Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Mary Snyder Behrens | Shroud and Shadow

Assemblage (2003) © Mary Snyder Behrens
Above Mixed media assemblage, large scale, titled Drawn Conclusions No 12: Shroud and Shadow, made by Iowa artist Mary Snyder Behrens, c2003. Copyright © the artist.


Carl Van Doren Three Worlds. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1936, p. 27—

When he [his grandfather] ran for Coroner on the county ticket, he announced that if elected he would bury Republicans and Democrats with equal pleasure.


An autobiographer never knows quite which account he is giving of himself. Historian of acts of which he was the actor, he is still inside the self which remembers. No man, with the help of whatever mirrors, can know how he really looks to other men. Nor can he be sure how he sounds to them. Let him tell the plainest truth in the plainest way, he cannot know what else he may imply without suspecting it. Often he must wonder what the plain truth is. His memory has been quietly working his past over, and when he goes back to such unchanged evidence as letters and diaries he finds the story different from that he can come to remember. The man who remembers is not the man who did what the record shows. The man who was is now as strange to the man who is as the man who is would be to the man who was.…[pp. 105-106].


I had a head for liquor, when I took it, but I was always bored by drinking. Drinkers rarely say amusing things. What they say seems amusing only to other drinkers. The fun of alcohol is less on the tongue than in the ear [p. 256].

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Hummingbird in Cat's Mouth

Hummingbird surveillance drone
Above Hummingbird-based aerial surveillance drone. Public domain.


Dorothy Van Doren, The Professor and I. New York: Appleton , 1959, p. 128 [spouse of Mark Van Doren, mother of Charles Van Doren; her brother-in-law was Carl Van Doren]—

When Blackie [the family cat] was a half-grown kitten, I found him with something in his mouth—something that didn't look like a mouse. He is very good about giving up his prey if I insist and this time I insisted; I pried his jaws apart, there was a rush, and a hummingbird flew off at breakneck speed. How Blackie ever caught a hummingbird, I don't know; how he could hold the delicate body in his jaws without hurting it, I don't know either. But it happened; there was no mistaking the tiny size, the pointed bill, the emerald flash; and there was no doubt that it was unhurt. 

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Mary Snyder Behrens | Rift

Rift (2005) © Mary Snyder Behrens
Above Selected work from a series of intricate handmade bundles (called Trammels) with undisclosed contents, about palm size, made in 2004-2005 by Iowa artist Mary Snyder Behrens. Copyright © the artist.


Carl Van Doren Three Worlds. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1936, p. 110 (this reads like a concise restatement of the rationale of the Aesthetic Movement).—

Odysseus is not good: he is adulterous and crafty; Faust is not good: he sells his soul for the sake of forbidden power; Gargantua is not good: he buffets and tumbles the decencies in all directions; Henry V is not good: he wastes his youth and wages unjust war; Huckleberry Finn is not good: he is a thief and a liar. The heroes, the demigods, the gods themselves occasionally step aside from the paths into which men counsel one another; there are at least as many stories about gorgeous courtesans as about faithful wives. It is not the "goodness" of all such literature but the vividness that gives it perennial impact. Better a lively rogue than a deadly saint.

Mary Snyder Behrens | Barrier Box

Barrier Box (2005) © Mary Snyder Behrens
Above Selected work from a series of intricate handmade bundles (called Trammels) with undisclosed contents, about palm size, made in 2004-2005 by Iowa artist Mary Snyder Behrens. Copyright © the artist.


Carl Van Doren Three Worlds. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1936, p. 110—

I took him [his grandfather, a farmer from Illinois] to a convocation at the [Columbia] University. Something that President [Nicolas Murrray] Butler said so roused my grandfather that he whispered to me: "I'm going to give them my Indian war whoop"—and he drew in his breath. I knew what his war whoop was. Nobody who had heard it could ever forget it. I do not know quite how I stopped him. If he had been at his best I could not have done it. He would have whooped without warning me, and the steel girders in the roof would have rung, and the caps and gowns would have shuddered, and a stately decorum would have died. At the time I was in terror. Now I am half-sorry he did not have his way without my academic interference. If my grandfather and President Butler had met after the explosion they would have liked each other. And one Columbia convocation would still be remembered.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Mary Snyder Behrens | White Wish

White Wish (2005) © Mary Snyder Behrens
Above Selected work from a series of intricate handmade bundles (called Trammels) with undisclosed contents, about palm size, made in 2004-2005 by Iowa artist Mary Snyder Behrens. Copyright © the artist.


Owen Wister (author of The Virginian) as quoted in Fanny Kemble Wister, ed., Owen Wister Out West: His Journals and Letters. University of Chicago Press, 1958—

They had a dance somewhere [in Texas]—one of the regulation dances where the babies are all brought and piled in a corner while their parents jump about to music. After the thing had got going full swing, some unknown person got the babies and changed all their clothes—putting the linen of Mrs. Jone's little boy upon Mrs. Smith's little girl, and so on. In the dim light nobody noticed, and all went home with the wrong baby. Next morning there was the devil to pay, and for a week the whole countryside was busy exchanging and identifying babies [p. 158]


Texas life breeds sayings and doings enough to fill a volume. For instance, on the road to Brownwood there used to be a sign: "See Cross-eyed Jim before you sell your hides." The gentleman himself put it up, as that was the name he was known by; but today he would not care to have you call him by it, for he has become civilized. It is Texas fashion if any man has a deformity to name him accordingly. One Ace Brown had a hump back and was known as "Camel." A man lame from being shot in the leg is "Crip" Jones [p. 153].

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Mary Snyder Behrens | Home

Home (2005) © Mary Snyder Behrens
Above Selected work from a series of intricate handmade bundles (called Trammels) with undisclosed contents, about palm size, made in 2004-2005 by Iowa artist Mary Snyder Behrens. Copyright © the artist.


Robert Graves in Goodbye to All That, Garden City NY: Doubleday Anchor, 1957, p. 202—

[The continuance of war] seemed merely a sacrifice of the idealistic younger generation to the stupidity and self-protective alarm of the elder.…

War should be a sport for men above forty-five only, the Jesses, not the Davids. "Well, dear father, how proud I am of you serving your country as a very gallant gentleman prepared to make even the supreme sacrifice! I only wish I were your age: how willingly would I buckle on my armor and fight those unspeakable Philistines! As it is, of course, I can't be spared; I have to stay behind at the War Office and administrate for you lucky old men. What sacrifices I have made!" David would sigh, when the old boys had gone off with a draft to the front, singing Tipperary: "There's father and my Uncle Salmon, and both my grandfathers all on active service. I must put a card in the window about it."

Mary Snyder Behrens | Gape

Gape (2005) © Mary Snyder Behrens
Above Selected work from a series of intricate handmade bundles (called Trammels), with undisclosed contents, about palm size, made in 2004-2005 by Iowa artist Mary Snyder Behrens. Copyright © the artist.


Virginia Nicholson, Among the Bohemians: Experiments in Living 1900-1939. New York: HarperCollins, 2002, p. 73—

Quentin and Julian Bell [sons of Bloomsbury writers and artists Clive Bell and Vanessa Bell, sister of Virginia Woolf] had one special London Game that titillated them more than all the others, and which gave them early lessons in human psychology. They would manufacture a small tightly wrapped parcel, and drop it on to the Gordon Square pavement below; from their upper-floor window they would then watch with fascination the reactions of passers-by to the potential "treasure." Would they ignore it? Would they immediately pick it up and pocket it? Or would they edge it into the gutter with their foot before sidling across to "accidentally" appropriate it? A very few might even seize the package and rip it open, only to find that it contained—nothing.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Top Selling | Frank Lloyd Wright & Mason City

Digital montage (2017)
Publisher's description of Roy R. Behrens, Frank Lloyd Wright and Mason City: Architectural Heart of the Prairie. Charleston SC: The History Press, 2016 (repeatedly ranked in recent months among top best-selling books on Frank Lloyd Wright on Amazon)—

In the early 1900s, Frank Lloyd Wright transformed a small midwestern prairie community into one of the world’s most important architectural destinations. Mason City, Iowa, became home to his City National Bank and Park Inn—the last surviving Wright hotel. In addition, his prototype Stockman House helped launch the Prairie School architectural style. Soon after, architect Walter Burley Griffin followed in Wright’s footsteps, designing a cluster of Prairie School homes in the Rock Crest/Rock Glen neighborhood. Design historian Roy Behrens leads the way through Mason City’s historic development from the Industrial Revolution to the modern era of Frank Lloyd Wright.  

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Book Review | Frank Lloyd Wright & Mason City

Jerome Klinkowitz, in "Right Here in River City: An Iowa Community at the Prairie School's Edge: A Review of Frank Lloyd Wright and Mason City by Roy R. Behrens" in Universitas (University of Northern Iowa). Vol 12, 2016-2017—

…it is to Behrens's credit that his comprehension of the [Prairie School] movement reaches well beyond the limits that some commentators would impose…

No scholar has identified both the process of organic architecture and its sources more succinctly or with such clarity of thought. More>>>

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

2017 Graphic Design Portfolio Night at UNI

UNI Graphic Design Portfolio Night / Allison Rolinger (2017)
Above Each spring semester, the graphic design students and faculty in the Department of Art at the University of Northern Iowa celebrate the achievements of the graduating seniors. The event is the annual Graphic Design Portfolio Night, as announced by this exquisite poster, designed by one of those graduates, Allison Rolinger.

On Friday, April 21, from 5:30 until 7:30 pm (drop by anytime, leave whenever you'd like), nineteen current BA Graphic Design Majors will be at tables in the hallway of the ground floor of the south wing of the Kamerick Art Building. Their print and online portfolios will be on display, with the students there to talk to visitors (parents, fellow students, faculty, professional designers, prospective design students, alumni, faculty emeritus, you name it—it's open to everyone, and on-campus parking is easy on Friday evenings) about the work that they've achieved.

The person on the graphic design faculty who tirelessly oversees this always impressive annual event is Professor Phil Fass. Also represented will be student works produced in design studio courses taught by his faculty colleagues Soo Hostetler and Roy R. Behrens.

The student exhibitors this year are: Cassie Beadle, Emma Billerbeck, Joseph Burgus, Sadé Butler, Alison Cahill, Lexy Deshong, Abbagail Graveman, Derek Holt, Cecelia Hotzler, Dakota Jeppson, Jake Manternach, Megan Parisot, Christian Ravera, Leah Rieck, Allison Rolinger, Alisha Schlichte, Micah Skinner and Brianna Walker.

UNI Graphic Design Portfolio Night

This is an unparalleled opportunity for people both on- and off-campus to get a brief, concerted view of the quality of the student work in the university's award-winning Graphic Design degree program. In past years, on three occasions, students from the program have been chosen by the top design newsstand magazines (PRINT and Communication Arts) as being among the finest graphic design students in the country. Its graduates have gone on to careers at such firms as Apple, DreamWorks Animation, L.L. Bean, Lincoln Center, Huffington Poster, Fuel Branding, Motorola Mobile, Meredith Corporation, Visual Logic, and many many more—local, regional, national and international.

Don't miss it. It's a great way to support and encourage the senior students who will soon become contributors to the quality of our future lives.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Marvin Bell | On Bertrand Russell and Camus

Bertrand Russell with his children c1935 (public domain)
Marvin Bell in M. Bell and C. Merrill, After the Fact: Scripts and Postscripts. Buffalo NY: White Pine Press, 2016, pp. 100-101—

Bertrand Russell, May 18, 1872–February 2, 1970. An event of mind that lasted almost ninety-eight years. We shall not see his kind again, but are beset by ideologues pretending to be thinkers. I was hurrying along Broadway in the Capitol Hill District of Seattle. As I sped past two men deeply engaged in conversation as they walked, my hand bumped the wrist of one. I glanced back to say "excuse me" and kept going. But the bump must have "cleared the wax from my ears," as our teachers used to put it, and I realized that the older of the two was talking about Albert Camus. He was talking about Camus, Existentialism and meaninglessness. That was the word he used: "meaninglessness." I had overheard him say that meaninglessness was "a big idea." I couldn't just keep going. I went back and confirmed that they were indeed discussing Camus. I asked if they knew his essay on the myth of Sisyphus, who was sentenced to eternally push a boulder up to the top of a hill from where it would always roll down again. The older man (the other was much younger) said that in fact he had just been talking about Sisyphus. So I asked if he knew the very last sentence in the essay. "It's very important," I said, trying not to wag my finger. Well, he didn't, and he looked as if he wanted me to tell him, and I did. The last sentence in Camus' essay, the last of Camus' ideas about this man Sisyphus—who has been sentenced to an eternity of what seems to be meaningless suffering—is, "One must imagine Sisyphus happy." The older man was delighted at this information, and the younger one's eyes lit up as if he had been given permission to be cheerful. I felt like a Boy Scout of philosophy. I hadn't helped anyone across the street. I hadn't offered a way to escape the dark matter and sticky stuff. I had simply pointed out that one could live there. And I have lived there myself, largely as a fly on the wall, a bystander at the parties of the famous, a guest whose photo was taken in the movie star's bathtub, a tourist in international hot spots. We date watersheds, ages and eras, firsts and lasts, but nothing is over until no one remembers. Blessings on the lone scholar who looks again and recovers our words. Nonetheless, I have, like Bertrand Russell, no illusions. 

Albert Camus (1957), Library of Congress Prints & Photographs

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Louis MacNeice on English Dog Shows

Canine Portrait © Roy R. Behrens
Louis MacNeice, The Strings Are False: An Unfinished Autobiography. London: Faber and Faber, 1965, pp. 138-139—

An English dog show is very very English; you meet all the people you never would have thought of inventing. Dog-fanciers can be divided into two classes—those who look very like their dogs and those who look exactly unlike them. While there are old ladies showing Pekinese who look like Pekinese themselves, there are also gigolos with bulldogs or bruisers with Yorkshire terriers. The show is a wonderland of non-utilitarian growths. Through the smell and the noise and the clouds of chalk you can distinguish dogs that have been passed through the mangle and dogs with permanent waves, Bond Street ladies in veils and Amazons all boots. The human beings talk to each other roughly and curtly but twitter and coo to their dogs. There sportsmen and sportswomen who work their dogs in the field, and there are hermits from caves of melancholia who might have been artists or had lovers. You feel his nose to be sure that he is not ill, you chop up his meat so neatly, you put in his cod liver oil and a spoonful of lime for his bones, you brush him and comb him and pluck him and every so often you worm him—you are proud if he passes worms and proud if he doesn’t.

It’s not fair, that’s what it’s not, judge don’t know a dog from a carthorse, I tell you straight been showing for forty years and never in my life I mean when I say, see the dog he put up well would you believe it, no it’s not fair, that’s what it is, it’s not.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Mason City, Wright and Book Design

Poster © Roy R. Behrens 2017
Above Frank Lloyd Wright’s achievements in book design will be the subject of an evening talk during National Library Week at the Mason City Public Library, in Mason City IA. Titled Frank Lloyd Wright: Mason City and Book Design, the one-hour presentation will start at 6:00 pm on Tuesday, April 11, 2017. The speaker is author and design historian Roy R. Behrens, who teaches graphic design at the University of Northern Iowa.

Frank Lloyd Wright was an architect, art collector and teacher. His Mason City landmarks are widely known, consisting of the Stockman House, and the City National Bank and Historic Park Inn Hotel. But he also designed furniture, fabrics, dinnerware and stained glass windows. It is not usually noted that he was also a book designer.

In a richly illustrated talk, Behrens will focus on Wright’s efforts at book design, beginning in 1898 with The House Beautiful, a hand-bound letterpress book about interior home design. In that and subsequent efforts, Wright was influenced by various trends in architecture and design, among them the Arts and Crafts Movement, Japonisme, Art Nouveau and Art Deco.

Among Wright’s friends were two prominent book designers, Elbert Hubbard and Merle Armitage. The latter grew up in Mason City, and went on to become the manager and promoter for ballerina Anna Pavlova, operatic soprano Amelita Galli-Curci, humorist Will Rogers, and other star performers. He wrote and designed books about some of the finest artists of the twentieth century, including Martha Graham, Igor Stravinsky, George Gershwin and Edward Weston.

Also featured will be the work of New York publisher Steven Clay, a Mason City native who graduated from Mason City High School in 1969. After moving to New York in the 1980s, Clay established Granary Books, which became a leading distributor of limited edition, experimental “artist books.” In 2013, the archive of Granary Books was acquired by the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Columbia University, calling it “one of the country’s most significant artist book publishers.”

In addition to slide examples of the books of Wright, Armitage and others, the talk will include a selection of the actual books from the speaker’s book collection. The event is free and open to the public.


Roy R. Behrens, UNI Professor of Art and Distinguished Scholar, teaches graphic design and design history. He is internationally-known for his publications about art, design and the history of camouflage. The author of eight books and hundreds of published articles, he has appeared in films and interviews on NOVA, National Public Radio, 99% Invisible, Australian Public Television, BBC and IPTV. His most recent book is Frank Lloyd Wright and Mason City: Architectural Heart of the Prairie (2016).

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Buffalo Bill: Never Missed and He Never Will

Montage © Roy R. Behrens 2017
Above Title slide for Iowa's Buffalo Bill: Never Missed and He Never Will, a presentation sponsored by Humanities Iowa. For information on how to schedule this event for Iowa libraries, community centers and other public-accessible venues, as well as how to fund it through an HI grant (surprisingly easy), go to the Humanities Iowa website.


William F. Cody (1846-1917), better known as “Buffalo Bill,” was born near Le Claire, Iowa, in Scott County, just north of Davenport. By the end of his life, he had become what some have called “the most famous American in the world.” 

He had been a Pony Express rider, an Army scout, a buffalo hunter for the railroad, and the founder and central attraction of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, which traveled throughout the US and in Europe for thirty years. This talk is an overview of Cody’s life, both tragic and heroic. It was tragic because of the role he played in the near extinction of the American Bison (he himself is said to have killed nearly 3000 buffalo in eight months), and, more deplorable, in the subjugation of Native Americans. 

If his life was heroic, it was because of his later support of the rights of Native Americans, his friendship with many of them (most notably with Sitting Bull), and his link with such colorful characters as Annie Oakley and Wild Bill Hickok. As a Wild West performer, it is thought that Cody probably played to a collective audience of more than 50 million, including at various Iowa towns. This is a face-paced and entertaining 60-minute talk, illustrated by projected vintage photographs, film clips and animated graphics.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Review | Frank Lloyd Wright & Mason City

Poster © Roy R. Behrens (2017)
Above Roy R. Behrens, digital montage regarding Frank Lloyd Wright (2017) in relation to Prairie School architectural landmarks. Sources images include art glass window diagram from Historic American Buildings Survey, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs (based on window in the Robie House in Chicago), and designer's photograph of the Spirit of Mercury by Richard Bock, commissioned by Wright as a recurrent motif in his City National Bank and Park Inn Hotel in Mason City (1910).


Book review on GoodReads (four stars out of five) of Frank Lloyd Wright and Mason City: Architectural Heart of the Prairie. Charleston SC: The History Press, 2016—

I recently visited Wright's Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob houses in Pennsylvania and enjoyed seeing both of those homes. Having spent many summer vacations in Mason City as a youth, I was thrilled to stumble upon this book and excited to read about Wright's architectural impact on this small Iowa town. I think the author did a fine job of showcasing Wright's work in Mason City while incorporating some of Wright's personal (and scandalous!) history with the evolution of this north central Iowa town.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Duplicitous Serenity | Frank Lloyd Wright

Above Roy R. Behrens, digital montage portrait of Frank Lloyd Wright (2017).


What was it like to encounter for the first time the Midwestern prairie, not yet dominated by Euro-Americans at the time of the American Revolutionary War? Below is a description, based on eyewitness accounts from 1782, as invading American troops were in pursuit of Native Americans who had sided with the British.

Allan W. Eckert, That Dark and Bloody River: Chronicles of the Ohio River Valley. New York: Bantam Books, 1996, p. 342—

For those of the army who had never before seen the Sandusky Plains [in Ohio], their first view of it yesterday was breathtaking. The heavily forested hills through which they had been riding for the better part of a week had abruptly leveled out into high plains, with vast fields of grass as far as the eye could see. Their guides told them this type of terrain would continue all the way to the Sandusky towns, still some 30 miles distant: deep, thick grasses that were emerald green in their lush new growth and so high that the early morning dew soaked their horses and bathed the riders themselves to their waists. There was a deceptive sense of peace to the vista and a strong illusion that they had entered upon an expansive green sea where the surface was calm and smooth except where breezes touched down and rippled the grass in pleasant swaths all the way to the western horizon. The illusion of a sea was further enhanced by, here and there in the distance, great isolated groves of trees projecting above the grasses, appearing to be a series of lovely islands. So strong was this sense, in fact, that almost immediately the men referred to these groves as islands and dubbed them colorful names based on their size or shape or color. Smaller groves, hazy and indistinct in the distance, loomed above the grasses like ships traversing the sea from one of the larger islands to another.

Some of the men, however, viewed the deep grass with a rise of fear; in this sort of cover, a whole great army of Indians could lie hidden beyond detection, abruptly to rise at any given moment and pour a devastating fire into the troops. Their fear became infectious, and soon the initial serenity of the scene was replaced in the men's minds with uneasy expectation.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Wright and Mason City's Architectural Gems

Above Some of the great treasures of American architecture are located in Mason City IA, two hours south of Minneapolis (or two hours north of Des Moines). The downtown is the setting of the magnificently restored Historic Park Inn Hotel, a tandem two-part structure, that originally also housed the City National Bank, the sole surviving hotel designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. It is now both a hotel and an events center, with rooms restored to replicate the original Wright design. There is also a Wrightian restaurant, with an excellent menu. The hotel entrance is adjacent to the city park—it's the park that was famously featured in the Broadway musical and film The Music Man, a story that's based on the memories of Meredith Willson, who grew up in what is sometimes called "River City."  It's a great architectural treat to visit Mason City, as flocks of world-wide tourists have found since, fully restored, it reopened several years ago. The Condé Nast Traveler recently declared it "one of the 14 best cities for architectural lovers."

To experience Wright's City National Bank and Park Inn Hotel is itself sufficient reward. But that's only part of the story. Just five blocks east of the hotel is an historically significant cluster of Prairie School homes in a purposely designed neighborhood that borders both sides of Willow Creek. The precisely landscaped neighborhood was designed by Wright's associate, Walter Burley Griffin. Most of the planning drawings were made by another Wright associate, Marion Mahony (one of the first female architects, especially admired for her extraordinary drawings), who was also Griffin's spouse. Known as Rock Crest / Rock Glen, about nineteen houses were planned but only half of those were built. But the ones that were completed are both exquisite and well-maintained.


On the northern edge of this historic neighborhood is the relocated and exactly restored Stockman House, an early Wright prototype for a fireproof two-story Prairie School home. It is now a house museum, and is frequently open for guided tours. And on the property adjoining that is the recently constructed Robert E. McCoy Architectural Interpretive Center, which serves as an informational hub, a gift shop, and a gathering place for talks about Mason City architecture.

To my mind, among the highlights of Mason City's architectural gems is a residence called the Melson House. It was constructed on a limestone cliff on the Rock Crest side of the neighborhood, overlooking the creek and the houses that make up the opposite side, the level bank that called Rock Glen. The significance of the Melson House is discussed in Frank Lloyd Wright and Mason City: Architectural Heart of the Prairie (pp. 114-115)—

As H. Allen Brooks has said, it (the Melson House)  is "a master stroke" in which [Walter Burley] Griffin "turned the cliff to his advantage," with the result that the building is "partly hewn, [and] partly growing from the striated cliff." Amazingly, as [C.J.] Hurley notes, "although the almost fortress-like structure appears to be part of the cliff face, the interior is open and spacious, human in its scale, proportions and liveability."


The owners of the Melson House are Roger and Peggy Bang, who have long been active in Mason City's efforts to restore its architectural gems. Peggy has recently published a book (The Melson House Revealed: An Owner's Perspective) [see cover below] about all the pleasures as well as frustrations involved in maintaining the verve of this astonishing landmark—while also living in it.

• All posters by Roy R. Behrens © 2017. Photo of Melson House © Peggy L. Bang. Other images courtesy Wikimedia.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Frank Lloyd Wright Swats Fellow Architects

Maria Durell Stone (wife of architect Edward Durell Stone) in Edgar Tafel, Ed., About Wright: An Album of Recollections by Those Who Knew Frank Lloyd Wright. New York: John Wiley, 1993, p. 57—

A few hours after I arrived at Taliesin [in 1954] we dined with others outside under a large tree. Flies, for some reason, were prolific on this warm spring day. [Frank Lloyd] Wright remedied this annoyance by having a fly swatter next to his chair. As a fly landed, he would pick up the swatter and take precise aim. "That's [Walter] Gropius," he jovially exclaimed, and then he would take aim again at another unsuspecting fly. "And that's [Le] Corbusier," he would add, until dead flies littered the table and he had struck down the so-called hierarchy of modern architecture.

• Design by Roy R. Behrens, using public domain portrait photograph (colorized) of Wright (c1926), from Library of Congress Prints and Photographs, and his own photograph of the restored City National Bank and Park Inn in Mason City IA, now officially known as the Historic Park Inn Hotel.

Frank Lloyd Wright and Richard Neutra

The Stockman House | Mason City IA (1908) •
Roy R. Behrens, FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT AND MASON CITY: Architectural Heart of the Prairie. Charleston SC: The History Press, 2016, pp. 15-16—

Soon after his arrival in the U.S., a young German architect named Richard Neutra was walking through the neighborhoods of the Hyde Park area of Chicago, looking for Prairie School houses.

Earlier, in a European library, he had seen the Wasmuth Portfolio, an album of early buildings by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Now, he had come to Chicago to search for one of Wright’s most admired designs, the famous Frederick C. Robie House on Woodlawn Avenue.

Standing at last in the presence of the Robie House, Neutra was infused with emotion. He rang the doorbell and asked in broken English, “Is Mr. Robie in?” The present owner, who answered the door, replied, “Mr. Robie? Never heard of him.” There had been a succession of owners, and she had bought the house, she explained, because it was “very cheap” and the previous owner “had to get out.” She didn’t particularly like its design, Neutra recalled, and “had all kinds of petty criticisms.” 

In his autobiography, Neutra recalled that this happened repeatedly as he visited famous American buildings, well-known and admired by European architects. Inevitably, he found that the current residents (and their neighbors) had little or no understanding of the importance of the buildings that surrounded them. He was overtaken by what he described as a “sad wonderment.”

“I had arrived in fairyland,” he said, “but the fairies had gone. And the occupants of the enchanted forest looked entirely inconsistent and contradictory to what their setting called for. I was downcast, broken, and puzzled.”

Later, when Neutra actually met Frank Lloyd Wright, he told him how surprised he was that Chicago’s Prairie School houses were not surrounded by prairie. When those homes were built, he asked, were they then in the prairie?

“No,” Wright answered, “there was no prairie…but it was the spirit of the prairie that was recaptured with it and in it.”

• Design by Roy R. Behrens, using public domain portrait photograph (colorized) of Wright (c1926), from Library of Congress Prints and Photographs, and a photograph of the Stockman House by Pamela V. White (2007), from Creative Commons, Wikipedia.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Continuity, Patterns & Frank Lloyd Wright

Frank Lloyd Wright and Mason City (2016)
Jonathan Hale, The Old Way of Seeing. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1994, pp. 67-68—

As for resembling life forms [in architecture], it is underlying pattern, not any literal representation that makes a building "come alive." Trees, which populate the landscape much as buildings do, are much more generally considered to be beautiful. But, as Frank Lloyd Wright said, a building should be like a tree, not look like a tree…Trees and people contain the same kinds of patterns. Harmonious buildings that embody life forms refer to us, they are about us. That is why we are so attracted to them.

Harmony can be defined as the resonating play of shapes. It can be gentle or strong, but it is not immobility. The old way of seeing is not repose, and it is not prettiness. It might be soft or rough. It might be cheap…or it might be the Great Pyramid, but the same design principles will guide it. Harmony in a building means relationships that work with other relationships.…

One of the purposes of ornament is to pull the eye toward the regulating lines of a building, to point out the key visual points of its geometry. Ornament strengthens the forms that are already there. The powerful governing patterns of the buildings are not decorative, they are the architecture. They are inherent in the building, just as what the building does is inherent in it: this building is a house, and it also embodies this pattern. To be a pattern if one of the building's functions. In this way a building is like music.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Frank Lloyd Wright and the Real River City

Frank Lloyd Wright and Mason City (2016)
From an unpublished review by Paul D. Whitson of FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT and Mason City: Architectural Heart of the Prairie. Charleston SC: History Press, 2016—

[This book is] A masterly detailed romp (staccato vivace) through the cultural and architectural history of the persons, structures, and interrelations emergent along the 1908-1911 timeline in Mason City, Iowa. Although the City National Bank, Park Inn, and Stockman residence by Frank Lloyd Wright are central, equal attention is given to the Rock Crest/Rock Glen residences actuated by the "Griffins," Byrne, Blythe, Broaten, Drummond, and Besinger. Instructive insights into the principles of design, essences of organic logic, and exposed peccadillos (good and not so) of the chief actors pleasantly compliment the illustrative architectural heart of the once prairie village. A five-star read (romp) indeed.

Friday, January 20, 2017

ANOTHER VOICE | Exhibition Opens Today

Political Illustration Exhibit Opens at MCAD
Above Good news, believe it or not, on a day of infamy. Opening today at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design is a powerful exhibition of satirical political art. Curated by legendary art director Patrick JB Flynn of the Madison-based THE FLYNSTITUTE, the exhibition is ANOTHER VOICE: Political Illustration of the Late 20th Century. Don't miss the opening this evening, with a curator's talk and a panel exchange in early February. Poster illustration above is by Henrik Drescher © 1985 from The Progressive. For more information see Another Voice.


Frank Swinnerton, Swinnerton: An Autobiography. Garden City NY: Doubleday, Doran and Company, 1936, p. 24—

We had a maid named Betsy, a fat elderly woman who might have been made amusing by [Charles] Dickens; for it was she who, when the groceries came home one day, horrified the entire family by clapping a vinegar bottle to her lips, drinking with zest, and, as she set it down, exclaiming: "I do LOVE winnidar!"


David Garnett, The Flowers of the Forest. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1956, p. 40—

[At a certain dinner during World War I] Vanessa [Bell, sister of Virginia Woolf] was put beside Mr. [H.H.] Asquith, then Prime Minister and a man with many burdens, including the conduct of the war. Vanessa rarely read a newspaper in those days, though she was always interested in picture papers…which might suggest subjects for picture. She had missed Mr. Asquith's name, but his face was almost intolerably familiar to her…Yet she could not place him. Giving him the smile of an innocent but daring child, she risked the remark:

"Are you interested in politics?"

Vanessa's best remarks were like that, experimental and haphazard shots in the dark. When she coined an epigram it was often because she had forgotten a cliché.

"In that house you meet a dark horse in every cupboard," she once exclaimed with some indignation. And of Maynard [Keynes]: "It runs off his back like duck's water." But of all her sayings the most withering was: "Ah, that will be canker to his worm."

Monday, January 16, 2017

The Man Who Mistook Someone's Hat For His

Frank Swinnerton, Swinnerton: An Autobiography. Garden City NY: Doubleday, Doran and Company, 1936, p. 28-29 [recalling an incident at a London publishing firm where he worked]—

He [a co-worker named Martin, who was the company cashier] had a very large round head, upon which he wore a great dusty bowler hat; and one Saturday, when everybody but myself had gone home, I was dismayed to find that he had taken my hat and left this monster [his hat] behind. Despair grew when it dawned upon me that the hat came down to my chin. But at last I recollected that Martin was most likely to be found in a local pub, and set out in search of him as Cockney wives sometimes go on Saturday nights in search of their husbands, opening swing doors and quickly scanning the faces in the bar.

My search was brief. He was sitting on a tall stool in the center of the saloon bar of the Essex Serpent, in King Street. In his outstretched arms was a newspaper; a pipe was held firmly in his front teeth; and high upon his big white head, looking in its inadequacy like a thimble, was perched my little hat. I removed it firmly; and Martin was very annoyed, first with me for entering a pub at all, second with himself for having taken my hat, and finally again with me for knowing where he was to be found. Poor man, his life was a misery.


Note We will add this to our ever expanding collection of stories about those who have mistaken someone else's hat (or other item of clothing) for their own. Go here, for example, for another hat confusion tale by British philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, or here for Mircea Eliade's story about walking off with Claude Lévi-Strauss' raincoat.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Baby Hummingbirds Nesting in Mexico

Baby Hummingbird © Craig Ede
Above and below Baby hummingbirds in nest in Mexico a few weeks ago, as photographed by artist Craig Ede (sounds like tweed), long-time friend and schoolmate.


After living elsewhere for almost two decades, in 1990 I moved back to Iowa, where I had been born and raised. Soon after, as I browsed in a second-hand bookstore, I was surprised and delighted to find a paperback volume of essays by American satirist H.L. Mencken. Even as a high school student, I had read nearly all his writings, and had purchased at the time a series of Vintage paperbacks, the covers of which had been designed by graphic designer Paul Rand. It was one of the books from that series that I suddenly found on the shelf in that store. I felt a surge of nostalgia as I reached for the book; it was not only a touchstone, it was the exact same edition as well. Imagine my greater astonishment when, seconds later, as I turned to the flyleaf—I found my own signature.

I recalled this recently while reading the memoirs of British writer Richard Aldington, titled Life for Life's Sake (New York: Viking, 1941). Although the circumstances were different, I thought of my own experience as he described what happened to him when he returned to London after serving in World War I (pp. 202-203)—

[In a London bookstore] A little further down was a display of French books. One shelf of about forty particularly held my attention. I thought: This is a remarkable coincidence; it's the first time in my life I've ever seen a row of second-hand books, every one of which I've read. Mechanically I pulled down one of them and opened it. On the flyleaf was written: Richard Aldington. I took down another, with the same result.

My first thought was that the house where I had stored my books had been burgled; and full of righteous indignation I plunged into the shop to try to trace the thief. Again the bookseller remembered me, and at once looked up his records. If I had suddenly and unexpectedly been hit between the eyes I could not have been more stunned than when I learned the books had been sold by a "friend," a Bloomsbury intellectual, who had rooms in the house and therefore access to the storeroom. Evidently he had come to the conclusion that I was unlikely to return from the front, and that since the books were no use to him he might as well change them into beer.

Baby Hummingbirds © Craig Ede

Richard Aldington (from the same book), p. 206—

My French colleague, Henry de Montherlant, making a pilgrimage of devotion to the sacred field of [the Battle of] Verdun, found skulls of our dead comrades on which tourists had scratched their names and the initials of their country.


Rex Beach, Personal Exposures (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1940), p. 166 [his recollection of having been attacked by a huge crocodile while making a wildlife film]—

To this day it gives me a chill to see an alligator-hide suitcase with the lid open. I don't trust those creatures even when they have brass fittings and a monogram.