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Thursday, November 20, 2014

Dorothy Liebes and Frank Lloyd Wright

In June of 2013, I posted about the textiles of Dorothy Liebes. Not long ago, I ran across an interesting article about her by Alexandra Griffith Winton entitled "Color and Personality: Dorothy Liebes and American Design." The article is worth a read. In it, Winton, who is quickly becoming a recognized expert on Liebes, explained how the artist got her start creating one-off pieces for architects. The first of these architects was Timothy Pflueger, who commissioned Liebes to do a series of drapes for the Pacific Stock Exchange building.

It was also through Pflueger that she met Frank Lloyd Wright. The story, as Liebes described it in her unpublished memoir, struck me as charming.

Tim Pflueger telephoned one day and said he was bringing Mr. Wright to the studio. I went into complete panic. I had rather associated him with the Bauhaus school, the “less-is-more” group of architects who scorned the fur-belows and gingerbread of the Victorians. I felt sure that a “hair shirt,” as I would have described Mr. Wright, erroneously, would absolutely hate the vivid colors and extensive use of metals in my fabrics.

I swept up my bag and prepared to flee. “Tim is bringing Frank Lloyd Wright here,” I said. “I can’t bear to see the disaster. Call me when he has gone.” In the hotel, I waited for the phone to ring, picturing one of the world’s most celebrated architects wrinkling his nose in disdain at everything he saw. A half hour passed, an hour. Then the telephone rang. In whispers, Ruth said, “You’d better come down here at once. He’s ordering everything in the place.” Unbelievable!

Far from rejecting my designs, he liked the metal threads and the desert-Western look of the weaving. Gesturing toward the tall stack he had chosen, he said, “Ship it all to Taliesin.” When he had gone, I said, “I can’t really believe he means it. Let’s wait and see.” Two weeks later a curt telegram came, saying, “Where are fabrics? Ship without further delay. Advise. FLW”

According to Winton, that was the first of many orders from Wright. He remained a customer and a friend until his death in 1959.


Leibes's studio (Liebes standing behind the man on the right)
Example of Leibes's work


  1. What an extraordinary story about two geniuses, thanks for sharing it Dana!

    1. Just goes to show that all artists, no matter how talented, can sometimes be a little insecure about their work. (Well, maybe that didn't include Frank Lloyd Wright, because he seems to have had an ego large enough for several men.) I guess the reason I found the story so endearing is that the people I write about on this blog are usually firmly established luminaries in the design world, and I rarely run across anything they've written about their insecurities. The idea of Dorothy Liebes hiding out at a hotel and waiting for an all-clear phone call somehow makes her more real to me.