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Tonkens Cat House Pedigree Not Quite Wright

by LiveModern Webmaster last modified Sep 13, 2014 01:05 AM
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by Eric last modified Sep 12, 2014

Recently, there's been much attention paid to the Usonian-style Tonken's cat house that's been attributed to being designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. However, I recently received an email from Taliesin apprentice Thomas H. Olson (via his partner, Merle H. Sykora, ASID) that sets the record straight. Read more after the jump... Tom relays the following statement via Merle in a recent email: "WOW! Has everyone been hoodwinked about the source of this design done when...




 

 

6a00d8341bf72a53ef012875b1ef74970c-800wiRecently, there's been much attention paid to the Usonian-style Tonken's cat house that's been attributed to being designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. However, I recently received an email from Taliesin apprentice Thomas H. Olson (via his partner, Merle H. Sykora, ASID) that sets the record straight. Read more after the jump...

Tom relays the following statement via Merle in a recent email:

"WOW!  Has everyone been hoodwinked about the source of this design done when I was an apprentice to Frank Lloyd Wright in the field supervising the construction of the Boswell house in Cincinnati, OH. Earlier Mr. Wright had sent his grandson, Eric Lloyd Wright, and me to waterproof the exterior of the Tonkens residence so I was familiar with and became even more friendly with Rosalie and Gerald, even occasionally "house sitting" for them. One day Gerry asked me to design a cat house for his daughter. My dyslexia and difficulty with spelling manifests in the incorrect spelling of residence.

The FLLW office was NEVER consulted about this drawing and it did NOT come from Frank Lloyd Wright. It came solely from me. The only relationship to Frank Lloyd Wright was/is that I was an apprentice at the time, and his aesthetic had become a part of my creative psyche. I am not trying to steal any thunder from Mr. Wright. I am merely trying to correct history. This design did not come from him and will not be found in his archives. The only drawing which exists (unless someone has made copies) is the one shown, which I did. Years after I did the drawing, I was walking around the Tonkens' house and saw the decrepit, delaminated cat house on a trash heap near the lot line. Imagine my surprise when the former Taliesin apprentice, Mark Heyman called to tell me the cat house was for sale at Christies Auction House.

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The description said I had called Mr. Wright to ask him what to do. Over this I had a good laugh and thought, "How absurd." That NEVER happened. That story was a fabrication of the seller who had apparently made a new version of the original or else spent an inordinate amount of time restoring the wreckage of the original - anything to attach Mr. Wright's name to something to elicit an inflated price at auction. I should have refuted the assertion at that time, but thought the story so ridiculous it could never be assumed to be true. Now it has grown legs and is once again being presented as a FLLW original. The purchaser from Christies was Tom Monahan of Dominos Pizza, who was amassing an enormous collection of Wright related objects. Later the house was resold for a fraction of what Mr. Monahan had paid.

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When it appeared for sale on eBay I wrote to eBay to refute their statement that it was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Apparently that refutation was never transmitted to either the seller or the buyer. No one wants to believe they have been duped with misinformation. It is now time to put to rest the Frank Lloyd Wright association with this design. It is completely, tee-totally mine.   

The original estimate of value for the cat house was somewhere about $1200 and the drawing about $125. We were shocked to get the results of the auction and to see that the cat house went for about $12,000 and the drawing for about $1200. When Monahan sold them they went for somewhat LESS, however [PM Note: the final sale price was $2300].

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It is time to set the record straight. These misrepresentations make interesting stories, but liars of history if allowed to persist. This was a project done by Thomas H. Olson for Gerry Tonkens on a request and was responded to with humor in the titling of the drawing.

Merle H. Sykora, ASID
Partner of Thomas H. Olson
Design Unity Inc. 8789 116th S. S.E.
Clear Lake, MN 55310"

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Thanks Tom and Merle for setting the record straight. While the little Usonian cat house may not be designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, it is still a wonderfully whimsical design that embodies the principles of Wrightian design that was created by one of Mr. Wright's extremely talented apprentices. Let's hope that now that the truth of its real designer is now publically known, it can be credited as such so that mis-information is not propagated.

First image via Exclusive To The Trade/All catalog images courtesy OAD Archives

 


 

 

 
 
 

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