One of the most famous people to have hailed from the Driftless Area, Frank Lloyd Wright has a milestone birthday today, June 8. The date marks the beginning of many different celebrations and events throughout the state and beyond in honor of the famous architect.
It was 150 years ago that Wright was born in Richland Center to William Cary Wright and Anna Lloyd Jones. He went on to spend much of his youth in Madison, attending Madison High School and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Although he did not graduate officially, Wright was granted an honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts from the University in 1955.
Wright made his home in Spring Green on a property that had originally belonged to his maternal family who had emigrated from Wales.
Completed in 1911, the Taliesin served as an estate and refuge for Wright, despite the ongoing issues with the building, including multiple fires over the years and the grizzly murders of six people, including Wright’s mistress Martha Mamah’ Borthwick and her children.
Julian Carlton, the disgruntled butler at Taliesin committed the murders in 1914. Some consider this event to be the single worst mass murder in Wisconsin’s history.
A second Taliesin, known as Taliesin West was Wright’s winter home from 1937 until his death in 1959 at the age of 91.
It was there at Taliesin West that the archives of Wrights designs were kept for many years.
A.D. German who was looking to revamp his warehouse in Richland Center (also originally designed by Wright) by adding a café and rooftop restaurant originally commissioned Wright to create the designs for the furniture in the 1930s.
These designs had been long tucked away at Taliesein West and previously at Taliesin in Spring Green at times kept under lock and key.
“The archives were very difficult to access,” explained Don Lampert, the Vice President of the Board of the A.D. German Warehouse Conservancy. “The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation had an iron fist on them (the archives) for a very long time.”
Eventually, the archives made their way to the Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library at Columbia University.
In 2013, selected materials from the Foundations achieves were made available for research and consultation by appointment only at the university.
However in 2016, the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation named Stuart Graff its President and CEO. A business leader trained in intellectual property, Graff seemed to have an understanding of what the foundation could offer by allowing others to view the archives of Wright’s work.
“Graff opened the whole thing up,” Lampert said. “He said (of the archives) ‘what good are they unshared?’”
Knowing that A.D. German had commissioned Wright to redesign the warehouse, Lampert thought that there might be furniture designs as well.
“I had asked around, but no one knew, they weren’t sure, so I decided to hop on Google and look for Frank Lloyd Wright inspired furniture designs,” Lampert said. “I have a friend who does graphic design and thought we could just design some of our own in Wright’s design for the warehouse.”
“I did the Google search, and guess what popped right up?” an excited Lampert asked. “The designs for the furniture commissioned by A.D. German!”
As it turns out, a student at Virgina Tech had utilized the recently opened and organized archives to help write her thesis paper.
Lampert couldn’t have been happier to find the real thing. He immediately reached out to have permission granted to have the designs brought to life.
It only seemed natural for Lampert, a Gays Mills resident, to ask local furniture maker Joe Schwarte to complete the task.
Schwarte designed his first piece of furniture, while serving in the army in 1967. He continued creating and designing furniture throughout his life and came to own Joseph Schwarte Custom Furniture.
Designing thoughtfully, often with a mid-century modern feel, Schwarte was a natural choice to recreate Wright’s designs.
“It was a pretty cool, pinch me kind of moment,” Schwarte said of being asked to recreate Wright’s designs.
The initial pieces Schwarte completed were the café table and chair. The pieces were funded through a small-scale fundraising effort. The effort on Schwarte’s part seemed to be an honor, despite the challenges presented.
“The biggest challenge was the copy of the plans was not very clear,” Schwarte observed. “But knowing proper proportion, I was able to figure it out.”
Making the small table and chair was somewhat a strategic move on Schwarte’s part, who knew there would be challenges and questions on the design. “I of course, did the easier ones first.
“The second table we will need some more information on, from the plans, structurally they may not fly, but I’ll build one and see how it goes,” the local furniture maker said,
The opportunity to make the never before seen furniture has turned out to be a highlight for Schwarte.
“If a client calls up, you get asked to build or copy something Frank Lloyd Wright already did,” Schwate said. “Many people turn that down, morally, not wanting to copy someone’s work, but this isn’t a copy, it’s the real thing, so it’s Kosher.”
Schwarte completed the small but elegant set out of walnut and cherry.
“Generally, Frank Lloyd Wright used oak and birch plywood. Although he had rich clients who could pay him to make grand buildings, he also wanted to make affordable things for regular people,” Lampert said. “It wasn’t until last week however, did I get a chance to read through the entire thesis again where I found the original plans, and discovered that in fact the furniture was designed to be made of white oak.”
It seems as though opening the recreation of the furniture is keeping the spirit of Wright alive.
“Frank Lloyd Wright wanted to make nurtured spaces that inspired people, and that is what we should keep doing today,” Lampert said.
Plans going forward for the A.D. German Warehouse hope to also keep Wright’s spirit of inspiration alive in the town of his birth.
“We would like to open up a darkroom for people to rent and use, and allow for a gallery space and maybe a small café in the future,” Lampert said.
For more information or to visit the A.D. German Warehouse in Richland Center, where the completed furniture is now housed visit www.facebook.com/germanwarehouse or call 608-604-5034 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.