Sunday, August 09, 2009

A Visit to Falling Water

Part of this weekend's whirlwind trip so far included a trip to Fallingwater,perhaps one of Frank Lloyd Wright's most famous homes that he designed for the wealthy Kaufman family of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The house is amazing in many ways and the uniqueness of the design and the way in which the home is incorporated into the rock out cropping and waterfall is remarkable. I was fascinated both by the house itself and Wright's design. I was also intrigued by the Kaufman's son, Edgar J. Kaufman, Jr., who played a role in the home's creation.
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Much like once was the case when one visited Jefferson's Monticello when Sallie Hemmings went unmentioned, the same occurred during our tour. While our tour guide was a sweet young woman who described the younger Kaufman's accomplishments - it was he who donated the home to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy - one part of the true history was omitted: the younger Kaufman was gay. The official history given out in the tour is that "Edgar, Jr., never married" as if being gay is still something shameful. It would be nice if the truth were told and perhaps a few minds and hearts could be opened to a better appreciation of the fact that being gay is something natural and not in need of being hidden. Here's some brief biographical facts on Edgar J. Kaufman, Jr.:
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Edgar Kaufmann, Jr. (1910 – July 31, 1989) was an American architect, lecturer, and author. He was the son of Edgar J. Kaufmann, a wealthy Pittsburgh businessman and philanthropist who owned Kaufmann's department store. Edgar Jr. attended the School for Arts and Crafts at the Austrian Museum of Applied Art in Vienna in the late 1920s, studied painting and typography for three years with Victor Hammer in Florence, and was an apprentice architect at Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin Foundation from 1933 to 1934. He strongly supported his father's decision to commission Fallingwater by Wright in 1936.
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In 1940, Edgar wrote to Alfred Barr of the Museum of Modern Art, proposing the Organic Design in Home Furnishings Competition, won by Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen. He served in the US military during World War II. Afterwards, he was Director of the Industrial Design Department at the Museum of Modern Art. Edgar's greatest accomplishment during his tenure was the Good Design program of 1950 to 1955, in which the museum joined forces with the Merchandise Mart in Chicago, promoting good design in household objects and furnishings.
After his father’s death in 1955, Edgar Jr. inherited
Fallingwater and continued to use it as a mountain retreat until 1963. Then, following his father’s wishes, he entrusted it and several hundred acres of land to Western Pennsylvania Conservancy as a conservation in memory of his parents.
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From 1963 to 1986, Edgar was an Adjunct Professor of Architecture and Art History at
Columbia University. He authored several books on Wright architecture and modern design, and was a contributor to Encyclopædia Britannica. Following his death in 1989, Edgar was entombed alongside the remains of his parents in the family mausoleum on the grounds of Fallingwater.

5 comments:

Show Me said...

Everyone who visits Fallingwater starts at the Visitor Center, which contains a cafe and museum shop. This open-air pod structure was designed by Paul Mayen, Edgar Kaufmann, jr.'s partner of 35 years. They met at Columbia University when they were in their early twenties. They shared an apartment in NYC and later a retreat in Hydra, Greece. Sitting unceremoniously atop a coffee table in Fallingwater's living room is a red cubist sculpture, also designed by Mayen, an industrial designer. After Edgar jr.'s death, Paul Mayen auctioned Edgar's vast collection of modern paintings in the 1990s; the sale netted $98 million. Thereafter Mayen continued Edgar's philanthropy, generously supporting the conservancy to which Fallingwater is entrusted.

Nancy Polikoff said...

I have just returned from a tour of Fallingwater. Our tour guide freely referred to Edgar Jr. having a life partner, Paul Mayen. I don't know if this is done on a guide-by-guide basis or if there has been an overall change since your post three years ago.

Michael-in-Norfolk said...

Nancy, I do not know if there has been a change in policy or not. It would certainly be nice if the staff no longer felt that it was not appropriate to mention Paul Mayen.

ETANA FINKLER said...

I visited Falling Water today 10/26/2014, and the tour guide referred to the son as a bachelor. When I asked, "did that mean he was gay?" he replied, "he ws a bachelor and he was gay." Now I come to read that they were in a relationship for 36 years. So homophobic still, to deny that 36 years is a relationship...

Michael-in-Norfolk said...

Yes, it is sad that even now with same sex marriage legal in Pennsylvania that a 36 year relationship is treated as unmentionable.