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'Fallingwater at 75' generates a new look at a classic

| Thursday, June 9, 2011

It took some convincing for Lynda Waggoner to see the need for yet another book on Fallingwater.

For six years, Rizzoli publishing company -- which had published her "Fallingwater: Frank Lloyd Wright's Romance with Nature" in 1996 -- periodically contacted her about creating a new book on the Kaufmann family's legendary house in Ohiopyle.

"I thought the earlier books had so thoroughly covered it. What more can we say about this house• I kept putting them off," says Waggoner, director of Fallingwater and vice president of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy.

As she began planning the 75th anniversary of the start of the house's construction, she had a change of vision.

"Finally, the administrator in me figured it out," she says.

A lot had changed since Edgar Kaufmann Jr. had written "Fallingwater: A Frank Lloyd Wright Country House" for its 50th anniversary:

• Fallingwater had undergone an extensive program of restoration and strengthening.

• Several thousand previously unknown letters written by members of the Kaufmann family offered new information about the design and construction.

• Landscaping of the grounds and their relationship to the house were receiving more attention.

• Conversations were taking place on what the legacy of Fallingwater should be.

Over time, even photography had changed, Waggoner says.

Earlier, the cost of film, developing and printing had forced photographers to limit the number of shots they took, especially when they were color images.

"Now, they shoot to their heart's content, and we have a number of pictures to choose from." Waggoner says. "And they have the ability of doing panoramic views without distorting the images. ... It gives what your eye sees, not just straight ahead. You are seeing what is around you."

All this and more is covered in "Fallingwater" (Rizzoli, $60), a new book that offers an abundance of new pictures of the house and grounds photographed by Christopher Little.

There's new information on Fallingwater's history, structure and collections and a series of essays that discuss the house's interior, the recent structural work and the landscaping of the grounds, says Waggoner, who served as the book's editor.

At 1 p.m. Saturday, Fallingwater will mark its 75th anniversary and the publication of the new book with a symposium and a book signing in the Carnegie Museum of Art theatre in Oakland.

"The presenters will discuss the house and its importance today ... the recent acquisition of new Kaufmann family correspondence and the building's restoration," Waggoner says.

Vignettes from 'Fallingwater'

In addition to beautifully rendered views of the house's interior, exterior and surrounding property, the new book offers dishy insider tidbits scattered throughout the essays:

Architect on architect

When the equally celebrated American architect Philip Johnson visited Fallingwater to celebrate his 85th birthday, he remarked, "It is the greatest house of the 20th century." A staff member who asked if it was OK to quote him was told: "Certainly not. I've designed a few buildings myself you know."

Damage control

While documenting items in the collection, Lynda Waggoner came across a Tiffany vase that had been broken and awkwardly reassembled. She began programs to educate everyone on staff on how to handle the objects and instructed them report any damage and not try to repair it themselves. At her next meeting with Edgar Kaufmann Jr., she reported on her discovery and efforts to keep it from recurring.

"I broke that vase, and I glued it back together," he said, smiling. "Fallingwater was our weekend house. This is where all of the things that were damaged but too good to throw away ended up."

The Wright stuff

"I find the kitchen too small when we have crowded weekends," said Liliane Kaufmann on how she dealt with the challenges of adapting to Fallingwater. "I have not enough space to keep china and glassware in the orderly fashion which they deserve; and I should have like a separate storage room for extra chairs for the dining table, extra occasional tables, additional breakfast trays for guests, etc.

"Perhaps these are the vestigial remains of my previously underdeveloped standards -- they may disappear with the rest in another year when I have learned to live the Wright way."

Additional Information:

'Fallingwater at 75'

What: Anniversary celebration and book release

Presented by: The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy

When: 1 p.m. Saturday

Admission: Free, but reservations are required

Where: Carnegie Museum of Art theatre, 4400 Forbes Ave., Oakland

Details: 724-329-8501 or website

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