The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, citing verbal wishes of Wright's widow, Olgivanna Wright, has outraged some of the architect's family by exhuming Wright's remains from his ancestral graveyard at the original Taliesin in Wisconsin, cremating it and moving the ashes to Taliesin West near Scottsdale, Ariz.
Olgivanna Wright, the architect's third wife, who died on March 1, wanted his ashes brought there to be buried with hers in a shrine dedicated to the two of them. Both their ashes are in storage, awaiting the building of the memorial. Wright died 26 years ago today.
"A childish stunt by a selfish woman carried out by a group of idolators," said David Wright, a Wright son by his first wife, Catherine.
Richard Carney, secretary of the Wright Foundation, said yesterday that the order to exhume Wright was signed by Iovanna Wright, the only child of Frank Lloyd and Olgivanna Wright.
"Mr. Wright had indicated a spot at Taliesin West for a small chapel. For several years Mrs. Wright had asked that we make it a reality. It was her final wishes -- a verbal expression -- that both be cremated and their ashes placed there," Carney said.
Edgar Tafel wrote in his book "Years With Frank Lloyd Wright: Apprentice to Genius" that when Wright died in Arizona, "Wes Peters [now Taliesin's president] and two apprentices took his body to Wisconsin for the funeral. They drove the station wagon straight through, day and night." He was buried at Taliesin, in Spring Green, Wis. (The Taliesin architects and apprentices split the year between the two Taliesins, the school and architectural firm founded by Wright.)
Said David Wright, who lives in Phoenix: "Frank Lloyd Wright was buried in the valley of his ancestors, which he called home and where his major works are. Taliesin West is just a camp." He protested the idea of the joint shrine on Taliesin West. "The shrine would be nothing without him. But he has his shrines all over the world. It does no service to Frank Lloyd Wright. It's using the name of Frank Lloyd Wright for the gain of a very selfish person who would be nothing without him. It's a shame to make a show, a kindergarten act."
"An act of vandalism," said Robert Llewellyn Wright, another Wright son and a Washington attorney. "I don't know why they did it. I thought Wes Peters would have more respect for my father's wishes."
William Wesley Peters said yesterday he thought Olgivanna Wright's feelings should be respected. "And Iovanna was in favor of it. I felt it was Mrs. Wright's wish, though I personally did not hear it from her. I can't be sure whether Mr. Wright would have cared. I do appreciate Robert Wright's feeling. I respect him very much."
"I was shocked," said Elizabeth Wright Ingraham, a Colorado Springs, Colo., architect and the daughter of John Wright, another son. She is president of the Unity Chapel Association, which supervises the cemetery at Taliesin in Wisconsin. She said she was not informed of the Wright foundation's intentions, and when she learned of them, "nothing could be done. I think it's difficult when people are grieving over the loss of someone and trying to carry out her wishes. Mrs. Wright wanted to be buried in Arizona and wanted to have him there with her."
Spring Green, Ingraham said, "was not always kind" to Olgivanna Wright. "I suppose moving my grandfather wouldn't matter to many," she said, "but it seems to me a profound, significant act. His spirit is in Spring Green. That was his home. His great statements were made there. He was born and went to school at Spring Green. Six generations of his family are buried in the cemetery."
Of the March 25 exhumation, Carney said, "The decision was made by the people here at Taliesin West. The executive board were of one mind to do it. Mrs. Wright had been asking to have it accomplished for 10 years. The formalities had been begun several years ago, but never carried through. Iovanna, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Wright, signed the papers. We hope to have the memorial constructed within six months."
But Spring Green architect Marcus Weston, a Wright apprentice and colleague whose father had been a carpenter on Wright houses, said, "I was upset. I knew him all my life. Mr. Wright always regarded the valley as home.
"I've heard some indignation around the village, but apparently it was all legal with the coroners of both Iowa County Spring Green and Dana County Madison, where the body was cremated . I guess that Mrs. Wright thought people in Arizona were friendlier to her than in Spring Green. Or she might have minded that Mamah Borthwick Cheney is buried in the Unity Chapel Cemetery."
Wright left his first wife for Cheney, the wife of a client, and built the house at Taliesin in Spring Green for her. While he was away in 1914 working on Midway Gardens in Chicago, a servant killed Cheney, her two children and four other people and burned Taliesin. It was later rebuilt.