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Property from a Denver Collection“Art is to me a matter of seeing and portraying in any medium the harmony of organic tendencies and this harmony is poetry.” Frank Lloyd Wright, 1902Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959), perhaps this country’s most accomplished architect, is renowned for his hundreds of visionary designs and completed structures in a career that spanned over seventy years. Deeply influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement and his early training under Louis Sullivan, Wright was not content with simply providing architectural designs for a building. He also wanted an interior that would complement the structure and create a totally unified environment.Wright was largely dissatisfied with the furnishings available in the general marketplace and, with typical self-confidence, decided that he would design, when permitted, an inner setting suitable for each of his homes. Furniture was generally made of wood and featured rectilinear lines and horizontal planes. Leaded glass windows were often designed with the same philosophy in simple geometric patterns and a near total absence of extraneous ornamentation. In all things, form was to follow function.Of the many decorative objects Wright created for various interiors, this magnificent copper urn is without doubt one of the most creative and successful. The design first appears in the mid-1890s as a sketch, currently in the collection of the Taliesin archives, with the inscription “K Schneider 352 Southport Ave.” Kristian Schneider (1864-1935), a Norwegian immigrant, was responsible for modeling much of the terracotta, plaster and iron ornamentations for Louis Sullivan’s buildings. Wright was certainly aware of Schneider’s work, as they both worked concurrently for Sullivan, and perhaps Wright originally planned to produce the urn in a material other than copper. However, towards the end of the decade, Wright met James A. Miller, who he later described as “a sheet-metal worker of Chicago who had intelligent pride in his material.”Miller’s firm, under Wright’s direction, produced two of the first of the urns in 1899 for the Edward C. Waller House, River Forest, Illinois. Created from approximately 18 sheets of richly patinated copper, the design vividly displays Wright’s interest in implementing contrasting geometric forms into his decorative schemes. First introduced to combining shapes when he was given a gift of Froebel blocks as a child, it was a theme Wright constantly referred to. This is perhaps best represented by his windows for the Avery Coonley Payhouse, Riverside, Illinois (1912) and his ambitious mural for the Midway Garden, Chicago (1914).The urn was produced in two models. Both are comprised of a large spherical body, with a slightly upturned rim, supported by 4 raised square feet. The body is enhanced with a repoussé motif that is repeated 4 times; a large beaded circle bordered by a square surrounded by four lozenges within elongated hexagons. The primary difference between the two models is that the later examples, referred to as the “open” version, lack the additional “bow-tie” decoration within each upper and lower hexagon that was featured in the earlier edition. This seemingly minor design change created a more cohesive motif and significantly altered and enhanced the urn’s overall impact by further reinforcing its bold, spherical form.Wright included the urn in several of his most important commissions. Although the exact number of urns produced is unknown, it is believed that 16 were made and 11 documented examples are extant. A pair of the earlier versions appeared in Wright’s home and studio in Oak Park, Illinois in addition to those for the Waller House. Others might have also been made for the Joseph and Helen Husser House, Chicago (1899) and the Isadore Heller House, Chicago (1896). “Open” versions were produced for the Sarah Lawrence Dana House, Springfield, Illinois (1902), the Avery Coonley House, Riverside, Illinois (1907), Browne’s Bookstore, Chicago (1908), and Unity Temple, Oak Park, Illinois (1908). These urns are among the most sophisticated and harmonious creations in Frank Lloyd Wright’s long career. Despite their monumental nature, the simplicity of design creates a universality that permitted Wright to utilize them in a select number of his Prairie style commissions. The rich brown patina, fashioned by the patient application of several layers of colored lacquer, was a perfect complement to the earth tones that dominated Wright’s interiors. It is no surprise the urn is in the collection of some of the world’s leading museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. It is an iconic object in the history of American design and perhaps best reflects Wright’s principal that “simplicity and repose are the qualities that measure the true value of any work of art.”


A Rare and Important Urn, circa 1902
executed by James A. Miller, Chicago
19 in. (48.3 cm.) high
Schrager Auction Gallery, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, late 1960s;
Private collection, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, acquired from the above;
Private collection, Oak Park, Illinois, acquired from the above;
DeLorenzo Gallery, New York, acquired from the above;
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2008.
For other examples of this model:
F. L. Wright, Drawings and Plans of Frank Lloyd Wright: The Early Period (1893-1901), New York, 1983, pl. LVI (b);
D. A. Hanks, Frank Lloyd Wright Preserving an Architectural Heritage Decorative Designs from the Domino’s Pizza Collection, New York, 1989, pp. 42-43;
D. P. Hallmark, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Dana-Thomas House, Springfield, 1990, p. 7;
B. B. Pfeiffer, D. Larkin, Frank Lloyd Wright the Masterworks, New York, 1993, p. 88;
W. A. Storrer, The Frank Lloyd Wright Companion, Chicago, 1993, pp. 134, 142;
T. A. Heinz, Dana House: Frank Lloyd Wright, London, 1995, p. 72;
B. B. Pfeiffer, Frank Lloyd Wright Drawings, New York, 1996, p. 286;
J. L. Sloan, Light Screens: The Complete Leaded-Glass Windows of Frank Lloyd Wright, New York, 2001, p. 185, fig. 195.

For other examples of the closely related 'bow-tie' model:
R. J. Clark, The Arts and Crafts Movement in America 1876-1916, New Jersey, 1972, p. 69;
S. S. Darling, Chicago Metalsmiths, Chicago, 1977, p. 71;
D. A. Hanks, The Decorative Designs of Frank Lloyd Wright, New York, 1979, pp. 20, 35, 70 -71;
H. Allen Brooks, Frank Lloyd Wright and the Prairie School, New York, 1984, p. 46, fig. 7;
T. M. Volpe and B. Cathers, Treasures of the American Arts and Crafts Movement 1890-1920, New York, 1988, p. 134;
A. Betsky, Three California Houses: The Homes of Max Palevsky, New York, 2002, pp. 134, 136.

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