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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When was Wright possibly wrong?

(c) Mark Hertzberg 2017

When was Wright possibly wrong? For one, when he possibly made the handwritten notation “Lake Delavan” on one of the drawings for a proposed summer cottage and boathouse for J.D. Stamm in 1945 (Project #4513). And so the project has been listed as being meant for Delavan Lake in both Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer’s “Monograph” of Wright’s work and Volume 3 of “The Complete Works.”

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[Both drawings, above, (c) The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art / Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Libary, Columbia University, New York), and used with permission.]

Sue and John Major, stewards of Wright’s Fred B. Jones estate (“Penwern”) on Delavan Lake commissioned me to write a book about Jones and Penwern in 2013. (The book will be published by the Wisconsin Historical Society Press in the fall of 2018.) I was intrigued by the Stamm project, and excited about it, when I saw it in “The Complete Works,” because I was not aware of such a late project for the lake. The latest documented Wright commission on Delavan Lake was from 1907.

A check of the known Wright correspondence in Anthony Alofsin’s “Index to the Taliesin Correspondence” and with Sally McKay at the Getty Research Center showed only one Stamm letter, an unrelated 1953 note from Stamm to Wright about a movie. Nor was there any record of the Stamms or the project in the Delavan area. Local historians wondered if the project was for Lake Nagawicka, near Delafield, 45 miles and two counties away from Delavan because they had heard of a Stamm marine-related business there.

The hunt was on to find the family. Inquiries to local historical societies and libraries in Delafield were not fruitful. As I often have while working on the book, I turned to Mary Stauffacher, a friend, who is a whiz at navigating ancestry.com. She found John Davies (not David) Stamm’s daughter. Lisa Stamm told me that her father was working on the project for his father, Victor Stamm, not for himself. While she was too young to remember much about the project, she remembered meeting Wright when she was about 3 years old in the late 1940s. And she thought that Lake Nagawicka was, indeed, the likely site of the project because her grandparents, who lived in Milwaukee, would summer on Lake Nagawicka, but she was not certain.

But I could not go on supposition. Lisa passed my questions on to her family, and a few days ago her daughter, Vanessa Parsons, came up with the definitive proof that the project was indeed meant for Lake Nagawicka, rather than Delavan Lake. I was bleary-eyed, nearing the end of an overnight bus trip from Milwaukee to Minneapolis, when I opened her welcome email with close up photos of the block lettering on her copy of the Stamm project. It clearly reads Lake Nagawicka. It took five months of on-and-off digging, but the mystery is solved and the record is set straight, with the generous and patient help of others.

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[Both photos above courtesy Vanessa Parsons and the Stamm family, and (c) The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art / Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Libary, Columbia University, New York), and used with permission.]

Brian Spencer, AIA, who has extensively researched the Delavan Lake work, who did restoration work on Wright’s Wallis – GoodSmith House on Delavan Lake in 1992-93 and rebuilt the Penwern boathouse which had been destroyed by a 1978 arson fire in 2005 (working from a single sheet of Wright’s drawings), suggests that the mistake by Wright (or whoever made the notation) was understandable: Delavan? Delafield? Unless one is from the area, it would be easy to mix them up knowing that Wright had about a dozen commissions on Delavan Lake.

It is disappointing  to not know more about the commission and why it was not executed, but it is satisfying to know for certain which lake it would have been built on. Some Wright aficionados have asked for the exact location so they can hunt satellite photos, given that the project evidently would have been connected to an existing house. The hunt for that information continues.

Summer and Fall at Penwern

(c) Mark Hertzberg 2016

It is time to revisit Penwern, the magnificent estate Frank Lloyd Wright designed for Chicago “capitalist” Fred B. Jones on Delavan Lake, Wisconsin in 1900 – 1903. Penwern was Jones’ country home, a place to entertain his many friends from Chicago. It is no less a magnificent home to welcome friends today than it was during the myriad of summer parties mentioned in contemporary newspaper social notes.

The entry is one of my favorite parts of the house. Visitors enter the house under a low ceiling (the balcony or passageway from the stairs to the bedrooms is above this entry ceiling). Instead of being confronted by walls and doors, they can immediately look into the billiard and dining rooms (left) and living room (right).

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We see friends of Sue and John Major, stewards of Penwern since 1994,at the Majors’ annual party celebrating the 4th of July. While Wright specified that the front porch (facing north and the lake) and the two side porches should have curved walls, the walls were either built straight or modified by Jones. John O’Shea, steward of Penwern from 1989 – 1994, rebuilt the front porch to Wright’s design. The Majors did the same with the side porches last year. The curved walls echo both the arched porte-cochere and the 28′ foot long arch over the front porch.

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The Majors also removed the wall separating the front porch from the east side porch:

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Early photos of Penwern show a cairn near the gate lodge. The Majors recreated it this year:

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They also uncovered a cistern at the gate lodge:

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There are often different views of the lake through the boathouse windows and through the arched porte-cochere:

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Fall is spectacular in Wisconsin. This past weekend begged a visit to Penwern, cameras in hand:

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The stable and the house:

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The gate lodge:

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We end our visit with a photo of Jones’ monogrammed wind vane which was once atop the stable. It is now in the living room:

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Visit www.penwern.com to see many more photos of the house, both historic and contemporary, as well as copies of Wright’s surviving drawings.

Penwern – Wright’s Porch Design is Built

Text and photos (c) 2015 Mark Hertzberg, unless noted.

Frank Lloyd Wright designed semi-circular outer porch walls for Penwern, the Fred B. Jones House on Delavan Lake, Wisconsin (1900-1903), but the walls were either built straight or modified from his plans early in the life of the house. Jones is shown near the straight east porch wall in an undated photograph. The house was completed in 1901; he died in 1933.

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The east and west (side) porches now have semi-circular outer walls, as indicated on Wright’s drawings for the house. (The drawings can be viewed on Penwern’s magnificent website, www.penwern.com ) Sue and John Major, stewards of Penwern since 1994, commissioned master builder Bill Orkild to rebuild the side porches to Wright’s plan this spring. The work was completed just a week ago. The outer wall of the front porch, facing the lake, was changed from straight to semi-circular by John O’Shea, the fourth owner of the house, between 1989 and 1994. The front porch is on the right side of the first photo below:

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The semi-circular design brings a unified design element back to the house because it echoes the dramatic arch over the front porch and the arched porte-cochere.

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Penwern Porches

Penwern Porches

Orkild photographed the east porch during reconstruction:

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He also fashioned the diamond-shape accents shown on Wright’s drawings. Penwern Porches

Penwern Porches

Penwern Porches

The next question for the Majors to ponder with Orkild is whether the walls on the insides of the porch are load-bearing. The walls are not shown on Wright’s plans. Removing them would allow for more dramatic vistas to the east and west from the front porch. It is possible that the porches were screened in with these walls after Jones lived in the house to shelter himself and his visitors from mosquitoes.

Penwern Porches

Penwern Porches