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Thursday, Nov. 5, 2009 12:22 pm

The famous architect who was never alone

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Frank Lloyd Wright home in Oak Park, Illinois.

In his most recent book, Communities of Frank Lloyd Wright: Taliesin and Beyond, historian Myron Marty strives to define the Frank Lloyd Wright Taliesin Fellowship in the context of other groups Wright worked with and other “intentional communities.” Together with his earlier book, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin Fellowship (Truman State University Press, 1999), co-authored with his wife, Shirley, Marty presents a comprehensive picture of the unique community organized to create, promote and preserve the values and goals of one man — Frank Lloyd Wright.

The earlier publication was based on a series of interviews of 39 “men and women who have committed their lives to the perpetuation of the ideals of community life and all that entails in a fellowship based on organic architecture.” By contrast, Communities of Frank Lloyd Wright: Taliesin and Beyond presents a multitude of voices from a myriad of sources. Marty lists surveys, interviews and correspondence with former Taliesin apprentices as well as written documents such as the Journal of the Taliesin Fellows, the Newsletter of the Taliesin Fellows, and the Frank Lloyd Wright Quarterly as his resources.

The perspectives are as varied as the sources. For example, Bill Schwartz, a Stanford architectural student who joined the Fellowship for four years in the early ’60s “treasured and remained grateful for his participation in ‘a community of like-minded individuals who were devoted to a shared vision and common goals.’” His wife, Pat, on the other hand, says she felt a “diminishment of individuality of thought and action, the restriction of individual choice.”

In the epilogue, Marty acknowledges the paradox expressed by Bill and Pat Schwartz when he says of Wright: “An ardent individualist, he flourished in communities. A fervent advocate of democracy, he presided over his communities autocratically.” Through selected stories, quotes and events from Wright’s professional life and legacy, the author confirms the central premise of the book: “Frank Lloyd Wright always worked in the company of others.” Marty says the book has three essential purposes: “to identify Wright’s closest and most dependable associates, to discover the circumstances in which they worked, and to consider whether they functioned as effective contributors to his communities.”

Communities is divided into 19 chapters. The first five describe the groups and individuals who surrounded Wright at the beginning of his career in Chicago, Oak Park, Europe, Japan, and California (from 1886 to 1924). Although it was a period of many professional triumphs and personal tragedies, Wright was never alone. Marty deviates slightly from the Wright narrative in chapter six, where he examines other models of communal living and illustrates how the Taliesin Fellowship is “Distinctive by Design.” Chapters seven through 18 present from multiple viewpoints the role of apprentices in the Taliesin Fellowship under the leadership of Mr. and Mrs. Wright. Of particular interest are the accounts of the early years the author gleaned from short articles called “At Taliesin” that were written by apprentices and published in newspapers in Madison, Wis., and nearby communities from 1934 to 1938. Chapter 19 chronicles the Fellowship under the leadership of Mrs. Wright after Wright’s death (1959-1985). In the epilogue, Marty clarifies the confusing terminology that describes the entities currently existing as a result of the Wright legacy: The Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, The Taliesin Fellowship, The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, The Frank Lloyd Wright Archives, Taliesin Architects and the Taliesin Fellows.

A major feature of the book is the number of photographs that have never before been published. Many of Marty’s sources are standard for Wright publications (e.g. Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, Pedro Guerrero), but the surprising number of unusual credits (e.g. Los Angeles Public Library) and images from individuals indicate Herculean detective work on the part of the author. Each selected photograph is placed on a page to enhance the text on that page. For example, local photographer Doug Carr’s image of the Moon Children Fountain in Springfield’s Dana-Thomas House appears on page 29. The accompanying narrative describes the roles of Wright’s assistants in his Oak Park Studio. Since the fountain was designed by sculptor Richard Bock and executed by Marion Mahoney, it exemplifies the team method that was utilized in most projects of that period of Wright’s life.

A definitive definition of the Taliesin Fellowship is elusive. It has been called by Wright and others a community based on the production of organic architecture, a refuge from universities, and an association of fee-paying volunteer apprentices. It is all of these and more, and in their companion books Myron and Shirley Marty define Wright’s Taliesin Fellowship as thoroughly as possible. The books are welcome additions in the ongoing quest to understand the enigma that was Frank Lloyd Wright.

Roberta Volkmann is an arts education consultant and freelance writer. As volunteer site interpreter at the Dana-Thomas House for more than 20 years, she has studied the life and works of Frank Lloyd Wright extensively. She and her husband, Carl, wrote the recently released Springfield’s Sculptures, Monuments, and Plaques. 

Communities of Frank Lloyd Wright: Taliesin and Beyond by Myron Marty. Northern Illinois University Press, 318 pp. 75 illus

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