SILVERTON, Ore. — People who appreciate inviting, glass-framed living rooms, subtle red concrete floors and custom fretwork see Frank Lloyd Wright’s Gordon House as a piece of art. Wright, however, envisioned the two-story residence as a place for art.
The Gordon House in Silverton, the only Wright building in Oregon and the only one of his residences open to the public in the Pacific Northwest, has towering walls and plenty of clean-lined spaces that serve as perfect backgrounds for contemporary art.
The concrete-and-wood house, designed by Wright in 1957 for Evelyn and Conrad Gordon, was built from 1963 to 1964 on the Gordons’ farm on the Willamette River near Wilsonville. In 2002, the dwelling was dismantled and moved next to the Oregon Garden in Silverton, east of Salem, the state capital.
Evelyn was a weaver and artist who saw her home as an accommodating sequence of galleries to display her paintings, prints and sculptures.
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Original paintings, many by Northwest artists, hung on every wall, including in the kitchen, where cinder blocks rose 15 feet to meet a skylight.
She had Native American weavings, a metal sculpture by James Shull and — sharing Wright’s passion for Japanese art — a Haku Maki woodblock print.
Roger Hull, curator emeritus of the Hallie Ford Museum of Art in Salem, is helping the nonprofit Gordon House Conservancy reacquire Evelyn’s collection and return it to her beloved home.
One of her pieces, a Charles Heaney oil painting, prompts Hull to say that Wright and Heaney, who moved to Portland as a teenager, were both inspired by the American West and its spacious landscapes that allowed for an interplay of architecture and nature.
Year-round, art appreciators can sit in the built-in library seating and take in Wright’s well-preserved creation, which is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.
Wright was an artist before he was an architect, says Molly Murphy, the Gordon House executive director, “and colored pencils were his famously favorite medium.”
He produced a colored-pencil rendering of each building he designed, including the Gordon House, representing his vision of the project after an introductory interview with the client.
The original renderings are protected at the Taliesin West archives, and his original pencil set is part of the collection at his home and studio in Spring Green, Wis. The Gordon House sells a 9-by-26-inch art print of the residence’s rendering, on-site and online, for $20.
Wright also liked sketching flora and landscapes of the natural world, adds Murphy. “He called these his Nature drawings. Some of his fans refer to them as the ‘weed sketches.’ ”
She continues: “His organic architecture concepts marry the building to the site as though they were always meant to be together. The Gordon House is a wonderful example of this at both its original and current location.”
Wright collected art, especially Japanese prints, which he sold off to support his lifestyle when money was scarce. To help tell this story, Murphy says, the Gordon House displays traditional Hiroshige and contemporary Haku Maki artwork.