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Frank Lloyd Wright was renowned during his life not only as an architectural genius but also as a subject of controversy?from his radical design innovations to his turbulent private life, including a notorious mass murder that occurred at his Wisconsin estate, Taliesin, in 1914. But the estate also gave rise to one of the most fascinating and provocative experiments in American cultural history: the Taliesin Fellowship, an extraordinary architectural colony where Wright trained hundreds of devoted apprentices and...
Frank Lloyd Wright was renowned during his life not only as an architectural genius but also as a subject of controversy—from his radical design innovations to his turbulent private life, including a notorious mass murder that occurred at his Wisconsin estate, Taliesin, in 1914. But the estate also gave rise to one of the most fascinating and provocative experiments in American cultural history: the Taliesin Fellowship, an extraordinary architectural colony where Wright trained hundreds of devoted apprentices and where all of his late masterpieces—Fallingwater, Johnson Wax, the Guggenheim Museum—were born.
Drawing on hundreds of new and unpublished interviews and countless unseen documents from the Wright archives, The Fellowship is an unforgettable story of genius and ego, sex and violence, mysticism and utopianism. Epic in scope yet intimate in its detail, it is a stunning true account of how an idealistic community devolved into a kind of fiefdom where young apprentices were both inspired and manipulated, often at a staggering personal cost, by the architect and his imperious wife, Olgivanna Hinzenberg, along with her spiritual master, the legendary Greek-Armenian mystic Georgi Gurdjieff. A magisterial work of biography, it will forever change how we think about Frank Lloyd Wright and his world.
"It's a miracle you found me," Rosa is telling us. "Don't let them stop you. Don't let those bastards stop you. Don't let them tell you I am too ill to talk to."
Insiders from the Taliesin Fellowship had steered us away from her. She was, they told us, incoherent, a lunatic, had spent time in a brothel hotel in Marseilles. Visiting Rosa would be a "waste of time." Nobody volunteered where to find her, and it was clear that it would have been imprudent to ask.
From the outside, Las Encinas, a dark Shingle Style structure surrounded by handsome trees and manicured gardens with fountains, looks like a luxury hotel from the 1920s. It is, in fact, a hospital, a residential treatment center for the depressed and the addicted in Pasadena, California. Cut into the wooden lintel above the entrance is the admonition Non est Vivere Sed Valere Vit: "Life is not being alive but being well."We pass under a low, timbered porte-cochere and through the front door. The receptionist calls ahead for clearance, and then directs us back along a pathway toward the building where this longtime Taliesin resident awaits us. The architecture deteriorates as we leave the elegant old building and move through the gardens toward a complex of buildings that would never appear in the hospital's glossy brochure. We pass a cordon of modest two story apartment buildings where patients who are well enough live independently.
A white, single-story stucco structure stands at the rear of the grounds, a metal grille over its front window; if not for the heavysecurity door, it might be a laundry facility. A muscular attendant opens the door a crack until we have confirmed who we are.
Rosa is in lockup. Patients who are a danger to themselves, or others, are placed here so they can be observed and controlled. A glass-enclosed nursing station overlooks a bare common room, with a few institutional couches, some chairs, and a single pay phone where patients can receive calls from the outside. The walls are bare, unbroken by decoration or pictures. A bank of doors, always ajar, opens into the patient rooms.
Rosa is the most colorful thing in this sterile, smudged whiteness. She is dressed in a powder-blue robe and slippers, her hair specially permed for the occasion, nails painted gold. Rosa wants to flash.
"You are not afraid to be all alone with me, are you?" she asks as we enter her room. Rosa is angry that the hospital staff has confiscated our tape recorder, angry that she is being kept here against her will, angry that we cannot be in her room with the door closed, alone.
With her gaunt face and a mischievous smile that is more gum than tooth, Frank Lloyd Wright's sole surviving child is strangely fierce and piercingly lucid as she lies in her bed, a skinny but formidable presence. This seventy-five-year-old woman prefers to be called Rosa, not Iovanna, the name her father and mother bestowed upon her.
For her, this is a bad day.
Frank and Olgivanna Wright's only child together was pushed here, she wants us to know -- expelled from Taliesin, from the only home she had ever known. Rosa came here more than a decade ago. She had heard that it once attracted glamorous creatures unable to sustain an earthly orbit. It had comforted her that Spencer Tracy had been a patient, that W. C. Fields had spent his last days here. With its lush landscaping, its hardwood-paneled main hall, she tells us, "I thought this would be a nice place to rest." She had no idea, she declares bitterly, that she would not be able to get out. "I have been traveling this road alone."
Rosa wasn't used to being alone. In 1932, she was just seven years old when Wright and Olgivanna, his third wife, launched the Taliesin Fellowship at their home in the isolated wooded hills of southern Wisconsin. Her parents had met at their lowest ebb. Olgivanna had just fled penniless from Paris to America into yet another exile, with no prospect of remunerative work. Wright had recently returned from Tokyo, where he had designed the sumptuous Imperial Hotel -- only to find that his latest accomplishment had made little mark at home. "Its originality is so antiquated that it embalms and mummifies the brains of the beholder," the reviewer remarked in Architect and Engineer. Most observers in America still believed that the energies of his genius had been spent. His low-slung, open-planned Prairie Houses, the Unitarian church in Oak Park, the Larkin Building were all well behind him. When the Fellowship was founded, Wright was sixty-six years old and almost without clients. In the world of curators and critics, he was a has-been.
Just across the river from Spring Green, Taliesin was Frank Lloyd Wright's home, and his ideal of what home could be. It was also his architectural practice, around which he and his wife attempted to build a perfect world, a beautiful community that was itself always under construction. The Taliesin Fellowship would eventually attract more than a thousand young men and a few women who were drawn to Wright's creative powers, who sensed his prophetic voice and believed in his vision. They came to participate in its realization, to live in this radiant exemplar, and to glean for themselves the principles by which they might dare design for a new land.
Taliesin, built into a landscape that was itself carefully molded and manufactured, was an encampment for the production of a new particularly American beauty. The apprentices who came to live there -- some for a year or two, some forever -- were as central to that landscape as its farms, residences, and drafting rooms. Mr. and Mrs. Wright sought to redesign their lives, too. Everything and everyone was to partake of that new, handsome, rugged beauty that Frank Lloyd Wright promoted under the enigmatic term "organic architecture."
For the Wrights, the making of men and the making of buildings were driven by the same vision, the same compulsions. To understand Wright's later architecture, one must understand the extraordinary atelier from whence it came. The Taliesin community was a housing for Wright's imagination, the seedbed where some of America's most important architectural creations were produced. Without the Fellowship, the landmarks for which Frank Lloyd Wright is best known today -- Fallingwater, Johnson Wax, the Guggenheim Museum -- might never have been created.
Most people who know the name Frank Lloyd Wright know the story of the first tragedy at Taliesin -- of what happened in 1914, when his lover Mamah Cheney and several others were murdered there by a deranged servant, and Wright's first Taliesin house was burned to the ground. But that is the least of it. For all its magic, the fealty of its knights to their king of beauty, the cultivated grace of its routine, Taliesin is a haunted house. It has held its secrets, its mysteries and its madness, well. Few know of Taliesin's unsung heroes, the apprentices who gladly sacrificed themselves to make Wright's architecture happen -- and fewer still know of its victims, men and women whose lives were irreparably damaged by life in the Fellowship, part of the cost of constructing greatness, of building a cult of genius.
"The house that was once so loved and so lived in is slowly dying," Rosa Wright says, as she warms herself beneath a tattered brown plaid blanket. It is the same blanket in which her father had once draped himself, as he warmed himself before the fireplace in the late afternoons. "And I have no legal power to change it."
Iovanna Lloyd Wright's life tracks the story of the Taliesin Fellowship, from its beginnings as a visionary community with the promise to change American life and landscape, to its current status as a beautiful relic whose inhabitants survive off of the residues of her parents' charisma. The Taliesin Fellowship was an extension of the Wrights' home, an extended family fashioned by two powerful personalities, each holding the apprentices to a standard of perfection. Frank Lloyd Wright espoused an all-encompassing philosophy of organic architecture. Olgivanna Lazovich Wright cleaved to a particular strand of esoteric mysticism. The intimate collaboration and titanic conflicts between them set the Fellowship in motion, and shaped its course. An embattled architect staving off the end of his career, and a mystical dancer desperate to find "the way" -- the Fellowship was the result of their remarkable union. Each had suffered fiercely, had sought to touch the sacred; each was reaching for immortality. Each brought a passion, indeed a madness, to the place.
Their collision produced both brilliant architecture and a bizarre social order that still inspires -- and haunts -- many of those who lived by its inscrutable tenets.Fellowship, The
I truly enjoyed this book. It opened my eyes to aspects of Frank Lloyd Wright's life that I had not known. He was a very complex man - and it seems almost that his better angels were drowned out by his inner demons. This is a must read for all FLW's fans.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.