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Rare Manuscripts, Documents and Autographs
Lot 699: Frank Lloyd Wright(236 views)
Frank Lloyd Wright
Expansive archive documenting the construction of the James Bryan Christie House in Bernardsville, New Jersey in 1940-41. The archive includes eight TLSs from Frank Lloyd Wright, five blueprints, eleven building plans, one drawing on tracing paper, an album with candid photos documenting the construction of the house and other related materials including correspondence between Wright's office and Mr. Christie, land deeds, contracts, architectural plans and the property sheet for when the house was eventually listed for sale. Wright's color renderings of the James Bryan Christie House are part of the Museum of Modern Art's permanent collection.The eight Wright letters, five signed "Frank Lloyd Wright," including one signed in pencil, with the remaining three signed "F.L.L. W.," range in date from August 5, 1939 up to March 20, 1944, and are written to both Mr. and Mrs. Christie. The letters start out quite congenial about picking a building site. Wright writes, in part: "As to the site. I think you should be [the] best judge of that. I suggest you get as much individuality as to topography and features-stream, trees, etc, as you can and as much freedom from adjacent buildings as is possible. When you get your site send us a topographical map-features noted-a few snapshots and we can proceed to make the preliminary sketches for you." Christie and Wright continued an exchange of letters about the design of the house and its placement on the plot of land. While they agreed on a design and a $10,000 budget including the design fee and construction costs, delays and difficulties related to contractors cause much tension between the two men. An unsigned carbon of a letter from Christie to Wright, dated September 14, 1940 states, in part: "We consider that you have treated us shabbily and that your work with respect to our proposed house has been characterized by negligence, numerous errors, and unreasonable delay." After issuing his ultimatums, Christie closes the letter with "I assure you that failure to provide such cooperation immediately will result in legal action." On September 16 Wright sends a defiant response to Christie. In part; "Your faith in 'legal action' is touching. Your threats would better be left unsaid-but you are probably used to dealing with a different kind of male animal so we will credit you accordingly. Not because of any professional threats you might make but because we are in wrong really (we never should have undertaken to build you a house so far away when we are so busy)...I do not furnish houses to people for certain sums of money. I sell them my services for what those services may be worth to them. If we can build what you want for $10,000 well and good. If we can't it is our privilege to redraw the plans to come within your cost limit which we will proceed to do." Several letters from Wright's secretary and apprentices for the remainder of 1940 are also included, Wright's final letter, written to Mrs. Christie, dated March 20, 1944, addresses the tension between himself and Mr. Christie. In part: "I recognize that 'your Jim' had plenty of provocation for exasperation and, probably lacking the technique, took the stand he did in the way he did it. Being a lawyer has its demoralizing effects? Anyway, there is no ill will or hard feelings."Also included in the archive are five printed blueprints of various sizes, including a plan of the plot of land, elevations, furnishing and living space, and a framing plan; 11 printed building plans of various sizes including elevation, wall and sash units, and larger layouts of the various rooms of the house including the bedrooms, kitchen, and living area, a general overall plan for the house; a scrapbook containing 39 original candid snapshots documenting the construction of the house including photos of the land before any construction was started, land clearing and foundation, brick work and framing, roofing, and several photos of the finished home taken during wintertime. Also included with the album are two larger professional photos, one of the exterior, and one of the interior living area; a blank 13-page document titled "Agreement Between Contractor and Owner for Construction of Usonian Buildings"; carbons of correspondence from Christie to Wright, as well as to Christie's lawyer; a lengthy draft letter from Mrs. Christie to Wright; various other correspondence and documents regarding the initial building including titles, right-of-way on the road, and insurance information; agreements for the contractors, various notes; newspaper clippings about the home; four Western Union telegrams from Wright; and three copies of the property sheet for when the house was eventually listed for sale, with an asking price of $25,000.00.In very good to fine overall condition.The first and largest of his homes in New Jersey, the James B. Christie house is a prime example of Wright's 'Usonian architecture,' a new style for suburban design and middle-class family living. These small, single-story homes were intended to be practical and affordable: by using native materials for construction and designing architectural features that enabled passive solar heating, natural cooling, and natural lighting, the houses were incredibly cost-effective. They usually featured small kitchens ('workspaces,' as Wright called them), that adjoined the dining spaces which, in turn, flowed into the main living areas. Bedrooms were isolated and small, meant to encourage the family to gather in the main living areas. Though only sixty of Wright's Usonian houses were built, many features of the style have been adapted into subsequent suburban development. This extensive archive follows the design and construction of the Christie house from start to finish-through planning, alterations, arguments, legal threats, and reconciliation-bringing to life one of Wright's Usonian homes.
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Rare Manuscripts, Documents and Autographs