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    I am by no means a great admirer of Frank Lloyd Wright and his architecture, at least not in the "traditional" sense of the word. I think his buildings are some of the most hideous structures that ever blighted the face of the earth. HOWEVER. I also find them strangely fascinating. Art does not have to be beautiful to be worthy, and many great works of art are far from beautiful. And I am certainly no fan of Wright as a person. In the books I have read about him and his works, he appears to have been a real dick.
    This biography, written by his son, John Lloyd Wright confirms that, but in the most humorous and entertaining way. John would certainly have never won a literary award, and I wonder if this book would have even been published had it not been an inside look at one of the most celebrated American architects to have ever lived. In any case, it provided me with a new perception and respect for this man, whom, it seems was way before his time and a bit of an aberration on the planet, which is how I feel about myself most of the time, therefore giving me a deeper understanding of why he behaved as he did: (he couldn't help it), and a much deeper understanding of the artistic expression and purpose behind his works.
    This is a short and simple book, easy to understand, and often seeming like a private joke between father and son. John absolutely adored his father, mostly, even though he really did behave like a dick, even to his son. No one could have developed such a lively sense of humor and good nature towards life in general had they not been raised in a household that nurtured it. John enjoyed a life filled with laughter and eccentricities for eighteen years, along with his five siblings. Both he and his older brother, Lloyd (Frank Lloyd Wright, Jr.) became architects, along with two grandchildren, Eric, son of Lloyd, and Elizabeth, daughter of John. That was not included in the book, but was obtained through Wikipedia. Incidentally, the original title of this book was My Father, Who Is on Earth, which kinda reminds one of "Our Father, Who Art in Heaven." It was meant to. Not that the Wrights were particularly religious, but, as with many artists, were imbued with a sense of the spiritual. John has filled this book with spiritual and Biblical references, so the title was important. I totally disagree with Dover's decision to change it, but they change many of the titles when they publish these reprints.
    Though FLW was extraordinarily famous in his time, he was always in debt, because he had absolutely no concept of money. He thought big and spent big, whether his resources allowed it or not. His first reaction to receiving money was to spend it all. That, and the fact that when John was eighteen, his father just walked out the door one day and never returned. He had found another woman that could have been his lifelong partner. And both of these issues are perhaps what plagued him most throughout his whole career, and kept him from living a life of inner peace and success to mirror his outward fame. That is the conclusion I have drawn about the man himself, through reading this book.
    And as for his structures, many of them were humongous and outlandish, making them impractical for residences after their original owners were gone. Fallingwater is now a National Historic Landmark, which retains much of its original design, (and is not too far from my house). Remember, FLW also designed the furniture, accessories, such as vases, and even silverware for the buildings he designed. Dana House has fared less well, because Susan Lawrence Dana, like her architect, had no concept of prudence where money was concerned. She died in poverty, and her house and its effects were sold off in bits. It is now a state historic site in Illinois, and much of it has been restored. These two buildings are ones in which I have book reviews, and I own many more FLW books. I do not yet have an Index Page on him, as of this writing, but one is coming soon. Check back on my Cross-Reference/Resource Page, and it will be listed there. For now, you may click Architecture for more on FLW. The Wikipedia page on Wright, linked above, really contains much more "useful" information than the book, plus lots and lots of links. And remember, Wright not only designed houses, but public buildings, including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in NYC, plus churches, and even at least one service station, stables, and a dog house!!! Lucky dog!
    As I said, this present book is personal—very personal and candid—recollections of the Father as perceived by the Son, and so the remainder of this review will be interesting points that JLW discussed. For the rest, the research you can do on FLW is inexhaustible.
    The first two chapters, "In the Beginning," and "Dad the Papa," are about growing up in a household with an emerging genius. John tells of his father first announcing his business and getting started as a professional architect. The second chapter is more about John's memories of a home filled with happiness. He begins:

Brown eyes full of love and mischief, a thick pompadour of dark wavy hair—that is my father when I think of him as he was when I was very young. His smile enlivened everything about him—his laugh defied grief and failure.

    Frank Lloyd Wright was born in Wisconsin in 1867 and died in Phoenix, Arizona in 1959. He was of Welsh and English descent. In the last chapter, "By Their Fruits," after John has provided a pretty good expose of his father's qualities, he goes back to his childhood once more and says:

When, in this era of names and naming, my thought turns back through the years and I review the picture of our home life, I can find no instance in Dad's fatherhood in which he failed one of us. His mental and moral character was of the highest quality. During the eighteen years of the happiest kind of family life he was loyal and devoted; never scolded, never criticized, never nagged or punished. He did not smoke or drink. He neither swore nor gambled. He loved life, he loved his work, loved people, loved flowers, loved trees, loved the beautiful. He was cheerful, worked hard and played hard. And then one day, he fell in love—in love with some one other than our mother.

    It seems that John and his father had a love/hate relationship, but it ended with love as John grew to understand his father's struggles. The book is about those struggles, both at the personal and professional levels. And in the second chapter, John wonders (humorously) if he and his siblings didn't drive his father away. Either John is exaggerating, or he was really an ornery child. When he was three, he discovered how to get to his father's studio from the main house. He used to stand on the balcony and throw things onto the men at the drafting tables.
    John tells of the important people who were his father's friends, including Rabindranath Tagore, David Thoreau and Walt Whitman. FLW loved music, art, especially Oriental, poetry, and the kids all followed along, except perhaps John. He writes:

Lloyd played the cello and "big boss" too; John played with the violin—and everything else. Catherine sang and sucked her thumb; good-looking David played the flute; Frances played the piano and collected stray animals; baby Llewelyn played the mandolin.

    He also tells of one Christmas secretly watching his father playing "Santa Claus." He unboxed all the toys and played with them under the tree. FLW apparently loved to play as much as he loved to work. He loved to dance and was a great dancer. There were parties all the time, somewhere.
    There was also a major tragedy that happened when Lloyd was thirteen and John eleven. They went with their Grandma to the theater in Chicago to see Mr. Bluebeard on December 30, 1903. The theater caught fire and people panicked. Eddy Foy, the clown told the orchestra to keep playing and got everyone calmed down and moving out in order. But people did die, 700 in fact, including John's cousin, Rosalind Parish. Fire seemed to plague this family throughout their lives, as we will see later. The rest of the chapter discusses out of control horses, wrecked cars, and other mischief.
    The third chapter, "Saint or Fool" begins thus:

Into Dad's barrel of creosote I once fell, head first. (It was brown!) Papa rushed me to the Doctor. Dr. Luff lived half a block from us.
I fell out of a tree, landed on my head on a cement sidewalk. Papa rushed me to the Doctor.
I fell off the playroom roof. Papa rushed me to the Doctor.
I broke my leg. Papa rushed the Doctor to me.

    And so it goes on, "multiplied by six," as he says, considering his siblings No wonder he sometimes felt it was the children who drove Papa from home. But that he did, one night, in 1903, without even saying goodbye, as his father before him. After the pain eased, John began to see that the woman he was in love with, Mamah Borthwick Cheney, was a more perfect match for his father, whom FLW saw as his intellectual equal. She was the wife of Edwin Cheney, whose house Wright was designing. He granted a divorce to his wife but Frank's wife would not. And so they lived together in "sin," creating a scandal-plagued future for Frank. In 1914, a black servant from Barbados went on a rampage, murdering seven people at Wright's new home, Taliesin (the name of a Welsh poet, musician, and priest), then setting it on fire. Included was Mamah and her two children.
    FLW finally obtained a divorce, and married, on the spur of the moment, a rather wild and dangerous woman, John seemed to think. Wikipedia says she was addicted to morphine. In any case, they were divorced a year later.
    After that, Wright had an affair with Olga (Olgivanna) Ivanovna Hinzenberg, a dancer whom he met at a Petrograd Ballet performance in Chicago. They moved to Taliesin in 1925, and she became pregnant. Taliesin again was partially destroyed by fire, this time from an electrical fault. Again it was rebuilt. Olga and Wright were married in 1928, and that marriage lasted until his death at age 91.
    Much of the John's book is about him as much as his father. After his father left home, John was lonely and devastated. He left for San Diego, and here, his humor abounds as he portrays himself as a bit of a screw-up. He decides to become an architect, and eventually lands a job with Harrison Albright, with whom he learned certain things about life. Albright was a non-materialistic person—a Theosophist. Eventually John decides to go to Germany to study with Otto Wagner. He writes to his father to ask for financial help in buying the ticket. Instead, his father offers him a job.
    Well, it was sort of a job, because his father often avoided paying him, as he did with his other employees. Really. He relates one instance when they were working on the Midway Gardens entertainment center in Chicago. At one point, the sheriff came to evict him because he had not paid his office rent and owed $1,500. Wright suddenly left the room, and comes back with a check for ten thousand. He had sold a rare set of wood-block prints. So he pays off his rent, then goes and blows the rest of the check!! A genius with the sense of a child . . . .
    But it was when they were working in Japan that the final break came. Wright had left to go back to the states because he had so much other work going on there, and left John in charge—with no money. Finally John demanded his paycheck, and his father fired him!! Oh, my.
    Though FLW is known for his " Prairie School style of architecture, John does not discuss this as much as his "organic architecture" philosophy. Wikipedia has a good article on this subject, and between that and John's expression, I perceive it to mean that not only is it a harmony between architecture and nature, such as in "Fallingwater", where a natural boulder is left in place to become part of the hearth, but in materials. John says, if it is meant to look like wood, it should be wood, in other words, not a material painted to look like wood. Organic relates to living or being alive, and certainly Wright's designs incorporated the plant and animal world, such as carved or stained glass designs representing plants and animals, or actual living materials, such as his vases filled with dried weeds, and living plants as part of the design. My Oxford American Dictionary also defines organic as "organized or arranged as a system of related parts," and that certainly applies here, too.
    The book includes a chapter on Louis Sullivan, Wright's "master," who at one time had reached a pinnacle of success, but suffered decline. At the time when John visited him, he expected to see a room full of draftsmen, but instead saw a solitary man at a desk. They sat and talked on a number of visits about philosophies of life, and John seems to have valued their conversations. John also designed toys, including "Lincoln Logs," and asked Sullivan to design an ash tray, which he did. That was the last time he saw Sullivan, and the design for the ash tray was burned in a fire that destroyed nearly everything John owned. My goodness, but they had a lot of fire issues.
    There is a chapter on M. Viollet-Le-Duc, (1814-1879) who was an influence on Sullivan, and therefore later on Wright. John reprints some of his writings on "style." He also reprints a section of The House Beautiful, a rare book designed by FLW, with the text by William C. Gannett. Only ninety copies were hand-printed and John owned number fifty two. Here is a bit about it from Goodreads, and another from Bauman Rare Books.
    John ends with some silly chapters, one comparing his father to the Biblical Isaiah, and another, imagining his father attempting to enter the pearly gates, and being rejected by St. Peter. He was rejected from the other place, too!!
    In the final chapter, "By Their Fruits," John once again tries to vindicate his father for the scandals that followed him through life. He points out that his father's father, a Roman Catholic Bishop, was excommunicated when he married a redheaded girl, and his father, a Protestant preacher, "excommunicated himself from several denominations . . . and fled to—no one knows where."
    As mentioned above, this is not a great work of literary art, but it is fun and fascinating just the same. And I found that maybe I'm a bigger fan of Frank Lloyd Wright than I thought! Below are some of Wright's creations. First the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in NYC, then the Gordon House in Silverton, Oregon. Below that is Taliesin West, Wright's winter home in Scottsdale, Arizona, then Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. In the next row is the Charles E. Roberts Stable, and the Sol Friedman House Toyhill in Pleasantville, New York. And last, on the bottom row, is Eddie's House, the dog house and smallest structure ever designed by Wright! All images courtesy of Wikipedia.

Gordon House in Silverton Oregon

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in NYC

Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin

Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Arizona

Sol Friedman House in Pleasantville, New York

Charles E. Roberts Stable

Eddie's House

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