E.L. King House, Rockledge, 1912
George Washington Maher
Homer (near Winona)
Chicago Prairie School architect George Maher developed a unified scheme of architecture and furnishings for Rockledge, a house built in 1912 near Winona, Minnesota, for businessman Ernest L. King and his wife, Grace Watkins King. Mrs. King's father founded the J.R. Watkins Company, originally a manufacturer of patent medicines, which still exists today. (See Greater Minnesota Tour.)
Above the central doorway of Rockledge, Maher used a flattened arch, a commanding architectural element that echoed the solidity of the bluffs looming just behind the house. He adopted the tiger lily, abundant at the site, as a motif for decorations within the house. Maher's "motif-rhythm" theory took the idea of a unified interior, as practiced by Wright, Purcell, Elmslie, and other Prairie School architects, a step further. He believed that repeating a few motifs consistently throughout the house, so that one was surrounded by them, would make the home-and, therefore, the inhabitants' lives-harmonious.
Because the Kings were among his wealthiest clients, Maher designed lavish interior details and nearly every object that would be used at Rockledge. The flattened arch and the tiger lily were the prevailing interior architectural motifs. Rockledge was demolished in 1987, but its furnishings were saved, and they, along with period photographs, illustrate how successfully Maher realized his version of a unified interior. An armchair, a runner, an urn, and the tea service from Rockledge are in the collection of The Minneapolis Institute of Arts.
By the 1930s, Maher's design scheme was out of vogue, and the Kings redecorated Rockledge in the fashionable Art Deco style. At the time Rockledge was built, however, the Watkins family had admired Maher's symmetrical, classical Prairie School approach enough to commission two other buildings from him: the J.R. Watkins Company Administration Building (1911) and the Winona Savings Bank (1914). Both still stand in Winona and serve their original functions. (See Greater Minnesota Tour.) next stop >