November 11 is the fifth anniversary of the opening of Crystal Bridges on 11-11-11. It is also the first anniversary of the opening of the Bachman-Wilson House, a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home moved from New Jersey and reconstructed on the Museum grounds. In honor of that anniversary, Kelly Johnston, one of the volunteer guides of the house, offers this reflection on his experiences leading guests through the house over the past 12 months. –LD
by Kelly Johnston
A year ago on November 11, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Bachman-Wilson House opened to the public here at Crystal Bridges. What a treat it’s been to lead guided tours of this unique architectural gem. On my tours, I ask our guests to consider this artful dwelling as an enthusiastic young family’s mid-century dream house. But when I reflect on my own experience visiting the house more than 50 times this first year, in all seasons, in all kinds of weather, and most importantly in the company of our thoughtful guests, it seems I’m the one living the dream.
Our guests to the Bachman-Wilson House are fascinating folks eager to engage and share their life experiences. A few highlights from the year come to mind:
- A colleague of Fay Jones, the Arkansas-born architect and perhaps the most accomplished student of Mr. Wright, told me stories of working with this humble genius at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.
- A trainer of guides from Taliesin West, Wright’s winter complex in Scottsdale, shared his experience leading tours of Wright’s desert building complex.
- Wright enthusiasts looking to add our newly public home to their lifelong checklists thanked me for showing them Wright’s only Arkansas structure (though not originally built here).
- A couple in the midst of building their own new house compared their experience working with architects today to the 1950s Bachman-Wilson house construction story.
- Teenagers asked good questions and carefully took notes for school reports.
- Guests asked for suggestions on nearby Wright buildings, leading to conversations about Bartlesville, Wichita, Kansas City, and St. Louis.
- Grandparents introduced their grandkids to Frank Lloyd Wright through his work here in Bentonville.
- Dallas guests explained the history of the Dallas Theater Center, one of Wright’s few surviving theaters, and recommended an obscure film shot mostly in one of Wright’s Texas homes.
- Members of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy enthusiastically shared stories of visiting the house in New Jersey pre-move and were eager to compliment the quality of the reconstruction here while comparing this house to other Wright buildings they’ve inspected around the world.
- Kansas City museum professionals complimented our staff on how well the house is kept.
After a year with guests like these, I eagerly anticipate learning something new from every tour.
The living area of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Bachman-Wilson House. Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Photo by Nancy Nolan
On the subject of architecture, Fay Jones wrote “I’ve always felt that the details, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, are more than just nice things to notice. They are manifestation and expression, a kind of measure of the intensity of caring.” Over 60-plus years, many good people cared intensely about the Bachman-Wilson Hous,including:
- Wright and his original clients Abe and Gloria Wilson who created it;
- Sharon and Lawrence Tarantino who restored it repeatedly in the face of recurring flood damage while in New Jersey; and
- Crystal Bridges caringly reconstructing it in the Ozarks forest.
The master bedroom on the second floor of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Bachman-Wilson House. Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Photo by Nancy Nolan
To end every tour, I quote Fay Jones on the “intensity of caring” and recount for my guests the names of the heroes who’ve cared about this house in the past. Then I suggest that the effort each guest has made to travel to Crystal Bridges and visit the house shows their own intensity of caring. And because they care, this dream house was saved.
And because they care, leading their tours has been my own year-long dream.