Whitewashing Wright - wednesday 2008-08-20 0459 last modified 2008-08-20 0459
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Frank Lloyd Wright abandoned his wife and six children for an affair with the wife of a client, running off to Europe for a couple of years. She and her two children, a draftsman, the son of another draftsman, a gardener, and the house foreman were trapped in his home by the Barbadian butler who soaked portions of the home in gasoline and lit it on fire, using a hatchet to murder anybody he found. It is the largest mass murder in Wisconsin's history. The father and a third draftsman were the only ones to escape; the murderer consumed hydrochloric acid, evading a lynch mob upon arrest through the efforts of the local sheriff, finally dying of starvation in jail weeks later, before a proper criminal trial.

His next wife, a sculptor, obsessively wrote him and showed up one day at his doorstep, eventually getting him to marry her. She was a delusional morphine addict. They didn't last long together.

His last wife was an ardent follower of theosophy whose dying wish, a quarter century after his death, was for his body to be exhumed from its rest near his ancestral lands in Wisconsin, cremated, and mixed with her ashes in Arizona. Three men - perhaps associated with her theosophy circle - came in the dead of night and acted out her wishes.

I never came across any of this during my primary school research, in encyclopedias or books. Despite making all kinds of news during Wright's lifetime, and, as Wright observed, frequently preventing him from taking on clients for long spells, it seems there's a persistent attempt to shape his legacy as an architectural genius while cutting out the salacious tales associated with his personal life. That is unnecessary and unfortunate. It seems the docents at Oak Park and Taliesin (a word, by the way, that gets more annoying the more you hear it - just try: tally ess' in) have become less resistant in recent years to retelling the lurid and unfortunate details of his life, but there was no telling of it at all at Fallingwater. It will be an interesting litmus test at Taliesin West whether the trust is really allowing its namesake to be more accurately, if less perfectly, described.

Death in a Prairie House and Loving Frank are the most recent attempts to make more publicly accessible accounts of the murky parts of Wright's life. I smell a film treatment. Art, celebrity, true love and an axe murderer; you can just see there's money in there.

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