lgivanna Lloyd Wright was born Olga Ivanovna Lazovich in the small principality of Montenegro, which borders on the Adriatic Sea on the coastline of Eastern Europe. The exact year of her birth is unknown because records were lost during her flight from Russia at the outbreak of the Revolution. Her birthday was on December 27, most likely in the year 1896. She was born in Cetinje, the capital city of Montenegro.
Olgivanna’s father, Iovan Lazovich, was Montenegro’s first Chief Justice. Her mother, Melitza, and Iovan had five children of which Olgivanna was the youngest. Olgivanna wrote with fondness of her childhood and of her two brothers, Vladimir and Lubomir, and her two sisters, Julia and Mileva, all of whom lived very different lives from her. Olgivanna’s greatest influence, the person who helped shape her worldview more than anyone else during those formative years, was her father. Before Olgivanna was born, he had lost his eyesight but, since he retained a remarkable memory of jurisprudence, he continued to occupy his position as Chief Justice.
Montenegro, after the First World War, was absorbed into Yugoslavia. Iovan, Melitza, and Olgivanna then moved from Cetinje, no longer the illustrious capital of a mountainous nation, to Belgrade.
Olgivanna’s older sister, Julia, married Constantin Siberakov. His family owned gold mines in the Ural Mountains. In the winter they lived in Moscow and had other residences in St. Petersburg. In summer they moved to their villa on the Black Sea at Batum, Georgia. When Olgivanna reached the age of nine, Julia decided to take her out of Belgrade and bring her to Russia, so that Olgivanna could benefit from the exposure to Russian culture and the advantages of a finer education.
In St. Petersburg and Batum, Olgivanna attended private schools. Julia also provided her with a French tutor. Eventually she enrolled in a School of Drama in Moscow. In the summers, Constantin and Julia invited a steady stream of famous Russian artists and musicians to their villa on the Black Sea. Olgivanna enjoyed the opportunity of associating with a variety of cultivated and creative guests that she met during her summers with her sister and brother-in-law.
Shortly before the outbreak of the Russian Revolution, Olgivanna met and married the Russian architect Vladimir Hinzenberg, whom she called Volodya, and their daughter, Svetlana, was born.
It was at this turbulent time—the outbreak of the Russian Revolution—that she met the philosopher and mystic G. I. Gurdjieff. When she first saw him, she was instantly drawn to his compassion and depth of human understanding. A strong sensation of certainty, of illumination, of absolute conviction gripped her. She had no doubt that this was meant to be. Without a moment’s hesitation, then and there, she decided to join his group of followers. And there began a most remarkable, fruitful, and sacred relationship between teacher and pupil.
Gurdjieff’s methods of teaching were often strong and sometimes appeared cruel, but his aim was to awaken people out of sleep and let them see the truth about themselves. Socrates’ dictum “Know Thyself” was not easy to achieve, it demanded hard work to rip out false attitudes. In Olgivanna, however, Gurdjieff found the ideal disciple, flexible, eager to learn, never doubting, never hesitating, never resisting, open, and willing to absorb. From the very beginning she threw herself into the tasks and life of the group, Unfortunately, Volodya had no interest in philosophy, and had no desire whatsoever to become a pupil of Gurdjieff. This must have been a heavy cross for Olgivanna to bear.
When the Russian Revolution spread south to Georgia, Gurdjieff realized it was imperative to leave Tiflis, and with his group, including Olgivanna and her daughter, they migrated to Constantinople. Prior to the move, Olgivanna and Volodya had separated. In Constantinople, Gurdjieff established his school, The Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man. Yet Istanbul was only temporary. His search for a more permanent location took him to different European cities. Finally, it was in Fontainebleau-Avon, France, that Gurdjieff found and purchased “Le Prieuré,” a sizeable estate with ample accommodations for his “Institute.”
Olgivanna lived and underwent severe training under Gurdjieff until 1924 when he told her that she had learned all that he could teach her, and now she must go out and live her life accordingly. Her first impulse was to return to Russia, but he explained that Russia was no longer the nation of her youth. Instead he suggested she should go to America. Her husband had migrated to Chicago several years earlier and Gurdjieff advised her to try and salvage their marriage, mainly for the sake of their child.
Shortly after her arrival in Chicago in 1924, she met Frank Lloyd Wright. It was the proverbial “love at first sight.” While he was in the process of getting a divorce from his second wife, she also sued for a divorce from Volodya. Rather than waiting for their divorces, they determined to make a life together.
Strife, turmoil, and persecution plagued them for their first four years, living together but unable to get married. It was during this time that a child was born to them. This was a time when conduct of that nature was scorned and this unconventional personal life cost Frank the loss of clients who turned to other architects. Without work, without income, unable to meet the expenses of their home, Taliesin, they were evicted. Hounded by lawyers and the press, they sought refuge in various places across the country. As a result of Gurdjieff’s rigorous training, Olgivanna acquired the force to endure those harrowing years. Even in the most desperate circumstances, above it all, it was her love for Frank that gave her the strength to overcome any obstacle that might confront them.
Olgivanna and Frank Lloyd Wright were married in 1928, and the following year new work came to the architect, only to be dashed by the Stock Market Crash. It is a testament to their courage, however, that in 1932, despite the Great Depression, they created a school for architects—the Taliesin Fellowship. The curriculum included certain elements that Olgivanna brought from her training with Gurdjieff.
While Frank Lloyd Wright’s life was immersed in architecture, Olgivanna was immersed in the day to day operation of the Fellowship community. Any personal problems of the apprentices came under her jurisdiction. She demonstrated an extraordinary gift for understanding people of diverse backgrounds and cultures, as the apprentices who came to study at Taliesin represented almost every continent of the globe. She transformed and inspired the lives and work of thousands of people since the founding of the school in 1932.
Throughout the thirty-five years she was Frank’s partner, Olgivanna’s most important concern was his health, making certain he had enough rest, the right diet, and exercise. [See Diana Huebert Faidy’s story in this issue.]
When Frank Lloyd Wright died in 1959, according to his stipulation, Olgivanna became the President of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. She proved to be a born leader. She was able to sustain both Taliesin (East) and Taliesin West and to make changes and improvements to both as conditions demanded. It was at this time in her life that she also began composing music. Along with those duties and obligations, she wrote five books, and traveled across the United States, and overseas to Europe, Japan, and South Africa.
She passed from this world in the Spring of 1985.
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This excerpt, slightly edited and shortened for brevity, is taken from the Preface to the book, The Life of Olgivanna Lloyd Wright, compiled and edited by Maxine Fawcett-Yeske, Ph.D. and Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer, D.H.L., San Francisco: ORO Editions, 2017, and is reprinted here with the kind permission of the publisher.
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Featured: Winter 2018/2019 Issue, Vol. XIII (1)
Revision: August 1, 2019