Friday, February 11, 2011

Wright Reflective at Sarah Lawrence

by Daniel Kuether, curatorial intern

Sarah Lawrence College sits on a 41-acre wooded campus just north of New York City.  There, amongst the trees, Frank Lloyd Wright addressed the graduating class of the all-women’s college in May of 1958.

In his address to the group of young women, Wright illustrates the campus as “beautifully green,” “nice and fresh,” and sees the campus as a reflection of what the nation and architecture must strive towards.  He revels in his opportunity to speak to the class upon their graduation and his chance at molding their ideas on architecture, society, and the spirit.

Immediately, Wright divulges his thoughts on American architecture.  “America most needs at this time …is art, and you know we have no religion to go with the Declaration of Independence, to go with the sovereignty of the individual - none.” Wright echoes the beauty of American freedom and the beauty of the individual but in a country without meaningful organic architecture, the nation fails to put substance behind the credo.

As Wright looks to the crowd and attempts to conclude his thoughts and discourse, he reflects back upon his architectural principles.  The organic form, the basis of his work, is rooted in his spiritual reflection of the self and nature.  He sees this architectural foundation as what the American nation is missing and what the women at Sarah Lawrence are capable of. “The principles that built the tree will build the man, and the principles that you find activating nature everywhere are those that will build the man, the woman, and the spirit.”

His commencement address to the students unites Wright’s architectural doctrine and his vision for the American society, city, and individual; it was an opportunity to observe the coexistence of his thoughts and see them geared towards a new generation.

Judith Katz brought this manuscript to our attention.  She was there in the audience as Frank Lloyd Wright spoke directly to her, a member of the Sarah Lawrence class of 1958. By the time of this address, Wright was nearly 91 years old. Although still working, his reflections upon his life and career are evident in his tone.  Perhaps he can sense the opportunity to instill his wisdom and to ensure his legacy in this last year of his life.

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