Monday, July 5, 2010

It Happened Again

I visited Fallingwater with a group from the museum I work for now--which I love, by the way--and I walked through the hallway into the master bedroom and--it happened again--was moved to tears. I planned on going on onto the terrace and looking in (my favorite nighttime view) but I never made it. I just stood in the room looking out. I can't explain it. Can someone help me? My profession is based on putting beauty into words, but this I cannot.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Close Encounters with History

Last weekend I had the privilege of meeting Elsie Henderson, the longtime cook for Fallingwater's Kaufmann family. One of the few Fallingwater "originals" still living, Elsie recently wrote a cookbook with recipes and memories of her time spent there.

To my surprise, she lives in my neighborhood--literally blocks away from me.

Not to my suprise, she speaks fondly of her time at Fallingwater and kindly of the Kaufmann family who employed her. In fact, the Kaufmanns helped to give her her "big break" as a cook, and she later went on to work for the Kennedys--although she said she always preferred the Kaufmanns.

While we are decades apart in age (she was born in 1913, me in 1976), Elsie and I actually have a lot in common. We both fell in love with the same place, and like so many others who have spent time there, it continues to have a hold on us.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Holding Back Tears

I don't usually talk about this, but there were times when, although often in the presence of visitors (and maybe partically because of it), I felt moved to tears during an average working day at Fallingwater.

It tended to happen most often after stepping from the cavernous second floor hallway into the vast, sunlit master bedroom opening up to the terrace outside.

There was something that I understood deeply, yet at the same time didn't understand at all, about how it felt, what it meant. Maybe I could sense that others felt it too.

So I would do my best to talk about the room, then release people to explore the terrace outside. During this time, I would try and collect myself.

There's a truth this space expresses that parts of me knows and other parts want to know. There's a beauty that dips down deep and touches something in us, if we're open to it. There's a revelation to it that never stops unfolding.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Taking Love of a Place to Horrifying Heights

I realize the recollection of one of the key designers and builders of an American architectural masterpiece requesting that I disrobe is hard to follow--and I confess I let that post ride for a while--there's really so much more. So much.

Many of us who spent our days at Fallingwater loved it with a passion normally reserved for great romances, for spiritual pursuits--and of course that doesn't preclude us from those passions either--that we went to extreme lengths to engage with it, to learn its every secret.

One secret that it held of which few had real, practical knowledge was its nocturnal life. There was something so intimate about the idea of being there at night, of knowing what it felt like, of having that privileged experience, even though the privilege was, in our case, self-created.

One night watchman was a good friend, and one who, sadly, died not long after in an accident at home. He suggested a couple of us, including a couple architectural interns who were staying nearby, to take a walk there one night. He didn't let us in the main gate--that would have been too bold--but rather offered a route by which we could hike in. We didn't mean any trouble. We just wanted to feel it, to know it in a different way. And the interns wanted to snap a few night shots. And that's what we did. We never even went in the house, just walked around outside, reveling in our adventure.

But our friend, the guard, had a sense of adventure that went far beyond our nighttime hike. Telling us he had done so several times before to entertain himself at night, he climbed the stones of Fallingwater's massive chimney and stood on top, arms outstretched in the darkness, high above the waterfall and jagged sandstone boulders below. It was almost a ghostly image, and I marveled that his fear of death seemed hauntingly absent. All he felt was exhilaration.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Frank Lloyd Wright's apprentice asked me to take my shirt off

It's true. I won't say which one, but he's still living, and he helped to design and oversee the construction of Fallingwater.

It happened when he was visiting for an event and two other female Fallingwater staff members and I were keeping him company in the servant's sitting room behind the kitchen. It's one of those things I won't forget, understandably. Out of the blue he said to the three of us, "So which one of you ladies is going to take your blouse off?" First of all, I love the word "blouse"--not too many people use it anymore. But then, how does one respond to a request like that? In our case, it was nervous laughing and shared crazy-eyed smiles. What can you do? You just go on from there, right?

In a presence like that, you expect insightful epitaphs, previously unrecorded details about the process of creating a masterpiece. But you realize that the "gods" that made such a beautiful place a reality are really just people. And the reverence I have for it only reveals that it's a place that is continually, collectively created by all of us who experience it.

With that in mind, I ask you, blog readers: which one of you is going to take your blouse off?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Moxie Out on the Town

Yesterday I went to a book signing for a new children's book about Fallingwater, Moxie the Dachshund of Fallingwater, by Fallingwater's Curator of Education, Cara Armstrong.

Moxie has really been hitting the town lately. She's certainly been getting more and more press and appearance dates. Written from the point of view of one of the Kaufmann family's dachshunds--a breed which, it is worth noting, nicely continues the horizontal lines of the house--the book helps to make Fallingwater's ideas accessible to kids.

A lot of creativity comes out of Fallingwater. It's a place which, nearly 75 years after its construction, continues to inspire fresh ideas in those who spend time there. It's one of those places whose message is perennial, but like Frank Lloyd Wright's organic architecture itself, its philosophy takes shape in an endless number of forms, depending on what, where, when, why, and by whom that form is created.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Fallingwater Dreams

Some people have dreams about having to give a speech and not remembering what to say, or about finding themselves naked in public. I have dreams about giving tours at Fallingwater that go maddeningly wrong in one way or another or, in most cases, in many ways at once. They often involve groups of visitors that go wild--people rolling around on the original Frank Lloyd Wright-designed furniture, breaking things, and straying from the tour chaotically.

In real life, of course, this kind of thing hardly ever happened, at least not on such a large scale. But the fear of it obviously still lingers in my consciousness. I worked at Fallingwater from 1996 to 2005, but years later the impact of wanting to simultaneously share and protect the place stays with me and haunts my dreamlife. I'm still there all the time, even though I'm not.