Wright’s granddaughter reflects on her famous grandfather
Nora Natof only met her famous grandfather, Frank Lloyd Wright, when she was 12 or 13 years old. His mother, Frances Wright Caroe, was one of Wright’s six children from his first marriage to his wife Catherine.
Caroe was estranged from her father for a time, and Natof recalls being first introduced to Wright in New York, where she was living at the Plaza Hotel with his third wife, Olgivanna.
For several years when Natof was a teenager in the early 1950s, she was allowed to spend summers in Taliesin. She recalls her mother being concerned that she was the only teenage architecture scholarship student studying, but says some of her male cousins were there at the same time.
Now 87, Natof says those summers “probably influenced me a lot”. The community aspect of Taliesin is one she remembers in detail. At that time, she says, the home in Spring Green, Wisconsin, was an “almost” sustainable community with vegetable gardens and farm animals. Wright’s apprentices served people during meals.
Most of all, she remembers the arts, which she says were Olgivanna’s influence at work. “On the weekends we had theater productions and everyone dressed very formally,” Natof said. “We had a quartet, a choir and actors. It was a very autonomous cultural community in that sense.
On Sundays, Wright spoke to the 75 to 80 architects who were in residence each summer. Natof remembers that his grandfather was held in high esteem.
“People would do anything for him,” she said. “My grandfather was sort of the feudal king of the roost.”
Although the experience at Taliesin was positive, Natof says his relationship with his grandfather was not positive at first. During a meal together in Taliesin’s private dining room, he made fun of the way she ate to the point that she left the room in tears. She calls that night a “very powerful experience.”
As a young adult, Natof says she was embarrassed to tell people she was related to him, but said: “People found out, because I had this rather weird piece of furniture in my house. “
Natof’s mother was a single mother after leaving her alcoholic husband when Natof was young, and Natof recalls a stormy relationship with her.
“I realize now how difficult her life must have been as a single mother in 1935, but it wasn’t then,” she said.
Caroe worked as executive director of America House, Aileen Vanderbilt Webb’s boutique in New York City that offered for sale high-quality handcrafted items from around the country. Because of these connections, Natof was sent to a private high school and two years to Briarcliff College, where she learned cartography.
At 21, Natof was working at the Geological Survey in Washington DC, where she married her first husband, a student, in 1956. He died in 1958. In 1959, Caroe, Natof’s maternal grandmother, Catherine, and Wright himself even all died.
Natof married Stuart Natof in 1958 and their marriage lasted 30 years. The couple lived for a time in New Jersey, where their two children, Maginel and Lloyd, were born. While living in New Jersey, Natof found his first community calling.
With a few other couples, the Natofs founded a Montessori school. Now known as Red Oak School, the institution recently celebrated its 50th anniversary in Morristown, New Jersey. When the Natof family moved to Pennsylvania, Natof became involved in protests against a nuclear power plant project and founded an environmental group.
Natof then studied to become a nurse, and when she and Stuart divorced, she worked as a nurse for decades, until she was 77. Over the years, she has lived in Texas and Pennsylvania. Two years ago, she moved to Mills Tower in Oak Park to be closer to her son, Lloyd.
Oak Park was a good fit. After a lifetime of civic engagement, including efforts in the Civil Rights Movement and the Women’s March for Peace, she appreciates the diversity and progressive politics of her new hometown. She attends Quaker meetings and has just joined an organization called Compassion & Choices, which advocates for medical assistance in dying.
“I like being part of something that’s useful,” she says.
Noting that “the Wrights can be very pompous. We are all strong personalities,” says Natof, there are still strong family ties to this day. There is a regular Lloyd family meeting, and she appreciated the ease of being able to talk to distant relatives via Zoom.
For Natof, it was a life with many acts and many satisfactions.
“It never occurred to me in anything I’ve done that this wouldn’t happen,” she said. “Everything worked. I have no regrets. I had a very interesting life.