Lieber Meister

Lieber Meister

“Louis Sullivan was a sacrifice to the God of Temporal Things by a hard working, pioneering people, too vain of the culture of lies in their heads, over empty, hungry hearts, a heedless people living a hectic life no full hands may ever make worth while – and who either could not or would not know him.”

“What is left to us is the least of him – but it will serve.”

“Out of the fragments of his dreams that were his buildings – out of the sense of Architecture as entering a new phase as a plastic Art – great things will yet be born. Every thing he did has some fine quality, was some solution of a difficult problem – some sorely needed light on practical affairs. Practical? Truly here was a practical man in a radical sense – rooted in Principle, and as richly gifted as he was impressionable – as deep-sighted as he was farseeing.”

“The work the master did may die with him – no great matter. What he represented has lived in spite of all drift – all friction, all waste, all slip – since time began for man. In this sense was Louis Sullivan true to tradition – in this sense will the divine spark, given to him from the deep centre of the universe and to which he held true, be handed on the fresher, more vital, more potent, enriched a little, perhaps much, by the individuality that was his. There is no occasion for deep despair – although chagrin, frustrated hopes, broken lives and broken promises strew the way with gruesome wreckage. The light that was in him lives – and will go on – forever.”

Source: Frank L. Wright, “Louis Henry Sullivan: Beloved Master,” in The Western Architect: A National Journal of Architecture and Allied Art, published in the West, June 1924: 66.

Frank Lloyd Wright arrived in Chicago in 1887 – about 16 years after the Great Fire had destroyed nearly the entire city – to find work in local firms. Just a few months later, Dankmar Adler and Louis L. Sullivan were looking for a draftsman to help with the plans of The Auditorium. Thrilled by the office, the 19-year-old(1) applied, left local architect Joseph L. Silsbee, and joined the firm officially in 1888.(2) In Genius and Mobocracy (1949), Wright reflects on his time at Adler & Sullivan about 60 years later. In the book, he describes the structure of the firm as follows: Adler was “the big chief” and “a solid block of manhood”, Sullivan the senior’s companion and a young designing partner. The draftsman fulfilled the role of a novice mainly as a “good pencil” in the latter’s hand.(3) Wright cherished both employers, so did they value his obvious talent. Soon he developed especially a youthful affection for Sullivan’s work and style. Former Mister rose to lieber-meister (beloved master) in a relationship perceived by Wright as one of a disciple to master. Over time, however – like it feels inherent to these fickle bonds – the younger was eager to step further and accepted commissions on the side. The situation culminated in a harsh argument in 1893. Eventually, Wright left in anger to practice on his own.(4) Yet after Sullivan died in 1924, he often found words of praise in several written passages for his former master and his masterpieces.

1. Quite often, Wright’s time in the office is perceived as a 5-year contract starting in 1888. However, according to his own statements, he signed this contract just about two years after he had joined the firm at 19. In 1888 he was already 21 years old.

2. Robert McCarter, Frank Lloyd Wright: Ein Leben für die Architektur, 1st ed. (München: Dt. Verl.-Anst, 2010), pp. 27–33.

3. Frank L. Wright, Genius and the Mobocracy (London: Secker&Warburg, 1972), pp. 56–57.

4. Ibid., pp. 77–81.

Theresa Uitz is an architectural designer, art historian, and educator based in Innsbruck. Her research interests lay in the interdisciplinary tension between art and architecture.  She currently is a research assistant and Ph.D. student at the Institut für Experimentelle Architektur–Hochbau (University of Innsbruck).