Experiencing Frank Lloyd Wright’s Westcott House
By Chris Schutte
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Westcott House in Springfield is not your typical historic house museum. Unless your definition of “typical” includes concerts by Japanese rock bands, film festivals, Pecha Kucha and … a cash bar. Better stated, it is a “Living House.” As executive director Marta Wojcik explains, “Westcott contributes to the cultural vitality of the region through exhibits and performances featuring local, regional and national emerging artists, interactive multimedia exhibitions, film screenings and live performances.”
The Westcott House has attracted a fair amount of attention in the Frank Lloyd Wright community for its dynamic, cutting-edge programming. Its annual Design Studio with Seattle collective, The Now Device, is a two week design workshop introducing high school students to the use of contemporary audio and visual media as a means of communicating ideas, expressing artistic themes and exploring emotional meaning. Their popular Wright Now series in conjunction with the Dayton Art Institute, The Bar of Modern Art and WYSO, featured the abstract paintings of Japanese artist, Junko Yamamoto, the art-rock music of SOFT, a contemporary band from Kyoto and real time, animated video installations. The newest addition to their vibrant programming is a series known as Perfectly Frank.
It was this passage from “Frank Lloyd Wright, An Autobiography” — in which Wright reminisces about his first love, Catherine — that inspired the name of the new series: “the sunny-haired, tall, slenderly handsome high school girl. She walked with a kind of light-hearted gaiety: mass of red curls, rather short, bobbing in the breeze. White skin. Cheeks rosy. Blue-eyed, frank and impulsive. I knew ‘Kitty’ was running the gauntlet there with the school girls who knew of her attachment to me. I knew because I saw the drawing of a large-eyed kitty – with the legend ‘Perfectly Frank’ beneath.”
The story moved Wojcik to create a series of Friday evening events designed to engage the audience in an exchange of ideas — especially those reflecting the impact of art and design in our lives. Perfectly Frank events have taken the form of film screenings including My Architect, live musical performances by artists such as Zoe Boekbinder and, perhaps most notably, Pecha Kucha nights.
Pecha Kucha originated in Japan and has grown into an international phenomenon with over 400 cities worldwide hosting Pecha Kucha events. At its heart, Pecha Kucha is a series of short, 20 slide presentations about creative endeavors designed to provide young designers with an opportunity to share their work with the public. It has expanded to include live music, multimedia productions, poetry readings and film screenings. Westcott’s Pecha Kucha events have included presentations ranging from the impact of graphic design on public spaces and the influence of the web on our communications, to preserving mid-century modern homes and a Peace Museum photographer sharing his work.
Having served as both a presenter and audience member at Perfectly Frank events, photographer Vicki Rulli has a unique perspective on the series. “I liked the concept of mixing design, architecture, cocktails, and a social event all in one,” says Rulli. “It was even better than I expected. However, the Westcott House has a reputation for knowing how to throw a good party that fits in perfectly with the aesthetic of the house.”
Jessica Kinzer’s band, The Show, performed at a Perfectly Frank multi-media event and it’s safe to say that they left impressed. “Frank Lloyd Wright’s Westcott House is such a sweet spot in Springfield, and the fact that Marta hosts such fun and unique events there, in my opinion, makes it the best and coolest place in our area,” says Kinzer. “The event completely lived up to my expectations, if not exceeded them. The setting was dreamy, the food and drink was delicious, the graphics were stunning, the sound was good and the host — impeccable. I feel like the whole city should have been there to share in this unforgettable night with us.” Guitarist Ryan Henry adds, “From the perspective of both audience and musician, the typical bar scene in town is generally not conducive to originality, spontaneity or culture. The Perfectly Frank series embodies all three and is a breath of fresh air in our local community.”
While the Perfectly Frank series attracts a vital, younger demographic to the Westcott House, Wojcik describes the events as “totally inclusive when it comes to age. Perfectly Frank is about beauty, art, romance and knowing that youth is a quality, not a matter of circumstances. Beyond the fact that the series gives people a reason for repeated visits, the series also expands their experience with our beautiful space.” As Roxandra Antoniadis of Springfield notes, “Perfectly Frank Fridays are wonderful because they give us occasion to truly appreciate how art and design impact us — all the more so as they take place in an intimate and informal setting. And Marta, who introduces the events, is both deeply knowledgeable and completely charming. People feel free to engage, so the events can be lots of fun.”
There is no question that the stunning atmosphere of Frank Lloyd Wright’s only prairie-style house in Ohio factors a great deal into the Perfectly Frank equation. “I love the Westcott House,” says Antoniadis. “For one, it’s beautiful. And for another, I do and must support it: we have lost too much of our design heritage, and thus big chunks of the American story.” The intimate gatherings of 30-40 attendees move freely through the house, mingling in small groups, while enjoying light appetizers and a cash bar.
(Events are offered free to Westcott House members and students, while non-members pay a nominal $5 fee. Friday, March 30 at 7:30p.m., the series will be screening The Fountainhead. Other dates in the 2012 series are yet to be finalized, but a complete calendar can be found at www.WestcottHouse.org. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Westcott House is located at 1340 E. High Street Springfield, OH. For more information call 937.327.9291 or visit the website.)
Reach DCP freelance writer Christopher Schutte at ChrisSchutte@DaytonCityPaper.com.