.
Starlight artists travelled from the Albright-Knox Art Gallery
to Maher’s home, taking pictures of interesting buildings
along the 2-mile route.
Afterward, the photographed structures were drawn onto fabric
and passed along to other studio members who used techniques
including embroidery to embellish the work. The result of this
collective layering was a unique portrait of the city titled
“House of Collective Embroidery.”
The project is on display at the Albright-Knox and will also be
shown in March as the inaugural exhibition in a gallery space Maher
is establishing at The Fargo House.
About The Fargo House: http://thefargohouse.com/
About “House of Collective Repair at the Albright-Knox Art
Sculptures Crafted From Debris Tell a Story About the Rust
Belt’s Shrinking Cities: http://www.buffalo.edu/news/releases/2010/10/11829.html
More images are available upon request by contacting Charlotte
Hsu in the Office of University Communications at email@example.com or