THE GEIGER DATABASE
During the last 25 years of his life, John Geiger engaged in a systematic examination of the work and life of Frank Lloyd Wright. As part of this scholarship, he created a database containing comprehensive information about books and other publications concerning Wright and his architectural projects, related archival materials, and biographical information on individuals associated with Wright and the Taliesin community. Due to his personal involvement with the Taliesin Fellowship and as a founding member of the Taliesin Fellows, Geiger was able to correspond with many Wright associates to gather details concerning the design of buildings, authorship of drawings, and recollections of relevant events. To this original research he added his own memory of participation, professional observation, and scholarly critique. The resulting database presents a uniquely valuable research tool.
The Geiger database is an integral digital component of the John W. Geiger Collection for the Study of Organic Architecture, the physical portion of which was deposited at the Northwest Architectural Archives, University of Minnesota Libraries, in November, 2012. As part of his donation of the archival collection and the creation of his endowment, Geiger stipulated that the database be made permanently available in the context of his "Commentaries in Memoriam" website (JGonWright.net). Having previously developed plans for expanding his site, Geiger started on the execution of this work in early 2010 with Mark Hammons, an architectural historian skilled in computer programming. In the year prior to the period of illness that led to his death in February, 2011, Geiger devised a comprehensive master plan for the website that combined the presentation of the legacy database with references to source materials in the Geiger library and archives, an array of Wright-related collections held by other institutions, and links to other resources of interest to researchers studying the history of organic architecture. Geiger viewed these additional resources as integral supports to the use of the database.
The database provides information in four areas of inquiry:
FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT ARCHITECTURAL COMMISSIONS
The largest group of records in the database comprises a detailed inventory by Geiger of published drawings for architectural projects by Frank Lloyd Wright. These records were principally derived from the extensive collection of books and periodicals present in the Geiger library, including the Monograph and Preliminary Studies, Selected Houses, and Complete Works volumes, numerous Wright related treatises by architectural historians, the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Quarterly issues, historical publications such as Ausgefurte Bauten and the Wendingen series, and exhibition and auction catalogs. With the advent of the internet, Geiger was able in later years to add citations for drawings found in the Donald C. Walker collection of Frank Lloyd Wright materials at the Library of Congress.
In addition to published sources, Geiger also entered descriptions of Wright-related drawings in his personal possession that are now part of the Geiger collection. He also incorporated descriptions of project drawings held by the Frank Lloyd Wright Archives. Sometimes he worked out chronological sequences of development and attempted to integrate drawings held in other collections by assigning tentative master inventory numbers consistent with the internal control system of the Wright archives. Using the contents of the Monograph volumes as a template, John Howe, Curtis Besinger, and Louis Wiehle were consulted for their knowledge of projects done in the Taliesin studio. Through correspondence with other Taliesin Fellows, Geiger added further information concerning drawing creation and the names of Fellows and other individuals involved in various Wright commissions. For projects done by Wright prior to the establishment of the Taliesin Fellowship, Geiger researched the presence of associated architects and drafters, such as Walter Burley Griffin or Herbert Fritz, Sr., noting their names as project participants when identifiable.
As part of his studies, Geiger determined categories by which Wright projects could be sorted, such as type of building, materials used in construction, and the presence of decorative elements. He classified his view of the significance of designs by applying an evaluation number (1 to 10, higher being more important) and sometimes added comments, quotations, or topics for further investigation. Although further sorting features such as structural and mechanical engineering, contractors, and specifications were contemplated, these categories were not substantially implemented.
Among the many different approaches available to researchers using this part of the database are searches by client name, building title, type of construction, drawing content, date, publication, authorship, medium, and geographical location. Beyond serving as an index to locate published drawings related to a specific search term, the data tables also provide insights on how John Geiger viewed the works of Frank Lloyd Wright and the archival records which document them.
TALIESIN-RELATED BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION
John Geiger was a member of the Taliesin Fellowship from 1947 to 1954. He was later a founding member of the Taliesin Fellows organization and first publisher of the Journal of the Taliesin Fellows (JTF). Through participation in the 50th Anniversary of the Taliesin Fellowship held in 1982, he received a copy of the early biographical survey of the Taliesin community titled 1932-1982, The Taliesin Fellowship, A Directory of Members, published by Elizabeth Kassler. In 1988, Geiger was copied on requests sent out by Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer to the Taliesin community asking for donations of historical materials to the Frank Lloyd Wright Archives, a mailing that also resulted in biographical responses. Geiger assisted the Taliesin Fellows in 1992 to send out a detailed questionnaire to the Taliesin community that requested personal and family details, together with work history and teaching related to Frank Lloyd Wright commissions and philosophy. For the Winter, 1994 (#16) issue of the JTF, he composed a further request for biographical information so that the Taliesin Fellows might create a dossier "of each apprentice's work at Taliesin," and also for the purpose of updating and expanding the Kassler publication. Complementing the survey and questionnaire results, Geiger also managed the circulation records for the JTF. This provided further useful contacts with the Taliesin community, as well as with libraries, museums, and general subscribers to the publication. Geiger entered information from all these sources into his database.
Details that accumulated included personal name, name changes due to marriage, birth and death dates, periods of residence in the Taliesin Fellowship, changes of address, telephone numbers, email addresses and websites, notes, and similar types of data. These entries were tagged with a system of categories to indicate relationship to the Taliesin Fellowship, mark an individual as living or deceased, Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation staff positions, membership in various organizations such as the Frank Lloyd Wright Conservancy or the American Institute of Architects, special identifiers (e.g. sculptor, musician, etc.), Wright family relationships, Fellowship progeny, and attendance at Taliesin community related events such as Fellowship reunions or Fellows gatherings. The updating of the database in terms of the Taliesin Fellows ceased in 2000, when Geiger resigned from the the organization. Maintenance of the JTF subscriber list was transferred to the Taliesin Fellows, along with other data tables. Subsequently, Geiger developed a separate version of the Taliesin biographical information that deleted administrative references to the Fellows and the JTF, although this data remained intact (see Taliesin Fellows Organization, below).
Geiger composed many query procedures to produce views of the biographical data he collected, and posted sample reports on his website. Most of these queries sort by name, date, or category assignment. Examples:
April 1928 to April 1959, ordered alphabetically by last name (625 entries, including multiple listings).
1889-to April, 1959, ordered alphabetically by last name (182 entries, including multiple listings).
Grouped by year of first association and ordered alphabetically within each group (790 entries, including multiple listings).
Personal names can be related to roles toward Frank Lloyd Wright or his work, such as family, client, contractor, drawing or publication authorship, and Taliesin Fellowship activity. Because of the sensitive personal nature of the collected data and in order to respect privacy for living individuals, contact details have been removed from the version of the database available on this website. Geiger also used the database to manage contact information for his own personal family, friends, and acquaintances, vendors, and those individuals and institutions with whom he corresponded in his research. Some categories, such as those who provided personal, medical, or business services to Geiger, have also been omitted.
TALIESIN FELLOWS ORGANIZATION
In addition to maintaining the subscriber list for the JTF, Geiger also used his database to track editorial, production and mailing costs (Issues #1-26), stock inventory, registration for Taliesin Fellows events, and special fundraising projects. The data presented here was recovered from an older version of the database, having been deleted by Geiger from use in later copies. The older database instance also contains a variant table of biographical information related to the Taliesin Fellows. Some tables related to the JTF are intended to be viewed as spreadsheets or reference pages, not data records. A few of the surviving query procedures from the older version appear to call on tables not present in any copy of the database, so some information has apparently been completely lost. Although possibly fragmentary in this way, the existing records reveal a unique view of the early activities of the Taliesin Fellows organization and, in particular, the evolution in format and expense of the JTF publication.
GEIGER PERSONAL INVENTORY
John Geiger was meticulous in the accounting of his personal effects. He maintained an inventory of everything in his apartment, including decorative arts, small mementos, clothing, and work utensils. His database was used to record the contents of his library, memorabilia, objects in his art collection, and miscellaneous possessions of value, with note of type, count, original cost, current market price, dimensions, date, descriptive notes, and location. The records contain comprehensive citations for every book and periodical kept on his shelves. Books, for example, can be sorted by Dewey decimal number to produce reports inclusive only of relationship to Frank Lloyd Wright, general architecture, art history, or other categories. His collection of original Thonet Bentwood furniture, fine Art Nouveau prints, and antique Asian ceramics is also recorded with care. While the Geiger collection contains only books, periodicals, documents, and ephemera related to his studies of organic architecture, the complete range of Geiger's intellectual and artistic interests remains visible in the database.
Beyond the uses of the database to study events, individuals, and organized endeavors in American architectural history, the existence of the resource speaks to a shift in methods of research that occurred during the latter decades of the 20th century. Remarkably, John Geiger had advanced into his 70s when he adopted the use of a personal computer and a database application. During the 1990s and before the internet existed, he conceived and executed a large scale examination of historical records in an area of study where he was exceptionally well situated to use that system to accumulate original research alongside thousands of bibliographic citations. The electronic structures of data tables, with their many relationships and cross references, represent a form of architectural design. Rendered by an inquisitive and punctilious mind, the database was constructed to allow a wide range of exploration and support an evolving scope of purposes.
Like the life cycle of all databases, information was added, altered, and deleted. The entry dates and record counts in the older versions show the long term development of the overall resource. As mentioned, some surviving backup copies contain data that is absent in later versions. Query procedures also changed, being sometimes simplified into reusable templates or expanded in variations on a given search strategy. Geiger provided himself with a tool of increasing value to support his writing projects, and gladly shared results from his database when asked by other scholars for information.
The database presented here is the product of decades of dedicated labor by John Geiger. Although converted to modern formats for preservation and accessibility, the data exists much as he left it. Per his instructions efforts have been made to correct spelling, capitalization and other inconsistencies, but there are undoubtedly minor errors or anomalies that as yet remain undetected and await repair. Geiger continued to enter data until two months before he died, though he feared introducing mistakes or accidentally deleting records due to his increasing infirmity. One posthumous addition, made at his request, is entry of the drawings found in Frank Lloyd Wright: Complete Works, Volume 1, 1885-1916 (Taschen, 2011). The repeated delays in the release of this book by the publisher resulted in the volume being available only after Geiger had passed away. "If this one last book was entered, then I could say my work is complete," Geiger remarked. To that end, those entries have been made and his contribution to researchers who come to the work after him is as he intended.