Slab bench

Prairie Style

July 2009

Dear Frank Lloyd Wright:

The houses you remodeled, and those you built in Oak Park, are still surrounded by Queen Ann, Stick, Classic Revival and bungalow—standard and bumped.  The lawns are given over to hosta, Japanese maple, birch, lilies and hydrangea.  When you built your home and studio 120 years ago, prairie rolled itself in waves to the north.  You looked across Chicago Avenue for inspiration—for width, for openness, for everything spread gently by wind and sky.

Now, your houses are the only prairie left, and they, lamentably are only Prairie Style.  Where in Oak Park does the earth yield bluestem, gamma, switch and Indian grass?  Where is your architecture in Oak Park beyond what you built before leaving a century ago?  Where do I see you outside this tour, my headphones silencing the lawnmowers and the weed whips having their way with oat grass?

Prairie has been plowed under and reborn as style, as attitude.  We respect its name, and we designate small patches of it toward its survival, and we love its shrinking rarity.  What better iconography for America, where we cherish most that which we have destroyed? 

If we do not see prairie surrounding us, we see it in your deeply rooted houses inspired by prairie—the expansive hearth, the open space, the natural environment of sun and light, form and function going horizontal.  But hearths and space, the natural, the horizontal—these are all for grief and mourning.  Oh, and nostalgia.  We celebrate these things as we let them go.

So long, prairie.  So long, prairie style.  So long, FLW.

"Prairie Style" first appeared in Iowa Summer Writing Festival Anthology







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