Published May 23, 2017
UB is one of seven major cultural organizations in Western New York that will honor the 150th anniversary of Frank Lloyd Wright’s birth by celebrating the renowned architect’s influence on the region’s Arts and Crafts movement.
“Frank Lloyd Wright and the Buffalo School of Arts and Crafts” is a community-wide festival presented by the New York State Arts and Craft Alliance. A key exhibition within that festival is “Wright’s Larkin: Arts and Crafts in Industry,” opening with a reception from 6-8 p.m. on June 7 in Hayes Hall on the university’s South Campus. The exhibition can be viewed from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays, through Oct. 29.
Other festival events also continue through Oct. 29, with many venues hosting a multifaceted program of activities, lectures and tours.
A detailed calendar for the festival is available online.
“Wright’s Larkin” will explore the emergence of the uniquely American alternative to the guild-based, handcraft-oriented Arts and Crafts movement that had previously developed in Great Britain, according to Jonathan Katz, an associate professor and director of UB’s doctoral program in visual studies.
“British Arts and Crafts was very much a nostalgic response to the realities of the Industrial Revolution,” says Katz, “whereas the American model – and its epicenter was squarely focused in the Buffalo region – was really about bringing technology and innovative design together through new forms of modernity.”
In the wake of the collaborations between Wright and Buffalo’s Arts and Crafts industries, Western New York became home to the largest collection of acknowledged master artisans and masterpieces from the period, from the Roycroft Campus in East Aurora to the Darwin Martin House in Buffalo, arguably Wright’s greatest residential design, according to Katz.
“But in addition to these great works, we have a rich history of figures like Charles Rohlfs, [a designer] who, though not nearly as celebrated a name as Wright’s, is every bit as significant a figure in the realm of furniture design,” says Katz. “It’s an incredible history and that’s what this program is intended to evoke.”
As Americans embraced what the British reacted against, they created a confluence of human thought and machine production that formed an artistic outpouring in the Buffalo region, melding creativity, commerce and manufacturing.
The American movement in general and, more specifically, its concentrated “Buffalo School,” as Katz describes it, recognized how these new industrial processes and large-scale capital investments could bring artistic design into modern business.
“Far from being a reaction formation, the Buffalo version of Arts and Crafts made technology every bit as important a partner as the artistic sensibility of the architects and designers themselves,” says Katz. “If one added up the major Arts and Crafts companies and designers, one would find that the Buffalo region was the home for more of these entities than any other city in the United States.”
The Larkin Administration Building was a case in point, bringing together an innovative company, Larkin, with an innovative architect to create one of the earliest modular designs in the world, born of the revolutionary Cardex filing system developed by Darwin Martin, a Larkin director, which brought order to the previously jumbled process of filing millions of differently shaped company order forms. With its standardized file cabinets, metal office furniture and carefully planned systems, the Larkin Administration building was a model of logic and efficiency coupled with an inspiring aesthetic.
The exhibition gathers together many never-before-seen Wright-designed objects from the Larkin Building, along with a comprehensive collection of Larkin products.
In addition to Wright’s relationship to the Arts and Crafts movements, Wright and the Buffalo School will show both Wright-designed and Wright-inspired homes in Buffalo with a series of exterior tours.
“Frank Lloyd Wright and the Buffalo School of Arts and Crafts” is the maiden voyage of the New York State Arts and Crafts Alliance, an organization made possible through a grant from the John R. Oishei Foundation and comprised of the Burchfield Penney Arts Center, UB’s Anderson Gallery, the Roycroft Campus, the Darwin Martin House, the Graycliff Estate, the Buffalo History Museum and Visit Buffalo-Niagara,” says Katz.
“Three years ago we began a conversation with the major culturals in town asking about a possible affiliation,” he says. “And the university has been the spark for making this happen.”
All the organizations are deeply invested in Buffalo’s future and by working together will leverage their marketing and outreach, according to Katz.