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Gardener's Cottage for Charles R. Crane
Purcell, Feick and Elmslie
Crane Estate, Woods Hole, Massachusetts   1910

Text by William Gray Purcell
Parabiographies entry, Volume for 1911

Job Date (in Parabiographies entry): 1911


The location of this building was dictated by the general plan of the grounds, on a very bleak area just above the beach and facing the open sea. We had the more or less typical old-fashioned architecture of the main house to think about. We were also told that it was practically impossible ever to get plantings to grow in such an exposed location. We used shingle walls and a steep roof with broad eaves at the gutters coming down very close to the ground, so as to give some degree of warmth and friendliness to the building, with but slight eave projections on the gables as a concession to the eave-less Cape Cod tradition.

Here again we were warned of the extreme weather conditions and of the spindrift of salt water that would be driven against its walls and windows on stormy days. All detailing and construction was therefore done with extreme care and neatness, and the building has withstood wind and water very well indeed.

Colonial not all "Tradition"

There is in New England a lot of domestic architecture of the late '70s and the '80s in which wood-framed and wood-surfaced buildings had a reasonably organic character and a certain degree of imagination.  Whether this American Architecture, quite free of any Colonial influence, was generated from the work of Richardson, or was in parallel with it from the same larger forces beneath, would be difficult to say. It is possible that the clear exposition of form and function by Violet le Duc may have had more influence on the designers of 1860 and 1870 than we now realize, for his clear logic and very practical applications were well attuned to the serious scientific atmosphere which was characteristic of that era. But the classic and Renaissance medley of the World's Fair at Chicago, in 1893, cut off this wholesome movement at the roots and turned domestic Architecture into Early American archaism. Our gardener's cottage contains no reference to either Early American or these post-Civil War patterns, but its design demonstrates that living forms in building can find themselves in any building material and that the architect is under no compulsion to throw confusing and conflicting rhythms into the eyes of the public with distracting steel, glinting glass, edgy aluminum, in order to achieve functionally integrated architecture. The old Chinese proverb says, "Half of the architecture is the where, and how, and what, of a building with respect to its stance on the living earth."

And so this little dwelling of ours has, as it appears, no claim to be original. It did not wish to be. It rises in its place to fill living needs and does so with fair success in its kindliness of expression.  Those who thought to be up to date with Sullivan and his followers, or to design like Frank Lloyd Wright, were as far as expressing true art as the traditionalists--and, to be sure, the traditionalists were not traditional. Their "tradition" was simply an intellectual convention, an academic philosophy which was preoccupied with cataloging observable tradition. The spirit of true tradition is mobile and not quiescent; the flow of living ideas, not the sequence of historical record.

Art in the Balkans

An excellent illustration of the difference between Death due to tradition when it is concerned with the appearance or form of things, and Life when the tradition is of the continuity of idea and ability bound together in a sequence of creative work, is is the Slavic Easter Egg.

Judging from the pattern on these marvelous eggs, which are in many instances allied to pre-Greek Dorian decorative elements, this ancient art of decorating Easter eggs, and the tradition concerned with it, represents four or five thousand years of continuity, and the reason why this art has maintained itself in full life and vigor is that all the evidences of it--were each year wholly destroyed and, like the Life coming forth again in the spring which the Easter egg symbolizes, the whole body of the art had to be reproduced each year.

Let me give just the briefest account of this folk symbol and its use.

Beuatifully decorated by the wax intaglio process in half a dozen or more colors, and with patterns each one of which carries a message of Spring and Life, these eggs are a peasant household art. Every mother makes them. There are no two alike. They represent individual creative art. Easter morning the girls take the eggs into the marketplace and one is given to the boy liked the best. He looks at the patterns and reads the love message which he finds on them. A poet well versed in Slavic lore can read from one egg for many minutes all the meanings thereon. Then the boy cracks the egg on his sweetheart's forehead. The lovely mosaic shell is torn off and they eat the egg together. Thus all the eggs are destroyed. None is kept, because the eggs are food, and food must never be wasted or allowed to spoil. Our Slavic friend, John Jager, says that from earliest childhood it was ingrained in him that never a crumb may be wasted, and so what bread fell upon the tablecloth from cutting the loaf must be swept carefully into the palm of the hand and either taken out for the birds, or if there were no birds to be fed, then to be thrown into the fire and destroyed, but never allowed to fall upon the floor or be dishonored.

   Collection: William Gray Purcell Papers, Northwest Architectural Archives, University of Minnesota [AR:B4d1.5]
research courtesy mark hammons