Mr. Peterson’s Lovely Cottage

Photos and text (c) Mark Hertzberg 2017

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At age 90 Frank Lloyd Wright may have met his match in audacity in young Seth Peterson, 23, around 1958. Peterson had long admired Wright’s work when he set his sights on a cottage designed by the master of organic architecture for land he purchased overlooking Mirror Lake in south central Wisconsin. Wright was not seeking new commissions, and he turned down the eager young man. But Peterson was resourceful and sent Wright a $1000 retainer which the architect spent, obligating him to design a home for Peterson and his intended bride.

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Seth Peterson, photo courtesy of the Seth Peterson Cottage Conservancy

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Construction had begun when Peterson, despondent over the end of his relationship with his fiancé and real and perceived problems with finishing the house committed suicide at age 24. Another owner finished the project, although not entirely to Wright’s specifications. The cottage fell into disrepair and deteriorated significantly after the State of Wisconsin purchased it in 1966 to be part of the new Mirror Lake State Park and boarded it up, having no immediate use for it. A heroic rehabilitation was undertaken by the Seth Peterson Cottage Conservancy which was formed in 1989. John Eifler was the architect for the work, in concert with many volunteer workers (the story of the rehabilitation of the cottage is on the Conservancy’s website:  Seth Peterson Cottage Conservancy )

When the cottage was opened up for overnight rentals it was the only such Wright site in America.

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The term cottage is certainly relative. While Wright’s summer “cottage” for Fred B. Jones on Delavan Lake, Wisconsin is 6500 sq. ft. with its gatehouse, the Seth Peterson Cottage is just 880 sq. ft. and was intended as a year-round residence.  The panoramic vista into the woods is visible on two or three sides from the living room, dining room and tiny kitchen or workspace, depending where one is sitting or standing. The surrounding trees have matured significantly since Peterson first conceived of a cottage overlooking the lake so it is difficult to see the much of the lake from the house (Department of Natural Resources policies govern the site so trees cannot be cut down).

The word “photography” means “writing with light.” The photos below not only show the inside of the cottage, but also how nature “writes with light” at this lovely wooded site.

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Morning light projected onto the masonry in the bedroom: Seth Peterson Cottage 056.jpg

The windows in the corners, including the clerestory windows, are mitered:

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Seth Peterson Cottage 064.jpgWindows: Wright’s Prairie-style homes are known for his leaded glass designs, his Usonian homes are known for the unique pattern he designed for the clerestory windows of each house. Part of the pattern for the Cottage clerestory windows is evocative of the surrounding trees:

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Seth Peterson Cottage 082.jpgSeth Peterson Cottage 073.jpgThe public and private (one bedroom) space wrap in a “U’ around the hearth. The bedroom can be screened off from the living room by means of a closet door which can fold out into a double-width door in the hallway between the bedroom and living room.

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The bird feeder, which echoes the pattern of the clerestory windows, is popular with raccoons in the evening:

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The requisite selfie!

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Visit the Conservancy’s website for more information about the Cottage and to make reservations to stay there. But, be forewarned, it is often booked more than a year in advance.

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Hardy House Honors

(c) Mark Hertzberg 2017

Eugene (Gene) Szymczak was posthumously honored Sunday as recipient of the 2017 Kristin Visser Award for Historic Preservation for his rehabilitation of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Thomas P. Hardy House in Racine. Szymczak, who died December 3, arguably saved the house for another 100 years when he bought it in September, 2012 and began four years of repairs. Gene Szymczak 002.jpg

The house was distressed when I showed it to him earlier that year on behalf of the owners. He said to me, “I don’t have children; this is something I could do for Racine.” The photos below are from November, 2012 and May, 2017:

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The award is presented by directors of the Seth Peterson Cottage Conservancy at the diminutive (but stunning) Wright-designed cottage on Mirror Lake. It is presented every other year to an individual or organization in recognition of past work in historical preservation of a Wright or Prairie School building in Wisconsin or a contiguous state. Buildings constructed between 1900 and 1925 are given preference, and the restoration work shall have been substantially completed within the two calendar years previous to the year of application.

The award is named in honor of Kristin Visser, who was instrumental in the restoration of the Seth Peterson Cottage and a tireless worker in its behalf. She is the author of Frank Lloyd Wright and the Prairie School in Wisconsin, and, with John Eifler, A.I.A., Frank Lloyd Wright’s Seth Peterson Cottage: Rescuing a Lost Masterwork. Visser, who was a planner for the Wisconsin State Department of Natural Resources, died in 1998 at the age of 48. (Photo (c) by Brent Nicastro, and used with permission)

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Bill Martinelli of the Conservancy presented the award to Tom, left, Curt, Jim, and Joan Szymczak. Tom and Jim are Gene’s brothers and Curt is a nephew of his. Joan, who is married to Tom, tirelessly helped with the rehabilitation and staged the house for the many benefit tours which Gene generously opened the house for.

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Recognition includes a large plaque, a monetary award, and a small plaque affixed to a marker near the Cottage. The marker is mounted on a slab of sandstone shaped like the state of Wisconsin. Martinelli found the slab at a nearby quarry:

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Tom Szymczak wrote to the Conservancy after the presentation, “Our sincere thank you  for honoring Gene with the Visser award. On the surface Gene would not have like the attention but I believe deep down inside he would have seen it as a ‘thank you.’ I know at times, especially early on in the project, he would wonder what he had gotten himself into. But once he saw the public begin to cherish the house, he knew it was all worth it. Gene had plans of retiring in Hardy house and sharing it with visitors so they could feel the magic of a Wright-designed home. We truly lost a person that Lived by Example. Again, Thank You for honoring Gene with award.”

Jim Cairns, of Bukacek Construction, contractor for much of the work, wrote me, “We at Bukacek Construction were honored to be part of Gene’s rebuilding process. His home is truly a unique architectural treasure in Racine and Gene’s commitment to restore the property is a tremendous gift to all of us who live and work here.”

Szymczak had previously been awarded a Wright Spirit Award by the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy in 2014.

The inaugural award was given in 2007 to Steve Sikora and Lynette Erickson-Sikora, for their work in restoring the Malcolm and Nancy Willey House in Minneapolis. The 2009 award was granted to Paul A. Harding and Cheryl Harding, for their work in restoring the Davenport House, in River Forest, Illinois. The 2011 award was presented to Mary Arnold and Henry St. Maurice for their work on the E. Clarke Arnold Residence in Columbus, Wisconsin.  The 2013 award was presented to Frank Lloyd Wright Wisconsin for the restoration of the B-1 ASBH in Milwaukee and the 2015 award was given to John Eifler and Bonnie Phoenix for the restoration of the Ross house in Glencoe, Illinois.

The application deadline for the next award will be in early spring, 2019. Applications should be sent to award committee chairman Jerry Minnich, 821 Prospect Place, Madison, WI 53703. Questions may be submitted by e-mail: jminnich7@att.net.

http://sethpeterson.org

https://www.savewright.org

Tan-y-Deri Porch Restored

(c) Mark Hertzberg 2017

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Completion of the multi-year comprehensive restoration of Tan-y-Deri was celebrated last Friday with a ribbon-cutting ceremony as a start to Taliesin’s celebration of Frank Lloyd Wright’s 150th birthday. The three organizations charged with maintaining the legacy of Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin celebrated their collaboration on this project: Taliesin Preservation, the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, and the School of Architecture at Taliesin. The porch, perhaps better referred to as a terrace since it is only accessible from the interior, was the final piece of the project. It has been reconstructed to how it looked between 1939 – 1956. I had an opportunity Saturday to photograph the first floor of the house before the Wright birthday dinner. The Romeo and Juliet Windmill is nearby, and is in some photos. The early evening light, at the end a rainy day, was particularly welcome and lovely that day. We had driven to Taliesin under cloudy skies, and I had been pessimistic about having good light for photos.

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Wright designed the house in 1907 for Jane and Andrew Porter, his sister and brother-in-law, four years before designing Taliesin. The name of the house is Welsh for “under the oaks.” Andrew Porter was then the business manager for the nearby Hillside Home and School, run by Wright’s aunts. Tan-y-Deri 2017 010.jpgTan-y-Deri 2017 017.jpg

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Birthday photo

(c) Mark Hertzberg 2017

I am late to the dance in terms of posting something for the 150th anniversary of Frank Lloyd Wright’s birthday today. I hadn’t intended to post anything, but I saw this perspective of his landmark SC Johnson Administration Building and SC Johnson Research Tower in Racine today during my bike ride.SCJ 150th LR.jpg

Celebrating Wright at Taliesin and Stillbend

(c) Mark Hertzberg 2017

There are Wright celebrations aplenty this year to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Frank Lloyd Wright’s birth on June 8, 1867 in Richland Center, Wisconsin.

The annual Wright birthday cocktail reception and dinner celebration at Taliesin, organized by Minerva Montooth and co-sponsored by Taliesin Preservation (the reception at Taliesin) and the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation (dinner at Hillside), was Saturday evening. The photos of the Taliesin celebration are followed by photos of a celebration the next day at Stillbend, Wright’s Bernard Schwartz House (1939) in Two Rivers, Wisconsin. The guests at Stillbend included Steve Schwartz who shared his memories of growing up in the house. Michael Ditmer, steward of Stillbend, wondered if Wright have approved of the fuss. Read through to the end for my thoughts and then post your thoughts in the Comments link.

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Minerva was ebullient – as always – as she greeted her guests:

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Sara Lomasz Flesch, left, Aron Meudt-Thering, and Erik Flesch of Taliesin Preservation help guests with refreshments on a hot and humid evening during the reception:

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The guests included Steve and Lynette Erickson Sikora, stewards of the Malcolm Willey House in Minneapolis:

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Stuart Graff, President and CEO of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, joined by his husband, Rob Chambers, sported a concrete (really) bow tie:

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Souvenir photos were in order for many guests:

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Musicians Effi Casey, Caroline Hamblen, Shannon McFarley, Ethan Ewer, Steven Ewer, Laurie Riss, and Eliana Baccas played a concerto before remarks by Tim Wright (one of Wright’s grandchildren), Graff, Aaron Betsky (Dean of the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture), and Carrie Rodamaker (Executive Director & Director of Operations at Taliesin Preservation):

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Tim Wright (whose father was Robert Llewellyn Wright), reminisced about his grandfather who he met for the first time when he was 13, at Taliesin. He drew chuckles when he said the architect greeted him asking quite directly, “How do you like shoveling shit and pulling tits?” Timothy confessed to the guests that he had neither shoveled manure nor milked a cow yet, even though he had been at Taliesin for several weeks.

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The birthday feast seems to appear magically every year. Two of the magicians Saturday were Jay Anderson, an apprentice chef at Taliesin, and Chef Barbara Wright (no relation to the architect). They were photographed preparing the lemon butter asparagus and rosemary new potatoes which accompanied the spinach and feta cheese stuffed chicken:

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Guests, below, found the menu as they unfolded origami found in little boxes at the tables:

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The healthy menu was followed by the presumably less healthy (but no less tasty) traditionally named Frank Lloyd Wright’s Birthday Cake and a toast to Wright by Graff:

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The origami menu presentation and decorative lights were made by students Lorraine Etchell and Xinxuan Liu:

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WRIGHT CELEBRATION AT STILLBEND:

Michael Ditmer, steward of Stillbend, Wright’s Bernard Schwartz House in Two Rivers, Wisconsin, hosted his own celebration at the house Sunday afternoon.

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Steve Schwartz, whose parents commissioned the house in 1940, delighted guests with his recollections of growing up in the house from the time he was three years old. He said that Wright named the estate for the bend in the river at the site he picked out for the house which evolved from the 1938 Wright design for LIFE Magazine’s feature of  “Eight Houses for Modern Living” ostensibly for a family from Minneapolis.

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Schwartz had a treehouse in the maple behind him in the first photo below:Wright 150th Taliesin 029.jpg

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He said he hoped someone would ask him what it was like to come back to the house, and had prepared a poem entitled Home Again:

The river curves, a still bend

Flocks off honking geese flying in formation

To seek gentler climes.

Firelight illumines sooty

History of joyous life.

All is in harmony

Quietly outwitting temporal arguments

Of color and placement.

Patterns, the rising heat swirls outward

Taking conversations of generations.

Oh, to resist one’s youth

To capture, nourish and restore,

Remember the thread

That wove the future.

While guests at Taliesin were treated to classical music, Ditmer chose as entertainment a wonderful new as-yet-unamed jazz trio from Two Rivers which he decided should be named the Stillbend Jazz Trio, including vocalist Vida Martin.

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Wright 150th Taliesin 071.jpgWright 150th Taliesin 068.jpgWright 150th Taliesin 069.jpgWright 150th Taliesin 070.jpgDitmer asked me at the end of the day what Wright would have thought of this commemoration of his birthday. Consider that Stillbend was a gathering place for both friends and strangers that afternoon. Consider that the little boy who grew up there was back to experience the house again. Consider that the guests were treated to live music, Consider that the acoustics in the living room were perfect. Indeed, the house was being enjoyed just as Wright intended. He likely would have been pleased.

Wright in Miniature

(c) Mark Hertzberg 2017 / Photos by Mark Hertzberg for SC Johnson, and used with permission of SC Johnson.

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The sixth iteration of SC Johnson’s annual The SC Johnson Gallery: At Home with Frank Lloyd Wright exhibition opens today in Fortaleza Hall on the company’s campus in Racine, Wisconsin. The centerpiece of the exhibition, titled On the Wright Trail, is the display of 26 miniature scale models of Wright’s architecture by retired architectural draftsman Ron Olsen of Janesville, Wisconsin. One of the models is of the gate lodge at Penwern, Wright’s estate for Fred B. Jones on Delavan Lake, Wisconsin (1900-1903):

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The exhibition coincides with both the summer-long observances of Wright’s 150th birthday (June 8) and the inauguration  of the Frank Lloyd Wright Trail in Wisconsin. A ceremony marking the launch of the Trail was held May 10 in the Great Workroom of Wright’s landmark SC Johnson Administration Building (1936). Olsen and his wife, Judy, were photographed when they saw the exhibition for the first time after the Trail ceremony. The exhibition includes a video interview with Olsen:

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“SC Johnson is proud of its Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired architecture,” said Kelly M. Semrau, Senior Vice President – Global Corporate Affairs, Communication and Sustainability, SC Johnson. “In celebration of Wright’s birth in Wisconsin 150 years ago, we are thrilled to offer visitors of On the Wright Trail a unique opportunity to study the architect’s design practice across different areas, media and time.”

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Wright Light in Wingspread’s Great Room

(c) Mark Hertzberg 2017

I was shooting pictures in the Great Room at Wingspread last week. Underexposing significantly emphasizes the morning light coming in the three rows of clerestory windows.

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Below, the normal exposure of the same scene:

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Honoring Gene Szymczak

Photos and text (c) Mark Hertzberg 2017

Family and friends of Eugene (Gene) Szymczak gather in a cold rain in Sam Myers Park in Racine, Wisconsin Saturday May 20, 2017 for the dedication of a bench in his memory. Szymczak, president of Educators Credit Union, died suddenly December 3. A lover of architecture, he bought the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Thomas P. Hardy House in 2012 and then restored it. Designer Eric O’Malley was commissioned by the credit union, the YMCA, Kids First, and the United Way of Racine County to design a memorial bench to face the Hardy House. O’Malley chose a cantilevered design, evocative of the Prairie-style architecture in the Hardy House.  The dedication was preceded by a volunteer agency fair at Gateway Technical College in recognition of Szymczak’s numerous volunteer contributions to the community. Szymczak was honored with a Wright Spirit Award by the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy in 2015 for his stewardship of the Hardy House. Gene was modest and did not like to be singled out. I think he ordered the morning’s cold rain to discourage people from gathering in his honor.

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Hardy House: New photos

(c) Mark Hertzberg 2017

One of the joys of experiencing Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture is to see his buildings in different ways no matter how often you have visited them. I stopped in at the Thomas P. Hardy House in Racine twice over the last week to take some new photos with a new lens.

I have descended the steps from the entry hallway to the dining room and kitchen level dozens of times, but never saw the stairway like this until last week:

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This is another view of the living room balcony and ceiling:

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I have photographed the afternoon shadow of the entry hall windows projected on the wall behind, but never with a shadow on the stairs to the living room until yesterday:

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My book about the Hardy House has a shot of three bedroom windows. Last week I shot the view south a bit wider:

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And, finally, this is what happens when you greatly underexpose the view south across the balcony above the living room from the north stairs landing. The window at left is in the living room; the middle one is in the south bedroom (photo above) with a circular hall light next to it; and the window at right is in the bathroom:

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We are indebted to Gene Szymczak for his loving rehabilitation of the house between September, 2012, and his sudden death December 3, 2016.

Signs of Wright

(c) Mark Hertzberg 2017

Signs guiding people to Frank Lloyd Wright public sites in Wisconsin, including Wingspread in Wind Point, north of Racine, are being placed in communities to guide motorists once they leave the Interstate highways which were marked with “Frank Lloyd Wright Trail” signs last fall. The signs resulted from a bipartisan bill signed by Gov. Scott Walker at Taliesin a year ago.

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The signs above are on I94, near Highway 20, top, and on Seventh Street, just east of City Hall in Racine.

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The sign on the long arm is installed at N. Main and Hamilton streets, north of downtown Racine, Friday April 21 by Jeff Hoffman, John Dirkintis, and Jon Hanson of the city public works department.

FLW Heritage Trail Signs 003.jpgWalker Wright Trail 073.jpgWisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is applauded after he signs the bipartisan bill to fund a Frank Lloyd Wright Heritage 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,  State 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.