Saturday, January 28, 2012

Tons of work, not much to show for it

Midway Gardens is a puzzle, one where I have to make the pieces myself and the picture on the box is incomplete. Consequently, things aren't always (read: never) going to be right the first time. I've learned a lot in the past year, and I'm constantly figuring new things out. But unfortunately, the model doesn't always reflect these changes because they are very time consuming to make. Back around the end of October, I decided to rectify this, and I still am updating things. It's been amazing to me how many things weren't centered, were off by a few inches, or just didn't line up. It's a little frustrating because I don't feel like I'm making any progress, but when this is done, I'll have a great foundation for the work to come; I know for a fact that the majority of what I'm doing here will not have to be redone. I'll post new images when I've got more progress to show, and I know everyone will be excited to see how the Midway Garden Club is coming along.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


It's been a while since I've posted, but I've been very busy and many exciting things have been happening with the project. I got copies of the relevant volumes of the Complete Works of Frank Lloyd Wright by Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer (the 1980s version, not the 2010 version) and it has been a treasure trove. Plans, elevations, details, sketches and more that I've never seen before. Now I have wonderful drawings of all the sides of all the sculptures (except what's in the Winter Garden), and I've found out some of the colors.

I had seen the sketch of the elaborate balcony decoration and saw that a note said it was to be inlaid with red glass. My suspicion was that the decorative concrete pattern that covers most of the Belvederes was supposed to have some as well. As I was leafing through the book, I happened to stop on the pages covering the Avery Coonley House and there, in color, was a sketch of exactly what I was looking for, just mislabeled as for the Coonley House instead of Midway Gardens. And believe me when I say that there was absolutely no way I was mistaken. It showed red glass inserted into the concrete and it also showed that some of the concrete was to be painted black. I've applied it to the model and I have to say that over a large surface the effect is really surprising. I honestly can't say my opinion at this time, but it does fit and makes the plain concrete seem rather bland by comparison.

Another color revelation is a bit of a leap of faith, but only a small one. For the sketch for the so-called 'totem pole' figure holding its mugs of beer, there were indications that parts of the figure should be painted (and when I finally get to that, it will be) but it was originally supposed to have a light pole attached to it. The surprise was that the light pole was supposed to be gilded. Therefore, I don't think it's a terrible stretch to think that all of the pinnacles at Midway were supposed to be as well. I'm going to give it a try.

Nothing has been happening on the FLW Foundation front. I'm beginning to despair of ever having access to their treasure trove, but I do have some new venues to explore. I recently purchased a book on all of Wrights windows called Light Screens: The Complete Leaded Glass of Frank Lloyd Wright. The author, Julie L. Sloaan, is an expert on stained glass and has done extensive restoration work on historic stained glass. I'm going to contact her after I have the windows for the Midway Gardens Club done. Thanks to her book, which replroduces some sketches in color, I found out that the windows are all done in red, black, white, and clear glass. This seems to be consistent throught the work.

Speaking of books, I finished Anthony Alofsin's Frank Lloyd Wright: the Lost Years. It took a long time to finish, and was a bit intense in places, but was seriously mind-blowing and wonderful. He has a different perspective on Wright and his decoration than Kruty, and it was great to get a fresh look at Midway Gardens. I want to contact Mr. Alofsin as well.

I've also started work on one of the murals for the Garden Club. While murals were completed for the Tavern on the other side of the Gardens, it looks like nothing was ever done for the walls of the Garden Club. Since something was surely meant to be there, and since I don't want to design something myself, I've decided to use the murals from the tavern, but put them on opposite walls and reverse them. It's not a perfect solution, but will at least make them look somewhat different from those in the Tavern. I've got measured drawings, photos, and colored pencil sketches for these. All three differ from one another, and I'm picking and choosing a bit, but the final result is far more accurate than anything anyone else has done, and I'm pretty excited about that.

As always, comments are very welcome.

So much needs to be done here, but I like how the mural is coming along. It's realy fun and adds so much to the space. I can't wait to finish the doors as well, which are kind of a mess right now. They will be stained glass when finished.

Here is the view with the glass imbedded in the concrete. It's a neat effect. The poles at the top are supposed to be gilded, but I think they look silver-have to play around with that some. You'll notice there are some rudimentary sculptures above the entrance. They will be Sprites when they're done, but God only knows when that will be. I've been struggling with them for a while and they are getting nowhere, but I'll figure it out and I already have some ideas to help.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


The doors into the Garden Club have been causing me a great deal of grief. They are unique and trying to get their proportions correct has been a nightmare. I'm working on them a lot more right now and I can't believe the problems they're causing. Most of the trouble comes from the fact that they are obscured by curtains in the one historic photo I have. This isn't too big a problem for the doors, but it makes this tricky for the side windows. When I first drew them, I had assumed that the side windows were just rectangles. However, looking at some of the drawings in Kruty's book, it seems that there is a vertical sliver to the side of each door that has an angled top, continuing the slope above the door. So far, I haven't been able to make it work, but I'll get there.

Another thing I'm curious about with these doors is what the glass was like behind those curtains. I had always assumed it was clear, but in Julie L. Sloan's book there is an illustration showing some elegant art glass in the doors and the aforementioned vertical panels. I have a feeling these were never included, whether by design or just as a cost cutback. However, since my Midway Gardens is the ideal Midway Gardens, I'm going to include them.

The wall these doors are in has a mural on it in the photograph. This is actually a photo of the Tavern, which was on the other side of the building. The Midway Garden Club was it's mirror image, though the room was a somewhat different configuration. We don't have any photos of the interior of the room, but I think it's safe to say it was very similar to the Tavern. We do know, however, that the Tavern was the only room where the Wright designed murals were actually installed. I'm sure the Midway Garden Club would have had some as well, but we have no information on these and they may never have been designed. I'd really like to put something there, even if it's just over the door. I don't want to do an exact copy of what was in the Tavern, but I want it to be an accurate Wright design. The Tavern had two murals-one at the door and one at the cigar stand. I think I will use the cigar stand mural, make it fit the entrance wall (the overall dimensions are nearly identical) and possibly reverse it just to make it look a bit different. I think this would be preferable to nothing, which is my only other option.

I decided to make the wall base black in this room. I was looking at some of the Tavern photos and in one of them the base looks like it's actually shiny, like it was lacquered. It definitely looks sharp with the yellow brick and once you get the red white and black windows in place, the room will really pop.

On a totally unrelated note, I got in touch with a professor who worked on a model of Midway Gardens back in the day. He wrote me with an incredibly kind offer of help and his email got me jazzed up about this project like I haven't been in a long time. I'm really excited to see where this will go. Thanks Bruce!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Belvedere Finished?

The last few months have been very instructive. I had feared that I would lose some of my momentum on this project, and I did. It was a result of several factors, but probably the biggest one was the mess that was the Belvedere top. It's incredibly complex and, perfectionist that I am, I couldn't get everything to line up the way I wanted it to. I ended up having to create a new model that was just of the top, play with that for ages, and then insert that into the existing model. Along the way I had to rearrange the columns at the top several times and I finally realized that the way they were drawn and the way they were built were different. I decided to go with the way they were built and this seems to work pretty nicely. Another problem was that the way I had been drawing the decorative metal edge along everything was somewhat wrong (the angle of the upper part was too steep) and had to redesign that and then replace it everywhere it already was. I also have been spending a lot of time making the brick joints nicer where it meets any of the decorative concrete. This process is slow going and tedious, even for me, but it makes the joints look nice and crisp so it's worth it.

Unfortunately I do not have any drawings from Taliesin, but I am still trying to get them. It's been a very interesting process and even though it hasn't been successful (yet), I've learned a lot. After all, it isn't every day you deal with a major private archive.

On a more hopeful note, I just purchased a copy of Light Screens: The Complete Leaded-Glass Windows of Frank Lloyd Wright by Julie L. Sloan. It's an expensive, out of print book and I gambled that it would have some new info on Midway Gardens in it. I was right! There isn't a lot, just a few drawings, but they are far more than I had before. This gives me the proper window design for the Restaurant/Bar areas as well as a design for the doors to those rooms. I had no idea that the doors and their sidelights were art glass. In the photos they are shown with curtains. Was the art glass installed? Who knows, but in my version it will be. I'm trying for an 'ideal' Midway Gardens; something between what was built and what was drawn, hopefully with the best of both worlds.

The other drawings puzzle me a great deal as they show windows I am totally unfamiliar with. Are they somewhere else in the building or were they just alternate designs that were never used? I'm pretty sure the latter is the case for at least one of them, but I have no idea for the others. Problmatically, many of the glass designs shown in the photos are not included in the published drawings. However, I know a whole lot more than I did two days ago, which is always exciting.

Interestingly, it looks as though the windows were only done in three colors. They look as though they were made primarily of clear glass and all the accents were in red, white, and black glass. Coincidentally, red is the only color I have been able to bring myself to use thus far, so I'm not too far off. I know Kruty says that Wright did use green and blue as well (specifically in some of the light fixtures) but I think it was pretty sparing. It will be interesting when I finally get to the murals in the bar-I think it will change my color sensibility for this project and may let me use a wider variety of colors.

Speaking of murals, I'm really tempted to try and do some sort of 'City by the Sea' mural in the octagon above the Belvedere, but I'm not sure what that would look like. Wright ended up creating a mural by that name for the stage surround at Taliesin West, and I've considered adapting it for the Belvedere. However, it would be an adaptation and I don't know that there is enough design there to adequately cover that much surface area. I'll worry about that later.

Here are some images of what I've been up to. Sorry it isn't the massive progress from the beginning of the year, but it's not bad either. I rather doubt I'll get back to that level of productivity again, but I do hope that I'll never go this long without blogging again.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Belvedere Top

I apologize that it's been a while since I last posted. My work has been very busy lately and for a while I hit a bit of a road block with the model. Getting everything on the top of the Belvedere to line up has been a real nightmare, even though it really shouldn't be. Partly I'm my own worst enemy as I keep trying to make everything perfect. While there is a time and a place for this, until I get to reference the actual drawings for the building, everything is guesswork at this point anyway, so it shouldn't matter so much, right? I guess I'm trying to convince myself with that sentence, but it isn't working. Ah well, at least I think it looks good as it is.

Here are a few shots I did of the top of the Belvedere. I created all the intricate columns and I think the effect is very nice. I'm not sure how accurate they are, but I can say that they are at least close to what was there. Again, hopefully I'll get drawings and be able to be more precise. Enjoy the pictures, and please feel free to leave comments!

Monday, January 31, 2011

Just Problems

Shortly after I posted my last entry, saying how much progress I was making over the weekend, I noticed something that completely halted the process. I realized that the first floor was one brick too short and that the second floor slab needed to be thicker. I began fixing this only to realize that the extra brick needed to be below the 'wainscot' trim. Of course, this realization was only after I'd added the brick at the top of the wall. Things are a mess, but it will get sorted out. I'm really glad I made the layers otherwise this would take ten times as long.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Solving Problems #2

This weekend has been very productive so far, and I've made a lot of progress on the South Arcade as you can see from the picture. I'm very pleased with how it is coming along. The side facing out is almost finished (at least three bays worth) and I'm hard at work on the side facing the Summer Garden. I've even begun a little work on the terraces of the Summer Garden itself. I'll post some of that when I've finished the second floor railing, which should be soon.

One of the problems I had to solve for this view was what to do with the small decorative concrete panels that cover the upper part of the Belvedere. The Wendingen drawings show them coming down the side Belvedere, but it also shows that the wall with the big arch (just visible between the first pair of pillars on the second level) is supposed to be stucco. I don't have any good drawings or photos for this detail, so I had to make something up. I decided to return one concrete panel onto the stucco surface. It may not be accurate, but I think it's clean at least.

Something that is going to solve several problems (and maybe make some new ones as well) is a new book that I just bought: Frank Lloyd Wright The Lost Years, 1910-1922: A Study of Influence by Anthony Alofsin. If you click on the cover below, you'll be sent to Amazon where you can purchase a copy if you wish.

This book has several drawings and photos of Midway Gardens that weren't included in Kruty's book. I'm especially excited about a drawing of the decorated top of one of the towers. It shows the design that is printed in the Wendingen, but is a bit different from what's been built. It's also different from some sketches included elsewhere. They contradict each other, which doesn't make my life any easier, but its fun to have the options and get to see all that detail spelled out for me.

Lastly, it took me a while to figure out what the 'capitals' of the pillars on the second level should look like. In my web searches for this project I came across a wonderful page with all sorts of images I'd never seen before on Steinrag's webpage One of the pictures shows this colonnade close up. You should really check it out-the page is fantastic.