Doing the Wright Thing

By Karen Fashana

Published on | Last Updated

When Frank Lloyd Wright designed the Martin House, he filled the windows, doors, and skylights with hundreds of pieces of art glass. These spectacular “light screens,” as Wright called them, became a signature of Wright’s to such a degree that even a novice architecture admirer can easily spot a Wright-designed home.

Wright’s art glass windows are considered such masterpieces that many of them – removed from Wright-designed structures threatened with demolition or abandoned like the Martin House — have been exhibited in museums around the world. The return of the original windows or their replacement with a newly-built replica has been a significant part of the Martin House Restoration Corporation’s mission since its inception nearly 25 years ago.

Photo by Rhea Anna

During that time, no one has appreciated the significance and magnificence of the art glass windows more than the people who have the privilege of working beside them almost every day – the Martin House volunteer corps of docents and chaperones. All 400 of them.

“Since 1997, the Martin House volunteers have always been at the center of this project, a group seemingly guided by Wright’s principles of structure and stability,” said Executive Director Mary Roberts.

In 2008, a handful of volunteers, led by longtime supporters Maggie Cammarata and Rich Chamberlain, had an idea. “We wished there could be some concrete representation of our love of the house, and our selfless donation of time and labor,” said Cammarata. So, they put a jar on the counter encouraging fellow volunteers to donate their loose change, in hopes of raising enough money to pay for a replication of one of the art glass windows missing from the house’s conservatory. The pickle jar filled up fast, one quarter at a time. The volunteers brought the jar to every gathering, threw in a pep talk to encourage donations and waited. Three years and $11,000 later, their first window was installed.

“I can’t explain the joy we felt when we realized that we had reached our goal,” Cammarata said. “Honestly, it brought tears to my eyes, along with huge grin.”

That volunteer legacy lives on. Just last week a fourth window, funded entirely by the “volunteer fund,” was put into its rightful place inside the conservatory.

“Their involvement has been integral to the many successes achieved in this monumental restoration effort,” said Roberts.

Photo by the Martin House Complex

The volunteers’ quiet fundraising efforts are a true testament to their commitment to return the Martin House to its full glory. “It’s a constant reminder of the support and love of the Martin House that fills each volunteer’s soul,” Cammarta added. “The Martin House is not a place where we simply work, or give some time, it’s our home, and we are all part of this special family.”

Karen Fashana headshot

Karen Fashana

Lifelong Buffalonian with a crazy passion for this city. My job as the Senior Director of Marketing at Visit Buffalo Niagara is a match made in heaven. Go Bills!