Wright’s Style

November 30, 2011

In early November the Lake Geneva Regional News reported that the local library had installed two original windows from Frank Lloyd Wright’s Lake Geneva Hotel. The setting is fitting since the library, which opened in 1954, was designed by Wright apprentice James Dresser, the subject of a post to this blog earlier this year.

The hotel in Lake Geneva was one of only a handful of Wright hotels that was constructed.

An early image of the Lake Geneva Hotel (Wisconsin Historical Society Image ID 36456)

In this instance, the commission came in 1911 from Arthur Richards and John Williams. Richards had also engaged Wright to design a hotel for Madison (not built) and would, within a few years, launch his American System Built House project with Wright. A number of these structures still stand, including a row of six houses and duplexes on the south side of Milwaukee.

The Lake Geneva Hotel opened in 1912 and financial problems soon arose. It held on for nearly 60 years through various owners and at least one name change, to the Hotel Geneva, before being demolished in 1970.

In the world of Wright, however, that is rarely the end of the story.

A night light using the window design from the Lake Geneva Hotel

Even Wright’s demolished work lives on through merchandising. So while the Lake Geneva Library is fortunate to have original windows from the hotel, you can buy the window design on a table clock, night light, magazine rack or doormat.

The commodification of Wright and his work has been going on for several decades and I confess to having some Wright tchotchkes of my own. The upsides are exposing a wider audience to Wright’s work and generating income, through licensing, for the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. The downside is reducing Wright to a mere stylist. He is so much more and we are fortunate to have a rich array of his  buildings in Wisconsin to help remind us.

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Rare Taliesin Images

February 3, 2010

When I was a boy I traveled often with my family to Spring Green to visit my great aunts. They lived in town and earned income from the family farm a bit north of the village. Not too far south of Spring Green — across the Wisconsin River in Iowa County — is Taliesin, Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and one of the most important works of art in Wisconsin. What we see today on the brow of the hill is merely the last and latest incarnation of Wright’s home and retreat. It has suffered from fire, harsh Wisconsin winters and, a few years ago, an oak tree that fell on part of the building. Taliesin was an ongoing experiment for Wright as he expanded and altered spaces up until his death in 1959.

Wright first built at Taliesin in 1911 and it was this structure that was so damaged in the murderous fire of 1914 that is recounted in Nancy’s Horan’s popular novel, “Loving Frank.” Sadly, few images of the original building exist.

In 2005 a rare album of photos appeared on eBay that Wisconsin historian Jack Holzhueter called “a Rosetta stone for the building.” In a matter of days, he helped pull together the money that allowed the Wisconsin Historical Society to purchase the album. You can read about that adventure here.

Through March 13, you can view images from the album at the Wisconsin Historical Museum on the Capitol Square in Madison. Presented as framed reproductions in the first floor gallery, they are a wonderful collection including interiors, exteriors and landscapes. If you care about Wright, Wisconsin, history or art, it is well worth a visit.

–Michael Bridgeman