© Mark Hertzberg (2023)
Sometimes the night does things to you. I woke up at 4:30 this morning reconsidering my last post in terms of what I wrote about Elizabeth Wright Heller’s book, The Architect’s Sister – The Story of My Life (Brushy Creek Publishing Co.: Iowa City, 2019). There are arguably two ways to interpret the title, and it occurs to me that I did it wrong. I took it to mean the book would tell us about “The Architect,” which it does not do in much detail. It does tell us in vivid detail about Frank Lloyd Wright’s star crossed father, William Carey Wright. And that is important in the canon of Wright.
William Carey Wright was both a musician – which is certainly something that led to Frank’s love of music – and a minister. Sadly he could not hold a pulpit long, and the family was itinerant. His first wife (Heller’s mother) died and his second marriage, to Anna, was a nightmare. I did not give enough weight to Heller’s description of Anna’s abuse of her. The divorce petition filed by William Carey Wright is chilling. The divorce left young Frank with his domineering mother.
We are as familiar with Frank and his flaws as we are with his architecture. We do not escape our childhoods. How much did Anna shape Frank’s personality? How much did she poison her son against his father?
While most of Heller’s book is about her life other than growing up, and she did not know Frank well, after rethinking my essay, I now recommend you read it to get a better understanding of Frank’s lesser known parent, the father we have been led to forget about.
Frank was drawn to Cecil Corwin when Frank moved to Chicago. They had a very close relationship. Corwin’s father, Eli, was also a preacher. He was pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Racine, Wisconsin from 1880 – 1888. Frank’s first commission in Racine was his unrealized 1901 commission to remodel Herbert and Flora Miles’ house. The commission had first gone to Corwin two years earlier. We do not know how Wright and Thomas P. Hardy met (the Hardy House, 1904/05 was Wright’s first realized commission in Racine), but it is entirely possible that it came about through the Corwin – Racine / Corwin – Wright connection. Two architects, two fathers who were preachers.
So, make it Wright Books +1 + 1.
The Racine Heritage Museum will be mounting a long-term exhibit curated by Tim Samuelson that reprises his 2020 “Wright Before the Lloyd” exhibit in Elmhurst, Illinois. The emphasis on the Racine exhibit will be on Corwin and Wright. The museum is located just two blocks from the Henry Mitchell House (1894) which, though in Corwin’s name, is likely a collaboration between Corwin and Wright. Details will be announced.
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I very much appreciate your reconsidered review of The Architect’s Sister. The book is a fascinating read, pulling William Cary Wright out of the shadows to which he’s long been consigned by other books related to his famous son. The book also illuminates the compelling story of Elizabeth Wright Heller, Frank’s half-sister who was remarkable in her own right, while shedding harsh light on the character of Anna Lloyd Jones Wright. Thanks again,Mark, for this thoughtful, well-articulated review.