Frank Lloyd Wright is one of Wisconsin’s most celebrated sons, and Thursday is his birthday. Considered to be the father of American architecture, he created a style that was all his own, and in turn, became our own.
Frank Lincoln Wright was born in Richland Center on June 8th, 1867, to Anna Lloyd-Jones, a teacher, and William Carey Wright, a musician and minister, according to the Wisconsin Historical Society. He changed his middle name after his parents divorced and remained devoted to his mother, crediting her with inspiring his interest in architecture.
“[In] his autobiography he attributes it to his mother inspiring him at an early age with pictures and photographs of different buildings around the world,” said Mike Lilek, Curator for Frank Lloyd Wright’s American System-Built Homes.
Wright attended the University of Wisconsin for a little over a year before he headed down to Chicago, eventually working under Louis Sullivan, a premiere architect in his own right and commonly referred to as the “father of skyscrapers.”
While working on buildings in Illinois for over a decade, he started lecturing at the Hull House in Chicago, according to Lilek.
“He was blending the arts and thinking about the arts with architecture, and he was talking about things that were sort of somewhat radical at the time,“ Lilek said.
It was around this time that he started thinking about the style he might be most famous for, the Prairie style homes.
“They would mimic the flat prairie of the Illinois landscape that he was most familiar with at that point in his career,” Lilek said.
While Wright’s professional life flourished, his personal life was marred by heartbreak and tragedy.
Wright left his first wife, Catherine Lee Tobin, and their children, and moved to Spring Green with Mamah Borthwick Cheney, the wife of one of his clients. He built a home for them and called it Taliesin. They both lived in the home until 1914 when tragedy struck. While Wright was in Chicago, their cook, Julian Carlton, murdered Borthwick, along with six others who were in the home at the time. Carlton then set fire to the house, destroying everything, save his studio.
After rebuilding the home, it burned again.
“His house, Taliesin, in Spring Green Wisconsin, burned twice. Once in 1914 and again in the 1920’s. And both times the house burned, the house was attached to his studio,” said Lilek. “ And his studio never burned. But [Wright] would say it was as if ‘God did not approve of my lifestyle but he certainly approved of my architecture’.”
During the later part of Wright's career, he started to focus on homes that would be affordable for everyone. Housing every American in a beautiful space. Wright thought of the homes as a complete environment.
"He not only designed the structure, but the furnishing, and the textiles, and recommended the art that might go into the home, and in some cases the landscaping and even, in a few rare cases, the dresses for the women of the house," said Lilek.
Wright's use of nature in his work reigned prominently throughout his life.
"He would tell his clients to go to nature to find your colors, not the ribbon counter at [Marshall] Fields," Lilek said.
Wright's way of thinking about architecture and space still resonates today. Everything can be traced back to him.
"He really is the beginning point of any American architecture," Lilek said.
On June 8th, The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation will be celebrating his birthday with $1.50 tour admission of many homes and historic sites, according to their press release. This includes Taliesin West, Monona Terrace, and the American System Built Homes on Burnham St just off of Historic Layton Blvd.