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The Farnsworth House Plans a Critical New Exhibit on its Pioneering Patron

The iconic Mies van der Rohe house in Plano, Illinois adds a new layer to its history by exploring the life and times of its first resident, Dr. Edith Farnsworth.

By Lauren Gallow

Dr. Edith Farnsworth with Beth Dunlap on the steps of the house not long after its completion, c. 1951. (Beth Dunlap was Edith’s patient and wife of Bill Dunlap, who designed the Farnsworth House’s screens and wardrobe) | Courtesy: David Dunlap

Completed in 1951, the Farnsworth House—a one-room weekend

retreat in Plano, Illinois—has become an icon of modern design on par with other watershed projects like Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater and Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye.

The glass-walled structure revolutionized design by putting its interiors on full display, further cementing architect Mies van der Rohe in the annals of architectural history, but the client behind the project, Dr. Edith Farnsworth, is often overshadowed by her own home. Now, she is finally getting her due as the subject of a new exhibit opening May 9.

Titled Edith Farnsworth’s Country House, the exhibit involves a complete restaging of the home as Farnsworth lived in it, and associated programming explores her diverse interests in literature, music, and design. The exhibit is planned in conjunction with the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s 2020 “Her Turn” campaign which celebrates underrecognized female trailblazers like Farnsworth.

“Dr. Farnsworth was an individualist, an iconoclast, and a fully developed modern woman,” says curator Scott Mehaffey, executive director of the Farnsworth House. “She didn’t marry or have children; she smoked and drank; she loved music and poetry and world travel—she self-actualized in ways that many women of her time could only imagine. And yet she’s lived in Mies’s shadow for the last 75 years.”

The Farnsworth House as Dr. Farnsworth occupied it, c. 1957-1968. Photo by: Gorman Child Photography, art directed by Edith Farnsworth. Courtesy: Newberry Library


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