so long, frank lloyd wright
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So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright
April, 2009, Page 212
Sketches copyright The Frank lloyd Wright Foundation
Price Tower, Bartlesville, Oklahoma, 1952
Philip Allsopp, chief executive officer of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, says the nonprofit group founded by the architect is busy trying to balance the necessity of preserving the past while remaining relevant in the future.
The Taliesin West campus needs money for renovation and expansion, such as a new 30,000-square-foot archives building that will house more than 22,000 Wright drawings – including sketches of the Guggenheim and The Imperial Hotel – plus more than 300,000 pieces of correspondence, 45,000 historical photos and 600 manuscripts.
Among the shelves in tight quarters on the grounds of Taliesin West is Wright’s collection of movies and books, along with a vast art collection and numerous Asian and Japanese artifacts. An oral history project contains more than 1,400 interviews with those who knew him.
The cost of the archives project alone is roughly $40 million.Allsopp says he tentatively plans to launch the capital campaign when all eyes are on Wright beginning May 15, when the Guggenheim Museum in New York City takes the wraps off an exhibit titled Frank Lloyd Wright: From Outward Within to celebrate its 50th anniversary. The famous spiral-shaped building is considered one of his most iconic creations.
The multimedia exhibit, which runs through August 23, will focus on his use of space and its impact on living, and will contain more than 200 original drawings. Among the projects featured will be his grandiose plans for greater Baghdad, complete with an opera house, two art museums, a grand bazaar with kiosks and a university. (The project was abandoned after King Faisal II’s assassination, but Wright salvaged the plans for the opera house and transformed them into the design for Grady Gammage Auditorium in Tempe.) Also planned in the exhibit are replicas of famous shelter projects built by students over the years. The theater curtain from Taliesin also will be on display. (Some of the projects were built; others remain as drawings.)
Allsopp says the foundation also has made a conscious effort to become more engaged in the community, working with Valley groups and governments to better plan for growth and urban sprawl.
He says the goal is a natural progression based on Wright’s beliefs about being one with nature, and he shakes his head in disbelief at the major thoroughfare that cuts an ugly scar through Scottsdale and bears the architect’s name.
“Frank Lloyd Wright was passionate about alienating people, and that’s exactly what that road does,” says Allsopp, who took over as chief executive in 2006. “As an educational enterprise, we want to be actively engaged in how we can create a place that people care about, wonderful places for people to live and work.”
For a handful of Taliesin West residents, a place to live and work is the same. Longtime associates live in small apartments on the grounds, work as architects and are on hand to advise students.
Some still cling to tradition, like Cornelia Brierly, the elder stateswoman of the campus, who hosts afternoon teas. What used to be a daily respite for Wright and his wife Olgivanna is now a weekly routine – a time for students and staff to take a break from the day to socialize and recount days gone by and those to come.
Photo Courtesy of The Frank Lloyd Wright Archives
The Wright family at Ocotilla camp in 1928
On a recent picture-perfect afternoon, in the pretty courtyard scattered with white plastic chairs and tables, the fare was brioche and jam paired with good conversation.
“It’s just a nice way of getting together to talk; it’s a nice relaxation,” says Brierly, dressed in a floral shirt, yellow pants and a straw hat adorned with a Barack Obama pin. “It’s something I really enjoy.”
At one table, Wright associate John Rattenbury, pen in hand, re-sketches the shelter he built as a student many years ago for the upcoming Guggenheim exhibit. He remembers the structure down to its specifics.
He’s soon in the middle of a story – one about the master of Taliesin West and the elaborate party Rattenbury once threw for the entire fellowship. There was stew on the menu and warmth in the desert, thanks to heaters that he obtained and hid behind rocks, fed by borrowed electricity.
“He said, ‘Mother,’ – that’s what he called Mrs. Wright – ‘isn’t it remarkable that John has found a part of the desert that is warmer?’” says Rattenbury, a twinkle in his eye.
As the night moves in, the reminiscing is put on hold.
Rattenbury walks by the spot where Wright used to preside with a commanding demeanor. Moving past the dining hall that was the scene of so many memorable moments, his sentiments express what is uniformly felt among the denizens here.
Photo Courtesy of The Frank Lloyd Wright Archives
Frank Lloyd and Olgivanna Wright in front of the Susan Lawrence Dana House, Springfield, Illinois, 1940
“If you want to know what Frank Lloyd Wright was about, just look around,” says Rattenbury, 80. He stops momentarily on the concrete path, just steps away from Wright’s former office. “His spirit is still here. I still feel it. It’s all around this place.”
Descending the hill during the last moments of an orange-hued sunset, a visitor is afforded a sweeping view of the Valley lights across the desert landscape. A wide-eyed jackrabbit pauses in the middle of the twisting, narrow road, then quickly scurries into the surrounding desert. The rush of modern day living seems far off in the distance.
Colleagues and historians say the desert oasis that Wright named Taliesin West has changed with the passing years from when he first pitched a tent there.
Asked if he thought that Wright would have approved of what the school or the foundation is doing these days, his grandson, Eric Lloyd Wright, says it would be a mixed bag of reactions.
The Malibu, California, architect says his grandfather probably would smile at the attempts made to maintain the fellowship and the activities that were so important during his life spent at Taliesin West.
But Eric, who visited as a young boy and joined the fellowship in 1948, says his grandfather would be disappointed that the school was so formalized and that the foundation was unable to maintain a strong architecture business.
And he predicts his grandfather would be appalled at the development that hovers around what was once a rugged desert outpost. In fact, in his day, the story goes that Wright returned to Taliesin West and was furious over new telephone poles that marred his view. His battle to have them removed went all the way to President Harry Truman. When he was refused, Wright vowed never to look in that direction again.
“He would be very upset about the environment around Taliesin West,” says Eric, 79. “In fact, I don’t think he’d tolerate it. I think he would have moved out.”
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