Envision a lanky Frank Lloyd Wright riding full gallop through the Illinois prairies, enormous cloak flying in the wind. Imagine him zooming around town in a flashy red sportster.
After taking an official tour lead by knowledgeable volunteers at the Oak Park Home and Studio these images, a glimpse into the flamboyant character of a creative genius, will linger.
With an almost compulsive dedication to the principle that form follows function, along with other innovative and original concepts, including the introduction of Japanese art and design, the Prairie school of architecture was established here by Frank Lloyd Wright. At the birthplace of it all, concepts, history, and early examples of the architect’s emerging style are enthusiastically shared with visitors.
America’s best-known and revered architect attended the University of Wisconsin, Madison, School of Architecture for one year before he decided he knew enough to design buildings. With his boss’ generous $5,000 loan, he bought a tract of land in the wide open prairies west of Chicago, married the woman who would be mother of their six children, and designed his first home at the ripe age of twenty.
Stories of Wright’s children and a visit to their stupendous playroom reveals how dear family was to Mr. Wright. Touring through the personal home of the man who reinvented an art form is moving; the intimate contact with the fixtures, murals, art glass and furnishings, a rare treat. The German building blocks little Frank toyed with as a child are particularly poignant.
Love of family and personal reminders of the extent of Wright’s contribution to art and architecture easily counterbalances some less seemly aspects of his history. In spite of the generous loan started his illustrious career, Wright famously built bootleg houses - likely as much to halt the proliferation of Victoriana (a style that Wright despised so deeply that he altered his window heights to block the sight of the neighbors’ homes) as anything. Regardless of his motivation, the result of his over-ambition was to be fired from the famous firm of Louis Sullivan.
Clearly, Wright was not only a bold genius at design and innovation, he was also a master of self-promotion and marketing. Sooner or later he would have to emerge independently.
His firm, located beneath the family home, is a stunning example of form and function, as you‘d expect. As creativity ground zero, hotbed of innovation, school for Wright proteges, one almost feels the lingering presence of creative giants in the room today - specters bent over drafting boards, churning out ideas ever new in the form of breathtaking designs.
Examples of Wright’s work is evident all over Oak Park. Following the tour, take map in hand, (sold at various outlets around town) and visit numerous examples under a canopy of giant shade trees. After experiencing the insights gleaned from the tour, it will be easy to imagine Mr. Wright looking back from behind a signature leaded glass window.
Yes, Frank, it’s all about you.