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Olgivanna Wright's Books

At Taliesin West, following the death of Olgivanna Lloyd Wright in 1985, books were taken from the room that had been Frank Lloyd Wright's bedroom and placed in the Taliesin West archive, with the designation "Frank Lloyd Wright Library."  (See the section of this database on that collection of books.)  In 1988 a much larger number of books in the house at Taliesin West, including some that had been brought from Taliesin in Wisconsin, were put in numbered boxes and called the Olgivanna Lloyd Wright Library.  As this was being done, a list of the books was made by Taliesin residents Indira Berndtson and Dori Roy.[1]  This list—called here the "1988 list"—contains about 1400 works (some of which are multi-volume works), described with the following information: author's name (or in some case just a category, such as "Art" or "Poetry"); book title (often an abbreviated title); the number of the box it was put in; and a Taliesin archival number given to each work.  Because this list does not include publication data (publisher, publication date, etc.), it is impossible in most cases to know the exact identity of the book without actually seeing it.

Although these books are called the Olgivanna Lloyd Wright Library, a large number of them must originally have belonged to Wright himself, especially since many of them are the kinds of books Wright is known to have liked—and in fact some are works that he mentioned (in his autobiography, for example) as having read.  It was therefore important to me to try to identify those books that likely were Wright's and to add them to a compilation of his library.

The 1988 list shows that there were originally forty-three boxes of these books.  Only about fourteen of them survive today.[2]  Of the books that were in the remaining boxes, about one hundred were incorporated into the library of the architectural school at Taliesin West (the William Wesley Peters Library).  The fate of the rest of the books—over half of the roughly 1400 works on the 1988 list—is unclear.  Some of the boxes were reportedly unsecured in the 1990s and many of the books were taken by students or others as souvenirs; and several boxes were reportedly moved to the home of one of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation's directors.

In September of 2018 I examined the books in the surviving boxes (as well as those that had been incorporated into the William Wesley Peters Library) and attempted to identify those works that likely had belonged to Wright.  I first discounted books published after 1959, the year of Wright's death, and then books on subjects known to have been exclusive interests of Mrs. Wright: spiritualism, astrology, and other occult topics; cook books, romance novels, and science fiction works; and Russian- and French-language books.  I then catalogued the remaining books that could have been Wright's, noting any inscriptions or annotations in them.  These are the works included in this section of the database.

The books listed in the 1988 list that no longer survive naturally present a greater challenge.  Since this list gives no publication dates (or publisher or place of publication), it is impossible to know which ones predate Wright's death––or, in many cases, even what works they were (for example when the list simply gives "Aristotle's Politics,", "Aquinas's Writings," or "Giotto"). However, it is possible in some cases to identify the works with relative certainty.   For example, the book given on the 1998 list as "Goddard, D., Laotzus Tao and Wu Wei" must have been Dwight Goddard's book of that title, published in 1919 and 1935 (apparently the only two editions of the work, aside from a reprint of 2008).   Others of these "lost" books can be identified with less certainty but still are likely to have been works owned by Wright.  They are worth including in this database, as possibly belonging to Wright's library, especially because they include works by authors he is known to have admired and read—such as William Blake, Thomas Carlyle, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and George Meredith.   These works are listed here in a separate section, "Olgivanna Wright's lost books."

The large collection of Olgivanna Wright's books yielded some fascinating finds.  One is a first-edition copy of one of Walt Whitman's lesser-known works, November Boughs, published in 1888, in which several passages are marked with marginal pencil lines (the kind of lines typical of Wright, which can be distinguished from the markings of Mrs. Wright), including a passage in which Whitman gives a favorable description of life in frontier Wisconsin.  Another is a copy of a 1922 edition of Mark Twain's The Mysterious Stranger, in which Wright's marginal markings are found in a group of satirical and highly critical passages on Christianity and Western imperialism.   Thus, these books that had been called "Olgivanna's" and were largely neglected, actually include many works that should be part of the inventory of Frank Lloyd Wright's library.   

View a list of books in this collection

[1] Information from Indira Berndtson, September 2018.  This list, a copy of which is in the Taliesin West Archive, is titled "OLLW Library by author," is dated 11/28/88, and has 28 pages, with about 53 works on a page.

[2] Only four of the original, large cardboard boxes survive today (or when I examined them in 2018).  In about 2015 the books in ten other boxes, which had become damaged, were put in smaller, "bankers'" boxes.   When I examined them the boxes were stacked in a corridor that connects the Taliesin West Theater to the William Wesley Peters Library.