Tag Archives: architecture

A new role for Frank Lloyd Wright home that survived Sandy

A Frank Lloyd Wright house that was flooded by Superstorm Sandy in New Jersey is high and dry in Arkansas. And it’s getting thousands of visitors as part of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

The Bachman-Wilson House, originally located in Millstone, New Jersey, was one of Wright’s famed Usonian homes. The architect created these small, simple structures for middle-class Americans, and about 60 were built.

The Crystal Bridges Museum had the home moved to Bentonville, Arkansas, where it was aligned on the same axis Wright used when laying out the building in 1954.

More than 80,000 people have toured the Bachman-Wilson House in the past year. The home is presented as a retreat — a place to get away from it all without having to get away.

“You’re completely immersed in your natural environment,” said Dylan Turk, a curatorial assistant at Crystal Bridges. “Wright’s using materials that are American and comfortable — woods and natural materials — because he feels that is more connectible than steel, which is what other architects were using at that time.”

Wright desired an American identity among everyday homes and labeled his style “Usonian,” for the “United States of North America.” He wanted them to be affordable, and charged just $400 for the plans for the Bachman-Wilson House. The house cost about $30,000 to build.

Wright actually never visited a Usonian home, Turk said. He was busy working on the Price Tower in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, and the Guggenheim Museum in New York, when the Bachman-Wilson House was built.

“Wright valued everything he designed, but he was also working on, at the time, The Guggenheim, which he thought would be his shining moment as an architect. He may have been a little preoccupied,” Turk said.

While it wasn’t part of the Crystal Bridges’ initial plan, the Wright-designed home fits in with the museum’s concentration on art, architecture and nature, Turk said. Crystal Bridges architect Moshe Safdie sited the museum above Town Branch Creek. The Bachman-Wilson House overlooks Crystal Spring, a tributary well out of the flood plain.

Students from the University of Arkansas’ school of architecture, which is named after Wright protege Fay Jones, designed a welcome pavilion nearby. Wright, Jones and Safdie each won the American Institute of Architects’ Gold Medal.

“I wish I could have said I initiated the action to get the house, but I didn’t,” Safdie said. While he hasn’t yet seen the Bachman-Wilson House in Arkansas, he said he was thrilled to hear about the acquisition and noted that he, Jones and Wright each now have an influence on the museum’s grounds.

“The trilogy has pleased me,” he said.

Before the house opened on a recent chilly morning, Turk sat down on the living room’s low-slung bench, which abuts a cinder block wall designed as a barrier for the world outside. Across the room is a wall of glass, broken up by mahogany door frames and window frames cut in the shape of a maple tree’s winged seed pod. The room faces southwest to catch the afternoon sun.

“He wanted you to be as close to the ground as you possibly could be because he thought that grounded you,” Turk said. “You’re looking up. You can see the tops of the trees through the clerestory windows.”

A rust-colored floor, heated from beneath, extends beyond the glass.

“He pioneered radiant heat in the United States. If you are outside on a cool night, you can feel your house,” Turk said. “He wanted you to feel your house in as many ways as you possibly could.”

The Bachman-Wilson House flooded a number of times in New Jersey, most recently when Sandy hit in 2012. When its owners considered moving it to preserve it, Crystal Bridges said it would fit in with its mission.

“Art is not just a painting that hangs on the wall,” Turk said. “If you want to be creative, it doesn’t have to be limited to a canvas.

“This is familiar. It’s a house,” he said. “Most people live in a house, so it allows us to open up this space for people to come in and go, ‘Huh, my house doesn’t look like this. Why?’ or ‘I have this in my house. Why do I have this in my house?””

If You Go…

CRYSTAL BRIDGES MUSEUM OF AMERICAN ART: Located in Bentonville, Arkansas. Saturday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Monday 11 a.m.-6 p.m.; Wednesday-Friday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Free general admission includes Wright house.


Frank Lloyd Wright School raises $2 million to remain open

The Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture has reached a $2 million fundraising goal that will keep it from shutting down.

The Scottsdale-based Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation announced this week that the school’s doors would remain open, The Arizona Republic reports.

The institution’s future has been up in the air after it lost accreditation status last year. The Chicago-based Higher Learning Commission, which accredits universities and colleges, decided it would no longer recognize schools that are part of larger institutions with missions beyond education.

Because the foundation also oversees historical-building preservation and the Wright archives in New York, the academic program must be incorporated as a financially independent subsidiary. The $2 million will help make that happen.

The foundation and architecture school is now working on a “change of control” application to the Higher Learning Commission, including legal and incorporation documents. The commission is expected to review the application in June. If approved, the school can file documents with both federal and state agencies. The process is expected to be completed by 2017.

Wright, who died in 1959, designed 1,141 architectural works. More than one-third of his buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places or are in a National Historic District.

The school operates at two campuses, Taliesin West in Scottsdale and Taliesin in Spring Green, Wisconsin. Students attend the Scottsdale campus in the spring and fall terms, with summer classes held in Wisconsin. The school offers a three-year master’s program and has continued to admit students since the accreditation change.

The Frank Lloyd Wright school had only 23 students during the recent fall term, making it likely the nation’s smallest accredited, degree-granting architecture program. Dean Aaron Betsky said the school hopes to grow to around 40 to 45 students by 2019 and eventually 60 to 65 students.

More than 217 individuals, foundations and corporations contributed to the $2 million “independence campaign.” Donors included several high-profile architects such as Wright’s grandson Eric Lloyd Wright and Frank Gehry, known for the design of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles and the Guggenheim Museum building in Bilbao, Spain.

UW-Madison to break ground on new Music Center

A long-awaited home for music performance at UW-Madison will soon be a reality, thanks to a recent $25 million gift from the Mead Witter Foundation.

The Hamel Music Center will be on the eastern edge of campus at the corner of University Avenue and Lake Street. It will feature two concert halls, with capacities of 350 and 800 people. The UW School of Music provides more than 350 free public concerts a year.

“Right now our current estimated timeline for the Hamel Music Center is to start construction in late 2016 and open the building in late 2018,” says Gary A. Brown, director of campus planning and landscape architecture. More specific dates won’t be known “until we bid the project and get a contractor on board in the fall of 2016.”

No state funds were forthcoming. Every dollar of the estimated $55.8 million cost had to be raised privately, through donations. Until the Mead Witter Foundation provided incentive to build the entire music center at once, it was to have been built in phases.

The music performance center had its beginnings in 2007, when $15 million was pledged toward Phase I of the project by the Hamel family of Sonoma, California. Three generations of Hamels attended UW-Madison. In 2014 the university announced it would name the new building for them. Fundraising appeared to have essentially stalled out during the recession. 

Rebecca Blank, named chancellor in 2013, made it a priority. The recent gift completes that effort. In appreciation, UW-Madison will name the department the Mead Witter School of Music and its larger concert hall will be known as the Mead Witter Foundation Concert Hall.

The combined Mead Witter family has a long history in Wisconsin and with the university. J.D. Witter came to the state in 1850 and made a fortune in banking, timber, manufacturing and hydropower. His children, Isaac and Ruth, attended UW-Madison. Isaac met George W. Mead there, introduced him to his sister, and they married.

Mead took over the family’s interests and served on the UW Board of Regents from 1928 to 1939. In 1950, the university awarded him an honorary doctorate. “Though none of our family studied music at the UW, a fondness for music unites us,” according to his son, foundation chair George W. Mead II, in a prepared statement. “Everyone needs music. It is an inspiration point for all areas of creativity and learning.”

The music center is being designed by Holzman Moss Bottino Architecture of New York in partnership with Strang Inc. of Madison. It will be designed to complement Madison’s civic performance spaces at nearby Overture Center for the Arts on State Street. 

In fact, the facilities’ personnel overlap. Overture’s architect, Cesar Pelli, was consulted by the university during the music center’s early design stages. Malcolm Holzman, one of the principals of the current architectural team, was earlier a principal at Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates, which designed Overture’s predecessor, the Madison Civic Center. 

Holzman Moss Bottino has designed a range of performance venues, including those at the American Ballet Theater in New York City, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Georgetown University Performing Arts Center in Washington, D.C., and the University of Southern California Music School and concert hall.

Past projects of Strang Inc. include renovation of the Mineral Point Opera House and the Touchstone Theater at American Players Theatre in Spring Green.

The School of Music is currently housed in the Mosse Humanities Building, which is shared with the departments of history and art. The seven-story example of Brutalist architecture was completed in 1969. It’s slated for eventual demolition.

Madison house purchased for $100K by retired teacher is a Wright home

Linda McQuillen long wondered whether her 1917 home had any connection to Frank Lloyd Wright, thinking at best maybe one of his peers designed it as an imitation of the architect’s famous Prairie School style. It turned out she was living in the real thing.

Wright experts announced this week that the Madison house McQuillen bought for $100,000 has been verified as an American System-Built House, part of Wright’s effort to develop and market well-designed homes at a more affordable level – his first effort to reach a broader audience. It is the second such house identified in the past four months, one out of only 16 ever built and 14 still standing.

“It’s pretty exciting, I’ve got to tell you. And pretty overwhelming,” McQuillen said, sitting in the front room of the 1,800-square-foot house she spent a quarter of a century refurbishing and decorating with Mission-style furniture.

It took years to unearth the evidence about McQuillen’s home, located in a neighborhood less than half a mile from the University of Wisconsin campus where Wright went to school in the 1880s.

This much was known: It was constructed in 1917, an addition was built in 1924, and an open-air porch facing the street was enclosed three years after that. By the time McQuillen bought it in 1989 it was in such bad shape that a tree was growing through the roof of the garage.

“Over time we have completely redone the house without any indication it was a significant house,” said McQuillen, 69, a retired teacher who now works part-time for the university as a math education consultant. “I didn’t know it was a Frank Lloyd Wright home and had no imagination it would be.”

The first real clue she got that the stucco home adorned with leaded glass windows may have any real Wright connection came in November 2009, when she received a letter from Mary Jane Hamilton.

Hamilton, a Wright scholar who has written about the architect’s family and homes in his native Wisconsin, had been hearing whispers about the Madison house for years but had never been able to prove a link to Wright.

There was no reference to it in any of the catalogs of known Wright homes, and it had some distinctly uncharacteristic elements, like a band of dark red brick around the stucco exterior. There were no known drawings of the home linking it to the first owner, and no photos had been found showing the house as it looked when it was first built.

Hamilton said her “eureka” moment came when she found a 1917 Wisconsin State Journal newspaper advertisement by a Madison building company offering the American System-Built Homes. The same company was named on the 1917 building permit for McQuillen’s home, which indicated it was building a spec house.

Hamilton and Mike Lilek, curator of the Wright-designed American System-Built Homes in Milwaukee, toured McQuillen’s home in November 2009 and quickly found other indications that they may have made a significant discovery.

Framing studs in the basement were 24 inches on center, a known Wright deviation from the typical 16-inch span. The window pattern is custom designed, along with the latches.

Since then, Hamilton worked to gather more proof, including finding a drawing among more than 900 of the American System-Built Homes in Wright’s archive at Taliesin West in Arizona that resembled McQuillen’s house. All the evidence they collected led Hamilton and Lilek to finally conclude that the home was an authentic Wright.

It’s also the first and only known example of the AA model from Wright’s American System-Built House series ever constructed, Lilek said.

McQuillen said the news makes the money and hard work she invested in fixing up the house more than worth it.

“It does feel like a reward, a vindication that when I saw the house and could see beyond the disrepair that I knew there was something substantive,” she said. “The house really spoke to me.”

Cream City comeback: Milwaukee developers reveal old brick

It’s in swanky new condos and historic old buildings, and it’s a focal point in new construction and renovation: Milwaukee’s once-forgotten signature, Cream City brick, has made a comeback.

“Oh, yeah, it’s everywhere,” Tony Torre said, pointing out downtown buildings made of the clean, golden-yellow bricks that stand out from common reds nearby.

“It’s a cool look to it, as far as I’m concerned,” he said.

Torre has worked in Milwaukee for decades and remembers when its Cream City brick buildings were largely neglected, blackened by pollution or torn down with little regard. Today, prompted by developers inclined to work with old materials, Cream City brick is a prized find.

“There’s been a crescendo of interest in urban living,” historian John Gurda said. It’s led to a “rebirth of interest in older parts of town. The rebirth of interest in Cream City brick goes along with that hand in glove.”

Rows and rows of beat-up, yellowish bricks sit on pallets near downtown in a gutted, old brewery. They’ll be spiffed up and featured prominently in a massive renovation that will turn the old Pabst bottling plant into dorms.

The bricks have been recovered from crumbling hulks too rundown to save. They’ll be used for interior accents and highlights and exterior patches in the building, which Zilber Ltd. plans to restore to look much like it did in its heyday about 100 years ago.

Developers who want to use cream bricks turn to salvaged materials, in part, because “nobody in their right mind would make Cream City bricks for use today,” Zilber spokesman Mike Mervis said.

University Wisconsin-Milwaukee architecture professor Matt Jarosz agreed. “You can make a beige brick, but it won’t be a true Cream City brick,” he said.

“The industry has moved on from the process,” he added, explaining the history of what he calls “the specific building material of Milwaukee.”

In the early to mid-1800s, it was too expensive to import brick, so people made it themselves in small factories. These brickworks used clay soil from the Milwaukee River, and discovered it produced light-colored bricks, Jarosz said.

The soil was high in dolomite, a form of limestone, and magnesium, which gives the bricks their signature hue, Gurda said. It initially was a source of embarrassment, but it quickly turned to a point of pride.

By the late 1800s, the brick was all over Milwaukee — “the whole city, the whole fabric was this” cream brick, Jarosz said — giving rise to the nickname “Cream City.”

“Everybody thinks ‘Cream City’ refers to America’s dairyland,” Gurda said, referring to Wisconsin’s status as “The Dairy State.” “No, it’s the brick.”

He also mentioned Milwaukee’s reputation as the “Beer Capital of the World,” saying the city’s first brickyard went up in 1836, four years before the first brewery.

But as quickly as Milwaukee gained a reputation for beautifully constructed cream buildings, it was gone. Industrial coal burning left the city in a constant haze of black soot. The bricks, which turned out to be very porous, absorbed the pollution, leaving them filthy.  

“In the shortest amount of time, Milwaukee went from this beautiful beige city to this black polluted place,” Jarosz said.

It would take decades for the preservation movement to gain traction, and Jarosz says the overwhelming majority of Cream City bricks have been lost through demolition.

Remaining old bricks are increasingly on display as developers seek to use old materials to reduce waste and tie new projects in with the past.

Firms such as Continuum Architects and Planners have been working on building projects that include cleaning dingy old bricks with a chemical process that’s less corrosive than sandblasting.

“As old buildings get renovated,” Ursula Twombly, of Continnum, said, “what used to be a black brick is revealed as a Cream City.”

Frank Lloyd Wright house rediscovered in Shorewood

A Frank Lloyd Wright house has been rediscovered after being hidden in plain sight for years in Shorewood.

“It went from ‘Your house can’t possibly be a Frank Lloyd Wright house” to ‘Your house is most definitely a Frank Lloyd Wright house,’ Pat Wisialowski, who has owned the Shorewood home since 1993, said. “It was very exciting.”

It was constructed in 1917 as an American System-Built House, part of Wright’s effort to develop and market well-designed houses for any income level — his first effort to reach a broader audience.

There are currently 13 others standing in the Midwest, including six in Milwaukee and one in Oshkosh. The venture never really got off the ground with developer, the Richards Co., due to World War I-related economic and financial issues.

The two-bedroom house in Shorewood is a “Model A203,” with the original art glass windows in place. A basement-level garage was added in 1976 and an open porch at the rear of the house was enclosed for added living space at an unknown date. 

Earlier owners knew it was a Wright home because it was advertised as such when it was sold previously. But by the time Wisialowski bought it, she was told it was designed by someone who used to work under Wright.

There it remained until a man drove by the house about five years ago and insisted to Wisialowski’s husband Roger that it was a Wright house. That led to an investigation by another Wright scholar but he later died and the mystery continued.

It wasn’t until a couple years ago that her husband mentioned the story while playing the game Sheepshead with Pat Lilek, who happens to be the mother of Mike Lilek, curator of the Wright-designed American System-Built Homes in Milwaukee. 

At first, Mike Lilek said he was skeptical.

“Only 433 Wright designs were executed and they are well-known and carefully researched, so I thought it couldn’t be,” he said. Then he visited the house and saw the Wright similarities. 

But he needed more. So he embarked on a research project.

Among other things, he discovered a lawsuit filed by Wright against the Richards Co., demanding royalties he wasn’t paid.

The lawsuit said Wright was dissatisfied with the way the houses were being built and claimed he wasn’t receiving the full accounting of homes being built, according to Lilek.

Lilek also found the original drawing for the house. He said no one ever connected the dots because the drawing was filed in the archive in an unusual folder — with no name or address. 

Lilek said Wright probably didn’t even know about the house.

“I would say there is a probability there will be more,” he said. 

For Wisialowski, at one point she said she and her husband would have been content just suspecting it was a Wright house. But she is glad they now definitely know.

“Part of it was like a vindication or validating because I’ve been here for 22 years. I always felt it was very special,” she said.

How midcentury modern classics adapted

In the years after World War II, when suburban towns were still “the country,” the unassuming village of New Canaan, Connecticut, just an hour north of Manhattan, became an epicenter of modernist architecture, and a birthplace of then-radical concepts like family rooms, floor-to-ceiling windows and open-plan living.

Since then, the surviving homes have continued to evolve, a transformation explored in a new book that looks at 16 of New Canaan’s 91 remaining homes from this influential era.

“These homes were meant to be truly modern, to adapt. Preservation is about keeping the character while allowing these homes to move on,” said architect Cristina A. Ross, who with architect Jeffrey Matz, photographer Michael Biondo and graphic designer Lorenzo Ottaviani produced the book, “Midcentury Houses Today” (Monacelli Press, 2014).

In New Canaan, she said, “the concentration of homes and the number of surviving houses to this day is incredibly unique.”

Through photos, detailed floor plans and time lines, and the voices of architects, builders and occupants, the book traces the original structures and subsequent additions, devoting a full chapter to each home.

Unlike the modernist architecture of the Midwest, New Canaan’s modernist homes directly reflect the principles of the Bauhaus school of design in Germany, established by architect Walter Gropius. When the Nazi regime closed down the Bauhaus in the 1930s, Gropius became chairman of the architecture department at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard. He was later joined by Marcel Breuer. Together, the two passed on their aesthetic — emphasizing volume; large areas of glass juxtaposed by blank walls; flat roofs; freedom from architectural ornamentation — to students and associates.

Breuer, Eliot Noyes, Landis Gores, Philip Johnson and John Johansen, all early promulgators of modernism in New Canaan, became known as the Harvard Five. They moved to New Canaan, near the last stop on the commuter rail line and near the newly constructed Merritt Parkway. Land was cheap and plentiful enough to allow for new experiments in architecture. They were soon joined there by architects Victor Christ-Janer, John Black Lee and others.  

“They were experimenting, and they were fast and furiously creating the way they felt people should be living,” said Ross. “They were designing the offices for IBM, for big corporations, and people became so enamored of the work environment that many CEOs wanted to bring that streamlining and flow to their home life.”

Although these architects’ work is well-known, the ways their structures have been transformed over time is not. The book offers ideas and a rough roadmap for those looking to adapt modernist-inspired homes throughout the U.S.

“Some of these homes now have a second story, and some were expanded in other ways, while others were restored and updated and not expanded at all. There are many different approaches that allow the original house to continue to shine while moving on,” Ross said.

Both Johnson and Black Lee, when invited to see changes made to homes they had designed, said they thought their works had been improved, the authors say.

In fact, the evolution of homes of this era seems crucial to their survival. The original homes tended to be modest by contemporary standards, with interior areas of around 2,000 square feet. Their designs reflected European sensibilities and so tended to have small bedrooms and minimal closet space.

To adapt to changing expectations of comfort in affluent New Canaan, many of the homes were expanded, with larger bedrooms, en suite bathrooms, media rooms and wine cellars. Also, higher energy costs meant that glassed-in areas had to be upgraded and homes refitted with state-of-the-art mechanical systems.

At the same time, additions demanded a creative approach so as to retain the aesthetics of movement, simplicity, openness, and sensitivity to site and nature, while respecting zoning regulations limiting the structures’ footprint.

One of the more striking additions is a glassed-in staircase and cantilevered master suite by Toshiko Mori, a sort of transparent floating tree house that extends out into the woods behind a 1951 Breuer house.  

“Additions to midcentury modern buildings do not necessarily harmonize with existing construction. Instead, they may introduce a different, more contemporary interpretation of modernism,” writes John Morris Dixon.

Adds Ross: “Preservation doesn’t mean stagnation. These houses were meant to live and breathe with families, and not end up like museums or time capsules.”


For a firsthand look at midcentury modern architecture in New Canaan, visit the Glass House, Philip Johnson’s well-known 1949 residence and surrounding structures, which became a National Trust Property in 2007. (www.theglasshouse.org )

Also, the New Canaan Historical Society features a detailed survey of the town’s midcentury homes, and runs tours of the 1957 Gores Pavilion (Irwin Pool House) and, every couple years, tours of some of the modernist homes in the town. (www.nchistory.org )

Pleasant under glass | Botanical gardens offer respite from the winter

Exotic insects chirrup and buzz as they flit among the palms, ferns, figs and tropical flowers. They patrol the jungle for other pests, provide food for the various species of birds breeding in the canopy and occasionally land in the hungry clutches of pitcher plants, Venus flytraps and other floral carnivores.

Meanwhile, just beyond the thermal glass that encloses the jungle, snow swirls across the icy Wisconsin landscape.

Bolz Conservatory, a part of Madison’s Olbrich Botanical Gardens, is known locally as the “glass pyramid.” It’s one of a number of area conservatories offering plant and animal life from around the world. As temperatures drop and snow blankets the landscape, you can still experience the tropics, arid desert landscapes or spring gardens without purchasing a plane ticket.

What better way to shake the snow from your soul?

Inside the Glass Pyramid

Olbrich’s Bolz Conservatory offers 10,000 square feet of mixed tropical flora and fauna. The pyramid rises 50 feet at the center — high enough to house its 20-foot waterfall and the towering royal palms that take center stage among 650 plants, which include about 80 plant families and more than 475 species and cultivars from a variety of equatorial zones.

Operated jointly by the City of Madison Parks Division and the Olbrich Botanical Society, the conservatory’s environment is controlled by an external weather station that measures the impact of the sunlight and temperatures outdoors to create an indoor environment suitable for its tropical inhabitants. Exterior shades and misting nozzles help maintain an indoor humidity level of 60 percent and temperatures that range between 65 and 80 degrees year- round.

The conservatory, which opened in November 1991, anchors Olbrich Gardens’ 16 acres. The gardens begin to stir in early March, when outdoor beds devoted to roses, dahlias, perennials, annuals and irises begin showing signs of life. 

At the park’s far reaches, shimmering golden in the sun, stands the Thai Pavilion & Garden. The pavilion was a gift to the University of Wisconsin-Madison from the Thai government and the Thai chapter of the Wisconsin Alumni Association. UW-Madison has one of the largest Thai student populations of any U.S. college or university.

Under the Domes

Milwaukee’s Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory invites visitors into three landmark, LED-illuminated domes, each housing a distinct environment.

The tropical dome houses jungle flora from five continents. On any given day, as many as 50 different species might be blooming there. A rushing waterfall, tropical birds and 500 varieties of orchids add to the ambience.

The arid dome is home to one of the Midwest’s finest collections of cacti and succulents, as well as an oasis of pampas grass and desert palms. Visitors can stroll through environments replicating arid regions of Africa, South America and North America.

The third environment, nicknamed the “show dome,” offers five seasonal displays annually. From poinsettias and holiday lights at Christmas to hundreds of lilies at Easter, the displays offer brilliant colors and fragrant aromas to help combat the winter blues.

The domes were built over a period of eight years, from 1959 to 1967, based on a design submitted by local architect Donald Grieb. Each dome offers 1 acre under glass and 750,000 cubic feet of space, rising 85 feet — that’s seven stories — from the lobby level. A team of four full-time horticulturalists tend the plants daily.

In addition to being located in Milwaukee’s first permanently named city park, the domes are the world’s only conoidal (beehive-shaped, as opposed to geodesic) glass houses, according to park officials. Grieb’s unique design offers a superior angle for solar heating and more interior height for tree growth.

More visibly, they also provide a glittering addition to the Milwaukee skyline. Each dome was outfitted with LED lights in the late ‘00s, bringing the Domes into the 21st century and re-attracting visitors to the Milwaukee landmark.

This time of year, the Mitchell Park Domes and Olbrich Botanical Gardens give visitors the opportunities to shake off the winter doldrums with a dose of tropical air, desert foliage and enough plant life to know that spring is just around the corner. 

At the very least, the weather is much more pleasant under glass, and the verdant growth offers a tangible tonic for the frostbitten heart.

In bloom

Olbrich Botanical Gardens are located at 3330 Atwood Ave. on Madison’s East Side. For hours and other information, call 608-246-4550 or go to olbrich.org.

Mitchell Park Conservatory (The Domes) is located at 524 S. Layton Blvd. on Milwaukee’s South Side. Phone 414-257-5611 or visit milwaukeedomes.org.

At Devil’s Lake, vintage rustic architecture adds to the autumn landscape

This time of year, there’s no better public art than our autumn leaves, and one of the best places to see them in Wisconsin is Devil’s Lake State Park. That park’s packed with other sorts of art, too, albeit art that’s a little out of the ordinary. And some of it is at risk. 

One of its most appealing art forms is “parkitecture,” formally known as “National Park Service Rustic.” It’s a real architectural style that was developed in the 1900s, during the Arts and Crafts movement. Among its features are local materials, designed to harmonize with the landscape.

Devil’s Lake has some excellent examples, including the Chateau, a pavilion on the North Shore constructed in 1925. Many of the scattered, open-sided shelter buildings, as well as the park headquarters, were built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, using native quartzite stone.

The park’s often-overlooked Nature Center holds more unorthodox gems. Incredibly, taxidermy is reported to be the latest hipster art fad and, if so, the Nature Center could be a mecca. It contains mounted songbirds, ospreys, otters, foxes, at least three kinds of hawks and seven kinds of owls, as well as living examples of aquatic residents.

Joining them are art photos from the 1910s, original paintings that show the park’s archaeological development and a bas relief topographic map sculpted by Mark Almerlie. Another of his works is in the Visitor Center.

The park also has several Indian mounds, examples of the state’s oldest art form, created around 1,000 years ago. Near the south shore shelter, four 1989 sculptures by Alan Tollakson, collectively titled “Indigenous Reminder,” mimic Native American themes.

The neighboring south shore store is a puzzle and a problem. It features native stone, but when was it built? “I’m guessing it was around the same time when the other stone buildings were built in the park by the CCC,” says Steve Schmelzer, park superintendent with the Department of Natural Resources.

Kevin Flock is general manager and CEO of the Devil’s Lake Concession Corp., which offers souvenirs, refreshments and food at the Chateau and south shore store. He doesn’t know how old the building is, either.

But it’s what’s inside the building that most charms visitors: vintage Art Moderne furniture. Diners and campers can enjoy rose Formica and tubular-chrome chairs and tables that harken to an earlier time while blending perfectly with the general National Park Rustic style.

The Chateau also featured the décor, but in 2011 it was remodeled to make Devil’s Lake appear, ironically, more like a traditional national park.

If you enjoy the décor while looking at autumn leaves, you better take a picture. “It is possible the furniture could be replaced, and a decision should be made no later than May,” Flock says.

Artful Wright house right for art

People who appreciate inviting, glass-framed living rooms, subtle red concrete floors and custom fretwork see Frank Lloyd Wright’s Gordon House as a piece of art. Wright, however, envisioned the two-story residence as a place for art.

The Gordon House in Silverton, Oregon, the only Wright building in Oregon and the only one of his residences open to the public in the Pacific Northwest, has towering walls and plenty of clean-lined spaces that serve as perfect backgrounds for captivating contemporary art.

The concrete-and-wood house, designed by Wright in 1957 for Evelyn and Conrad Gordon, was built from 1963 to 1964 on the Gordons’ farm on the Willamette River near Wilsonville. In 2002, the dwelling was dismantled and moved next to the Oregon Garden.

Evelyn was a weaver and artist who saw her home as an accommodating sequence of galleries to display her paintings, prints and sculptures.

Original paintings, many by Northwest artists, hung on every wall, including in the kitchen where cinder blocks rose 15 feet to meet a skylight.

She had Native American weavings, a metal sculpture by James Shull and — sharing Wright’s passion for Japanese art — a Haku Maki woodblock print.

Roger Hull, curator emeritus of the Hallie Ford Museum of Art in Salem, is helping the nonprofit Gordon House Conservancy reacquire Evelyn’s collection and return it to her beloved home.

One of her pieces, a Charles Heaney oil painting, prompts Hull to say that Wright and Heaney, who moved to Portland as a teenager, were both inspired by the American West and its spacious landscapes that allowed for an interplay of architecture and nature.

Until the collection is reassembled here, art appreciators can view changing exhibits. The upcoming “Wright Angles . . . Home is Where the Art is” features two dozen oil paintings, caricatures and cartoons by Larry Kassell of Silverton.

Like Heaney, Kassell is attracted to relics, from derelict homes and barns to rusty trucks and tractors.

Kassell’s original works will be exhibited through Sept. 1 at the Gordon House, 869 W. Main St., Silverton.

In another exhibit, Roycrofter artisan CJ Hurley of CJ Hurley Century Arts will present his collection of paintings paired with poetry in the Gordon House Living Room Gallery Sept. 6-28. There will also be a reception Sept. 13 for “Houses, Landscapes, Flowers & Dreams, The Poetic Art of CJ Hurley.”  

Year-round, art appreciators can sit the in the built-in library seating and take in Wright’s well-preserved creation, which is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.

Wright was an artist before he was an architect, says Molly Murphy, the Gordon House executive director, “and colored pencils were his famously favorite medium.”

He produced a colored pencil rendering of buildings he designed, including the Gordon House, that represented his vision of the project after an introductory interview with the client.

The original renderings are protected at the Taliesin West archives and his original pencil set is part of the collection at his home and studio in Spring Green, Wisconsin. But the Gordon House sells a 9-inch-by-26-inch art print of the residence’s rendering onsite and on-line for $20.

Wright also enjoyed sketching the flora and landscapes of the natural world, adds Murphy. “He called these his Nature drawings. Some of his fans refer to them as the ‘weed sketches.’”

She continues: “His organic architecture concepts marry the building to the site as though they were always meant to be together. The Gordon House is a wonderful example of this at both its original and current location.”

Wright collected art, especially Japanese prints, which he sold off to support his lifestyle when money was scarce. To help tell this story, Murphy says the Gordon House displays traditional Hiroshige and contemporary Haku Maki artwork.

Through the AP members exchange.

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