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Hemingway’s Wright Stuff

June 11, 2011

Exploring the streets of Oak Park, Ill., it’s easy to think of this town as the town Frank Lloyd Wright built. 

Among the gorgeous old Victorians are 24 homes designed by Wright when he lived here, homes that stop you in your tracks when you see them. Sometimes it’s subtle. It’s the low-slung roofs, the geometric brickwork. Sometimes the sharp angles are as jarring today as they must have been a century ago.

How strange that two men so linked to the birth of Modernism — Wright and Hemingway — should have accidentally called Oak Park home at the same time, and that both would shake the conventions so severely.

Looking at Wright’s work, it’s easy to see some of the same preoccupations that would shape Hemingway. Wright’s buildings break away from the filigree of the Victorians. He aimed for a democratic, simple style that was distinctly American in its outlook. He found inspiration in the natural landscape, and he brought it in to play. Wright pared down his buildings to just two building materials when he could, just as Hemingway would pare down his paragraphs.

Both also opened themselves up to the influences of the world from the heart of the American prairie.

But their similarities have limitations. Wright, like many Modernists, was all about showing off his stylistic elements. Hemingway, unlike his Parisian cohorts, liked to hide his. While most Modernists tried to create a new aesthetic, Hemingway was reworking an old one.