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“Wright before the Lloyd” Exhibit at Racine Heritage Museum

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“Wright before the Lloyd,” is a special exhibit at the Racine Heritage Museum. It highlights the young Frank L. Wright and his friend, Cecil Sherman Corwin, the forgotten architect and mentor who did much to shape him into the architect we know as Frank Lloyd Wright.

Wright wasn’t always Frank Lloyd Wright. In his youthful years of architectural practice at the end of the 19th Century, he was very different from the brash, self-confident public celebrity who several decades later gave Racine its landmark S.C. Johnson & Son campus. Born Frank Lincoln Wright, the young architect signed his works prosaically as “Frank L. Wright.”

He had arrived in Chicago in late 1886 as an inexperienced and self-doubting nineteen-year-old aspiring architect. He was warmly welcomed into employment with the office of architect Joseph Lyman Silsbee by Corwin, the firm’s chief draftsman. Both Corwin and Wright were sons of  much-traveled ministers. Corwin’s father, the Rev. Eli Corwin, was the popular pastor of Racine’s First Presbyterian Church from 1880 to 1888.

Corwin and Wright quickly discovered they had much in common, including similar passions for architecture, culture and music. They became inseparable friends. They shared ideas in their practice of architecture for 10 years. For many years, they shared a small office in downtown Chicago. Each had projects and clients of their own, but critiques and comments were freely shared. In later years, Wright often recalled his appreciation for the guidance, confidences and camaraderie Corwin provided in guiding his personal life, and shaping the professional identity that later gave him fame. In An Autobiography (1932) Wright wrote that he had found “a kindred spirit” when he met Corwin.

The exhibit is curated by Tim Samuelson, the City of Chicago’s Cultural Historian Emeritus. It is comprised of his extensive collection of early Wright architectural salvage, drawings and images, The exhibit, on the museum’s main floor center and north galleries, runs through December 30, 2024.

Sponsors of the exhibit are the Arch W. Shaw Foundation, Racine Community Foundation, WE Energies Foundation and the Racine Arts Council. 

The museum is located at 701 Main Street in Racine, Wisconsin. Museum hours are: Tuesday-Friday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. – 3 p.m., and Sunday 12-4 p.m.  Admission is free. Donations are appreciated. The museum, built as a Carnegie Library in 1904, is a historically preserved building and is not ADA accessible. For more information, call the museum at (262) 636-3296 or visit their website.


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