Edgar Kaufmann jr.: In his own words

Edgar jr. Kaufmann
1989.60, Fallingwater Archives, Western Pennsylvania Conservancy

Entrusting the conservation and preservation of an architectural masterpiece to a nature organization may seem unusual, but the work of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy to enrich and connect people to nature embodies the same goals Frank Lloyd Wright had for his architecture.

Edgar Kaufmann jr.’s comments shared at the ceremony of transmission of Fallingwater to the Conservancy in the fall of 1963 express the significance of Fallingwater for the Kaufmann family, the public and the Conservancy.

“These ceremonies mark the establishment of a new agency of our community:  the Kaufmann Conservation on Bear Run, given to the public, in care of Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, as a memorial to my parents, Liliane and Edgar Kaufmann.

Why a memorial to Liliane and Edgar Kaufmann?  Because these grounds and this house of theirs were given shape by them, and were vitalized by the happiness which they experienced living here, even years before they built the house.  This is their place as it stands.  If it is suited to a new existence, that is because they shaped it well.

What are these grounds and this house?  Acres of rock and acid earth, second-growth trees and icy streams, roughly cast in the Appalachian mold – and something more: a place of vigorous beauty, of self-renewing enchantment, of adventuresome picturesqueness that answers perfectly a romantic need in modern hearts, the need to be natural, to experience nature not as grist for our mills but as the habitat that has formed us.

Designed for this setting, the house was hardly up before its fame circled the earth; it was recognized as one of the clearest successes of the American genius Frank Lloyd Wright.

It takes but an instant to see the character of the house; yet, after all these years, there are details and relationships in it, which I’ve discovered only recently.  Its beauty remains fresh like that of the nature into which it fits.  It has served well as a home, yet has always been more than that, a work of art, beyond any ordinary measures of excellence. Itself an ever-flowing source of exhilaration, it is set on the waterfall of Bear Run, spouting nature’s endless energy and grace. House and site together form the very image of man’s desire to be at one with nature, equal and wedded to nature.

Without drawing on tradition, without relying on precedent, Fallingwater was created by Frank Lloyd Wright as a declaration that in nature man finds his spiritual as well as his physical energies, that a harmonious response to nature yields the poetry and joy that nourish human living.

Such a place cannot be possessed; it is a work by man for man, not by a man for a man.  Over the years since it was built Fallingwater has grown ever more famous and admired, a textbook example of modern architecture at its best.  By its very intensity it is a public resource, not a private indulgence.

Finally, why are these acres and this house given as a conservation, in the care of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy?  Because conservation is not preservation: preservation is stopping life to serve a future contingency; conservation is keeping life going.  The union of powerful art and powerful nature into something beyond the sum of their separate powers deserves to be kept living.

As the waterfall of Bear Run needed the house to enter the realm of art, so the joint work of art, Fallingwater in its setting, needed the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy to enter a new life of public service.  I believe the happy coincidences that have marked this enterprise from the start will continue to favor its new existence in the hands of the conservancy.  I believe the Conservancy will give nature, the source, full due, and art, the human response to nature, full respect.  For this confidence I am most grateful to Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and to the community that supports it so well.”