In Focus

The Blacker House Doors

This magnificent set of teakwood and leaded stained-glass doors was designed by brothers Charles Sumner Greene (1868-1957) and Henry Mather Greene (1870-1954), praised as the most important West Coast architects of the American Arts and Crafts movement. The Blacker House, designed in 1907, was the grandest of the famed California Bungalows that date from this most import ant period of the Greenes' activity, and it remains cherished as their masterpiece.

The Blacker House was built in the prestigious Oak Knoll area of Pasadena, California, for Robert R. Blacker, a wealthy Michigan lumber baron, and showcased an aesthetic based on a rich but understated elegance. The art and architecture of the American Arts and Crafts movement was hailed as a socially progressive, democratic style, independent from Europe's aristocratic heritage and thus uniquely American. It reflected the desire of the time for simple living, which was seen as a virtue. A well-designed hand crafted house was deemed a reflection of the moral integrity of the house's owner. These ideals of "good" living found a perfect expression in the designs of the Greene brothers. They are credited with being the first to create an architecture that attempted to blur the separation between interior and exterior, bringing the healthy out doors inside, rather than creating a refuge from the outside. Despite the size of the Blacker House - it covers some twelve thousand square feet - it was conceived by the architects as essentially a pavilion in a garden, located on a five-acre lot with a quarter-acre pond, a gardener' s cottage, a greenhouse, and an enormous timber pergola stretching out from the house toward a magnificent view of the San Gabriel Mountains looming over Pasadena. The architectural celebration of nature appeared in the magnificently crafted open timbers of the house, its abundant sleeping porches, and the metaphors of nature after which the house's superbly crafted details were modeled, all encompassed by a broad, open floor plan.

Of all the features that made the Blacker House such an exceptional expression of the Arts and Crafts aesthetic, the art glass doors and windows must be considered among the most vital. Former owners of the house decided to disburse many of the glass lighting fixtures and several windows and doors. While most of these pieces ended up in private hands, many of the finest examples are now preserved in major museum collections, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Toledo Museum of Art in Ohio, in addition to the Dallas Museum of Art.

Of all the leaded stained-glass windows, doors, and lighting fixtures created for the house, these front entry doors are especially brilliant in their design and execution. Consisting of three large leaded stained-glass panels in teakwood frames held together by ebony pegs and exquisite hand-cut joinery, the glass components present a motif of vines meandering up trellises, a main thematic feature used in the decorative program elsewhere in the house. In their size, complexity of design, and richness of material and color, the Blacker House doors remain nearly unmatched by any similar creation from the Greene and Greene studio. They opened into a spacious entry vestibule paneled with the same type of teak from which the doors were made. The Greene brothers structured this entryway with an immense stairway and a ceiling held up by massive carved and joined beams and large solid-wood brackets, creating one of the most striking expressions of domestic welcome ever built in the United States. The doors were designed so that the two stained-glass side doors could be opened independently of the main section, allowing breezes to cross the entire entry space to a wall of doors on the opposite side of the room that look out over the gardens to the mountains beyond. Perhaps more than any other individual element in the house, the front doors embodied an architecture that took exquisite advantage of the beneficent climate of Southern California in fostering physical health and aesthetic well-being.

Excerpt from

Carl Wuellner, "The Blacker House Doors," in Dallas Museum of Art, 100 Years , ed. Dorothy M. Kosinski (Dallas, TX: Dallas Museum of Art, 2003), pamphlet 75.