As I’ve noted previously in this blog, I love art biographies. While an undergraduate art student, I memorized a few dates, locations, and names of buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, but never knew much about him, so I recently read Meryle Secrest’s Frank Lloyd Wright: A Biography.

Based on Secrest’s account, I now picture FLW as an intolerant, delusional a**hole who thought his artistic talents an excuse for abhorrent treatment of friends, family, and business partners. Strangely though, the a**hole became slightly more loveable as I finished the book. I admired his vision and stalwartness (is that a word?), but find it hard to imagine a person so oblivious to others.

I often fold down the corners of book pages when I read something  that I may want to reference again. Here’s what I bookmarked in Secrest’s FLW biography (page numbers are based on the 1992 University of Chicago Press paperback edition):


Page 114: Writing about the “American house” around the turn of the century (19th to 20th), Secrest quotes FLW as saying, “It was vulgar, wickedly extravagant, a national waste, ‘a moral, social, aesthetic excrement.’” Later in the paragraph Secrest writes that the first argument between FLW and his first wife Kitty came “as she objected to his plans to inscribe ‘mottoes’ around their house, and he just as heatedly insisted. What he wanted were daily exhortations, reminders of right matters, right morals, right reflections upon the nature of things. Despite her, he managed to have ‘Truth Is Life!’ carved over the fireplace of their first living room.”

I’m not sure if I folded this page because of the wonderful phrase “moral, social, aesthetic excrement,” or because FLW would say such things and then insist on emblazoning his home with cheesy inspirational sayings.

Page 186: “For Americans oriented toward the Arts and Crafts Movement, Japan offered ‘the example of an indigenous culture that embodied the organic quality they found in the middle ages,’ as Richard Guy Wilson wrote.”

Yes Secrest is quoting Wilson, but I’m collecting sentences by writers who may or may not realize their verbage makes me snicker, and the “oriented toward … Japan” is a good one.

Page 429: “[FLW] would argue a point vehemently until she [his third wife], to end the fight, would drop her opposition. Sometime later, having changed his mind, he would chastise her for having allowed him to make such a fool of himself.”

 I think I folded down this page because this seemed like typical a**hole behavior that I can regretfully see myself having been guilty of, but that I hope I’ve removed from my repertoire. Secrest writes like a psychoanalyst, and this is a good example of what she does well.

That’s it! There were a few other folded-down pages that left me wondering why they were folded down, or couldn’t sum them up in this blog post. I finished the book a couple of months ago and was happy I did. Secrest writes pretty well, but not so well that you’d read the book if you weren’t interested in the subject. Sorry Secrest, but I’m comparing you to my favorites like Borges, who could write about the hair growing out of his nose and I’d be thrilled.

Anyone else read Secrest’s FLW book?