Writing about Wright : Edgar Kaufmann jr.'s analyses on Frank Lloyd Wright
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For many years authors have repeated stories and myths about Frank Lloyd Wright, overstating purported influences and unjustly degrading periods of Wright’s work. Discrepancies in Wright’s own discourses have not made the task of characterizing him any easier. To better understand Wright’s works and influences, the focus must shift to those who have authored the narratives about Wright. Among the most important of these was Edgar Kaufmann jr. [sic]. Other early Wright commentators, such as Henry-Russell Hitchcock, Grant Carpenter Manson, and Bruno Zevi are usually mentioned before Kaufmann, but Kaufmann published more about Wright than any one else, until his death in 1989. Hitchcock worked on twenty-two books and articles about Wright, Manson on nine, and Zevi on seventeen. Kaufmann authored thirty works about Wright, more than Zevi and Manson combined. Kaufmann is generally referred to as the son of Fallingwater, but his Wrightian scholarship and design theory extended far beyond his role in bequeathing his family’s famous retreat. Kaufmann’s writing career spanned over three decades and included more than forty works, with topics about Wright, “Good Design,” skyscrapers, and the museum industry. His writings reveal a complex scholar who at times was led by the trends of his time, and who was not afraid to reevaluate and redefine his past work. From Kaufmann’s first article about Wright in Art News, to his work establishing Fallingwater’s tour program, he communicated Wright’s methods and analyzed his rhetoric. During Wright’s lifetime, Kaufmann followed his wishes for interpreting his work. But after Wright’s death, Kaufmann was swayed by a number of contemporary ideas, such as indeterminacy and systems. Most of Kaufmann’s writings focused on Wright’s later architecture, clarifying his rhetoric, discussing his influences and space, and telling the history of Fallingwater. Kaufmann is a key figure in the narrative about Wright because of his unique perspective as a student, a client, and a friend that no other historian can claim. Deciphering Kaufmann’s writings allows for an examination of one of the major voices behind Wright’s story.