Edgar Kaufmann Sr.

Edgar Kaufmann, jr.

Liliane S. Kaufmann

Wright's Patrons and Friends

Kaufmann's Department Store

Will you build a place of prayer at Bear Run? All three of us would like a focus of attention for the spiritual reality which we know underlies life and work and the joys we share here. Nature is the great restorer, concentrated here to balance our city living. The dignity and beauty of your architecture gives us a way of life in and with nature, beyond our best dreams. Mother brings a choice of flowers and foods and comforts, Father brings broad scope of action and activities, and I some ideas and music; all this combines into a rich life for which we are grateful and humbly so. --- Edgar Kaufmann jr. to Frank Lloyd Wright, 1951

The Edgar J. Kaufmann family of Pittsburgh were more than the department store owners who commissioned a masterpiece from Frank Lloyd Wright. Edgar Kaufmann, Sr., his wife Liliane, and their son, Edgar Kaufmann, jr. [sic] were unique individuals, each committed to the ideals of living in harmony with nature, and of the value that good design brings to everyday life. This sensibility led them to Frank Lloyd Wright, and they remained Wright’s patrons and friends throughout their lives.

Kaufmann’s Department Store has been a Pittsburgh institution since the 1870’s, originally a men’s store owned by four Kaufmann brothers. Under Edgar Kaufmann Sr’s leadership from 1919 until 1955, the store became known for its innovative retail spaces and its commitment to modern American design. Kaufmann used the store to help promote Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture, and collaborated with the Museum of Modern Art to bring good design ideas to western Pennsylvania. Although owned by the May Company since 1946, the store still bears the Kaufmann name as an indication of the high style which the family brought to Pittsburgh merchandising.

Edgar Kaufmann, Sr., son of one of the four original Kaufmann brothers, married his first cousin, Lillian Sarah Kaufmann, in 1909. Their son, Edgar Kaufmann, jr., was born in 1910. Pittsburgh natives, the Kaufmanns were world-traveled, led very active social lives in Pittsburgh, and were committed to the life and vitality of the city. President of Kaufmann’s Department store, Edgar Kaufmann Sr. was also very active in Pittsburgh city planning. Liliane established Kaufmann’s elegant Vendome Shops, and devoted herself to public health, serving as President of Montefiore Hospital for 9 years. Edgar Kaufmann jr. became a Frank Lloyd Wright scholar, a Curator at the Museum of Modern Art, and taught at Columbia University. However, what gave balance to their hectic lives was the ability to get away from it all – to get back to nature: especially at Fallingwater. Liliane Kaufmann died in 1952, Edgar Kaufmann Sr. died in 1955, and their son died in 1989, after having given Fallingwater to Western Pennsylvania Conservancy in 1963.
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