It was at the little cabaret theater at Taliesin West. The fellowship was gathering for the weekly social event, when Mr. and Mrs. Wright had dinner, and saw a movie . The first time I saw Mr. Wright, was on a Saturday evening in November of 1951. apprentices. Everyone was dressed up for the occasion, and we stood waiting for the Wrights to walk into the theater.
I had been an apprentice for slightly over a day, largely preoccupied with becoming acquainted with my new environment. I had learned English in high school as a second language, but I never had a reason or a chance to use it until I came to America.
I was about to see for the first time the man who had inhabited my mind and soul for the previous three years, while I lived in Cairo. With the many layers of anticipations and expectation I had projected on him, he had become something of an abstraction that I clung to in order to retain my sense of myself.
As I laid my eyes on him when he walked into the theater, I was looking at a very handsome, imposing figure, with an interesting face, framed in his famous mane of white hair. He looked at me with kind eyes and a warm smile, and asked me if I was comfortable in my new surroundings.
The following eight years constituted my period of apprenticeship and association with the greatest architect of all time. Like my fellow apprentices, I learned my craft by living and working in the company of genius. My day started, progressed and ended in a pervasive atmosphere of creativity and strong beliefs. I learned from him, simply by being close to him, walking the same earth and breathing the same air. When I heard him speak, it was like listening to the voice of the ages. He possessed a sense of eternal wisdom, which included the present moment in the progression of history. He was a cosmos unto himself, much like a natural force, which received its instructions from an intangible universe.
The most precious moments for me, were the times he came to my desk, gently moved me over, shared my seat with me, and worked on my drawing.
Magic sprang out of his hands, as he moved them swiftly and decisively, enhancing the complexion of the design. The statements, instructions and comments he made to me then, remain engraved in my sensibilities.
One late morning on another Saturday, eight years after the Saturday I first met Mr. Wright, he was standing at my desk discussing with me and instructing me as I was working on a spectacular residence he had designed to be built on three adjacent peaks on Mummy Mountain, in Paradise Valley, for Mrs. Daniel Donahoe of Texas. He had already signed off on the design, but in vintage Mr. Wright, the building is finished only after it had been built. It was about noon, after an hour or so of work. Then Mrs. Wright breezed in the drafting room and said,“Frank, it is time for lunch.” And asked him to accompany her.
Later on that evening, being a Saturday, we, all dressed up, waited outside the theater for Mr. and Mrs. Wright to arrive for the evening event.
The wait was longer than usual. Then someone came to tell us that Mr. Wright was taken to the hospital to be operated on, having had severe abdominal pains during the afternoon.
The news was particularly shocking for me, since I was just working with him a few hours earlier. He was ninety-two years old, but he was very healthy. According to his doctor, he had the vital signs of a forty-five year old. I remember times when I needed to run to catch up with him. I expected him to return in a few days. But a few days later, my good friend Davy Davison, walked to my tent at five o’clock in the morning, I had just awakened, and said,
“Mr. Wright is gone.”
The news was so devastating to me that it actually threw me off-center.
Observing my devastation, Mrs. Wright asked me to tend his grave, mow the lawn, plant the flowers, and generally care for the environment around him.
She came to visit her husband’s grave almost every day. We knelt by the stone circle around it and shared some soulful moments, as we snipped off dead blossoms in order to preserve energy for new growth.
It was during that period that I realized that I was tending the grave of one of the founding fathers of this country. I was making an in-depth study of the history of the United States, and discovering that it is the most interesting and fascinating of all time. The more I read of it, the more I could see that Mr. Wright’s cultural contribution was an organic growth of what this country was all about.
He was born eighty years after the constitutional convention in Philadelphia.
During those eighty years, there were the Federalist Papers, eighty-five essays published by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay, in order to promote the ratification of the constitution. Then there was the Marshal Court, which rendered the decisions that started the process of defining the intent of the constitution, as a basis for establishing the different institutions of the country. Then there was the challenge of the war of 1812, which Andrew Jackson brought to a spectacular American victory against the finest British troops in the battle of New Orleans, forcing Britain to recognize the United States claim to Louisiana and west Florida. Then there was the crisis of nullification of tariffs, spear- headed by John C. Calhoun of South Carolina,) then the senate Force Act introduced by Daniel Webster. Then there was the Henry Clay compromise which averted conflict for a time. That was followed by the civil war and reconstruction.
By then, America was on her way to becoming a global force.
What was sorely lacking was an aesthetic identity which sprang from the soil of this country expressing the uniqueness of the ideas and forces which converged for the first time in history, to create this society. The prevailing aesthetic was borrowed from classically feudal cultures which the idea of America was intended to resist. In the country’s capital, Washington DC, government functions were and largely remain unceremoniously trapped in Greek or Roman temples.
The monumental efforts made by many during the first eighty years of the life of this country, eventually established a structure upon which, this society was built. The work was focused on the survival of the country. But the soul of the republic needed to emerge, in order to express in a tangible way, the meaning of the inner freedom of every American citizen, as an independent mind.
Two years after the civil war, Frank Lloyd Wright was born, on a farm in Wisconsin. It was the signal that an American aesthetic was about to be created. As a hard-working young man, then a young architect in Chicago, the spirit of America, from the Declaration of Independence, through the many events which highlighted the dignity of the individual, were natural components of his make up. Some time in his youth, he decided that he had a part to play in the realization of the dream which is America.
Very quickly he saw himself as the instrument needed for this unique culture to blossom into a visual expression defining its intent as a way of life.
The way to do that was to become an architect, whose contribution was to enhance God’s work, by building structures springing from and belonging to the soil supporting this culture.
For seventy years of practice, against the overwhelming habitual sentiments of the herd instincts, he did accomplish his purpose, and made a contribution which helped to define America. The five hundred buildings he built stand on God’s earth declaring the sovereignty of the individual. By simply doing his work, he gave permission to architects across the twentieth century to explore every conceivable structure. There would not have been twentieth century architecture without him
That was the second Declaration of Independence.