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

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