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A closer look at The Fargo House: A Center for Urban Imagination

A new type of urban revitalization is taking place inside the West Side home of Dennis Maher. The local artist and professor of architecture at the UB School of Architecture and Urban Planning has turned his home, now known as “The Fargo House,” into a creative space where strategically placed found objects blur the barriers between the home and the city that surrounds it.

Maher rescued the Fargo Avenue house from demolition in 2010. Since that time, he has been transforming it into a work of art, allowing his imagination to unfold across every surface of the home’s interior. Maher’s work at the Fargo House breathes new life into found objects by using them to build imaginary cityscapes that meld right into the walls, floors and ceilings of the house, thus transforming them from barriers to sources of growth.

“Many of the objects that I collect are house-like: bird cages, jewelry boxes, dollhouses, things that seem to suggest shelter or enclosure,” Maher said. “They get absorbed into the walls and start creating fictitious cityscapes, unknown structures that inspire the imagination. I love the idea of a secret box that promulgates other openings, that acts as a catalyst for creativity.”

Wandering through the house, one realizes that the interior becomes a reflection of the surrounding city and the potential for rebirth. Maher uses objects from thrift stores, estate sales, flea markets and demolition sites to create these cityscapes, simultaneously breathing new life into the objects themselves.

“I’m interested in thinking about the lives of objects, in the way that things move in a city,” Maher said. “It’s in the nature of objects to move around, and this house has become a collector and consolidator of the animate lives of matter.”

Maher has also incorporated visions of the past life of the house itself by uncovering and preserving various hidden elements. He saved the old façade of the exterior of the house before painting it, scraping back the layers to expose the colors it once wore (lead image). He did the same thing inside the house as well, documenting generations of interior renovations.

Building off the creative momentum of the Fargo House, Maher launched another project with the help of eight skilled tradespeople from the demolition and construction fields: a carpenter, plumber, electrician, roofer, mason, flooring installer, weatherizer and painter. Each of them was asked to utilize the materials common to their trade to create small sculptures.

These works were incorporated into Maher’s current exhibition at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, “Dennis Maher: House of Collective Repair.” The exhibit, which highlights the intersections of construction, demolition, art and architecture, is currently open and will be open until May 12, 2013.  In addition to Maher’s work and that of the tradesmen, the exhibit includes a Fargo House documentary created by a group of students from the Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts.

In conjunction with Maher’s work, a group of artists from the Starlight Studio and Art Gallery created their own collective piece, also currently on exhibit at the Albright-Knox. The “House of Collective Embroidery” was inspired by the artists’ two-mile trek from the Albright-Knox to Maher’s house. Along the way, they took photos of buildings that sparked their interest. These photographs were drawn onto fabric, and then embellished with embroidery to create a portrait of our city.

For more information on Maher’s exhibition, visit the Albright-Knox website. For more information on the Fargo House, visit



Written by Sarah Maurer

Sarah Maurer

I moved to Buffalo to attend Canisius College in 2007 and began writing for Buffalo Rising as a journalism intern in 2010. Working with Newell and meeting numerous entrepreneurs, activists and everyday folks who were working to make their city better made a huge impact on my decision to stay here. After witnessing all the positive development and grassroots initiatives happening in neighborhoods throughout the city, I was inspired to pursue a term of service in AmeriCorps and a career in Buffalo's non-profit sector. I currently work in the housing department at the Lt. Col. Matt Urban Human Services Center of WNY and am excited to be a part of their ongoing efforts to revitalize the Broadway Fillmore neighborhood. I also volunteer as the project coordinator for Artfarms Buffalo. I continue to write for Buffalo Rising because I love having the opportunity to stay connected to those working toward positive changes for the Queen City.

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