Wednesday, February 26, 2014


Elbert G. Hubbard

Frank Lloyd Wright

Given their associations with the Arts & Crafts movement, their respective penchants for longish hair and distinctive ways of dress, and their connections to the Larkin Company in Buffalo (Hubbard was second in command of the company until 1893; Wright designed the Larkin Administration Building in 1903-6), western New Yorkers and others have often asked, did Wright and Elbert Hubbard know each other? In the Arts & Crafts Quarterly in May of 1992 I gathered the following evidence:

First, Darwin Martin visited Wright's Home and Studio in Oak Park, Illinois, in September 1902 and wrote a letter to Elbert Hubbard, his former employer at the Larkin Company, encouraging Hubbard to visit Wright saying:

You need an example of Wright's architecture on the Roycroft grounds. The Wright studio -- it would be a shame to call it an office -- is very Roycroftie." To which Hubbard responded, "I am glad to say that I know about the work of brother Wright of Oak Park. He certainly is a genius in his line and no man admires him more than I.

Second, Evelyn (Heath) Jacobsen (Elbert Hubbard's niece)  recalled in an interview with me in 1990, when she was 94, that  she remembered Wright and Hubbard meeting in her family's Wright-designed William R. Heath House in Buffalo, but unfortunately she did not elaborate.

Third, John Lloyd Wright  made a similar claim and did elaborate, in his fatuous way, in his My Father Who Is On Earth of 1946: 
Elbert Hubbard was almost as picturesque as Father -- they talked arts, crafts and philosophy by the hour. Said Elbert the Hubbard to the Papa one night, 'Modesty being egotism turned wrong side out, let me say here that I am an orator, a great orator! I have health, gesture, imagination, voice, vocabulary, taste, ideas -- I acknowledge it myself. What I lack in shape I make up in nerve...' Said Dad the papa to the Hubbard, 'Not only do I intend to be the greatest architect who ever lived but the greatest architect who will ever live. Yes, I intend to be the greatest architect of all time, and I do hereunto affix 'the red square' and sign my name to this warning.' Just a couple of boys trying to get along."

Elbert Hubbard perished on the Lusitania in 1915 but in the late 1920s, when Wright was being pursued by legal authorities, he deposited Olgivanna Milanov Hinzenberg, soon to be his third wife, and her child at Hubbard's Roycroft Inn in East Aurora.

The new evidence comes from a letter written in 1966 by Lloyd Wright, Wright's oldest child (born 1890), to Linn Cowles, who was then a student in New York preparing a seminar report on Wright. Lloyd Wright writes:

At the studio about this time came also, Roy Crofters, Elbert Hubbard and relatives, and others involved in the English William Morris School of Arts and Crafts, and Architect, C.R. Ashbee and his wife. Mr Ashbee later designed the first building for Tel Aviv in Israel. He and his wife visited us in Oak Park about 1896 and taught us children, four of us then, the Morris songs and dances..."

How does it matter that Wright and Hubbard might have known each other? John Wright is the only account that elaborates a meeting and it is written in a way that does not inspire confidence. There are no footnotes. When did it occur? How did it happen? How old was John? An oblique insight comes by way of an unpublished manuscript written by Clark W.Heath entitled"Eagle BayFarm 1907-1920; Soldiers
place 1904-1923" Dr. Heath writes:

But more about Frank Lloyd Wright. Father had the capacity (mother thought it a fault) of attracting unusual and creative people. He loved discussions of the philosophy of life, of religion, of purpose and would sometimes stay up late talking with someone with whom he felt at ease. Sometimes these men had one eye on his financial help. so it was with frank Lloyd Wright, though I believe that Wright was challenged by father's skepticism and argumentativeness... Mother was always gracious to these people but recognized their divided intentions and would warn father.

The Heath home was something of a hotbed of interesting discourse. The record shows that when Walter V. Davidson joined the Larkin Company in 1906 he and his wife were invited to the Heath home on at least two occasions to discuss the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson. 

Wright did lean on the Heaths (and the Martins and other prominent clients) in times of need so it is not unlikely that Elbert Hubbard and Frank Lloyd Wright did engage in lengthy discussion in the Heath House though perhaps not the way that John Wright has portrayed it.

Saturday, February 15, 2014


Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer (Image (c) Mark Hertzberg via PrairieMod)

When the Archives of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation opened to scholars around 1980 a wealth of scholarship ensued as the 1980s and 90s saw an outpouring of excellent books by Neil Levine, Anthony Alofsin, David DeLong, Robert McCarter, Kathryn Smith and others that expanded and refined what had been pioneered by Grant Manson, Henry-Russell Hitchcock and Vincent Scully in the 1940s and 50s. 

Even as this proliferation of scholarship occurred there was a seismic shift in the academic world toward such new theoretical approaches as gender studies, post-colonial studies, semiotics and deconstruction, vernacular studies and Neo-Marxism with the result that  the cult of the Modern Master (Wright, Mies, Le Corbusier, Gropius, and Alvar Aalto) fell out of favor with graduate students and dissertations and scholarly books on Wright diminished dramatically, though the flow of populist picture books and Wright-related tchotchkes have never abated.  

Throughout these years Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer, Director of the Archives of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation in Scottsdale, Arizona, since 1947, has organized, catalogued, and photographed Wright's vast legacy (said to include 22, 000 drawings and 198,000 letters, manuscripts and documents) in preparation for his own fiercely dedicated effort to disseminate Wright's ideas in the form of books of writings and books illustrated with Wright's drawings and photographs of his buildings. Mr. Pfeiffer has published something like 150 such books (some too big to carry)  and has mounted or collaborated on a continuous flow of exhibitions, keeping the legacy of Frank Lloyd Wright ever present in the American psyche and the world's imagination. Recently Mr. Pfeiffer has had to withdraw from his relentless productivity for reasons of health and the archives have been turned over the the Avery Library at Columbia University with artifacts going to the Museum of Modern Art in New York. 

Wasting no time, Barry Bergdoll, Acting Chief Curator of Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art together with Carole Ann Fabian, Director and Janet Parks, Curator of Drawings and Archives of the Avery Library and Phoebe Springstubb, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art have mounted an exhibition titled "Frank Lloyd Wright and the City: Density vs Dispersal" which is to run from February 1 to June 4, 2014. A more ambitious Wright exhibition is planned for 2016. What does this mean for the future of Frank Lloyd Wright scholarship? When I visited the Avery Library archive in December I was the fourth researcher present, all of us veterans of the 1980s and 90s, but the expectation is that graduate students from Columbia and other nearby northeastern schools will make good use of the archives and a second wave of major scholarship will eventuate. Wright's work is so extensive that much remains to be done.

About that other matter: Sandra Firmin, my wife, has taken a position as Director of the University of Colorado Art Museum in Boulder and we will be moving there in early April. Since I believe that Eric Jackson-Forsberg's original intention was that "The Weekly Wright-Up" would be Darwin Martin House and Wright-in-Buffalo-centric I will be relinquishing my authorial role to Susana Tejada, Curator of the Martin House, except for occasional missives from the Rocky Mountains if I can fin anything Wrightian out there. I'll miss Buffalo and the close proximity to the Martin House and its wonderful staff and volunteers. Thanks for reading.