Program explores poetry, philosophy behind Frank Lloyd Wright’s vision

The Frank Lloyd Wright Trust kicks off its Thursday night series at Oak Park’s Unity Temple with the scholar Karen Karbiener’s presentation, “Emerson and Whitman: The Poets Who Inspired Wright” on Sept. 4 at 7 p.m.

“Architecture was about more than just designing buildings for Wright,” said Sarah Rogers Morris, FLW Trust Program and Communications Associate. “He called on a variety of art forms when he developed his vision for a uniquely American architectural vocabulary, and the community can expect to come away from Karen’s program, as well as others presented at Unity Temple this fall, with an appreciation for interdisciplinary creative practices like Wright’s.”

The series, which will run September through December, aims to arrive at new understandings of the larger social and cultural climate in which Wright worked by considering Wright’s work in relation to the poetry, music, art, and ideas that inspired him. The mission is to connect people with Wright’s work in new ways.

“In 1908, Wright hosted A Symposium of Art at Unity Temple,” said Rogers Morris. “This public, interdisciplinary arts program convened notable visual artists, poets, composers, actors, writers and musicians. It is in that same spirit that the Trust is hosting a variety of events on Thursday nights at Unity Temple.”

The Thursday programs will be a mix of public events including a music series, Concerts in Context, the Emerging Chicago Artists evenings, providing a collaboration between writers, musicians, and Handcrafted Holidays adult workshop featuring visual arts.

For the opening program, Karbiener will discuss the philosophies of Walt Whitman and Ralph Waldo Emerson, both of which had a significant influence on Wright’s architectural practices.

A self-described, “Whitmaniac,” Karbiener hails from New York City. An expert on 19th century American literature and culture, she has written and lectured extensively on Walt Whitman’s life and writings. Teaching at New York University and Columbia University, she has received the John H. Kluge Fellowship at the Library of Congress, a Fulbright grant and a Huntington Library Fellowship.

“I like to tell my students we had a political Declaration of Independence, but we still had not written the cultural Declaration of Independence,” said Karbiener of the 19th century. “Emerson and Whitman are at the fore of that. They wanted an American art form. They wanted it to be fundamentally organic — connected to the earth, connected to this great land, the geography of New York, but also sort of a functional art. Something like a philosophy that could be used in the future. The wonderful thing is Sullivan and then Wright tap into this.”

That vision also had a practical aspect.

“One thing that Whitman and Emerson did that [American architect Louis] Sullivan and Wright followed is thinking about making art a part of everyday life in America,” said Karbiener. “Before this, art was something you went to see in a museum. It was something separate from an everyday existence. I think that is a really cool thing to bring out of this talk that I would love for people to take home. American art is profoundly connected with the common man.”

Karbiener plans to show, using readings, poetry and images, how the vision of Whitman and Emerson is part of “something powerful and amazing happening in the mid-late 19th century and that’s creating a new idea of what American art is,” that deeply influenced Wright’s work.

Unity Temple, which she calls a “sacred space,” is an ideal place to make her point, she said. “I think there are so many things to do when you have a talk like this. You can listen to me, but also your eyes can wander and look at this beautiful art around you.”

‘Emerson and Whitman: The Poets Who Inspired Wright’

Unity Temple, 875 Lake St., Oak Park

7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 4

$12, $8 for FLW Trust members

See Adult Programs at flwright.org

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