Winslow…and Charnley

(c) Mark Hertzberg (2020)

“The Winslow House had burst on the view of that provincial suburb like the Primavera in full bloom. It was a new world to Oak Park and River Forest. That house became an attraction, far and near. Incessantly it was courted and admired. Ridiculed, too, of course. Ridicule is always modeled on the opposite side of that shield. The first house soon began to sift the sheep from the goats in this fashion.” – From Frank Lloyd Wright’s “An Autobiography,” P. 152 of the 1977 Horizon Press edition.

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I opened the 1963 Horizon Press edition of the Frank Lloyd Wright Wasmuth Portfolio which my dear friend Gene Szymczak (steward of the Hardy House) gave me a few months before he died, when I began writing this piece. The first three of the 100 plates are the landmark house he designed for William Winslow (1893, River Forest, Illinois, T.9305):

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What were you doing when you were 26 years old? As for Frank Lloyd Wright, well, he “shook out of his sleeve” a landmark house.* The Winslow House was not his first commission, but it was the first one he could proclaim as his. He had quit or been dismissed from Adler & Sullivan, and no longer had to hide behind Cecil Corwin’s name or Adler & Sullivan’s names (the latter, as in the case of the James Charnley House – Chicago, 1891, T.9101). I was given the privilege of photographing the house two weeks ago by its stewards who I am not naming, to protect their privacy.

This post was originally going to be solely dedicated to my recent Winslow House photos, but it evolved as I thought about Tim Samuelson’s “Wright Before the Lloyd” exhibition at the Elmhurst Art Museum. The exhibition includes a large photograph of the front of the Charnley House. I knew I would be photographing Winslow soon when I saw the exhibition. When I looked at the photo below, I thought that the entrance to Charnley was a bit like what Wright would design for Winslow two years later. Looking at the square windows on the third floor of Charnley also made me think of the windows that flank the front door of Winslow.

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As I looked at my 2014 photos of Charnley this evening, I saw enough to make me think that some of Charnley’s details seem to lay the groundwork for some of Winslow details. Since I started exploring this thesis and emailing scholars, they have affirmed my notion that in some respects Charnley can indeed be considered a rough draft of what Wright would do for his first client after he hung out his architect’s shingle.

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And, the front doors, both highly oranmented (although Winslow is not as stylized as the more narrow Charnley door):

Charnley:

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Winslow:

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And what about the arches that flank the inglenook and fireplaces that warm us after entering each house? In each house the left arch precedes a staircase. First, Charnley, then Winslow (Winslow is undergoing interior restoration which is why some wall surfaces are unfinished):

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Arched passageways, first in Charnley, then in Winslow:

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Unlike Winslow, Charnley has an atrium, but both have wood screens on their staircases:

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Winslow:

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After those comparisons of Charnley and Winslow, I return to the original theme of this post, a photo gallery of my new Winslow photos:

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Back inside the house, we start at the inglenook again:

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Winslow House 10.28.20 063.jpgThis original thermometer (Winslow was a metal fabricator) still works:

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I am not showing many interior spaces, to respect the stewards’ privacy:

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One of my favorite features of the house is the octagonal staircase in the stair tower:

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Allow me one more comparison, to the ceiling in the drafting room at the Home and Studio (Oake Park, 1897, T.9506)…both are octagonal:

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The stable, first viewed through the dining room bay windows and through the windows on the rear stair tower:

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The stable, framed by the porte-cochère:

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I photographed the fireplace in Unity House (at Unity Temple) a few weeks ago. Heidi Ruehle told me that there supposed to be a mural around the fireplace. Unadorned, it made me think of the entry to the Winslow House where I would be taking pictures that afternoon:

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“When I first laid eyes on the Winslow House from the street (as a 22-year-old architecture student), I felt like I was in a church, the presence viewed from the street was so powerful. I don’t think I have ever seen a Wright building that impacted me in that manner. It was a powerful experience.” – Randolph C. Henning, architect and Frank Lloyd Wright author and scholar, in an interview with the author, November 10, 2020.

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*There are numerous references in the Wright literature to him “shaking” designs “out of his sleeve.”

Web Links:

The stewards of the Winslow House sent me this link to a comparison between Charnley and Winslow after I wrote them that my essay was turning in that direction:

http://chicagopatterns.com/louis-sullivan-frank-lloyd-wright-charnley-house-part-3/

“Wright Before the Lloyd” Exhibition at the Elmhurst, Illinois, Art Museum:

https://www.elmhurstartmuseum.org/exhibitions/wright-before-lloyd/

Wright Galore in Elmhurst

(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:

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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”.

“But when he went into architectural practice, he signed his drawings, press notices, etc. with the prosaic “Frank L. Wright”.  Just the initial. He never started signing drawings, press notices, etc with a full blown “Frank Lloyd Wright” until 1897-98. The exhibit is themed around a more modest period where he just used the initial “L” instead of writing out a more distinctive “Lloyd”.]

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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:

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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.

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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!).

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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.

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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.

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“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:

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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:

https://www.elmhurstartmuseum.org

https://elmhursthistory.org/