Wright landmark hosts gallery saluting Wisconsin's master architect
Frank Lloyd Wright's buildings on the SC Johnson campus in the heart of Racine have long been among the Wisconsin architect's signature works. The lily pad-topped beams that soar up to support the roof of the administration building are unabashed icons of American architecture.
Now, a new gallery located in the lower level of Lord Norman Foster's 2010 Fortaleza Hall, will serve as a permanent gallery on the campus for annually rotating exhibitions focusing on Wright's work.
The Frank Lloyd Wright Gallery opened on June 2 and, according to SC Johnson spokeswoman Robin Plous Lapins, the idea sprang from the company's sponsorship of "Frank Lloyd Wright: Organic Architecture for the 21st Century" last year at Milwaukee Art Museum.
The gallery is a collaboration between SC Johnson and the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation and the first exhibition, "At Home with Frank Lloyd Wright," was co-curated by Milwaukee Art Museum's Brady Roberts and Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer, archives director at Taliesen West. The two worked closely on last year's MAM show, too.
"I think the genesis of the gallery really came out of the exhibit at the Milwaukee Art Museum and talking with them about how cool it was and how could we bring a more permanent presence for Frank Lloyd Wright to the area," says Lapin.
"I think that's how the relationship initiated. We've always had a relationship with the foundation. SC Johnson sponsored the (MAM) exhibit and I think it all kind of grew from there."
Artifacts on display in the gallery are on loan from the foundation for 99 years, Lapin says.
The public can visit the museum and take tours of the Wright buildings on the campus for free, but reservations are required and folks ought to book as far in advance as possible, as tours fill up fast.
Entering the SC Johnson campus through the Lippincott and Margulies' Rondelle – built as the SC Johnson pavilion for the 1964 World's Fair and now serving as a visitors' center – guests turn left and see Foster's own stone and glass "rondelle," at the foot of a long, green lawn.
The stone is Kasota and though in its unweathered state you wouldn't know it, it is the same stone Wright used to construct his Johnson Wax buildings.
"Norman Foster used the exact same stone tying the buildings together," says Betsy Davis of SC Johnson's community relations department. "(It) is from the same quarry in Mankato, Minn., and it's a type of limestone called Kasota stone. And like Frank Lloyd Wright did, in between the bricks the mortar was raked out to emphasize the horizontal lines and then tinted in the vertical joints."
Inside, Forteleza Hall is a wide-open rotunda, with an airplane – built for Sam Johnson's recreation of his father's famed 1935 expedition to Brazil in search of carnauba wax – hanging from the center.
On the left there's a stunning fountain and staircase up to the next level. But head downstairs and, passing The Lily Pad – a new Wright gift shop – you'll find the gallery and library.
The first show is a mix of artifacts like vases, stained glass windows and lamps and furniture, mingled with photographs of floor plans and completed buildings. A short video on the importance of the Robie House in Chicago plays on a loop in the far corner.
In addition to the Robie, the show spotlights the Ward Willits House in Highland Park, Ill., and a few others to explain how Wright created and perfected his revolutionary and transformational Prairie Style at the dawn of the 20th century.
The exhibit is relatively small, but the accompanying audio tour – which is highly recommended – puts everything into perspective and includes recordings of Pfeiffer and even Wright himself. Expect to spend about 30 minutes walking through at a leisurely pace.
While you're there, don't miss out on the tours of the campus. There is a one-hour gallery tour and a two-hour "Landmarks Tour" that includes the gallery and the administration building. If you've got the time and the inclination, the "Legacies Tour" is a three-and-a-half-hour exploration of everything on the two-hour tour plus a pair of documentary film screenings.
All tours are free. Visit scjohnson.com/visit to book online.
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