Noted architectural historian Kathryn Smith gave an outstanding lecture on Frank Lloyd Wright on January 25th, 2018 at Virginia Robinson Gardens. The presentation was based on her book Wright on Exhibit: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Architectural Exhibitions. A historic preservation consultant, author and lecturer, Kathryn has written many books on Wright’s architecture, in particular on Taliesin, Taliesin West, Hollyhock House and Olive Hill. In 2001, she was awarded the prestigious Wright Spirit Award in the Professional Category from the Building Conservancy.
Born in 1867, Frank Lloyd Wright is famous for the home Fallingwater, finished in 1937 and located in Pennsylvania. His second most well-known building, the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, was started in 1943, and it opened in 1959, shortly after his death. Wright was prolific and very active even into his 80’s. Kathryn remarked, “He is extremely well known in American history not only because of these great landmarks he created, but for the length and the breadth of his career, which is unequaled by anyone else.”
Wright opened his practice in 1893, and the first exhibition he participated in was 1894. He had 124 shows in his lifetime, 13 of them at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. What is unprecedented and remarkable about these shows Kathryn explained was that almost all of them “Frank Lloyd Wright organized himself, designed himself, lectured at himself and produced, wrote and published publications to go along with these exhibitions!”
Kathryn showed slides of Wright’s beautiful perspective drawings that were presented to clients to help them visualize a project. Initially, these were done in watercolor, and then later in colored pencil since mistakes were easier to erase. Wright also created effects over the layers of colored pencil with the eraser. In fact, he once said, “The most important tool I have is my eraser.” Many of these exquisite illustrations were collaborations. Draftsmen in the studio would draw the building, and Wright would sketch the background vegetation and landscaping.
Frank Lloyd Wright had a great affinity with Japanese landscape, architecture, and design. To inspire the draftsmen, Wright would pass around his enormous collection of Japanese prints in his studio. One can see some of these influences in the drawings, such as a bird in a landscape depicted in the style of the Japanese artist Hiroshige.
Along with drawings and colored models that could come apart so that one could see the interior, black and white photographs of his buildings were shown in his exhibitions starting around 1901. These dramatic photographs were commissioned by Wright. Among the top photographers he chose was the legendary Ezra Stoller, about whom the architect Philip Johnson once said, “My building is never finished until Ezra Stoller takes a picture of it!”
Kathryn concluded by saying that when Wright died, he was regarded as the most important American architect that had ever lived, and an international giant. Frank Lloyd Wright has more national historic landmarks registered in the National Register than any other modern architect and of his 1,000 buildings that he designed, 500 of them were completed, and 139 of them are open to the public, which is a very remarkable record.
After the lecture, the group sat at elegant tables that were a visual delight. Referencing Wright’s love of Japanese design, Education co-chairs Kerstin Royce, Ellen Lipson and Patti Reinstein, with the help of our wonderfully talented design assistant Andy, created striking Ikebana centerpieces on the tables. Each of the four exquisite arrangements symbolized the four seasons.
The attendees feasted on a lovely lunch catered by Joe Monteferante. A delicious menu of caramelized carrot soup, salmon, steak with chimichurri sauce, and two salads consisting of a medley of greens, vegetables and fruits, raspberry upside down cake, and flourless chocolate cake bites was served.
Thank you to our wonderful co-chairs for arranging such an interesting and delightful day!
Post by Linda Meadows
Friends of Robinson Gardens member
Photos by Caroline Scott and Linda Meadows