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Our Visit to Mark Twain House

Sam and Livy Clemens were married in 1870 and moved to Hartford in 1871 to be near his publisher, the American Publishing Company. The family first rented a house on Forest Street in the Nook Farm section of the city from Livy's friends, John and Isabella Beecher Hooker, and later purchased land on Farmington Avenue, where their neighbors were some of Hartford's most prominent citizens. In 1873, they engaged New York City architect Edward Tuckerman Potter to design their house.

Mark Twain and his family enjoyed what the author would later call the happiest and most productive years of his life in their Hartford home. Twain wrote:

"To us, our house . . . had a heart, and a soul, and eyes to see us with; and approvals and solicitudes and deep sympathies; it was of us, and we were in its confidence and lived in its grace and in the peace of it benediction."

Long celebrated for its apparent whimsy and stylistic idiosyncrasy, the Twain House is more accurately noted as an inspired and sophisticated expression of modernity. In this design, the architect Edward Tuckerman Potter expanded on his earlier Nook Farm house for George and Lilly Warner (built 1870, destroyed c.1960). For Twain however, Potter employed a vibrant palette of painted brick reminiscent of William Butterfield's work in England of the 1860s and traditional chalet designs of the Alsatian region of France.

The Twain house is defined mostly by the variety and unpredictability of its elements. No two elevations are alike; generally symmetrical gables are, upon closer inspection, subtly different in their decorative treatments: various chimneys and towers rise spontaneously in contrast to the calming, broad sweep of the deep porches and porte cochere. The painted brick diaper pattern seems to strain as it contains the shifting surfaces of the walls and the vigorously projecting bays.

This commitment to experimentation is also revealed in the exotic and provocative interiors designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany and his partners in Associated Artists. Cultures and styles from around the globe are celebrated and reinterpreted in the dense network of pattern, texture, and color throughout the first floor of the house. Northern Africa, the Far East and India are woven together in a bravura performance of a knowing and elegant eclecticism that helped set a new standard for the Gilded Age.

New technologies were also employed that included a gravity flow heat system, split flues to allow for windows over two fireplaces, and seven bathrooms with flush toilets. In addition, Twain was both proud of, and flummoxed by, his telephone, one of the very first installed in a private home. When combined with his profoundly new way of writing as he advanced his increasingly progressive social and political views, the house is more clearly appreciated as a landmark of modern American thought in the fullest sense.

When the Clemens family moved into their unique home in the Nook Farm area of Hartford, Connecticut during September of 1874, the building was not fully finished. The walls and ceilings were plaster on wood lathe, and the plaster had to cure for a year or more before it could be decorated. Thus, the plaster walls and ceilings remained bare, neither painted nor papered. Additionally, the cost of the house apparently exceeded Sam and Livy's budget, and by the time the initial curing process had passed, the family was unable to afford wallpaper and other decorations.

Louis C. Tiffany & Co., Associated Artists would be the decorators of choice. On October 24, Tiffany and Sam signed a letter of agreement "to decorate certain rooms in your dwelling in Hartford, Conn." This provides the clearest statement of the original scope of Associated Artists plans for the house. 

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