The Nakoma Memorial Gateway

Frank Lloyd Wright's Winnebago Sculptural Models

In 1923, Frank Lloyd Wright was commissioned to design a clubhouse for the Nakoma Country Club on the Winnebago ceremonial grounds in Madison, Wisconsin. A year later, Wright was also asked to design what is known as the "Nakoma Memorial Gateway," which would serve as the entryway to the nearby Nakoma subdivision.

The Nakoma Memorial Gateway plan consisted of two hexagonal pools, one on either side of the road, with each having a massive sculpture of a Winnebago tribal figure: one being "Nakomis" and the other "Nakoma." According to Wright's original concept, Chief Nakomis would be rendered eighteen feet tall "teaching his young son to take the bow to the Sun God," while sixteen-foot Nakoma would be shown with "brimming bowl and children, symbolic of domestic virtue."

Frank Lloyd Wright Nakoma Memorial Gateway
Frank Lloyd Wright's original perspective for the Nakoma Memorial Gateway, 1924
(Courtesy of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation)

In keeping with Wright's organic design philosophy, the figures are rendered with simplicity in their features and a subtle, abstract geometry overall. Wright produced smaller-scale plaster models of the Nakomis and Nakoma sculptures as part of his presentation. Numerous versions of the sculptures were created thereafter, some earlier renditions using the plaster examples as their molds, in terracotta, black glazed ceramic, glided concrete, and bronze.

Due to financial constraints, neither the clubhouse nor the Nakoma Memorial Gateway came to fruition at the intended location during Wright's lifetime, but the designs were later adapted for a new site in California in 2000.

Frank Lloyd Wright

During his seventy year career as an architect, Frank Lloyd Wright created more than 1,100 designs, half of which were realized and a large portion of which came about later in his life. Wright was born in Richland Center, Wisconsin in 1867. He enrolled at the University of Wisconsin in 1885 to study civil engineering, completing only two years of the program. After working for Joseph Silsbee on the construction of the Unity Chapel in Oak Park, Illinois Wright decided to pursue a career in architecture and he moved to Chicago where he began an apprenticeship at the famed architectural firm Adler and Sullivan, working directly with Louis Sullivan until 1893.

After parting ways, Wright moved to Oak Park. Working from his home studio, he developed a system of design developed from grid units and rooted in an appreciation of natural materials that would come to be known as the Prairie School of Architecture and would change the landscape of American design forever. Wright devoted himself to teaching and writing during the 1920s and 1930s. 1935 marked the beginning of an immense surge of creativity and productivity as he began work on his most celebrated residential design, Fallingwater. In the 1940s and 1950s Wright focused on his Usonian designs that reflected his belief in democratic architecture, offering middle-class residential options. In 1943, Wright took on his most demanding commission, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. The museum, which would open its doors six months after his death in 1959, would be called his most significant work.

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