Thursday, October 4, 2012


Madison has always been an American architectural treasure. Spring Green, the birthplace of Frank Lloyd Wright, is just west of the city and there are many examples of his genius erupting from its rolling hills and lapping the shorelines of the lakes that form the identity of this fabulous city.
But the city is not only defined by his civic buildings and National Register residences, it also holds a humbler legacy from the impact his Prairie Style of architecture has had on the more modest neighborhoods filled with Craftsman style bungalows.
These modest homes dot the surrounding near east and west sides of town. There's a definite pride taken in these homes by their owners. It almost seems like a cult-like existence exists among the people who own these homes. It's as if they belong to some secret organization that requires a long certification process to enter the group as an owner of a Madison born craftsman home.
The homes all seem to be more meticulously kept and maintained than normal. Their exteriors always freshly painted and scrubbed and their lawns a little lusher than others even though they too experienced the draught the rest of us withered through this summer. Secretly, Rick and I covet a membership card in this selective society.
Most of these homes have a history in the American Craftsman movement that gave them birth in the early 20th century. The Craftsman movement developed as a reaction to the Victorian era where notable architecture was a birthright of the rich only. The Craftsman movement gave architectural dignity to the middleclass and changed the way America could dream about its future.
There was a scaling down of the Big Bug Hill mansions to a smaller scale where the domestic duties of maintaining a household could be handled by an average housewife without the benefit of a bevy of servants to help out.  Homes became smaller. Ceiling heights dropped. The form of the home became more horizontal than vertical.
Low-pitched roof lines with extending eaves where characteristic aspects of the exterior look of the structures.
A mix of materials also intermingled on their facades establishing intricate rhythms with decorative elements playing along the outer walls. There was a great pride in the individual craftsmanship of each home, like snowflakes no one seemed to be a duplicate of another.
This perception persisted even though many of the homes were a product of a kit you could order through Sears.
With fall here and the desire to nest strong our thoughts travel through these glorious Madison enclaves with desire scribbled all over them. I couldn't resist the opportunity to drool a little over a modest but earnest wish for that membership card into the tightly knit Madison Craftsman Home Owner Fraternity.

Once again we missed the deadline to officially participate in Gallery Night but we'll still keep our door open, the wine bottle uncorked and the apple cider simmering. Stop by if you're out and about, we'll keep a light on and the music softly playing (we're too old to let it blare).

Frank Lloyd Wright, ca 1954
Berenice Abbott, photographer
Represented by G. Gibson Gallery, Seattle

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