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Video: Interview w/ John Rattenbury
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SDR



Joined: 17 Jun 2006
Posts: 17480
Location: San Francisco

PostPosted: Mon Jun 03, 2019 8:49 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Some lines from Johnny Hill are worth repeating:

"Mr. Wright told me one time that when you're designing something you shouldn't count on foliage, that the room should be beautiful without anything, and then when you brought in the flowers that it should sing high C. That's a very nice expression, I think."

On Mrs Wright: "She was terrific, totally understanding, but also very positive. There was no wavering in what she was doing ever. It was truths that she was connected with whether you liked it or not. Or she thought that
a certain direction was right for the situation, and that's what was truth to her. So there were plenty of grievances, and there were people that she was down on often, because sometimes, in some cases, they were obviously
never going to fit in. And I think she didn't think Mr. Wright should waste his time, and she didn't feel that she could change the situation, so that oftentimes she seemed pretty rough to other people. I mean, she was hard
on people. But she was, first of all, protecting him and what he wanted to do, and if somebody got hurt in the process, that was just too bad. On the other hand, she took on a pretty heavy responsibility for everybody that was
really heavily contributing to the place."

On going to "House Beautiful": "Then I was going to go to New York with Mr. Wright to see about setting up this exhibit on the site of the [Solomon R.] Guggenheim [Museum], and a wire came from Elizabeth Gordon asking him
if he could suggest-- The point of it was she needed some help in backing her up on the stand she was taking against the International style, and could he suggest somebody who might be helpful. And, well, we were having
breakfast in the living room, and we were about to go, and he said, "Well, Johnny, maybe you'd like to help her for a year." And anyway, since we were going, he said, "It will be a good chance for you to meet her and see if you
get along." So that we did. And Mrs. Wright very much was encouraging me to try it. Because, as she said later, I was at the restless point, and it was an opportunity to get a spokesman in the world where we'd never had one. You
know, nobody had published any of this stuff for the layman; it was all in professional magazines and books and things. And there were never interiors...Those were the first interiors that were ever taken of the new
stuff. So it was pretty exciting."

On Wisconsin, during the war: "It was a German state, you know, except for Madison, which is New England."
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SDR



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PostPosted: Mon Jun 03, 2019 10:17 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Mr Wright: "He would give you a plan. Like say he'd spent an hour or so designing something, and it was usually rather complicated by the time he was through-- There would probably be a section or an elevation in the plan, and
maybe if it was more than one story, the two levels on top of each other. You had to really know what you were doing to see what was intended. But he would give you that and let you straighten it out, get it cleaned up, and then he
might work on it again, or it would be more or less just as he wanted it. Sometimes he worked on things over and over; he wouldn't let them go. Jack got so that he tried to hide things so that he wouldn't see them and start all
over. Occasionally I had the feeling that he was just-- It was partly fun to just tear up art, just mess up something and start it all over. He didn't have tremendous respect for draftsmanship. He required it. I mean, that was just
sort of a given and taken for granted thing. It was just craftsmanship, not artistic for the most part. On the other hand, he did say some people had a touch that made a drawing more beautiful."

"Did Wright like to work alone? Or did he mind being interrupted for questions?"
HILL
"He didn't like to be interrupted, but he preferred to have people around. He liked to be watched. And he didn't mind at all if people stood around behind."
VALENTINE
"Could you ask questions?"
HILL
"No, just be silent. Because he really had a very deep kind of concentration when he was on something. I can't imagine him telling somebody to be quiet. I don't think it ever happened. It was just something very serious to
do. But he usually worked until he had the building all completely in his mind and on the paper. And that was true of the [Solomon R.] Guggenheim Museum or one of the Usonian houses. He didn't do part and then come back
and then go on with it. It's incredible how he could get these concepts, which were sometimes very complex, down in a very small sketch, but he did. They were all there. And if sometimes you would have a little trouble telling
exactly what was going on, you would have asked him, but it was there then. You could see what was supposed to be. Even now, the little houses, for instance, he would indicate the size of the fascia: seven inches, nine
inches, whatever. The scale of these things was very important in those houses. You could make them clumsy or fragile looking. If you got the thing too big, too small-- And the heights, of course, made a big difference, too.
So he didn't allow for any error in things like that or in the size of things. But he could count on Jack to know so well what he would do that he didn't have to go too far except to then check it out to see that it was right in the end."
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SDR



Joined: 17 Jun 2006
Posts: 17480
Location: San Francisco

PostPosted: Mon Jun 03, 2019 10:57 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Maggie Valentine ?


"...Usually it was my feeling that when we made a model it jinxed it. We made a big model of a house for Gerald Loeb in Connecticut, and I think people like Philip Johnson just teased him about it to the point where he didn't ever do it."
VALENTINE
"Teased Loeb?"
HILL
"Gerald, yeah. It was a very interesting house, not like anything else Mr. Wright did. It sort of, I think, it was a little bit classic, like the Parthenon or something that big. There were huge columns. But still, it's crowning the top of this hill. And I'm sorry he didn't build that, because there was some awfully nice foliage in that model." [laughs]
VALENTINE
"Macaroni." [laughs]
HILL
"Yeah. I think it must have been the same period" [as the Guggenheim model].
VALENTINE
"Yes, it would have been the same period."
HILL
"But that was just-- I don't know. I think maybe Mr. Wright just wanted to have it exhibited, thinking it would sell Loeb on doing it. But that didn't work."
VALENTINE
"So why did Loeb change his mind?"
HILL
"I don't remember what he said. Probably too much money. But it was a pretty positive job. He took Mr. Wright out to see the property. He was not a stranger. He had visited here and Arizona several times. But it may have been too grand for a single man."
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SDR



Joined: 17 Jun 2006
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PostPosted: Mon Jun 03, 2019 11:05 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

VALENTINE
"Jack says you learned to make two copies of all the drawings so that if Wright came and changed it you had another spare that you could apply the changes to. It was a secret from him."
HILL
[laughs] "He did that, all right, but not an awful lot of the time. Sometimes when Mr. Wright was feeling a little bit edgy he would get things out of his system by messing up a very pristine drawing, which probably didn't have
any life to it anyway, but still-- There was good reason not to leave too much out and around. [laughs] He did have to work all the time, but he was so orderly about it--you know, that business of writing first and then going to
the studio and then lunch. I mean, there was no messing around with that schedule; it held very well. And then the nap, which I think Mrs. Wright started somewhere in the forties. She felt that he should be getting that at
his age, and he was very good about it. It wasn't a long nap, half an hour maybe. But he was pretty religious about it."


"The Imperial Hotel seemed to me a more serious thing, because I think they could have afforded to restore it. But I guess they couldn't afford to have it as a big financial loss all the time. But that, of course, was something that
was closer to everybody, and he spoke of it a lot. And just sort of looking back on the circumstances-- But also there was an awful lot in that building of interest--designing and planning and, of course, the construction. But he
said that it ought to be taken down when they put in the subways. He said it would never survive that upset of its-- It was designed to be in this unconfined mud bed, and once they began putting the subways in and big
buildings with big footings near it, he said it was just going to go all out of kilter."

"I think everything he did was affected by his sense of sociability. Relations between the people in the thing were always as frictionless as possible. And if it was a place where parties would be, it would almost have the makings
of a party on its own. I wish he had done more hotels, because that characteristic is important in something like that."


"When we were living in New York, he would enjoy it for a couple of days, but then after that it was just a matter of getting things taken care of. He needed fresh air. I mean, he enjoyed very much associating with workmen
on the job or farmers in the country, the working level of people, provided they were educated."
VALENTINE
"Kind of a Jeffersonian attitude."
HILL
"Yeah, well, it was. They understood him better than overeducated ones, I guess. And he was very easy with them. Workmen on the job were crazy about him. He was so observant, and his-- Sometimes what he was asking
them to do with their material was difficult, but it was somehow in the way of making it more glorious, so that they were proud of-- You know, they'd bring their kids to see what they'd done. So there was that side to him that
was not necessarily to be found in the city."
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SDR



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Posts: 17480
Location: San Francisco

PostPosted: Tue Jun 04, 2019 12:26 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

"...Of course, the [Herbert] Jacobs House was the first of those Usonian houses. We had a standard detail sheet which applied to all of them, except that every time things were changed, improved, or something, so that it wasn't
the great time-saver that it was intended to be."
VALENTINE
"Oh, really?"
HILL
"Because it was always being redone..."
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SDR



Joined: 17 Jun 2006
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PostPosted: Tue Jun 04, 2019 12:45 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Most of the way through 1.14. TAPE NUMBER: VIII, SIDE ONE, JUNE 4, 1995:

Johnny's association with the Arnold Friedman and J W Hughes projects---one successful, the other a fiasco (for Johnny) . . .

S
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SDR



Joined: 17 Jun 2006
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Location: San Francisco

PostPosted: Tue Jun 04, 2019 1:03 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

"But the Oskaloosa [Iowa] houses, I haven't seen one of them. The couple really couldn't afford what they were doing, and I think they separated before the house was finished. They were the interesting couple. [laughs] They were
fun, good-looking, young. The other couple, they were school friends, the two men. And the houses were designed to go side by side, but then for some reason they didn't build on that property. And Alsop's was the-- They were
total opposites. One man [Jack Lamberson] was big, and he'd been a football star and a real party boy. And [Carroll] Alsop was very quiet, rather small, and sweet. And they were both sort of blond, and the others were, I guess,
brunette. But in any case, the houses-- Mr. Wright had this way of doing just the right thing for the right people. Alsop's house is very neat and square and tidy, and Lamberson's was a sixty-thirty[-degree triangle] diamond pattern,
you know, an angular thing. It was just exactly like them."
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Roderick Grant



Joined: 29 Mar 2006
Posts: 9110

PostPosted: Tue Jun 04, 2019 9:26 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

A missing bit of FLW's writing is an article published by a far-left-wing periodical in Minneapolis about the trip to Russia.
I have only encountered a mention of it in a book Geiger had about the history of Mpls., but cannot remember the name of the magazine.
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Paul Ringstrom



Joined: 17 Sep 2005
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Location: Mason City, IA

PostPosted: Tue Jun 04, 2019 11:19 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Roderick Grant wrote:
A missing bit of FLW's writing is an article published by a far-left-wing periodical in Minneapolis about the trip to Russia.
I have only encountered a mention of it in a book Geiger had about the history of Mpls., but cannot remember the name of the magazine.



Maybe you might find it on http://www.steinerag.com.
_________________
Owner of the G. Curtis Yelland House (1910), by Wm. Drummond
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SDR



Joined: 17 Jun 2006
Posts: 17480
Location: San Francisco

PostPosted: Tue Jun 04, 2019 7:04 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Skepticism of Wikipedia-article reliability is, sadly, bolstered by this autobiography/obituary of John deKoven Hill:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_deKoven_Hill

Exaggerations of certain roles and accomplishments at Taliesin are belied by his own account, linked and quoted above. It would be interesting to know who contributed to, and/or edited, this entry.

S
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SDR



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Location: San Francisco

PostPosted: Wed Jun 05, 2019 12:05 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

More Hill:

"Well, Mr. Wright had his own way of estimating, and he was usually way, way low. And clients tended to believe him, and of course there was trouble when the bids came in. But the only way you could get any kind of an estimate on
those houses was to have the contractor on the job and just really figure it out. And Mr. Wright always felt-- Of course, he viewed what he was doing as a great simplification, and therefore it should be making things much cheaper.
And he was always upset about the estimates of the cost for anything--sash and woodwork and all those things. On the other hand, he expected excellent workmanship. And workmen loved working on them, because what they were
doing mattered."
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SDR



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PostPosted: Wed Jun 05, 2019 9:34 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

"What magazines were you reading at that time before you went [in 1953] to House Beautiful?"
HILL
"Well, we got Architectural Forum in the office. I didn't look at it very seriously. I was interested only in the issues that Mr. Wright was involved in. There wasn't anything really in the magazine world worth-- Architectural
Digest was a sort of a thin California publication that had more interesting things in it. I don't know whether Pencil Points was still going. That's what I read as a boy. I think my uncle must have subscribed to it for me. But, well,
there wasn't any contemporary influence except Mr. Wright."
VALENTINE
"Did you read Arts and Architecture?"
HILL
"Did it exist? I didn't."
VALENTINE
"What did anybody else read around here?"
HILL
"Some didn't, of course, read at all. We were more into, oh, things like D.H. Lawrence and Indian philosophers. Even stuff like Madame [Helena Petrovna] Blavatsky and all that stuff that's sort of sophomoric that people
want to immerse themselves in. And there was a good bit of that sort of thing. And discussion, you know, not led by Mr. Wright at all or Mrs. Wright, either, but just within small groups of people. I always was reading
something just because that's the way I'd grown up. But there wasn't any program of reading that I was following. Wes [William Wesley Peters] was a great education in himself. You know, you could ask him anything about any
king ever, about buildings old and new, when they happened, and what about them, and so on. It's incredible what a source he was."
VALENTINE
"And did people use that resource?"
HILL
"I did. I don't think so many other people did. But I was with him a lot. He and Gene [Eugene Masselink] and I-- I sort of attached myself to them. And they were older. Gene was ten years older, and Wes eight. But that didn't
seem to matter. I was kind of an old seventeen-year-old. Other people were apt to be bored by the-- You couldn't stop him once you asked him, you know. The amount of information just kept pouring out. But I liked that. It
was an easy way to find out about things." [laughs]
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SDR



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PostPosted: Wed Jun 05, 2019 10:00 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

"...And usually nothing that came in over the transom like that was really publishable, but it gave us this acquaintance with the people where we would find their next thing, maybe, or something. In some cases they were
beautiful things. There were a couple of architects in California doing awfully nice wood houses. And Harwell [Hamilton] Harris did some nice stuff, almost unknown at the time. And Jean Harris was the problem for Harwell. If it
hadn't been for her he would have been a famous man, but she just alienated clients right and left, anybody. She didn't trust anyone to write about him because they wouldn't understand him. It's too bad, because he
was quite gifted. But in spite of it, he did a house for the Texas State Fair, on which I got my two cents in, although it was not like anything I would design. He was very much California, sort of [Bernard] Maybeck looking."
VALENTINE
"Yes, yes."
HILL
"But it was a nice house. It had some totally impossible things about it in the way of circulation. For instance, the bedroom had a very high ceiling with windows going up into the gable end, an enormous amount of glass with
really no way to darken the room. Even for privacy it was difficult. It was hard to show it in pictures and give any feeling of what fun it would be to get into that bed. [laughs] But all the same, it was an interesting house. And we
got him to make the garage into an entrance hall, and that was the main feature of the house finally, as far as publishing went. I mean, you arrived in style in the house. So that kind of thing we could do."
VALENTINE
"The problems of the bedroom, would you be critical of that in the article? Or would you just ignore it?"
HILL
"No, ignored it. I tried to fix the windows. I did some kind of shutter hinge thing so that you could close it up. But no, there's no point in emphasizing the negative. That's not what people are reading for."
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SDR



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PostPosted: Wed Jun 05, 2019 7:18 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

"I don't know that House Beautiful was read by men except professional designers. In those days women did make the homes. They conditioned the whole-- And as a matter of fact, it's interesting that most men feel that a
bedroom should be pink and have ruffles and that sort of thing, and that's what they're comfortable with. It's feminine. At least then. I'm talking about then. That's not necessarily what women do now. But that feeling of a
feminine touch is necessary for a man. That was one of the criticisms of Mr. Wright's houses, that they were masculine. And it's a little hard to argue against. I think that's one reason, actually-- Well, the main reason that Mrs.
Wright made changes here [Taliesin] was just to take something of the bitterness off the absence of Mr. Wright. But there were things-- She had the stone piers in the center of the house rebuilt smaller, just a tiny bit, an inch
smaller or something, and better stonework, neater stonework. She plastered quite a bit of the rough stone and put gold leaf on it, which is not good at all. I'm very much against the thing. However, it did do what she
needed to do at the time, and the house became-- The whole desert camp [Taliesin West] became feminine, just transformed from a rugged, masculine, barbaric kind of a creation to a feminine, elegant, shiplike thing."
VALENTINE
"I always associate the shag carpets with her. Is that fair?"
HILL
"No, Mr. Wright--"
VALENTINE
"Well, the colors."
HILL
"That heavy blue carpet is Wes. He just went crazy about that, and he kept buying more and more. Mrs. Wright kept giving in. He'd get them out, and something would be covered wall to wall. And we all sort of enjoyed it. It
was an easy way to make things look luxurious and nice. But that particular carpet is so hard to vacuum that people grew to hate it, and it kept disappearing. And we're still getting rid of it."
VALENTINE
"What was the carpet like before the blue shag?"
HILL
"In the house there was something called Klear Flax. It was linen, rather a smooth carpet. It didn't have any nap at all. You know, a woven thing. And where the shag is in the house now, and places where there is nothing, he
had runners of a blue to keep people off the cypress floors, because they're very badly damaged from heels. And we've got to get something back now. We found a color. The company doesn't exist, and there's no way to
reproduce that. But there was a runner of it all the way down through the house. And where the blue shag is, we're lined up--if the preservation people can just get the money--to get those rugs in. We must do it, because we
can't subject those old rugs to this much traffic. And the floor has to be protected in the living room. But she didn't reject the shag. But they were coming in in the fifties. And that's what we acquired for the museum house
[New York Usonian Exhibition House], for instance. We furnished that house."
VALENTINE
"House Beautiful did?"
HILL
"Yeah. We furnished the Plaza [Hotel] apartment, as a matter of fact, then never ran it because Mr. Wright decided it looked too lush."
VALENTINE
"Really?"
HILL
"He didn't want to be represented by this luxury-looking thing. The Plaza was not shag, but Karastan [carpets] gave a shag rug for that house which Mr. Wright liked very much, and a lot of it ended up here. And he tended to buy--
Where there were hand-woven rugs in the house, it was usually-- I guess just because artists were doing that. It looks hand done. And skins, of course, he always liked to have around, but it got pretty badly overdone. And this,
of course, I just hate this."
VALENTINE
"This gold shag."
HILL
"It's glued down. In the back of the bedrooms I had it taken off, and it took days to scrape the cement off the wood floors. And it had to be sanded, of course, and everything. And I've got to do it to these two rooms. I can't
stand it anymore. But the preservation people keep saying that's their job, they'll take care of it. But they're not coming up with money, and I don't have that much money. I mean, this is going to be a couple of thousand
dollars to get the stuff out and the floor sanded and repaired."
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SDR



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PostPosted: Wed Jun 05, 2019 7:58 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

About the magazine's influence on readers:

"Well, people were already living in houses that were affected by Mr. Wright's thinking, so many of them one story. Carports were around. The idea of the kitchen being part of the living space got more and more
prevalent. And one of the most interesting things--I don't remember what year, but--I did a-- I don't think I wrote it. I can't remember. Anyway, we did a story on Levittown after five years or whatever it was. It was incredible
what had happened there. A number of them had Tommy [Thomas] Church gardens. Most of them--not most, but a big proportion--had added a room or done some major thing that made the house very distinctive and entirely
theirs. They had become successful people, but they didn't want to move. They liked where they were, and they simply improved things. All of that, I'd say, was our influence, the things that those people were doing, the idea of
doing things in the first place, and both the landscaping and opening up the houses in different ways. Because they were pretty miserable, tiny little boxes and pretty close together. At first I thought, you know, this was the
beginning of the end when I saw the town first laid out. But that article was fun. And these were not unusual people. They were just typical middle-class Americans, upper-middle-class. They started out middle-class, but they'd
gotten some income and some desire to improve their living. But how to do it I'm sure came from us. Readers could trust us. Because we didn't publish one thing one month and then forget it the next month, so the advice was
pretty good, mostly our telling them to get a professional."
VALENTINE
"But do you think most people did?"
HILL
"Uh-huh. Just like those people going to Church. He didn't charge them a lot. He would come for a day, something like that, for $100 and make some sketches. He didn't select the plant materials; he simply described what it
should be--you know, tall or short, vertical or horizontal, and so on. He did beautiful schemes. And of course, there were many other-- All of those designers that we published a lot became very successful and were much
used. They were out of California to begin with. Actually everything started always in California, the new ideas. But they were transplantable. I mean, people in the East were waiting." [laughs]
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