Category Archives: special collections

Friday Finds: The Arts and Crafts Movement

The Arts and Crafts Movement - CoverGillian Naylor’s 1971 book The Arts and Crafts Movement: A Study of Its Sources, Ideals and Influence on Design Theory explores theory and purposes of the Arts and Crafts movement.  According to Naylor, “its motivations were social and moral, and its aesthetic values derived from the conviction that society produces the art and architecture it deserves” (pg. 7).  This is, in part, what Naylor seeks to understand.  By placing the Arts and Crafts movement in its historical context, as well as demonstrating how the movement fits in the larger field of design.

Starting from Britain and moving into other European countries and the United States, the Arts and Crafts movement had a profound influence on design.  The movement encouraged the consideration of society in design, as architecture and popular designs are the product of the society in which they are created.  Also, one aspect of the movement encouraged the making of products by hand, rather than by machine.  This was most particular to Britain, where there “was the conviction that industrialization had brought with the total destruction of ‘purpose, sense and life'” (pg. 8).   So the encouragement of handmade products became a major aspect of the Arts and Crafts Movement.  Taking the reader through the history of the movement, and even the figures and events which led to the movement, from Pugin and Ruskin to William Morris to the guilds, so that Naylor concurrently provides a history of design.  She explores design and the changes in trends through the designs and lives of the major figures who made the Arts and Crafts Movement possible.

In fact, The Arts and Crafts Movement is considered one of the early seminal texts  on the history of design.  Published in 1971, the book was written in the midst of a challenging time in Naylor’s career, as she sought to shift from writing popular magazine articles to more scholarly endeavors.  Naylor became one of the first female writers at Design magazine in 1957, run by the Council for Industrial Design (COID).  As such, such was assigned pieces related to “women’s interests.”  Through this position and the pieces she wrote for Design, Naylor gained expertise in the field of design and design history.  After giving birth to her son (having a child, her contract with Design dictated, meant she had to resign her position), she did some freelance writing for Design, but ultimately focused on writing scholarly works on the history of design and architecture, eventually becoming a professor of the subject.  At a time when women were still forced to leave their jobs after becoming mothers, Naylor managed to continue to pursue her passion for design history and become one of the foremost experts on the topic, writing several texts which remain some of the most influential in the field of design, including The Arts and Crafts Movement (Pavitt, Jane. “Gillian Naylor (1931-2014).” Journal of Design History, Volume 27, Issue 2.  2014.).

Arguably, the life of Gillian Naylor was just as fascinating and important as the book she wrote is influential.  Not only did she write one of the defining texts of design history, but she also wrote two major books about the Bauhaus (The Bauhaus in 1968 and The Bauhaus Reassessed in 1985).  Naylor serves as a reminder of the many challenges and hurdles women faced in building careers as recently as the 1960s.  She was relegated to “women’s topics” as a writer at Design and yet went on to become one of the most respected scholars on design history in Britain.  A member of a panel which awarded Naylor an honorary doctorate in 1987 noted that, “‘If Sir Nikolaus Pevsner is the father of design history, then Gillian Naylor is its favorite aunt.'”  Examining the career of Gillian Naylor, though, it is clear that she is far more than a favorite aunt of design history.  As an art historian, especially of architecture, Sir Nikolaus The Arts and Crafts MovementPevsner is a critical figure in developing the line of scholarship through which the history of architecture and design is viewed.  But, Sir Nikolaus had little to do with design history, specifically; he certainly does not deserve the label of “father.”  In truth, Naylor is more the mother of the history of design than anything else, and displayed a true and rare passion for the subject.  It would have been easier for her to find another job with a magazine that did not require her to resign once she became a mother, but instead she chose to continue writing about design history.  That kind of love for the history of design and perseverance through challenges warrants a far higher honor than the label as the “favorite aunt” would suggest.

Friday Finds: The Romance of London

Romance of London CoverGordon Home’s The Romance of London highlights “how many of these architectural links with the centuries long past still exist in London” in hopes of encouraging citizens to care about the futures of these historic places (pg. 2).   Published in 1910, The Romance of London includes illustrations of the iconic buildings around London and seeks to tell the story of the city through these buildings.

Home explores early London (namely as it was under the Romans and the Saxons), the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral, The Guildhall, and other landmarks.  The chapters on each structure are short histories that help to contextualize the buildings, though Home includes little about their contemporary (in 1910) uses. In the case of the Tower of London, one of the most famous buildings in the city, there is only a brief mention at the end of the chapter of how the building has served many purposes, as a “castle, a royal palace, and a prison, and is now an arsenal and one of the most popular show-places in London” (pg. 17).  Home spends a great deal of time exploring London’s churches, including Westminster Abbey (which constitutes the longest chapter in the book), St. Paul’s Cathedral, and the chapter on “Some Old London Churches.”  Together, the three emphasize the role of the Church, both the Catholic Church and the Church of England, in London’s history.  As the center of politics in England, London was also the seat of power for religious figures in the nation.  Home discusses the construction of Westminster, particularly; with its Gothic architecture and long history, Westminster remains the most prominent church in the city, host to the coronation of every monarch since 1066, royal weddings, and other major British events.  Where Westminster Abbey is distinctly Gothic, St. Paul’s Cathedral is Roman and Corinthian in style, though the original St. Paul’s (destroyed in the fire of 1666) was also Gothic.  The new St. Paul’s contains elements of Gothic and Roman architecture, thereby paying homage to England’s history as a Roman occupied territory and the popularity and frequency of Gothic architecture in England.  The golden dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral remains an iconic part of London’s skyline as a representation of a blend of much of England’s past.

When the book was published in 1910, England had just come through a major constitutional crisis, leading to a sudden general election early in the year.  There was a desire to restore regular order to the nation, and London most particularly, as the seat of government.  After such a tumultuous moment in Britain’s history, it is understandable that Home would wish to look back on the monuments to British greatness in one of the world’s most splendid cities.  And yet this ignores the majority of Londoners’ experience.  Most of the city’s inhabitants did not enjoy the benefits of London’s palaces, or have the privilege of moving among the most elite of British society who would have been at Westminster Abbey for the  coronation of a new monarch.  In truth, many of London’s citizens lived a very different life from the world portrayed by Home; there were no castles or royal jewels or grand Elizabethan Halls in their lives.  To them, London was teeming with carts and carriages, grime, and suffragette protests, a social context which is ignored in The Romance of London.  Much of what Home espouses as London was inaccessible to the average citizen in the city.Romance of London Page

The Romance of London portrays only specific parts of the history of the city.   Home is true to the title of his book: it is little more than a romanticized history of London and its buildings.  London is undoubtedly a romantic city, full of cobblestone streets, stone buildings, and tributes to the grandness of the British.  Humans have a tendency to record in history that which is favorable to themselves, often to the detriment of the average person.  Those ordinary stories, equally as valuable as those Home tells about Kings and Templars and religious leaders, are hidden or ignored.  This is not at all unusual, but nonetheless lamentable.  London’s history is partially written in its famous buildings, and though Home briefly mentions the Italian and English workers who built Westminster Abbey, they possess rich stories of their own that are not told.  Likely, those stories are lost forever, and the architectural history of these buildings is the poorer for it.  For all the wealth of Britain’s social elite and the richness of London’s past, Home’s telling of its history ignores the average Londoner, whose experience of London was not the romantic, idealized version of he portrays.

Friday Finds: War Memorials

War MemorialsPublished in 1946, Arnold Whittick’s War Memorials  explores War Memorials around the world, both ancient and new.  Only a year after the end of World War II, Whittick’s book is timely and explores a relevant

Whittick examines locations, dedications, sentiments, and materials appropriate for war memorials.  Particularly interesting are his chapters on the spirit and convincing expression of memorials.  Whittick notes, “the principal purpose of a memorial is to stir remembrance…with a particular sentiment…it is important, therefore, to determine clearly what sentiment it is desired to express” (pg. 6).  What follows is a list of the kinds of sentiments memorials create: “the memorial which expresses mainly death, sorrow, and mourning,; the memorial which expresses religious belief…; the memorial which expresses mainly triumph and victory; and the memorial which expresses mainly the spirit of life” (pg. 6). Whittick then provides a detailed description with examples of such memorials.  In this sense, the book is highly formulaic, introducing the subject of each chapter briefly before laying out the types of memorials and the expected details of each.  There are specific instructions about choosing locations and materials, even which materials Whittick deems most appropriate for war memorials based on his study of existing ones.  Whittick clearly did tedious, exhaustive research on his subject in order to write War Memorials in a way that makes it a true guidepost for building a meaningful memorial.

War Memorials is noticeably devoid of emotion.  Whittick brings a logical and distant tone to a highly emotional subject. Memorials are intended to elicit emotional or sentimental responses, to remind the living of what happened in a particular place.  There is something to be said for this tone: it provides clear direction on how to create a meaningful, appropriate war memorial, something hard to achieve when emotions play too big a part. Whittick also mentions numerous exemplary memorials, even pictures of them.  As a manual for designing a war memorial, War Memorials effective exactly because of its tone.  But for the reader expecting a sentimental examination of memorials, Whittick’s approach is a surprise.  Yet the time of publication could be partially responsible for this tone.  Published immediately following World War II, there were many countries facing decisions about how to memorialize the war and those who fought and died in it.  It could have been interesting, too, if Whittick had included something on appropriate memorials for such a horrific even as the Holocaust.  He distinguishes war memorials from other kinds of memorials (which would include memorials remembering genocide), and yet the Holocaust is inseparably tied into World War II, so it would have been a pertinent and important topic for him to discuss in the book.  What is the appropriate way, the best materials to memorialize a genocide? With time having passed, and powerful memorials having been built now, it is easier to imagine the answers, but only a year after World War II came to an end and the atrocities committed by the Nazis were still coming to light, it is understandable that Whittick would deem it beyond the scope of the book.

Overall, War Memorials is a guide for how to create a memorial. Whittick’s tone and attention to detail is what makes it a successful guide.  Looking through the photos included in the book of the memorials Whittick deems appropriate, the wide variety of styles, inscriptions, and materials becomes clear.  But of course, certain memorials stay with the beholder more than others.  Many are in the same style and materials and they are not memorable because of it.  At a certain point, the columns, the carvings, and the arches all begin to look the same, and they are less memorable for it.  For all the detail and complexity that Whittick suggests in a memorial, he ultimately promotes a status quo instead of thinking creatively.  The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., simply bears the names of the soldiers who died in the Vietnam War in black granite. It compellingly portrays the significance of what it memorializes, but with a simplicity that Whittick never recommends.  Albert Einstein once said, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”  Memorials like the Vietnam Veterans Memorial point to the truth in Einstein’s quote: the memorial is simple, but if it were any simpler, the poignancy would be lost.  The list of names on the Vietnam Memorial is so simple, but extremely powerful.  Having the actual names of people who died in Vietnam etched into black granite permanently, where you can see the rows and rows of names, humanizes war in a way that most carvings or statues or arches cannot.  Now, in spite of Whittick’s research and directions, those individuals are going to be remembered forever in a memorial unadorned by anything but the names of their brothers in arms.

Friday Finds: Glimpses of California and The Missions

Glimpses of California - CoverGlimpses of California & The Missions by Helen Hunt Jackson, published originally in 1883, explores the California Mission system, paying particular attention to the history and current status of Native Americans in the Missions, and contemporary life in the state. Jackson provides a thorough recounting of the history of the Missions mixed with the stories and conversations she heard along her journey through California.

Jackson focuses on Father Junipero Serra, the condition of Mission Indians, Los Angeles, outdoor industries, and includes a short chapter on her visit to Oregon.  Throughout Glimpses of California & The Missions are drawings by Henry Sandham, which portray the scenery and the people they came across, as well as historical figures like Father Junipero.  Jackson devotes a great deal of the book to describing the unfair and, she argues, illegal treatment of Native Americans, especially in regards to the ownership of their land.  She describes one case where Temecula Indians were anxious “as to the title to their lands…all that was in existence to show that they had any was the protecting clause in an old Mexican grant” (pg. 116).  After years of uncertainty and arguments, the case went to court.  The Temecula “appealed to the Catholic bishop to help them…but the scheme had been too skillfully plotted” (pg. 116).  When the Sheriffs arrived to forcibly remove the Indians from the land, Jackson notes that “the Indians’ first impulse was as determined as it could have been if they had been white, to resist the outrage,” but that this was an unacceptable response and would likely lead to violence (pg. 119).  So, the Temecula did not resist, but instead staged a sit-in of sorts: they refused to resist the Sheriff, but also refused to help them.  Interestingly, Jackson openly delineates the racial prejudice involved in this treatment, a fact which was widely known but rarely acknowledged.  In sum, Glimpses of California & The Missions provides valuable insight into the state of California and its history, with Jackson additionally using the book to advocate for Native Americans.

Just as notable as the book itself is Glimpses of California - Imagethe life of its author, Helen Hunt Jackson.  A well-known author of the Nineteenth Century, Jackson’s most famous work remains her novel, Ramona, a fictionalized telling of Native American life in the 1800s, focusing on United States government’s poor treatment of Native Americans and the racial prejudice faced by mixed race individuals.  Jackson also wrote A Century of Dishonor, a carefully researched book which revealed how the federal government reneged on treaties and promises made with tribes.  She became a leading advocate for better treatment of Native Americans, and was even hired by the Interior Department to visit Missions in California and write a report on the conditions of the “Mission Indians” who lived there, a trip which inspired Glimpses of California & The Missions.  This book was written somewhat concurrently with Ramona and the two books make similar arguments about the poor treatment of Native Americans, but are entirely different genres.  Yet Ramona was far more widely read than Glimpses of California & The Missions, and the novel has drawn comparisons with Harriet Beacher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin for its use of fiction to portray harsh realities and unveil injustices.

In essence, Glimpses of California & The Missions is a scholarly attempt, through some primary sources, some oral histories, and Jackson’s own eyewitness account, to draw attention to the treatment of Native Americans. But where Glimpses of California failed to capture the public’s attention, Ramona succeeded beyond even Jackson’s expectations: there have been more than 300 printings since the book’s original publication in 1884, and five feature film adaptations.  Embedded within Ramona‘s pages, amongst the romance and tragedy of its eponymous heroine’s story is Jackson’s political, radical (for the time) message.  Although racism remains a persistent problem to this day on many Native American reservations, Jackson singlehandedly revealed the dishonorable conduct of the federal government towards Native Americans, creating an outrage that forced the government to change its practices.  Jackson, Glimpses of California & The MissionsRamona, and A Century of Dishonor provide an important lesson in activism and demonstrate the power of books in enacting change.  Activists (primarily men, it is important to note) had tried for years to draw attention to the struggles of Native Americans across the country, but ultimately, it was Helen Hunt Jackson and her pen that held the United States government to task and began a process towards justice.

Friday Finds: American Skyline

American Skylines - CoverThis copy of American Skyline: The Growth and Form of Our Cities and Towns by Christopher Tunnard and Henry Hope Reed was published in 1956.  The book explores the changes in the skylines of American cities from the colonial era under British control to 1953, when the book was originally published.  The authors explain in the introduction that “this is a book about the American townscape – the man-made America of industries, homes, skyscrapers, hotels, highways and parking lots…, how this scene was shaped, how it became part of the American heritage, how it affects the lives we lead, and how we may in turn shape it toward the future” (Pg. 15). Throughout are drawings and images of skylines at various points in history in many different cities.

Tunnard and Reed move chronologically through American history. They pay close attention to growth rates and celebrate the efforts to “rediscover the architectural and decorative art traditions” of the United States, and advocate for protecting the heritage of American architecture (Pg. 196).  There are discussions of the highway system, which was then brand new, as well as the rise of suburbs and the changes in architecture and planning brought about by the Civil War, namely Reconstruction and the massive rebuilding of the South.  It is important to note that American Skylines makes no mention of segregation in the South, which is the only notable gap in their coverage of the history of American architecture and planning. While the book focuses on skylines, city planning is also a major topic of interest, which makes the lack of mention of Jim Crow laws all the more glaring, but perhaps not surprising, given the era.  In 1953, Martin Luther King, Jr., had not become a household name yet, Brown v. Board of Education (the case which ended school segregation) had not been decided by the Supreme Court yet, and racism and racial tensions remained high.  Also notable is Tunnard and Reed’s close examination of the revolution of American architectural styles and preferences, as well as noting how these tastes seem to cycle in and out of fashion.  The fluctuation between modern and classic becomes clearly throughout American Skyline.

Interestingly, there are several ways that American Skyline proves rather forward-thinking.  Already in the 1950s, Tunnard and Reed are advocating for the preservation of historic buildings, something which is an ongoing battle in the country today.  Many cities fail to protect these sites in favor of industrial growth over historic preservation, which as led to efforts across the nation to protect historic buildings.  This stands in stark contrast with many European countries that carefully protect their buildings.  Granted, the United States has a relatively short history in comparison with other Western nations, but so far it has not been as devoted to historic preservation as Europe.  But then many European cities do not possess the iconic skylines of American cities.  There are, to be sure, famous buildings that stand out, but nothing quite like the New York City skyline, filled with nearly monotonous skyscrapers, yet instantly recognizable.  Perhaps, it might be argued, this kind of skyline is unique to the United States, in part due to its failure to preserve historic buildings.  So, this means that out of the loss of so many beautiful and historically important buildings sprang a uniquely American phenomenon.

There is something fascinating about skylines.  They offer only a glimpse, an outline of a city, but they also reveal a great deal about it.  Skyscrapers now dominate most American skylines.  Here in Austin, the skyline that once included the University of Texas Tower, the dome of the Texas State Capital, and the Frost Bank is now mostly overshadowed by towering condo buildings.  Visible in the Austin skyline is the rapid growth of the city in the last ten years, the need for more housing, the fact that Austin is a city filled with many young people who are drawn to living downtown instead of in the suburbs. Also reflected in these changing skylines are the advances in technology, building, and changes in architectural styles.  Where early American architecture is Greek revivalist (e.g. Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, or the U.S. Capital), and the Empire State Building includes elements of the Art Deco style popular at the time of its building, many of the most visible buildings in the United States today are sleeker and decidedly modern.  Church steeples used to be important parts of the skyline, representative of America’s roots in the Protestant Puritans who left England to escape religious persecution.  Skylines can even have an emotional impact, as with the iconic New York City skyline without the Twin Towers – for years there was a sadness evoked by the empty spaces, but now Freedom Tower fills some of that space, meant as a beacon to the world that the United States remains loyal to its values and remembers the tragedy of 9/11.  Every skyline is unique, filled with the architecture of the city and revealing part of the story.  In a way, a city’s history is written in its buildings; if so, then a skyline is the literal outline of the city and its story, a silhouette that  intrigues and hints at what a city offers.

Friday Finds: Secret Chambers and Hiding Places

Secret Chambers - CoverWritten by Allan Fea in 1901, Secret Chambers and Hiding Places: The Historic, Romantic, & Legendary Stories and Traditions About Hiding-Holes, Secret Chambers, Etc. explores “the gloomy hiding-holes, concealed apartments, passages, and staircases…[which are] the very groundwork of romance…[and] vitality of a plot” (pg. 12-13). Fea considers both fictional portrayals of hidden chambers and passageways, as well as historical uses of such architectural elements.  He is fascinated by the mystique of secret chambers, as well as the fact that they can serve malicious (as in the case of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, a failed assassination attempt on the King James I of England) or benevolent purposes (young James II, while captive, became known for discovering hiding places during games of hide-and-seek, and so escaped while playing the game).

Secret Chambers and Hiding Places features entire chapters focused on the above mentioned instances, the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 and James II’s escape, but also explores specific houses, their owners, and the intended use of the secret spaces in every case.  He explores the phenomenon of “priests’ holes,” which were hiding spots built into the homes of Catholics in England during the time when Catholics were persecuted, in order to hide a priest in the home, sometimes including passages for escape.  In Salisbury, an old mansion “is said to have been a favorite hiding-place for fugitive cavaliers [Royalists] at the time of the Civil War” (pg. 160).  Fea provides a detailed description of the passage itself, as well as how it was not discovered until the late 1800s by complete happenstance; someone bumped a panel, which then opened to reveal a ordinary-looking cupboard, only to find that when one shelf was removed, the cupboard became a door leading to a small staircase which provided a concealed lookout point and a hiding spot.  All this within a small country manor-turned-inn.  Fea supplies such details in most of the chapters of the book, providing a deeper understanding of the mechanics and cleverness of these chambers.

Fea was a historian and author, and Secret Chambers and Hiding Places was his first published work, followed by seven other books, including one on James II (to whom two chapters of Secret Chambers and Hiding Places is devoted) and another called Nooks and Corners of Old England from 1907.  Clearly, Fea possessed a strong interest in hidden spaces, focusing on elements of plots and stories that were of little interest to other historians.  Like many historical works of the era, there are no citations or sources mentioned in Secret Secret Chambers - Pg. 148Chambers and Hiding Places, but rather Fea likely works from stories, other historical works, or perhaps even some myths.  Today, historians are expected to provide evidence for their claims and arguments, and to work primarily with facts and not rumor, yet somehow the mystery of Fea’s sources adds to his overall point about the mystique of these secret spaces – nothing is known for certain about who hid there, how they felt, why they hid, but Fea makes conjectures about such things, which are unknowable, to add to his story.

Though in some ways Secret Chambers and Hiding Places is a questionable work of history, it is a valuable historical source.  Fea provides drawings of the secret spaces he discusses, to help describe the mechanics of the chambers and provide useful context.  He shows that he has been to many of these spaces (as he did the drawings himself) and wishes for his readers to be as mesmerized by them as he is.  Secret Chambers and Hiding Places never claims to be a history, but Instead seeks to blend history with legend.  Fea makes the two indistinguishable.  It is unclear what is fact versus fiction, history versus legend.  But that seems to be Fea’s point.  He takes things which are hardly discussed (hiding holes for priests, secret passages for escapes, tunnels for assassination attempts) in the stories known by many English citizens and turns them into grand, important elements in the epic legends and history of Britain. There is something elusive and mystical about these hidden spaces that fascinates people, but it makes up only a small part of the story. What Fea’s book lacks in historical truth, it makes up for in highlighting the importance of secret spaces to England’s most famous historical events and mythologies.

Friday Finds: Medieval Architecture, Vol. I

Medieval Architecture - CoverFirst published in 1909, Arthur Kingsley Porter’s Medieval Architecture: Its Origins and Development Volume I seeks to serve as a survey of Medieval architecture for laymen as well as architects and students of architecture. Porter notes in the beginning that that book “attempts to unravel only a single thread from the tangled skein of medieval art…[which] is made up of that succession of formative or generative styles that shaped the architectural destinies of Europe” (pg. v).  By identifying the main formative styles, Porter builds context and a better understanding of Medieval architecture, even if it is not quite a survey of the subject.

Porter begins with a discussion of the architecture of antiquity, such as Roman and German, as well as particular exploration of the elements most incorporated into Medieval architecture, including the different kinds of vaults, arches, and ornamentation. Next he examines early Christian styles, and the connection between faith and architecture in these buildings.  From there, Porter launches into a study of Byzantine, Carolingian, Lombard, and Norman architecture.  He pays close attention to the similarities and Medieval Architecture - Page 8differences between each, and to the elements most frequently adopted, some of which remain popular in modern times, and others which are considered antiquated. Crucially, Porter draws a direct line between antiquity, Medieval architecture, and modern architecture, showing that ancient architectural features are not necessarily antiquated or irrelevant.

For many years, a synonym for “The Middle Ages” or “The Medieval Period” has been “The Dark Ages.”  While this has changed among historians, many in the public still refer to “The Dark Ages,” a time of seeming backwardness, where knowledge and advancement was lost as it gave way to the dominance of Christianity.  While it is true that the Church made efforts to suppress scientific thought and reading was a privilege reserved only for elites, to classify the Medieval period as a Dark Age is a gross exaggeration.  And in this sense, Porter’s book is extremely valuable, not to mention ahead of its time in acknowledging the contributions of Medieval thought and architects to the field.  In Medieval Architecture, Porter brings the remarkable architecture of Medieval times out of the Dark Ages into the light.

Friday Finds: Men and Buildings

Gloag - Cover SheetOriginally published in 1931, John Gloag’s book Men and Buildings examines architectural history and trends.  Gloag gives special attention to Italy, England, and changes in more contemporary times.  Gloag notes that “despite new materials and the need for work on a bigger scale, it is a peculiar weakness of our time to take refuge in the past for inspiration” (pg. 4).  He argues that “only if they are humanized can the austere experiments of the present prepare the way for an eventual coherence in architectural taste and a new majesty of form,” one which reflects modern values and an understanding that others will inherit those forms (pg. 228).

Men and Buildings is nearly as focused on the future as it is on the past.  The epilogue even includes a theoretical discussion in the 50th century among archaeologists interpreting the uncovered remnants of a 19th century bridge.  Gloag discusses the recurring theme in architecture of looking to the past for inspiration.  He pays particular attention to England’s recycling of Roman architecture, even naming the chapter “England Edits Rome.”  Additionally, Gloag notes Italy’s reuse of Roman architecture, as well as the numerous advances in materials and the dearth of quality modern architecture featuring new ideas.  Overall, he seems to mourn the state of architecture as of 1931, feeling that it lacks originality and does not reflect the values of society.

In Gloag’s fictional discussion in the epilogue, the archaeologists discover coins under the bridge.  The elder archaeologist believes the coins to be there by chance, while the younger theorizes that they were thrown intentionally.  The young archaeologists, it is revealed, is correct – the coins were thrown by those wishing for luck.  The story serves several purposes.  Gloag consistently argues for the reflection of “values” in architecture.  While it is easy to sort some priorities from the architecture of a home, for example (e.g. a large dining room might indicate the importance of entertaining and family), but it is more complicated with a bridge.  However, the presence of the coins might indicate a bridge so grand and so beautiful, that it inspires people to treat the river below as a wishing well.  The epilogue also implies the importance of the younger generation in innovation and discoveries.  The elder archaeologist dismisses the theory of the younger outright – had the determination of the apprentice archaeologist not been so strong, he might never have been proven correct.  In this sense, Gloag seems to be suggesting that it is time for the older generation to listen to and pass the baton on to the next.  Humans are taught to respect their elders due to their wisdom and experience, but new developments often come from the young.  Oftentimes, the ideas that change the world start as a radical, preposterous notion in the mind of an adolescent.

Friday Finds: Letters to Apprentices

Wright - Letters to Apprentices CoverLetters to Apprentices: Frank Lloyd Wright is a publication containing selected letters from Frank Lloyd Wright to his many apprentices. Alongside the many letters is commentary from the editor of the book and the Director of Archives of The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation and The Frank Lloyd Wright Memorial Foundation, Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer. This commentary provides context for some of the letters and information on the goings-on in Wright’s life and works at the time.  The letters themselves contribute valuable insights into Wright’s personality and work, as well as those of the Taliesin Fellows to whom the correspondence primarily concerns.

In the preface, Pfeiffer explains how the letters mostly pertain to “the Taliesin Fellowship, that group of young men and women who were his apprentices from 1932 to 1959…[and] throughout those years many hundreds of Taliesin Fellows arrived” (pg. ix).  The book seeks to capture the experiences of Taliesin Fellows, both in their work and their relationships with Wright.  As arguably the most influential and prolific architect of his time, the opportunity to work with Wright was undoubtedly one of the greatest opportunities any young architect could hope for.  The style of the Taliesin Fellowship, preparing students to be architects within only a few years and nothing like a standard curriculum, influenced training programs and apprenticeships across the country, in addition to giving the program a reputation that increased work opportunities.  Over time, “as there came an increase in architectural work, the demands required of him to answer letters…necessitated that letters to applicants and former apprentices be briefer,” so the longest and perhaps most interesting letters are near the start of the Taliesin Fellowship in 1932.

Interestingly, Wright made a point to note in a 1932 letter to an applicant that Taliesin “contemplates exactly 100 apprentices, about 40 girls and 60 boys,” and was intended to serve as an extension of the Taliesin studio Wright - Letters to Apprentices Pg 107(pg. 14).  The fact that Wright, as early as 1932, made a point of including women apprentices is fascinating, even somewhat radical.  Today, many still note an excess of gender discrimination in the field of architecture, as well as a dearth of female architects.  In contrast, Wright dedicated 40% of the apprenticeships to ensuring women had opportunities.  While there may have been no follow-through on this goal (Wright notes that he has decreased the number of fellows to 70 and mentions that the fellowship would likely be only 30% girls), there are letters to female apprentices throughout the collection.  It is worthwhile to note that Wright offers less praise for his female students than his male students, sometimes merely relegating them to “furnish” a project or “housebreak the owners” (pg. 96).  He also proves somewhat haughty at times, such as after a student left Taliesin, telling him, “we all make errors of judgment, if we have any judgment, and being a young fellow, you ought to acquire a collection of errors in your own name as I have in mine,” indicating that he believes the student’s abandonment of Taliesin to be a mistake he will later regret (pg. 97). Wright also showed himself through the letters to be dedicated to keeping up with his pupils, often offering them work or advice, and asking about their families and personal lives.  While Wright definitely showed a preference for his male students, he remained a loyal correspondent with many of his students whom he respected.

As one of the most famous architects in history, Frank Lloyd Wright remains a fascinating figure to study, for the controversy of his personal life, for his celebrity, and for his unique style.  There is something enigmatic about Wright.  He is remembered as fiercely proud of his own accomplishments, selective in his taste, and loathe to give compliments.  Yet in his correspondence with his students, he is shown to be loyal, to have great faith in his students’ talents so long as they display a similar loyalty and dedication to their work, supportive of female architects (certainly for the time period), and yes, a bit haughty, yet more affable than he is remembered. Letters are a unique historical resource – they unveil personality and information that, for example, Wright’s autobiography, would not. These letters were never meant to be ready by anyone other than the recipients, making them a more unvarnished, honest source than something written to be read publicly.  In this sense, Wright’s letters are a powerful resource.  As much of a celebrity as he was, and as much as he and his work has been researched, no source could explore his personality and the complicated relationships he had with his apprentices as well as the letters in Letters to Apprentices do. The collection of letters provides captivating insights into one of America’s best-known architects, supplying glimpses into Frank Lloyd Wright and the proteges who followed him in shaping modern architecture.

Friday Finds: Sam Houston’s Texas

Flanagan - Cover Sheet copySue Flanagan’s book Sam Houston’s Texas “attempts to place Houston in proper perspective against the backcloth of past events and to show him still a part of the changing pattern of our time” (pg. ix).  The book is organized chronologically, running from 1832 to 1863, with a chapter devoted to each year.  Included in every chapter are photographs of relevant buildings and the Texas landscape, as well as historical context for the year, based mostly in primary sources from the era.

Beginning in 1832, Flanagan examines Houston’s childhood in Virginia, his time as a Congressman and Governor in Tennessee, and as a delegate for the Cherokee Tribe to Washington.  Houston came to Texas to buy up land and serve as an envoy to Native Americans in the territory, a role assigned to him by then-President Andrew Jackson.  Moving year-by-year, Flanagan details the increasing dissatisfaction in Texas with Mexican governance, Houston’s rise to General of the Texas army, the price of Texas independence, and the early years of the Texas Republic.  One of the longest chapters is the one on 1836, the year Texas won independence from Mexico, featuring discussion of the Battle of the Alamo, the massacre of all inside the mission, and the subsequent surrender of Santa Anna to Houston less than two months after the loss of the Alamo.  Houston declared on March 2, 1836, that “Independence is declared; it must be maintained.”  Houston recognized that once Texas was free of Mexico, its best chance of maintaining independence was joining the United States.  However, before Texas joined the Union, it was its own nation for ten years, with Houston remaining a prominent leader throughout, serving twice as President of the Republic of Texas, a Senator to the US Congress, and Governor of Texas. Flanagan’s book ends in 1863, the year of Houston’s death. Throughout this narrative are photographs of relevant places and spaces, showing the Texas Houston fought for and loved so dearly.

Published in 1964, Sam Houston’s Texas came just over 100 years after Houston’s death and just short of 100 years of the start of the Civil War.  Houston foresaw the Civil War, and feared that secession and alliance with the Southern states would irreparably damage Texas and the United States.  Instead, he thought Texas would fare better as its own empire if it conquered Mexico.  With this in mind, as Governor of Texas, Flanagan - LonghornHouston refused to secede from the United States.  This stemmed not from a belief in abolition (Houston himself owned slaves) but rather from his wish to avoid more war on Texas soil.   As a result, Houston was forced out as Governor and replaced with someone more sympathetic to the Confederate cause.  Much like in the 1860s, the 1960s were filled with racial tension and turmoil. President Lyndon B. Johnson, a Texan, passed the Civil Rights Act the same year that Sam Houston’s Texas was published, a reminder of how much had changed in the last century for the state and the nation.

Sam Houston’s Texas is a fascinating look at Sam Houston himself, as well as the indelible mark he left on Texas.  Houston is an incredibly complicated figure: a representative for Native American rights, yet an advocate for slavery; a believer that Texas should be in the United States while also wanting Texas to be a great nation in its own right; a war hero who wanted to avoid war at all costs in later life.  He was the first President of the Republic of Texas, a U.S. Senator for Texas, the man who made Santa Anna surrender and won Texas’ independence in a battle lasting only 18 minutes against a seemingly unstoppable Mexican Army, and he is the namesake for the city of Houston. The tales of Sam Houston are larger than life.  Flanagan’s book reveals the man who inspired the legends.  Using Houston’s own words, letters, and accounts from others who knew him, Flanagan shows Houston to be a complicated and flawed, yet remarkable man. In short, Houston was human, with all the complexities and contradictions that come with the human experience.

Many Americans have gone through a reckoning in recent years, realizing that the Founding Fathers were not infallible men.  For years they have been literally placed on pedestals, had cities, buildings, and monuments named for them and built in homage to them, with few questions asked about who they were beyond the iconic image. Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and many of the other Founding Fathers preached the values of liberty and equality while owning slaves.  This does not make them entirely unworthy of admiration, but it does mean that Americans must recognize that they were imperfect men who accomplished exceptional things. Texans must face a similar reckoning with their heroes, and Sam Houston’s Texas is an excellent start to rewriting that historical narrative. Houston was all things: a friend to Native Americans, a slave holder, an American, a Texan, a leader of the Texas Revolution, and an advocate against the Civil War.  These seemingly contradictory traits make Houston a more tangible, relatable figure. Sam Houston the legend provides an unattainable vision of what it means to be human.  Sam Houston the man, with all his flaws and contradictions, provides a realistic example to which Texans can aspire. Sam Houston will forever live on in Texas folklore, but it is time to separate the legend from the man.  It may be simpler or more appealing to tell tales of Houston as a perfect, Arthurian icon who led Texas to independence, but the truth of the man behind the legend is a far more fascinating story.