I want to book a tour…

© Mark Hertzberg (2022)

You plan your Frank Lloyd Wright tour. You reserve tickets on-line. You tour. You shop for souvenirs in the gift shop. You post to social media. You go home. Then it’s on to planning the next Wright visit.

LR Touring Taliesin 001.jpgVisitors to Taliesin framed by the windows of the original drafting studio, 2018.

But a lot of strategizing and work behind the scenes went into your one or two-hour visit. It takes a lot of planning and, of course, money, to steward a public Wright site. Wright tourism has been redefined in the two years since the world and the World of Wright were enveloped by the pandemic. Virtual visits, something almost unheard of two years ago, are now common.

LR Wright tourists 006.jpgWright tourists are on a self-guided audio tour in Oak Park in 2005.

Are tours being monetized to pay staff and help maintain the property? What is the best way to enhance the visitors’ experiences while maintaining the integrity of the site? Is the site accessible to people with disabilities? If not, how can that be accomplished? What needs to done, now, to offer remote access to Wright sites?

LR Wright Tourism 014.jpgThe Hardy House, Racine, in 2013: weather can always be a wrinkle in travel plans.

The biennial Wright Sites Directors’ Summit co-sponsored by the Johnson Foundation at Wingspread, the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, and the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy addresses questions like that. The 2020 meeting was to be held at Wingspread March 16, just as the world shut down. It was, of course, canceled. The event returned to Wingspread on March 14 this year, with 32 organizations and sites represented in person, and two remotely. The theme was Building On Our Strengths(One of the participating organizations was the National Endowment for the Arts, founded at a Johnson Foundation conference at Wingspread).

This was the first Summit that Mary Beth Peterson, Board Vice President and Director of Tours and Volunteers at the Laurent House in Rockford, Illinois has attended in person. I asked her for her thoughts about the conference. Her enthusiastic review follows these photographs of one of the work sessions.

 

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Amanda Thurmann-Ward gives conferees a tour of Wingspread.

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LR 2022 Wright Sites Directors Conference 010.jpgAnna Kaplan, Graycliff, Derby (Buffalo), N.Y.

LR 2022 Wright Sites Directors Conference 013.jpgMike Lilek, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Burnham Block, Milwaukee

LR 2022 Wright Sites Directors Conference 015.jpgDave Zaleski, Wyoming Valley School Cultural Center; Carrie Rodamaker, Taliesin

LR 2022 Wright Sites Directors Conference 016.jpgGregory Wittkopp from Cranbrook (Smith House), Bloomfield Hills, Michigan

LR 2022 Wright Sites Directors Conference 018.jpgKaren Ettelson, Glencoe, Illinois Historical Society (Sherman Booth Cottage)

LR 2022 Wright Sites Directors Conference 019.jpgAhnquajj Kahmanne, Frank Lloyd Wright Trust (Chicago, Oak Park)

LR 2022 Wright Sites Directors Conference 024.jpgLibby Jordan, Rosenbaum House, Florence, Alabama

LR 2022 Wright Sites Directors Conference 025.jpgMary Beth Peterson, Laurent House, Rockford, left; Libby Garrison, Marin County Civic Center; and Tami Stanko, Affleck House, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan

LR 2022 Wright Sites Directors Conference 031.jpgKathryn Hund, Cedar Rock State Park, Lowell and Agnes Walter Estate, Quasqueton, Iowa, left; Peggy Bang, Wright on the Park, Mason City, Iowa; and Heidi Ruehle, Unity Temple Restoration Foundation, Oak Park

LR 2022 Wright Sites Directors Conference 036.jpgTiffany Wade, Price Tower, Bartlesville, Oklahoma

LR 2022 Wright Sites Directors Conference 041.jpgVivien Lasken from Fabyan Villa, Geneva, Illinois, left; Tiffany Wade, Price Tower; Kathryn Hund, Cedar Rock State Park, Lowell and Agnes Walter Estate, Quasqueton and, foreground, Ahnquajj Kahmanne, Frank Lloyd Wright Trust

LR 2022 Wright Sites Directors Conference 043.jpgStuart Graff, President and CEO, Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation

LR 2022 Wright Sites Directors Conference 046.jpgZaleski, left; Rodamaker; Graff; Don Dekker, Meyer May House, Grand Rapids, Michigan; and Marta Wojcik, Westcott House, Springfield, Ohio

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LR 2022 Wright Sites Directors Conference 051.jpgBob Bohlmann, Bradley House, Kankakee, Illinois, left; Justin Gunther, Fallingwater; Barbara Gordon, Executive Director, Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy; and March Schweitzer, Unitarian Meeting House, Madison

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LR W & L Jacobs 1 002.jpgVolunteer docent James Wardrip, center, tells visitors about Jacobs 1 in Madison.

Links for the sponsors of the Summit:

https://www.johnsonfdn.org

https://franklloydwright.org

https://savewright.org

This year was my first year to attend – in person – the Wright Site Directors Summit Meeting at Wingspread. I did have the opportunity to attend virtually in 2021. The meeting far exceeded my expectations on all accounts. It was my first time to stay at the retreat center at Wingspread. From the moment I arrived, I felt that I was at a 5-star resort. The rooms were large with a breathtaking view of the landscape, a comfy bed with the finest of linens, and a spotless bathroom filled with spa-like bath products. The staff were all friendly and accommodating and everywhere I looked I was greeted with surprising amenities such as a kitchenette full of complementary drinks and snacks of all kinds – yes to Oreos as a bedtime snack! The living room area of the retreat center offered a large fireplace with an evening fire, books of all genres to enjoy – if only there had been more time – a bar for evening socialization with new friends, and a beautiful eating area with three walls of windows looking out onto the serene landscape at Wingspread. This meeting was my first time to tour Wingspread and the opportunity to enjoy fine dining in its Great Hall each evening was a particular highlight of my stay with each meal being my favorite meal. For all these reasons, I left wishing for one more day to relax and enjoy it all.

Of course, the real reason I was there was to learn and to connect with others in the Frank Lloyd Wright world of public sites. This, too, exceeded my expectations. The theme of the Summit Meeting, “Building on Our Strengths,” offered in-depth presentations on board governance, fundraising, identifying government opportunities, programming, and preservation documentation. These are all topics of extreme interest and importance to all of us working as executive directors or lead volunteers for our own Frank Lloyd Wright public site. The material for each session was informative and well presented. In addition to all I learned, I enjoyed connecting in person with so many whom I had only met virtually during the pandemic in 2020 and 2021. I immediately felt welcome and at home with these new friends.

As I left the Summit Meeting, I felt extreme gratitude for the opportunity to be there as a representative for the Laurent House and for the time I spent with other like-minded site leaders and friends. I also left in awe of the extreme generosity and hospitality of the Johnson Foundation in offering this tranquil place to the Frank Lloyd Wright public sites community for no cost. My only regret is that I must wait two years to do this again.

Mary Beth Peterson, Board Vice President and Director of Tours and Volunteers,

Laurent House – Rockford, IL

 

 

OA + D’s Encore 

© Mark Hertzberg (2022). Chandler photographs courtesy of, and © Michael Rust

There are seemingly not enough hours in the day for some people, including Randolph C. Henning, Eric M. O’Malley, and William B. Scott, Jr. 

O'Malley Henning Scott 6.28.19.jpgO’Malley, left, Henning, and Scott  June 28, 2019, at Taliesin for a meeting of the Taliesin Fellows.

They have “day jobs,” but because they are also three individuals who are passionate about, and collected material associated with, Frank Lloyd Wright, his students, and other organic practitioners, they founded Organic Architecture + Design (OA+D) in 2013. Their mission is to honor the past, celebrate the present and encourage the future of organic architecture and design through education, conservation of original design materials, publications and exhibitions.

RHM Iannelli Planning Meeting 005.jpgO’Malley, Tim Samuelson, left, then the City of Chicago Cultural Historian, and David Jameson meet in Samuelson’s archives near OA+D’s, in June 2018 to plan an exhibit about Alfonse Iannelli at the Racine, Wisconsin, Heritage Museum.

RHM Iannelli Planning Meeting 014.jpgChristopher Paulson, right, Executive Director of the Racine Heritage Museum looks at cartoons of windows Iannelli designed for Francis Barry Byrne’s St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Racine, which Samuelson was lending to the museum.

They felt that big institutions are selective about what is saved, often rejecting worthy collections. They perceived a rapid loss of material with historical value associated with the organic movement—especially regarding lesser known architects and designers. Drawing from their own personal collections, as well as others that they were aware of, they also felt that a journal promoting an awareness of Organic Architecture (past, present and future) could be of interest and sustained.

OA+D’s list of accomplishments since 2013 is impressive:

-They are in their ninth year of publishing the Journal of Organic Architecture + Design, a quality glossy journal produced three times a year, each issue guest edited by a scholar and devoted to a single topic supporting their mission.

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-In 2016 they built and placed on long term loan to the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation a replica of Wright’s model of the unrealized San Francisco Call newspaper building (1913) to replace the original model which left its longtime home in Hillside at Taliesin when Wright’s models were acquired by the Museum of Modern Art. 

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-They have published several books, including a monograph about the box projects of William Wesley Peters:

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-They maintain archive space in Chicago, in Los Angeles, and in Lexington, Kentucky, and now also in Chandler, Arizona. A link to their noteworthy holdings is at:

https://www.oadarchives.com/collection-s-list

So, what could Organic Architecture + Design (OA + D) do for an encore? How about recently adding a fourth archive site (Chandler) after being selected by the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation in July to be the stewards of what remains of the vast archive of Taliesin Architects (TA), first known as Taliesin Associated Architects (TAA), formed after Wright’s death in 1959? After the Museum of Modern Art and Arizona State University took their share, the majority of the collection, which includes more than 50,000 drawings, is housed in OA+D’s new archive in Chandler, Arizona.

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The grand opening was in December. (While one of OA+D’s missions is to make their holdings available to scholars and aficionados of Wright’s and related work, the TA archive is so extensive that it will take time to ingest it, and there is no definite date for public access.)

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Scott says, “Probably the most exciting things they (the Foundation) gave us are these models.” Those models include a seven foot model of the 1963 proposal for the Belmont (N.Y.) Race Course, a proposal published in Architectural Forum, and a model built by the late David Dodge of a country club in Hawaii ( based on Wright’s design for a home for Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe). There is also a seven foot long rendition of the Court of the Seven Seas in San Francisco by Ling Po. He adds that Stuart Graff (President and CEO of the Foundation) “deserves a big thank you for this” as does the entire archive staff at Taliesin West.

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Some might step back and rest their laurels on an accomplishment like the TA acquisition. But that is not OA+D’s nature. Inevitably they will surprise us again. In the meantime, follow their work in the Journal. An annual subscription is $50, money well spent. 

Links:

OA+D: https://www.oadarchives.com

Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation on the transfer of the TA archive to OA+D: 

https://franklloydwright.org/frank-lloyd-wright-foundation-partners-with-oad-archives-to-steward-taliesin-architects-archive/

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The Marvelous Minerva Montooth

© Mark Hertzberg (2021) except as noted

2015 Wright Birthday Taliesin 017.JPGMinerva Montooth at the 2015 Wright birthday celebration at Taliesin.

Frank Lloyd Wright not only upended the world of architecture, he also untied Minerva Jane Houston’s tongue and eventually convinced her to marry a “Greek god.” If you know Minerva, now Minerva Montooth, you would be gobsmacked that she describes herself as having once been “pathologically shy.” Let her explain, “We (she and her twin sister, Sarah) didn’t speak to anyone in grade school, high school, college who was one day older. We’d have a fight when we went to the restaurant for lunch who would speak to the waitress.” Then she met Olgivanna and Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin in 1949. They had driven up in their just-delivered diminutive red Crosley Hotshot roadster. Mrs. Wright was at the wheel. “The minute I met them it was like a thunderbolt, I lost my shyness at that moment. If I can talk to Frank Lloyd Wright, I can talk to anybody!” 

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The Wrights in their Crosley Hotshot Courtesy of  Wisconsin Historical Society

Not only did Minerva talk to Frank Lloyd Wright, but Wright then invited her and her future husband, Charles Montooth, to dinner with them at the dining table at Taliesin. What was for dinner? Wright had ordered ham and eggs. As students of the Wright know, ham and eggs or not, dinner with the couple was not always just dinner. It would often be followed by entertainment. “Afterwards we watched television, which was pretty new, in the loggia. Helen Hayes. They knew her. Mr. Wright said, ‘She is not made for that screen. She is bigger than that!’”

1952 Honeymoon.jpgMinerva and Charles celebrate Mardi Gras on their honeymoon in Mexico. Courtesy of Minerva Montooth

But we have gotten ahead of ourselves. The story of Minerva’s journey to Taliesin is as interesting as her first meeting with the Wrights. Minerva graduated from Northwestern University in 1945 with a degree in English, “everybody’s copout degree.” A native of tiny Rushville, Illinois (population 2,682 in 1950), she moved to New York City to work as a specialized librarian for an advertising agency. Their offices were on 44th Street, overlooking Fifth Avenue. Minerva was hospitalized with pneumonia in 1947, so her sister Sarah, who was dating Charles, invited her to accompany her to “recuperate in the sun” for two weeks at Taliesin West. The Wrights were not there at the time. 

The change in scenery would lead to a change in life. “The beauty of the desert, the ambience of Taliesin West. I had never seen anything like it. It was quite a shock to go from that ambience (midtown Manhattan) to the desert and the fantastic architecture. After I got to Taliesin, I completely forgot about Northwestern!”

1947 Easter 002.jpgEaster at Taliesin West, 1947. Photographer unknown. Courtesy of The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York). All rights reserved.

She knew Charles from childhood (he also grew up in Rushville). Their grandparents and their parents were friends. “I knew him in kindergarten. He was in fourth grade, one of those untouchable Greek gods! That’s my first memory of him.”

1632336947615blob.jpgMinerva and Charles strolling in Phoenix during State Fair time, shortly after their honeymoon. Courtesy of Minerva Montooth

Charles and Minerva did not start dating until the next year after Sarah fell in love with another man when she enrolled at the University of Chicago to do post-graduate work. “Charles started going with me. I guess I was second choice!” And so began the trips to Arizona to see Charles. By this time Minerva had answered a plea from Rushville to help alleviate a post-war teacher shortage (even though she had no teaching experience or training) and moved home, so she had traditional school vacation periods to see Charles. “He was always inviting me.” Mrs. Wright added her to the roster of Fellows so they would not forget to invite her to social functions, such as the famed “beautiful” Easter celebrations.

1947 Easter 001.jpgEaster at Taliesin West, 1947. Photo by Lois Davidson. Courtesy of The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York). All rights reserved.

1632336912488blob.jpgThe Montooths at a party hosted by Mrs. Price at the Price House. Courtesy of Minerva Montooth

By Christmas 1951 the Wrights wondered why Minerva kept spurning Charles’s offers of marriage. She had no answer. Then they said, “‘Well, you can always get divorced.’ I was always astounded by that.” But Charles didn’t ask her again for awhile. She was back in Rushville when he finally proposed. Mr. Wright offered to host their wedding. He said it should be in the cabaret or theater at Taliesin West because Charles and she had helped build it. Her parents were “horrified” because “in those days you didn’t have a destination wedding, You were always married in a church.” The setting may have been unusual, but otherwise they had a “pretty conventional” wedding with a Presbyterian minister. The wedding reception was a bit less conventional than it would have been in Rushville. “I sat next to Mr. Wright at the dinner reception and a movie.”

Charles built them a small house in Scottsdale in which they lived for 10 years and raised three children. They were not formally in the Fellowship, but no matter. “We spent every single day going out to Taliesin West. The roads were terrible. We were lucky we had two cars because one was always getting a flat tire. Charles had his office in Scottsdale. I would spend the day at Taliesin West. I just joined in whatever activities were going on. We were in the chorus during chorus rehearsal at 7 a.m. every day. The children….they grew up in the back seat of the Plymouth station wagon. We practically lived at Taliesin.” I asked Minerva what color their car was. Need I have asked? It was red.

1962 Tent.jpgThe Montooths in the desert tent Charles preferred to an apartment. Courtesy of Minerva Montooth: “Taken in 1962 at Taliesin West by Dorothy Liebes, a famous fabric artist visiting Mrs. Wright.”

The commute came to an end when Charles got restless and wanted to move to Taliesin West in 1962. Mrs. Wright gave them a three bedroom apartment. “Charles hated it. ‘This isn’t desert living. I want a tent.’” And so they moved into a desert tent and Minerva went to work “right away” as an assistant to Mrs. Wright. “Probably for the first I was really responsible for Mrs. Wright’s well being.”

1632405469769blob.jpgMinerva and Mrs. Wright in an undated photograph. Courtesy of Minerva Montooth

Minerva’s feet were not to be planted in the desert sands or Wisconsin hills. Her responsibility for Mrs. Wright’s well being included trips to Japan, South Africa and “so many trips to Europe.” Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer and Tom Casey were along on some of those voyages. Some of the trips were Wright-related, others were leisure.

1632404278196blob.jpgRome, 1972…Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer is seated left foreground; Mrs. Wright left rear, David Dodge, Minerva, and Joseph “Dr. Joe” Rorke. Courtesy of Minerva Montooth.

“The trip to Japan was in response to a request from Wright enthusiasts who sent a ticket hoping she would be able to stop plans to destroy the Imperial Hotel. The trip to South Africa was inspried by an invitation to speak to the University of Durban students who wanted her to speak on the Imperial Hotel. The title of her speech was ‘The Tragedy of Progress.’” (The hotel was demolished in 1968).

Minerva became known as an unofficial photo historian of life at Taliesin. She “loved” photography, “Charles wasn’t interested in photography.” The one photo he took on their honeymoon in Mexico and it was double-exposed. They took their honeymoon in Charles’s pickup truck, planning to travel on a newly completed highway from Texas into Mexico. But the highway was far from finished. “We went through farmers’ fields. One time we went on the railroad tracks! It was pretty primitive.” Many of Minerva’s photographs, including their wedding photos, were lost in the 1980s in one of the floods following “desert downpours” that tore through Taliesin West.

Halfway through our hour-long conversation it was time to ask a touchy question. Many people are of the opinion that the Fellowship was divided into two camps in the 1950s: Mr. Wright’s, with an emphasis on organic architecture, and Mrs. Wright’s, with her devotion to Gurdjieff, the Russian philosopher and mystic. I asked Minerva about such a schism. 

6106.0165.jpgMrs. Wright at Taliesin in an undated photograph. Courtesy of The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York). All rights reserved.

She answered quickly. “I never thought of it that way. I always thought of Mr. Wright in the terms of the fable about the blind men and the elephant. Each believed what he had felt. Mrs. Wright was kind and generous, and sweet and charismatic and oh, my gosh, the Fellowship could not have existed without her. I never had any trouble getting along with her. She was very careful of Mr. Wright’s health at restaurants, and she would get a reputation that way!” Was there a schism? “I don’t think it’s true. She worshipped the ground that Frank Lloyd Wright walked on. His main failure in personality was that he was extremely jealous of her activities. He thought it was terrible she had published a book with her name. Did he think she was trying to ride his coattails? He apparently thought she should not have written a book on her own.”

One of Minerva’s regrets is not having gone from their home in Scottsdale to Taliesin for Mr. Wright’s funeral in 1959. She says that Mrs. Wright was “frail, not herself,” before her death in 1985. “I was grateful they got to escape their mortal realm.” 

Controversy followed Mrs. Wright’s death because of her wishes to have Mr. Wright’s remains disinterred from their resting place at Unity Chapel near Taliesin, and brought to Taliesin West to be co-mingled with hers. Some people have passed judgment on Mrs. Wright, assuming she did so out of jealousy about Wright’s relationship with Mamah Borthwick, and their graves being near each other at Unity Chapel. Minerva disputes that assertion, “OH, NO!” She says that Mrs. Wright told Minerva “many times” that the Wrights “were so poorly treated in Wisconsin that he should be in Arizona,” and that was her sole motivation. “Mrs. Wright never mentioned any jealousy about Mamah. She had promised a real headstone for her grave.”

1972 John Hey T West.jpgJohn Hey took this photograph of the Montooths in 1972 at Taliesin West. Courtesy of Minerva Montooth

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Minerva and Charles at The Prairie School in Wind Point in 2005. The occasion was the dedication of the addition to the Johnson Athletic Center, designed by Charles with Floyd Hamblen. Charles designed the entire campus, except for the building at the bottom of this 2021 aerial photograph, beginning with a semi-circular classroom building in 1965. The semi-circular building, which was finished into a circular one later, is the second building from bottom.

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Hundreds of people have gotten to know Minerva as their gracious host at the annual black tie celebrations of Frank Lloyd Wright’s birthday held at Taliesin until just a few years ago.

2019 Wright Birthday 003.jpgDixie Legler Guerrero and Minerva at the 2019 birthday celebration.

A reception at Taliesin – often also featuring numerous gate-crashing mosquitoes – was followed by dinner at Hillside, served by the students, and then by a musical program in the Hillside theater. Dessert was Mr. Wright’s favorite birthday cake, a delicious one from from Mrs Wright’s recipe for a yellow sponge cake, iced with fresh strawberry sauce and cream, covered with a drizzle of dark chocolate and nuts, decorated with edible flowers. A presentation cake, exhibited to the guests, was surrounded by an abundance of fresh flowers.

Wright 150th Taliesin 052.jpgThe 2017 birthday cake at Hillside.

2019 Wright Birthday 006.jpgThe 2019 birthday cake at Taliesin.

“John Hill, Cornelia (Brierly) and I all went together after they (the Wrights) died. There wasn’t anybody else to do it. It was quite a job.” I was surprised to hear Minerva then tell me, “I’ve never been a planner. Nor is it my nature to be organized. Cornelia was organized.” 

Balderdash, Minerva. You deserve lots of credit for these celebrations, as well as for the invitations to events when students would unveil their box projects in the Hillside drafting room. You have made myriad contributions to life at the two Taliesins, to the Fellowship, to the Wrights’ legacy, and you brought untold numbers of outsiders, like me, into the Taliesin circle. You are richly deserving of your title as a Taliesin “Legacy Fellow.” Thank you for your grace, your hard work, and your friendship!

2021 Taliesin UNESCO World Heritage Site 067.JPGWisconsin Gov. Tony Evers meets Minerva at the UNESCO World Heritage Site plaque unveiling at Taliesin September 15, 2021.

2016 Minerva Montooth 6.11.16 005.JPGMinerva at the 2016 birthday celebration.

2021 Minerva Montooth 8.29.21 002.JPGAugust 29, 2021

I asked Minerva to check this profile for accuracy. She asked me why I wanted to “take space to write about a nobody.” I replied that she is far from “a nobody.” Indeed. Renee LaFleur, Minerva’s assistant interjected that her daughter, Olivia, tells everybody, “MY MOM WORKS FOR MINERVA MONTOOTH!” I also asked Keiran Murphy, historian extraordinaire of Taliesin, to weigh in. She wrote me, “I would say that she embodies the best of the social dynamics of the Taliesin Fellowship. She has this skill at remembering the details about everyone and remembering their particulars. In addition, she’s very good at putting people together at a table in order to engender conversations.”

Case closed, Minerva!

2019 Minerva Montooth Fifi 9.25.19 009.JPGMinerva and Fifi, May 19, 2019

–30–

UNESCO Plaque Celebration

© Mark Hertzberg (2021)

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The early morning fog burned off in time for two ceremonies at Taliesin Wednesday September 15, one to cut a ribbon for the restored Tea Circle, the other to unveil two plaques marking Taliesin’s place in architectural history. One plaque notes Taliesin’s designation as a National Historic Landmark in 1976, the other notes it as one of eight Wright sites collectively named UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2019. The latter marked years of effort by many people with the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation and the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy in particular. Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers and Anne Sayers, Wisconsin’s Secretary of Tourism headlined the event.

First, I will show you two photos I took wandering through Taliesin before the event, showing the view of Tan-y-deri from Mr. Wright’s bedroom and studio and one I took in the Blue Loggia:

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Kimberley Valentine, left, Carrie Rodamaker and Stuart Graff, center, greet guests before the ceremony:

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Gov. Evers was introduced to Minerva Montooth shortly after his arrival (look for a profile story about Minerva and my history of photographs of her on this website soon):

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Carrie Rodamaker, CEO of Taliesin Preservation, led the ceremonies in front of the Belvedere:

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There was a break in the middle of the speeches for Phillis Schippers, left, Gail Fox, and Sid Robinson to cut a red ribbon at the Tea Circle:

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Then the two plaques on the crest of the hill were unveiled:

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Gov. Evers and Secretary Sayers then toured Taliesin:

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Sid Robinson and Minerva greeted each other:

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— 30 —

 

 

Mitchell House: Corwin/Wright’s Coda?

© Photos and text Mark Hertzberg (2021) unless otherwise noted

Mitchell House 1895.jpgThe Mitchell House in 1895, from the Racine Headlight, a railroad publication. Courtesy Racine Public Library. Note the second and third floor porch railings in this photograph and the 1908 one.

Perhaps no house linked to Frank Lloyd Wright has generated as much give-and-take about its provenance as the Henry G. and Lily Mitchell House at 905 Main Street in Racine, Wisconsin. Note that I wrote “linked to” and not “designed by.” 

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Paul Hendrickson devotes four pages to the Mitchell House in Plagued by Fire (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2019, pp. 75-78) in the context of his writing about Corwin and Wright’s close friendship and professional association:

“This is the greatest house Cecil Corwin will ever design…”

“Call it the Last Fine Building Moment of Cecil S. Corwin.” 

There is no documentation of Wright’s involvement – if any – in the design of the stately house, but there is much thought that Corwin likely designed the house in collaboration with Wright. A definitive answer to “Who Did What?” remains the proverbial “million dollar question” even after 20 years of sometimes contentious discussion. The lack of documentation means that the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation is unable to ascribe any of its design to Wright.

John Eifler, a well-known Wright restoration architect who grew up in Racine and practices in Chicago, in 2001 was one of the first to suggest Wright’s influence on the design. He told me in an interview in 2003 that “It was Corwin and Wright who did that job together. I imagine that it was Corwin who was responsible for presenting the thing to his client because he probably got the job through his Dad.” (The Mitchells were members of the First Presbyterian Church in Racine. Corwin’s father, the Rev. Eli Corwin, was the pastor of the church from 1880 -1888). “This collaborative thing that happens between architects happens a lot. It’s a collaboration, I think between two people, two young architects.”

His conclusions were bolstered this summer with the discovery of a 1908 photograph of the house. The photograph is in a photo album that also included 1908 photos of Wright’s nearby Hardy House [scroll down at the end of this article to see a post with those photos]. The album pages were acquired for the Organic Architecture + Design archives to ensure their preservation and accessibility for research. I will give more history about the sometimes contentious history of the house before I get to Eifler’s reaction to the 1908 photograph .

1908 Mitchell House OA+D toned.jpgCourtesy of, and copyright by, Organic Architecture + Design (2021). All rights reserved.

In terms of official records, the house was designed by Cecil Corwin in 1894. It was so stated in the April 15 Chicago Inter Ocean newspaper and in the March issue of the Journal of the Inland Architect. This was the year after Wright left Adler & Sullivan, so he no longer had any reason to hide his work. In fact, his Bagley House is listed in his name a few lines below the Mitchell House listing in the Inland Architect.

Mitchell Inland.jpg

In addition, Corwin’s proposal to remodel Herbert and Flora Miles’s house in Racine in 1899 shows a mini-Mitchell House grafted onto the existing house (the remodeling commission passed on to Wright in 1901 but was not realized).

Miles Existing? Wright.jpgCorwin’s 1899 proposal to remodel the Miles House. Copied by the author at the McCormick Library of Special Collections at Northwestern University.

The “Who Did What” intensified in 2002 when William Allin Storrer visited the house on July 12. He photographed it extensively and declared it to be by Wright in a story in the Racine Journal Times and in stories that ran in USA Today and on the Associated Press news wire. Storrer was quoted as saying “Maybe it (the design) is only 75 percent Wright’s, but it’s still Wright. If it’s 51 percent, it’s still Wright’s.” He included the house in a subsequent edition of his The Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright: A Complete Catalogue (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017). 

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Storrer once speculated that Wright may have designed the house as a gift to Corwin to thank him for letting Wright use his name on his “bootleg houses.” Those were houses that Wright surreptitiously designed while at Adler & Sullivan because his contract forbade him from taking on private commissions. 

As the discussion about the provenance of the house intensified, I asked Edgar Tafel about the house on April 7, 2003. Tafel, one of the original Taliesin Fellowship apprentices (1932 – 1941) told me, “On the very first trip to Racine (in 1936 for the SC Johnson Administration Building) we came down Main Street. In all the times I was there, we came down the Main Street, any number of times. He never mentioned anything about any house other than the Hardy House (four blocks south of the Mitchell House).

Fast forward to May and June 2021 after Eric O’Malley [of OA+D] emailed the 1908 photo to Eifler:

Eric sent the photograph to me as well, and when I saw the railings on the second and third floor, as well as the little bit of ornament adjacent to the dormer I became even more convinced of Wright’s involvement.  Most architects of the period would have interrupted the continuous rail with newel posts, or intermediate supports – I believe only FLW would have run the curved rail continuously.  I have also attached a stair photo from the Goodrich House in Oak Park (1896), with identically shaped balusters.” (Email to me June 17).

Goodrich House.jpgThe stairs in the Goodrich House, courtesy of John Eifler

For comparison, my 2002 photo of the stairs in the Mitchell House:

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And, in a follow-up email on June 21: (interspersed with more of my 2002 photos of Mitchell and 2019 photo of the Blossom House, left, and McArthur House, and a vintage photo of Blossom and McArthur, courtesy of John Eifler):

“1. the Bagley House in Hinsdale and the McArthur House in Hyde Park both utilize Gambrel Roofs and date from the same period.

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2. The Front Porch is similar to that on the Blossom House from one or two years before.  The continuous railing on top of the porch matches Blossom, as do the shapes of the “pickets”.

3. The trim on the interior of the Mitchell House has many similarities with Blossom and Charnley – for example, the window and door heads all align with the picture rail, there is no trim where the wall meets the ceiling.

4. The Art Glass in the south facing study of Mitchell is similar to some of the art glass in the living room of the Charnley House and McArthur.

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5. The wood used in the study is Santo Dominco Mahogany, a favorite of Wright (and Sullivan) and matches the Charnley Hs. Dining Room.”

Eifler elaborated in a followup email July 7: “It [an old photo of the Blossom House] shows a front porch on the Blossom House that is very similar to Mitchell – most notably it shows a railing on the second floor is continuous, with no intermediate supports, which is very unusual, and a continuous string of “pickets” or balusters, that are uniquely shaped with spheres, matching the 1896 Goodrich House in Oak Park by Wright.  Finally, the first floor of the porch is capped by a narrow projecting eave, or cornice (in classical terms) which projects out over the frieze – the proportions of which are unique, I think, to Wright.”

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Tim Samuelson, the City of Chicago’s Cultural Historian (and a dear friend of Paul Hendrickson’s…Plagued is dedicated to him), offers his thoughtful perspective, as well.

RHM Iannelli Planning Meeting 004.jpgTim Samuelson, left, David Jameson, and Eric O’Malley in 2018.

“As we all know from Wright’s autobiographical accounts, Cecil Corwin was a close and valued friend. We also know that they shared room 1501 in Adler & Sullivan’s Schiller Building to conduct their respective architectural practices. The room 1501 was very small – essentially 12′ x 12′.  It’s possible that they also occupied the connecting room 1502 which didn’t have corridor access, but even with that, it was pretty close quarters. (1502 could have been an used by the tenant of adjoining room1505 and had nothing to do with Wright and Corwin at all). (Floor plan courtesy of Tim Samuelson)

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“The Mitchell House indeed displays many elements characteristic of Wright’s work of the period. But at the same time, there are many aspects that do not.” (I am breaking up Samuelson’s comments with some of my 2001 and 2002 photos of the Mitchell House)

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“In my personal opinion, what you see is a matter of personal and professional osmosis between two architects sharing the same space.  Would they look over each other’s drafting boards and make comments and suggestions?  Sure!  Would Wright sometimes help Corwin with difficult design issues?  Of course!

“On the basis of Wright’s autobiographical writings, Corwin recognized and admired Wright’s unusual architectural gifts. Sharing the same space and personal camaraderie, Corwin would have learned from Wright and naturally tried to emulate aspects of his work.  And for a substantial commission on the main street of Corwin’s home town, he naturally would have welcomed comments and help from an admired colleague literally close at hand to create the best design possible.

“In such a closely shared environment between friends, it’s conversely possible that Corwin might have commented and critiqued Wright’s own work. We’ll never really know, but it’s a reasonable possibility.

“There’s always the temptation to skew perspectives to advocate the presence of a “lost” Wright work. But as a result, Cecil Corwin’s presence as a competent architect and a creative person gets lost. Sadly, it’s the story of his life.”

And,  Robert Hartmann, a friend of mine who is an architectural designer and Wright scholar in Racine, weighs in, as well: “The existence of the 1908 photo offers new evidence that the Mitchell house is a  unique one-off collaborative effort between Cecil Corwin and Frank Lloyd Wright. A dichotomy design with the more inventive parts of the house (the porch, and first floor interior detailing) either attributed to Wright or Wright’s influence on Corwin. Cecil Corwin never-the-less produced a masterful house that should be celebrated on its own merits and testifies to the close friendship between the two architects.”

Let us turn to Paul Hendrickson again, and we realize that Wright was concurrently designing his masterpiece Winslow House and Corwin was on the verge of moving to New York and to some measure of architectural obscurity. 

And so, there we have it. We will likely never know exactly who did what, but let us give Cecil Corwin his due for having designed a notable house, likely with help from his good friend Frank Lloyd Wright. 

This collaboration was not only a professional collaboration. It was also arguably the coda of their one-time close relationship (Hendrickson has a rich history of their relationship, elaborating on what Wright wrote in An Autobiography). 

The “Who Did What?” debate will continue with some discounting Wright’s possible involvement, absent documentation to the contrary (Tafel’s remarks keep reverberating in my mind), and others agreeing with the perspectives offered above.

Game on!

https://www.oadarchives.com

I appreciate the willingness of the Pettinger family, stewards of the Mitchell House, to allow me time to set up lights and photograph their home in 2001 and 2002.

— 30 —

(Scroll down for earlier posts on this website, including the 1908 Hardy House photographs)

Hillside’s Restored Theatre Curtain

All photos (c) Mark Hertzberg 2020

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One of the most fascinating things to see at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin is the stunning curtain in Hillside Theatre. It is dazzling to see, but it really comes alive when docents like the incomparable Cate Boldt describe its intricacies and symbolism to tour guests. I had the privilege of photographing the newly-restored curtain a week ago, at the request of Stuart Graff, president and CEO of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. I worked with Kyle Dockery, Collections Coordinator for the Foundation, and Ryan Hewson, Director of Preservation. Dockery gets credit for lighting the curtain perfectly for me!

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I photographed the curtain over two hours, seemingly inside and out…even from the rear, a view few people see. I boiled the take down to 119 images, some of which are below. The description of the work is culled from information from Dockery.

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The curtain was designed by Wright in 1952 following the fire which destroyed the first Hillside Theatre and its own Wright-designed curtain. It was restored in early June by a team of three conservators led by Harold Mailand. The work included stabilizing the existing gold lamé and installing new lamé on top of it, restoring the original shimmering appearance while preserving the original material in place.

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The conservators also addressed such issues as detached felt sections, damaged yarn swags, and water stains. The entire curtain was also vacuumed, in front and back to remove built up dust and dirt, restoring its original coloration, which results in it looking much brighter. 

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Original pencil marks by the apprentices who made the curtain are still visible:

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The view from backstage: Some water stains are visible

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Although Wright designed the curtain, he did not know that apprentices were secretly making it. It was unveiled for his birthday in 1956. He made some alterations, most famously being seen atop a ladder dabbing the top of the white canvas with Nescafé instant coffee.  Mailand has worked with the curtain since 1988. Forthcoming restoration work in the theatre, through a Save America’s Treasures matching grant, will help reduce wear on the curtain, particularly on the left side where it has rubbed against the limestone wall on the side of the stage.

I was able to review photos as I shot them with Dockery, left, and Hewson:

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For more information and a video, visit the Foundation’s blog piece:

https://franklloydwright.org/hillside-theatre-curtain-restoration/

Finally, what’s a photo session at Taliesin without a “selfie,” this one in the mirror at the side of the stage?

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Technical information: Nikon D500 camera (crop sensor) with 17 – 55mm lens, and Nikon D850 (full frame) camera with 14 – 24mm and 70 – 200mm lenses.

 

 

Exploring Wright with My Cameras, 9.18.19

(c) Mark Hertzberg (2019)

This is a follow-up post to the one from two days ago and several from earlier this year, as I visit Frank Lloyd Wright sites that are familiar to me with guests traveling on Road Scholar tours. I have been with four tours this year, a fifth one is scheduled for next week. One of our guests this week was from Australia:

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My challenge to myself is to try to see (i.e. photograph) these sites in new ways on each visit. Earlier this summer Taliesin Preservation was kind enough to ask me to write about my photography for their blog:

https://www.taliesinpreservation.org/behind-the-lens/

I am dedicating this post to my friend Cate Boldt, docent and educator extraordinaire at Taliesin. First you see Cate, a Master Gardener, preparing for her role as a Taliesin Garden Fairy, and then with students in Taliesin’s summer architecture camp, as students prepare for their final presentations at Hillside Theater (the practice run was at Wyoming Valley School):

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Our first stop Wednesday morning was at Jacobs 1 in Madison:

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I was taken with the glint of morning sun on the side of the house:

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I have long admired James Dennis’s red Volvo P1800 sports coupe which sits under Wright’s first carport. Wednesday I challenged myself to photograph it in the context of the house:

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Then it was on to the Unitarian Meeting House where I concentrated on the new copper roof. There is just a hint of light on the left edge of the prow in the first photo, the usual angle from which the church is photographed:

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Then it was time to play with light and shapes:

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As I shot the next few photos I longed for the days I worked for a newspaper, when I likely would have been given access inside the fence and allowed to climb up with the craftsmen restoring the landmark building:

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Our next stop was Wyoming Valley School. I have posted geometric photos in the past, but I found new lines to photograph Wednesday as Mary Pohlman told our guests about the school:

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I found a new way to show one of the many mitered windows:

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After lunch at Riverview Terrace, it was on for a Cate-led tour of Taliesin. What could I see differently? The first two photographs are reflections in windows:

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Percy Jackson (Hamblen) thinks he rules the roost (Fifi Montooth sometimes loudly challenges Percy, but she can never catches him):

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Inside the original drafting studio:

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In Mrs. Wright’s bedroom:

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Outside Mr. Wright’s bedroom:

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I struck out at Hillside Home and School, but that is okay…I can’t force pictures that don’t present themselves to me. Earlier Cate had urged me not to miss photographing Kevin Dodds (white shirt) from Taliesin Preservation and Michael DiPadova from the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation as they rebuild the Tea Circle:

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I leave you with one more “Selfie,” my reflection in the trim of the headlight of Jim’s Volvo:

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Thank you for joining me on my photo adventures!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reflecting on Wright at Taliesin

Photos (c) Mark Hertzberg 2018

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Much has been written about Frank Lloyd Wright’s reasons for building Taliesin after his return from Europe with Mamah Borthwick (Cheney). Perhaps Jamaal Allmond summed it up succinctly – without necessarily knowing the details of the turmoil in Wright’s life in 1911 – when I saw him at Taliesin Saturday several hours before the annual Wright birthday celebration. His answer when I asked him what I had just photographed him doing: “I was relaxing my soul.” Allmond, a first time visitor to Taliesin, is from Scottsdale, Arizona. He was visiting friends who are at Taliesin.

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Now, onto the annual celebration of Wright’s birthday at Taliesin, hosted by the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, the School of Architecture at Taliesin, and Taliesin Preservation. Our hosts were the ever-ebuillent Minerva Montooth, Carrie Rodamaker, and Stuart Graff. There are more photos of Allmond “relaxing his soul” at the end of this post.

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LR Wright Birthday 2018 048.jpgThe birthday cake is presented.

LR Wright Birthday 2018 018.jpgMinerva Montooth greets guests at her home…Taliesin.

LR Wright Birthday 2018 026.jpgStuart Graff, president and CEO of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, describes his concrete (really!) bowtie to guests.Wright Birthday 2018 024.jpgJack Holzhueter, left, Mike Lilek (Frank Lloyd Wright’s Burnham Block, Inc.,) and Steve Sikora (Malcolm Willey House)

LR Wright Birthday 2018 035.jpgThe tables are turned on the photographer.

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Wright Sites Meeting at Wingspread

Photos (c) Mark Hertzberg, 2018

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Three dozen representatives of Wright sites, the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation and the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, met at the Johnson Foundation at Wingspread in late March for a “Wright Site Directors Summit.” Topics included creating Wright mobile apps, presenting sites in 3-D on tablets, strategies for innovative branding and marketing, and accommodating guests with disabilities. The three-day meeting was sponsored by the two foundations and the Building Conservancy.LR BC Wright Sites 024.jpgLibby Garrison of the Marin County Civic Center tells how their mobile app was created.

LR BC Wright Sites 003.jpgMichael Ditmer (Still Bend) and Heather Sabin (Monona Terrace) confer. Ditmer is the new president of Wright in Wisconsin. Mike Lilek, left rear, of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Burnham Block talks with John Waters Preservation Programs Manager of the Building Conservancy. Kathryn Burton (Gordon House) is also at the table.

LR BC Wright Sites 011.jpgStuart Graff, President and CEO of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, contributes to the discussion after a presentation. Jim Ladwig, center, (SC Johnson and Son) and Don Dekker (Meyer May House) take notes and listen.

LR BC Wright Sites 015.jpgJeffrey Herr (Hollyhock House) and Carrie Rodamaker (Taliesin Preservation)

LR BC Wright Sites 037.jpgMike Lilek of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Burnham Block in Milwaukee.

LR BC Wright Sites 040.jpg“The House,” built in the mid-1950s adjacent to Wingspread, became the home of Mr. and Mrs. H.F. Johnson Jr. before they donated Wingspread itself to the newly-created Johnson Foundation in 1959. It has more space for conferences than the Wright-designed Wingspread. It has been said that Mrs. (Irene Purcell) Johnson was never comfortable in Wingspread because it was designed for another woman…Johnson’s wife who died during construction. National Public Radio, the National Endowment for the Arts, the International Court of Justice – and the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy – are among the entities that evolved from Johnson Foundation conferences. 

Wright on the Fly

(c) Mark Hertzberg 2017

Some of my favorite Wright photos were shot on the fly this week as I accompanied a Wright adventure sponsored by Road Scholar and the Jewish Community Center of Chicago as their Wright resource person in Racine, Milwaukee, Madison, and Spring Green. I sometimes shoot pictures more deliberately, with an appointment to photograph. This week’s photos were shot on the fly, during group tours. I posted some Wednesday. Here are photos from today. The first two are at Wyoming Valley School, the last two at Taliesin.

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The trip ended this evening. What will my next Wright adventure be?