Creativity can consume a person, and it can take a creative person on a wild ride. Architect Frank Lloyd Wright had two working studios: Taliesin East in Spring Green, Wisconsin and Taliesin West, in Scottsdale, Arizona. I’ve taken the tour twice, each time with a different docent, and have come away with an interesting view of “Mr. Wright,” as all the docents call him. No one uses his first name. Judging from what I heard, he probably left that directive in his will.
Mr. Wright was in possession of a generous portion of ego, which he may have well needed. He had different ideas, and different ideas were not always welcomed with open arms in the late 1920s and 30s America. Wright caused his career to collapse when, after 20 years of marriage, he fell in love with Mamah (pronounced May-Mah) Cheney, the wife of a client, Edwin Cheney. Neither Wright’s wife nor Cheney’s husband would grant a divorce, so Wright and Mamah left for Europe to enjoy each other’s company.
No doubt he had to face the difficult side of his life. Over his long career, Wright had three wives, at least one mistress, eight children, and lost Mamah Cheney to an employee who set the house on fire, then attacked the victims with an axe. Years later (in 1922) his wife granted him a divorce. He married his then-partner, Maude Noel, an opium addict in 1923. That marriage lasted roughly a year. About the time he
married his third wife, Olgavanna Milanoff, in 1928, he had established a love of travel, but a difficulty in finding work. His work on Graycliff, FallingWater, the Guggenheim and hundreds of other projects, kept him traveling.
During his travels, he would often send back interesting pieces of architectural elements to Olgavanna. One of these was a faucet, shaped like a dragon. When Olgavanna opened the package, she declared that a dragon would hate to be surrounded by water. She had a stone and cement column on one of the walkways of Taliesin West drilled to accommodate a gas pipe, and the dragon still breathes fire onto the column every evening. The dragon is now entirely blackened, but whether it shapes a proud sihouette in the day or breathes fire at night, the fiery dragon embodies the bright spirit and determined vision of Frank Lloyd Wright.
–Quinn McDonald is a writer and life- and creativity coach who teaches workshops on writing.