PLAN 74: Article
The Art And Craft Of Greene & Greene

A Touring Show of MIT’s Earliest Starchitects

For three months this summer and fall, Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts has hosted a touring show on the art and craft of the brothers Charles and Henry Greene, two of MIT’s earliest students of architecture. The exhibit closes October 18.

Hailed by the AIA as ‘formulators of a new and native architecture’, Charles Sumner Greene (1868–1957) and Henry Mather Greene (1870–1954) established a new paradigm for the art of architecture in the United States. Recognized internationally as among the best work of the American Arts and Crafts Movement, the brothers’ careful consideration of every detail of the buildings and objects they designed – including geography, climate, landscape and lifestyle – resulted in legendary living environments that were both beautiful and functional.

A New and Native Beauty: The Art and Craft of Greene & Greene commemorates their legacy with some of their finest work in both architecture and decorative arts. Highlights include objects representing a range of media, including beautifully inlaid furniture crafted from exotic hardwoods, artfully executed stained glass and metalwork, as well as rare architectural drawings and photographs. The exhibit is accompanied by a handsomely illustrated book with eleven scholarly essays exploring different aspects of the work and life of the Greene brothers.

Born in Brighton OH, now part of Cincinnati, the boys studied woodworking, metalworking and toolmaking at the Manual Training School of Washington University in St. Louis and came east in the fall of 1888 to study architecture at MIT, then located at Boylston and Clarendon Streets in Boston’s Back Bay. While MIT’s curriculum at the time followed French classical models, the Greenes’ time in Boston exposed them to a wide variety of styles and artistic philosophies, including Japanese art and architecture and the fledgling American Arts and Crafts movement.

After receiving their certificates from MIT in 1891, the Greenes apprenticed in various Boston firms until 1893 then joined their parents in the ‘little country town’ of Pasadena. In 1894, they opened their own architectural firm — Greene and Greene – and began developing a body of work that would culminate between 1907 and 1909 with the construction of the ‘ultimate bungalows’. Of their fully coordinated houses and interior furnishings, only the Gamble House survives intact, owned since 1966 by the City of Pasadena and preserved as a landmark by the USC School of Architecture.

Virtually forgotten by the profession and the press during the 1920s and 1930s, the Greenes’ work was ‘rediscovered’ in the 1940s by a small group of architects and critics and Elizabeth Gordon, editor of House Beautiful, championed them in the pages of her influential magazine. International recognition grew after they received special awards from the AIA, first from the Southern California chapter in 1948, then at the national level in 1952. Since then, designers as seemingly disparate as architect Frank Gehry and woodworker Sam Maloof have looked to Greene and Greene for inspiration, or perhaps to absorb the native beauty of their work.

A New and Native Beauty: The Art and Craft of Greene & Greene was organized by the Gamble House, USC and The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, California, in cooperation with the Renwick Gallery, Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Support for the national tour was provided by the Ayrshire Foundation, the Henry Luce Foundation, the Steve and Kelly McLeod Family Foundation, the Windgate Charitable Foundation, Joseph D. Messler, Jr., the Ralph M. Parsons Foundation, and Margaret Winslow.

The exhibition was supported at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, by the Windgate Charitable Foundation, the MFA Associates/MFA Senior Associates Exhibition Endowment Fund and the Felicia Fund. Programming support was provided by Guardian Stewardship.

More information at gamblehouse.org/nnb/.