Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art Gets it Wright and Adopts a Rare Historic Gem
We have just learned that the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, one of our featured ‘Places to Meet,’ has recently made a rather sizeable acquisition—so sizeable they can’t get it through the front door. It is a private residence, the Bachman Wilson House, designed by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Due to a history of adverse soil conditions and flood-related damage, the house will be relocated, quite simply to save its life.
Wright, world renown for embracing the surrounding landscape and integrating its organic qualities into his designs, has never designed a residence in the museum’s State of Arkansas. The Bachman Wilson House was built in 1954 for Abe Wilson of Somerset County, New Jersey. The house is presently owned by restoration architects Sharon and Lawrence Tarantino, of Tarantino Studio (www.tarantinostudio.com), based in Milestone River, NJ. The Tarantinos purchased the house in 1988 and proceeded to restore it in accordance with Wright’s original drawings. We can only imagine what a profound opportunity it is not only to own such a rare slice of 20th century domestic architecture, but also the enormous satisfaction—especially as architects— to be able to revive this architectural native of New Jersey.
We wholly commend, perhaps with some envy, the Tarantinos for devoting themselves to restoring this works of living art. The firm received a much deserved “Spirit Award” in 2008 from the Chicago-based Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy for its restoration efforts.
We cannot begin to imagine the tough decision it must have been to essentially put the house up for adoption. Since they moved in, the Tarantinos endured 4 substantial storms between 2007 and 2011, the last of which was the unprecedented Hurricane Irene. Continued damage to the house has taken its toll such that the only way to maintain the integrity of the structure and its original finishes is to physically relocate the building.
The Museum will take on the daunting task of relocating the house to its Bentonville, Arkansas campus. We cannot confirm this as of yet but believe the house will be dismantled, properly documented for reconstruction, and shipped to Bentonville — about 1,300 miles away. The Museum has entered into a partnership with the Fay Jones School of Architecture at the University of Arkansas to create an “architectural interpretation pavilion” for the Bachman Wilson House. We will follow this development as it progresses.
For those of us who have ever undertaken an historic restoration, and in particular, one that involves moving a fragile period building, it is a labor a love. Dedicated lovers of history seek to preserve our built heritage from the wrecking ball, or the greedy developer who wants to “pave paradise to put up a parking lot.” While we can all agree that the Bachman Wilson House would be best understood in its original surrounding context, it is still possible to explore, learn and appreciate architecture, as we do art, from the platform of a museum.
At the end of the day, the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, with its lush wooded setting and highly organic architecture, looks like the right place at the right time for the Wright house.
Photos: Tarantino Studio