Celebrating the Life and Legacy of Fay Jones on His 95th Birthday

posted by John Jackson

“Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones. A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you.”  
       – Shannon Alder

E. Fay Jones, FAIA would have turned 95 years old last week, and to celebrate his life and legacy we invited his daughter Cami Jones to join us at our office to share some pizza, birthday cake, and memories. Fay's 95th birthday would have been on January 31st, and Cami let us know her dad's favorite was carrot cake, so carrot cake it was!

E. Fay Jones circa 1963.   Photo by Al Drap, courtesy of Fay Jones Papers, Special Collections, University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville

E. Fay Jones circa 1963. Photo by Al Drap, courtesy of Fay Jones Papers, Special Collections, University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville

We reminisced with Cami about what home life was like with a famous dad, her encounters with Frank Lloyd Wright as a child, and even Fay’s last days among us. We embraced his legacy and influence as both family and extended family.

Recently, the University of Arkansas Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design was given the Jones' family home. It will serve as a place of research and residency for visiting lecturers. Cami shared stories of what it was like growing up there and I asked our staff what struck them most about her comments:

“I was really drawn to the way the designs of their house facilitated wonderful memories – but the subject of the memories were feelings and people – not the architecture itself. For example, Cami recalled the well thought out furniture that allowed for children and entertaining but what really stuck out was the fear she felt when Frank Lloyd Wright dropped his fried chicken and stained their newly upholstered sofas!”
       – Allison Stoos

“Cami referenced “home life” and how her dad’s work at home really spoke to the culture of architecture and architects at the time. Doing work for the firm at home, building his own furniture or the location of his desk within the home, and even the physical design of the home, all of these examples speak to how Fay Jones was fully engaged in his work at all times. It wasn’t a job but a part of his life.”
       – Jonathan Langdon

“What struck me was the house he built and the effect it had on Fay and his kids. They created a joyous place to live with their own memories embodied within the massive stone incorporated as a wall and the water cascading over it in the living room, the rain and how Fay used the trash can to create an echo chamber to hear the rain next to his bedroom. Yes, Fay touched countless lives with his architecture, and continues to do so, but his house, which Cami had the most connection with, touched her the most, and continues to fill her life with wonderful memories.”
       – Alfred Brice

Cami shared some stories of how her parents would attend Easter celebrations at Taliesin in Spring Green, Wisconsin with the Frank Lloyd Wright family.  She was very young then, but remembers the stories as retold by her mom, Mary Elizabeth “Gus”, and dad.  Mr. Wright, not a fan of children at these celebrations, would entertain guests with musicians, feasting, and artful discussions.  She also shared a funny story about Mr. Wright visiting the home.

“Cami’s stories about Frank Lloyd Wright made an impression - She and her sister sat quietly listening to the concert in the Taliesen theatre and afterwards Mr. Wright complementing Fay and Gus for the children's good behavior (They were actually kind of terrified). I am always drawn into memories that show the humanity of those "giant" figures who have done great work in any field.” 
       – Kennedy Colombo

“I thought the story of the fried chicken stain by Frank Lloyd Wright on the new sofa of there home was precious. Preserving it underneath a new upholstery cover, rather than removing the stain made me think about the desire to be part of a legacy. Through mentorship and personal experiences, Mr. Jones was part of FLW’s legacy. John and Bob experienced that with Fay, and each of us is in the midst of legacy-building here at JGA.”
       – David Polkinghorn

Fay personally told me the story of Wright describing to him the difference he saw in Fay’s works from his own.  This was an important lesson for me because I was personally afraid that my designs would be stuck emulating Fay’s.

“Mr. Wright said to me ‘Fay, my work seems to always go like this (motioning horizontally with his hands like smoothing out a table cloth) … and your work always seems to go like this (motioning vertically like an electric jig saw),’”  Fay continued, “I don’t want to be a copyist, but, you know, if you understand the principles you will own the design solution.” 

We are all touched by the life of Fay Jones and his designs, such as ThornCrown Chapel. Bob Galloway and I were especially privileged to have him as a 5th year professor, and I later as an employee when ThornCrown was being designed. He had no idea of the future impact of his designs, or life, and modeled a humble attitude about his accomplishments. I remember when he came in the office and described getting a commission to do a “little wayfarer’s chapel” in the woods. The client, James Reed, demanded a steeple on this building, but somehow Fay designed his way around that directive…until the next structure he designed, which sits adjacent to ThornCrown.

So, we solute you Fay on your birthday; you have carved your name on our hearts!