The Wright stuff
``Wrightomania'' is upon us. A younger generation has rediscovered America's best-known and most celebrated archtect, Frank Lloyd Wright; and the resulting wave of enthusiasm has led some fans to crow about the popular comeback of ``the Wright stuff.''
Now, some of this ``Wright stuff'' -- from the prolific architect who, in his more than 70-year career span designed over 1,000 buildings and many of the interior furnishings that went into them -- will be more widely available.
A reproduction program has been launched by the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation which will make many of the controversial architect's designs for home furnishings available to the public. The high-quality items will not be inexpensive, however.
Initially, three companies are involved: Atelier International Ltd. and its Italian affiliate, Cassina S.p.A. of Milan, will market a licensed, signed, and numbered series of five chairs and two tables designed by Mr. Wright between 1908 and 1949. More designs will be added periodically.
F. Schumacher & Co. was selected by the foundation to introduce a collection of decorative textiles, carpets, wallcoverings, and sheer casement panels that were either designed by Wright or derived from his work in different mediums. Design sources for this collection, which will be available through decorator showrooms, include his stained-glass windows, architectural drawings, and graphic designs.
The third company chosen so far for the current reproduction program is Tiffany & Co., which is executing Wright designs in silver, crystal, and china.
The first Tiffany pieces are a crystal candlestick and a three-piece silver coffee service that Wright originally designed in 1916 for the Imperial Hotel in Japan.
The offerings come at a time when even veteran observers of architecture and design are viewing the venerable architect's work with new appreciation. One such admirer, in his early 40's, said the other day, ``The Wright designs I might have scorned 20 years ago now look fresh and innovative to me.''
A series of exhibitions in major museums and galleries has also enhanced Wright's reputation. In 1982, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York put on permanent display an entire living room that Wright designed for Mr. and Mrs. Francis W. Little of Wayzata, Minn. In 1983, the Cooper-Hewitt Museum exhibited furniture and decorative objects by Wright, as well as photographs and drawings. Museums and galleries in Europe and Japan mounted their own Wright shows, adding to a far-reaching and influential exposure.
Suddenly, major auction houses like Sotheby's and Christie's were reporting record prices for pieces Wright had custom-designed for his own structures. Prices ranged from $100,000 for a stained glass window to $92,000 for a copper urn and $77,000 for a desk and chair. Some owners began to vandalize their Wright-designed homes in order to cash in on the unprecedented demand.
The time was ripe for a reproduction program. So the Italian firm Cassina S.p.A. sent an architectural historian to Taliesin West, Wright's home near Scottsdale, Ariz., to research hundreds of Wright's personal furniture sketches and plans. The company then built 20 full-scale models of the architect's custom designs, from which seven were chosen for reproduction at this time. They are available through interior designers and architects, and perhaps a few high-caliber stores. Approximate prices for the chair reproductions will range from $870 to $3,700 each.
Frank Lloyd Wright was concerned with the need to create a design totality, with each part of the building related to the whole, including the fabrics and furnishings.
``I believe a house is more a home by being a work of art,'' he once said. Yet the reproductions being made will be sold as individual classics -- ``art to live with'' -- quite apart from the environments for which they were designed and into which they were integrated.
Martin Filler, editor of House & Garden magazine, speaking to interior designers in New York, said recently: ``These decorative furnishings designed by Wright have such great power as objects in themselves that they can survive outside of the architect's very unified settings.
``The very human and humane qualities of the designs have a very natural appeal that still communicates itself to people. Wright's work was warm and decorative in the best sense of those words.''
Mr. Filler maintains that Frank Lloyd Wright is doubtless the single best-known name in American architecture, and that the Wright revival now taking place is part of a larger and growing interest in all things American. Wright died in 1959 at age 91, but his design legacy has remained intact. He is probably best known for his large, open-spaced ``prairie school'' houses with their overhanging eaves, enormous beams, and exposed woods.
The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation at Taliesin West was established in 1932 by Wright and his wife, Olgivanna, for the purpose of perpetuating and preserving Wright's work. The foundation operates a school of architecture, and is owner and custodian of archival material that includes more than 22,000 original drawings, 190,000 personal documents, and 600 original manuscripts. Today, 11 architects in the architectural and urban-planning subsidiary firm handle commissions for buildings located all over the world.
Royalties earned by the reproduction program will be used by the tax-exempt foundation to further its purposes, including the rehabilitation and preservation of the Taliesin buildings in Arizona and Wisconsin, and the maintenance of the extensive archives.
Bruce Pfeiffer, director of archives, says 40,000 visitors a year come through Taliesin West to study Wright's work and ideas. A new visitor's center, opening this month, includes an extensive book and gift store, and adjacent showrooms will later display all the items in the reproduction program.
Wesley Peters, chairman of the board of the Wright foundation as well of its solely-owned subsidiary, the Taliesin Associated Architects, said recently, ``We have watched a continuous increase of interest in the work of Frank Lloyd Wright over the past 30 years. People from all walks of life and all degrees of education have evinced a remarkable understanding of Wrightian principles.''
Frank Lloyd Wright is apparently an architect/designer whose time has come -- again.