By Glenda Rice Collins
BARTLESVILLE, Okla., USA — This week I felt a vital, revived connection, when I toured the ongoing Price Tower Arts Center exhibition, Shin’enKan: House of the Far Away Heart, which ends March 26. Bruce Goff’s spirited and somewhat spiritual, avant-garde Oklahoma masterpiece was engulfed in flames some 20 years ago.
As a self-described ‘woman of the heart,’ there was an immediate conduit of energy present for me when I first experienced Goff’s architectural gem in 1994, and again in December of 1996, just days before the unequaled environment extraordinaire, Shin’enKan, was destroyed by arson.
The essence of being within the “place of the far away heart” remains heartfelt along with the sensory perception of a delicate, pleasant fragrance recalled within the original structure, perhaps emitted from humidified teak wood or burnt cork, said to be proposed in the Price Studio (Phase 1) initial plans, along with black sisal matting for some surface coverings.
Here, now, at Frank Lloyd Wright’s only built ‘skyscraper,’ his 1956 Price Tower, is a 3/4-scale replica of the Shin’enKan original living-area, sunken seating centerpiece — the plush, white-carpeted upholstered, interactive conversation pit, with gleaming cellophane ‘fiber optic’ strips suspended high above, reminiscent of the original Joe D. Price bachelor pad environment of the past. Video details are projected on the wall, to the left, as pictured above. Emotions are evoked.
Goff’s architectural drawings and a few familiar design-element remnants of Shin’enKan’s conflagration now beckon for review and remembrance. Presiding over the drawings and memorabilia, and perched upon a section of jewel-like blue-green glass cullets, is a Phoenix, risen from the ashes–Goff’s bronze and mirror intricate garden sculpture signifying enduring strength and independence.
For me, the heartfelt Goff connections run deep:
–to my own hometown of Tulsa where the child prodigy lived during his youth, apprenticed at age 12 to the architectural firm of Rush, Endicott and Rush, and later credited (with his high school art teacher Adah Robinson) with the design of the art deco masterpiece, the Boston Avenue Methodist Church
–to his 1928 Tulsa Riverside Studio (now known as Spotlight Theater), where I attended summer ballet classes one year during my youth under the tutelage of Eva Matlagova, the Russian mother of Oklahoma Indian ballerina Moscelyne Larkin, a founder of Tulsa Ballet
–to the University of Oklahoma in Norman, where I experienced a visit to Goff’s famed 1950 Bavinger House (demolished in 2016) in the 1960’s
— to Goff’s 1978 Pavilion for Japanese Art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which I glimpsed while rushing to view an exhibition of Alfred Stieglitz photography of Georgia O’Keefe and friends, perhaps during the early 90’s
I was, then, none the wiser about the Oklahoma artistic connections, through Goff, located nearby in his works, and so familiar to my youth in Art Deco design-rich Tulsa.
It wasn’t until I moved from Los Angeles to Bartlesville, in 1994, and wrote about the 2001 Deco World Congress events in Tulsa for Oklahoma Family Magazine (now Oklahoma Magazine) that Shin’enKan, and several Art Deco Tulsa landmarks drew me to realize the many heartfelt connections to be perceived through the Goff genius and his artistic legacy, as famed artist, composer, architect and visionary. His mature work had no precedent! (See Oklahoma Family Magazine, April 2001, Art Deco World Congress April 18 – 22, and sidebars: Art Deco – Where Did it Go? and Preservation is His Priority, by Glenda Rice Collins).
The Imaginary Ballet
Viewing Goff’s large contemporary paintings for the first time in a former downtown Bartlesville drug store, (while the Price Tower underwent new millennium renovations), his abstract triptych, The Imaginary Ballet left a vivid and indelible impression on this former dancer! His senses of spirit, motion and emotion were captured on canvas in the pensive use of contrasted colors, forms and unique composition.
And with the stunning breadth exhibited in the 2010 Bruce Goff: A Creative Mind exhibitions at both the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art at the University of Oklahoma, and later at the (fully renovated) Price Tower Arts Center in Bartlesville, the expansive expressionism of this gifted artist became even more meaningful and worthy of celebration! (See: Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise, November 14, 2010, Creativity World Forum Advances to Oklahoma City, For the Sake of Art, by Glenda Rice Collins).
And more recently, Goff’s compositions in music were performed at the acoustically exemplary Ambler Hall, an intimate Bartlesville venue operated under the auspices of the OK Mozart Festival (OKM), adding pianistic “grace notes” to the list of extensive accomplishments of the “American expressionist” architect — undoubtedly influenced by Debussy and Saint-Saens among others (See: glendaricecollins.com REVIEW: OK Mozart Inaugurates Ambler Hall in the U.S. Heartland; Tulsa’s Midwest Trio Featured, by Glenda Rice Collins, September 1, 2015 posted on this website).
Friends of Kebyar
Goff’s former mentor, the famed Frank Lloyd Wright, critically advised the young, gifted Goff, in musical terms, not to proceed with the first dramatic drawings he had in mind for the Price Studio (Phase 1, later named Shin’enKan during Phase 2 and Phase 3) commissioned for the young “Joey” Price, calling the initial plans a “hopus-copus (sic) for an opus.” In an archived letter, he went on to say “…Why not do a charming little ‘scherzo’ for the lad…and do violence to nothing…(it is) practically unbuildable as is… (and extravagantly costly).
The referenced Wright letter is reprinted in the Fall/Winter 2016 publication, Friends of Kebyar Journal, with the entirety of this issue of the quarterly publication of Goff devotees honoring Shin’enKan: Remembering Bruce Goff’s Masterwork, currently available in the Price Tower gift shop. An essay by David G. De Long, Ph.D. is featured within this issue.
From De Long’s words it can be gleaned that although Goff did, for other reasons, alter the original Price Studio (Phase 1) plans, he had begun to escape Wright’s influence. Evidently drawing from German expressionist parallels of design, as well as the influence of his own grandmother and his childhood memories of her collections of crystals, feathers and seashells he admired during summer visits to her Kansas home, his unique genius prevailed.
It had long ago been determined that advanced higher education might stifle his creativity, so he was mostly self-taught, later presiding over the University of Oklahoma School of Architecture. which had ownership of Shin’enKan shortly before the arsonists took over its fate.
Creative Evolution Review: Random Thoughts
In the Price Studio, Goff’s client originally requested what could be summed up as a bachelor pad retreat, a place of escape and relaxation, removed from conventional formality and moralistic judgments– an interior space, later named Shin’enKan the ‘far away heart’ or ‘lose your heart’ home and museum, after Price married the Japanese, Etsuko, in 1965.
The young Prices eventually required more space to house their growing collection of Edo-period Japanese art works, museum, and their growing family.
Built in three phases, the resulting Shin’enKan encompassed Goff’s visionary usage of not only the distinctive blue/green glass cullets repeated in other Goff structures in Bartlesvile, but also dark anthracite positioned in decorative walls and garden; tile mosaics, trinket-detailed window patterns, and massive sections of rose colored quartz cabinets to house television sets, et al, in the Phase 3 Price retreat addition which capped off the entire project with a fantasy world of eye-candy and unique comforts upstairs, for the, then, husband and father.
From Phase 1 plans to the final outcomes of his second and third phases of Shin’enKan, Goff’s designs included: pivoting doors, original concepts for unique mosaic tile patterns, custom-made Shoji screens to mask doors (crafted in Japan for the bath area); teak floors, cork ceilings, clerestory light, and trinket patterns used to transform larger, later window panes with brilliant mosaic-like patterns. Phase 1 windows were diamond shaped, with purple glass cullets used as color prisms.
The signature blue-green jewel-like glass cullets, seen in Bavinger House designs as well, also served to anchor Goff’s enduring Siamese Phoenix bronze and mirror sculpture, now further burnished, which survived the tragic 1996 fire, and is currently on display at Price Tower — a proud, friendly bird risen from the ashes to symbolically preside over historic remnants of the past and hope for the future.
According to Wikipedia: Bruce Alonzo Goff (June 8, 1904 – August 4, 1982)
“Goff’s contributions to the history of 20th-century architecture are widely praised. His extant archive—including architectural drawings, paintings, musical compositions, photographs, project files, and personal and professional papers—is held by the Ryerson & Burnham Libraries at the Art Institute of Chicago.
Bruce Goff’s headstone, designed by his student Grant Gustafson
His Bavinger House was awarded the Twenty-five Year Award from the American Institute of Architects in 1987, and Boston Avenue Methodist Church was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1999.“
Photo Credits: Banner photo, Price Tower Arts Center replica of Shin’enKan conversation pit, and Bruce Goff Siamese Phoenix sculpture photo by Glenda Rice Collins, 2017. Bruce Goff’s Pavilion for Japanese Art, photo © Museum Associates/LACMA, Courtesy of Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Bavinger House & Goff headstone photos, provided via Wikipedia.
# # # # #glendaricecollins.com 3-23-17 All rights reserved. Updated 3-24-17.