Features appear in each issue of Pennsylvania Heritage showcasing a variety of subjects from various periods and geographic locations in Pennsylvania.

Shortly after its completion in 1937, Fallingwater, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for Edgar J. and Liliane S. Kaufmann above a mountain stream loved by the Pittsburgh couple and their son Edgar Jr., was lauded by critics as an icon of modern American architecture. Perched precariously over a waterfall on Bear Run, near Mill Run in Fayette County, in rural southwestern Pennsylvania, it was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976. The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) dedicated a state historical marker recognizing the house in 1994 and named it a Commonwealth Treasure in 2000.

One of the world’s most celebrated buildings, Fallingwater helped define twentieth-century modernism and discussions of Wright’s masterwork have been integral to college-level and post-graduate art history and architecture courses for decades. Fallingwater is one of the most photographed houses in the country, drawing both professional and avocational photographers from near and far. Just months after its completion, Time magazine proclaimed the mountain retreat to be the architect’s “most beautiful job” and featured Fallingwater on its cover. Ayn Rand based much of her 1943 novel, The Fountainhead, on Wright and his creation. In a poll conducted by the American Institute of Architects in 1991, its members voted Fallingwater “the best all-time work of American architecture.” More recently, in January 2008, Fallingwater made the “Smithsonian Life List: 28 Places to See Before You Die.”

Edgar Kaufmann Sr., owner of Kaufmann’s Department Store, Pittsburgh’s best known retailer, wanted his mountain house to be built near Bear Run’s waterfall, but Wright took that notion to its extreme, Smithsonian recounted. “I want you to live with the waterfall,” Wright reputedly told Kaufmann, “not just to look at it.” The sound of rushing water fills the house, whose famous cantilevered concrete terraces hover thirty feet above the falls. The Kaufmanns enjoyed Fallingwater in all seasons as a weekend or vacation home until the 1950s, when their son inherited it. Edgar Kaufmann Jr., the first curator of industrial design at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, continued using it until he entrusted the property to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy (WPC) in 1963. The architectural community lauded him for his generosity, particularly since many of Wright’s buildings at the time were being demolished, radically altered, or allowed to deteriorate.

The enduring legacy of partnerships spawned by Fallingwater — first between Edgar J. Kaufmann Sr. and Frank Lloyd Wright and, three decades later, between the younger Kaufmann and the conservancy — continues. The WPC recently collaborated with Spanish-born artist Felix de la Concha to produce a series of paintings of the truly American architectural icon. That collaboration ultimately led to a partnership between the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission and the WPC, which resulted in the debut of a traveling exhibit at The State Museum of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg entitled “Fallingwater en Perspectiva: Felix de la Concha Paints Frank Lloyd Wright’s House on the Waterfall.”

De la Concha spent more than a year at Fallingwater capturing the nuances of the seasons and the impact of changing light on the house and its setting. In his paintings, Fallingwater’s artistry and grace remain as fresh and unspoiled as the natural surroundings into which the architect deftly fitted it. He reveals Fallingwater as a house, collections, and site together, equal to and wedded with nature — a graphic tribute to Wright’s vision.

The paintings welcome viewers into the Kaufmann family’s home. In a building full of focal points, he frames views of the incidental as well as the significant. De la Concha’s paintings highlight the Kaufmanns’ tastes in architecture and art and capture ephemeral outdoor moments, such as the play of light and reflections on glass at dusk, and shadows on snow in late fall and again in winter. He brings the southwest elevation — the most photographed view of the house — into a clear and sharp focus that gives viewers an understanding of Fallingwater’s siting and setting.

Recalling the work of generations artists, de la Concha painted en plein air (“in the outdoors”) in all types of weather. His carefully crafted canvases affirm more than just the architectural details beneath the surface. His gift of perception works toward a deeper meaning, a meditation of the spirit of the place. Through an organic dialogue, de la Concha illustrates how experience interacts with ideas through images, to render not just Wright’s Fallingwater, but one that is decidedly his own.

Fallingwater is located fifty miles southeast of Pittsburgh in the Laurel Highlands, on State Route 381, midway between the villages of Mill Run and Ohiopyle.