As a Wright homeowner or building steward, you’ve likely heard of the trove of information relating to Wright’s work at the Avery Library at Columbia University in New York City. Now it’s possible to get a real sense of the extent of the Wright Archives drawing collection through Artstor, an online digital library. Avery Library has made accessible, free of charge, images of thousands of Wright’s drawings of individual buildings. These drawings can also be accessed through the Avery’s website. We encourage all Wright homeowners and building stewards to explore Artstor to see images of Wright drawings held at Avery. For additional information on using the Avery’s collections, see our July tech tip.
The Artstor link will take you to a page where you can search the drawing collection. This may be done through a client’s name, a city, or a topic. It’s important to include the name “Wright” in your search. You may also want to include an additional search term, such as “drawings.” The advantage and disadvantage of accessing through Artstor is that a search can return many results, sometimes hundreds or even thousands. You’ll may want to try several search term combinations depending on your goal.
On Artstor, a simple search for “Taliesin” brings up 843 drawings and photographs of Wright’s Wisconsin estate. As with most such search tools, it’s worth experimenting with search terms. For example, a search for “Westcott” brings up 150 items, many of which don’t relate to Wright’s Springfield, Ohio, house. A search using “Burton Westcott” or “Westcott Wright” hones in on the 50 Westcott House-related items that are available on Artstor.
The Avery’s webpage for the drawings collection provides a clear overview of the collection’s arrangement. Drawings are grouped chronologically, so the first thing to do is to determine the decade of a project and click the appropriate link. Once on the decade “series,” use CTRL+F (PC) or CMD+F (Mac) to search client or location. For instance in the 1900 series, a search for Martin brings up 6 results of built and unbuilt designs for clients named Martin. On the Avery website it’s not possible to search by topic, so if you’re looking for, say, drawings of rugs, it’s probably best to search through the Artstor site.
Although these images were scanned from black and white photographs and are therefore not high resolution, much can still be learned from them. Were there changes to the layout or details of your building while it was being designed? Was furniture designed for it? Were alterations made during construction? Also, if you plan to go to Avery, reviewing the items relating to your building in advance can help you make the most of your visit.
It’s worth noting that the drawings in the Artstor library are not “as-built” drawings. Like any architect, it was not uncommon for Wright to make modifications to a building as the design process moved forward. For example, documents for the Elizabeth and Robert Llewellyn Wright House (1953) include drawings for the second floor with a concrete slab, as well as drawings showing the wood (with some steel) second floor frame that was ultimately constructed. It’s also worth keeping in mind that (usually) minor changes were sometimes made to a building during the construction phase. These changes may not be represented in archived documentation. Though these changes may necessitate additional sleuthing to understand the building as constructed, they are a fascinating window into the process of creating and executing a design.
Through this service, the Avery Library has provided an invaluable, convenient resource for Wright building stewards as well as all of us who study Wright’s work. For more information on the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archive at Avery, visit their collection page for listings of the other archival holdings.
Posted on March 5, 2021