Updated: Oct 16, 2020
Born in 1898 to the first chief justice of Montenegro, Olga Ivanovna Lazovic Hinzenberg was 26 years old and married to architect Vladimar Hinzenberg when she met Frank Lloyd Wright (57) at a ballet performance in Chicago. Of course, by this time she had been living separately from her husband and daughter Sventlana for years, while she trained and performed with experimental French dance guru G.I. Gurdijeff. By 1924 the Gurdjieff Institue was faltering and it was time for Olgivana to move on. After a brief visit to her husband, she decided the marriage was over and made her way to the US. She ended up in Chicago. According to both FLW and Olgivanna, it was love at first sight. The two quickly became inseparable and Olgivanna moved into Taliesin in Wisconsin in 1925, despite the minor detail that FLW was still married to wife number two. This proved a problem in 1926 when FLW was arrested for violating the “ Mann Law” which prohibits trafficking or transporting women across state lines “for immoral purposes”. (1) (The charges were later dropped.) In 1928, the divorce from FLW’s second wife was finalized and they were able to get married in Rancho Santa Fe, with their 3year old daughter Iovanna. They remained inseparable throughout their 31-year marriage.
Very quickly Olgivana became the manager of the “The Taliesin Fellowship”, the FLW architectural office and apprentice program which she ran until her death. Students were expected to work for free as a part of their architectural education. However, students found themselves doing everything from manual labor to cooking, and some questioned the value of the education provided. Additionally architecture employees were paid little and often nothing but were given free room and board. Everyone was expected to live at both Taliesin's, where a strict hierarchy was enforced by both FLW and Olgivanna. Architecture critic and FLW biographer Ada Louise Huxtable famously called it a “shameless scam”. Some complained that it was more of a cult than an architectural office and laid the blame squarely on Olgivanna. But others felt she brought a wealth of experience of communal living from her years at the Gurdjieff Institute. For better or worse it was Olgivanna who kept things running at both Taliesins, while FLW focused on his work.
One of those who found the experience bizarre and cult-like was Stalin's daughter. Yes, that Stalin. Stalin's daughter Svetlana Alliluyeva defected to the US in 1967. In 1970 Olgivana invited her to Taliesin West. Svetlana Alliluyeva ended up marrying one of FLW"s employees Wesley Peters, 3 weeks after meeting him. But what makes this already weird tale even weirder is that Wesley Peter's first wife also named Svetlana, was Olgivana's daughter from her first marriage to Valdimir Hinzenberg. The first Svetlana died tragically in a car accident in 1945, along with their son. According to authors Roger Friedland and Harry Zellman, Olgivanna was convinced that Stalin's daughter had been "sent by cosmic forces" and would be some sort of spiritual conduit to her dead daughter. Unfortunately it didn't work out that way... Wes Peters' marriage to Svetlana 2.0 only lasted 20 months. Sventlana Alliluyeva had this to say about the Taliesin Fellowship:
“Architects were paid miserable salary, or not paid at all...There was no individual income for anyone. Architects were working with no weekends, no yearly vacations, and actually no holidays: because on big national holidays they had to entertain guests, cook for a party of 200, serve meals,play music, dance before the audience and also do their work some time...Why had I come to this weird place where everything reminded me of what I have run away from? This primitive communism under a dictator?” (2.) Yikes- if Stalin’s daughter thought she was too authoritarian, it had to be bad. According to her memoires, Svetlana was also expected to invest her entire personal savings, (including the money she had earned writing her first set of memoires about Stalin) in the Taliesin Foundation coffers.
After FLW’s death, Olgivana ran the FLW foundation with (again) mixed results. Some saw her as a guardian of FLW’s legacy, others as a controlling gate keeper. According to her NYTimes obit ”observers found that she presided over a community shuttling between Wisconsin and Arizona like the abbess of a medieval cloister. Reigning over a spiritual tradition founded by Mr. Wright, his widow was said to have firmly but lovingly ordained the fellowship's architectural operations even though she had no architectural training herself.”
Olgivanna died at the age of 85 of tuberculosis, (!) in Scottsdale Arizona. But even in death she provoked controversy. As part of her will, Oligvana had the remains of FLW , who had been buried for 26 years in Wisconsin , exhumed (Nothing says I love you like digging up the remains of your late spouse) so that they could be cremated and mixed with her own ashes which were then poured into a concrete plaque that was placed into a memorial wall on the grounds of Taliesin West. As the closest living relative Iovanna, who was in a mental institution (she spent the better part of her life in and out of many such institutions), signed off on the paper work. An undertaker snuck into the cemetery at four in the morning, dug up the body, cremated it and then drove the ashes to Arizona. According to FLW’s children, FLW had stipulated in his will that he wished to be buried in the family cemetery in Wisconsin. The move infuriated his children from his first marriage, friends, and fans alike, while there were others who defended Olgivana’s right as FLW”s widow to do as she pleased with his remains.
Almost immediately after Olgivanna's death in 1985,the Taliesin Fellowship began to falter. FLW had designated Iovanna as the new leader but her mental illness made this impossible and she spent the rest of her life in a mental institution. Regardless of whether one sees Olgivanna as a dictator or a custodian, Falling Water and the Guggenhiem, were designed during their marriage. "Their collision produced both brilliant architecture and a bizarre social order that still inspires and haunts many of those who lived by its inscrutable tenets."(3)
Thirsty for More? Check out the recipe for the Montengro Spritz here.
Sources/Reading 1.Carrie Hojnicki, Architectural Digest, June 2017
2.Svetlana Alliluyeva, The Faraway Music, Liberty Publishing House1986 p.86 3.Roger Freidland, The Fellowship: The Untold Story of Frank Lloyd Wright & the Taliesin Fellowship. p.118