Chicago boasted more than fifty commercial printers and some note-worthy literary publishing houses. The Auvergne Press was established in February 1896 by William Herman Winslow and Chauncey L. Williams neighbors and clients of Frank Lloyd Wright. Having purchased a Washington hand press and some type fonts, they engaged Wright as Auvergne’s designer. Their first collaboration was the title page of John Keat’s Eve of St. Agnes, an 1896 limited edition of sixty-five copies, featured Wright’s design—an artistic departure from the Arts and Crafts look. He reinterpreted the winged Beaux-Arts female figures that appeared in Viollet-le-Duc’s Discourses on Architecture, placing them within an interlocking circle motif and on either side, stylized and elongated lilies, representing purity and associated with female saints, are held by additional nude females. “The printer’s device, also designed by Wright, was a shield with overlapping Ws representing the three partners, imposed over a group of stylized trees.
The second endeavor of the Auvergne Press was The House Beautiful. It was printed on heavy handmade paper watermarked Whatman 1896, and sized at thirteen by eleven inches. In its use of Old Style capitals for the type, and red and black inks, it closely resembled the characteristic products of Morris’s Kelmscott Press. Based on a sermon by the Unitarian minister William C. Gannett, the text articulated the Arts and Crafts philosophy,” calling for simplicity, truthfulness, and the influence of nature, literature, and art in ornament.”
It was a bright brilliant design that set this elegant book apart from other private-press books of the time. The lavish double title page, with meticulous pen-and-ink drawings presents a group of caryatids, balancing simple cubic capitals on their head to support a frieze in which the book’s title and text are printed in renaissance red. Stylized leaves and branches appear above the title block, providing a dense but orderly background for the figures. On the remaining double-page spreads, Wright framed the minister’s text with lacey, stylized plant forms. Some pages contain no text, only intricate ornate compositions that marked the end of each chapter. These patterns have been compared to the oriental rugs Wright collected. Each double-page arrangement resembles a diptych, with the openwork design position close to the gutter, surrounded by wide margins that created a sense of spatial openness. A decorative tailpiece with the chapter title, both print and red, introduced each of the six chapters. Wright’s circle-in-square logotype appeared in the bottom left of the border of each graphic. Departing from the arduous process of stealing engraving, commercial metal plates were made using the latest electrotype procedure—an indicator of Wright’s position on the advantages of new technology.
One of the most innovative aspects of the books design was the inclusion of a fourteen-page booklet sewn to the front endpaper, presenting 12 photogravures by Wright. As early as 1890, Wright was photographing his home and family, the landscape, and nature in general.
From its conception in 1896 to its completion in 1898, Frank Lloyd Wright and William Herman Winslow printed ninety copies of The House Beautiful on a hand press in Winslow’s now-famous River Forest, Illinois home (above), for which Frank Lloyd Wright was the architect. Wright designed the books, framing the text by William C. Gannett with intricate, tapestry-like patterns. The book was printed in black with red accents and bound with green endsheets. The boards were covered with the same paper as the endsheets and bound with a leather spine. Attached to the front endsheet was a booklet of twelve gravures of weeds and wildflowers - arranged and photographed by Wright - printed on mitsumata, a handmade Japanese paper. Wright contributed a frontispiece statement that read in part: "Appreciation of the beauty in his (Gannett’s) work we weave, - in part ourselves to please, yet may we fare, and, weaving so, with you our pleasure share."
Although most were given away to friends, relatives and colleagues, they set the original price in 1898 at $6.00, the actual material and printing costs for each. Although others were planned, The Eve of St. Agnes and The House Beautiful were the only two Winslow/Wright collaborations produced by the Auvergne Press.