June 9, 2007

Was I a decent docent?

My 2 hours are up. I've been saying things like: "This is the Fred B. Jones Gatehouse, which was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1901 for Fred B. Jones, who was in the business of making brass fittings for Pullman cars. Fred B. Jones, a bachelor, loved to give big parties, and this house was for the caretaker, but also for the overflow of party guests."

Was I a decent docent?

I'm taking a moment, resting by the stonework walls, thinking about whether I'd been too critical of the owners who replaced two windows with a set of double doors onto the terrace and whether I'd been too law professor-y questioning people about whether Frank Lloyd Wright would approve of the way the new owners have set the dining table at an angle and painted a Robert Frost quote above the fireplace like that:

The living room of the Fred B. Jones Gatehouse

ADDED: I was at the Gatehouse, which is about 1200 square feet. But Fred himself stayed in this beautiful house (when he came to Delavan on vacation).

Fred B. Jones House in Delavan, Wisconsin

It's quite magnificent inside, but I wasn't allowed to take pictures. I'll just show you the door:

Fred B. Jones House in Delavan, Wisconsin

Wide, no? Mr. Jones was a very fat man. He gave great parties, back in the early 1900s. What kind of parties? Who were the guests? He was a "bachelor"? I ask the docent at the main house whether Jones was gay. He says they didn't talk about it that way back then, so we don't know. I said but this is the way we talk about it now. If they say someone in the past was a "bachelor," what we say now is: Was he gay? I was trying to get the answer because I was about to start my docenting, and I figured if I say he was a bachelor, people are going to ask me if he was gay. But it turns out, no one does.

Don't you love the stonework?


That's from the Boathouse. Destroyed by arson in 1979, but rebuilt according to Wright's plan:

Fred B. Jones Boathouse in Delavan, Wisconsin

Everyone was saying, I want to live out here:

The Fred B. Jones Boathouse

It's all open air, and it must get awfully cold in the winter. But the feeling of the place was so beautiful, that you still wanted to commit to living here, under this roof, with no walls, reveling in the breeze from Lake Delavan.


The Drill SGT said...

My understanding of Wright was that he was a pain in the ass as a designer. When you paid him a commission, you had to buy into the whole package. Meaning, house, and complete furnishing down to the silverware. then he delivered over budget and late. But he did integrate his designs with the whole house and nature. he was really doing art, not design.

yes, I think wright would care about th windows, I understand he came back to check, but screw him.. it wasnt his house after all.

Galvanized said...

Ahhh, the stonework is lovely, and the boathouse with different textures and contrast. I wish they had chosen a less-quoted quote, though, or a different font for it up there. I don't know why I don't like it up there, but it just doesn't seem to fit the decor. And what a cool project for a day, huh!

Unknown said...

I love the stonework.

Who cares Wright was a pain in the neck to work with. If he listened to his clients too much, I don't think anyone would be reading about him today.

The Guggenheim, for example, is a terrible museum for modern art. Modern Art tends to be huge, and it doesn't hang very well on curved walls. But who cares? The building itself is usually better than anything that happens to be hanging in the building at the time.

I'd live in a Wright house in a second. Too bad he despised New York and we don't have much of his work around the city.

XWL said...

I've always gotten a "life long bachelor" vibe off this Fred Jones, too.

(must be the ascot)

PeterP said...

My understanding of Wright was that he was a pain in the ass as a designer.

Wasn't he more than a tad of the Nietzschean Fountainhead sort of fellow too?

No matter, he makes a great song.

Ann Althouse said...

I kept picturing Wright returning and yelling about the aesthetic violations in the house. Over the course of 2 hours, I got to feel quite outraged myself about the replacement of the windows with doors. It wrecked what was a horizontal line that ran around the room, and it changed the shape of the view of the landscape, causing the terrace to be included instead of blocked by the wall under the window. These two things were crucial.

As for the Frost quote, although I think painting slogans on the wall was something he did, it bothered me that the quote was one that did not exist in 1901.

lee david said...

I took the tour of Taliesin West last year. The place is striking in its angularity. The furnishings are stark and uncomfortable and seem for the most part to be designed to not detract from the lines of the buildings (ergonomics, fagedaboudit). It seems like that guy hated curves until he liked them, and then he really liked them ( see the guggenheim and the marin civic center), it was all or nothing I guess. I liked the openess of the design with the large windows for the natural lighting, although I think they had some problems with it getting a bit toasty in the summer.

From all that I've read, FLW was a brilliant, pompous, imperious, pain with vision. Practical, not so much. How much does it take to maintain those beautiful wood floors in the boat house after a Wisconson winter. Wright had a vision and the client was to submit totally. When I look at most of his work I see a set designed by FLW for FLW. The owners and clients were facilitators and mere actors on, and in his set pieces. I think that some of his design elements are way cool but I have yet to see one of his buildings that didn't sacrifice useability to the line.

Mark Daniels said...

It's interesting that people didn't ask whether Mr. Jones was gay or not. Frankly, I think people have grown rather bored with the whole, "Was/Is he/she gay or not?" line of questioning.

And it's probably about time. To me, it's always seemed somewhat absurd to describe people as gay or straight as though by describing how they prefer to be sexually says something pervasive about them personally. So you're straight? Or gay? What do you do the other 23-1/2-hours of your days?

Mark Daniels

hygate said...

It seems to me that the person who chose the "road less traveled" quote to paint over the fireplace is entirely incapable of self-reflection or is displaying their deep sense of irony.

ricpic said...

I gaurantee one thing: people who proclaim their independence with quotes about "the road less traveled" are creatures of the herd.

Christy said...

That looks like a lovely house and I do like the stonework. Intellectually I have a deep admiration for Wright. Physically and emotionally I found "Falling Waters," the FLW house near Pittsburgh, distressing. Seriously, the horizontalness of it all gave me an anxiety attack.

PatCA said...

I visit the Delavan lake area a every couple of years but missed that, so now here's another good reason to return. I'd love to live there one day--I guess home just gets into your blood.

Unknown said...

"Too bad he despised New York and we don't have much of his work around the city."

It's better that he did. He was bigger and better than New York, and he knew it. Pearls before swine, and all that. So while Wright was very much the prima donna, this is yet another reason to cherish him as a man of extremely good taste and wisdom. The Guggenheim is very rare; he very much disliked the urban environment for obvious reasons. He had the wisdom to know where he talents were best executed. Too many folks do not.

Anyway, regarding the font of the quote over the fireplace, it's a typical Arts and Crafts font, which is appropriate for the home, which was one of Wright's last in the Arts and Crafts style. In 1902, he built his first Prairie Style home, the Ward Willits House in Highland Park, Illinois.

Any yes, undoubtedly switching out the windows with doors undoubtedly screwed it up. Too bad. Wright could be out-engineered; but rarely out-designed. Folks should restrain themselves from trying to improve upon his designs.

Anonymous said...

A relative of one of the current owners said some time ago that the sign over the fireplace has to do with giving back to others because you've been so fortunate...

You figure it out. I never could.
I don't think they quite understand that line from Frost's poem, because I don't believe Frost was commenting on noblesse oblige with the line they chose to put up there.

Who knows.
I suppose we're fortunate that they decided to restore the home rather than renovate it or worse.
As for the doors and the unoriginal sign with the questionable quote: restraint should have been exercised, I agree.

But then again, they own the place.

But then again, restraint would have been the (w)right road to take.

In my oh so humble...etc.