September 25, 2018
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Hidden History

New Tech Institute to construct Wes Peters’ dollhouse
Dr. James Renne, the foremost William Wesley Peters expert, obtained photos of Peters’ dollhouse designs from his son.

While most people know of Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural genius, many are not aware his protégée William Wesley Peters was instrumental to most of Wright’s creations.

Dr. James Renne — a retired orthopedic surgeon who practiced at Deaconess Hospital and Welborn Clinic — has a strong interest in architecture and has studied Peters’ and Wright’s creations extensively.

“Wes Peters was a 1929 graduate of Bosse High School, went to MIT for two years, Evansville College for two years, and was accepted as the very first fellow for Wright at Taliesin (Spring Green, Wisconsin) which was Wright’s architectural studio,” says Renne.

An even lesser-known fact about Peters is that for a short time he was involved with designing dollhouses.

Peters was born in Terre Haute, Indiana, and attended Evansville College, now the University of Evansville, which recently acquired the Peters/Margadent House, a Usonian style home Peters designed. Wright was the original creator of Usonian style homes, small single-story dwellings constructed to be affordable and practical at a time when the effects of the Great Depression were limiting.

While at Taliesin, Peters fell in love with Wright’s stepdaughter, Svetlana. Wright and Peters had a falling out because of this, leading Peters to leave Taliesin and return to Evansville, while Svetlana left for Chicago. Two years later, Svetlana and Peters married and Peters reconciled with Wright, taking his place beside him until Wright’s death in 1959.

During the two years apart from her stepfather, Svetlana and another draftswoman named Betty Webber started a dollhouse company called Webber and Wilde. Peters would meet with Svetlana about once a month for these two years to personally design many of the dollhouses constructed under this company.

“In 1934, this shows what an architect could design unfettered by a client, practicality, and tradition. He could design whatever he wanted if he had a blank piece of paper,” says Renne.

A few dollhouse designs still are intact today, and New Tech Institute, a project-based learning high school in Evansville, will have its students reconstruct one in spring 2017.

Instructor Eric Havener will oversee construction of the dollhouse, giving students hands-on experience into this imaginative form of architecture. According to New Tech Institute’s Principal Chris Gibson, the students so far have made a 3-D model of the dollhouse that they will print into a 3-D object as a reference during construction.

“We are a tech school that focuses on science, engineering, technology, and math. This project will be a great blend of engineering and history and we are glad that Dr. Renne came to us with the idea,” says Gibson.

For more information about New Tech Institute, call 812-435-0967 or visit http://newtech.evscschools.com/home.

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