Tuesday, February 10, 2009

My High School Art Teacher and Frank Lloyd Wright


My high school art teacher was Louis Penfield. Mr. Penfield was 6 ft 8 in. tall and kind of a kooky eccentric type. He didn't do a lot of teaching, but he did a lot of art. In class we were mostly allowed to just do our own thing - and Mr. Penfield would do his own thing off in a corner painting in his watercolors. I guess he thought demonstration was the best form of teaching. Every once in a while he'd get up, walk across the room and draw right on what ever I was working on (GRrrrrrr - can't you just TELL me what's wrong with it?) He was cool in that he let us bring in albums to play. I remember a whole year of "Tapestry". Once on a beautiful autumn day he took us to his home to sketch. I remember that he told us that his house was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, but that did not impress me at the time.

Flash forward to this past summer. My book club read a book called "Loving Frank" by Nancy Horan. It's a novel based on one woman's affair with Frank Lloyd Wright. It sparked my interest and I discovered that Mr. Penfield's house can now be rented out for two days at a time. The house was indeed designed by Wright just for Mr. Penfield due to his height. It is one of about 100 Usonian houses and was built in 1955 on 30 wooded acres in Willoughby, Ohio. Only 1800 square feet, it has a floating staircase, a bottleneck entryway and several walls made almost entirely of windows. One might wonder how Mr. Penfield could afford to have a house designed by the renown Wright (specifically designed for his 6'8" height) on 30 acres on a high school teacher salary. I'm not sure, but I do know that Penfield was a prominent family and owned other property in the area.

So, I wish I would've paid more attention all those years ago, and I recommend the book "Loving Frank" too.

For more info go here or here.

16 comments:

Poetikat said...

How amazing! How cool to discover that it was true all along. I love Wright's "Falling Water" house. Did Mr. Penfield's house have the flat roof? I'm not familiar with the term 'Usonian'. Can you enlighten me?

Kat

John Ettorre said...

It's a simply incredible house. Not long ago, a couple we're friends with, who met at our wedding, gave us the most divine anniversary present: a weekend with them at the Pennfield House. It was a sublime experience.

RachelW said...

Diane, I have an award for you over on my blog. Even if you don't feel moved to pass it along, I hope you will accept the spirit with which it is offered. Cheers!

rosebuckle said...

He was something special. How cool about being able to rent the house. Do you know if the house had a name? Like Falling Water?

rosebuckle said...

He was something special. How cool about being able to rent the house. Do you know if the house had a name? Like Falling Water?

Cheryl said...

This made me wonder about Mr. Penfield's art. Do you know if he was ever acclaimed as an artist? I'm surprised that he didn't teach you about Frank Lloyd Wright, but then again, you said he didn't really teach. How very cool that you knew the man that owned this house. My high school art class took a field trip to Falling Waters. I'm sure I didn't appreciate it then.

Julie said...

This is an excellent read. He sounds like a great teacher. And the house...I would love it so much!

Mary Jo said...

Diane, don't know if you remember me Mary Jo (Shiner) Stack. Had Mr. Penfield too. One of my most treasured items from him is a sketch he did of me in 72. We all could not wait for him to sketch us. I spoke with him right before our 20 yr reunion. He sent me a copy of the plans for the 2nd house that FLW designed for the property. He was a fabulous artist. I like that he didn't teach, teach. Those of us in the advanced art class appreciated that he didn't tell us what to do, but gave us ideas and was always available for help. I will see you on FB, didn't know that you wrote, will have to check it out

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Laura said...

I was very fortunate to know Lou Penfield back in the early 80's at Lakeland Community College.
So fortunate in fact, that he did a pen and ink portrait of me that I treasure to this day.

jreinhard said...

I am curious about where Mr. Penfield taught. I am an art teacher of 40 years and I grew up in Lake county.

jreinhard said...

I am curious about where Mr. Penfield taught. I am an art teacher of 40 years and grew up in Lake County.

CGirl26 said...

As a Commercial Art student at Willoughby South High in the 70's we were invited to visit Louis Penfield who guided the students through the home and explained how Frank Lloyd Wright designed the plans for his house. Mr. Penfield was actively working on moving stones from the riverbed for part of the landscaping. It was important to have the house become one with the land. it is very cool that the house and legacy lives on!

David J Gill said...

I am from Medina and has a high school student I was interested in architecture and crazy about Frank Lloyd Wright. When I discovered Mr Penfield's name and address and sent a letter asking if it was possible to see his house, you can guess that I got a very enthusiastic invitation to visit. He was generous, fascinating and always a teacher. I think he taught by exposing students to art and ideas and challenging them to have an idea and make something of it. He sent me copies of Wright's drawings for both houses, which thrilled the hell out of me. He enjoyed throwing a little color on a copy of Wright's perspective for House II and he sent me one of those.(I know I have that somewhere.) And he invited me to takle a little road trip to also see Wright's Karl Staley house nearby in North Madison. I've not forgotten those experiences.

It's amazing that so many of the original Wright house owners love to show their house and are not overwhelmed by the flood of Wright fans calling, writing, knocking on the door, poking around the yard and peeping in windows.