In my previous post, I focused on the grounds surrounding Manitoga, Russel Wright’s garden. In this post, I’m taking you inside his house.
Russel Wright (1904-1976) believed so strongly that Americans should find their own cultural identity through architecture that he built an experimental house. He chose a cliff overlooking a granite quarry (later turned into a man-made lake). He saw no reason why Americans should copy European architecture; instead, he challenged us to find our own style. In 1942, Wright purchased 75 acres situated between the Hudson River and the Appalachian Trail in the town of Garrison, and he began building Manitoga, The name pays homage to the native Algonquin people and the word translates loosely as “a place of great spirit.” His American home is hidden among the ferns and moss-covered rocks. One sort of stumbles upon it. Continue reading
Scientists say the sense of smell has the strongest power to bring back memories. That was true for me from the minute I stepped off the plane in Albany, New York. The air in the airport carried the scent of a familiar place. I can’t describe the aroma except to say I detected the trace of grassy hills nearby. That’s the kind of magic landscape can work on a person. Industrial designer Russel Wright surely felt that pull when he built Manitoga on 75 acres in nearby Garrison, NY.
Settlers had originally deemed the steep hillside unsuitable for farming so they harvested the trees for firewood and mined the abundant granite on the property. Thus, industrial hooks and cables were left as artifacts from the mining days. Wright took advantage of the leftovers by positioning granite boulders as sculptures in the garden and leaving the hooks where they had been abandoned.
Docents, like my friend Debbie Klein, try to correct the common misconception that Wright built his house without altering the landscape. That isn’t the case. He designed the site to flow into garden rooms. He followed the contours of the land as a palette and he enhanced what he liked. He added a lake, and he noted what type of native plants clung to the hillsides. He watched as dogs, deer, and rabbits tunneled through the grass making trails. He followed the wisdom of the animals when deciding where to locate the paths leading to his garden rooms.
Professionally, Deb is a curator of visual resources for Bard College; in her free time, she’s been a docent and/or volunteered for several historic houses around Hudson including Manitoga. She loves Russel Wright’s Manitoga and is helping to preserve this early example of a Modernist’s love affair with the land. Recently, Manitoga has been rediscovered as an under appreciated gem, as is evident in this Dwell article published August 2015.
This picture of a screened back porch says, “Lazy summer afternoon.” Lucky me! It’s the view from my office chair.
Admit it. When you look at the picture to the left, don’t you see yourself with a tall glass of sweet tea? Maybe you prefer to sip a mint julep as you slowly swing on the wicker bench? After 30 years of being frozen out of trendy architecture, Modernism is coming back. The Southern charm ingrained in the picture on the left is built into my mid-Century ranch style house via the sliding glass door. I snapped this picture while sitting in my desk chair. In a way, I have Paul Rudolph to thank for this relaxing vista. Paul Rudolph and the Sarasota School Modernists added sliding glass doors to Florida houses in the early 1950s. See-through doors connected the people inside the house to their surrounding environment. This inside/outside look is the central theme in Modernism and it is the key to making a Florida home feel like a Florida home. A half century later, I’m living it and loving my house built in 1969. The latest episode on the podcast North Carolina Modernist Radio discussed the group who brought you the sliding glass door — the Sarasota Modern School. You can learn more about (SMF) and how they took advantage of and protected residential housing in harsh Tropical weather on NC Modernist Radio, episode #9. So, is it any surprise that Modernism’s new found popularity coincides with the desire to incorporate environmentally sustainable design and construction?