To Japan and back

Frank Lloyd Wright’s influence explored in documentary

Dana Thomas House
Dana Thomas House
Untitled Document One need only look at the roof of the Dana-Thomas House, with its upturned corners, to see Japan’s influence on architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
“Even though [Wright] hadn’t been in Japan, he was already very aware and had been studying Japanese architecture for about 10 years before he built the Dana-Thomas House,” says Dr. Donald Hallmark, longtime site director of the Springfield landmark — but the house was more than just a fresh canvas for his inspired designs. Wright’s large commission from the home afforded him the opportunity to go to Japan in 1905, says Regina Albanese, executive director of the Dana-Thomas House Foundation. When he returned from his travels, he bore gifts in the form of Japanese woodblock prints.
The Dana-Thomas House Foundation recently acquired some of the prints given by Wright to the home’s owner, Susan Lawrence Dana. The addition of the collection — donated to the site by R-Lou Barker — prompted the foundation to host a showing of the documentary Magnificent Obsession, a film about Wright’s work in Japan.
A five-year labor of love by Koichi Mori and Chicago native Karen Severns, the documentary shows how Wright’s aesthetic and Japanese design came together in what Hallmark calls Wright’s greatest Japanese accomplishment: the Imperial Hotel. Although there is a great deal of interest in preserving Wright’s work in Japan, as in the United States, the renowned hotel was demolished. “His greatest building was in a really urban area, and the land value became so high that it led to the demise of the building,” Hallmark says. “His other buildings that weren’t built in such high-use urban areas have all survived, and they are all revered.”
Magnificent Obsession features interviews with surviving members of the architect’s team, apprentices, and historians with previously unreleased archives that provide a fresh look into the legacy of America’s most celebrated architect.
Magnificent Obsession will be screened in the Thorne Deuel Auditorium, at the Illinois State Museum (502 S. Spring St.), at 1 p.m. Saturday, June 30. For information, call the Dana-Thomas House Foundation office (217-788-9452). Admission is free. 

Contact Marissa Monson at

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