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).