Photographing Familiar Wright Sites, Part 2

Photos (c) Mark Hertzberg (2019)

A few weeks ago I posted photos that showed new things I saw at Frank Lloyd Wright sites that I had visited “umpteen” times. I was helping lead a Road Scholar tour and had told the guests that one of the joys of Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture is the challenge of seeing his work in new ways on return visits. For me that means I have a personal challenge to see new things to photograph. On my visit to Taliesin last Friday – just two weeks after my last visit with a Road Scholar group – I saw many new things. One cannot help but be on the lookout for new things with Cate Boldt as docent (and that is not to diminish her colleagues’ skills, but, well, Cate is Cate!).

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I cannot count the number of times I have been in the living room at Taliesin and seen the piano. This was the first time I saw it this way and thought about Wright and his apprentices sitting next to the windows and gazing out at the “Valley of the Almighty Joneses” (the late Edgar Tafel, one of the first Taliesin Fellowship apprentices, often told of Wright directing him, “Edgarrrrr, play some Bach!”). Hats off to Cate for sending me into the small kitchen adjacent to the living room to look for our friend Minerva Montooth!

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How many times have I seen the old drafting tables in the original drafting room? This is the first time I have seen photographs in them:

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This is what Wright called “the belvidere,” framed by the wisteria plants outside his bedroom:

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I led my last post with a view of the farmland framed by a window near the bird walk. I saw more things framed by windows this visit. Two photos look abstract because I shot them as my camera’s autofocus was hunting for a focus spot:

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And, seen from the entrance to Hillside Theatre:

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Sometimes the architecture itself frames our view:

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Sometimes the red shuttle bus can add a point of interest, instead of being an element to crop out of the photo:

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The next two photos are from the Jacobs 1 House and the Unitarian Meeting House in Madison:

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While I have your attention, on June 14 Nick Hayes, steward of the Elizabeth Murphy American System-Built house in Shorewood (Milwaukee) will present a program about the house and the ASB homes in Milwaukee. I encourage you to hear his presentation:

https://uwm.edu/sce/courses/how-frank-lloyd-wright-built-an-artistic-legacy-from-a-tiny-house/

 

 

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Photographing Wright for the Umpteenth Time

Photos and Text (c) Mark Hertzberg (2019)

When I take guests on Frank Lloyd Wright tours for Road Scholar I tell them that one of the joys of Wright’s architecture is the possibility of seeing new things on every visit to places one has been to before. I always take my cameras with me on the Road Scholar tours for that reason and on my fifth tour for them, two weeks ago, I saw new things in buildings I have photographed many times. Alas, I did not find new things at every site we visited.

My first discoveries were at 2734 W. Burnham Street in Milwaukee, an American System-Built duplex being restored by Frank Lloyd Wright’s Burnham Block. The walls have now been stripped off and I saw these things, including the incinerator chute in the kitchen. The first photo is the view from the living room into the kitchen:

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I have photographed the Unitarian Meeting House in Madison many times. This visit I saw these views of the church. I hope to see the new copper roof by the time of my scheduled fall visits:

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I also saw a picture which spoke to the church’s statement of what Unitarianism is about, a collection of May poles amidst a “Black Lives Matter” sign. No matter what one’s beliefs, this is what the church believes, which is why the church exists, which is why there was a building for Frank Lloyd Wright to design:

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I have enjoyed photographing one of Wright’s smaller commissions, the Wyoming Valley School. This is what I saw differently this time:

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At Riverview Terrace (the Visitors Center at Taliesin), I was struck by the colors on a tree in the driveway:

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Then, of course, there was Taliesin. One of the guests asked why there are no art glass windows in the house. Cate Boldt (our superb docent) explained that Wright had no reason to shield the house for privacy and art glass windows would have blocked the views of his beloved land. What did Wright see?

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Windows looking out from the guest room were uncovered in December, 2017:

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The “Hoffman rug” in the living room has been taken out:

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The Romeo and Juliet Windmill and Tanyderi:

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And, then, finally, this was the first time I saw the drafting room at Hillside Home and School without students, which meant I could go into the room and take pictures:

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The tour I accompany for three days for Road Scholar is: https://www.roadscholar.org/find-an-adventure/22976/architectural-masterworks-of-frank-lloyd-wright

 

 

An Advance Peek at “Plagued by Fire”

© Mark Hertzberg 2019

Santa Claus brought Paul Hendrickson and Frank Lloyd Wright together in 1953 when he left a maroon J.C. Higgins 3-speed for nine-year-old Paul under the family Christmas tree in Kankakee, Illinois. The bike was not hidden under a blanket, Hendrickson recalls. It was uncovered, “dominating the spray of presents,” there for him to see as he came down the stairs in the morning.

It was chilly that day, with temperatures averaging 30-degrees, the wind gusting to almost 20 mph, hardly conducive to riding far (if at all) on his shiny new bike. When winter gave way to spring three months later, the boy hung his soft brown leather Spalding baseball mitt – he thinks maybe an Eddie Mathews model – on the handlebars of his bike and pedaled away, headed for the ball diamonds in nearby Riverview Park (now known as Cobb Park).

Five blocks south of Hendrickson’s boyhood home, just before he had to swing southeast to get to the park, well, there they were: Wright’s Bradley and Hickox houses. There were other nearby houses with Prairie-style elements (including his family’s rented house), but none as striking as the two Wright-designed homes. The boy often paused on his way to the park to take them in.

Bradley House 010.jpgFrank Lloyd Wright’s Bradley House, Kankakee, Illinois

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Bradley House 001.jpgThe Bradley House was the more striking of the two for Hendrickson

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This October, almost 66 years after Santa delivered that new bike, Hendrickson’s latest book, a ground-breaking biography of the architect whose work impressed a little boy in ways he did not yet understand, will be published. Plagued by Fire: The Dreams and Furies of Frank Lloyd Wright tells Wright’s story like no other book has. Its genesis was simple, Hendrickson wrote me in an email, “This book started in my imagination…when I was riding past it [the Bradley House] on my J.C. Higgins 3-speed.” 

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I have just finished reading a bound proof of the book (disclaimer: Hendrickson and I have become friends since he began researching certain aspects of Wright’s life and career). I will write about the book in this essay without telling you anything specific about its revelations and interpretations of Wright’s life because that was the condition of my being able to write about it. 

Hendrickson’s goal was to humanize the often-demonized Wright. The book will not be out for another six months but it has rattled the sensibilities of a few Wright devotees, judging from their comments in “The Wright Attitude” Facebook group. They were reacting to the publisher’s advance blurb at: 

https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/240133/plagued-by-fire-by-paul-hendrickson/?fbclid=IwAR1hJrTqhlIsM3t28DPcIi59A3OvhKwIlCjMOGJ4reoTnb5yxwLiaKLg0To

Some commenters were upset by “And this, we see, is the Wright of many other neglected aspects of his story: his close, and perhaps romantic, relationship with friend and early mentor Cecil Corwin; the eerie, unmistakable role of fires in his life; the connection between the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 and the murder of his mistress, her two children, and four others at his beloved Wisconsin home by a black servant gone mad.”

Hendrickson does not stab wildly in the dark to reach his conclusions. His conclusions – and sometimes he writes that we will never know the answer to one particularly intriguing question or another – are not unsubstantiated. He meticulously outlines the facts he has uncovered (perhaps inconvenient facts for some people). His research is unimpeachable. I have already told you that I won’t spill the beans. You will have to wait until you are near the end of the book for some of the pieces of Hendrickson’s take on Wright’s life to fall in place for you, but they will. I smiled and nodded when I reached those points of understanding.

The colloquialism “gumshoe” refers to detectives, sometimes private eyes. Hendrickson does not wear a tan trench coat and fedora in the style of 1950s film noire detectives, but I thought of him as a gumshoe when I read how he left no stone unturned in his research. He outlines for his readers how he came to understand facts about Wright in his narrative, rather than forcing the reader constantly turn to cumbersome endnotes. Still, his 45-page “Essay on Sources” at the end of the book is as important as the narrative itself. Hendrickson drove untold hundreds (or even thousands) of miles, walked every inch of ground in places that were important to write Wright’s story, dug through voluminous archive files, often finding rare documents that no previous Wright scholar had seen. What was the weather like when Wright left Madison to announce himself to Chicago? Just ask Hendrickson. You get the idea.

Hendrickson was not content to parrot oft-repeated anecdotes about Wright’s life if  he was unable to verify them for himself. His research took him on multiple trips to Wisconsin, Illinois, Arizona, and New York. That was to be expected. It also took him to some unexpected places in those states, as well as to unexpected states that shall remain nameless in this essay.

Working in his third floor office at home, a baseball-style cap perched on his head, Hendrickson, a former writer for the Washington Post, has taken a clean sheet of drafting paper in his computer and redefined Wright as more layered and more human than many people have previously thought. Of course Hendrickson had to start from what Wright had written about himself and what others have written about him (Hendrickson’s bibliography is four pages of single-space type) just as Wright often drew from his work-to-date when he began a new commission. 

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Photo (c) Cecilia Hendrickson

Take any story you have heard about Frank Lloyd Wright and cast it aside if it does not stand up to Hendrickson’s painstaking primary research. His word images (poetry-in-complete sentences) tumbled from the keyboard for his silver desktop Mac the way designs are said to have tumbled out of Wright’s sleeve.

Hendrickson built his narrative from both the 1933 and 1942 editions of Wright’s An Autobiography (among dozens of other books and interviews). It is well known that Wright did not get it right in many parts of his self-telling about himself. Hendrickson explains those failings, including writing about “the Wright who was haunted by his father, about whom he told the greatest lie of his life.” (from Hendrickson’s publisher’s advance publicity). What was that “greatest lie?” You will have to read the book to find out.

After Hendrickson returned from research trips he hunkered down in his third floor loft writing atelier, between the English classes he teaches at the University of Pennsylvania. He keeps folder files in a bookcase and in piles on the floor. “I try to keep things fairly clean and ordered,” he wrote me when I asked him to describe how he writes. He kept various biographies, including the two editions of An Autobiography on his large green-glass writing desk with a spiral-ringed index nearby. Two Wright placemats which he considers “talismans” are on the desk, as well. 

His screen saver is a picture of Fallingwater. There is Wright artwork on the walls, “including a photograph of the B. Harley Bradley in Kankakee.” Why that house? Because that is where Hendrickson’s Wright adventures started forming in his imagination 66 years ago as he rode past it on his way to the park and yet another game of catch. 

Note added April 11: A commenter on Facebook squirms at the mention of Wright’s affection to Cecil Corwin (and I am not divulging what conclusion, if any, Hendrickson reaches about that). I have asked him why a man’s affection for another man, or a woman’s affection for another woman, no matter what form that affection takes, should make us uncomfortable. Does that person squirm about Wright’s physical affection for Mamah Borthwick or for Olgivanna before their marriage? I think not.

Many people have pre-ordered Hendrickson’s book on-line from the Seattle behemoth that is Amazon. I urge you to instead order the book from your closest local bookshop. We have to do all we can to keep our local booksellers in business. If you don’t have a bookshop near you, you can pre-order from the publisher. That will do more to help authors than ordering from the Big A.

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Penwern Publication Progress

(c) 2018 Mark Hertzberg / Book cover (c) 2018 Brad Norr Design

Sue and John Major, stewards of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fred B. Jones estate (Penwern) on Delavan Lake, Wisconsin asked me to write and photograph a book about Jones and about Penwern in 2013. The book is now finished and in the design stage, with publication next spring by the Wisconsin Historical Society Press. We now have a cover to show you!

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We never anticipated that this would be a five-year project, but it proved to be challenging to research the book, especially because there is no known extant correspondence between Jones and Wright. The book is based on as much original research as possible, and dispels a number of things that have been written about Penwern in the past (including the origin of the name of the estate). I found only a handful of photos of Jones, just one of him at Penwern likely taken when he was about 65, twenty-five years after Penwern was built. It was almost four years before I found any adjectives describing Jones’ affable personality, a quality I had guessed but could not document until Patrick J. Mahoney and Eric O’Malley unearthed obscure articles about Jones from 1888 and 1912 in a trade journal and in a newspaper article about his work.

Wisconsin Public Television videotaped an illustrated talk I give about Penwern at the Wisconsin Historical Society’s Wade House last spring. It is an hour long and can be viewed here:

https://wpt4.org/wpt-video/university-place/penwern-a-frank-lloyd-wright-summer-place-utz1yf/

But of course you need to buy the book to see many more contemporary and historic photographs and read much more about this wonderful estate and its stewards since 1900!

Stuart Graff at Taliesin

All photos (c) 2018 Mark Hertzberg

Most of my blog posts have photos of buildings, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, to be sure. This is a different kind of post. In June Jeff Goodman, Director of Marketing and Communication of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, assigned me to photograph Stuart Graff, the President and CEO of the Foundation, at Taliesin. I had two hours to decide how and where to photograph Stuart in the context of Wright’s home and studio in Spring Green. Stuart chose to wear the hat that has been recently fashioned in the style of Wright’s famous porkpie hat for some of the photos. Here are some of the results, presented in the order in which they were taken. Enjoy the photos, and let us know your favorite one(s) in the comments!

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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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Wingspread Pool Rebuild is Finished

Words and photographs (c) Mark Hertzberg 2018

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The newly-rebuilt swimming pool at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Wingspread (1937) is filled with water from a nearby fire hydrant Wednesday May 30, 2018. The pool, which holds an estimated 114,028 gallons of water, was an original water feature of the house. It had deteriorated, and was rebuilt because of its architectural significance to the house. It will remain as an architectural water feature, and will not be used for swimming. It measures 26’ wide and 96’ 4” at its longest dimension, and slopes to a depth of 12′. The original diving board will remain in storage because the ornate stand has been lost and there are no drawings from which to replicate it. The only known record of it is this undated low resolution photo, provided courtesy of The Johnson Foundation, and copyright by them:

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The pool deck fireplace regains visual prominence as it is no longer obscured by vines:

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New mechanical systems have been installed nearby, underground:

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Wright designed Wingspread as a home for H.F. Johnson Jr. and his family in 1937, the year after Wright designed the landmark SC Johnson Administration Building in Racine, Wisconsin. Wingspread, situated in the nearby village of Wind Point, was given by the family to the newly-created Johnson Foundation in 1959. It is now a conference center. National Public Radio, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the International Court of Justice are among the notable entities that evolved from Wingspread conferences. One of the founding meetings of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy was held there, as well.

Penwern: Wright Greenhouse Rebuild

 

Photos and text (c) Mark Hertzberg, 2018

Frank Lloyd Wright’s drawings:  © 2018 Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, Scottsdale, AZ, The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York)

A little-known, long-gone design by Frank Lloyd Wright will be rebuilt beginning in October.

LR Gatehouse Greenhouse Vintage 1.jpgCourtesy of John Hime

Fred B. Jones was passionate about growing roses, so Frank Lloyd Wright designed a greenhouse for him in 1903 as part of the gate lodge at Penwern, Jones’ summer cottage and estate on Delavan Lake, Wisconsin. The structure was on the north side of the gate lodge, between the water tower and a boulder wall. At an unknown date Jones had a second, non-Wright greenhouse built adjacent to the west side of the gate lodge.

There are several extant drawings of the gate lodge that include portions of Wright’s greenhouse, including these three views:

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The only known photos of the Wright greenhouse are from about 1931. The photos are in an album we have courtesy of Betty Schacht, whose grandparents, Carl and Gerda Nelson, were caretakers of Penwern, and lived in the gate lodge. The greenhouse was picturesque enough to be the backdrop for several family photos.

Historic_Scan_10aa.jpgThe unidentified people in the historic photos are presumably relatives and family friends of Schacht’s grandparents. Jones is not in any of the photos.

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Historic_Scan_13a.jpgSome of the upper windows have been opened, as seen in this photo.

The Wright greenhouse was apparently deteriorating when it was disassembled and replaced by a carport by a subsequent owner in the 1970s. Sue and John Major, who became stewards of most of Penwern in 1994 (and of the gate lodge in 2000), and who have worked tirelessly to restore the estate to Wright’s vision, had the carport removed.

LR Canty Carport removal.jpgThe carport is removed after the Majors acquired the gate lodge in 2000. Photo courtesy of Bill Orkild.

The reconstruction of the greenhouse will be done by Bill Orkild of Copenhagen Construction, the Majors’ contractor. He will be guided by Wright’s plans and the historic photos. Orkild has worked on many projects at Penwern, perhaps most significantly in 2005 rebuilding the Wright-designed boathouse which had been destroyed in an arson fire in 1978. He had just a single sheet of Wright’s drawings to work from.

The foundation of the greenhouse was uncovered several months ago. Several irrigation pipes are evident in the footprint of the structure:

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Until the foundation was uncovered the only physical evidence of the greenhouse were lines of the roof visible in a door to the greenhouse at the base of the water tower and in the boulder wall opposite:

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Because the greenhouse was part of the gate lodge it has never been considered a separate Wright building, so it never merited its own Wright project number. Still, it is  significant and the World of Wright should welcome its reconstruction. The project underscores, yet again, why Sue and John Major were honored with a Wright Spirit Award from the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy in 2005. I leave you with an abstract photo I took of the main house at Penwern through one of the gate lodge windows last week, after I photographed the foundation of the greenhouse:

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Remembering Gene Szymczak

(c) Mark Hertzberg 2017

I pass Frank Lloyd Wright’s Thomas P. Hardy House in Racine almost daily on my bike ride. Today was a poignant day, the first anniversary of the passing of Gene Szymczak, a dear friend who was the seventh steward of the house and the man who lovingly rehabilitated it after buying it in September, 2012. I wondered how to honor Gene today. As luck would have it, the light was right, and I took a photo with my phone as the sun cast a shadow from one of the entry hall windows on the wall next to the north door.Gene Shadow.jpg

I surmised from the cars parked in front that his family was gathered in the house. We each got to honor Gene at the house in our own way.

You have probably heard the story, but if not, the house was distressed when I took Gene through it as a prospective buyer. He said to me, “I don’t have children, but this is something I could do for Racine.” You did, indeed, Gene, and we are indebted to you. Gene was honored with a Wright Spirit Award in 2015 from the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy and was honored posthumously last June with the Kristin Visser Award for Historical Preservation.

Racine and the Wright community miss you, my friend.

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