firm active: 1907-1921

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Writings and Publications

The Western Architect was the most prominent supporter of organic architecture in the architectural press.  Published in Minneapolis, Minnesota, by Robert Craik McLean, the journal featured designs by nearly every significant practitioner among the progressives from the early 1900s to the late 1920s.  In addition to providing a rare public platform to celebrate accomplishment by Prairie School architects, editorials and news features often covered developments in Europe, as well.  Work by Purcell and Elmslie appeared in three separate issues (January, 1913 [Volume XIX, #1];. January, 1915 [Volume XXI, #1]; and July, 1915 [Volume XXII, #1]). The firm controlled all aspects of layout and content, and they sometimes combined photographs of their buildings with quotations from various authors to emphasize the spiritual underpinnings of their cause.

The primal and primary statement of design philosophy by Purcell and Elmslie is "The Statics and Dynamics of Architecture," published in The Western Architect January, 1913 (vol. 19, #1), pp. 1-4.

    Special Features

    Some published arguments unfolded over time as part of a public discourse, for example as Letters to the Editor or essays written in response to articles by other authors.  Such controversies developed paper trails best served whole.  These special groupings feature writings that may be shown elsewhere (e.g. in various bibliographies), but are also concatenated here to preserve the larger context in which they expressed meaning.  Includes the American Renaissance exchange, and the Lincoln Memorial controversy.

  • Writings by William Gray Purcell

In addition to their Western Architect issues, P&E produced several articles for The Craftsman and other periodicals to which George Elmslie also contributed. 

Starting in the late 1930s and continuing throughout the 1950s, William Gray Purcell wrote a series of volumes called the Parabiographies.  These contained a job-by-job recollection of the work in his various architectural partnerships.  Although incomplete for commission list entries in later years, they are a rich resource in understanding the experiences encountered by P&E in the course of their architectural practice.

Over the course of a thirty-plus year long "retirement," William Gray Purcell produced a cascade of sometimes lengthy essays, articles, notes, and letters to describe the work of his firms and the people who participated in the progressive movement.  He provided, for example, more than three hundred and fifty pages of typescript for architectural historian David Gebhard that essentially comprises an autobiography of his own life as well as his practice; much of this translated directly into Gebhard's doctoral thesis.  In addition, Purcell specially bound essays on Louis Sullivan or other figures for distribution to those who wrote to ask for his recollections.  These manuscripts often contain information complementary to that found in the Parabiographies manuscripts. Some manuscripts by Elmslie found here are also listed on other pages.

Purcell contributed to a variety of periodicals during the decades after the formal end of his practice with Elmslie.  Many of these articles offered practical advice on building to the lay audience, and numerous others were directed to those in his profession.  Abstracts and citations are provided for pieces that appeared in The Small Home, a publication of the Architect's Small House Service Bureau; and Northwest Architect, the official organ of the local American Institute of Architects chapter in Minnesota.

    St. Croix Trails (1965)

Published posthumously by the University of Minnesota Press, this book evolved out of decades of accumulated writing as Purcell recorded his historical accounts and personal reminiscences of the central, critical formative experiences of his childhood in the northern forests of Wisconsin at Island Lake Camp. The stories presented in St. Croix Trails are a fraction of the formal manuscripts prepared by Purcell and circulated widely among friends, acquaintances, colleagues, and other interested parties. Here in these pages emerges Purcell's experience of the romantic union of democracy and nature as a forge of his character and by metaphor the crystallization of everything right and good in pioneer American life.

research courtesy mark hammons