Nora Natof didn’t meet her famous grandfather, Frank Lloyd Wright, until she was 12 or 13. Her mother, Frances Wright Caroe was one of Wright’s six children from his first marriage to wife Catherine.
Caroe was estranged from her father for a period, and Natof remembers being first introduced to Wright in New York City, where has living at the Plaza Hotel with his third wife, Olgivanna.
For several years when Natof was in her teens in the early 1950s, she was permitted to spend summers at Taliesin. She recalls her mother being concerned about her being the only teenage girl there among the architectural fellows studying, but says some of her male cousins were there at the same time.
Now 87, Natof says those summers “probably influenced me a lot.” The community aspect of Taliesin is one she recalls in detail. At that point, she says, the home in Spring Green, Wisconsin was an “almost” sustainable community with vegetable gardens and farm animals. Wright’s apprentices served people during meals.
Most of all, she recalls the arts, which she thinks were Olgivanna’s influence at work. “On weekends, we had theater productions, and everyone dressed very formally,” Natof said. “We had a quartet, a chorus and actors. It was a very self-contained cultural community in that sense.”
On Sundays, Wright addressed the 75 to 80 architects who were in residence each summer. Natof recalls that her grandfather was held in high regard.
“People would do anything for him,” she said. “My grandfather was sort of the feudal king of the roost.”
While the experience at Taliesin was positive one, Natof states that her relationship with her grandfather was not at first. At one meal together in the private dining room at Taliesin, he mocked the way she ate to the extent that she left the room in tears. She calls that night a “very powerful experience.”
As a young adult, Natof says she was embarrassed to tell people she was related to him, but said, “People did find out, because I had this rather odd furniture in my house.”
Natof’s mother was a single mom after leaving her alcoholic husband when Natof was young, and Natof recalls a stormy relationship with her.
“I realize now how hard her life had to be as a single mother in 1935, but I did not at that time,” she said.
Caroe worked as the executive director of America House, Aileen Vanderbilt Webb’s shop in New York City that offered high-quality crafts from across the country for sale. Due to these connections, Natof was sent to private high school and two years at Briarcliff College, where she learned cartography.
At 21, Natof was working at the Geological Survey in Washington D.C., where she married her first husband, a student, in 1956. He died in 1958. In 1959, Caroe, Natof’s maternal grandmother Catherine and Wright himself all died.
Natof married Stuart Natof in 1958, and their marriage lasted 30 years. The couple lived for a period in New Jersey, where her two children, Maginel and Lloyd, were born. During her time in New Jersey, Natof found her first community calling.
With a few other couples, the Natofs founded a Montessori school. Now known as the Red Oak School, the institution recently celebrated its 50th anniversary in Morristown, New Jersey. When the Natof family moved to Pennsylvania, Natof became involved in protests over a proposed nuclear power plant and founded an environmental group.
Natof later studied to be a nurse, and when she and Stuart divorced, she worked as a nurse for decades, until she was 77. Over the years, she lived in Texas and Pennsylvania. Two years ago, she moved into Mills Tower in Oak Park to be closer to her son, Lloyd.
Oak Park has been a good fit. After a lifetime of civic involvement, including the efforts in the Civil Rights Movement and the Women’s March for Peace, she enjoys the diversity and progressive politics of her new hometown. She goes to Quaker meetings and just joined an organization called Compassion & Choices, which advocates for medical aid in dying.
“I like to be a part of something that’s useful,” she said.
Noting that “the Wrights can very bombastic. We’re all strong personalities,” Natof says there are still strong family ties to this day. There is a regular Lloyd family reunion, and she’s enjoyed the ease of being able to speak to far-flung relatives via Zoom.
For Natof, it has been a life with many acts and many satisfactions.
“It never occurred to me in anything I did that it wouldn’t happen,” she said. “It all worked out. I don’t have any regrets. I’ve had a very interesting life.”