Where in the world is Frank Lloyd Wright?

In “Go East, Old Man: An Architect’s Archive Is Sent Packing,” the Wall Street Journal’s Eric Felten bemoans the recent announcement that Frank Lloyd Wright’s priceless archive of drawings, correspondence, and office records has been sold by the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. The collection will leave his beloved Taliesen studio and move to New York City, hub of the universe, where it will become part of the collections of the Museum of Modern Art and Columbia University:

Frank Lloyd Wright had been adamant that the archives of his work be housed at the studio he had built in the Arizona desert. “Whatever disposition is made of my drawings,” the architect told his apprentices in 1951, “I intended them to be kept at Taliesin [West].” And there most of Wright’s materials—some 23,000 architectural drawings, 44,000 photos, 300,000 pieces of paper (correspondence, bills, invoices and the like)—have been since his death in 1959. A collection of Wright’s miniature building models has been kept at the architect’s original Wisconsin studios, Taliesin. That is, until this week, when the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation announced that the archives and models are moving to New York City, to be divided between the Museum of Modern Art and Columbia University.

What a shame Wright’s legacy is being moved from the communities in which the work was born. The transfer contributes to a fiction that impoverishes the cultural life of the nation: that great art belongs in one of a few cultural capitals, not wasted on flyover country.

As usual, the New York Times disagrees with the WSJ, and see this as a way for Wright’s collection to be more accessible, in “A Vast Frank Lloyd Wright Collection Is Moving to New York,” Robin Pogrebin notes:

Since Wright’s death in 1959 those relics have been locked in storage at his former headquarters —Taliesin, in Spring Green, Wis., and Taliesin West, in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Now that entire archive is moving permanently to New York in an unusual joint partnership between theMuseum of Modern Art and Columbia University’s Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, where it will become more accessible to the public for viewing and scholarship.

The institutions will share equally in stewardship of the collection. The models will live at MoMA, which has extensive conservation and exhibition experience. The museum will display them in periodic presentations and special exhibitions. The papers will be housed at Avery, whose librarians will make them available to researchers and educators starting at the end of next year.

I don’t know what I think on this topic–I can see both sides. Read both essays and see what you think.

I do know I’m thankful that Mississippi has its own repository for architectural drawings at MSU, which holds collections from several of Mississippi’s most important architects, including N.W. and Robert Overstreet:

Overstreet (N. W.) architectural records. MSS. 315. 1908-1973. circa 22 cubic feet.

Records of the Jackson, Mississippi, architectural firms of which the principal architect was Noah Webster Overstreet (1888-1973), 1908 MSU alumnus, and the first registered architect in Mississippi. Overstreet designed many buildings in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Tennessee throughout his long career. The bulk of the collection consists of architectural drawings and photographs of houses, churches, schools, businesses, and other structures. Also included are presentation drawings, working drawings and photographs for more than 500 projects, correspondence, rosters, clippings, resume, project list, autobiographical writing, thesis, videotape concerning Overstreet’s career, the MSU class of 1908, which Overstreet served as president, and his relationship with political figures such as Stennis, Waller, and Johnson. Also included is a dissertation proposal concerning Overstreet and a reminiscence concerning Eastabuchie, Mississippi. The collection was donated by the family of N.W. Overstreet. Database of projects available.

Overstreet (Robert K.) architectural records collection. MSS. 577. 1915-1998 and undated. circa 10 cubic feet.

Records of San Francisco architect Robert K. Overstreet from his San Francisco practice and from the period when he worked in the office of his father, Jackson architect N. W. Overstreet. Includes correspondence with his father and with influential architect and mentor, Bruce Goff; exhibit materials from the Mississippi Museum of Art exhibit Overstreet and Overstreet: A Legacy in Architecture; books, articles and other publications.

The MSU collections are a wonderful, but often overlooked architectural resource for our state. I’m sad that Wisconsin and Arizona are losing their most prominent architect’s collection, but glad that for now at least, our Mississippi architects are safe and sound here in the Magnolia State.



Categories: Architectural Research

4 replies

  1. I am obsessed with FLLW! Selling out and moving East to be more accessible? HORRIBLE! It’s all about the money. Yes, we are fortunate to have repository at MSU.

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  2. Appropo of FLW, his photographer’s obituary has just appeared in the New York Times. Several of the quoted remarks seem to explain some things about Wright and his buildings, while several other points show how photography of architecture can be an art of itself. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/14/arts/design/pedro-guerrero-95-dies-captured-another-dimension-of-art.html?_r=1&hpw

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  3. I think they’re both right. I agree with the WSJ that it’s a loss – and a fallacy – that objects of cultural value need to reside on a coast, but I also agree that that locking collections and archives does not serve any public or scholarly interest.

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    • You’ve encapsulated my thinking. I guess if the Foundation had been making the collections more accessible before now, I might feel more strongly about it, but at least from my distant observer’s perspective, they haven’t been.

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