Displaying Art Prints the Wright Way

August 29, 2012 § 2 Comments

Print Table in Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio
Courtesy of the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust

The concept of designing furniture solely for displaying art prints has fascinated me since I first saw the two print tables at the Dana-Thomas House. I have always known that our print tables are not unique to the house, and I have wondered how many others still exist and where they are. Recently I decided to try to find the answers to those questions.

I started at Wright’s Home and Studio where I had seen another print table. David Bagnall, the Curator/Director of Interpretation for the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust, told me that he knows of five existing tables. There are two at the Dana-Thomas House, one at Wright’s Home and Studio, and one at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. According to the Met’s website, the print table displayed in the Museum was designed for Francis W. Little’s summer house on Lake Minnetonka, Minnesota (1912-1914). Like the tables in the Dana-Thomas House, the Little House table is made of oak.

The fifth print table was offered by Christie’s Auction House in New York in June of 1988. The catalog preceding the auction stated that “According to Wright-family tradition, the architect’s print table, one of two made for his combination home and studio in Oak Park, Illinois, was the prototype for all of his print tables.” Unfortunately, no one bid on the poplar table at the 1988 auction. I contacted Carina Villinger, Head of Department/Vice President of the 20th Century Decorative Art and Design Department at Christie’s, and she was able to track down the current owner of the table. Ms. Villinger forwarded a letter that I wrote to that individual asking for information about the location of the table. That was six weeks ago, and I have had no response. Despite that brick wall, I am pleased to have this much information.

I’ve also discovered that Frank Lloyd Wright created other furniture to exhibit art prints. He mounted a Japanese print show in 1908 for The Art Institute of Chicago and designed unique easels and print stands to display the collection. Currently The Art Institute is presenting an exhibition entitled “The Formation of the Japanese Print Collection at the Art Institute: Frank Lloyd and the Prairie School.” Included in the exhibit are photos of that 1908 show with the Wright-designed furniture. Similar stands are seen in archival photos of Taliesin in 1911. They are stunning! I look forward to a trip to Chicago before the Art Institute exhibition closes November 4 so I can get a closer look at the photos. Maybe I’ll find out if there are any print stands still around.

 

Another Lincoln Link

August 22, 2012 § Leave a comment

I’ve discovered another link between Susan and Abraham Lincoln (see “A Lincoln Link at Last!”). They were both billiard players.

While the Brunswick-Balke-Collender billiard table currently on display in the Dana-Thomas House did not belong to Susan, it was manufactured during her lifetime in the late 1800s or early 1900s. She must have had a similar table in that room because an unidentified neighbor wrote, “ [Susan] had a billiard room on the lower level which was her main exercise.” That revelation astonished me because I did not envision her with a cue stick in her hand. Evidently billiards was a commonly accepted game for women of means in that era.

Billiards had an identity crisis in the late 19th and early 20th century. The Brunswick Billiards website explains one image of the game:

In 1845—and the decades that followed—a billiard table was a fine status symbol. The mere presence of a table stated that you were a person of wealth and influence—because you could afford a table, you could afford a home large enough to accommodate one!

Ultimate Pocket Billiards, another website dealing with the history of the game describes the seamier side of billiards:

During the 1840s, billiards became associated with pool parlors… The word ‘pool’ at the time meant gambling, but it was soon attached to the American form of billiards–still commonly known as pool. While gentlemen played billiards in their homes or in their exclusive clubs, the popular version of the sport developed a questionable reputation.

Abraham Lincoln apparently participated in the former billiard world. A “Looking for Lincoln” plaque on Springfield’s Washington Street between 4th and 5th Streets marks the site of a billiard hall and describes Lincoln’s involvement with the game:

He evidently played it with lawyers and townsfolk in various halls and taverns along the judicial circuit. While awaiting news of his presidential nomination, he went to an “excellent and neat beer saloon” to play, but found the tables occupied.

The Brunswick Billiards website claims that Lincoln owned a Brunswick table. Presumably the table was installed in the White House because there certainly was no room for it in his Springfield home. The website says that Lincoln called himself a billiards addict and the game a “health inspiring, scientific game, lending recreation to the otherwise fatigued mind.”

If only we had a magic time machine, we could arrange a clash of the Titans—a billiard game between Susan Lawrence and Abraham Lincoln.

Water and Fire in the Lawrence House

August 15, 2012 § 4 Comments

One hundred and four years ago this week Springfield, Illinois, erupted into the most violent incident in the history of the home town of Abraham Lincoln, the Great Emancipator. On August 14, 1908, a white mob stormed the local jail with the intent to “punish” two African-American prisoners for perceived crimes against members of the white community. When the vigilantes discovered that the sheriff had spirited the men out of town for their protection, a riot broke out. The mob rampaged for two days. They destroyed Springfield’s black neighborhood, killed eight people (including two by lynching), and injured 70. Susan’s friend Governor Deneen called 3,700 state militia troops to suppress the riot.

Acts of Intolerance” by Preston Jackson
In Memory of the 1908 Springfield Race Riot

We know that Susan was not in town during those dark days because on August 13, 1908, the day before the race riot exploded, the Illinois State Journal “Personals” column reported the following: “Mrs. Susan Lawrence-Dana of South Fourth street has gone to Europe to spend the remainder of the summer.” However, because of her close relationship to Springfield’s African-American community at large and her black household staff in particular (see  Susan Lawrence: The Enigma in the Wright House), I have long felt that she would have made her home a refuge for those who were fleeing the violence.

Melinda McDonald, another volunteer at the Dana-Thomas House, has expanded that idea into a novel entitled Water and Fire. A fictionalized account of the 1908 race riot, the book relates the story of Sheba Tully, a black maid in the Lawrence House, and white reporter Elliott Loper. The two young people are thrust into the center of the riot. Through their experiences, the reader observes mankind’s  cruelty, compassion, and love. Water and Fire puts faces onto those terrible statistics, and by setting the story primarily in the Lawrence House, Melinda has bridged history to today’s world in a unique way. Readers like me who are familiar with the house feel a chilling sense of reality as the tragedy unfolds in the rooms of the Lawrence House. Water and Fire is available at the Dana-Thomas House Sumac Shop.

A Lincoln Link At Last

August 8, 2012 § 3 Comments

Abraham Lincoln dominates the tourist business in Springfield, Illinois, and the best way to lure visitors to a tourist attraction is to establish a Lincoln link. Connections to Abe have eluded the Dana-Thomas House until now. I am pleased to announce that thanks to modern technology, I have discovered a legitimate tie-in.

I received an email from Karen Eslien of Two Rivers, Wisconsin. Karen had the good taste to read Susan Lawrence: The Enigma in the Wright House, and she wanted to tell me how much she enjoyed it. Since she is a direct descendant of a Maxcy (Susan’s mother’s maiden name), Karen asked what I knew about the Maxcy connection to William Herndon, Lincoln’s friend, partner, and biographer. I immediately began to search the Internet and some books and made an amazing discovery. Susan’s great aunt (the youngest sister of her maternal grandfather) was the first wife of William Herndon!

In his book Lincoln’s Herndon, author David Donald said that Mary Jane Maxcy, age 18, married 22 year old William Herndon on March 26,1840. The couple had six children. Mary contracted tuberculosis and died in 1861 at the age of 39. Since Susan was born in 1862, she did not meet her great aunt. Herndon remarried in 1862 and fathered two more children with his second wife Anna.

Susan’s relationship to William Herndon may be old news to some, but it’s a revelation to me and triggers my creative juices. I’m trying to recommend a marketing strategy that uses this information to attract Springfield’s many Lincoln visitors to the Dana-Thomas House. Somehow the slogan “Come see the home of the great niece of Lincoln’s law partner.” doesn’t work. Does anyone else have an idea?

 

I Digress to Frank Lloyd Wright

August 2, 2012 § Leave a comment

When I started to write Susan Lawrence: The Enigma in the Wright House, I made a conscious decision to maintain my focus on Susan and to only discuss Frank Lloyd Wright as he related to her and the house. I have tried to keep that focus while writing this blog. I believed that while no one had written a book about Susan, Frank Lloyd Wright and his life has been thoroughly revealed and dissected in multiple volumes.

It turns out that I was wrong. One very important influence on Frank Lloyd Wright’s work has been neglected—his father and music teacher,William Carey Wright. My image of the man has been that of a near-do-well itinerant preacher. Evidently William Carey Wright was also a lawyer, a country doctor, a musician, and a composer. He wrote and published many songs, piano pieces, and organ works.

Music historian David Patterson has been filling that gap through a project entitled, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Musical Origins: The Music of William Carey Wright.” He has been collecting the music composed by William Cary Wright and lecturing on his discoveries. Now Patterson has embarked on a new phase of the project. He hopes to produce a CD with professional musicians playing the works of the senior Wright and liner notes revealing the influence of the musician father on the work of his famous son.

As a former music teacher, I find this Wright connection intriguing. Patterson is seeking donations to complete his project, and I have pledged my support. If you would like to assist in building this new chapter in the Frank Lloyd Wright narrative, follow this link. I’ll return to Susan next week.

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