Penwern Update

(c) Mark Hertzberg 2017

I shot this panoramic photo of the view in three directions from a guest bedroom at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fred B. Jones house (“Penwern”) on Delavan Lake, Wisconsin this morning. It was perhaps my last research trip to Penwern before the January 15 deadline for the manuscript for my book about Penwern which will be published by the Wisconsin Historical Society Press in spring 2019.

LR Penwern NE bedroom view.jpg

I am currently reviewing voluminous notes about Penwern that I have accumulated since starting the project in 2013 and rediscovering important points. Newspaper microfilm gives us the only definitive documentation of a visit by Wright to the lake…in 1905 while preparing to design a home for A.P. Johnson of Chicago. The A.P. Johnson House was the last of the five Wright homes on the lake.

The microfilm also clarifies the timeline for the four Wright buildings at Penwern. There are 17 surviving drawings. The drawings for the boathouse and the first floor plan for the house are dated October, 1900. One stable drawing is dated March 24, 1903. The microfilm dates completion of the house by the end of June, 1901 and the boathouse in spring, 1902. The gate lodge was constructed in 1903, the stable the next year.

The drawings are construction drawings, not presentation drawings. In his autobiography Wright mentions regret about the number of drawings he discarded. Mark Peisch theorizes that many drawings were lost or thrown out in the move from the Oak Park Studio to Taliesin, in his 1964 book “The Chicago School of Architecture.”  I do not believe that drawings were lost to either fire at Taliesin: it is not likely that the Penwern drawings would have been kept in separate places and the surviving drawings show no sign of fire or water damage.

There is a wonderful website for Penwern:

Friends have told me they look forward to seeing the book…so do I!



7 thoughts on “Penwern Update

  1. Great photo. Is it the loaner wide angle lens or did you buy it?
    It seems to take a long time to write a book. I didn’t realize. Onward!


    • Let me guess, you are staying awake monitoring my website! Good for you! That was a quick comment…I had barely posted! It is an iPhone 6 panoramic photo. I did buy the Nikkor 14-24mm lens and am very happy with it. The loaner was a full-circle Nikkor fisheye which I got for just one feature photo I wanted to try looking up at the columns and skylights in the Great Workroom in the SC Johnson Administration Building. That photo was for a talk about Wright’s use of light in the building for the Chicago Architecture Biennial. I posted it with other SCJ photos a couple of months ago. Now, get some sleep, John!

    • I neglected to answer the timeframe for the book. Each book is different. The Racine books took less time because there was so much material available nearby. There are no surviving letters or other significant original documentation regarding Penwern. This has entailed multiple research trips to Delavan, Chicago, downstate Illinois (where Jones was from), two trips to the Avery in New York and even phone calls to Wales. I did find one relative (Jones, a bachelor, died in 1933), his niece twice-removed, in your neck of the woods, near Minneapolis. We got together in Uptown, near where you and I had breakfast. I want everything to be based on primary research. I am dispelling some urban legends about Penwern. Fortunately, unlike Pomegranate with the Racine books, I have had no deadline until WHS Press took the book on last year. Until then my commission was to get it done right, no matter how long it took.

    • Thanks! Do you want to publish an updated Hardy?! 🙂 Pomegranate is no longer doing Wright books and I am not sure of the market for the update. Wright in Racine had three printings (!) but Hardy did not sell as well as I thought it would (and should!).

      • It might do better now because of all the attention and visibility that the restoration brought to the house the past few years. Before that, I don’t believe that house was on the radar of anyone other than hardcore aficionados such as ourselves.

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