Monday, November 3, 2008

Singer sewing machine in Frank Lloyd Wrights Home & Studio

Frank Lloyd Wrights ‘home and studio’ is located at 951 Chicago Avenue, Oak Park, Illinois, in an architecturally rich neighborhood only a few minutes from downtown Chicago. The neighborhood has many houses designed by Wright, including examples of the first ‘prairie-style’ houses. Frank Lloyd Wright raised his six children in this house with his first wife Catherine Tobin. Between 1889 and 1909 he worked and lived in this area. One of his earliest works is found here – the ‘Winslow House’ in River Forest, Illinois. Frank Lloyd Wright lived in this house with his family until 1909. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972 and declared a National Historic Landmark four years later. The house is now being restored by the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust to look like it did when Wright himself lived in it.

The house is compact in design but as Wrights family grew, he continued to expand the house including a new dining room, playroom and studio where he worked with several well-known architects such as Walter Burley Griffin and Richard Bock.
Catherine’s dayroom is where an original Isaac Singer sewing machine can be found. The sewing machine was seen as a symbol of status and self-reliance for American families. Catherine’s dayroom receives a large amount of natural sunlight through the windows along one side. Catherine would have used this room for such activities as to sew, write, and nurse the children. The sewing machine is situated on one side of the room, next to the windows so Catherine would have had great natural light to sew in. The sewing machine is attached to a Singer sewing machine table with the foot pedal underneath.

The placing of the sewing machine in this home would have been very typical for a house of this time. It is away from the commonly used areas such as a lounge area or dining room in a room just for the wife/mothers everyday jobs. It is placed near a window for light and a pleasant atmosphere with a view.
In contrast to a modern house, the sewing machine usually would not sit out permanently in a room but be stored in a cupboard and brought out when needed, which would not usually be as often as in the past.
The sewing machine is similar to the linen press in that it was handy to have but back then not every home would own one due to its cost. Therefore they would both represent a status of wealth within the home.
In contrast, the place for the chinese umbrella holder, 'The Summer Palace', is a much grander and richer home which 'provided a fancy way for the wealthy to store their wet umbrellas.' Thus the sewing machine, although decorative as well, plays a much more functional and useful role in its environment.

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