Olgivanna Lazovich Lloyd Wright: Opinions & Perspective

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SpringGreen
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Post by SpringGreen »

These are just thoughts based on a variety of threads, and I apologize for not singling out the progenitors of the ideas:

Wright wrote a lot about Olgivanna in his autobiography, particularly the 1932 edition. I'm thinking of what he wrote in the 3rd book, about ending up in jail, but also giving Olgivanna's background, and later talking about living at his home with her, Svetlana and Iovanna. But as for Wright talking about her later, nothing jumps out at me.

Then again, not many artists that I can think of (off-hand) wrote extensively about the relationships with their partners. Salvador Dali had Gala, who appeared in his work, and Christo (it is now acknowledged) works with his partner, Jean-Claude, and the women in Picasso's life appeared in his work - but he didn't talk about them professionally. There are probably more artists who talk about what their partners bring to their work - or whose partners are acknowledged to have a big influence - but there aren't many leaping to the fore for me (at the moment).

As for the "what if"s - in The World of Wright, Mamah's murder is one of the big "what if"s (if she hadn't been murdered, he wouldn't have met Miriam, and he would have skirted lots of problems in the 20s even if his house still burned to the ground in 1925 - that's the least of it).

Yet, all of the downtime in the 20s (caused in part by, I believe, the fallout from Miriam) did lead him to design some amazing stuff, on paper anyway. Lemonade from lemons, I guess.

those are my thoughts.
"The building as architecture is born out of the heart of man, permanent consort to the ground, comrade to the trees, true reflection of man in the realm of his own spirit." FLLW, "Two Lectures in Architecture: in the Realm of Ideas".

Eric Saed
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Post by Eric Saed »

Palli Davis Holubar wrote:The partnership that was Wright and Olgivanna has to fleshed out from the accounts of many individuals. Olgivanna talks about Wright but I haven't found instances of Wright speaking of her or the relationship...now it isn't like I have been looking... so I am curious if others have some references from him.
Ooh! ooh! ooh! Palli, what a great and profound observation!!!

Palli Davis Holubar
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Post by Palli Davis Holubar »

Thanks, Spring Green...I returned to Autobiography 1932 and found the section.

Roderick Grant
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Post by Roderick Grant »

Obviously FLW wrote about Olga in "An Autobiography," or it would have been even less of an autobiography than it was. I still think of it primarily as a text on architecture, in which parts Olga is typically absent. FLW did not write about nor mention Olga in any texts that were dedicated specifically to architecture. As to the assertion that Olga was a well-educated aristocrat from a family of wealth who spoke Russian and French (it's common for Europeans who live cheek by jowl to know several languages; Zsa Zsa speaks eight!) learned in a private school, and that she mastered sacred dance, consider the sources: Taliesin and Wikipedia aren't exactly the last word in credibility, the Wiki having come in part from Taliesin and "The Fellowship." A more credible image comes from Svetlana Allilueva, Stalin's daughter, whose account of her years at Taliesin in the early 70s is scathing. This exotic flower image with royal connections, mama a general in the Montenegran army, papa chief justice of the Montenegran Supreme Court, was something that Olga hyped, without ever presenting evidence of its truthfulness. Montenegro is and always has been an impoverished country, where the "queen" would go to market to buy her daily allotment of kerosene, and the "king" would hold court under an oak tree in the town square. Gurdjieff was a con man of questionable origins, and the template Olga used for her own career as what used to be called an "adventuress." If anyone here has an image of Gurdjieff as someone of substance, try reading one of his dreadful books. In the 20s there was still a fascination, dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries with various forms of spiritualism, of which movement Gurdjieff was a part (read "Madame Blavatsky's Ape"). For the most part, these movements consisted of manipulators and their naive prey, who tended to be well-connected. It's not surprising that a performance might have made it into Carnegie Hall in those days; the social order in post-WWI America is a ripe subject for enquiry. Ask former apprentices about the movement classes at Taliesin to get an idea of the sacredness of Gurdjieffian dances. There's so much rubbish published, all of which should have been gathered and packed into "The Fellowship" and burned. Fahrenheit 451 isn't always bad thing.

PrairieMod, I am not contesting the connection between Larkin and Unity, but pointing out that the different programs for the two masterpieces should be taken into account before assigning one or the other aesthetic superiority. Larkin is "4 corner stairwells with an atrium." That's how simple it is. And yet it contains an extraordinarily complex program for the processing of Larkin work. Every house of worship has, by contrast, a simple reason for being, and a simpler parti, usually of the pavillion type, which makes it easier to comprehend at a glance, and thus easier to assess as art. That Larkin is a "Temple for the worship of Work" makes it all the more assounding an accomplishment. You will never hear me utter anything negative about either of those two wonderful buildings (nor Johnson); they are principal among those things that set Frank Lloyd Wright so high above the competition. Olga was not.

I may be extremist, but I believe there has long been a tendency to overrate Olga's contributions, nor do I believe all the tales she told about her fabulous past. And there's the end of it for me.

PrairieMod
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Post by PrairieMod »

I understand your point now, Mr. Grant, well stated.

Palli Davis Holubar
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Post by Palli Davis Holubar »

It has taken me a long time to read all the entries on this thread because I find Olga a very difficult subject. After Wright's death, her litigious nature pretty well stopped any sort of 'Mockingtosh' popularizing of FLW's decorative arts (even respectful work) for a long time. In this she was following FLW's lead not allowing any unauthorized reproductions, largely, I think because money was always so desperately needed to support the Fellowship.
She did much to provide the most stable working environment he had enjoyed since Oak Park. She probably wasn't the cook, but I suspect, Wright may not have eaten regularly if there had not been a woman in his life. Olgivanna had been the administrator for the Gurdjieff Prieure for a period and somehow (although unclear to me how) Richard Lloyd Jones and his wife knew her well and actually wrote Wright the equivalent of a recommendation for her, commending her organizational, etc. skills to FLW.

But, Palli and I both think the Taliesin Fellowship would have happened under Mamah should she have lived. I was also impressed by Nancy Horan's book, however weakly written, because it presented Mamah as a thinking person in her own right. As an early feminist she had a more nurturing relationship with FLW and other staff (not including the cook). Her studies with Ellen Kay would have brought her and FLW in contact with the Scandinavian tradition of folk schools, cooperative "high" schools that teach life and craft skills to adult individuals in a residential setting, with all members contributing to the cleaning, cooking, and entertainment of the group. This tradition started in the 1830's and is still working today to teach boat building, weaving, and other skills more appropriate to today's world. Geritt Reitveld's school was a fellowship, in fact. I suspect these schools were known to Wright and Mamah through Kay and they probably served as a model for the Taliesin Fellowship years later. Her death ruptured the natural continum of Hillside. The Fellowship would have been blessed with a different sense of community.

In 1929, Wright was discussing with the founder the Amsterdam School and author of a book on Wright, Hendricus Wijdeveld, the possibility of the Dutch architect directing a school- one of the "little experiment stations in out of the way places" he later referred to in the 1930 Princeton lectures-. Wright prefaced the idea of a school in a letter to Wijdeveld by saying he had thought of another way of making money for Hillside.
Michael Holubar

Roderick Grant
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Post by Roderick Grant »

Michael, is there evidence that FLW and Mamah had actual contact with Ellen Key (not Kay, although the Swedes would pronounce it Kay)? They lived in Italy and traveled to Germany in those days, but I don't know of any side trips to Sweden. Knowing more about Key would be interesting, although someone told me the book Mamah translated is dull. It's true that from the fall of Oak Park to the rise of Taliesin Fellowship, FLW was scrambling to find a way to live the extravagant life that was the very life blood he needed to survive, and Mamah, Miriam and Olga all got swept up in that plight, along with a long list of "investors" in Frank Lloyd Wright, Inc., including Alexander Woolcott and D. D. Martin. The Fellowship's establishment was much more complicated and longer in the evolution than popular history would have it. FLW was often "on the make," as the saying goes.

It has been postulated that, in 1911, in order to keep the incipient Taliesin from being ensnared in any divorce proceedings with Catherine, FLW formally made it a residence for his mother, but in fact it never was that nor intended to be so. In the early 20s, shortly before Anna's death, FLW and his sisters were in a battle royal over who should take the sick old lady in, and FLW was adamantly against having her at Taliesin. (From unpublished letters between FLW and Jane Porter.) By granting Catherine the Oak Park establishment, he further exempted her from any claim on Taliesin. So the sly old fox was in control of things, which makes me all the more suspicious of the claims that he was used by Olga and the Gurdjieff crowd.

Palli Davis Holubar
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Post by Palli Davis Holubar »

I must say that I do not know how close Mamah and Ellen Key became, or if there was direct contact with FLW (perhaps Palli and others know more and can post). I have been wondering if the radiant floor heating, which has had a much longer tradition in Scandinavia than here, came from contacts like this, from timely international articles, or from his involvement with the Sarrinens. I have long thought that the Taliesin Fellowship was based on C. R. Ashbee's guild system and their common interest in Art and Crafts. FLW brought many of the good aspects of Victoriana into the modern age. He never lost the human scale of his buildings and he turned the shingle style barge boards into perforated windows, or screens. While simplifying (modernizing) housing he managed to keep a high level of articulation and craftmanship. Even though in establishing the Fellowship he had "reinvented slavery", as one relative remarked, he did manage to provide the common workman with work worth doing and aspiring architects with a framework for imagination.
Last edited by Palli Davis Holubar on Mon Jul 27, 2009 9:00 am, edited 1 time in total.

Palli Davis Holubar
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Post by Palli Davis Holubar »

As Michael and I have been talking, a new question comes to mind: Is there information about the remodeling of the Oak Street House that alludes to how much involvement Catherine might of had as "wife/client". We wonder because the closeness between Mamah and Wright initially evolved through the architectural relationship. Was Catherine only the PR facilitator for Wright architectural work and uninvolved with the ideas behind the alterations? One would hope not considering Wright's later attention (while often aloof) to client requests.

PS: Michael and I share a computer now and Michael can't remember his password which, of course, was automatic on the computer at work. Does anyone know how to fix forgotten passwords here.

BhamRuss
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Post by BhamRuss »

Can someone elaborate on the Saarinen green card circumstances?

Roderick Grant
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Post by Roderick Grant »

The only reference I have ever seen about radiant heat from FLW himself is his account of the Japanese system of tiled floors with a plenum beneath filled with heated air. I have never heard of any such system employed in Scandinavia.

Palli, it would be my guess that Catherine had as much input in the design of the Oak Park remodel as Mamah had at Taliesin, Miriam in the rebuilding of Taliesin, or Olga in the re-rebuilding of Taliesin, remodeling of Hillside, Ocatillo, Suntrap, Taliesin West or the Biltmore Hotel suite: None. Not sure what you mean by "PR facilitator." As John Lloyd Wright told it to H. Allen Brooks, FLW met Mamah in Chicago on a rainy day, and moved in on her forthwith. Rather than the usual routine of the "man of the family" approaching FLW to commission a house, it was FLW who talked Edwin Cheney into moving to Oak Park so FLW could be closer to Mamah, with whom he had a long-standing affair (worst-kept secret in Oak Park) years before leaving for Europe. I believe there is no record to suggest that Mamah had any substantial influence on the design of her house ... or did not.

My favorite story about how casual FLW was about meeting the practical needs of a client is when he was called by an early client to meet her at her recently completed house (no name connected to this). FLW arrived, was met by a maid, who told him madame would see him upstairs. He began climbing the stairs, and eventually all 5'8" of him hit his head on the too-low clearance. "Madame," standing at the top of the stairs said, "That's what I want to talk to you about!"

Palli Davis Holubar
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Post by Palli Davis Holubar »

I agree Mamah had no input with Taliesin; she was in Europe teaching and probably knew nothing of it. But do you think Edwin consulted with Wright (regardless how the commission came about) more than Mamah? He was client of record, of course, but the nature of the Cheney House seems inspired and Edwin doesn't seem too inspiring, IMO. But I don't have particular reference material either to back it up...other than my instinct...decidedly without credentials.

I never heard JLW's account. Too much drama about individual relationships that, IMO, we don't know much about and can't know much about. All we really know is the social milieu and some hint of the midwestern version of the anxiety class issues spawned in creative individuals and women without means.

PR reference: Catherine was very effective networking among her friends arranging speaking engagements for her husband and creating what we would call today a "buzz" about him. He was charming tea time fare.

Roderick Grant
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Post by Roderick Grant »

Palli, I hope you're not picking up any of this information about Catherine or Mamah from the novels that have been published? Where did you read about Mamah being in Europe while Taliesin was being built? What man in his right mind would build a house for his loved one without telling her? Or that Catherine acted in any way specifically to advance FLW's career, beyond what any spouse might do in the course of events? As to the impact that either Edwin or Mamah had on the design of their house, I suspect there is not a shred of evidence to prove one way or the other. With regard to establishing the program for the house, I would suppose FLW treated it as he would have any other commission, perhaps with a bit more loving attention. There is a difference, program and design. FLW would naturally give a client as much as he could with regard to how much house and what kind that they could afford and want, but the specifics of design are quite different.

Palli Davis Holubar
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Post by Palli Davis Holubar »

Roderick: Did I say Wright built Taliesin for Mamah? I asked about Catherine's influences and observations with Wright about their remodeling project for which they borrowed money and I referenced my thought that the Cheney House was influenced by the relationship between the (albeit special) client Mamah and Wright. OK, a good answer is: there is little documented evidence of any female influence on Wright's design of either the Oak Park Home or Taliesin.

But really,
What man in his right mind would build a house for his loved one without telling her?
Surely, you jest.
There is no doubt in my mind that FLW built Taliesin for a sense of place- his place- his life. Yet the chronology seems to place Mamah as the woman of interest in Wright's life during this period and Wright was not long without a woman to aid and comfort his life.

Do you think Wright treated the Cheney commission with, as you say, "a bit more loving attention" because it was: a smaller house; or the challenge of a form of "duplex"; or he was enamored with Mamah; or he owed the man/husband Edwin; or did it come at a conveniently slack moment to the drafting table; or ______?

I repeat:
Too much drama about individual relationships that, IMO, we don't know much about and can't know much about. All we really know is the social milieu and some hint of the midwestern version of the anxiety class issues spawned in creative individuals and women without means.
While I am not mythmaker about lives I did not experience, I think assuming Wright and Mamah were living a tawdry and superficial love affair is as unsubstantiated as any pot-boiler version of love at first glance.

About Catherine, I will have to rethink my readings in that earlier period of Wright's career and the social context of Oak Park. It is not society from which I was bred.

[/quote]

RonMcCrea
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Post by RonMcCrea »

OK, men, here's a bunch of information.

In the Autobiography Wright refers to Mamah after the fire. He calls her "she for whom Taliesin had first taken form."

See Neil Levine's discussion on Wright's regard of Taliesin and the hill as a physical representation of Frank and Mamah. If that's not persuasive, read Wright's rapturous description of their life together in Fiesole and then compare it to the hillside villa he built within a year of returning from Italy. Why wouldn't he want to continue their life in that manner, and also get away from the judgmental city? With her!

As for Olgivanna, Wright (on Page 273 of the 1943 edition) says flatly, "Taliesin III was built by and for Olgivanna, Iovanna and Svetlana." He built the Bird Walk after Olgivanna said she would like to walk among the He raised the roof to add rooms for his growing family.

For information on Mamah and Ellen Key, the newest is the first-ever English translation of Key's 1898 essay on modern, progressive home design, "Beauty for All" (Skonhet for Alla) which helped launch the modern design movement in Scandinavia. It is the first text in "Modern Swedish Design: Three Founding Texts" (Museum of Modern Art, 2008). This essay, promoted by Karl Larssen and others, is credited with everything from Orrefors glass to Ikea -- and probably was the DNA for Target's latest campaign, "Design for All."

A note mentions that Key's later feminist works were translated -- from German, not Swedish! -- by Mamah Borthwick. It notes that Mamah "signed the guestbook at Strand (which had opened for visitors at the end of December 1910) on June 9, 1911." Wright sent Key a Japanese print, which still hangs in Strand, which was the name for her home. And yes, Mamah remained in Europe for a while in 1911 after Wright returned to Oak Park to straighten out his affairs and build Taliesin on the Q.T.

A cache of letters from Borthwick and Wright to Key was unearthed recently in a Stockholm archive. They were written up by Alice T. Friedman in a journal article. The last letter from Mamah was written on July 13, just four weeks before she was murdered. She wrote in English.

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