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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New stewards for Wright in Shorewood

(c) 2016 Mark Hertzberg

Angela and Nicholas Hayes joined the Wright family at the end of 2016 when they became the new stewards of the Elizabeth Murphy American System-Built house (1917) at 2106 E. Newton Ave. in Shorewood (near Milwaukee). The house, which was altered in the 1970s with the addition of a basement-level garage, was documented as one of Wright’s American System-Built homes in June, 2015. The siding, which either covers stucco, or more likely replaced it, also masks its Wright heritage. Still, Nicholas notes, ” The entire home remains as drawn, down to the knobs on the dining cabinets.”

The story of the announcement of the re-discovery of the house as one of Wright’s is at https://wrightinracine.wordpress.com/2015/06/05/newly-discovered-wright-home-near-milwaukee/LR ASB Newton 0002.jpg

 

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The Hayes outlined their interest in Wright and commitment to staying in Shorewood in a letter to the previous stewards, Roger and Pat Wisialowski. The letter, which accompanied their offer to purchase, follows:

“Both lifelong Milwaukeeans, we came to Shorewood 21 years ago to raise our kids among lovely neighbors and homes like yours. We lovingly upgraded our own home and gardens, I built businesses nearby, and Angela became the Art Teacher at Atwater School, where she teaches Shorewood children about local art and architecture, among other things. One of her class projects was to recreate Shorewood facades in clay after hiking neighborhoods, talking about history and engineering, and making 2D pencil sketches. Hundreds of colorful miniatures of familiar homes rest on Shorewoodian fireplace mantels alongside student-signed architectural renderings as provenance.

“With our adult daughters now in college, we’re entering a new chapter: we plan to stay in Shorewood, where we hope to give back. We think your home is an important key.

“Like you, we plan to be attentive and careful stewards and archivists while we live at 2106 East Newton. We will protect its glory, celebrate its importance, and secure its future. We plan to study every detail of Wright’s plans and workmanship and make sure that they remain intact and fresh. We will invest in and care for the home and yard as an important artistic and civic statement.

“To that end, Angela is already supplementing her curriculum to teach students about Wright’s vision, genius and aesthetic through her own experience of living in it. I’ve read every word written about the home since your discovery and will continue to engage the experts to try to uncover new clues and details about its place in our neighborhood. The home will remain a well-cared-for showpiece, although it will not be trampled by tourists. It will stay a private, quiet neighborhood gem, while also, importantly, creating a direct, tangible teaching moment for local kids.”

The Hayes are excited about the discoveries they have made in just a few weeks: “We’ve made some amazing discoveries in one short month: the original porch floor paint was hidden under carpet and parquet. Maple floors run throughout the upstairs (most were covered by linoleum and carpet). The all-birch cabinetry and trim can be painstakingly returned to original with classic materials: vinegar, steel wool, shellac and of course, time.” They are posting their progress on Twitter, including the following pictures, used with their permission.DSC_5302.jpegDSC_5304.jpegDSC_5300.jpeg

 

First Wright Heritage Trail Signage Placed on I-94

(c) Mark Hertzberg 2016

The new Frank Lloyd Wright Trail was dedicated this morning in Madison. The trail, which runs from the Illinois – Wisconsin state line to Richland Center, is a joint effort by the state departments of tourism and transportation to highlight the rich heritage of Wright’s work in his native state. About 142 signs have been placed in the last few weeks on I-94 and other highways marking the path to nine Wright sites.

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Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed the bipartisan bill establishing the Trail in a ceremony at Taliesin in March:

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Signs directing motorists to specific public sites such as the SC Johnson Administration Building and Research Tower and Wingspread in Racine will be erected in spring.

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A link to the Department of Tourism page with the official map follows:

http://www.travelwisconsin.com/frank-lloyd-wright

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.