In 1893, a group of forward-thinking architects in Chicago, led by visionary Frank Lloyd Wright, developed America's first truly home-grown architectural style, one that reflected the broad, flat plains of the Midwest. Dubbing it Prairie style, sometimes called Prairie School, it took its influence not only from the local landscape but also from a fatigue of the overdecorated, fussy homes of the late Victorian era.
The distinct, defining characteristics of Prairie style weren't found anywhere else in architecture at the time. Wide, low-hipped roofs, clean angular lines, and built-in furniture matched with natural elements and materials used throughout the home. Aiming to bring the outdoors inside, many homes had specific motifs relating to the environment, like plants, leaves, or ornamental shapes consistently used throughout in wooden carvings, furniture design, or featured glass pieces.
But most importantly, where Victorian homes tended to be dark with closed-off rooms, Prairie-style homes embraced the earliest forms of open-plan living, with light, bright interiors and rooms that flowed from one to another.
That interior light was provided by one of Prairie style's most defining features: the windows. Banks of windows were hung side by side, horizontally aligned, all sharing the same heading trim. Sometimes taking up an entire wall, the windows created bright spaces that allowed views of nature to become part of the interior décor. The window panes were separated by mullions, or dividers, and in higher-end homes were often embellished with multicolored, geometrically shaped stained-glass patterns.
The elaborate geometric designs are one of the defining features of Prairie style, whether a simple pattern of multicolored squares, or leaded art glass featuring intricately laid-out patterns. Unlike earlier stained-glass windows, which often featured rounded natural motifs, often with frosted or tinted glass, Prairie-style windows tended toward angular lines and shapes, with sections of clear glass interspersed with panes in translucent, sometimes iridescent color. With art glass, the colors created a gentle filtration of the light in the home — Frank Lloyd Wright often referred to them as "light screens." The geometric patterns created a balance between letting the residents connect with nature, yet obscuring the inhabitants enough to provide a modicum of privacy from the outside world.
Learn about the history of the buildings on the Taliesin property that served as Wright’s architectural laboratory, as well as preservation techniques and plans that are underway in this presentation by Ryan Hewson, Director of Preservation, Taliesin.
Join the event Thursday, May 18th at 7:00PM - 8:30PM, free in person at Monona Terrace and Virtually on Zoom. (Registration required for live webinar)
Ryan Hewson has been a preservation staff member at Taliesin since 2008. In his current role, he is responsible for the oversight and planning of preservation. Hewson received his Master’s degree in Architecture from The Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture.
You’ll learn about the history of the buildings on the Taliesin property that served as Wright’s architectural laboratory. And Hewson will discuss preservation techniques and plans that are underway, and share different ways to engage with what’s happening at Taliesin now.
This free program is presented in partnership with American Institute of Architects Wisconsin. Continuing education credits are available for AIA members.
“Wright Before the 'Lloyd,'” a new exhibit at the Racine Heritage Museum, 701 Main St., Racine, Wisconsin, is now open. It highlights the young Frank L. Wright and his friend Cecil Sherman Corwin, the forgotten architect and mentor who did much to shape him into the architect we know as Frank Lloyd Wright.
Wright wasn’t always Frank "Lloyd" Wright. In his youthful years of architectural practice at the end of the 19th Century, he was very different from the brash, self-confident public celebrity who several decades later gave Racine its landmark S.C. Johnson & Son campus. Born Frank Lincoln Wright, the young architect signed his works prosaically as “Frank L. Wright.”
He had arrived in Chicago in late 1886 as an inexperienced and self-doubting 19-year-old aspiring architect. He was warmly welcomed into employment with the office of architect Joseph Lyman Silsbee by Corwin, the firm’s chief draftsman. Both Corwin and Wright were sons of much-traveled ministers. Corwin’s father, the Rev. Eli Corwin, was the popular pastor of Racine’s First Presbyterian Church from 1880-1888.
Corwin and Wright quickly discovered they had much in common, including similar passions for architecture, culture and music. They became inseparable friends. They shared ideas in their practice of architecture for 10 years. For many years, they shared a small office in Downtown Chicago. Each had projects and clients of their own, but critiques and comments were freely shared. In later years, Wright often recalled his appreciation for the guidance, confidences and camaraderie Corwin provided in guiding his personal life, and shaping the professional identity that later gave him fame. In An Autobiography (1932), Wright wrote that he had found “a kindred spirit” when he met Corwin.
The exhibit is curated by Tim Samuelson, the City of Chicago’s cultural historian emeritus. It is comprised of his extensive collection of early Wright architectural salvage, drawings, and images. The exhibit, on the museum’s main floor center and north galleries, runs through Dec. 30, 2024. Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. There is no admission fee; donations are accepted. The museum, built as a Carnegie Library in 1904, is a historically preserved building and is not ADA accessible.
You can also find out more about the exhibit and its set-up at Mark Hertzberg's Wright in Racine blog.
The lower part of the house is cavelike, small and dark. Your body senses it and feels a little compressed. As you rise to the top level, the house transforms. It becomes more like a treehouse, and innately you feel that opening of space.
While everything your eyes are taking in in front of you could point to the fact that you were inside a creation of E. Fay Jones architecture, in reality you're actually in the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History on a touch screen kiosk. Its interactive gaming technology transports you to your choice of four of Jones' structures, including Thorncrown Chapel in Eureka Springs; Stoneflower, a chapel-like house in Heber Springs; or one of a couple other houses that the iconic architect designed in Arkansas.
The creators, University of Arkansas professors Greg Herman and David Fredrick, will discuss Fay Jones' work in a lecture at Springdale's Shiloh Museum at 6:30 p.m. May 17. They hope the experience of "Housing the Human and the Sacred" gives users not just a sense of the full breadth of Fay Jones' career, but of architecture in general and its major themes -- the effect of it on social relationships in the family, the occupant's relationship to the rhythms of nature and the sense of your body in relation to design and space.
The kiosk opened to the public at Shiloh Museum on April 11, just in time for the Springdale Art Walk, and so far, it's definitely been a draw. It is, after all, a way to view privately owned houses that wouldn't otherwise be regularly on view the way that Thorncrown Chapel is. Frederick says it brings a story of design that is important to the Ozarks, and the museum has seen a response to that.
The accompanying website app feature is not ready to be released to the public quite yet, as it's in the polishing stages, but will be ready by the end of June.
The next annual meeting of the Walter Burley Griffin Society of America is scheduled for the weekend of 3-4 June 2023 in Evanston, Illinois with optional visits to nearby Rogers Park and more distant Crystal Lake. The regular Saturday meeting will contain a morning session of lectures and an afternoon of house tours. Lecturers include historic masonry preservation engineer Brett Laureys, preservationist/historian Susan Benjamin, Chicago’s cultural historian Tim Samuelson, and architectural historian Paul Kruty. On the tour will be houses by Griffin, Wright, Dwight Perkins, Lawrence Perkins, and Myron Hunt. Two optional visits are being added: a Sunday morning trip to the ancestral home of the American Terra Cotta Company in Crystal Lake, Illinois; and a Friday afternoon visit to the Armstrong School in Chicago’s West Rogers Park neighborhood for a viewing of Marion Mahony Griffin’s 1930 Fairy mural (see below for details of both events).
Doors at the auditorium of the Block Museum will open at 8:00AM, with the program beginning at 9:00AM. As usual, there will be a coffee break after the second speaker and plan to end by noon, when boxed lunches will be available for those who order on the registration form. Afternoon tours will take place between 1:00 and 4:30. The Block Museum of Art is on the campus of Northwestern University at 40 Arts Circle Drive. There is parking nearby at the South Campus Parking Garage, 1847 Campus Drive.
We have arranged for registered Griffin Society members to see Marion Mahony Griffin’s mural in the Armstrong Elementary School, now the George B. Armstrong International Studies Elementary School, at 2110 Greenleaf Ave., Chicago. The school will be open Friday afternoon, June 2nd, from 3:30 to 5:00, the only time available to us. The school wishes us to supply a list of visitors. Because this event will take place before the Saturday morning conference registration at the Block Museum, you will need to check the box on the registration form so that such a list can be produced, and then identify yourself at the door. This sixteen-foot mural, titled “Fairies Feeding the Herons,” was painted by MMG in 1930 during her second return visit to the States after the Griffins’ 1914 move to Australia. At the time she was staying nearby at her sister’s home at Damen and Estes in Rogers Park.
Sunday’s excursion will be to the American Terra Cotta Museum at 3703 South Route 31, Crystal Lake, Illinois, 60012. The collection is housed in the World Headquarters Building of TC Industries, Inc., at the corner of Route 31 and Half Mile Road. The American Terra Cotta Company was one of the leading producers of decorative terra cotta during the first half of the 20th Century, producing many of Louis Sullivan’s most famous designs, and also issued Teco pottery, the so-called “Art Pottery of the Prairie School.”
The Annual Meeting Registration form can be found by following the link to the WBGSoA's website. Please return the form with your payment to the Society and see you in Evanston!