Frank Lloyd Wright and George S. Parker - The Janesville Connection

March 10, 2009

This month, Hedberg Public Library is featuring a display of architectural models of three Frank Lloyd Wright designs, created by Ron Olsen of Janesville.

Did you know that Mr. Wright and George S. Parker, founder of the Parker Pen Company in Janesville, were friends?

A fascinating chapter about their relationship can be read in the book Parker Duofold, by David Shepherd and Dan Zazove, available at Hedberg Public Library.

"On April 11, 1930, George Parker
wrote to Wright about the color of barns in Wisconsin. This seemingly bizarre topic was the start of a close friendship between the two men..."

"Dear Mr. Wright,

I noticed in the Associated Press dispatches yesterday that you are in favor of red barns versus my somewhat antagonism to them.

As I know that you have a good deal of fame as an artistic person, I would be exceedingly interested in knowing why you favor red barns. Do you not think that a barn painted white or straw color with proper trimmings is much more artistic than red?"

See Parker Duofold for the entire letter....

Other evidence of their friendship includes this notation from a Taliesan Preservation, Inc., Visitors Guide:

"Notable Visitors:George Parker and his wife. Founder of the Parker Pen Company, of Janesville, Wisconsin. The Parkers were friends of Frank Lloyd Wright's and visited Taliesin frequently during the 1930s"

We found a delightful account of a visit to the Parkers' summer home in Janesville, from July 25, 1935. Wright's apprentices were known as The Fellowship, and they were invited to visit Mr. and Mrs. Parker.

"Upon arriving in Janesville, Mr. Parker had a grand dinner spread over the lawn of his country home - Stonehenge, and we divided our time between eating and feeding the Parker's pet monkey, Benito. We made our home at a new camp of Mr. Parker's, about a half mile from Stonehenge. It was a new type of vacation.....bunched together in "Camp Cheerio," with our activities reduced to reading magazines seated in soft lounge chairs, the Fellowship grumbled and quarreled. This being together, indulging in several hours of non-activity was a new one on us....The next morning after breakfast we were shown through the Parker Pen Company's factory. We followed the operations of the manufacture of the pen through its five thousand stages. The Ford assembly line idea is used in assembling the pen. They start the barrel moving along the assembly line, and each worker adds a part, fitting and polishing all the while, until the pen reaches its final glory labeled, recorded, tested, packed: it's all done but the selling.....even the selling is accounted for in the recording office, where each retailer has a card, duly punched and kept on file, telling of the quantity and types of pens in his stock. If one found a pen and wanted to trace its owner, it could easily be done by sending the pen number to the factory. Within a half hour the dealer who sold the pen could be sifted from any one of the many dealers, there being thousands spread through sixty-eight countries. The peculiar part of the merchandising of the Parker pen is that half of them are exported. We then went back to dinner....."

As noted in Parker Duofold, their friendship "...was warm and genuine, even though they existed in different worlds and the contact was infrequent and sporadic. The letters, meals and other meetings continued until George's death in 1937 when Wright wrote a glowing tribute to his friend...."

Parker Duofold includes the text of Wright's tribute to Parker, written four days after Parker's death on July 19, 1937.

On April 21, 1951, Kenneth Parker, who had succeeeded his father at Parker Pen, announced that a new plant, Arrow Park, was going to be built on 28 acres of land at the northern end of Janesville. Kenneth Parker had remained friendly with Wright after George's death, and had considered seeking his services for the design...."a battle of egos was sure to ensue", after much consideration, Parker chose architects Flad & Associates of Madison, Wisconsin.

The new Arrow Park plant was dedicated on October 15, 1952.

Wright died fifty years ago on April 9, 1959, at the age of 91.

Imagine, what might have been!


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