Though world-renowned (and Wisconsin-born) architect Frank Lloyd Wright is perhaps best remembered for his work in the Prairie Style, this portion of his career was only the first chapter of a much longer story. And so, in honor of the 150th anniversary of the Wright’s birth, the Milwaukee Art Museum is pleased to commemorate multiple aspects of his career—both early and late.
This year marks a whopping 150 years since the birth of world-renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
As institutions across the United States host specials exhibitions and events to mark the occasion, the Milwaukee Art Museum has particular reason to celebrate: although Wright has come to represent Midwestern and American architecture at large, he was born and spent much of his life in our own beloved state of Wisconsin.
If you’ve visited the Museum recently, you know that we take our 125th anniversary seriously. There was cake for “Barbara Brown Lee Day” on May 2, there are three celebratory exhibitions, including a glamorous salon-style rehang of Gallery 10, and an upcoming publication about the roots of the Milwaukee Art Museum in Layton’s Legacy: An Historic American Art Collection.
An anniversary is an excuse to celebrate and an opportunity to engage the community. It is also a chance for us to dig into our history and learn more about our past.
Research is never done!
For my part, when I was in New England this winter, I made a research diversion to Yale University to delve into their Eero Saarinen Archives to find information we could use about the design, inspiration, and creation of the Milwaukee County War Memorial Center.
The museum’s archives contain a small but delightful collection of film and videotapes, detailing all sorts of subjects–from small films produced by the museum for various projects and exhibitions over the course of its history, to an odd yet enchanting assortment of documentary and artist-related footage.
But of all the film gems in the archive, my top favorites are two films of very rare footage of the internationally celebrated architect Frank Lloyd Wright which spans the 1930s into the early 1940s. Both films were donated to the museum from the personal collection of Joan Salzstein. She was the granddaughter of Dankmar Adler, one of the renowned architectural duo Adler & Sullivan, who changed Chicago’s skyline at the turn of the 20th century. Wright worked for and studied under Adler, and his granddaughter Joan became a regular visitor to Wright’s home and farm at Taliesin in Spring Green, Wisconsin, for many years.
Though the soaring wings of the dramatic Santiago Calatrava building sometimes steal the show, the Milwaukee Art Museum’s Quadracci Pavilion is just one of two internationally significant architectural gems here on the Museum campus.
The other is the bold Saarinen masterpiece 1957 Milwaukee County War Memorial Center.
Modernist architect Eero Saarinen (American, b. Finland 1910–1961) is known for dramatic design accomplishments like the St. Louis Gateway Arch (1965), JFK Airport’s TWA Flight Center terminal (1962), and the iconic “Tulip chair” (1955). He took over the Milwaukee County War Memorial Center commission at the death of his father, Eliel Saarinen (Finnish, 1873–1950). The designs called for an arts complex that would “Honor the Dead by Serving the Living,” including a museum, performing arts center, and veterans’ memorial.
On the western facade of Saarinen’s Modernist concrete, steel, and glass floating cruciform is a purple and blue tile mosaic. You probably see this mural best when driving toward the building on Mason Street.
I had been working in this stunning building for several years before I finally paused to ask: What is that mosaic? What do the letters mean? Who is the artist?
I have always loved architecture. As a child, nothing excited me more than a big old Victorian farmhouse. Greek Revival, Carpenter Gothic, Second Empire, Queen Anne—I was probably one of the only Wisconsin middle-schoolers who knew the nuances of American house design and could read—and draw—a floor plan.
As an undergraduate, one of my majors was Classical Civilization, and my interest in architecture easily translated to ancient buildings. When I studied in Rome during my junior year and was able to see ruins that I had been studying in photographs, I was so excited.
I actually cried a little when I walked into the Pantheon for the first time!
Working in the European department at the Milwaukee Art Museum doesn’t allow me a lot of possibilities to directly study architecture, but I have found one way to explore it indirectly. Tucked away in the corner of the Italian Baroque gallery (Gallery #6) is a painting that most visitors probably miss. It is Architectural Fantasy with Figures attributed to Girolamo Mengozzi (Italian, ca. 1688–ca. 1766).
Big things are happening in November at the Milwaukee Art Museum – from lectures and classes to after-hours soirees and artist visits. This is the place to be!
Thursday, November 3: See the art for free on Target Free First Thursday. The Museum is open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Stop in for two Express Talks on Impressionism, one at noon and another at 5:30.
Saturday, November 5: Come be a part of the dialogue with curator Lisa Hostetler and photographer Taryn Simon as part of “Coffee, Art, and Conversation” at 10:30 a.m. Learn more about Taryn Simon: Photographs and Texts, and talk to the artist directly via Skype. Plus veterans receive free admission all day, and a special discount in the Museum Store.
The Museum has a jam-packed week of events, lectures, and more, which means there’s plenty to do and see! Let’s get started!
On Tuesday, April 12, there’s a Frank Lloyd Wright Gallery Talk scheduled for 1:30 p.m. and on Thursday, April 14, there’s a Frank Lloyd Wright Express Talk scheduled for noon. Come in and learn even more about “America’s greatest architect” and why he is still so relevant today.
“… Remember this, that society always continues. That the past always hangs to the future by a thread. And organic architecture and the thought behind it and the philosophy it represents is going to be that thread. I am sure of it. …” –Frank Lloyd Wright
Recently, while sifting through hundreds of reel-to-reel recordings of past lectures, our Audio Visual Librarian Beret Balestrieri Kohn stumbled upon a lecture labeled “Historical Master: Reel #93 Frank Lloyd Wright 1940-50 – Lecture at Episcopal at Nashotah.” We sent the recording away for professional transfer and, upon its return, settled into a quiet office to listen to a lecture we thought would be about the work of Frank Lloyd Wright from 1940-1950.
It’s another busy week at the Museum, and it includes a free admission day! There’s plenty of art and activities for adults and kids alike—you don’t want to miss out.
This Thursday, March 3, is another Target Free First Thursday and your first opportunity to see the feature exhibition Frank Lloyd Wright: Organic Architecture for the 21st Century for free!
On Thursday evening, there is a lecture on Mrs. Olgivanna Lloyd Wright and her influence on her husband. The lecture begins at 6:15 p.m. in Lubar Auditorium and includes a screening of “A Girl is a Fellow Here: 100 Women Architects in the Studio of Frank Lloyd Wright.” It’s a great opportunity to learn more about life at Taliesin and the role women played in Wright’s work.
In addition, there is a Book Sale from March 3 through March 6 inside Windhover Hall; this is your chance to purchase books (and select items from the Museum Store!) at a discounted rate. Proceeds go to the Museum’s book acquisition fund.