To most Brits, Frank Lloyd Wright is just the name in the title of a song on the last and greatest album of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, Bridge Over Troubled Water. To me he’s one the world’s greatest architects. Incidentally, Art Garfunkel dared Paul Simon to write a song about Frank Lloyd Wright and this song was the answer to that dare. Art Garfunkel studied to be an architect because he thought his career as a musician would never be successful.
I’ve visited his house in Oak Park, Chicago and seen many of his iconic buildings including the Guggenheim Museum in New York. I loved his summer home in Wisconsin which was called after the Welsh bard Taliesin. Wright’s parents, William Cary Wright and Anna Lloyd-Jones, originally named him Frank Lincoln Wright, which he later changed after they divorced in honour of his mother’s family, the Lloyd Joneses who had emigrated from Taliesin in mid-Wales. I recall visiting his grave in Wisconsin which was moved shortly afterwards to Arizona. Many people locally remembered Wright as famously eccentric and who never paid any of his bills!
Imagine my surprise when I discovered that Frank Lloyd Wright had a connection with another eccentric architect – Sir Bertram Clough Williams-Ellis, creator of the Portmeirion village near Porthmadog. Although born in England, Williams-Ellis’ family claimed direct descent from Owain Gwynedd, Prince of North Wales. Frank Lloyd Wright visited Wales in 1956 to receive an honorary doctorate from Bangor University. He stayed with the creator of Portmeirion, Sir Clough Williams Ellis, whose work in Portmeirion Wright admired greatly. Both men wanted to design buildings that lived in harmony with the natural landscape. On the day of the Bangor University degree ceremony the great man, without telling Williams-Ellis, ordered a taxi to take him from Portmeirion to Taliesin in search of his roots. Clough panicked and immediately dispatched a fast motorcycle to apprehend the car, so that his guest could be awarded his degree.
Portmeirion is a unique place – used for many tv and film locations and is set in wonderful scenery in the Mawddach Estuary. I shall enjoy it so much more now I know of its connection with one of my heroes.