Wright, Sullivan, and Tiffany: Studying Pathways to Modernism in Chicago

Aug 30, 2022

by Rebecca Hagen   

As the registrar at Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece, Fallingwater, I spend most of my time surrounded by incredible art and architecture. I have devoted my career to the study of objects and material culture at historic homes (including Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and James Madison’s Montpelier), informally learning architectural history along the way when I was able.

As a recipient of a Decorative Arts Trust Continuing Education Scholarship to attend the 2022 Victorian Society in America’s Chicago Summer School, I was able to expand my understanding of Fallingwater by learning about the architects and designers that paved the way for Modernism as well as to learn more about Frank Lloyd Wright, his “Lieber Meister” Louis Sullivan, and his contemporaries. Meeting colleagues and visiting other Wright sites were very rewarding experiences that allowed me to put Fallingwater’s design into context within not only Wright’s career, but also within the time period and associated stylistic movements. As an art historian, I loved seeing Fallingwater’s collection of art, sculpture, and objects represented in the buildings we visited. I especially enjoyed the quantity of material we encountered by Louis Comfort Tiffany, as Tiffany Studios is represented in almost every room in Fallingwater.

Our opening lecture on Chicago placed the importance of this opportunity perfectly into context and set the scene for the days to come. The presentation provided a broad-yet-detailed understanding of the city’s development. As a non-architecture expert, I found the discussion of building technology particularly fascinating and now have a better grasp of the fundamentals of architectural design and engineering in general. 

Beyond the clear benefits to my career, I found the Summer School to be inspiring and fulfilling but also cathartic. Time spent with like-minded peers was enriching personally and professionally. Despite the long days touring and attending lectures, we often gathered together in the evening over dinner and drinks to discuss what we learned that day, sharing observations and insights. After two years of isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic, this experience was unbelievably meaningful. The chance to stretch my mental muscles and wholly dedicate my time to learning and experiencing, while also stepping outside of the office and away from the computer, was a tremendous privilege and pleasure.

I am extremely grateful that the Victorian Society in America and the Decorative Arts Trust gave me this rewarding opportunity to attend the Chicago Summer School, and I look forward to being able to attend similar programs in the future.


Rebecca Hagen is the registrar at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater. 

About The Decorative Arts Trust Bulletin

Formerly known as the "blog,” the Bulletin features new research and scholarship, travelogues, book reviews, and museum and gallery exhibitions. The Bulletin complements The Magazine of the Decorative Arts Trust, our biannual members publication.


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