Wright at SCJ

Photos (c) Mark Hertzberg for SC Johnson

SC Johnson announces “Building Relationships: Wright, Johnson, and the SC Johnson Campus,” the fifth iteration of its Frank Lloyd Wright at Home exhibit in Fortaleza Hall on the company campus in Racine, Wis. The exhibit opens Friday May 6. The exhibit traces the design of the Administration Building (1936) and the Research Tower (1944) as well as touching on Wright’s influence on Norman Foster’s design of Fortaleza Hall on the company campus, and Santiago Calatrava’s Quadracci Pavilion at the Milwaukee Art Museum.

LR FLW & SCJ 006.jpgChris Eyerly’s cutaway LEGO model of the Research Tower is one of the first exhibits. LR FLW & SCJ 014.jpg

A mural of the Great Workroom is the backdrop to selected pieces of office furniture that Wright designed for the Administration Building. The American Metal Furniture Co., later Steelcase, was commissioned to build the furniture. Steelcase bought and restored Wright’s Meyer May House in the 1980s as a “thank you” to Wright for giving them the commission during the Great Depression. The highlight of that portion of the exhibit is a suspended or “exploded” desk chair, enabling viewers to see each element of Wright’s design.

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The Norman Foster building and Calatrava’s museum addition are in the last salon of the exhibit, near a video which tells three stories in succession: historic footage of the famous column test at the Administration Building in June, 1937 and time lapse videos of Fortaleza Hall’s and the museum’s construction. Foster’s challenge was to build an inspiring building in the shadows of Wright’s two landmark buildings on the SCJ campus. Calatrava visited the campus as he was designing the museum addition. Wright’s organic architecture is said to have inspired the way he linked downtown Milwaukee to the lakefront museum addition to the original Eero Saarinen building (and its first addition).

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Reservations for free tours of the exhibit, Wright buildings, and Wingspread can be made at: www.scjohnson.com/visit

Clarifying Wisconsin Wright Trail

Clarifying the developments…The Department of Tourism was allocated $500,000 in the biennial budget. This bill allocated $50,000 to the Department of Transportation for the signage. Tourism is required to spend $450,000 on non-signage Wright marketing and must report to the legislative standing committee on tourism how they spend the money at the end of the biennium.

Frank Lloyd Wright Trail signed into law.

Photos (c) Mark Hertzberg 2016

Walker Wright Heritage Trail

Commemorative pens that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker will use to sign the bipartisan bill to fund a Frank Lloyd Wright Trail between Racine and Richland Center, are on Wright’s table in his drafting room at Taliesin, his home in Spring Green, Monday March 21, 2016. / (c) Mark Hertzberg

The law provides $50,000 funding for highway signs and other marketing to promote Wright’s work in Wisconsin, from the Illinois/Wisconsin state line on I-94 through Racine, Madison, and Spring Green, and ending at the A.D. German Warehouse in Richland Center. Milwaukee is not included in the signage because Wright sites they are not open enough hours and it was thought it best not to divert travelers to sites they might find closed. Three sites in Racine will be included: the SC Johnson Administration Building, the SC Johnson Research Tower, and Wingspread.

Walker Wright Heritage Trail

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker walks out on the cantilevered balcony outside the living room at Taliesin before he signs the bipartisan bill to fund the Frank Lloyd Wright Trail, Monday March 21, 2016. / (c) Mark Hertzberg

Walker Wright Heritage Trail

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, center, chats with the bill’s sponsors on the cantilevered balcony outside the living room at Taliesin before he signs the bipartisan bill to fund the Frank Lloyd Wright Trail, Monday March 21, 2016. / (c) Mark Hertzberg

Walker Wright Heritage Trail

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, right, chats with state representatives Cory Mason (D-Racine) and Todd Novak (R-Dodgeville) and State Sen. Howard Marklein (R- Spring Green), the sponsors of Assembly Bill 512, the bipartisan bill to fund a Frank Lloyd Wright Trail between Racine and Richland Center, in the living room at Taliesin, Wright’s home in Spring Green, Monday March 21, 2016. / (c) Mark Hertzberg

Walker Wright Heritage Trail

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signs the bill to fund the Frank Lloyd Wright Trail between Racine and Richland Center, in Wright’s drafting room at Taliesin, his home in Spring Green, Monday March 21, 2016. / (c) Mark Hertzberg

Walker Wright Heritage Trail

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is applauded after he signs the bipartisan bill to fund a Frank Lloyd Wright Trail between Racine and Richland Center, in Wright’s drafting room at Taliesin, his home in Spring Green, Monday March 21, 2016. Looking on are Rep. Cory Mason (D-Racine), left, Sen. Howard Marklein (R- Spring Green), Rep. Todd Novak (R-Dodgeville), who introduced the bill, and State Sen. Van Wanggaard (R-Racine), a co-sponsor / (c) Mark Hertzberg

Walker Wright Heritage Trail

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed the bipartisan bill to fund a Frank Lloyd Wright Trail between Racine and Richland Center, in Wright’s drafting room at Taliesin, his home in Spring Green, Monday March 21, 2016. / (c) Mark Hertzberg

John Thorpe’s Memorial

(c) Mark Hertzberg

An estimated 200 people gathered to honor John in Oak Park Saturday at George Washington Maher’s Pleasant Home. A selection of photos follows:

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John Thorpe Memorial

Memorial gathering for John G. Thorpe at Pleasant Home, Oak Park, Illinois, Saturday January 30, 2016. / (c) Mark Hertzberg

John Thorpe Memorial

John’s twin brother,Tom at the memorial gathering at Pleasant Home, Oak Park, Illinois, Saturday January 30, 2016. / (c) Mark Hertzberg

John Thorpe Memorial

Don Kalec at the memorial gathering for John, Saturday January 30, 2016. / (c) Mark Hertzberg

John Thorpe Memorial

The majestic leaded glass windows in the entry way of Pleasant Home, Oak Park, Illinois, Saturday January 30, 2016. / (c) Mark Hertzberg

A Tribute to Karen Johnson Boyd

Text and photos (c) Mark Hertzberg

Lake Owen 08

At Lake Owen, Thursday August 14, 2008. / (c) Mark Hertzberg


Karen Johnson Boyd died peacefully early Friday morning in her Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house in Racine, Wisconsin after a short illness. She was 91.

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Karen and her husband Bill Boyd at Lake Owen, Saturday August 16, 2008. / (c) Mark Hertzberg

The house, the Keland House, was designed in 1954. She was one of Wright’s surviving clients. There are aficionados of Wright’s work who keep lists of Wright’s surviving clients. But Karen (pronounced Car-In, after her Norwegian ancestry) was a great woman, a fun person, a friend, not just a name on a dispassionate list of Wright clients still living in their Wright homes. She had a keen sense of humor, matched by the perpetual twinkle in her eyes (dare I post the photos I have of her playfully sticking her tongue out at me when I photographed her?).

She has a great legacy in the art world in Racine and in America. The Racine Art Museum in downtown Racine bears the name Karen Johnson Boyd Galleries. (I refer to her as Karen, rather than Mrs. Boyd, because I had the privilege of being friends with her and her husband, Dr. William B. Boyd.)

Karen Johnson Boyd RAM

Karen Johnson Boyd, with museum director Bruce Pepich, signs copies of American Craft profile about her at the Racine Art Museum, Saturday December 13, 2008 / (c) Mark Hertzberg

Her father, the late H.F. Johnson Jr., became a patron of Wright after commissioning the SC Johnson Administration Building in 1936 and the Johnson home, Wingspread, the following year. Karen and her late brother, Sam, grew up in Wingspread, and that inspired her to want Wright to design a home for her and her first husband, Willard Keland.

Karen was 12 when, unbeknownst to her, H.F, as he was known, hired Wright to design the Administration Building. “I just remember the time right after Dad first saw Mr. Wright, I was at Kemper Hall (a boarding school in nearby Kenosha), and he came down to pick me up one Sunday and he said to me, ‘Karen, you’re studying art history, now who is the greatest architect in America?’”  She was sitting next to her father in the front seat of their cream-colored Lincoln convertible, and replied, “Why everybody knows it’s Frank Lloyd Wright.” He was sort of appalled that I knew that. I remember that vividly. He was flabbergasted that his kid would know it. He told me at that time that he was going to have Mr. Wright do the building.”

Just a month ago she spoke of a characteristic of her father’s relationship with the famous architect who had a reputation for not managing money well. “He was always trying to get money from my father. He would come unannounced for a visit with my father, but he always came with some of his students. He came to Wingspread and to the office building.” Did Wright pay the loans back? “Not that I know of. He would tell my father that we had to pay the room and board for his students because they were not in paying jobs to do it themselves. My father did it any number of times, because he felt they were doing good work. They were supporting Mr. Wright.”

The most memorable time that Wright sought a loan from H.F. was in the early 1940s. Wright had sent word to Racine that he was maybe dying. He wanted H.F. to bring “the girl” (Karen, whom Wright was fond of) with him. “They took me into his bedroom. There were about six or seven people watching me so I didn’t take anything as a souvenir.” Wright commanded, “Bring the girl to me.”

“I remember being really flattered that he wanted to speak to me. He made me come over next to him on the bed and he grabbed ahold of my hand  He said my father was his best friend. ‘He is a wonderful man,’ he said. And he said, ‘Did you know he’s a wonderful man?’and I said, ‘Yes,’ and he said, ‘I’m glad, I’m glad to hear you say that.’ He said, ‘I think I’m going to die, Hib (H.F.’s nickname), but I need to leave my apprentices in a position to stay on the job of guarding the place, keeping it safe.’ He said I haven’t got any money to leave the apprentices, but they have to guard the place otherwise they’ll come and close down the place.’ I remember my father asking what they needed the money for, and he said to keep the place from closing down. They have to pay bills for heating and electricity. Father wrote a check.”

Wright was fond of her. “He would ask my father about what kind of grades I was getting in school and whether I was dating anybody important.” She was flattered by Wright’s interest in her. Karen repaid Wright, if you will, by generously sharing her home for special benefit events hosted by Frank Lloyd Wright groups, even as recently as last fall.

Two of the Wingspread’s signature features were suggested by Karen, then 13, and her brother, Sam, 9. Wright wrote them, asking if there was anything they wanted included in the house. Karen, whose bedroom was at the north end of the house, on the second floor past the master bedrooms, requested a cantilevered balcony like the dramatic one she had seen at Taliesin.  Wright told her that one day she would be wooed from below the balcony by a suitor “with a classical guitar, of course.” The bedroom’s location was dramatic, but not ideal, “I had to sneak past my father’s door if I wanted to sneak out.”


Karen’s balcony, right. The Crow’s Nest is left of center, next to the chimney. / © Mark Hertzberg

The children loved the spectacular view from the cupola of their maternal grandmother’s house in Ithaca, New York, and they asked for a lookout tower in their new home. Wright gave them the Crow’s Nest, a glass enclosure next to the chimney, which is reached by a spiral staircase from the mezzanine above the wigwam. It was a child’s delight. Karen and Sam could see the lake and watch their father, an avid pilot, fly past the house. They left each other notes in a locked cabinet. The key was lost, and Karen wondered in 2003 if there is still a forgotten note in the cabinet.

Karen said she picked Wright to design her own home on the bluff of a ravine that overlooks the Root River and Colonial Park “because I lived in Wingspread and loved it.” Her father was less sure about her choice of architect because he knew what it was like to commission a Wright building, and was afraid that it would be too expensive.

Keland Aerial

The Keland house, Sunday June 1, 2003. (c) Mark Hertzberg

Johnson wrote Wright, asking him to recommend an architect. Karen recalls Wright’s answer: “Of course I can recommend someone, but wouldn’t it be better for the daughter to have the real thing? I would love to do a house for Karen.” He got the commission, but her father warned her to be careful.

It is almost inconceivable to think of Wright agreeing to have another architect looking over his shoulder, but Karen said he did not balk when Johnson assigned John Halama, the company architect, to supervise the job. Halama and Wright had already worked together on the Johnson Research Tower and other projects. When the Kelands also hired consultants from the University of Indiana to help design the home’s radiant heating system, something her father recommended because of problems with Wingspread’s system, she says that “Mr. Wright never said ‘boo’ about it…I think Mr. Wright was relieved he didn’t have to do it.”

Wright may have been on his best behavior when the house was being built, but he was true to form when he and Wes Peters came for lunch in 1956 after the Kelands had moved in. Karen had fixed lunch (it was a lunch she liked to fix for guests: chicken salad, with curry in the mayonnaise; buttered toast broiled with sesame seeds; and green grapes) and served Coca Colas to her guests after lunch, when Wright decided it was time to rearrange the furniture.

Keland House 2015 009

“I knew it was to be expected because he had already done it to Irene (Purcell Johnson) and Dad at Wingspread, famously, in the middle of the night without asking permission.” Her stepmother had also warned her. “Just remember, Karen, he’s going to come back and rearrange everything.”

The only furnishings Wright had designed for the Keland house were built-in ledges, bookcases, cabinets, and two built-in sofas. The living room furniture was in two groupings because the family did not often entertain large groups of people.

Wright said he liked the two beige Moroccan rugs, and asked where they were from. Then he turned his attention to the furniture. He had Peters move the baby grand piano into the center of the room because the Keland children were taking piano lessons and he thought the family should gather around the piano every night.  Karen remembered Wright asking, “Do you mind if I show you the way I think? I like your furniture and your rugs and the drapes. You’ve done a great job, but I think you have to arrange it in a more family way.”

It was part of his persona. “He was laughing and grinning, he was getting a kick out of it,” Karen recalled, “Even Wes Peters was laughing. ‘Don’t worry about it,’ he whispered, ‘This is just in fun’ as he was pushing and shoving things around.” Karen knew not to argue. “I thanked him for it and said we’ll try it out and see how it works. It stayed that way for a couple of days. It just didn’t look right.”

The Keland house is larger than most of the Usonian homes, but it has many of the characteristics of Wright’s Usonian designs. The original house was L-shaped, with a third wing for the carport. The dining area, with its two-ton Vermont marble table which took 15 men to carry into the house, is just off the entry hall, and flows into the living room. The living room dominates the main wing. It is spacious, and comfortable, filled with books and art. The built-in furnishings are also an important part of the Usonian design concept.

The kitchen is at the “hinge” between the living room/dining room wing and the bedroom wing, following the Usonian model. Wright, who normally didn’t seem to worry about what other people thought, suggested a wood screen to hide a small wet bar that adjoins the kitchen, “What are you going to do when the minister comes?”

The bedrooms are in the south wing. The hallway is narrower than Wright had wanted, because Karen requested built-in storage cabinets along the outside wall. She also insisted on a basement, a feature that Wright termed “unwelcome” in his definition of organic architecture in his autobiography. The guest room is on the second floor of the main wing, adjoining a sitting room, which overlooks the living room and the ravine below.

Wright wanted to include a cantilevered terrace in the design, jutting out from the guest room, like the one he designed for Karen’s bedroom at Wingspread. It was eliminated from the final house plans, for budget reasons, to Karen’s regret years later, “It would have been a very distinctive part of the house.”

Karen loved the Wright home she grew up in, and loved the one she commissioned. “Depending on your mood it expands with you or contracts. You can go in a little cozy eating area in the kitchen or if you feel expansive you come out here (the living room) and have a great big party if you want.”

Her son, Bill Keland, was just one when the family moved into the house, but it had a great influence on him. The land itself was a child’s delight, “We used to live down on that river, and play on that river…that whole valley was our playground. We had our bikes, We caught fish. That was where we lived most of the year. It was a great place to grow up.” His classmates knew there was something different about the house, “(They would) look around (and) wonder, what is this place…with its long hallways, and low ceilings opening up into a big room…”

Wright’s design moved Bill even years later, and influenced the design of his own home in California, “It always felt like it was a sacred space, thought out space. It made me feel like a human being.”

Dr. Boyd, moved to Racine when he became president of the Johnson Foundation at Wingspread, in 1980. He was invited to dinner at Karen’s house after starting his new job, “Then I married into the house. I often think she must think I married her for the house, I love it so much.”

Frank Lloyd Wright brought nature and the house together in their spacious, two-story home designed five years before he died. The Boyds enjoyed watching the river and the birds that flock to the courtyard garden.

The house is filled with art. To Karen, it was art. “Sometimes I feel like I’m living in a piece of sculpture,” she said in an interview in 2001.

Karen was a member of Racine’s most prominent family, but she was self-effacing. She and I were sitting in the courtyard of the house one day as she described how architect John (Jack) Howe added on to, and remodeled, part of the house in 1961. She had four children, so a garage was added when the carport was enclosed to make another bedroom. Pointing to the small door next to us, near the kitchen, she said, “And this is where the little woman brought her groceries into the house” after pulling them from the car on a wagon.

We were talking about the movie “Animal House” after Dr. Boyd told me that he gave permission for it to be filmed at the University of Oregon when he was president of the university as long as the college was not identified by name (the scene with the horse in an office was shot in his office). She smiled and let on that her favorite movie scene was one from the movie.

As much as she loved the “piece of sculpture” that Frank Lloyd Wright designed for her, she also loved spending time on Lake Owen in Cable, Wisconsin. That was a family vacation destination since the teens, and she spent every summer of her life but one there. Karen was a world traveler, but she and Dr. Boyd honeymooned in a bare-bones fishing cottage by a stream on the property after they married in 1982. Karen could have described it to us when we visited them there a decade ago, but instead she insisted we climb into a four-wheel drive Suburban which she piloted over rough terrain with careless abandon to take us to that magic spot in their lives for a picnic lunch. The Boyds put their arms around each other as they looked out from the porch.



I visited the Boyds a month ago and was touched when Bill gently kissed Karen’s hand after she stopped to see us in his office. The love, the magic was still there as it must have been at Lake Owen in 1982. I ache for Bill as I write this remembrance.

Karen could have lived the life that many people who know nothing about the Johnsons assume “a Johnson” would live, but she did not. She used to take advantage of the Metra weekend roundtrip fares to take the train to Chicago when she could have simply had a driver take her into the city. She gave of herself unselfishly. Bill lost his soulmate this morning. Racine, the art world, and the world of Frank Lloyd Wright lost a great friend and a great person.

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Lake Owen, Saturday August 16, 2008. / (c) Mark Hertzberg

Lake Owen 08

Sunset at Lake Owen where Karen spent every summer of her life, but one, Friday August 15, 2008. / (c) Mark Hertzberg

Remembering John G. Thorpe

(c) Mark Hertzberg

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John Thorpe at the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy benefit at Steelcase, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Friday October 18, 2013. / (c) Mark Hertzberg

I was on my daily bike ride on my birthday just a month ago when my phone rang. I am never overly eager to answer the phone when I’m riding in the winter, because I have to take my gloves off after pulling off the road, and the weather was nasty, but I was glad I took the call. It was John Thorpe wishing me a happy birthday. I had no inkling that he knew my birth date. Today I awoke to an email telling me that John died yesterday of congestive heart failure. He was 71.  The world of Wright preservation is reeling from the news.

John was my mentor when I began my Wright adventures some 15 years ago. I had no background in Wright scholarship, but that did not matter to John. All he cared about was that I was writing about Wright’s work, striving to be as accurate as possible, doing as much original research as possible rather than rely on anecdotes and the existing literature. My mentor became a friend. I could not help but smile all the times he tweaked me for being a native New Yorker (Second City Syndrome, John?).

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Steve Sikora, left, John Thorpe, and Ron Scherubel at the 2014 Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy conference at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix , Thursday October 30, 2014. / (c) Mark Hertzberg

Jonathan Lipman had introduced me to John when I was looking for advice about how to handle a sticky question about the alleged authorship of a house I was writing about. John in turn introduced me to the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy. I turned to him for advice often. His advice was always the same: let proven facts lead the way.

I had the pleasure of helping John chair the Building Conservancy’s 2007 annual conference in Northbrook and Racine.

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John Thorpe, right, leads a Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy planning meeting at Wingpsread for the 2007 conference, Friday February 17, 2007. / (c) Mark Hertzberg

In 2012 John was the person I called for advice from the basement of Wright’s Thomas P. Hardy House when I was showing the house to a prospective buyer, Gene Szymczak. The house needed extensive repairs, and the Building Conservancy had fretted about its future. I wanted to know how much the house might be worth as a Wright property over its assessed value. John firmly told me it was time to bring in professional appraisers and to step out of the picture.

Gene ignored his advice, surprising the owners and me by making an offer out of the blue a week later, as they met over lemonade and cashews at the owners’ new apartment. It was an unexpected turn of events, and the house had a new steward. Gene completely rehabilitated the house over the next three years, earning a Wright Spirit Award last October. What better tribute to John than to have the house preserved for another century?

Building Conservancy 2015

Edith Payne, left, and John Thorpe at the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church during the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy annual conference in Milwaukee, Friday October 2, 2015. (c) Mark Hertzberg

Next year’s Building Conservancy meeting in San Francisco…and each one thereafter…will be diminished without John’s presence. Indeed, so will the Building Conservancy itself, as well as Wright scholarship and preservation.

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John Thorpe, left, at the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy benefit at Steelcase, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Friday October 18, 2013. / (c) Mark Hertzberg

Farewell, my friend.

Building Conservancy 2015

Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy annual conference, Pfister Hotel, Milwaukee, Wednesday September 30 – Sunday October 4, 2015. (c) Mark Hertzberg

Information about any memorial service for John will be posted to the Building Conservancy’s website: www.savewright.org  Blair Kamin’s feature obituary story for the Chicago Tribune is at:


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John and Jack Quinan at the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy benefit at Steelcase, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Friday October 18, 2013. / (c) Mark Hertzberg

Wright Spirit Awards

John Thorpe presents one of the Wright Spirit Awards at the Gala Banquet, Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy meeting, Sheraton Society Hill Hotel, Philadelphia, Saturday September 24, 2011. / (c) Mark Hertzberg

Reimagining Wingspread in 50,000 LEGO bricks

(c) Mark Hertzberg

LEGO Wingspread

LEGO Wingspread

This is how Jameson Gagnepain’s adventure at Wingspread starts: unloading two custom-built wood crates and four cardboard boxes, all stuffed with about 50,000 LEGO bricks. In two hours the bricks will have been reassembled into a model of Frank Lloyd Wright’s 14,000 sq. ft. home for Herbert F. Johnson, Jr., which will be displayed on the second floor of Wingspread probably into December.

The model is stunning in its detail, the statistics -at the end of the story- are staggering.

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First, Gagnepain and his wife, Amy, assemble the five-foot square table the model will sit on.

Each storage box is carefully thought out, explains Gagnepain, “I pack everything as tightly as I can… It’s a little like Russian nesting dolls in there. Lots of sections fitting inside other sections, and every box has shelves in it to make good use of space.”

LEGO Wingspread

Gagnepain starts with a blank “canvas,” if you will, a broad expanse of green LEGOs representing the landscape around the house. There is no hesitation as he spends the next two hours assembling the model of the house.

LEGO Wingspread

He works in IT for a medical supplies company, but LEGOs have been his passion since he was young. The colorful plastic bricks were his expected presents for as long as he can remember. Amy is so understanding, he says, that she suggested their wedding have a LEGO theme.

LEGO Wingspread

Gagnepain scoured the Internet for photos of what the house looked like when it was built, and then took notes during a visit to Wingspread. His biggest challenge was in fashioning daughter Karen Johnson’s cantilevered balcony at the north end of the house. “It took me ages to get right, getting the wood texture right. I built it three or four different ways. I got it right then dropped it and had to start over.” He says the playroom at the east end was another challenge because of the dearth of photos of what it originally looked like.

Amy pours tiny blue bricks into the swimming pool to simulate water. Gagnepain was careful to even show the different levels in the swimming pool.

LEGO Wingspread

A LEGO car, which brings to mind a Mercedes sedan that Wright owned, is parked at the front door.

LEGO Wingspread

The crown of the model is the roof over the Great Room, with its Crow’s Nest:

LEGO Wingspread

If the model is too detailed for some people, they can enjoy the bare-bones LEGO Wingspread he fashioned, as well:

There is even a red Wright “signature tile.” As for the lack of a Frank Lloyd Wright figure, Gagnepain says he will make one as soon as there is a LEGO porkpie hat.

LEGO Wingspread

LEGO Wingspread

Gagnepain and the model are feature in Tom Alphin’s newly released book The LEGO Architect.

LEGO Wingspread by the numbers:

Construction took 500 hours over six months (“Too long,” jokes Amy)

There are an estimated 50,000 LEGO bricks in an estimated 100 different shaped bricks. There are seven color in the building. Most of the home’s Cherokee red bricks are represented by about 10,000 “1×2 plate in Dark Orange” bricks. The grounds and foliage use the seven colors from the building as well as an additional eight colors.

Newly Documented Wright ASBH in Madison

Photos and text (c) Mark Hertzberg 2015

A press event Tuesday October 6, 2015 sponsored by Frank Lloyd Wright Wisconsin announces the documentation of the house at 2107 West Lawn Avenue in Madison as another one of Wright’s American System-Built houses. This is the second discovery of a newly documented Wright ASBH home this year. The other is in Shorewood, a suburb of Milwaukee. The house is an ASBH Series AA model.

A press event introduces Frank Lloyd Wright's newly documented American System-Built House by Frank Lloyd Wright at 2107 West Lawn Ave. Madison, Wisconsin, Tuesday October 6, 2015. The house was built in 1917 and has two non-Wright additions, one from 1924 and the other from 1927. (c) Mark Hertzberg

Linda McQuillen purchased the house in 1989. The entry is on the left side, as visitors approach the house. The porch to the left and the room to the right (built as an open porch, enclosed by a subsequent owner) are 1924 and 1927 non-Wright additions. The house was painstakingly documented by Madison-based Wright scholar Mary Jane Hamilton over two decades with assistance from many sources, including Mike Lilek. Lilek has overseen the restoration of Wright in Wisconsin’s ASBH properties on W. Burnham Street in Milwaukee and led the documentation of the Shorewood house with the assistance of other Wright scholars.

ASBH 2107 West Lawn Ave. Madison

Hamilton chats with Nathan McQuillen, who grew up in the house. Her meticulous documentation was displayed on four poster boards on easels. ASBH 2107 West Lawn Ave. Madison

Hamilton explains that only the right hand built-in hutch in the diminutive dining room is original. The room was originally the kitchen. The hutch at left is in place of an original door.

ASBH 2107 West Lawn Ave. Madison

The original hutch has doors with the same leaded-glass pentagon seen in many windows of the house.

ASBH 2107 West Lawn Ave. Madison

The dining room leads to the living room. The fireplace at the left side of the living room is not original.

ASBH 2107 West Lawn Ave. Madison

ASBH 2107 West Lawn Ave. Madison

ASBH 2107 West Lawn Ave. Madison

The sun room from one of the 1920s additions is now an office, south of the living room.

ASBH 2107 West Lawn Ave. Madison

A basement crawl space below the addition shows the original and added foundation walls.

ASBH 2107 West Lawn Ave. Madison

Part of the authentication of the house as ASBH comes from the joists being 24″ apart, as was customary in the ASBH homes, as opposed the conventional 16″ measurement.

ASBH 2107 West Lawn Ave. Madison

There are three bedrooms upstairs. Two are shown in their entirety, the third is depicted by the narrow broom closet.

ASBH 2107 West Lawn Ave. Madison

ASBH 2107 West Lawn Ave. Madison

ASBH 2107 West Lawn Ave. Madison

ASBH 2107 West Lawn Ave. Madison

ASBH 2107 West Lawn Ave. Madison

The entrance to the house, on the south side, away from the street, has one of Wright’s characteristic wood screens outside the door. The front door knob and lock are original to the house.

ASBH 2107 West Lawn Ave. Madison

ASBH 2107 West Lawn Ave. Madison

ASBH 2107 West Lawn Ave. Madison

The north (left) and east sides of the house. The fireplace is a recent addition. The street is to the left.ASBH 2107 West Lawn Ave. Madison

The east side, with its 1920s porch addition, off the master bedroom:

ASBH 2107 West Lawn Ave. Madison

This is a view of the house from the street. the door is on the left or south side:

ASBH 2107 West Lawn Ave. Madison

McQuillen is interviewed by journalist Doug Wahl of Madison’s Channel 3 television station.

ASBH 2107 West Lawn Ave. Madison

ASBH 2107 West Lawn Ave. Madison

Preview Screening: Pedro E. Guerrero on PBS American Masters

(c) Mark Hertzberg 2015

Screening at Monona Terrace in Madison, Wisconsin, of the PBS

Dixie Legler Guerrero remarked “Everyone I know in Wisconsin is here!” as she surveyed the auditorium at Monona Terrace in Madison Tuesday evening September 1 for the premiere Wisconsin screening of “Pedro E. Guerrero: A Photographer’s Journey.” Guerrero (1917-2012) was Wright’s favorite photographer. The auditorium was filled for the screening which was part of Monona Terrace’s Wright Design lecture series. The screening was also sponsored by Frank Lloyd Wright Wisconsin wrightinwisconsin.org

Dixie Legler Guerrero, left, greets Effi Casey. Tim Wright, Frank Lloyd Wright's grandson, is at right.

Dixie Legler Guerrero, left, greets Effi Casey before the screening. Tim Wright, Frank Lloyd Wright’s grandson, is at right.

Minerva Montooth, left, and Dixie Legler Guerrero chat at the reception after the screening.

Minerva Montooth, left, and Dixie Legler Guerrero chat at the reception after the screening.

Guerrero’s work is on permanent display at Monona Terrace:

Guerrero PBS Screening

Guerrero PBS Screening

Guerrero and Dixie Legler Guerrero at the annual Wright birthday dinner at Taliesin in 2011 and 2012:

Birthday Dinner

Pedro Guerrero

Pedro Guerrero

The show, part of PBS’ American Masters series, airs Friday September 18 nationwide.

Wright Honors Family with “Penwern” Name on Delavan Lake


(c) 2015: Mark Hertzberg, Georgia Lloyd Jones Snoke, Kenneth Snoke, Unity Chapel, and Thomas A. Heinz, A.I.A. 

There has been much speculation about the origin of “Penwern,” the name given to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fred B. Jones house and estate on Delavan Lake, Wisconsin (1900-1903). The most popular thought, that “penwern” is Gaelic for “great house” is erroneous. The word is Welsh or Cornish, and does not mean “great house.” It can mean “at the head of the field” or “at the head of the alder tree.” But it is more likely, as Wright scholar John (Jack) Holzhueter points out, that Wright took the opportunity of having designed a home for an American client named Jones to honor his mother’s family, also named Jones, although not related to Fred B. Jones. Georgia Lloyd Jones Snoke, Wright’s first cousin, twice-removed, visited the (Wright) Jones family Pen-y-wern near Llandysul, Wales in 2004. She offers this lovely perspective on the connection between the two Penwerns. Many thanks to John (Jack) Holzhueter for the introduction to Mrs. Snoke.

Pen-y-wern  Llandysul, Wales-1.jp2

By Georgia Lloyd Jones Snoke, descended from Richard and Mallie’s seventh child, Jenkin.

Photos by Kenneth Snoke (Penwern – Wales cottage), Thomas A. Heinz, A.I.A. (plaque, courtesy of Unity Chapel (family portraits) and Mark Hertzberg (Penwern – Delavan Lake)

There is a “Penwern” on Lake Delavan in Wisconsin.  Elegant.  Exquisite.  Unmistakably luxurious.

There is a “Penwern” in Wales.  Sturdy.  Spare.  Uncompromisingly protective against time, the elements, the poverty of place.

Pen-y-wern  Llandysul, Wales-2.jp2

Could these two be connected by a grandson’s filial nod to a grandmother he barely remembered but whose impact he witnessed lifelong?


The grandson was Frank Lloyd Wright, one of the greatest architects known to man.

The grandmother, was Mary (Mallie) Thomas James, born in 1807 at Penwern, Llandysul, Wales.  She lived at Penwern until her marriage to farmer, hatter, dreamer, dare-er Richard Jones.

Mary (Mallie) Thomas

Richard Lloyd Jones (Patriarch)

The young girl who grew up in Penwern lived a life with few options.  She was a farmer’s daughter, a Unitarian within the small circle of Unitarians that was known to the rest of Wales as “the Black Spot” of heresy.  On an adjacent farm a young man with a parallel upbringing cast his eye on the growing girl.  It was a surprise to no one when they wed, set up house together, became parents to an increasing brood of hungry children.

Times were hard.  Food was scarce.  Opportunities were limited.  In a far away land called America it seemed that things might be better—if not for them, then for their children.

Richard was in his mid-40’s and they were already parents of seven children, the last a babe in arms, when Richard decided to brave the waves and emigrate to America.  It was to be a total break.  There would be no return trip.  Their good-byes were forever.  Their future unknown.

Other siblings had gone before.  After a hazardous journey and the loss of one child to diphtheria, Richard’s bereaved family and his brother Jenkin were reunited in Wisconsin.  A year later, Jenkin died of malaria, leaving Richard’s family distraught and destitute, but in the America they had sought, an America where four more children were born and the family slowly, with great effort, endured, survived, and began in a small way to prosper.

Some 150 years later, on a gray rain-threatened day in Wales, my ankles deep in the muck of a cow path, I looked at the cold stone building before me, the Welsh Penwern of now, and imagined the emotions my great great grandmother “Mallie” must have felt, looking upon her ancestral home for the last time.

What courage it must have taken to leave the world and people she knew—no matter how hard the life—to embark on a journey into the unknown.

The story is told that their last evening at home Mallie went out and gathered flower seedlings.  When they settled in Wisconsin, the seeds were planted and, with each subsequent move, the progeny of those seeds moved with them.

It was from the gentle Mallie that the stories of Wales were imprinted on the children and grandchildren. There were the tales of the two oldest boys, then but small children, sent out to watch the flocks of sheep and protect them from the wolves that prowled the hillsides, and of Richard, the hat maker, whose production of the tall conical hats worn by Welsh women augmented their meager farming funds.

For the remainder of her life, Mallie spoke only Welsh.  She was illiterate in writing—signing her marriage certificate with an “x”—and yet on her death bed she recited from memory her grandfather’s translation of Gray’s Elegy.

She, far more than Richard, kept the stream of “cumry” (cousinship) alive in the children’s minds—so much so that at least four of them made trips to Wales during their lifetimes.

Why did Frank Lloyd Wright suggest the name of Penwern for a Wisconsin home so elegant, so lavish, so unlike its Welsh predecessor?  I can only guess it was to honor his grandmother. He was but a toddler when Mallie died (1870) but throughout his growing years he would have heard her stories, lauded the bravery that brought her to these shores, witnessed the loving, aching sense of loss from those she left behind.

Had Mallie stayed in Wales, insisted on the known over the unknown, fled from the hardships she knew were ahead of her how different would have been the lives of those generations yet to come.  Would there, could there have been an architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, without her brave plunge into the future?  Instead, her legacy lives on in the lives of her American descendants and in the opportunities her sacrifices provided for those willing to experiment, dream, dare, create anew.  I like to think that the name “Penwern”, superimposed on an extraordinary American estate, is a bow of homage from a grateful grandson.