A THIS AMERICAN HOUSE EXCLUSIVE
Hope Rogers can be forgiven for not remembering her one meeting with Frank Lloyd Wright—she was just four years old at the time. It was 1928, and her world-famous great-uncle had materialized at a family reunion hosted by Hope’s parents, Frank and Frances Heller Sankot, on their farm near Belle Plaine, Iowa. Hope’s grandmother, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Wright Heller, was also there that day to greet her half-brother, Frank Lloyd Wright, whose stellar career—and much-publicized scandals—Lizzie had closely followed, even though the two siblings had not remained in close contact through the years. But as Hope was later told, “Frank took such a fancy to my 11 year old brother, Herb Sankot, that Frank said he ‘wanted to take Herb back to Taliesin with him and make an architect of him.’ Whereupon Lizzie told her brother he ‘was not a fit person to raise a child.’ They had a terrible argument, both probably saying unforgivable things so that Frank later left Lizzie out of his autobiography and she came near leaving Frank out of hers.”
Not only was Elizabeth Wright Heller left out of Frank Lloyd Wright’s autobiography, but she has received scant mention in the many biographies and writings about her half-brother that have appeared in the 95 years since their last encounter. Meanwhile, any mention made of the father they shared, William Cary Wright, has typically acknowledged his musical influence on his famous son, but has also dismissively characterized him as a drifter who ultimately abandoned his family. Some recent scholars—including Paul Hendrickson in his 2019 book Plagued by Fire: The Dreams and Furies of Frank Lloyd Wright—have taken aim at righting this misperception by pulling William Cary Wright more fully out of the shadows to which he has long been consigned. But Hope Rogers, who celebrated her 99th birthday this February, remains the indefatigable caretaker and champion of her great-grandfather and grandmother’s legacies, hopeful that both will more widely and lastingly find their “Wrightful” places in the extraordinary story of their famous family.
William Cary Wright was a composer and teacher of music—and also at times a minister, lawyer, and doctor—from whom both Lizzie and her half-brother Frank learned piano and developed a lifelong appreciation for music. Frank Lloyd Wright would often cite the tremendous inspiration and impact of Beethoven, Bach, and Brahms on his work, once stating, “Never miss the idea that architecture and music belong together. They are practically one.” His father “is still a grossly underappreciated force in shaping Frank’s creative method,” says the music historian David Patterson, who in 2013 produced the first CD recording of a selection of William’s music. “The lessons that he taught about music were especially potent, working their way into Frank’s fundamental notions of architecture” (Patterson 2013).Continue Reading…