Charnley-Norwood Following Mardi Gras

MARCH 2014

As soon as Mr. Wine suggested that we go to the Mississippi Gulf Coast for a few days after Mardi Gras, I googled the Charnley-Norwood house to see if I could figure out how to get a tour.  I had seen the exterior from a distance on two other occasions and watched the slow progress in recovering from the Hurricane Katrina damage.  I immediately ran across Preservation in Mississippi’s post “Spend Saturdays with Louis and Frank.”  The work was complete enough that they were opening the house to the public on Saturdays!  The project has progressed nicely and the home is well on its way to being finished and is quite lovely.

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My tour guide was Susan Ruddiman.  Little about seeing a Wright makes me more excited than getting to meet someone who has actually lived in or used the homes at intended.  Susan’s aunt and uncle owned the house and her father lived in the guest house next door, so she spent a good deal of her life with a personal interest in this house.  The insight and perspective of someone so close to a piece of architectural history are always unique, and the stories about how the house was loved and perceived by outsiders are always fascinating to me.  I am also thrilled when I get to tour alone, and that was the case on this morning.

The house overlooks the Gulf which is one of it’s most striking features, but as a result it was wrecked by Katrina.  Susan photographed the devastation a few days after the hurricane, and honestly, I couldn’t have imagined that putting it back together was even possible from what I saw in her photo book at the house.  Somehow with devoted volunteers, grant money, and perseverance the house is now not just usable but restored to its former beauty.

Who actually designed the house is the subject of debate.  Louis Sullivan was hired to design it.  Frank Lloyd Wright was his senior draftsman when the house was commissioned in 1890 and there are certainly aspects of it that suggest it was his project.  They both have claimed it as their own work.  There is no evidence to clarify who envisioned it leaving the FLW aficionado with endless pondering of where the influence ends and original thinking begins in Wright’s work.

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The trip to Ocean Springs to visit the Charnley Norwood Home actually began in New Orleans.  I was headed south for Mardi Gras when I got a phone call from my dad.  He and my brother had identified a horse they wanted to claim out of a race at the Fairgrounds Race Course in New Orleans.  It turned out to be one of the most exciting days I can remember and is already over-blogged  HERE on our horse racing partnership website at http://www.desperadoracing.com  We got most of the horse racing business all done on Day 1 of my trip and were ready for the business of Mardi Gras!

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Mardi Gras may have become my favorite event of the year.  Mr. Wine lives close enough for us to walk to everything making accessibility easy.  I wanted to take a zillion pictures that could explain what it is really like.  Many people I know seem to think that it is a breast baring, bead throwing, drunken free-for-all, and while that can certainly be found if it’s what you desire, it is SOOOO much more.  I ended up tweeting #mardigrasfashion for a day or so as a little project to illustrate the fun but in no way was able to capture the spirit of it all.  Unfortunately, it was cold and rainy on Fat Tuesday and photography wasn’t an option for the day, but I’ll save the concept for next year!


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