So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright

I’m in a Frank Lloyd Wright state of mind at the moment. I go through passions, as any regular reader might have noticed, and right now I’m obsessed with all things FLW. I’m rereading the T. C. Boyle 2009 novel, The Women, about the, shall we say, turbulent relationships FLW (1867-1959) had with the various women in his life. He was not an easy man and his relationships were messy and complicated. In his era, he was in fact scandalous and reviled by some for his flauting of social mores, but today no one would really think it quite that outrageous that he left wives for mistresses. He also was perennially in debt (one of his nicknames was “Slow Pay Frank”), a surprise given his major success.

The Women

 

Boyle himself lives in a FLW designed  home in Montecito, California, which I am sure has a lot to do with his interest in FLW. As a design student at UC Davis back in the day, of course we studied FLW and his enormous impact, and I fnally saw some of his drawings, furniture, and glass designs in person when I made it to the Art Institute of Chicago a few years ago.

 

Author TC Boyle at his home in Montecito, CA.
Novelist T. C. Boyle in his FLW-designed home in Montecito, California.

But my fascination goes back to another of my childhood memories of music in our house, this time from the iconic album Bridge Over Troubled Water (1970) by Simon and Garfunkel.

 

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This album reeived some heavy rotation time on the turntable, along with Carole King’s Tapestry.

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There are, of course, many wonderful songs on Bridge Over Troubled Water beside the title track: The Boxer, Cecilia, Bye Bye Love, The Only Living Boy in New York, among others. But the song that always caught my attention when I was a 9-year old, was, oddly, So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright. I didn’t really have any idea who FLW was, but the song seemed so sad and made me want to know who this man was.

 

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The story goes that Simon and Garfunkel (or as I like to call them, Paul and Art) were renting a house in the Hollywood Hills in 1969 while working on the Bridge Over Troubled Water album. Art saw one of the FLW homes in the area and suggested to Paul that he write a song. What I didn’t know was that Art, smarter than I realized, majored in architecture at Columbia University just in case music didn’t work out for him. Not a bad Plan B. Theories suggest that it’s also Paul’s goodbye song to Art, as the duo broke up after Bridge Over Troubled Water was released. Note the line “all of the nights we’d harmonize till dawn”.

 

 

FLW was undoubtedly a genius, and his designs are amazing. He not only designed the buildings as an architect, he also worked on the details of interior design, including the furnishings, textiles, and art pieces, and even mailboxes. He was known to design the clothing for the women in his life. Was he controlling? I imagine so. And that spilled over into his personal life.

 

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The bit that’s sticking with me at the moment is a scene in the book The Women in which FLW declares himself a pacifist, a conscientious objector to war. That’s cool. I consider myself a pacifist as well. But I’m not a bully, and FLW seems to have been a big one. I’m not a genius either, so…

Much of the novel The Women takes place around Taliesin, FLW’s studio and farm built and rebuilt (plagued by fires and tragedy) in rural Wisconsin, now maintained by the Taliesen Preserve.

 

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FLW at Taliesin in 1911, when the house was first was completed.

Can one be a pacifist and a bully both? I suppose so. We are, if nothing, complex and contradictory creatures, we human beings. He had a vision for how he wanted things to be, and brooked no nonsense from those around him, but he wasn’t violent and held a deep appreciation for other cultures. Except when it came to food. He was very early 20th century mid-Western in his taste for basic meat, potatoes, and gravy. None of that fancy French stuff for him (one of the many bones of contention with his Southern belle and Francophile second wife Miriam Noel Wright). When he traveled in Japan while working on the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, he had a hard time with what I think of as an amazing cuisine.

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The Imperial opened in 1923 and was demolished in 1968. The entrance lobby was saved an reconstructed at the Meiji Mura architecture museum in Nagoya.

I also think of FLW as an artist, sensitive to atmosphere and color and harmony. We have a model of one of his early designs, the Romeo and Juliet windmill, built for his aunts in 1896 in the town of Wyoming, Wisconsin. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the name of the artist who made the model. When I bought it from him at an Oakland gallery, he was working in the exhibitions department at the Oakland Museum of California. I’ll post it when I recall it. He is a talented artist who deserves credit for his work.

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The Romeo and Juliet windmill.
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Our model of the windmill, photo by Robert Ward.

 

One of Wright’s most famous buildings is Falling Water in Pennsylvania, completed in 1935.

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Falling Water

 

The sesquicentennial of FLW’s birth was celebrated this year on June 8th. This feature by Jay Jones in the Los Angeles Times provides a nice overview of his work: From New York to California, celebrating the 150th anniversary of Frank Lloyd Wright’s birth. One of his more famous and first California homes is Hollyhock House in the East Hollywood neighborhood of Los Angeles. Built for oil heiress Aline Barnsdall in in 1919-1921, the house is now part of the Barnsdall Art Park.

 

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The living room at Hollyhock House. Wright was a pioneer of open living spaces, with the hearth at the center of the home.

Yes, I can see a man who has the kind of vision for open, warm, harmonious spaces and the surrounding of ourselves with beauty as being a man who wants peace and harmony for the world at large. The contradiction is in his very messy and unharmonious personal life. The saddest and most tragic episode was that of his mistress, Martha “Mamah” Borthwick Cheney. Mamah and her husband were clients and Oak Park, Illinois, neighbors of FLW and his first wife, Catherine “Kitty” Wright (1871-1959).

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The Wright Family in 1898, Frank on far right, Kitty in center with infant Lloyd.

FLW built Taliesin in Spring Green, Wisconsin, for Mamah, a place where he and she could get away from the press and turmoil caused by his leaving his wife and 6 children and her leaving her husband and 2 children. A disgruntled workman at Taliesin murdered Mamah and 6 others (including her 2 children, on a summer visitation at the time) and set fire to Taliesin in 1914. Distraught, FLW was vulnerable and became entangled with the quite dramatic and mentally unstable opiate addict Miriam Noel, his 2nd wife after Kitty relented and granted a divorce.

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Mamah Cheney (1869-1914)
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Miriam Noel Wright (1869-1930)

His relationship with Miriam was the most turbulent and fractious, and their divorce battle was a media storm of accusations and paparrazi around FLW’s mistress and later 3rd (and final) wife Olgivanna Lloyd Wright (1898-1985).

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Olgivanna Lloyd Wright at Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Arizona in 1968.

 

FLW was quite proud of his Welsh heritage. The name of Taliesin, and the later Taliesin West, means “shining brow”, and comes from the name of the 6th century Welsh poet, who in Welsh legends is portrayed as a wizard, prophet, and companion to King Arthur.

 

taliesin poet

 

Seems fitting in that FLW can be said to have been a wizard in his own way in the arts, but not in his relationships, and defnitely not with money, except to make it disappear.

Whether Paul Simon was writing his song as a literal tribute to Frank Lloyd Wright or using the name Frank Lloyd Wright to refer to Art Garfunkel, it is a poignant song. And it led me on a journey of discover around FLW and his life. And since I am obsessed at the moment, next up in my book queue is the novel Loving Frank (2007) by Nancy Loran, the story of Mamah and FLW from Mamah’s perspective.

 

Loving Frank

 

Nancy Horan
Writer Nancy Horan

 

I have no plans to travel to New YTork any time soon, but when I do, I will make a pilgrimmage to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, itself a work of art and completed in 1959, the same year FLW died at age 89. True to form, the estate he left behind took years to settle.

 

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Love Frank, hate Frank, or puzzled by Frank and his life, you have to admit he led an interesting life.

 

Tom Wright and his wife, Etsuko Saito, live in a Bethesda home designed by his grandfather, Frank Lloyd Wright.
The signature red tile placed on the facades of Wright’s buildings.

 

 

 

Literary Pets (Cats Who Write Murder Mysteries)

There is a real cat credited as a writer of murder mysteries–Sneaky Pie Brown, who pens the Mrs. Murphy mysteries with her human, Rita Mae Brown. Mrs. Murphy is a crime-solving cat who works with a Corgi partner, in case you thought she was a human Miss Marple type.

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Sneaky Pie Brown with Rita Mae Brown.

I think cats would make natural murder mystery writers. There always seems to be an implied “I could kill you but I won’t” message underlying the looks many cats give us humans, and sometimes dogs, and sometimes other cats.

You know this cat is not thinking good thoughts about you.

There is a book about this, How to Tell if Your Cat is Plotting to Kill You.

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Maybe that’s what started me on playing the game, what author would that animal be? Or maybe it was that time I went to a reading and book signing by the author T. C. Boyle and thought he looked like a Borzoi. It turns out that Boyle, author of one of my favorite books, The Tortilla Curtain, is actually partial to the dreadlocked Puli, which is pretty cool.

 

Puli dogs
Puli dogs

Tortilla

 

I’ve only done this with dogs and cats so far, but I am sure you can play it with any type of animal if you can match up their personality, looks, and likely literary style with a human author.

My own companion animals were pretty easy to match up.

Sara, my 19-year old brown tabby cat, would clearly be one of the classic older ladies of the English murder mystery genre. Perhaps Agatha Christie, but I think really of a writer who had a bit more edge, like Ruth Rendell. Much darker things happen in Rendell’s books than Christie’s, and even thought Sara is an affectionate cat, she is a cat, and was also quite a hunter in her day.

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Dame Agatha Christie, creator of the aforementioned Miss Marple.
Ruth Rendell
Dame Ruth Rendell, author of dark mysteries under her own name, and psychological thrillers under the name Barbara Vine.

Misty, our 6-year old Turkish Angora who was rescued from kitty death row, where she was placed for having a personality disorder that made her “unadoptable”, would be a perfect Gillian Flynn,  author of the disturbing books Gone Girl, Dark Places, and Sharp Objects. Misty is beautiful, but beware what lurks in that brain. I call her the Ferocious Beauty for good reason!

Scary, each and every one of them.

Marble, the new kid on the block, is hip and eccentric and a little wild, so I am picking Dave Eggers for him. Maybe Eggers, perhaps best known for A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, is a dog guy. I don’t know, but Marble would be a good hipster author who can be funny and profound and will always do things a little differently. And sometimes follows you around like a dog.

And then there is Einstein. Einstein is not named for his staggering genius, but for his unruly fur. I think he should be a humorist, and I know Dave Barry likes dogs because he has written about them frequently. And his bangs hang in his face, like Einstein’s.

Of course, I have to delve into memories of pets past as well. Our dearly beloved Ben, the classic orange tabby with a heart of gold, would be Calvin Trillin, winner of the 2013 Thurber Prize for American Humor. He’s a classic himself.

Then there is the dynamic dog duo, Bingo and Sadie. Bingo was a ham, always taking credit for Sadie’s work. She was a lovable free-spirit.  If we took them to the beach and threw sticks in the water, Sadie would swim out to retrieve them, but as soon as she got to shore, Bingo would grab them from her and run over all proud for having supposedly retrieved them himself. Obviously, to me, they are F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.

Bingo, left, with Sadie.
F. Scott with Zelda.

I can go on like this for hours. Now I’ve started matching up animals at the shelter with their literary doppelgängers.

When I first saw Mordecai the mastiff, his stateliness made me think of Charles Dickens, the venerable author of so many icons of English literature. But I have revised my opinion lately to thinking he is really John Steinbeck, the venerable author of so many icons of American literature. Steinbeck, by the way, wrote a lovely book about his Standard Poodle Charley.

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Mordecai

When I saw scrappy little dachshund mix Facebook, I immediately thought of Alexander McCall Smith, prolific author of the series The Number One Ladies Detective Agency, The Sunday Philosophy Club, Portuguese Irregular Verbs, and Scotland Street. He has an infectious personality and his books are light and fun.

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I picked David Foster Wallace for Joey, mostly because for some reason he just looks like he’d write some of my favorite essays like Consider the Lobster and A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again. Joey will not follow in DFW’s footsteps in terms of early, self-inflicted death. Joey will live to be a grumpy old man cat with a sense of humor.

Joey

 

 

 

I’ll just do one more. Like I said, I could do this for hours. I read a lot, and I see a lot of animals in the course of my day.

Another of my favorite writers is Anne Tyler. I don’t know why it took me a little while to realize she would be my recent foster cat Merida. There is a sweetness to Tyler’s books, along with a faint melancholy, and always a theme of family and relationships. Merida is a sweetheart, had a rough start in life, is looking for her forever family, and could easily be the central character in a Tyler book if Tyler wrote books about cats.

Maybe some day I’ll actually write and publish a book. I hope so. I have a great author photo ready to go–I look serious and moody.

And then maybe someone will pair me up with my animal doppelgänger. I’m hoping for a sleek, dignified beauty, like an Irish Setter.

But I won’t be surprised if it is a roly poly kitten, either.

Meow!