Monday, May 11, 2009

Design History: Eugene Masselink, a multi-talented designer

Photograph courtesy of Douglas M. Steiner, © Copyright 2009. Used with permission. Article, copyright © 2009 David M. Versluis, all rights reserved.

The graphic designer of the 1955 Taliesin West stationery system was Eugene Masselink. Not only was Masselink a fine artist, he was also a fine graphic designer. So when I saw his Taliesin stationery, like that pictured above, in an exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago several years ago I thought that it was very clever, particularly the way a simple standard letter size sheet is turned from a traditional portrait to a horizontal landscape format. The proportions of the margins especially inspired me, and the asymmetrical arrangement, structure, and placement of the typed letter, logotype, and Wright’s red square trademark was very modern. When the letter is opened it delightfully unfolds like a miniature Japanese screen. I also enjoy how the #10 envelope correlates the design elements of the letterhead to form a coherent package.

Eugene Masselink (1910-1962) was born in South Africa but his family moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan shortly thereafter and he grew up there. Masselink came to the Taliesin Fellowship in Spring Green, Wisconsin in 1933 as a charter member – the Fellowship being Wright’s school for working apprentices. He never left the Fellowship and served his entire career as Frank Lloyd Wright’s right-hand person by handling practically all facets of business details for Wright’s Taliesin office. Masselink, a very hard worker, was totally devoted and dedicated to Wright’s architectural practice and was Wright’s personal secretary and later after Wright’s death, in 1959, became secretary-treasurer of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation.

In the book, Frank Lloyd Wright–Letters to Apprentices (1982) editor Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer, writes about Masselink this way:

… Trained in [fine art at Ohio State University], when he came to Taliesin he studied architecture directly with Mr. Wright. In the subsequent years he was commissioned to make many murals, [folding screens,] and paintings – often for the houses of Mr. Wright’s clients.

Originally based on Mr. Wright’s concept of rectilinear and geometric forms, the work Gene developed and carried forward in the art of abstraction was supremely creative. He helped to establish the Taliesin Press, designed our stationery, invitations, programs, and printed the Taliesin Square Papers, a group of essays and addresses written by Mr. Wright.

He had a sonorous baritone voice, with a fine sense of musicianship to go with it, and he participated in the musical activities that were and still are so much a part of the life at Taliesin.

Everyone who knew him thought the world of him; his humor was ever present, his wit a great delight. Following his untimely death in [July] 1962 [he died suddenly of a heart attack while at work], at the age of 51, Mrs. Wright wrote in her book, The Roots of Life: “Dedicated to the memory of Eugene Masselink. There was no conflict between his faith and his life.” (page 22)

I find this epitaph by Mrs. Wright to be a profoundly Christian reformational statement.

If you're interested, here's a 'youtube' video link to A Letter by Eugene Masselink, ca. 1936 – being read by Effi Casey at a recent Taliesin Fellowship gathering:

I’d like to thank Douglas Steiner who gave me permission to post his photograph of the Taliesin Stationery. Here’s a link to his web site:


  1. This is wonderful. Thanks for introducing me to Mr. Masselink's work and life

  2. Thank you, brian gerard, for the encouraging word. We're very glad you appreciated the post.


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