The White Horse Girl and The Blue Wind Boy
Frank Lloyd Wright, the world’s most famous architect observed, “Less is more.” When it came to romance, however, his maxim was ‘more is more.’ Unfortunately, he was never able to achieve in his relationships the transcendent beauty of his buildings-until Wright, finally met, well, Mrs. Wright.
Olgivanna Ivanovna Lazovich had about as interesting a life as someone who began a religion or rode at the head of an invading army. She was born in Montenegro, (present day Yugoslavia,) in 1897, the youngest of nine. Her mother Melena had served as a general in Serbian battles and post-war thought nothing of throwing rocks through irritating neighbors’ windows. This animosity extended to maternal skills and left her brood devoid of nurture.
When Olgivanna was eighteen she moved to Moscow where she met architect Valdemar Hinzenberg, ten years her senior. Although she did not love him, she adored his mother, and when the older woman begged on her deathbed to marry her son, Olgivanna agreed. The ceremony took place on January 31, 1917; the bride cried throughout-and not tears of joy. The year coincided with the onset of the Russian Revolution and the birth of daughter Svetlana. In the tumult of the uprising, life became a treadmill of torture and Olgivanna was reduced to trading her diamond earrings in order to obtain milk for her baby.
Olgivanna’s life took another drastic turn in 1919 when she went to see a visiting Armenian- born mystic, Georgi Ivanovich Gurdjieff. The charismatic guru claimed his eyes could not only penetrate a man’s psyche but bring a woman to orgasm from across a room. The consensus: he was mad-Olgivanna was smitten. She became an ardent follower and learned his sacred dances, which the master claimed was the path to enlightenment. When the Bolsheviks tightened their grip, Gurdjieff fled to Paris where he founded the Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man. Olgivanna and her daughter joined him while Valdemar immigrated to the United States. Gurdjieff, who advocated voluntary suffering, required she relinquish her daughter, and five-year-old Svetlana was sent to America with Olgivanna’s brother Vlado. One of Olgivanna’s main patients at the Institute was New Zealand writer Katherine Mansfield who had come in a last-ditch effort to cure her tuberculosis. Despite the healing powers of Gurdjieff, Mansfield passed away.
In 1924 Gurdjieff decreed Olgivanna should journey to Chicago to preach the Institute’s philosophy; although she was devastated to leave her master, she was eager to be reunited with Svetlana. Mother and daughter moved in with Valdemar and though he wanted to resume their marriage the romantic feelings were once again one-sided.
On November 30th Olgivanna entered the Eighth Street Theater just as the great Russian ballerina Thamar Karsavina began her performance. For the first celebrity architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, who had the seat beside the exotic woman, her arrival upstaged the ballerina. The two nonconformists succumbed to the clichéd ‘love at first sight.’ Olgivanna spoke of their connection as “two powerful magnets being drawn together.” Frank later recalled, “This strange chance meeting, was it poetry? I was a hungry man.” Considering Wright’s history, it was surprising he was still hungry. His first wife Kitty had married Wright when she was seventeen and had raised their six children. Frank transitioned from homebuilder to home-wrecker when he fell for neighbor Mamah Cheney, whose husband had commissioned the architect to design a residence. The couple fled to Frank’s native Wisconsin where he built Taliesin, (from the Welsh Shining Brow) as refuge from the public glare. On its tranquil site overlooking a river, tragedy triumphed over scandal. While Wright was out of town, Mamah and her two children, (whom she had custody for one month a year,) were at lunch when a worker from Barbados, Julian Carleton, set the building on fire. Arson followed murder when he took an ax to Mamah, children and three workers. The indefatigable Wright rebuilt Taliesin, determined “to wipe the scar from the hill.”
In the wake of the massacre and lurid headlines, Frank received a letter from Miriam Maud Noel who offered surprisingly welcome condolences rather than condemnation. They began a relationship after she addressed another missive, ‘Lord of My Waking Dreams.” She turned out to be psychologically imbalanced, a condition exacerbated by a raging morphine addiction, which led to their separation. Despite his rather rocky romantic resume, Frank was still willing to take another chance on love. Like many other great men, he too needed a woman at the center of his life, to feed his ego, to be his sexual and loving partner, and to serve as intellectual sounding board.
Despite Olgivanna’s magnet metaphor and Frank’s hunger there were two viable spouses-Valdemar and Miriam. However, the couple always followed the dictates of their hearts rather than societal mores and Olgivanna was soon ensconced in Taliespin-purportedly as the housekeeper. Her domestic role was immediately suspect as she arrived in chauffeur-driven car; this claim did not hold up to further scrutiny when she became pregnant. The fifty-eight-year-old architect was devoted to the twenty-six year old exotic dancer and the feeling was reciprocal: Olgivanna had transferred her passion from Gurdjieff and the Institute to Wright and Taliesin. One evening Frank read to her from a book by his friend Carl Sandburg. It related how two lovers disappeared, leaving behind only a brief note: We have started to go where the white horses come from and where the blue winds begin. Keep a corner in your hearts for us while we are gone. The White Horse Girl, the Blue Wind Boy.”
Despite the romantic lullaby the cradle soon dropped-pushed by the wife scorned: Miriam Maud Noel. She was infuriated when Frank asked for a divorce so he could marry his Montenegrin dancer. Her first rather unoriginal tactic, (though circumstantial as the real culprit may have been faulty electrical wiring) was to burn down the rebuilt Taliesin a la Carleton. She then contacted the Bureau of Investigation to deport Olgivanna for violating immigration law. That didn’t work either. With thirst for vengeance still unquenched, when Olgivanna gave birth to second daughter Iovanna, Miriam-perhaps fueled by morphine- barged into the hospital room demanding to see her husband’s baby. The new parents fled, dodging the flurry of reporters in a maneuver worthy of Wright’s Wisconsin contemporary, Harry Houdini. They holed up in Minnetonka, Minneapolis under an alias, hiding from arrest for violating the Mann Act (a law enacted to prosecute men who took women across state lines for sexual purposes) and a lawsuit from Noel for alienation of affection. It did not take long for them to be discovered, what with Wright’s trademark beret, cape and cane floating about town with an exotic partner with a thick accent. When a man overheard the couple call a child Svetlana, he contacted the police for the $500 reward and the fugitives were arrested. They were interred in different cells with Olgavinna staying with baby Iovanna while the eight-year-old sobbing Svetlana was in the adjoining cell, (to keep her isolated from the criminal element.) Throughout the night her mother kept up a constant cry of ‘Svet, Svet, it’s all right.”
Eventually Miriam, the douser of Wright’s flame, disappeared and Frank and Olgivanna were free to carry on their unconventional lives. They married on August 25, 1928 in Rancho Santa Fe, a wealthy enclave of San Diego. At age sixty-one, the great man had finally obtained the great love of his life. He expressed his appreciation in his memoir, “Understanding and ready for any sacrifice…came Olgivanna. A woman is, for man, the best of true friends, if man will let her be one.” In his sixth decade, it appears Wright’s emotional I. Q. had finally caught up to his intellectual counterpart.
In 1932 the couple hit upon the grand notion to found the Taliesin Fellowship in Arizona, a school for architects. The game plan was while the students would reap from the reservoir of Frank’s genius, the Wrights would sow their own rewards. They set it up as a “commune” and charged their protégées a sum which exceeded tuition at Yale and Harvard- despite delivering nothing close to a legitimate diploma upon completion. To whet the appetite of the aspiring acolytes the school came with a brochure, an inspired advertisement for Wright, with an impressive list of Friends of the Fellowship on the back: Albert Einstein, Dorothy Parker, Carl Sandburg to name a few. For the ensuing three decades Taliespin became a place where the Wrights received free labor in exchange for the students benefiting from their exposure to the renowned architect. In addition, Olgivanna had complete control over the young men who fell under her jurisdiction. Frank thereby gave his wife the ultimate gift-her own live-action dollhouse; to manipulate her charges who had to attend to her every whim. Brendon Gill, in his biography of Wright, stated that in the Fellowship, Frank became something of a deity. Indeed, according to Gill, “Wright was obliged to share Christmas and Easter with his Christian predecessor…Jesus Christ.”
The Wright’s marriage lasted thirty-one years until Frank’s death at ninety-one, during which period, with the inspiration of his beloved Olgivanna, his work reached its zenith: Fallingwater and one of America’s crown jewels of architecture, the Guggenheim. In his autobiography he praised his spouse, “Just to be with her uplifts my heart and strengthens my spirits when the going gets hard or when the going is good.”
Taliespin’s penchant for the unusual continued past its founder’s death. Svetalana and her infant son were killed in a car crash. At the time of her death, she had been married to William Peters, Wright’s heir apparent. When Josef Stalin’s daughter, Svetlana Stalin, immigrated to the United States, Olgivanna felt her arrival and her name held a mystic connection, and she arranged a meeting between her son-in-law and the dictator’s daughter. They married after a few weeks later and Svetlana, in a bid to divorce her past, became Lana Peters. Alas, the birth of their baby did not save their marriage which foundered due to Oglivianna’s constant meddling.
When Oglivanna passed away at age eighty-five in 1985, she exerted her final act of manipulation. Her will directed her husband was to be exhumed from Taliesin East in Wisconsin and be reinterred in Taliesin West in Arizona. It further stipulated his body, along with hers and Svetlana’s (her biological daughter, that is), be cremated together in the walls of their home’s memorial garden. The Wisconsin legislature and Wright’s six children with Kitty prohibited the act which they said would amount to desecration. However, what Olgivianna wanted, Olgivanna still got-even in death.
Frank Lloyd Wright was immortalized as Howard Roark in Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead and in the world’s most iconic structures. But the soul of the man behind the myth can be found in a memorial garden in the Arizona desert, in the comingled remains of the White Horse Girl and the Blue Wind Boy.