Marion Mahony Griffin (1871-1962)

An Artist's Studio

An Artist's Studio
elevation, 1894
watercolor and ink on paper

Marion Mahony was born in Chicago, Illinois, and graduated from MIT in 1894. She was greatly encouraged in her work by her first cousin Dwight Perkins, who had completed a two year program in MIT's Department of Architecture three years earlier. While at MIT, Mahony studied with Eugène Létang and later, with Désiré Despradelle. Marion Mahony GriffinUpon graduating, Mahony moved to Chicago and worked briefly for Perkins before going to work for Frank Lloyd Wright in 1895.

During her 14 year tenure with Wright, Mahony became one of his primary designers and was responsible for many of the furnishings of his houses, including murals, mosaics, furniture, leaded glass, and lighting fixtures. When Wright sold his practice to Herman von Holst in 1909, she oversaw the completion, and in some cases the design, of his unfinished commissions. It is, however, through her talent as a delineator that she is best remembered. While working for Wright, Mahony developed her distinctive rendering style, which was influenced in both composition and technique by Japanese prints. Her drawings were instrumental in enhancing Wright's early reputation. As Barry Byrne, a member of Wright's studio recalled:

"She was the most talented member of Frank Lloyd Wright's staff ... Mr. Wright would occasionally sit at Marion's board and work on her drawings, and I recall one hilarious occasion when his work ruined the drawing. On that occasion Andrew Willatzen, an outspoken member of the staff, loudly proclaimed that Marion Mahony was Wright's superior as a draftsman. As a matter of fact, she was. Wright took the statement of her superiority equably."

H. Allen Brooks
The Prairie School: Frank Lloyd Wright and His Midwest Contemporaries, 1972

Mahony's thesis project shows her early interest in domestic architecture. Initially unsure of her ability to create the expected thesis program for a Bachelor's Degree, she reminisced that she:

"... rebelled and told the head of the Architecture Department I couldn't do that sort of thing, that perhaps I wasn't an architect. He said well wasn't there something I would be interested to do. And I said well domestic work was the only thing that appealed to me, and he said well do the home of an architect but doll it up a bit. So I did."

Marion Mahony Griffin
The Magic of America, c.1940

In Mahony's thesis project, the influence of her professor, Désiré Despradelle, is evident in her treatment of the subject matter, as well as in her skilled handling of color and detail. Mahony's abilities as a delineator would make her indispensable to Wright. As Reyner Banham declared in his 1973 Architectural Review article, "Death and Life of the Prairie School," "She was the greatest architectural delineator of her generation, which included mere men like Lutyens, Loos and Wright."

In 1914, after a 20 year career in Chicago, Mahony and her husband Walter Burley Griffin moved to Australia to begin the design of that country's capitol city, Canberra. Walter Burley Griffin won the commission with the help of Mahony's impressive presentation drawings.

An Artist's Studio

An Artist's Studio
section, 1894
watercolor and ink on paper

An Artist's Studio

An Artist's Studio
plan, 1894
watercolor and ink on paper

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