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The Fellowship: The Untold Story of Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Fellowship Hardcover – August 22, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
Few architects have gained the level of professional achievement and popular notoriety of Frank Lloyd Wright, who's as famed for his bullheadedness, abuse of underlings, condescension to his clients and his numerous wives as he is for his indisputable masterpieces of American architecture. In their biography, Friedland and Zellman skim over the typical historiography and gleefully delve into Wright's secrets and scandals, focusing on the cultish atmosphere, the mystical teachings and especially, the sexual indiscretions at Taliesin, his studio-commune where he commanded a near-messianic following. There are no major revelations, but the narrative is riveting, endowing its historical characters with all the drama of contemporary tabloid celebrities. However, heavy reliance on the dusty and probably skewed memories of interviewees produces some anecdotes that sound more like exaggerated cocktail gossip than historic fact. Occasionally, the authors use awkward psychoanalysis to account for Wright's architectural practices, such as interpreting his prairie houses' lack of basements or attics as an attempt to erase the painful memories he suffered in those spaces as a child. While the book may appeal to those more curious about the man than his achievements, readers may find the focus on all the indiscretions at Taliesin underwhelming. (Sept. 1)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Whatever visionary brilliance Frank Lloyd Wright possessed as an architect did not extend to his talent for structural engineering, nor, as this often-searing account shows, did he succeed at engineering human lives and souls. Wright was famously individualistic, stubborn, and egotistical. But that's only the beginning of the epic soap opera that roiled around him as Wright extended his franchise to two cultlike, communal encampments, in Wisconsin and Arizona, known as Taliesin (Welsh for "shining brow"). Aspiring architects, designers, and cultural misfits flocked to Wright, apprenticing more often as manual laborers than as draftsmen or creators. Wright's imperious style was matched by that of his third wife, Olgivanna, a disciple of George Gurdjieff, the Russian mystic whose sense of the spiritual content of cosmic forces echoed Wright's belief in the transformative power of nature. Friedland and Zellman's long but absorbing book paints an uneasy history of Taliesin, involving problematic sexual relationships, tax collectors, prima donnas, draft resisters, dancing angels, long-suffering clients, parental malpractice, and, not least, in its role as training ground, an astounding record of failure. Steve Paul
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Top Customer Reviews
He seems to have lacked a moral compass and had no problem manipulating his peers and
apprentices who actually paid to work as serfs to build his two compounds. His last wife
Olgivanna who worshipped Gurdjieff, a Rasputin-like character, prior to meeting Wright was
every bit as controlling. They both managed to build the fellowship into a cult following which
rivals Warren Jeffs and the Branch Davidians. His design genius lives on and belies Wright's
disturbing personal history which must have haunted many of his apprentices as well this
detailed history by Friedland & Zellman may haunt you.
Secondly, I'm very impressed with author's thorough research and attempt at making it available to us.
Now, after having said this, I'm not sure if reading of the book will leave you with less questions, as it certainly didn't in my case, but I'm not sure how far that is related to the authors or the quality of the book itself, but rather the subject(s); i.e. why did it attract as many 'students' as it did, prepared to pay a huge sum of money ? It certainly describes very well why many left, and it's easy to understand and sympathize with them. In the epilogue the authors compare the 'output' in terms of quality with institutions like MIT where the famous Germans taught (the 'enemies' according to Wright), and the Fellowship falls behind, according to them. Apart from missing some names of other famous Architects who came thru there (the Fellowship), and are still making their mark in the Architectural community, I'm wondering if fame can be a gage, or the only one (or whether there are more). Anyway, it seems we're looking at an enigma, while reading, and although we read the intimate stories, the 'behind the scenes', we're not getting much closer to understanding it.
There are just so many paradoxes, so many bizarre facts that would make you want to turn around and get out asap, that you wonder; is it charisma ? And not only Frank, but Olgivanna as well ? Maybe if there's something missing, it's the more personal motivating stories (assuming there must be).