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Review: Wright house is perfect setting for paintings of a Wright house

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 20, 2009 - If you've been meaning to take a look at the house Frank Lloyd Wright designed for Ruth and Russell Kraus in Kirkwood, there's no time like the present. Currently, the house is playing host to a series of paintings of Wright's famous Fallingwater in Bear Run, Pa.: and the setting couldn't be better.

The paintings are by the Spanish-born artist Felix de la Concha, who spent a 14-month residency at Fallingwater (oh, the sacrifices artists must make!), painting the multi-level residential masterwork in all seasons and from varying viewpoints, inside and out.

Some of the paintings' perspectives are dizzying, resulting in playful abstractions; others draw out Fallingwater's insistent horizontal cantilevers, only to re-integrate the house into its natural setting.

De la Concha completed the paintings in 2005-06, and they have already been presented at Wright-designed buildings, including Fallingwater itself and at the Price Tower in Bartlesville, Okla. But it's hard to imagine a more rewarding setting for the works than the Kraus House, also known as the Frank Lloyd Wright in Ebsworth Park.

Dating from the 1950s, the Kraus House is one of Wright's late Usonian designs, and differs in key ways with the one-off uniqueness of Fallingwater, which dates from 1936. While the Kraus House acknowledges its site, Fallingwater's very design and foundations are drawn from its location, a rocky waterfall at Bear Run in western Pennsylvania. The site's nature and its geometry infuse Fallingwater, while the design of the Kraus House is derived from the logic of an abstract parallelogram applied to its plan, furniture and fixtures.

Yet it's the contrasts between the Kraus House and Fallingwater that make for the rich encounter. Some of de la Concha's smaller, vertical paintings are tucked between small windows in the Kraus House's main hallway. Larger paintings take their place on built-in shelves in the bedrooms, and seem to invite us to compare the buildings' architectures and color schemes.

In general, the juxtaposition of the two houses presents an opportunity to reflect on Frank Lloyd Wright's later career and residential designs, not to mention the experience of architecture in two versus three dimensions. A visit to the Kraus House must be scheduled in advance, and tours are limited to Wednesday through Sunday. But the effort pays off and is highly recommended.

Ivy Cooper is an artist and professor of art history at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.

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