Trophy "Anything serving as a token or evidence of victory, valour, power, skill, etc." -Oxford English Dictionary. Gee, I've written a book about Frank Lloyd Wright, aren't I important!
Courage Books, an imprint of Running Press Books Publishers, issues a variety of books, some on architecture, two of which about Frank Lloyd Wright came to my attention recently. These are the junk bonds of the Wright writership. Largely derivative, written by people who, all too often, have not been to the places they write about (or if they have, they don't show it in their writing). The two considered below were both written by Brits, and photographed by a Brit. None shows understanding of the American prairie. Their texts, as far as the buildings are concerned, could have been cribbed largely from the Frank Lloyd Wright Companion. It may be noted that the Frank Lloyd Wright Encyclopedia also falls in this category; the Companion would have used that title, but it is not organized alphabetically (a rather useless arrangement if you don't already have something like the Companion or The Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright, a complete Catalog from which to refer to the Encyclopedia, which will then add nothing to what you have in the other two books! By now you should begin to get the point).
Frank Lloyd Wright Glass, by Doreen Ehrlich ©2000 ISBN 0-7624-0881-2
The Life and Work of Frank Lloyd Wright, by Maria Cosantino ©1998 ISBN 0-7624-0378-0
Why do Brits write books on American architecture when they understand so little about anything designed in or west of the Appalachians? They give us nothing fresh about our architecture. Well, the Brits always turn their noses up when it comes to culture, which they know all about. Maybe, after the past election, they consider all America unsophisticated country hicks, but that still doesn't explain how they can so depict our treasures with almost total inaccuracy or by rewriting what they've read in well-written American-authored books.
As I thumbed thru the Erlich book I quickly found a number of problems. Calling the Ennis house, S.217, Ennis Brown was the first. Had Ms Ehrlich ever visited, she would know it is Ennis-Brown, if you follow latter-day owner Gus Brown's mandate. Now that Gus is out of it, just the "Ennis house" is appropriate, as Mabel and Charles were the original clients. Then the author fails to note that the Pope-Leighey house, S.268, is miss-sited at its new home in Mount Vernon and thus the light patterns created by the glass cut-outs in the clerestory are not what Wright intended. Later she fails to mention that the Don and Virginia Lovness house was NOT designed for them by Wright, but is a version, reengineered by the Taliesin Associated Architects with a full basement (no less), for these clients of the Seth Peterson Cottage, S.430.
And so on.
The photographer, who served both authors, gets only a note on the title verso page. If I were him, I'd be ashamed of my work for two reasons. 1. Wright meant for the interiors of his homes to be viewed from a seated position, yet Simon Clay made his photographs from a standing position. 2. Under electric incandesant lighting, one uses "indoor" tungsten-balanced film. Clay did not, and his photos have that warm orange glow throughout that comes from using the wrong film, which makes judging the effects of the glass, the purpose of the book, impossible.
The only good thing I can say about the Ehrlich book is that, unlike Julie Sloan's expensive opus reviewed above, this thin tome is cheap and does not stop with art glass, but looks at how Wright took glass beyond the camed geometric designs of the Prairie years into work towards the end of the architect's career.
The Costantino book has a massive two-page spread photo of the Monona Terrace, Anthony Puttnam's redesign of a sketch of Wright's original work. Groan!
There are good books on Wright, many with excellent photographs. We'd really hope libraries and book stores would use some discrimination and support the efforts of these good writers who often have trouble getting their works published. The good writers should not have to face cheap, often British, competition, which should not be wasting space on their shelves.