Named Manitoga by Wright after the Algonquin word for “place of great spirit,” his property consisted of a modernist house and studio set amid miles of landscape elements he coaxed out of existing vegetation. Altogether, Manitoga was the product of his lifelong commitment to the integration of art and nature. “He wanted to live in harmony with nature rather than dominate it or erase it. This is common practice now, but in the 1940s and ’50s it was rather radical,” says Carol Franklin, a principal of Philadelphia landscape design firm Andropogon Associates and a frequent visitor to Manitoga from the ’50s through the ’70s as Wright’s cousin and friend.
While the loss of many of Wright’s artful passages may seem tragic, Franklin points out that Wright embraced the dynamism and surprises of nature. “Russel knew nature was never finished,” she says. “One of the last great events of his life was a hurricane that downed tremendous trees. He rerouted paths and brought attention to the fallen pines. He loved it — scraping away without bulldozing.” One has to wonder what he, as both an artist and ecologist, would have done about the landscape now. To Franklin, it’s clear: “He would have accepted it, and used his imagination to turn the hemlock disaster into a theatrical event.”