(c) Mark Hertzberg (2020)
Elmhurst, Illinois is not the first Chicago suburb that comes to mind when devotees of Frank Lloyd Wright play “name that house and location.” It is no Glencoe, Highland Park, Oak Park, or River Forest. After all, it has only (!) one house designed by Wright, the F.B. Henderson House, a fine Prairie-style house designed in 1901. But playing the numbers game is no reason to pass up a visit to the city, west and slightly north of the Big Two, Oak Park and River Forest, especially on October 24.
Let’s start with some photos of the house, which was recently sold to new stewards:
October 24 is designated as “Frank Lloyd Wright Day” in Elmhurst. There will be two concurrent museum exhibitions to see. One, “Wright Before The ‘Lloyd,” opened at the Elmhurst Art Museum in September, and runs until February 14. It is curated by the incomparable source of Chicago architectural knowledge and artifacts, Tim Samuelson, the City of Chicago’s Cultural Historian. If the Smithsonian Institute is truly “America’s Attic,” as many people say, then Samuelson’s office and storage spaces are “Chicago’s attic” The second exhibition, “Frank Lloyd Wright: Architecture of the Interior,” opens at the Elmhurst History Museum on October 23, and runs through December 20. This is a national touring exhibition. The history museum showed its Wright-related chops with a fine exhibition, “In Her Own Right: Marion Mahony Griffin,” in 2016-2017.
“Before The ‘Lloyd'” focuses on Wright’s early career, before he formally replaced his given middle name, Lincoln, with “Lloyd,” in honor of his maternal family heritage. The artifacts come from Samuelson’s collection. Some – those from the Adler and Sullivan Schiller Building or Garrick Theater, and Wright’s Harlan House – were salvaged by the late Richard Nickel. [Samuelson asked me to clarify about the name: “There is some dispute about Wright’s middle name initially being “Lincoln”. It all depends on who you talk to.
“By the time of the exhibit’s theme, Wright definitely considered Lloyd his middle name. There are some very early ink renderings where he signs them “Frank Ll Wright”.
You doubtless have read about the Froebel gifts umpteen times, but you may have never seen them except in illustrations in books. Now you can:
How many of us thought of the game manufacturer Milton Bradley in any context other than “Chutes and Ladders” when we were children? Think again, they introduced the “gifts” to America in 1869.
There are artifacts and historic photos of the Charnley House (1891-1892) and the Rolson Rowhouses (1894), among others. I have seen the Charnley House and I have seen many photos of it, but this is the first time that its entrance made me think of Wright’s Winslow House entry (please use the comments link to tell me what you think!).
The floor plan, below, shows the layout of Adler and Sullivan’s offices when Wright worked there, showing how close Wright’s drafting space was to his “Leibermeister’s” office.
Samuelson is the curator of record, but he refuses to take sole credit for the exhibition’s artifacts. Quoting from an email he wrote me, “But Eric O’Malley has a big presence in the show. His computer and graphic design skills were what created the electronic re-draws of patterns gleaned from burned and shattered original fragments, and putting them in a format to facilitate laser-cut complete patterns as they appeared on the buildings. Wisconsin wood finish master Stan John Zachara recreated original wood finishes perfectly.
“Much of Wright’s early ornamentation for exteriors was fret sawn wood, which weathers and deteriorated severely if not maintained. And for those that were maintained with diligent painting have the patterns clogged to the point that it’s often no longer to discern the patterns.
“I chose to remove layered paint that compromised the design – and each piece was returned to its original color and finish.
“I never wanted to restore the pieces too much. Repairs were made where damage compromised the design, but I still maintained the effects of damage over time.”
This window is from the Rolson Rowhouses:
The two museums are architectural opposites. The History Museum is in the historic Glos Mansion (1893), designed the year Wright left Adler and Sullivan. The Art Museum is in a contemporary building (1997) designed by DeStefano + Partners of Chicago. It complements an architectural bonus for visitors to the Wright exhibition, the McCormick House, designed in 1952 by Mies van der Rohe, and later moved to the museum campus.
For more information:
Thanks, Mark, for this post. Great information and inspiration. Doug and I were fortunate to visit the Henderson House in Elmhurst a few years ago before it was sold to the new stewards. It is a beauty. We hope many will visit and enjoy it on October 24.
Living in Corvallis, Oregon, it is unlikely that during this time of COVID we will be able to visit the excellent Elmhurst museum exhibits you highlighted. So, thanks for the photos and your commentary. Perhaps the museums could raise a little money by offering a virtual tour of the exhibits for a fee or a donation to those of us who live far away?????
That is a wonderful idea! Corvallis…a Lee newspaper…I worked for the Lee paper in Racine for 33 years.
Thank you so much for sharing this information about the exhibits with your Wright fans! We look forward to welcoming many of you to Elmhurst (safely and with social distance in the galleries) this fall.
Just to clarify, the Henderson House will not be open to the public on Oct. 24–just the exhibits will be available as well as a local architecture walking tour that features the exterior of the Henderson House (available at Elmhurst Art Museum, free with admission).
I apologize for inferring otherwise.