Another Woman in the Wright House
May 26, 2012 § 2 Comments
Susan Lawrence moved into her new Frank Lloyd Wright designed Lawrence House sometime in 1904 and moved out in 1928, 24 years later. Kathy Liesman began working at the Dana-Thomas House in April of 1987 and, after 25 years, will retire from her position at the house this Thursday, May 31, 2012. Kathy has been with the house one year longer than Susan lived in it.
Hired as a site technician during the house restoration by the state of Illinois, Kathy’s first responsibility was to work with a team of three other technicians to refinish all the furniture in the house. With the exception of the settee in the gallery, all of the furniture was moved off-site where the team worked for two years. During what was called Phase 3 of the restoration project, responsibilities changed. The group moved the furniture back and performed the myriad other tasks that needed to be completed for the re-opening in 1990. For the next several years the four site technicians cared for the house and yard. Additionally, the site staff included the site manager, an assistant site manager, a volunteer coordinator, and a lead interpreter during this time.
Over the years, the make-up of the staff has shifted. Individuals have retired, died, or moved to other positions. Most of them have not been replaced. In 2005 Kathy became the lead interpreter and volunteer coordinator. With dwindling state budgets, the staff has continued to shrink, and Kathy has assumed more responsibilities. With the title of historic interpreter coordinator, she will retire as one of two permanent staff members. No announcement of her replacement has been made.
As she reflects on her career, Kathy feels that the most exciting time was during the restoration, but her proudest accomplishment has come at the end of her years at the house. She was able to implement a living history program this past year in which costumed volunteers assume the persona of Susan and her friends during public tours. Kathy says, “I have always wanted to bring Susan to life and show that she was more than an empty-headed socialite.” She leaves behind many friends as well as a big hole. Her leadership and institutional memory will not be replaced easily. The staff and volunteers she has nurtured will hold a party in her honor in the yard of the house on her last day of work. We all wish her well and pledge to try to maintain the house and Susan’s legacy as Kathy has for the last 25 years.