Draftsman Frank Lloyd Wright & the Art of Harmonizing Design with Nature

“An idea is inevitably a coordination. It is a coming together of something that is separate or disorganized or incomplete. With an idea you begin to feel into the nature of that incompleteness.” – Frank Lloyd Wright

Over the course of his 60-decade long career, Frank Lloyd Wright earned a reputation for being obsessively meticulous in the pursuit of his complete artistic vision, designing everything from stained glass to furniture, and occasionally even clothing, to best suit his structures. In order to begin rendering his visions in three dimensions, it was critical to first express those thoughts on paper. Despite having no formal training as an architect, his talent was undeniable.

At just 20, he began working for Adler & Sullivan, Chicago’s foremost design firm, and was shortly thereafter promoted over more senior draftsman to Chief of Design. His work was included in the Museum of Contemporary Art in New York’s first architectural exhibition in 1932, organized by Philip Johnson, and was the subject of numerous focused exhibitions in the years following, culminating most recently in a retrospective of his works on paper in honor of his 150th anniversary.

Frank Lloyd Wright Drawing for the Harold Price, Jr. House, Bartlesville, Oklahoma, circa 1953Frank Lloyd Wright (American, 1867-1959)
Drawing for the Harold Price, Jr. House, Bartlesville, Oklahoma, circa 1953
Estimate: $1,500 – $2,500.

Wright did not brainstorm on paper. He came to the page with a complete apperception of each new design; not just the postcard view, but also the emotional impact of the built space. In his drawings, he conveys this depth a range of approaches, by choosing at times to present clients with polished, crisp watercolors and at others, a more expressive, soft, gestural take on the project. His drawings were the space where Wright could practice fantasy fulfillment: he could create any new reality, no mind paid to mundane complications of logistics, tradition, or personality. In many ways, he was a philosopher; his drawings and his commitment to purity of concept were more important to him than completing a commission, stating in one correspondence to a client: “So I take it what I have done does not please you. Since I have no interest in a conventional chapel you may consider yourself entirely free to consider the episode closed. I will take my labor for my pains and hope to build the ‘non-sectarian’ elsewhere. Sometime.” Due to this uncompromising position, there are a vast swathe of unbuilt projects in addition to a variety of projects depicting his ideas for a utopian American future.

The concept of “unity” prevails throughout his entire body of work, particularly in the balance of built and natural environments. In his time, his drawings stood out for their unique framing and attention to vegetation and landscape, inspired by Japanese woodblock prints. Rather than situating forms along axes and lines of symmetry, Wright chose instead to experiment with layered geometric forms – rectangles on rectangles, as seen in Fallingwater; concentric circles coiled atop an elongated oval as with the Guggenheim Museum – based on the teachings of Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai.

Balance, composition, and visual intrigue are prioritized over a strict adherence to convention. In his plans for residential structures, the home must be nestled in amongst the plot’s unique topography and foliage. It was his belief that the organic and the inorganic were inextricable, so it was imperative to convey the holistic experience by framing his drawings with the same draping branches, meandering streams, and punctuating shrubbery as would be present after construction.

Later in his career, this extended beyond a mere aesthetic focus as he designed his Usonian line of affordable housing that incorporated environmentally conscious elements such as radiant and passive solar heating systems for the colder months, and cantilevered roofs to keep the homes cool in the summer. Wright’s work was heavily influenced by transcendentalist thought, believing that “Nature was the only body of God that we would ever see”. The interplay between inner and outer worlds was something he believed to be of spiritual importance and so was a central tenet in his creative philosophy. In a sense, his drawings transcend the inner world of his creative mind, where the ideas meld with the outer world of public viewing.


We currently have several original drawings by Frank Lloyd Wright in our upcoming Signature Design Auction on Oct. 21st along with several iconic pieces of furniture. Visit our Design department for a list of future auctions.


Posted by Cheryl Beckwith

Consignment Coordinator, Beverly Hills

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