Leo Saul Berk

In January of 1980, when I was six, we moved into the Ruth Ford House during a record breaking winter storm. For three weeks we had only what was in our suitcases while we awaited the arrival of our furniture and other possessions by boat. My parents bought a rug and four sleeping bags, and we camped inside of the house on the radiantly heated floor staring up at the giant skylight ringed by the domed ceiling each night. In one day, all of the givens on what defines a house were dissolved.

Even after our furniture arrived, we never really stopped camping in the house. It barely provided the basics: the roof leaked like a sieve, the heating couldn’t keep up with the Midwestern winters, and the lack of insulation and windows that opened, caused the house to bake us in summers. The house never provided much comfort to the body, but bathed the soul in a spiritual light. Eventually, the house wore on my parents’ marriage and resulted in our selling the house in December, 1986. In the history of the house, we were the second longest tenants.

Architect Bruce Goff’s Ruth Ford House is arguably one of his seminal residential projects. His radical use of materials, unconventional shaping of volume, organic yet rigorous structure, and dramatic use of natural light provided me with an early, subconscious education in design shaped my aesthetic sensibility and strengthened my spatial concepts.

By returning to the house after 25 years, studying its archives, and interviewing its historians, I have begun to create a body of artwork that is informed by childhood experience, historical research, and current reflection. This artwork hopes to illuminate the transformative potential of exceptional architecture.
—Leo Saul Berk

The Ruth Ford House
Ruth Ford was an American painter, art teacher, director and owner of the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. The Ruth Ford House, (aka the Round House, the Coal House, the Umbrella House, or the Mushroom House), was designed for her and her husband, Albert (Sam) Ford, in Aurora, IL, from 1947 to 1950 by American architect Bruce Goff (1904–1982). Goff was distinguished by his organic, eclectic, and often flamboyant designs for houses and other buildings in Oklahoma and elsewhere. The Ruth Ford House was built by Don Tosi, a 25-year old general contractor.


Mw [Moment Magnitude] is organized by the Frye Art Museum and curated by Jo-Anne Birnie Danzker, Joshua Kohl, Ryan Mitchell, Doug Nufer, and Yoko Ott. The exhibition is funded by the Frye Foundation with the generous support of Frye Art Museum members and donors. Sponsored by Frank Stagen, Nitze-Stagen, and Riddell Williams, it is supported by the Washington State Arts Commission, with funding—in part—by The Wallace Foundation, and by 4Culture and the Seattle Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs. Seasonal support of the Frye Art Museum is provided by Canonicus Fund and ArtsFund.

Media sponsorship of Mw [Moment Magnitude] is by KUOW 94.9FM and The Stranger. Opening event sponsorship is by The Boeing Company.