Local Tourism: FLW

Even though I had saved the section of the New York Times years ago that featured the Frank Lloyd Wright- inspired Usonian homes of Columbus, we never made it to the neighborhood while we were locals. The section of the paper even moved with us here to Chicago, too late. Not to repeat that missed opportunity, today we drove to Oak Park and Frank Lloyd Wright's home and studio. FLW lived and worked in the home and adjacent studio from 1889 to 1909, with his wife and at least 4 of 6 children. For his children Wright built a playroom complete with barrel ceiling, fireplace mural inspired by the Arabian Nights, and gallery to accommodate audiences for plays and puppet shows. From the outside, this shingle-style abode didn't look like the Wright homes from my textbooks. Since it nurtured the early years of his career, the home was a space for Wright to experiment with new ideas and designs that were not fully mature, like the Prairie Style. Throughout the home I was impressed by how much ornamentation could go into each room (stained glass, stenciled walls, murals, hanging lights), while each still maintained a simple and down-to-earth feel.
To guide the restoration of the home in the 1970s, preservationists interviewed one of Wright's children who had grown up in the home. He provided valuable details, like that under the 7 layers of paint in the master bedroom, there were two murals of Native Americans. It made me wonder what it would be like to be interviewed about my own childhood home, walking back through the rooms in my mind, sharing details like the green-brown tile of the entry way (family legend had it that the home was built by a tile manufacturer), the oak beam work in the front living room, the drawings that our parents let us make on the bare plaster walls before we hung new wallpaper in the family room...
I wish I might offer more of my own pictures of the home, however photography was not allowed inside. With a giddy wink, our guide helpfully noted that postcards were for sale in the gift shop. And then she reminded us to keep our hands to ourselves, turn off our cellphones, spit out any gum and proceed inside. She even assigned one tour member to be our "sweep" making sure every tour participant left each room with the group. Jason wondered if this was what it was like when you enter Gitmo. Ironically as we left the same tour guide nearly closed the door on us, locking us inside the house.


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