Lessons Learned . . . A Native American architect’s visual journey through five decades

Book just published!

300 pages (8 1/2″ x 11″) ~ 762 photos & virtual reality images

E-book (PDF) may be downloaded from the publisher for $20.

Publisher’s Digital Website: Lessons Learned . . . A Native American Architect’s Visual Journey Through Five Decades (lulu.com)

Publisher’s Printed Book website: Lessons Learned . . . A Native American Architect’s Visual Journey Through Five Decades (full color book)

(The printed book is $74.25 in the United States.)

Richard has published 14 other books on Architectural History, Native American History or Late 20th Century History. The largest concentrations of Richard’s projects may be found in Cartersville-Bartow County, GA , Rome-Floyd County, GA, Shenandoah County, VA, Winchester-Frederick County, VA and Asheville-Buncombe County, NC, but he has worked throughout the Southeastern United States. His award-winning Downtown Revitalization Projects in northern Georgia were inspired by Winchester, VA.

TRAIL OF TEARS MEMORIAL in Council Oak Park – Tulsa, OK ~ Sculptor: Dan Brook (Muscogee-Creek) ~ Architect: Richard Thornton (Eastern Creek) ~ The design team intentionally used a mixture of building materials from Georgia and Oklahoma. Richard created the motifs, carved into the Oklahoma granite, from Lamar Style (Creek) pottery shards that he had picked up as a teenager.

The book project began in 2021. Vivi, my French soulmate from long ago, was shocked, after we reconnected, that I was not happily married with six children, living on a large farm, a millionaire and at least, a U.S. Senator. I explained to her . . . that since around 2006, architects and architecture in general had declined starkly in rural areas of Northern Georgia. Even before then I had never made over half the income that I earned in Virginia and the Washington Metro area for my professional services, even though I had won seven design awards in Georgia. The region was increasingly characterized by “white trash values” such as demanding the right to carry guns in churches, night clubs, Walmarts and college campuses, plus anti-intellectualism, in general.

After getting up from the floor from laughing hysterically, Vivi urged me to immediately move back to Northern Virginia and reconnect with my famous friends at the Smithsonian Institute and National Geographic. She then gave a MAJOR morale boost . . . reminding me how much my Virginia architecture clients admired my work and that the American University law professors at the US Dept. of Justice hearings in Georgetown deeply respected me for my integrity.

I told her that it was a little late for moving to northern Virginia. My influential friends and clients were a generation older than me. Most had passed away during the last decade. I really couldn’t afford to move to Virginia, anyway. Besides that . . . all of my archaeological research was right here in North Georgia!

She then suggested that I telephone the Smithsonian and National Geo to mention my famous friends, so I could be a consultant for the Smithsonian and write articles for National Geo. I agreed to do that idea. She promised to show my “The Americas Revealed” articles to some people in France. Actually, I have been recently contacted by a French publisher, who wants to publish a book in French, strictly on my drawings of Native American towns, but nothing concrete has come out of it yet.

Well-l-l-l, the young ladies, who those august institutions hired during the Pandemic to run triage on telephone calls, had not even been born, when I lived in the Shenandoah Valley. Neither had ever heard of George Stuart (Senior Publisher of National Geo), Roger Kennedy (Director of the American Museum of National History) or Bill Gardner (Archaeologist at the famous Thunderbird Sites in the Shenandoah Valley.) Both interviewers at the Smithsonian and National Geo exclaimed, “But, Mr. Thornton, I thought you said that you were an architect in Georgia?”

Polite pressuring eventually persuaded both young ladies to ask around to the other staff members, working at home during the Pandemic, until they found someone, who knew who George or Roger were. Those people were terribly confused because I told them that I met George when he came to our North Carolina farm to photograph our goat cheese creamery for a National Geo book on the Appalachians . . . and that I met Roger at a Smithsonian Christmas party in Alexandria, VA, where I was promoting my Shenandoah Valley goat cheese . . . but ended up pairing with a brilliant French actress, who loved history, architecture and farming. Roger found Vivi to be enchanting and unforgettable, but couldn’t remember my name the next time we met. He did specifically ask, “Have Vivi and you gotten married, yet?” LOL

Thinking me to be flakey, both asked that I send them my architectural portfolio (fancy name for a photo album) for the staff to review. The newest portfolio was 22 years old and all my portfolios looked like that had been baked in an oven, after being in a rental storage bin for 8 years!

When I realized how many building projects I had completed since the year 2000, it quickly became obvious that I would be much less expensive to publish a book. Then I realized that my diverse professional activities had been so unique that no one would have clue what was going on, unless I included substantial text. Thus, the 32 page portfolio book turned into a 300 page biography in the third person.

It took me a long time to find drawings and photos of the projects in North Carolina and Virginia. I never found the photos for 16 of the Virginia projects. Vivi did ultimately build the winery that I designed for her, but she sold it to investors prior to returning to France. The current owners refused to let me use their copyrighted marketing photos. Nevertheless, I think that you will find the end result to be very interesting . . . particularly the historic buildings. I also included many intimate photos of life on the North Carolina and Virginia farms. Here are some sample pages.

This is Vivi, when she spent the summer of 1992 at my farm in the Shenandoah Valley. We first met at a Smithsonian staff Christmas Party in December 1990. She is singing her hit song, ¿Eres tú? (Will it be you?) in the restored summer kitchen of my Colonial Period farmhouse in Shenandoah County, Virginia. Although a French citizen, one of Vivi’s grandmothers was a Tamulte Maya from southern Mexico, so Vivi learned to speak Spanish fluently. She is a graduate of the Sorbonne in Early European History. During her 20s, she typically played naive Latin American, Spanish or French Canadian college students in French “coming of age” comedy movies. After meeting me, she quit the entertainment industry then purchased five rural restaurants and an ancient winery in Champagne-Argonne.

The Basque singing group, Mocedades, won the 1973 Eurovision Music Contest with “Eres Tu”.. It went on to be a huge international hit for them. Vivi recorded the song at age 18 in 1982 at a televised talent contest, but the record was not distributed until 1985. Her version was a big hit in Latin America, where everyone assumed that she was a Latina, because of her partial Indigenous American heritage and perfect Spanish. Whenever feeling romantic, she would often sing this song or “Some Enchanted Evening” to me. Here is Vivi’s version.

This is Vivi’s version of Silent Night, Holy Night in French, which Vivi recorded for me as a Christmas gift in 1992.

Sample Pages and Images Lessons Learned

This is the first project, I designed after graduation from Georgia Tech. It is located on an island in the Oresund Channel, but is under the jurisdiction of the City of Landskrona, Sweden.

This is the Colonial farmhouse and 19th century stage coach inn that I owned in Virginia. In 1990, it was named National Residential Restoration Project of the Year by an architecture magazine.

Integrity Center is a mixed restaurant, retail, office and residential building, which was designed to be a new infill project within the Cartersville Downtown Historic District. It has received many design awards. One of its loft apartments just sold for $700,000!

Now you know!

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