Monday, August 1, 2011

Gropius House

Lincoln, MA

It's hard for the three of us (my husband, daughter and myself) not to speak Walter Gropius's name in anything but a loud, drawn out and somewhat denigrating fashion. Not because we have anything but the highest respect for him but because we saw the wonderful 2010 production of the Glass House at the Resonance Ensemble off Broadway theatre in New York City.

The play is not about Gropius but about Mies Van der Rohe's design of the Farnsworth house and his relationship with its owner. Mies, the plays main character, refers to Gropius many times in this less than respectful manner. So while on our Gropius House tour I asked our guide about this and he hinted at some professional rivalry behind the elongated accentuated pronunciation. Yet for us its hard to shake the habit: G-R-O-P-I-U-S.

My interest in Gropius was also sparked by two recent MOMA exhibits, Bauhaus: Workshops for Modernity (Nov. 2009 - Jan. 2010) and Counter Space:Design and the Modern Kitchen (Sept 2010 - May 2011).

I like modern houses. Yet here in New England it's much easier to locate house museums from the 18th and 19th century. I did visit and post a blog entry on Philip Johnson's Glass House in New Canaan CT. Come to think of it there's another modern home in New England that I've seen in the last 3 years but never posted on, the Frelinghusen House and Studio in Lenox,MA. I need to correct that straight away.

The Gropius house was built in 1938 as his family home. A brochure describes it as : "Modest in scale, the house was revolutionary in impact. It combined familiar elements of New England houses-wood siding, stone foundations, and brick chimney-with industrial materials like glass block, acoustical plaster, and chrome banisters, and the latest technology in fixtures."

Our tour guide was wonderful, an easy going manner, full of interesting personal stories and knowledgeable about the architectural details of the home and Gropius's work. Several times he mentioned Mrs Storrow, the owner of the property prior to Gropius. Anyone who's lived in Boston knows this name well. The winding parkway that follows the Charles river for miles is named after a family patriarch.

A few comparisons with Frank Lloyd Wright came to mind as we wondered through the home and grounds. Most notably they both organized a community of architects, artists, and musicians around themselves. Artistic entertainment and parties at home were used as a way to interact with and inspire their students and associates.

The Gropius house has a wonderful closet filled with some of his wife's possessions including lots of pocket books,a circular hat box, and a metal hat she might have worn to one of the parties. The hat looked like a fascinator, would have fit right in at the recent royal wedding in England. Well maybe not in utilitarian gun metal but say a blue silk?

The night before our visit we were having dinner in Chinatown with old friends from the Boston area. I told them about our planned visit to the house the next day and asked if they were familiar with the architect. Of course! Kathy's childhood home on Moon Hill was part of a Lexington, MA street of homes designed by the Architects' Collaborative, a Gropius lead architectural firm. And in addition her Dad had purchased a Concord,MA home that was a close copy of the Gropius home. I was intrigued and short on time. So we choose to visit the nearby close copy only and I think you'll see from the photo just how close it is!

We had plans in Western Massachusetts for the evening so we couldn't linger as long as we'd have liked. We'll be back to visit the wonderful DeCordova museum which is just down the road and to ask our friend Kathy for a tour of Moon Hill.
(Note: The one really bad photo at the top of this entry is a copy of the one on the Historic New England brochure. Because of the way the landscaping has matured its tough to get a good photo of the house from the front without walking out into the field and you know how I'm ever fearful of ticks and Lyme Disease. All the rest were taken by me that day.)

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