Olgivanna Lloyd Wright

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Olgivanna Lloyd Wright (1898 - 1985) was the third and final wife of Frank Lloyd Wright and had significant influence in his life and work, due in part to her extensive Theosophical associations. She was a Serb Montenegrin dancer. While her "language, cultural background and upbringing were almost exotically alien to his own," [1] she was critical in introducing Wright to Greek-Armenian mystic G. I. Gurdjieff, a man whom he alternately despised and admired.[2] She is a principal character in T.C. Boyle's 2009 novel, The Women.

Biography[edit]

She was born as Olga (Olgivanna) Ivanovna Lazovich in Montenegro on 27 December 1898. to Ivan Lazovich and Militza Miljanova, daughter of Vojvoda Marko Miljanov. She was the granddaughter of a famous Montenegrin writer, tribe leader of Kuči, Montenegrin duke, and hero Marko Miljanov. A long-time pupil and devotee of G. I. Gurdjieff (even after her involvement with Wright), she was also a nurse to Katherine Mansfield on her deathbed at G. I. Gurdjieff's Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man at the Prieuré des Basses Loges on 9 January 1923.[3] She had begun her career with Gurdjieff as a student of sacred dance, which she later mastered.[4]

She was married first to Vlademar Hinzenberg, a Russian architect.

Wright and Olgivanna married August 1928 in La Jolla, California, and honeymooned in Phoenix, Arizona.[5] According to architectural writer Walt Lockley, "The Foundation and the Fellowship would not exist in any form if Wright hadn't gone to the opera with a friend one Sunday afternoon in 1924 Chicago and sat near to the dark-haired Montenegrin dancer."[6] Olgivanna continued to run Wright's Taliesin Fellowship long after his death, from 9 April 1959 until her own death in Scottsdale, Arizona, in 1985. The last quarter-century of Wright's life—his Arizona years with Olgivanna, from 1932 to 1959—were arguably his most productive, representing "more than half of [Wright's] building"[7] and including the authorship of his autobiography.

Embroiled in scandal and controversy from the beginning of their relationship (since both were married at its start), Olgivanna's legacy extended past her natural life. She had planned the removal of Wright's body from its Wisconsin grave, which was then "cremated, mixed with her ashes and used in the walls of a memorial garden to be built on the grounds of their home at Taliesin West."[8] The Wisconsin legislature prohibited this move, but nonetheless her plan was carried out successfully:

When Robert Llewellyn Wright--the son who 26 years earlier had driven through the night to return Frank Lloyd Wright's body to Wisconsin after Wright died at St. Joseph's Hospital in Phoenix--objected to the "desecration," Iovanna sent him a terse telegram: "The heritage of Taliesin is not for the likes of you."[9]

Iovanna Lazovich Lloyd Wright was Olgivanna's only child with Wright. Olgivanna's only other daughter, Svetlana Hinzenberg, adopted the surname Wright and married one of Wright's apprentices, Fellowship member William Wesley "Wes" Peters - who helped Wright ward off creditors and bankruptcy. When Svetlana Hinzenberg died in a car crash with her elder son, Daniel, Olgivanna curiously arranged for Wes Peters' subsequent marriage to Svetlana Alliluyeva, the youngest child and only daughter of Joseph Stalin. After producing with Wes Peters a daughter, Olga, in a marriage that lasted 20 months, Svetlana Alliluyeva came away with a less than glowing impression of the matriarch and her management of Taliesin:

This hierarchical system was appalling: the widow at the top, then the board of directors (a formality); then her own close inner circle, making all the real decisions; then working architects - the real working horses; at the bottom, students who paid high sums to be admitted, only to be sent the next day to work in the kitchen to peel potatoes….. Mrs. Wright's word was law. She had to be adored and worshipped and flattered as often as possible; flowers send by mail and presented by hand she enjoyed and encouraged. She gave advice to the architects, guided a drama circle, a dance group and a choir, counseling on private lives and relationships, expecting everyone to make personal confessions to her. She was a 'spiritual leader' and self-appointed minister, preaching on Sunday mornings on matters of God and man, when everyone was supposed to be in her large living room…[10]

Bibliography[edit]

  • The faraway music by Svetlana Allilueva. (Also known as Distant Music.) [11] Edition: 1st ed. New Delhi: Lancer International, 1984.
  • The Fellowship: The Untold Story of Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Fellowship by Roger Friedland and Harold Zellman, 2006, includes especially extensive and strong documentation on Olgivanna, her relationship with Wright, including "the strong influence the occultist Georgi Gurdjieff had on Wright and especially his wife Olgivanna"[12]
  • A Taliesin Legacy: The Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright's Apprentices (Architecture Series) by Tobias S. Guggenheimer. Wiley, 1995. "[A]n encyclopedia study of the projects planned and/or built by these students, who eagerly embraced Wright's ethic of organic design." (Book Review)
  • Taliesin Reflections: My Years Before, During and After Living with Frank Lloyd Wright by Earl Nisbet, 2006. (Book Review)
  • Frank Lloyd Wright: His Life, His Work, His Words by Olgivanna Lloyd Wright. Horizon Press, 1966.

Videography[edit]

  • Frank Lloyd Wright - A film by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. (1998). PBS Home Video, August 28, 2001 (153 minutes). ASIN: B00005MEPO.
  • Partner to Genius: A Biography of Olgivanna Lloyd Wright. PBS Home Video, VHS, May 13, 1997. ASIN: B00000JKXH.

References[edit]