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Frank Lloyd Wright's Buffalo - Roots and Branches: Sharing Family History Lesson Plan
ELA, Social Studies, Art, Career Development & Occupational Studies
3, 4, 5
Every apartment or house and every place you’ve lived has shaped who you are. A father’s hugs, a mother’s kind words, and your grandmother’s cupcakes help define you. Just like you, Darwin Martin and Frank Lloyd Wright’s family life as children affected who they became.
Darwin D. Martin
Darwin was the youngest of four children. In 1871 when Darwin was 6, his mother died. After her death, his father moved the family to Nebraska. Darwin missed New York. As a child, he came back to New York City. His brother Frank was hired to “soap sing” on the streets on NYC selling Larkin Oatmeal Soap. Soon after, when Darwin was fourteen, he joined his brother selling soap for the Larkin Company. At fifteen he came to Buffalo as a clerk in the company plant and within a year was a bookkeeper. Darwin’s dad followed him and moved to Buffalo. Before he was twenty, Darwin Martin had proven himself in the Larkin Company. His success made him very wealthy but his need to keep his family together came from those earlier times. Because of those traumas he wanted his brothers and sister nearby so he bought enough land for all them to live side by side. Family was everything to him. Darwin fell in love and married his next door neighbor Isabelle and was a loving father to his two children Dorothy and Darwin.
Frank Lloyd Wright
A great writer and speaker, Frank’s father William was a minister. He taught Frank how to play the piano. Frank’s mother Anna doted on her son. Deciding early in Frank’s life that he was going to be an architect, Anna provided colored papers and wooden building blocks (Froebel blocks). However, his parents fought and when Wright was about fifteen his father left and his mother moved back to her family in Wisconsin. Frank became estranged from his dad, not even attending his funeral. His mother remained a dominant force in his life. Throughout Wright’s architectural career he wanted to create the perfect home. He wrote that a well designed home would allow a family to spend happier times together. He also said that, “A great architect is not made by way of a brain nearly so much as he is made by way of a cultivated, enriched heart.” He wanted his clients to have what he didn’t have as a child—a happy home.
Create a family oral history. Ask your students to choose a family member to interview about their childhood. Ask them to include memories of their parents.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s son Frank and his grandson Eric all became architects. Wright’s second son John Lloyd Wright became an inventor. His most famous invention was Lincoln Logs. His sons David and Frances were businessmen and his daughter Catherine married a salesman. Ask your students to create a family tree that focuses on jobs and professions. What did their great grandparents and grandparents do for a living? Did their parents follow in their footsteps? Create an accordion book with pictures and words that walks through the family’s professions and ends with their dream of who they will become.
Today’s Darwin Martin Estate was built because Darwin wanted to have all of his family’s homes side by side. Decades after his death, we are still fascinated with Martin’s homes. Imagine that twenty years from now students are studying your life and home. Imagine a happy life and a happy home and write a story or create an artwork that explains who you became and why students will study you, your accomplishments, and your home.
Sometimes writing personal family timelines can bring up family tragedies—divorces, premature deaths, or severe illnesses. Instead of focusing on family history, look to family futures.
Who will you become in the next year—how will you change and grow? Create handmade postcards that you will mail to them in a year’s time to remind them of their dreams.
What will your grandchildren want to know about you? Create artworks or write an essay that answers the question.
Frank Lloyd Wright's Buffalo - The Shape of Things Lesson Plan
Frank Lloyd Wright’s mother hung pictures of famous European cathedrals in his room and bought him Froebel Blocks to play with. The blocks were developed by Friedrich Froebel in the 1830s for children to learn the elements of geometric form, mathematics and creative design. Froebel Blocks consisted of a set of colored strips of paper, two dimensional geometric grids and a set of wooden bricks comprising cubes, spheres and pyramids. In his work, Frank Lloyd Wright used examples of geometric shapes and forms other than the rectangle.
Have students identify these eight figures.
Precut construction paper rectangles, squares, circles, trapezoids, etc. Pretend you are a spider sitting on the ceiling. Create a map of your classroom using the precut shapes. Add details.
In groups of two, three or four and using 6-8 m of yarn, work together to make a square, rectangle, triangle, hexagon, pentagon, etc.
Go on a shape walk. Record the shapes you observe and where you find them.
Variation: Divide the class into groups. Give each group one shape and have them record things that have the shapes they are carrying.
Frank Lloyd Wright's Buffalo - Extra! Extra! Martin Complex Newspaper Article Lesson Plan
ELA, Math/Technology, Sociology, History, Economics, Family and Consumer Sciences
6, 7, 8
Through the years, Darwin Martin invested most of his great wealth in the stock market and real estate and he lost his fortune in the disastrous stock market crash and subsequent economic depression of the early 1930s. The Martins could no longer afford to live in their house.
The Barton House and the gardener’s cottage were sold to new owners. Darwin became ill and died in 1935. Two years later, his wife Isabelle left the house and went to live two miles away in a lavish apartment building, which had been built by her son in 1929.
The house so loved by both owner and architect was left empty and abandoned, unheated and unsecured, for the next seventeen years. The deterioration of the house and property was sad to see.
In 1954, an architect named Sebastian Tauriello bought the property and moved his family into the main house but the carriage house, conservatory and pergola were too badly damaged to be saved. They were demolished and in 1960 the land was sold to a developer. Three large two-story apartment buildings were constructed between the main house and the Barton House.
In 1966, the University at Buffalo bought the Darwin Martin house as a residence for their president. Later years saw it used for offices and to house the growing archive collection of the University. With the construction of the new Amherst campus of the University at Buffalo and the relocation of the archives and offices to that facility, the future of the Darwin Martin house was once again uncertain.
In the 1990s a campaign began to save the landmark home and property with a partnership among the State University of New York at Buffalo, the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, and the Martin House Restoration Corporation. In 2001, ownership of the home was transferred to the Martin House Restoration Corporation, a community-based group of very concerned and energetic neighbors and friends of the complex.
Today, with major funding from many collaborative partners, the beloved home of Darwin Martin and design of Frank Lloyd Wright is being carefully and enthusiastically restored. The legacy of Frank Lloyd Wright in Buffalo is preserved and the Martin House is once again the talk of the town.
Have your students write an article:
Project yourself 20 years into the future. Write a newspaper article about the state of the Martin complex as you imagine it might be then. Think about the condition of the property, the funding, who lives there or who visits, why it is or isn’t still a landmark in the city of Buffalo.
Frank Lloyd Wright's Buffalo - Design it All Lesson Plan
ELA, Math/Tech., Social Studies, Art, Family and Consumer Sciences
Frank Lloyd Wright designed the entire house for Darwin and Isabelle Martin. He chose the colors for the walls and the carpets. He designed the style of furniture and even where it should be placed in each room. He decided which plants should be grown in their garden.
Ask students the following question:
Would you like the idea of having another person choose so many things about your house? (Remember, he was an excellent architect and very creative.)
Have students choose both or either side of the question and write arguments for each:
“Yes, he should have been given permission for making so many decisions because . . .”
“No, he shouldn’t have been given that much authority over the Martins’ house because . . .”
Have students debate the question in teams.
Frank Lloyd Wright's Buffalo - Mapping the Connections Lesson Plan
Math/Technology, Social Studies, Career Development & Occupational Studies
map of the City of Buffalo - answer key (pdf)
Each of the Frank Lloyd Wright structures built in Buffalo between 1903 and 1926 had a connection to the Larkin Soap Company.
Darwin Martin was the chief financial officer for the Larkin Soap Company. Wright designed the Martin complex for Darwin D. Martin and his family beginning in 1903. In 1926, Graycliff, the Martin’s summer home, was built on the shores of lake Erie.
The Heath house, on the corner of Bird Avenue and Lincoln Parkway, was designed for W. R. Heath, a lawyer for the Larkin Company in 1905.
In 1908, a third home, the Davidson house on Tillinghast Place in the Parkside district of Buffalo, was designed for Walter V. Davidson and his family. Mr. Davidson was an accountant for the Larkin Company.
The headquarters of the Larkin Soap Company, called the Larkin Administration Building, was Wright’s first commercial building. It was built in 1906. The demolition of the building in 1950 is regarded as a great architectural loss to the world.
Frank Lloyd Wright visited Buffalo many times during the construction of these buildings. Even many years after Frank Lloyd Wright’s death in 1959, plans are under way to build even more Wright-designed structures in the city.
In 2003, a structure designed by Wright for the Martin family was finally built. It is called the Blue Sky Mausoleum and it is in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo. Darwin Martin and his wife, Isabelle, are buried nearby, in another part of the cemetery.
Wright designed a gas station that was supposed to be built in Buffalo but never was. He also designed a boathouse for the University of Wisconsin Boat Club. There are plans to build both the boathouse and the gas station in Buffalo in the near future.
The influence of the great American architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, is ever-present in the rich architectural heritage of the city of Buffalo.
Mark each Frank Lloyd Wright structure on the map included with your guide. The map should be posted at the front of the classroom.
Mr. and Mrs. Martin are hosting a social event. Draw the paths that the Heath family and the Davidson family would each take to reach the Martin House.
Frank Lloyd Wright used new materials and technology in his design for the Darwin D. Martin complex. For example, he heard about a new kind of material that would be “germ-proof” and he used it to make the kitchen counters. It was called “Novus” glass. Mr. Wright also used more steel and concrete than any other architects of his time. What new materials or technology might Frank Lloyd Wright use in his designs today? What new material or technology could you imagine that would excite an architect like Frank Lloyd Wright.
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