Frank Lloyd Wright and the Wild West

I recently had a chance to look at a friend’s copy of Cowboys & Indians magazine for January 2013.  I did not expect to find an article on architecture and Frank Lloyd Wright in it; however, I should probably not have been surprised because Wright’s life parallels how most Americans envision the Wild West.

My childhood was filled with movie and TV westerns.  Most boys during the 50s & 60s were attracted to the cowboy ideal portrayed by movies and television during that time — “the rugged individual carving out a living in a relentless land full of untold dangers and unexplored territory.”  By the end of the movie, the hero had triumphed against all odds, and he had done it on his own terms and often with little outside help.  Sounds a bit like Frank Lloyd Wright.

Wright was a maverick most of his life.  When he started as an architect, American designers had already begun to push back at the ornate, overblown styles of the Victorian period.  Wright is the most famous of the architects associated with this push back style known as “Prairie School” architecture.  Although best known for Midwestern homes and commercial structures done in this style, Wright was ready for a change by 1937.  Wright and third wife Olgivanna Lazovich had a first taste of Arizona living during the building of Wright’s Arizona Biltmore in Chandler.  Sick of Midwestern winters, the couple made a permanent move in 1937 choosing a spot in the foothills of the McDowell Mountains northeast of Scottsdale where they established Taliesin West.  According to the article, “It was here that the dark haired woman [Olgivanna] he had met by chance at a matinee performance of the Petrograd ballet would make a lasting contribution to her husband’s work.”

Wright, Olgivanna and Taliesin West would flourish in the American Southwest.  It was here that Wright designed the Guggenheim (see photo below); it was here that they established the Taliesin Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture that still thrives today; and it was here where they and their students learned self-sufficient living, an ideal that Wright “believed in and first implemented during the Depression.”  The Wrights and their students lived in tents as they built Taliesin, and they shared all the daily tasks like one big family.  The school’s motto still reflects this living/doing/learning lifestyle — “‘Live Architecture,’ is practiced continually in the context of the residential learning environment where life and work are integrated.”  (from Taliesin School of Architecture website)

To learn more about this period in Wright’s life, you can read the Dan Gleeson’s article, “Frank Lloyd Wright’s West“.  To discover more about the scandalous side of Wright and Taliesin, read the sister article in the January 2013 issue of Cowboys and Indians Magazine entitled “Tabloid Taliesin:  The Scandalous Side Of Frank Lloyd Wright.”  After reading them, see if you don’t agree with me that Wright embodied the promotional attributes of Buffalo Bill and the Wild West lifestyle of Wyatt Earp and Wild Bill Hickock.  Happy Trails, Buckaroos!

Interior of the Gugenheim Museum

Interior of the Guggenheim Museum designed by Frank Lloyd Wright during his Taliesin West period.  (Photo by Stevenuccia, licensed under Creative Commons)