Sunday, October 6, 2013

the last book I ever read (Frank Lloyd Wright: A Life by Ada Louise Huxtable, excerpt four)

from Frank Lloyd Wright (Penguin Lives) by Ada Louise Huxtable:

Wright’s fame and skill were growing rapidly, and whatever claims he made to a superior, maverick position, he was no longer an outsider. His Chicago and Oak Park connections had contributed to his acceptance by young, affluent, artistic, and intellectual clients. His own office was well established, and he was about to receive an extraordinary proposition. His work had come to the attention of Daniel Burnham, the distinguished Chicago architect who was the guiding spirit of the White City of the 1893 world’s fair. They moved in intersecting circles of successful businessmen and patrons of the arts. The Wrights were invited to dinner at the home of a mutual acquaintance, Edward C. Waller, who apparently believed, with Burnham, that the young man was exceptionally talented, but that his talent was misdirected. As Wright recounted the story in the Autobiography, he was escorted into the host’s library after dinner, where the door was locked and a rather startling private conversation took place over coffee and cigars. Burnham offered to send Wright to Paris for the three-year course at Ecole des Beaux-Arts, since Wright had no formal architectural education, and then to the American Academy in Rome for another two years. He would pay all expenses, and take care of Wright’s wife and children during that time. On Wright’s return, Burnham promised him a partnership in his firm. It was an amazing offer, carrying a guarantee of a prestigious career.

Wright refused. If pure, personal ambition had been all that fueled him, he would never have turned the offer down. If success were all that mattered, Burnham’s proposition would have been instantly accepted. If he was being arrogant, he never pretended to be anything else; he believed completely in himself, his work, and his ideals. If he was as opportunistic and unprincipled as some insist, his reaction is the telling incident of his character and career. Any other young architect would have jumped at the chance to study at the finest schools in Paris and Rome and become a partner in one of the country’s best firms. Wright’s integrity was a flexible thing, depending on opportunity and desire; he could rationalize almost anything if it suited his interests, but this put his innermost beliefs, everything he had constructed, to the test.

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