"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 ."
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 met Mamah Borthwick Cheney in 1903. Indeed it may have been his wife who introduced them since both she and Mamah were members of the Nineteenth Century Women's Club. Their friendship led to a commission from her husband, Edwin. The bond grew through the middle years of the decade until it became apparent to Frank that his future lay with Mamah. For particulars of their clandestine relationship you will have to consult one of the many biographies of Wright, although admittedly details are scant. For a fictional reconstruction you might read Loving Frank (2007) by Nancy Moran.
In 1909 Frank went to Berlin to make arrangements for the publication of his forthcoming book Ausgefuhrte Bauten und Entwurfe , now a highly prized (and priced) collectors item. He had also arranged to meet Mamah in Europe and they lived together for nearly a year dividing their time between Berlin and Fiesole, Italy. Upon his return he lived with his wife Catherine for another year before leaving her, and their children, to live permanently with Mamah at the new home he was building for them at Taliesin near Spring Green.
Mamah was divorced in 1911 but Catherine continued to hope for a reconciliation and did not finally grant Frank a divorce until 1922.
The name Taliesin means shining brow in Welsh and the magnificent structure is indeed situated on the brow of a hill. The layout of the house has been described in the following terms ( Wikipedia ):
"The Taliesin house had three sections: two broad portions on either end and a narrow connecting loggia. Typical of a Prairie School design, the house was, as Wright described, "low, wide, and snug." As with most of his houses, Wright designed the furniture. One of these broad sections was used as Wright's studio and workroom. A small apartment wing juts out of this wing; the apartment may have originally been intended for Wright's mother, but was used by Wright's head draftsman. Wright and Borthwick lived in the other broad portion. The one-story complex was accessed by a road leading up the hill to the rear of the building."
Taliesin was listed as a World Heritage Site in 2019.
Life went on in these idyllic surroundings even though commissions were suffering as a consequence of the abandonment scandal. Wright had only three in 1912 and 1913. Luckily one of them was a big job. Midway Gardens was an enormous 'pleasure garden' in Chicago which would provide a venue for concerts, dining, drinking and dancing. There was a crew of six working in the studio, some of whom had worked on Taliesin itself and who were now engaged in work on Midway and other projects. Mamah was busily publishing her translations of the writings of Swedish feminist Ellen Kay and may have been working on a book of her own. Her children, John and Martha, both came to stay for a month each summer. This had been agreed in the terms of her divorce from Edwin.
And so life continued until one fateful day in August 1914 when tragedy struck.
Julian Carlton was engaged as a general handyman. He lived at Taliesin together with his wife Gertrude. He had been recommended by a client, John Vogelsang, and at the time of his employment Frank had no reason to suspect him capable of the appalling crimes he later committed. Friends and relatives, however, knew him to be possessed of a fierce temper. He had also revealed a violent and threatening demeanor upon occasion, although never to his employers.
For a full and detailed account of the murders at Taliesin one could do no better than to consult William Drennan's Death in A Prairie House . Drennan notes that Carltons' motives have never been fully understood and concludes that, regardless of the immediate cause, the most likely explanation is simply that he went 'mad' or 'berserk'.
Whatever his motives, on August 15th 1914, Julian Carlton murdered seven people with an axe. The carnage was horrific. Among the slain were Mamah Borthwick, her two children, John and Martha (who were visiting at the time) and four members of Wright's studio staff.
Two more, Herbert Fritz and William Weston, were severely injured.
Wright was away working on Midway Gardens when he got the news. He rushed back to Taliesin and one can only imagine his state of mind during that journey and in the immediate aftermath. The press reports were harrowing and frequently judgmental in tone and there is some slender evidence that Frank flirted with the idea of suicide at one point. *
Mamah was buried in the grounds of the Unity Chapel, about a mile from the house at Taliesin.
Wright began rebuilding Taliesin a few months after his recovery. Work was , for Frank, both a way of life and a form of therapy. He named the new structure Taliesin II.
* It was alleged in a newspaper report of the period that Frank deliberately lingered on the banks of the artificial lake below Taliesin after its dam broke. He was temporarily swept away by the floodwaters but successfully fought his way back to the bank.
“Early in my career...I had to choose between an honest arrogance and a hypercritical humility... I deliberately choose an honest arrogance, and I've never been sorry.” - Frank Lloyd Wright
“A doctor can bury his mistakes, but an architect can only advise his clients to plant vines.” - Frank Lloyd Wright
Frank's recovery post 1914 was swift and energetic. He rebuilt Taliesin although it burned down for a second time in 1925. Commissions were less plentiful than they had been prior to the scandal and tragedy at Taliesin but two developments in particular helped re establish his career and reputation:
1932 The Taliesin Fellowship was founded by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1932' In its early years, Wright's apprentices worked on his projects including Fallingwater , and the Guggenheim Museum. It survives today as The School of Architecture .
1936 In 1936 Frank got lucky. He scored three commissions, all of which were completed and all of which were hailed as masterpieces. They were:
One of Wright's most famous and striking designs in his later career, was for the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. Frank worked on the initial sketches between 1943 and 1944 and the museum first opened in 1959 a few years after his death.
From the Wikipedia :- " The spiral design recalled a nautilus shell, with continuous spaces flowing freely one into another. Even as it embraced nature, Wright's design also expresses his take on modernist architecture's rigid geometry. Wright ascribed a symbolic meaning to the building's shapes. He explained, "these geometric forms suggest certain human ideas, moods, sentiments – as for instance: the circle, infinity; the triangle, structural unity; the spiral, organic progress; the square, integrity." Forms echo one another throughout: oval-shaped columns, for example, reiterate the geometry of the fountain. Circularity is the leitmotif, from the rotunda to the inlaid design of the terrazzo floors. Several architecture professors have speculated that the helical ramp and glass dome of Giuseppe Momo's 1932 staircase at the Vatican Museums was an inspiration for Wright's ramp and atrium. Jaroslav Josef Polívka assisted Wright with the structural design and managed to design the gallery ramp without perimeter columns. "
Frank Lloyd Wright in Print
Frank Lloyd Wright wrote and published extensively on the subject of architecture throughout his career. Amongst his most important works are:
A fascinating series of articles published in the Architectural Record between 1908 and 1928. The articles give an insight into the development of Wright's thoughts on architecture in this period.
Second Marriage: Maude Miriam Noel
Maude Miriam Noel introduced herself by letter to Frank in late December 1914. Their relationship grew and Miriam was living at Taliesin, now rebuilt after the first fire, by the summer of 1915. Frank married Miriam in 1924 after his divorce from his first wife, Catherine, became final. Miriam was, among other things, a morphine addict and a spiritualist. Their time together was not a happy one and the marriage failed after less than a year. They separated and eventually divorced in 1928. The separation and divorce were bitter and acrimonious as Maude sought the best possible settlement. She harassed Frank with threats of legal proceedings throughout the process.
Third Marriage: Olgivanna Lloyd Wright
Wright met Olga (Olgivanna) Lazovich Hinzenburg at a ballet performance in Chicago in 1924 while still married to Miriam. Olgivanna moved in to Taliesin in 1925 and the couple's first daughter, Iovanna, was born in December of that year. They were married in 1928 after Frank's divorce from Miriam became final the previous year.
Olga Ivanovna Lazović was the daughter of Jovan Lazović (the first Chief Justice of Montenegro) and Milica Miljanov. Her mother was a soldier and Montenegrin war heroine in World War I. She became a follower of G. I. Gurdjieff and left her first husband and child to follow Gurdjieff to Paris where she spent seven years as a student and teacher of sacred dance. In 1924, Gurdjieff disbanded his group and advised Olgivanna to go to the United States.
They remained married until, at the age of 91, Frank died in 1959. Olgivanna, who was 30 years younger than Wright, survived until 1985. .
Death & Legacy
Frank Lloyd Wright died peacefully on April 6th 1959 at the age of 91. He was buried initially at Unity Chapel near Taliesin in Wisconsin. He was later exhumed, cremated and re-interred near Taliesin West at his third wife Oligvanna's instruction.
In recognition of his lifetime achievements he was awarded a Gold Medal by The Royal Institute of British Architects in 1941. In 1949 the American Institute of Architects followed suit awarding him an AIA Gold Medal. He received an honorary degree from the University of Wales In 1956.
Wright had designs built in three centuries (19th, 20th and 21st). The Blue Sky Mausoleum in Buffalo was completed in 2004 from an original 1928 design. He designed more than 1100 architectural works in the course of his career of which a total of 532 were constructed.
His influence on subsequent generations of architects around the world has been undeniably massive. It can truly be said of him that he changed the way we build and live.
Perhaps the best generally available guide to Frank Lloyd Wright sites that are publicly accessible in the U.S. This book lists 74 sites that are open to the public and includes colour photos, descriptions and access information.
While visiting the San Rafael (CA) area I became aware that the local Civic Center was designed by internationally acclaimed Welsh American architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. I simply had to get a few snaps!
The Frederick C. Robie House is a U.S. National Historic Landmark now on the campus of the University of Chicago in the South Side neighborhood of Hyde Park in Chicago, Illinois. Built between 1909 and 1910, the building was designed as a single family home by architect Frank Lloyd Wright and is renowned as the greatest example of Prairie School, the first architectural style considered uniquely American.
Fallingwater is a house designed by the architect Frank Lloyd Wright in 1939 in the Laurel Highlands of southwest Pennsylvania, about 70 miles (110 km) southeast of Pittsburgh. The house was built partly over a waterfall on Bear Run in the Mill Run section of Stewart Township, Fayette County, Pennsylvania, located in the Laurel Highlands of the Allegheny Mountains. The house was designed as a weekend home for Liliane and Edgar J. Kaufmann, the owner of Kaufmann's Department Store.
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, often referred to as The Guggenheim, is an art museum located at 1071 Fifth Avenue on the corner of East 89th Street in the Upper East Side neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City. It is the permanent home of a continuously expanding collection of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, early Modern, and contemporary art and also features special exhibitions throughout the year. The museum was established by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation in 1939 as the Museum of Non-Objective Painting, under the guidance of its first director, Hilla von Rebay. It adopted its current name in 1952, three years after the death of its founder Solomon R. Guggenheim.