Friday, April 30, 2010

At Fallingwater

We took off for Philly on Thursday to spend the weekend with Matthew and Sharon.  From Cincinnati this involves driving west to east all the way across Pennsylvania.  Now that's not such a terrible drive, nothing like driving across Texas or Nebraska (not that the two should be compared in any negative sense other than football).  So we made the decision to make the trip in two days and take a little side trip to Fallingwater, one of the more famous Frank Lloyd Wright buildings which just happens to be located in the middle of nowhere Pennsylvania, a 90 minute drive south from Pittsburgh. 

Now if you didn't know better, one might wonder why a building might be called Fallingwater.  The reason is that this was built as a private vacation house for the Kaufman family who were the owners of a department store in Pittsburgh until it was acquired by the May Company in 1946.  These folks had this "camp ground" on a stream that they loved to visit and there just happened to be some waterfalls there.  So if you like the place and are going to build a vacation home, then why not build it right on top of the waterfall?  That makes all kinds of sense if you are Frank Lloyd Wright.

I don't know much about architecture- and not much about Frank Lloyd Wright.  But you can't be a living, breathing human being this century without having heard of Frank Lloyd Wright- and I've done my share of living and breathing.  I'm not sure the first time I heard of Fallingwater- it was after I moved to Ohio (and long after I knew the name Frank Lloyd Wright)- And there was even a personal connection because Don's brother lives in a house in Columbus that is a designed by a Wright Wanabe.  So we'd drive across Pennsylvania- for NYC- and now for Philly- and would say "someday...we'll stop".  Well that day was today. You really need to stop as well.  This is no ordinary house- and no ordinary story.

The Kaufman's were a wealthy, well educated Jewish family from Pittsburgh- traveling in artistic, well educated, sophisticated, international circles. They had one son.  This son-with an artistic nature- read Frank Lloyd Wright's autobiography (Wright was a prolific author- writing 20 books over his life)- And decided that he must, absolutely must study with Wright.  And he did.  It was this meeting that provided the catalyst that would become Fallingwater. 
Now for the accolades.  Frank Lloyd Wright is considered the GREATEST AMERICAN ARCHITECT!  And Fallingwater is considered his GREATEST WORK!  Wright was ambitious- and impetuous- arguably a genius.  And his life was absolutely scandalous.  Because of the publicity of his disastrous personal life- and the agonizing difficulty in obtaining commissions during the GREAT DEPRESSION, Wright's career as an architect was officially declared DEAD!  He was almost 70 years old- and had not designed in some time.  Talk about a comeback story!  He saw the land at Bear Run- the home of Fallingwater- for the first time at the age of 67 in 1933.  Of the more than 1000 Wright designs over his life time, over half of this amazing creativity began with this masterpiece, Fallingwater!  Amazingly, a third of his work was during the last decade of his life- before his death at 92. Makes me feel like maybe at this point in my life- younger than Wright when he designed Fallingwater- that maybe this ought to be considered a beginning- rather than a wind down to the end...  Imagine- your greatest work after your 65th birthday!

Anyway, we took the tour today and although we were not allowed to take any pictures inside the house, we could take all we wanted outside.  We'll have to come back and take the LONG TOUR- And this house does have a rather "museum" feel.  And it was a gallery of sorts- in fact the Kaufman's were personal friends with Frida Kahlo- she was a house guest at Fallingwater- and had presented the Kaufmans with two works by Diego Rivera that hang in Fallingwater. But as Don said- we could tour the inside- but we weren't permitted to take pictures during this SHORT TOUR.

So here are a few pictures of that famous house.  The one below taken as you approach the house.  To the right is a bridge that crosses the stream.

This sculpture sits right next to the stream on a sandstone rock wall.  The house is built of stone (all local sandstone, concrete, steel and glass).
This picture taken from the bridge looking at the stream.  The water is very clear and thus is not obvious in this picture

This picture better shows the water under the GREAT ROOM- these stairs lead to the water- and stop- they don't go anywhere- Grand Design- to sit on the steps and cool your feet in the water that flows to the waterfall below your home!

This was a foot wash station for use before coming into the house.  Note the stream of water and the bar of soap (Yardley Lavendar Soap) hanging from a chain.

These next two pictures were taken from behind the house..

And finally, the classic picture of Fallingwater that is used most often to show the house.

Finally, I want to put in my two cents worth about this house, and I guess most things designed by Wright.  The house and location are truly beautiful.  They are much more a work of art than what I would consider a comfy vacation home.  But then again, I'm not a big fan of contemporary design.  It's just not warm and inviting, almost like being in a museum, a cold and very impersonal museum where you can look, but not use.  I know Wright designed things to be useful and open, using horizontal lines and lots of windows, but it just doesn't feel like it could be a home.
Frank Lloyd Wright was as much an interior design artist as he was architect.  He designed all the furniture and textiles for his homes.  His interiors carried his vision every bit as much as his exteriors.  One of the most incredible parts of the interior of Fallingwater is the design of the hearth in the great room to include the huge boulder that the Kaufman's had used for sunning on their many trips to Bear Run as the hearth floor.
But of course I might point out that for Don (and me) the most important "design" feature of furniture- say a couch- is comfort.  We always walk into a furniture store and after I select a few sofas for color or style Don reclines for a little nap.  We buy the one that "naps" the best!
But this house was very lived in- and entertained in- and celebrated!  The Kaufman's used this as their retreat for about 30 years.  Near the end of the elder Kaufman's life he and his son determined that this great treasure was best donated so it might be shared with the public.  Eventually the son gave Fallingwater to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, which then opened this treasure to the public. I'm so grateful that the Kaufman's in their touching generosity gave this gift of Frank Lloyd Wright to all of us!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Beautiful Visitor!

Our niece Amy called last week and asked if we might like some company this week.  I bet you could hear our "YES" all the way to where you live!  Amy brings energy and excitement to all that surrounds her.  She is interested in everyone and everything.  Her curiosity is contagious! I always see the world just a bit differently by looking at the world for a bit with Amy. When you're with Amy you think perhaps you're more interesting that you thought before.  She listens with her whole body.  She looks out at the world with her whole body.  She can wake up a whole room from their slumber.   See- I knew you heard our loud "YES"!  We rarely get to see Amy since she lives up north (St. Paul, MN), so thoughts of visiting her are confined to the warmer month(s).  I understand that chances of frost are minimal in July and August.
We keep up with Amy via her blog.  But to have her here- up close and personal was a real treat!
And as fate would have it Krohn's Conservatory just started their Butterfly Exhibit.  So after lunch at the Half Day Cafe we were off! And we were so, so, so glad we did!  This exhibit was their Japanese Butterfly exhibit and they have two more planned each lasting about 4 weeks, so we plan to go again later in May and maybe again in June.  So here are some of the photos of those delicate little insects.

I have to say I loved watching Don and Amy photograph the butterflies almost as much as I loved watching the butterflies!

I think I might call Amy the "butterfly whisperer"!
Or maybe not?????
But what a great time...
And then we made a stop by the Ohio River.  Now it might not be the Bay- But I never tire of stopping to look out over this mighty river!
And of course there was a family dinner complete with Sarah and our wonderful GRANDS!
And might I rather modestly mention I made the MOST INCREDIBLE RHUBARB PIE!  I do have to admit that I think this rhubarb pie was probably the best pie that Max has ever made.  I know, it doesn't have any chocolate in it for those of you who have that preference, but the crust was perfect and the fresh rhubarb was absolutely wonderful.
Come again Amy! We're missing you already!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Scenes from Spring: Reprise

New Beginnings:
Spring comes upon us with the emergence of color after the long colorless winter.  These tiny yellow flowers often poke up through the snow as our very first sign of Spring. Winter seems so forever gray.  I almost give up each year and resign myself to a colorless world.  And then just before I give up for good out of the gray comes the first color of spring...

And quickly following are the Crocus.

Max was diligent with her camera to capture the emergence of Spring with her point and shoot as we took Brutus for his daily walks.

A Walk at Glenwood Gardens:

A Walk in the Neighborhood:

As Spring moved forward the arrays of color expanded.  The Cincinnati Zoo is also a botanical garden that claims over one million bulbs in the ground.  I might mention just one more time that it is always a struggle, such a struggle to get Don to come along for a trip to the zoo.  We now engage in only the abbreviated version of his arguments against caging animals and my responses- the rescuing of endangered species- the education of children and others in the beauty of animals- and of course since human kind live in cages (sometimes rather small ones my trips to NYC seem to indicate) why should animals be spared the crowding..  But he can't resist the trip when I mention the flowers!
On this trip the 93,000 tulips were on display and these massive plantings produce a carpet of color...


And then there are some domestic shrubs that simply scream color with such saturation that they appear to be nothing but color. Ahhhhhhhhh, Azaleas.....
Or just over burdened with blooms that weight the plant down. And my favorite!  The Lilac!

But there are also the less obvious flowers that you might or might not even see without close inspection.  These are the flowers I never saw until I saw through Don's eyes.  Their beauty can be overlooked in our rush from place to place.  Now I wait for them each spring. These are some of my favorites since instead of a symphony of color, they are more like a nocturne, quieter and more subtle..  The one below is the flower of the Paw Paw tree.  It it is small reddish brown cup that hangs with the opening down and  is about a centimeter wide.  I was under the flower shooting the picture straight up to the sky.  In the fall this tree will have large green Paw Paws hanging down that have a sweet banana taste.

And this tiny flower is from a Sasafrass tree.  These blooms are only a few millimeters wide.

And these clusters from a native black cherry tree are usually never recognized because they only last a couple of days on the tree.

This is the flower from a Hawthorn tree taken very close up.  The tree will turn white with blooms, but the individual flowers are much more spectacular.

And finally a Chinese Dog Wood flower.