Susan and Marion Mahony

October 31, 2012 § Leave a comment

Lawrence House by Marion Mahony

I finally went to see the Art Institute of Chicago exhibit “The Formation of the Japanese Print Collection at the Art Institute: Frank Lloyd and the Prairie School.” Although the Japanese prints, Wright’s print easel, and the photos of the 1908 exhibit were engaging, Marion Mahony was the star of the show. None of the pictures of her drawings that I had seen in books prepared me for the size and beauty of her works on fabric. They are magnificent. They added to my admiration for and curiosity about this trained architect who was characterized by Frank Lloyd Wright as his “capable assistant.”

Coincidentally on that same Chicago trip I discovered a 2011 publication entitled Marion Mahony Reconsidered. A collection of essays edited by David Van Zanten, the book includes a paper by Alice Friedman entitled “Girl Talk: Feminism and Domestic Architecture at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Oak Park Studio.” Friedman contends that although the relationship of Marion Mahony and Frank Lloyd Wright grew extremely acrimonious in their later lives, the two architects enjoyed a cooperative give-and-take association during the early years in the Oak Park studio. She writes, “…the relationships within the studio [were] meant to be mutually enriching and collaborative.”

The Lawrence House was designed during that period, and Friedman suggests that because of this collaborative environment, Marion Mahony’s hand can be seen throughout the house. The author contends Mahony and Susan Lawrence shared philosophical views on education, spirituality, philanthropy, activism, and domestic architecture. Consequently, the architect was drawn to the client and the project. The sculptor Richard Bock supported this theory when he revealed in his memoir that “The Moon Children” fountain in the Lawrence House was a collaborative project between him and Mahony.  

Moon Children Fountain by Richard Bock and Marion Mahony


Friedman cites other examples:                       

The richness of the Dana [Lawrence] House interiors, the profusion of leaded glass, and the resemblance of the light fixtures to the ones that she designed for the Church of All Souls in these same years all point to Mahony’s active participation in the project.

If this theory is true, Marion Mahony deserves much more credit than we give her as we interpret the house for guests. The essays and photos in Zanten’s book as well as the Art Institute exhibit make it clear that the “capable assistant” was a creative architect and a gifted artist. She deserves star status.

Church or All Souls by Marion Mahony

Dana/Lawrence House Butterfly Lamp

Susan the Historian

October 18, 2012 § Leave a comment

From “Revolutionary Soldiers Buried In Illinois” by Mrs. Harriet J. Walker; 1917

On October 19, 1911 (101 years ago this week), the Springfield, Illinois, chapters of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) and the Sons of the American Revolution dedicated on the south side of the courthouse square a bronze tablet in memory of the 24 Revolutionary War veterans who were buried in Sangamon County.

As an active member of the DAR, Susan designed the tablet and was in charge of the unveiling. She selected two children to uncover the plaque during the ceremony. I have come across this photo of the event which I did not have when I wrote Susan’s biography, Susan Lawrence: The Enigma in the Wright House. The girl is Mary Agnes Radcliff, and the boy is Harold C. George. Mary was a descendant of Joel Maxcy (Susan’s great great grandfather), and Harold’s ancestor was Phillip Crowder. Both men are listed on the plaque. According to a newspaper account, Mary wore a white and blue sash as a Daughter of the American Revolution, and Harold wore white and orange, the colors of the Sons of the American Revolution.

Although it has been moved, the plaque is still on display in downtown Springfield. With three more names added in 1914, the tablet is now on the right side of the north wall of the kiosk on the Old State Capitol plaza. Furthermore, Phillip Crowder’s grave and headstone are still preserved for us to view on a small plot on busy Chatham Road. These two monuments from the past are unique links to and reminders of Susan’s multifaceted life.

Plaque on Old State Capitol Plaza

Phillip Crowder Burial Site

Susan Goes to a Conference

October 13, 2012 § Leave a comment

I took Susan to a history conference this week. Myron (Mike) Marty (co-author of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin Fellowship) and I presented a session entitled “Women Who Built with Frank Lloyd Wright” at the 14th annual Conference on Illinois History sponsored by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation. Mike shared images of woman who were associated with designs of Wright and some of the structures that resulted. I revealed in my presentation, entitled “The Wright Connections of Susan Lawrence,” some of the links to Wright and his family that I discovered in my research for Susan’s biography, Susan Lawrence: The Enigma in the Wright House.

Susan’s first encounter with a member of Wright’s family was more than ten years before she commissioned him to remodel her father’s house. She met Wright’s Aunt Jennie (Jane) in Minneapolis where Susan and her first husband Edwin Dana resided during the first ten years of their marriage. The relationship grew when Jennie and her sister Nell (Ellen) opened the Hillside Home School, a progressive boarding school, on their family’s property in southern Wisconsin. Susan not only generously supported the school financially but also served on the board for several years. Through letters and memoirs, I learned that Susan continued her friendship with Wright’s entire extended family long after the Lawrence House was completed. I found, for example, highly personal letters from Susan to Wright’s mother Anna in which Susan sent greetings to Wright’s children, sisters, aunts and uncles. Through other letters I was also able to trace Susan’s relationship to Frank Lloyd Wright 30 years after the house was built.

This conference offered a smörgåsbord of topics. Mike and I were pleased that many chose to attend our session. It was an opportunity to reveal to a diverse audience women in Frank Lloyd Wright’s life other than those who have been sensationalized in current popular literature. I hope to take Susan to a conference again.

Happy Birthday, Susan

October 5, 2012 § 1 Comment

October 13, 2012, will be the 150th anniversary of the birth of Sue C. Lawrence, aka Susie Lawrence, aka Mrs. E. W. Dana, aka Susan Lawrence Dana, aka Susan Joergen-Dahl, aka Susan Lawrence-Gehrmann, aka Susan Z. Lawrence. I explain in her biography, Susan Lawrence: The Enigma in the Wright House, that she was also known at various stages of her life as Little Rheuna, Tag, Aunty Dana, Dede, and Aunt Susie. While most of us are satisfied with one or two names in our lifetime, it seems that Susan, who did everything on a grand scale, changed names almost as frequently as she changed hats.

Susan also changed birth dates. When she married Lawrence Joergen-Dahl in 1912, the marriage certificate listed the groom’s age as 26 and the bride’s age as 36. She was actually 49 year old. Three years later Susan married Charles Gehrmann. That marriage license claimed that she was 44 and Charles was 49. In reality they were 52 and 53 respectively. If we use those calculations, perhaps we are too early to acknowledge Susan’s 150th birthday.

Nevertheless, there will be a celebration at the Dana-Thomas House on Saturday, October 13. Following the entertainment traditions that Susan established, the Living History Team will offer refreshments and a small gift to guests. Amy Zepp will portray the guest of honor. I wonder what her name and age will be.

Susan Lawrence Dana

Susan Joergen-Dahl

Mrs. E. W. Dana

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