Saturday, November 13, 2010

Loving Pillsbury

Day 278 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and today I attended a panel discussion on the new exhibit "A Passion for Detail," on the architect Arthur Pillsbury, just opened at the McLean County Museum of History, and I know what someone wants to be reading, although it doesn't appear to be written yet!--a book on Arthur Pillsbury!

So, no, this blog entry has nothing to do with the Pillsbury Dough Boy, whose comic obituary you can read here.  From there you can click on the Pillsbury site and get plenty of holiday recipes, etc.

Regular readers will know that I have read and will be re-reading Loving Frank, by Nancy Horan, with my book group, a novel based on the facts of Wright's relationship with Mamah Borthwick Cheney.  That book comes up second in line on the current list of books about Frank Lloyd Wright at Amazon.  But where are the books on Pillsbury?

A fellow in the audience asked that very question, saying he had a book of collected writings of Frank Lloyd Wright, published by the University of Illinois Press, and there are many more books by university and commercial presses on Wright's works, life, individual houses and so on, including yet another sensational novel, The Women, by T. C. Boyle.

Arthur Pillsbury was Wright's contemporary, had similar training, a pretty wife from a prominent family, a prolific career in a life cut short,* and, evidently, "a passion for detail."

Indeed, one of the panelists clarified by compare and contrast that while everyone can recognize the Frank Lloyd Wright "style," Pillsbury worked in a number of styles, according to the wishes of the homeowner, but his designs were unified by the care taken with the detail.  Another panelist went one further, saying "Wright always did it the 'Wright' way" but that Pillsbury listened and created the desired home.  And then a woman who had arrived late turned out to be an interior designer who had lived in four different Pillsbury homes, each a bit larger, and each "eminently livable."  She called Pillsbury "prophetic" in the sense of being able to design a home in the early 1900s that would be comfortable and adaptable to life here in the 2000s.

Pillsbury had a busy time of it in Bloomington, Illinois after the great fire of 1900.  He was engaged in the rebuilding of the McLean County Courthouse (now the home of the museum and this exhibit) and much of the downtown, he built churches, and numerous residences, many still standing and, indeed, "eminently livable."   The audience was packed with people living in his homes, which this month have blue banners in front of them in honor of the exhibit.

So, while there are countless books on Frank Lloyd Wright, who will write the great book on Arthur L. Pillsbury?  Will it be Greg Koos, director of the museum, who encourages a discussion of a print-on-demand publication possibility, to make it affordable, given the art reproductions.  Will it be a set of at least four museum interns, as curator Susan Hartzold suggests, from architecture programs, who might set it up as a website?  Or might it be museum archivist Bill Kemp, author of this fabulous article on Pillsbury.  Or some combination of the above?

Cute in a different way than the Pillsbury Dough Boy, eh?

*Kemp's article mentions the untimely death of Pillsbury, at 56, in a car accident, coming home from a University of Illinois football game.  I remember it well, having written about it in the annual cemetery walk one year.  And now the local poets in my rare book room workshop will visit the architecture exhibit and write poems in response.  They'll see renderings, photographs, and objects, including the scary wolf head that used to look out from the 6th floor of a building downtown.  A passionate detail.

1 comment:

Kathleen said...

Greg Koos of the museum wants to be sure that the original designers of the courthouse are credited--William Reeves and John M. Baillie--of Reeves and Baillie, a firm in Peoria. They are, in the Wikipedia article I've sent you to.