• frank lloyd wright banner.jpg

  • Famous Welsh Americans - Frank Lloyd Wright

    Back to Famous Welsh Americans

  • fwrblaenyralltddu.jpg

    "The boy, she said, was to build beautiful buildings ... she intended him to be an architect."  Frank Lloyd Wright ( Autobiography )

    "I had grown up from childhood with the idea that there was nothing quite so sacrosanct, so high, so sacred as an architect, a builder." Frank Lloyd Wright


    In 1844 the Lloyd Jones family set out from Blaenyralltddu (pictured above) on the 10 mile trek to New Quay. From there they would sail along the Welsh coast to Liverpool. The onward journey to New York would take several months after they were initially forced to return to port when a mainmast shattered in a storm. They finally arrived in early December 1844.

    Frank Lloyd Wright's grandparents, Richard and Mallie Lloyd Jones, had originally intended to migrate the year before but postponed the trip when Mallie became pregnant. In 1843 the area around the family home in Llandysul, Ceredigion was consumed with the violent protests against toll-gates which became known as the Rebecca Riots . Though it is possible that the Lloyd Joneses sympathized with the grievances of the rioters it is also likely that the social convulsion which the riots occasioned contributed to their desire to leave. But the new world also held great promise for them. Many of their countrymen had already settled in America and, as Unitarians, they were probably hoping for a more liberal social environment in which to practice their faith.

    They eventually settled near the town of Spring Green, Wisconsin in an area that became known as "the valley of the god-almighty Joneses."

    Richard and Mallie raised ten children, one of whom, Frank's uncle Jenkin Lloyd-Jones, fought for the Union in the Civil War and became famous as a minister and committed pacifist in later life.

    Their daughter Anna would go on to marry William Carey Wright in 1866 and in the following year she gave birth to their son, Frank Lloyd Wright.


    Their marriage was not a happy one. Constantly troubled by financial worries they finally separated in 1881. They were divorced in 1885.

    Frank often acknowledged his mother's influence on his choice of future career  (see quotes at the head of this page) but in fairness it should be pointed out that his father probably played a role too.  William Carey Wright was a preacher, public speaker and composer. He encouraged Frank to see musical compositions as 'structures' and may have helped to inspire his son's creative spark in other ways.

    In 1886 Frank enrolled at the University of Wisconsin. He stayed for only two semesters and studied engineering, mathematics, English composition and French.

    In 1887 Frank left home and set off for Chicago.


    Working initially for Joseph Lyman Silsbee (a position he probably obtained through family connections) he was soon hired as a draftsman by the prestigious firm of architect Louis Sullivan . Sullivan is renowned as "the father of modern skyscrapers" and "the father of modernism". Frank referred to him as his Lieber Meister (Dear Master) and worked for the firm for the next five years.

    Wright rose rapidly to the position of head draftsman and was responsible for all residential design work and and also worked on the firm's major commercial projects. He did much to establish his reputation as an up and coming architectural talent during his time with Sullivan but his profligate spending habits and inability to manage money led to a rupture with his 'Lieber Meister' in 1893. During his time with Sullivan, Wright accepted independent commissions for 9 houses. Eight of these 'bootleg' houses are still standing - see links below *. He did this, despite the fact that his 5 year contract expressly forbade such work. Wright was fired when Sullivan discovered that he had been moonlighting. 


    Frank Lloyd Wright established his own
    architectural practice and by 1901, he had completed about 50 projects, including a number of houses in the Oak Park district of Chicago where he lived. His residential designs of this period are known as "prairie houses".

    The Prairie School can be defined as follows. From the Wikipedia :-

    " Prairie School is a late 19th- and early 20th-century architectural style, most common in the Midwestern United States. The style is usually marked by horizontal lines, flat or hipped roofs with broad overhanging eaves, windows grouped in horizontal bands, integration with the landscape, solid construction, craftsmanship, and discipline in the use of ornament. Horizontal lines were thought to evoke and relate to the wide, flat, treeless expanses of America's native prairie landscape. The Prairie School was an attempt at developing an indigenous North American style of architecture in symphony with the ideals and design aesthetics of the Arts and Crafts Movement, with which it shared an embrace of handcrafting and craftsman guilds as an antidote to the dehumanizing effects of mass production ."

    A famous example of Prairie School design is the Frederick C. Robie House . The House is open to the public and tours are organised by the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust

    First Marriage: Catherine Lee Tobin

    In 1889 Frank married Catherine Lee Tobin and they lived together in the house he designed for them in Oak Park, Chicago until their separation in 1909. They seemed like a well matched couple and lived happily together for the first years of their marriage. They had six children. 

    Frank met Mamah Borthwick Cheney in 1903 whilst designing a house for her husband, Edwin Cheney. The Cheney's lived in Oak Park and Mamah was a modern woman with interests and opinions of her own. She was an early feminist, and Wright viewed her as his intellectual equal. They vacationed together in Florence, Italy between 1909 and 1910. By 1911 they were living together at the new home he built for them on land his mother bought near Spring Green. It was here, at Taliesin that tragedy was to strike in August 1914.

    Wright was severely criticized for his abandonment of his family and Catherine did not grant him a divorce until 1923.

    frank lloyd wright home oak park.jpg

    Bootleg Houses: Thomas H. Gale House Francis J. Woolley House |   Robert P. Parker House | George Blossom House Laura Gale House

    comments powered by Disqus