Wright or Wrong?
December 19, 2011 7 Comments
Do we know whether Frank Lloyd Wright used and favored Blackwing 602 pencils? I’m asking in case any readers might be able to point me toward some documentation. It has been asserted so often that I thought references had to be plentiful.
A photograph would go a long way toward establishing this connection, and since F.L.W. was anything but camera-shy, there should be no shortage of images of him with his favored pencil. Ironically, the following well-known photograph of the architect’s pencils is bereft of Blackwings:
And without some commentary from the man himself, a picture wouldn’t really be enough to indicate the Blackwing was his favored pencil, as it’s been asserted.
Quotations by and about Stephen Sondheim, John Steinbeck, Nelson Riddle, and Chuck Jones abound in biographies and interviews, but I have yet to come across any citations (online) attributed to either F.L.W. himself, his associates, or his students attesting to his use and favoring of Blackwing pencils.
I’m not suggesting he didn’t use and favor Blackwing pencils; perhaps I’ve just been looking in the wrong places. Before I add him to the list of Blackwing users I’d like to find some (or any) supporting evidence.
Building a list of prominent Blackwing 602 users makes an already colorful story much richer, and I think that the respective legacies involved deserve some respect, care, and attention to detail. So if anyone has a lead (or some lead) on Frank Lloyd Wright—mind you, advertisements don’t count—please leave a comment; any help will be appreciated.
Updated January 8, 2012
The F.L.W. page has recently been taken down, but there hasn’t been any official statement from the company that makes the pencils. Perhaps it’s too late to try—so much time has passed since this idea was raised that it will be difficult to convince consumers how it happened and why it persisted. Perhaps it’s wishful thinking it will all disappear.
[Retrieved January 28th]
I think this is an unfortunate (but a prime) example of how the history, legacy, and ‘name’ of the Blackwing 602 are being ignored, abused, and exploited amidst its so-called “revival”. It’s been more than 2 years since the first attempt to copy it—2 years—and there’s been almost no effort to acknowledge the culture surrounding the history and the popularity of the Blackwing except what you would read in an advertisement (and, even some of the advertisements haven’t been accurate). You see a statement such as “…maker of the famous Blackwing” (seen here) and at some point, it’s no longer just hubris or slight-of-hand: they aren’t the maker of the ‘famous’ Blackwing—they make a lookalike called the “Blackwing”. Sure, semantics can be argued for or against, but engaging in such isn’t meant to clarify, rather it’s a device to distract attention from the original intent: to assume and obscure.
When so little care has been taken—for so long—with something so cherished, it’s nearly impossible to trust there is motive behind it other than profit. But, I can imagine and understand a reaction such as: “Who cares whether it’s exactly the same or not, or if so-and-so actually used them? Who cares about the older pencils, or if the advertising is misleading? Who cares about that?”
Yes, mine is a particularist point of view, perhaps even quixotic (though there may be some Moleskine devotees who can empathize). But ironically, I’m not at all against this company or it making money—in fact, they make some other pencils that I like very much. Last, it’s certainly nothing personal. It’s just the clumsy, dishonest, and historically-disingenuous manner in which this “revival” all unfolded, continues to do so, and which all seems unnecessary. It’s disappointing that accuracy and detail have been low on the priority list all this time—especially, for example, when you broadcast to the entire world in an advertisement that a relationship existed between Frank Lloyd Wright and one’s product (notwithstanding that this product isn’t actually what he used, even if he had used them, which it turns out, he didn’t). Never mind the Blackwing, what does that say about respect for Wright, his work, and his legacy? What does it say about respect for the consumer, or about respect in general?
The world won’t end because Wright’s name was misappropriated for a factually-impoverished advertising campaign for a pencil. It’s part of a pattern though, and a symptom. A disappointing and troubling symptom. I’m just sorry it’s the Blackwing that has to pay for it.