FLW in Reverse

While the Wright Walk was my first Wright adventure of the summer, beginning with the Oak Park Home and Studio is most appropriate.  For FLW fans, this summer has overflowed with new Wright experiences:  the Laurent House in Rockford, the Johnson Research Tower in Racine, and the Inside Wright’s Studio Tour with a visit to the studio balcony.  (Sorry, no pictures.  I didn’t pop for the indoor photo pass and forgot to take a few outside shots.)

Wright used his home to solidify his architectural beliefs:  revising, reshaping, and ultimately abandoning that home and office.  During this particular visit, I was again struck by Wright’s ability to design at all eye levels.  Regardless of your height or sitting/standing position, your eyes feasted on shapes, colors, and ingenuity.  An hour exploring each room would still be insufficient time.  Cherie, our guide, pointed out the smaller details that we otherwise might have missed, like the reversed gender roles in the Native American murals in the Wright’s bedroom.

The excitement of the tour was seeing the studio balcony, previously not open to the public.  The bird’s eye view of the studio floor was entertaining; the fireplace was the only unobstructed view.  (Oh, FLW, I love your commitment to your causes.)  The hidden treasure is the ability to see the roof lines of the other wings of the house.  His evolution from a pitched roof to a flat roof was visible.  Again, even looking out the windows at the roof, the small architectural details and the art glass caught your eye.

The balcony also contained three electronic panels with information about the architects who studied with Wright – a welcome addition to the interpretation.  Our group eagerly reviewed the panels and would have loved more biographies.  Once again, Alfonso Iannelli was ignored.  The circumstances of Wright’s departure from Oak Park were also sidestepped – a common criticism of the Trust’s interpretation.  Your eyes are so busy that your brain really isn’t processing audio, which would probably delight FLW.



The horror of birth is oft lost in the profundity of creation.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein graphically explores the tension between the creator and creation or the parent and the child.  Equally famous is the birth of that novel:  a child-centric summer in Switzerland.  Byron fights to see his daughter while impregnating Shelley’s sister; Mary and Percy care for their second child, prepare for the birth of the third, and silently mourn the death of their firstborn; Percy defends a local nanny accused of murdering a child.  The melodrama of these Hideous Progeny was enacted by the Livewire Chicago Theatre company.

Mary creates her monster in an act of catharsis.  The play hints at that act but is content to focus on the raw emotions among the vibrant characters.  The actors do a fine job of balancing the outlandish behaviors with small scenes hinting at the pain hidden by those facades.  The flippant word games and sexual intrigues distract from the talent and intellect of the true life counterparts, but are easier to display.

Returning to the monstrous catharsis, the play provides a context for the novel’s readers and generates the core question:  who is the monster?  The dead firstborn child?  The petty traumas inflicted by the residents in that Swiss summer home?  The difficulties of artistic creation?  The risk of childbirth in that age?  The plight of intellectual woman in that era?  The burden of surviving as a child when your mother died in childbirth?

Mary Shelley was a surviving child and the mother of a dead child and of living children.  She eventually married an artist and was one herself.  She understood biological and intellectual creation.  Her articulate, human, and rage-filled monster symbolized complete creation and the struggle between parent and child or prey and predator.

The dance between prey and predator is displayed in shadow, puppet, and human animal form in Julie Taymor’s The Lion King, at the Cadillac Palace.  Her minimal use of dialogue and music provides a skeleton for the story.  The battles among animals are the bulk of the stage time.  Taymor’s shadows, puppets, and human animals continually stalk, restlessly prowling the stage.  There is no death; there is no creation; there is no angst; there is only the circle of life.  All beings participate.

Taymor’s interpretation of The Lion King deepens the moral lessons of the film and forces the audience to recognize its part in the circle.  The joy at the birth of Simba and sadness at the death of Mustafa are tempered.  The events are expected and are to be respected.  Each creature is subservient to this lifecycle.  Taymor evokes feelings of peace and belonging, where Shelley emphasizes the mystery and violence of birth and death.  Shelley and her creation are outcasts from their families and from society at large.  They are battle-hardened, showing the scars from their dances as both prey and predator.  The consequences of their wounds are on vivid display in the play and in the novel.

Artistically, The Lion King is a complete, thoughtful piece, based on slighter material.  Hideous Progeny struggles to humanize its strong personalities, though its source material is deeper.  Both plays and their complementary works challenge their audiences.  Is birth/death a comforting, cyclic inevitability?  Or are the complexities of birth/death too horrifying to ignore?

The Third Dimension

A couple of years ago, I took a class in stumpwork (three-dimensional) embroidery with one of the world’s leading experts:  Jane Nicholas.  She jetted over from Australia to teach a week long EGA class.  She is probably best known for her anatomically accurate bugs.  She also has a series of bugs done in stumpwork and goldwork that are unbelievable.  She uses a magnifying glass to work them to size.

My Bittersweet & Butterfly Medieval Panel - designed by Jane Nicholas

Our class was “Bittersweet and Butterfly Medieval Panel”, which contained a butterfly, caterpillar, and a bittersweet plant.  To create the 3D leaves, petals, and butterfly wings, you couch wire to a piece of muslin and then embroider over the wire (leaving a tail of wires) and muslin.  After completing the embroidery stitches, you cut out the object and insert the wires through the background/main embroidery piece.  On the back you tack down the wires.

3D Effect of the Panel

The berries are made by wrapping silk around beads and then attaching them to the background.  The border is actually a hand-dyed, red-copper silk ribbon named Hot Flash.   Then gold wire is twisted through beads to create the lattice effect.  The threads are all Soie d’Alger silks.  Love Soie d’Alger.  Needlepoint Inc silks are the best; the Soie d’Alger are a close second.  Both are very soft and supple.  Eterna Silks are good, too.  They have a twist and sheen to them.  NPI and SdA have a matte finish.

Another 3D View

The caterpillar is worked by layering threads and embroidering over the thread layers – gives him a pop.  The dragon fly wings are organza with blending filament for the veins.  The effect is very sparkly.  The whole piece is actually sparkly  – hard to capture in a photograph.

As you can surmise, the process is a tad tedious, especially for a large piece like this.  It’s about 4″ by 9″.  Typically stumpwork pieces are about 2″ to 3″ per side.  I’ve seen some museum pieces that are over a foot per side, which is why those embroiderers went blind at young ages.  I have a few more stumpwork pieces that I plan to do at some point in my lifetime.  Given Phoebe’s proclivity to help, I may have to wait a few years or win the lottery & rent an art studio.  Go Powerball!!!