Frank Lloyd Wright (1867 - 1959) MP

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Nicknames: "Frank Lincoln /Wright/"
Birthdate:
Birthplace: Richland Center, Richland, WI
Death: Died in Phoenix, Maricopa, AZ
Occupation: Architect
Managed by: Kim Keefe
Last Updated:

About Frank Lloyd Wright

Frank Lloyd Wright (born Frank Lincoln Wright) was an influential American architect most notable for pioneering the prairie style house and designing the Guggenheim Museum in New York. In addition to designing more than 1,000 projects, which resulted in more than 500 completed works, Wright was also a writer and educator. He was recognized in 1991 by the American Institute of Architects as "the greatest American architect of all time.” Wright claimed he never saw his father again.

Born in the farming town of Richland Center, Wisconsin, Wright was originally named Frank Lincoln Wright but changed his name after his parents' divorce to honor his mother's Welsh family, the Lloyd Joneses.

His early influences were his clergyman father's playing of Bach and Beethoven and his mother's gift of geometric blocks. He entered the University of Wisconsin at 15 as a special student, studying engineering because the school had no course in architecture.

In order to study architecture and learn the traditional, classical language, Wright, the country boy, had to go Chicago. Wright worked for several architectural offices until he finally found a job with the most cultured architect of the Mid-West, Louis Sullivan, soon becoming Sullivan's chief assistant. That same year, in 1887, Wright carried out his first design, in a wooden version of the eclectic, Queen Anne Style, the Hillside Home School. His Charnley House of 1891 is a perfect amalgamation of these sources into his own version of Free Style Classicism.

While working on key buildings for Sullivan and Adler, to pay his many debts, in 1892 Wright also started an illicit practice of architecture at night, bootlegging houses away from the office and sharpening his own eclectic mixture of Sillsbee, Queen Anne and Sullivan classicism. Sullivan disapproved, and Wright set up his own office.

Just before his twenty-second birthday, in 1889, Wright married Catherine Lee Tobin, the daughter of a wealthy businessman, and together with Sullivan and his other contacts she gave him the cultural background he lacked; she gave him social polish as well. They settled in the exclusive, Protestant neighborhood of Oak Park, west of the seedy part of Chicago.

In their sensitive eclecticism, Frank and Catherine fitted perfectly the comfortable assumptions of middle class life. For twenty years he brought up a thriving family of six children upstairs, and ran a thriving architectural practice of twelve or so draughtsmen downstairs. He was very much the father of both families, giving each one their central hearth.

Frank Lloyd Wright's own house and studio, the Frank Lloyd Wright Residence, built 1889 - 1895 and later, became the laboratory for many of his experiments in domestic architecture. Here, in an idyllic American suburb, with giant oaks, sprawling lawns and no fences, Wright built some sixty rambling homes by the year 1900 (when he forged the "Prairie Style"). The Nathan Moore House, 1895, (rebuilt 1923 after a fire) is one of the best of this period - although Wright was later to think it one of his worst.

As an independent architect, Wright became the leader of a style known as the Prairie school. Houses with low-pitched roofs and extended lines that blend into the landscape typify his style of "organic architecture". In 1904 he designed the strong, functional Larkin Building in Buffalo, N.Y., and in 1906 the Unity Temple in Oak Park.

After 1900 and his local success, Wright became immensely more ambitious and decided to take on the European avant-garde, whose work he must have known well through magazines. He fashioned a new form of horizontal streamlining - a word he claims to have invented, and then helped form a group of architects, the "Chicago Eighteen," which soon evolved into the "New School of the Middle West." The Prairie House, such as the William E. Martin Residence, was the result of both efforts. Wright applied the same general principles of space and streamlining, used in his Prairie Houses, to public buildings. Even the "New Prairie Style" was conceived for domestic scale.

By the age of forty-one, in 1908, Wright had achieved extraordinary social and professional success. Yet a confusing doubt was beginning to grow, a malaise which had opposite causes not unconnected with the relation of modernism to Western traditional architecture. During this time he was struggling with the idea that was becoming uppermost in his mind, the "Cause of American Architecture."

By 1907 with the "Cause" failing as he was formulating it, his despair with America began to grow. He started to shock the Mid-Western moral majority by flaunting married women in his grand, open car. Like a Secessionist "artiste," he let his grow over the collar. He wore expensive clothes, flowing neckties, riding breeches and Norfolk jacket - not the attire for the Oak Park commuter. He had reached the height of his Prairie School Style.

Probably the reason he left Catherine and went off to Europe, was not my simply to gain "freedom" from domestic banality, but also freedom from American provinciality. Of equal importance was the new woman in his life, who symbolized positive freedom - Mamah Borthwick Cheney - the wife of his then current client, Edwin H. Cheney.

Running of to Europe with Mamah Cheney, leaving behind his six children by Catherine and the two Cheney children, and their respective spouses, called on his deepest conviction - a rather exaggerated "Truth Against the World"? His Free Style Classicism coincided with Free Style ethics. This crisis produced a change in style, a change in philosophy. He started moving continuously, sometimes hiding from the law, and building only thirty-four commissions in the next twenty-one years. The first thing he did was to retreat to his family homestead and build a fortress for Mrs. Cheney and himself, (Taliesin - Welsh for "shining brow") a defensive bastion in the wilderness from which they could fight off the onslaught of big-city morality. The "marrying" of the building and hill became the first principal of organic architecture, a principal he was later to contradict.

Unfortunately Wright also had another principal of architecture - one door for all purposes - that was abet the most tragic act that can befall anyone. A Barbados servant who, they said, was underpaid and driven mad by the unconventional lovers, had executed revenge. He started a fire during lunch and stood by the only escape door, and then murdered, one by one, seven people, among them Mrs. Cheney and two of her children.

Wright himself was so overwhelmed that it took him ten years to recover his confidence and return to more stable existence. He remarried in 1922 to Mariam Noel, who was his second wife.

He paid tribute to Mrs. Cheney, his greatest love, the one for whom he had thrown away a normal career, by building her the simplest grave. Wright built Taliesin Two on the ashes of Taliesin One and developed even further his defensive style. Tragedy followed tragedy. Taliesin Two was burned, and during the fire neighbors not only helped douse the flames, but helped themselves to some of Wright's oriental art as well.

After Miriam Noel walked out on Wright, he met, quite by change, the woman who was to rescue him from further self-destruction: Olgivanna Milanoff, an Eastern European aristocrat and something of a romantic herself. They met in Chicago in 1924, at a performance of the Petrograd Ballet. Wright and Olgivanna were married in 1928, his third marriage.

Out of all Wright's various troubles, several important things emerged from his chronicle of disasters: first in Olgivanna, he found the romantic attachment that could help, not destroy him.

Wright entered a long period of introspection, resulting in his mammoth work, "An Autobiography", which was to result in his new self-assessment as the struggling and sometimes persecuted architect. Out of this grew a new style expressed in several western houses, a new romantic manner evolved from California. Fallingwater Architectural Essay/Tour was built in this period of time. While Wright was designing extravagant metaphors for millionaires trying to escape from the city, he was also trying to build inexpensive houses for the poor, in such a way as they might escape the city too.

During the Depression, he changed his style and image yet again, leaving "Wright the outcast romantic" for his new role as "Wright the grand, social visionary." In the late twenties he became as respectable as he had been at the turn of the century. He gave countless lectures at major universities started his Taliesin Fellowship - a visionary social workshop in itself - and in his mid-sixties adopted the persona of the quick-witted social sage. He wished to supply an impoverished America (an impoverished self for that matter) with an answer to Marxist revolution. This he called by the metaphor "Broadacre City." Although Wright believed in capitalism, he thought that the land, the means of production as social credit - capital itself - should be distributed, not concentrated into monopolies.

On January 17th 1938 Wright appeared on the cover of Time magazine; later it would be a two cent stamp. After his early experience with the yellow press, and then his success as the respectable architect, in the thirties, he started to realize the emergent rules of a commercial society. From this date to his death in 1959 he spent as much time given interviews, and being a celebrity, as in designing buildings. In the age of media stars - radio, film, soon TV - Wright mastered them all, and instinctively helped create the system with which we are still settled: the "star system of architectural heroes." By 1950 Wright's sure instinct for promotion had paid off professionally. But the media attention, the time, energy and personal involvement it demanded, executed their revenge. Most of the buildings produced in these years betray an excessive vulgarity, or overruling ambition, which the young Wright would have called 'grandomania', and most people today call kitsch.

Frank Lloyd Wright died on April 9, 1959, in Phoenix, Arizona.

Links to Wright Works and Information

1900 United States Federal Census about Frank L Wright Name: Frank L Wright [Frank Lloyd Wright] [Frank Loyd Wright] Home in 1900: Cicero, Cook, Illinois Age: 32 Birth Date: Jun 1867 Birthplace: Wisconsin Race: White Gender: Male Relationship to Head of House: Head Father's Birthplace: Massachusetts Mother's Birthplace: Wales Spouse's Name: Catherine Wright Marriage Year: 1889 Marital Status: Married Years Married: 11 Occupation: View on Image Neighbors: View others on page Household Members: Name Age Frank L Wright 32 Catherine Wright 29 Lloyd Wright 10 John Wright 4 Cathrine Wright 6 David Wright 4 Frances Wright 2 Alma Haggestrum 21

1910 United States Federal Census about Frank L Wright Name: Frank L Wright Age in 1910: 44 Estimated Birth Year: 1866 Birthplace: Wisconsin Relation to Head of House: Head Father's Birth Place: Massachusetts Mother's Birth Place: Wales Spouse's Name: Katherine L Wright Home in 1910: Oak Park, Cook, Illinois Marital Status: Married Race: White Gender: Male Neighbors: View others on page Household Members: Name Age Frank L Wright 44 Katherine L Wright 39 Frank L Wright Jr 20 John K Wright 18 Katherine Wright 16 David S Wright 14 Frances B Wright 11 Robert L Wright 6

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Frank Lloyd Wright's Timeline

1867
June 8, 1867
Richland Center, Richland, WI
1870
1870
Age 2
McGregor Ward 2, Clayton, Iowa
1880
1880
Age 12
Wyoming, Iowa, Wisconsin, United States
1880
Age 12
Madison, Dane, Wisconsin, United States
1889
June, 1889
Age 21
1890
March 31, 1890
Age 22
Oak Park, Cook, Illinois, USA
1891
December, 1891
Age 24
IL, USA
1892
December 12, 1892
Age 25
Oak Park, IL, USA
1894
January 12, 1894
Age 26
Oak Park, IL, USA
1895
September 26, 1895
Age 28
Oak Park, IL, USA