Postcard of crowd at Taliesin. Caption on card: "WEST WING. WRIGHT'S BUNGALOW". Property: Patrick Mahoney

What is the oldest part of Taliesin? Part II

A postcard looking (plan) northeast at the western façade of Taliesin’s hayloft, summer (the hayloft is under the roof). Because the collection of people are unexpected at a farmhouse, Randolph C. Henning (who collected this postcard), thinks this was taken the day after Taliesin’s 1914 fire and murders.

I wrote The Oldest Thing at Taliesin (stuff that goes back to 1911-12), and was going to leave it at that. But before I posted, I realized there were too many things to point out. I needed to divide it into two posts. So, that was part I.

Here’s part II.

Like last time, I’m going back to stone because it’s the easiest material to trace at Taliesin. That’s because Taliesin’s shingles, wood, and plaster has to be replaced. And I’m not sure how much of the window glass at Taliesin goes back to 1911-12.1

Therefore, in 2010,

Taliesin Preservation‘s Executive Director taped a printout of the picture at the top of this post onto my computer monitor.

In 2005, she (Carol) also told me about “The Album” on auction at the online site, Ebay.

Architect and writer, Randolph C. Henning, had sent her the scan of the image. Although he knew what you see in this image (the courtyard on the other side of Taliesin’s Hayloft), he wrote asking for help on any research on the rest of the images in his upcoming book, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin: Illustrated by Vintage Postcards (this image is on p. 39).

I’d never seen anything like that image because

you can’t really see this view today.

Why?

Because that nutter changed his house all the time, of course.

A similar angle of view is in the photo below:

Exterior photograph looking at the roofs Taliesin. Photograph taken in 2005 by Keiran Murphy.

I took this photograph from the roof of Taliesin’s former icehouse. The photograph is looking northeast according to Taliesin’s plan direction. Taliesin’s “Work Court” is one floor below.
I was up on this part of the roof with a member of the Preservation Crew. He was showing me details on the re-roofing. And, NO, you cannot stand on this roof while you’re on a tour.2

Almost nothing in this photograph matches what you see in the c. 1914 postcard at the top of this post.

But,

even though everything’s different here’s what got my attention: the stone pier under the hayloft.

THAT is still there! Here’s a comparison of the 1914 photo and the photo from 2004:

Looking (plan) southeast in Taliesin's "Work Court". In view: stone, roofing, plaster and windows in the courtyard.

In the Work Court, looking southeast according to Taliesin’s plan direction. This photograph has the stone pier that I saw in the 1914 postcard. The image below has both the old and new photos, with the stones in the pier compared.

Photographic comparison between 1914 Taliesin photograph, and digital photograph from 2004.

Here’s the stone pier in a close-up of the two photographs:

 

Close-up of stones in 1914 photograph and photograph from 2004.

TA-DA!


More Taliesin 1911-12:

The next photo appeared in 1911. I first saw it two years ago when the Chicago Tribune treated us all to was in a published article:

Looking east at Taliesin's agricultural wing.
In view behind trees: hayloft of Taliesin. Car [?] garage on the right. First published 12/29/11. Unknown photographer. (Chicago Tribune historical photo)

This photograph was taken December 25, 1911. The photographer was looking east/southeast (according to Taliesin’s plan direction) at Taliesin’s agricultural wing in 1911. The photo was taken on that day when Wright gave the disastrous press conference at Taliesin.

This, and the article that included it,

made me so happy that I wrote a post about it: “This is FUN for me…“.

Props go to Stan Ecklund on Facebook who, in 2020, first alerted me (and other Frankophiles) to this article. Stan created and curates two Wright-based groups on Facebook, The Wright Attitude, and Wright Nation. The “WA” is a private group, but Wright Nation on Facebook is public, here. If you are in the WA group, Stan posted the link to the article in the Tribune on Dec. 4, 2020.

Again, you can’t see the same view today because of Wright’s changes at Taliesin.

But I found a photo on Wikimedia Commons that’s shot from a similar angle. That’s below:

Photograph of Taliesin roofs taken on July 4, 2018.
By Stilfehler. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International License.

Looking (plan) southeast to the chimney that’s in the photograph from 1911 in the Tribune.
Taken by Stilhefler while on a tour. Click the photo to see it on-line.

I am not publishing the second photo from the Chicago Tribune. Most of what you see in the second photo cannot be seen on a tour and if you read “This is FUN for me…”, I explain it some more.


Then there’s the Hill Crown:

And its retaining wall:

Looking (plan) south at the stone retaining wall at Taliesin's Hill Crown. Photo by Keiran Murphy.

I took this photograph in April, 2005.

Most likely, there are other parts of the retaining wall that go back to 1911. However, I do not think you’ll be able to look at those places for any length while on a tour at Taliesin.


Lastly, I’ll show something else you can see on tours:

Wisconsin Historical Society, Fuermann Collection, ID# 83113

This was also published in Architectural Record magazine in 1913. Here’s where I wrote about it.

Look at the pier on the right, with the pool. The open windows on the right are at the kitchen (today it’s called the Little Kitchen). Every tour you take at Taliesin walks near that pool.

I put a present-day photo of it, below. The person who took this photo in 2018 also took the one above.

Photograph of pool next to the "Little Kitchen" at Taliesin. Taken on July 4, 2018.
By Stilfehler. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International License.

Taken in the Breezeway at Taliesin. Looking (plan) southeast at the stone veneer on the west wall of the Little Kitchen.
Photo from July 4, 1918, by Stilhelfer. Click the photo above to see it on-line. You’ll see that this photo has been cropped.

I love this area.

Wright changed things so much at Taliesin that I’m intrigued when he didn’t.

That’s all I’ve got the time to show you right now. Oh, and last thing: remember that these parts of the building I talked about were just what you can see.

So, thanks again for coming along!

 

Published November 26, 2022
Randolph C. Henning acquired this and sent this to the Executive Director of Taliesin Preservation while he was working on Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin: Illustrated By Vintage Postcards. You can see the photo on page 39. Henning sold his collection to Patrick Mahoney, AIA.


Notes

1 I could go and point out windows that seem like they were at Taliesin in 1911-12, but I dunno.

2 “WHAT – do you think we’d just walk onto the roof?”
No, I do not think you would.
However: one time a person arrived at the Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor Center in January or February and wanted to know if they could go into the buildings on the Taliesin estate. I asked, “Did you see the notice on our website that there are no tours at Taliesin until May 1?” The person replied nicely that, “Yes, we saw that. But you didn’t say the estate was closed.” So I’m double checking.

Thanksgiving at Taliesin

My next post, Oldest Part of Taliesin, II , is on the way (part I is here). First though, I’m going to add a portion of an “At Taliesin” article posted in 1936 that was about Thanksgiving. In 1936, the Taliesin Fellowship, with the Wrights, celebrated Thanksgiving in Wisconsin.

Here’s writer, Marya Lilien, on the Thanksgiving that had just passed. This “At Taliesin” article was published December 4, 1936:

Thanksgiving dinner

Visitors who have seen Taliesin probably noticed that there is something uncompromising about Taliesin people’s clothes.  We are seen either in overalls and working gloves or in evening dresses, respectfully dark suits: never the in-between morning clothes, afternoon clothes, etc.  So it is also with our activities.  Either at work, even in the studio – always prepared to jump in for some “dirty” job – or having beautiful parties and feasts.

Our Thanksgiving dinner was a real feast.  Mrs. Wright directing everything in the preparation, yet never tired to add some new surprising touches of her refined taste both to the menu and decoration, making the party true to Taliesin tradition and yet have some unusual atmosphere.

And in this beautiful atmosphere among pine branches and chrysanthemums as if growing out of the interior architecture – there came to us the romance of Japanese prints – told by our Master.  Mr. Wright has this wonderful manner of giving his most profound thoughts in a conversational tone.  They seem so natural – in fact, I think every great thought is natural only it takes a great mind and creative imagination to formulate it and show it to people.

….

And in the low beautiful Fellowship dining room with pine branches overhead and yellow chrysanthemums dramatic and picturesque scenes, past and present, passed before our eyes: each of them seeming to have itself the colors and design of a Japanese print, as Mr. Wright was telling how the hoarded cases and boxes in Japanese court circles finally got open after centuries to show their contents and to tell him and the world their illuminating story.  And find a final resting place in the great museums of the new world.

By MARYA LILIEN

 

In 1936, Thanksgiving took place on the last Thursday in November. That changed in 1941, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt changed Thanksgiving to the fourth Thursday in November.

Architect, writer, and Wright expert, Randolph C. Henning, went through most of the “At Taliesin” newspaper articles published in 1934-1937. He transcribed as many of these as possible and published them in a book: At Taliesin: Newspaper Columns by Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Fellowship, 1934-1937 – 

I mentioned this and other books in my post, “Books by apprentices“.

He gave me an electronic version of the articles. That’s how I acquired the article that Lilien wrote.

 

First published November 23, 2022.

 

Photograph taken at Taliesin in late summer. The structure has been built, although not all of the windows are in. One man is bending working on teh ground.

What is the oldest part of Taliesin? Part I

Looking (plan) east at Taliesin from the balcony of its hayloft, fall 1911. Taken by Taylor Woolley, who worked as a draftsman for Wright at Taliesin. I showed this image in the post, “This will be a nice addition“.

While people don’t ask that question at other Frank Lloyd Wright buildings, it’s part and parcel of his personal home in Wisconsin.1 After all, he was already changing things after 1912, and he probably would have made changes at his home even if it never suffered two major fires.

And, remarkably, there are things at Taliesin that go back to 1911-12. Even where there wasn’t any fire.

Why am I bringing this up?

I thought I would share what people asked me sometimes while I gave tours. Hopefully I didn’t overwhelm them with info. But while “don’t talk about what you can’t see” is one of the tour-guiding rules, change was a part of Taliesin.

In fact, that’s true even in the photo at the top of this post. Wright changed almost all of the stone piers and chimneys that you see there.

Now, while Wright didn’t sit down in April of 1911 and say, “I want to change my home with Mamah all the time!”, he liked the flexibility of changing things as he had new ideas. He refined his ideas all the time, and his home was the best place see these new things.

After all, I’ve heard people say that –

Taliesin is like a life-sized model.

Even Taliesin’s most consistent feature, the Tea Circle, would change.

The Tea Circle

It’s a semi-circular stone bench where Wright and the Taliesin Fellowship used to have tea.

In the photo at the top of this post, the Tea Circle will be eventually built on the right, where you can see the man working under the two oak trees. They wouldn’t finish it until 1912.

So, the photo shows that they had removed all of the dirt around those oak trees, and built the retaining walls. Then they gave the roots of the oaks a chance to settle before making more disruptions.

But Wright’s plans included the Tea Circle at Taliesin almost from the beginning.

However, you can see that unfinished Tea Circle in another photo by Taylor Woolley, below. He took this in the spring of 1912. Taliesin’s basically been built, but the Tea Circle steps, and its stone seat, don’t yet exist:

Photograph at Taliesin in early spring. In view: pool on left, Flower in the Crannied Wall statue at Tea Circle.
By Taylor Woolley. Courtesy of Utah State History, Taylor Woolley Collection, ID 695904.

Looking west toward the Tea Circle. The chimney at Taliesin’s Drafting Studio is on the right. The Hayloft is under the horizontal roof in the background.

I used to look for the Tea Circle on plans to orient myself when I was first learning about Taliesin. I put one of Taliesin’s early drawing below, with an arrow pointing at the stone bench. Western Architect magazine published this drawing in February 1913:

Drawing of Taliesin complex. Published in February 1913.
Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York), 1403.011.

In fact, here are links to Taliesin plans that have the Tea Circle seat.

ARTSTOR says the drawings are from Taliesin II, but that’s wrong. I noted before that the former director of the Frank Lloyd Wright Archives, the late Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer, was wrong on the structural details of the building. But I never got the chance to talk to him about how he came up with the dates for the drawings.2

The Preservation Crew at the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation carried out restoration, preservation, and reconstruction on the Tea Circle in 2019.3 They had to replace a lot of the degraded/missing stone work there. Its form (and as much stone as possible) now matches what was there in when it was originally finished.

Anyway, here I was,

trying to figure out the date of Woolley’s photo showing the forecourt and unfinished Tea Circle.

that’s the problem with black & white photos: they make late fall and early spring look the same!

And, HOORAY! Wright’s scandals gave me the info.

See, on December 23, 1911, the Chicago Tribune sent a telegram to Wright asking to confirm or deny that he was living in Wisconsin with Mamah Borthwick.

(by then, she and Edwin had divorced, and she legally took back her maiden name)

The Tribune published his reply on Dec. 24,

Let there be no misunderstanding, a Mrs. E. H. Cheney never existed for me and now is no more in fact. But Mamah Borthwick is here and I intend to take care of her.

Since Wright’s telegram made things even worse, the next day, Wright and Borthwick invited the reporters inside Taliesin so he could give a public statement. He hoped doing this would explain things and take pressure off himself and his family.

It didn’t go well.

In part because Wright said, “In a way my buildings are my children”. The guy needed a publicist. But it was 1911; whatcha gonna do?

This disaster with the press answered my question:

As Wright escorted the reporters to the forecourt (now the Garden Court), he talked about upcoming work on the building and grounds. He said:

There is to be a fountain in the courtyard, and flowers. To the south, on a sun bathed slope, there is to be a vineyard. At the foot of the steep slope in front there is a dam in process of construction that will back up several acres of water as a pond for wild fowl.

Chicago Daily Tribune, December 26, 1911, “Spend Christmas Making ‘Defense’ of ‘Spiritual Hegira.'”

AHA!

There it is: at Christmas 1911, they hadn’t yet finished Taliesin’s dam! So the hydraulic ram wasn’t yet working to bring water to the reservoir behind the house, giving Taliesin running water and water for the pools!4

In contrast, Woolley’s photo has the fountain (on the left in the photo above). That means the water system was working.

More Taliesin photos

In January 1913, Architectural Record published photos taken in the previous summer. Click on the photo below for the link to a .pdf of that magazine. The link is the whole magazine for the first half 1913, so you’ll have to go through it.

Image from opening pages of "The Studio-Home of Frank Lloyd Wright". Includes a photograph looking West at Taliesin in the summer of 1912.

You go to the link (which has 6 months of the issues). You can find page 44 of the January issue, and that’s the start of 10 pages of Taliesin photos, like the screenshot above.

These Fuermann photos are what a lot of people envision when they think of Taliesin I.

You can also find them at the Wisconsin Historical Society in the Fuermann and Sons Collection.

And if you love them and want All The Fuermann Photos, you can buy the special issue on them that was published in the Journal of the Organic Architecture + Design Archives. They’ve got the photos Fuermann took in three photographic sessions. Architectural Historian, Kathryn Smith, explains their history.

More to come

I was ready to post this when I realized there are a few more things that you can see on tours that go back to 1911-12. So I’ll publish another post with more.

 

Taylor Woolley (then Wright’s draftsman), took the photograph at the top of this post. It’s at the Utah Historical Society, here

Published November 16, 2022


Notes

1 I don’t think they’ll be offering tours underground any time soon, in part because the openings into some places are only accessible by crawling on your hands and knees. Like what I wrote on in “A slice of Taliesin“.

2 I didn’t want to come off as a snotnosed smarty pants. Although maybe we could have talked about it. He seemed to trust my opinion by the end. He respected my opinions on one drawing I asked about.

3 The restoration work is due to a donation by educator and Architectural Historian, Sidney K. Robinson.

Watch Ryan Hewson, of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation talking about the restoration of the Tea Circle the “Frank Lloyd Wright x Pecha Kucha Live 2020” event. Pecha Kucha is a fast-paced slide show, and Hewson’s presentation is just over 6 minutes. It explains the work really well.

4 I wrote about my study of the dam in the post, “My dam history“.

Image logo courtesy of National Novel Writing Month

Death by Design

The logo for NaNoWriMo

Here’s the start:

Over 15 years ago, I read the book, The Girl With the Botticelli Eyes and was furious. I wasn’t mad about the novel’s plot; I was angry because I felt the author completely misunderstood art restoration.

The Girl With the Botticelli Eyes takes place around an exhibition on early Renaissance painter, Sandro Botticelli (the man who painted The Birth of Venus, a.k.a., “Venus on the half-shell”). Among other things, a violent Italian fascist mutilates two Botticelli paintings… and puts the “Girl” of the book’s title into a dangerous position. I don’t remember the rest of the novel: I just remember how pissed off I was.

Why so mad, Keiran?

That’s because—after the crazed Fascist slashed through the eyes on a painting (or two), and left the piece barely intact—the curator gives the painting to some genius restorer who does magnificent work in, like, 2 days. In time for the exhibition opening.

While there are world experts in art restoration in NYC, there’s no way in hell that someone could restore a painting—executed in Italy in the late 1400s—in two f***ing days. I knew that and I didn’t even know the particulars about restoration experts of Renaissance painting.

So

As you can see by my continued annoyance

I wrote a couple of pages on a novel with a Taliesin house steward as the main character to show people what someone who knows the damned details about an artwork could do. But then got lost and did nothing more.

Until 2005

That’s the year that I wrote my first novel during NaNoWriMo, which is the subject of my post today.

What’s NaNoWriMo?

It takes place every November and stands for:

NAtional

NOvel

WRIting

MOnth

Some friends started it in 1999 after giving each other a challenge: write a 50,000 word novel in November from scratch.

In the lead up to November 1, you can do character development, plotting, planning etc., but you CANNOT write anything on the novel until 12:00 a.m., November 1.* And you must SUBMIT your 50,000-word novel by 11:59 p.m., November 30.

* I wrote earlier that you couldn’t start writing until 12:01 a.m. I’ve got no idea where I got that mistake came from. Well, yes, aside from coming from my own brain.

Do you win anything?

You win a link to a certificate that you can print. The certificate says you WROTE A 50,000 WORD NOVEL IN A MONTH.

What’s all?

Yup: that’s all.

No, really: don’t you get anything? Doesn’t anyone look at your novel?

The majority of people who look at the novel will be those who wrote it, and/or those who know the NaNoWriMo novelist.

Why the hell would you do this?

The folks who came up with Nanowrimo have dealt with these questions longer than me, so read their FAQ page from the Wayback Machine.

But,

Aside from knowing that you WROTE A NOVEL, there are people who participated in NaNoWriMo and took their 50k-words-(or more)-novel, and edited it, expanded it, found an agent and had it published. Novels written initially during Nanowrimo include:

Check out this web page mentioning some novels started at NaNoWriMo:

8 Bestselling Books Written During NaNoWriMo

 

Here’s my experience (experiences):

In October 2005, a friend online mentioned signing up for Nanowrimo. I’d heard about it, and among all of my “no I can’t do that,” this popped into my head:

Hey – why the hell couldn’t I do that? After all, I’d spent a week PO-‘d about The Girl With the Botticelli Eyes because “The writer wasn’t qualified to write what he did!!!”

Even in 2005 I knew I was an expert on Taliesin. And I knew my typing wasn’t bad.

so I could type like the wind!

And, oh yeah: there was my college degree. In writing.1

So: I wrote my first Nanowrimo novel.

Or, as I called it:

“The Book About a Murder at Taliesin… But Not That Murder

Lisa is the novel’s narrator. She’s a tour guide who works at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin, and lives in Spring Green Wisconsin. She isn’t me… exactly. She’s shorter and has blond hair. I think she was a little younger than me when I first started this in 2005. And she went to Graduate School in Art History, but never got her degree.

She does smoke and drink too much. I probably did when I first wrote it, but not as much as Lisa did.

But that wasn’t really my fault:

NaNoWriMo means you have to write 1,667 words a day. Writing about lighting up cigarettes gives you a chance to change the character’s location. And drinking gives you a place to hang out with other characters. And just having a character look at their cigarette pack and realize they’re getting low, adds to your total word count.

I mean, look:

I checked my cigarette supply. I was down to half a pack. I thought, “Oh, man,… I’ll have to stop soon.” But I figured I would deal with it later.

That’s 30 words right there!

Regardless, I did finish the novel. My word count was over 70,000.

I named the novel Death by Design

An online friend suggested it after I asked for input.

Why was Death by Design a murder novel?

It was the easiest thing for me to think up. Murder mysteries (as I learned) are easy… in ways. Particularly when you are attempting to write 1,667 words per day for 30 days straight.

Because 50,000 divided by 30=1,666.6666666667

I found that murder mysteries are easy because you (the author) figure out the clues and you can dab them in throughout the text, only to have them solved in the exciting denouement. Plus, I’d already spent years listening to murder mysteries on Old Time Radio Drama.

Death by Design‘s plot:

Main character, Lisa, is opening up the Hillside buildings one morning2 in May 2000.3 She walks into the Hillside Theater and finds the body of a man who’s been murdered.

Hilarity ensues since she has to call the programs director (at that time, a former guide who ran all the programs), while keeping the Taliesin Estate Tour guide with her group from accessing the Theater.

Over the following days, Lisa tries to deal with everything. Along with drinking too much (just beer, I swear). Additionally, she befriends a member of Taliesin’s Preservation Crew who she’s known for years. They end up dating by the end of the novel.

ALONG THE WAY:

Aside from every theory and every thought about Taliesin that came to mind, the book gave me a chance to write details about every fricking thing in the local area. I wrote in the novel information about the local bar, The Shed (sadly, closed this year) and the Spring Green General Store cafe. I took the opportunity to mention a yearly tradition at the General Store: BobFest.

And I invented a few obnoxious apprentices at the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture.4 That gave me a chance to write about the Taliesin Fellowship and its history. I then poisoned all of them with arsenic at dinner one night.

I pulled out “arsenic” after reading advice from another “Nanowrimer”: death and violence is a good way to switch up the story. Plus, by this time my book already had one murder. Maybe two.

UNTIL, finally, Lisa (and the love interest/Pres Crew guy, Jake5) get invited to a Taliesin formal dinner, in which the murderer tries to set fire to Taliesin.

Yes, I know: that old chestnut.

The murderer is caught of course. Lisa and Jake are together at the end. Lisa has started on a nicotine patch to quit smoking, and a new tour has been created based on the murderer trying to set fire to Taliesin.

Apparently, like the book Loving Frank, publicity about the murder in the Hillside Theater Foyer increases sales for tours that go to Hillside!


I participated in NaNoWriMo several more times:

2006:

The plot of the novel starts with Jake and Lisa as newlyweds. They’re on their honeymoon, which consists of going to other Frank Lloyd Wright sites.

as one does

I was also inspired in this novel by the destruction of two historic buildings in 2006. One was a destructive fire at a church by architects Dankmar Adler & Louis Sullivan in Chicago. Later that same month (January), a newly rediscovered house by Wright, the Wynant House, in Gary, Indiana was pretty much destroyed. Also by fire. So, the bad fortunes of these two pieces of architecture were put into the novel. 

In addition,

Lisa later defends herself (I think) with a heavy reproduction of a Frank-Lloyd-Wright-designed “Weedholder” vase. This particular moment of brutality comes at the Wright-designed Darwin D. Martin House in Buffalo, New York. I remember something else with furniture by Steelcase being used as a weapon at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Meyer May house, Grand Rapids, Michigan. And, lastly, Lisa finds the drowned body of a professor in Architectural History in the guest pool at Fallingwater.6 And she finds the Executive Director of Fallingwater after the E.D.’s been suffocated. She’d had Johnson’s paste Wax stuck into her nose and mouth.

Don’t worry if this makes no sense. I don’t expect anyone to know this unless they, like me, are Frankophiles.

2007:

That was a sci-fi novel where my character lived on a satellite of a gas giant. I never made it past 15,000 words. I had fun with it, but didn’t “Win”. The main character got stranded somewhere and I couldn’t figure out how to move the story on.

2009:

That October, I asked others what I should write for the upcoming NaNoWriMo. A friend suggested I write, “Frank Lloyd Wright in space!

Predictably,

I just relied on the trope of the Time Travel Police. That is, some police-like force exists to keep the “timelines” clear. In my book, the MC gets picked up by the Time Travel Police whose job it is to find clones that cultural geeks have made of their idols so they can remove the clones from timelines that they could mess up. The MC is brought to a clone of Frank Lloyd Wright living on a spaceship filled with other anachronistic clones.

Like Jane Austin. And Leonardo Da Vinci.

So you can see, that there was a reason why I felt I have done what I could with NaNoWriMo.

Now, remember:

If you’re interested in the idea, November starts in a few days. Go to the site. You can read about the rules (or not), and the organization, in “Help Desk” on the NaNoWriMo page. And you can just sign up, and you can check on your word count as you go.

If you get through it, if nothing else at least you can say that for once in your life, you wrote a novel. You’ve got a month to write it, and all the time you need afterwards to edit it.

October 28, 2022
The image at the top of this is the logo for NaNoWriMo.


Notes:

1 I didn’t figure out the Art History interest until I was a junior in college.

2 Regardless of whether of not apprentices/students were at Hillside, tour guides used to open the Hillside structures in the morning, and shut the building down at the end of the day.

3 I chose to set the novel in the year 2000 because this eliminates any discussion of 9/11/2001.

4 One of the apprentices, who is a big, lying jerk, isn’t based on anybody I know or knew.

5 For those who know me IRL, Jake started out based on a real person. But I got grossed out when I realized the main character and Jake would have a romantic relationship. So, I changed most things about him.

6 The murdered Architectural Historian was real. But, that’s ok: he passed away years ago.

 

Photograph of the curtain in Frank Lloyd Wright's Hillside Theater.

Curtains at the Hillside Theater

Standing in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hillside Theater looking east at the curtain. I took this photo in 2007.

I’m excited1 to write about the curtains at the Hillside Theater today for a couple of reasons.

1: I can show a few photos of Hillside’s original theater curtain. And,

2: I get to give you one of my theories on the curtain.

Theory?!

Oh, man, you gorram egghead.

Yea, I know, but this is my website, so….

Original curtain? What original. There was more than one?

Why, gosh, so glad you asked. There have been two made for the Hillside Theater. The first one was destroyed.

The first theater –

I did a nice write up on the first theater in my “1952 Fire at Hillside” post. It’s got cool photos and a drawing!

Like I wrote a while ago, Wright designed Hillside in 1901 for his aunts, Jennie and Nell Lloyd Jones,2 and their Hillside Home School. The building was built 1902-03. What became the theater was originally the school’s gymnasium.  

The Hillside Home School closes in 1915.

Then, two years later, Wright paid the school’s outstanding debts and acquired the school’s land and buildings.

Yes, I know: he paid some debts. The man was full of surprises.

As I used to say on tour:

After that, he was too busy to do anything with the building because he was working. Then, in the late ’20s, he had lots of time (no work). But you know that also means: no money.

Regardless, 17 years after the Aunts closed the school, Frank Lloyd Wright and his wife, Olgivanna started

The Taliesin Fellowship

(just over 90 years ago!)

The Fellowship was due to open on October 1, 1932.2 The month before that, Wright persuaded ladies from a local church to sew a curtain for his planned Hillside Theater. Spring Green’s newspaper, the Weekly Home News, wrote about this on September 22 of that year:

SEWING BEE AT Taliesin

Members of the Congregational Ladies’ Aid are taking an active part in the preparations for the opening of the Taliesin Fellowship.

The ladies assign themselves to groups of twelve and sew on the theatre curtain afternoons at Taliesin. The work consists of appliquéing material on the stage curtain according to an attractive design made by Frank Lloyd Wright….

Here’s the curtain they were working on:

The design for the first curtain at Frank Lloyd Wright's Hillside theater (then called the Playhouse).

The link goes to the black-and-white image on-line at ARTSTOR

Wright hoped for over 70 apprentices that first year. I hate to break it to you, but Wright was a little too optimistic.

So, yeah: no.

Although they did get 23 apprentices that first October.

I always remember that number. It’s because 23… 1932.

And the curtain done by the Congregational Ladies Aid didn’t get put to work a YEAR later. That’s because the theater (named the Playhouse) opened on November 1, 1933.

Getting a view of the curtain is tough, because most photos show the curtain open. It drives Frankophiles (including myself) crazy.

Or at least it used to.

Drive me crazy, I mean.

Then I started going to Wright’s archives. At that time, they were at his winter home, Taliesin West. Every time before I went, I wrote to the Assistant Director of the archives about which specific photo collections I wanted to see on my trip.

I kept a running list of collections that I would request.3 Actually, I still do, if anyone wants to invite me to Wright’s archives at the Avery.

I scanned as much as I could, and got a few scans of photos showing the old curtain in full.

Here’s one:

Photo of the Hillside Playhouse and its curtain. circa 1936.

Looking south/southeast. Taken 1936-40.

And then that fire happened at Hillside in 1952

NO WONDER the guy said, “All my life I have been plagued by fire.”

After the fire, he designed the curtain in the room now.

When we started tours, all of us had to learn the interpretation of the curtain.

Interpreting the curtain

I used to tell people:

as far as I know, it’s the only major design that Wright ever did that shows something that actually exists.

not counting presentation drawings.

In other words, it’s not something abstracted: it’s a picture. It’s Taliesin on the hill.

Come, follow me.

Here’s a shortcut of what the guides had to learn:

Frank Lloyd Wright's drawing of the curtain at the Hillside Theater in Wisconsin

But here’s the thing

None of this works if you abstract the Wisconsin River, the hill, or Taliesin. All those things are there, but it doesn’t go left-to-right like that.

So I wondered about this for awhile. Then, one day decades ago while I was cleaning in Hillside [yes, I used to do that, too] I realized that

The curtain’s image works if you turn it backwards.

When I thought about this while at work, I remembered something I’d read years before in Art History classes… something about tapestries. This matches what I read on them. It’s from the Met Museum:

 

Making a Tapestry—How Did They Do That?

by Sarah Mallory
….
Historically, weavers worked while facing what would be the back of the tapestry. They copied with their colored weft threads the tapestry’s design. The design, referred to as the “cartoon,” took the form of a painting—made on cloth or paper, the same size as the planned tapestry. This cartoon was either temporarily attached to the loom, flush against the backs of the warp threads, and visible in the gaps between the warps; or it was hung on the wall behind the weavers, who followed it by looking at its reflection in a mirror behind the warps. Because weavers copied the cartoon facing on the back of the tapestry, when the piece was finished, removed from the loom, and turned around to reveal the front, the woven image on the front of the tapestry was the mirror image of the cartoon shown. Weavers could avoid this reversal of the design by using the mirror method to copy the cartoon’s design.

And here’s the Hillside curtain design, backwards:

The present Hillside Theater curtain, shown backwards.

The design has the hill crown. You can see it best in a Taliesin II photo:

Taliesin from the south. circa 1920
Published in “Wright Studies: Volume 1, Taliesin 1911-1914”, p. 3.

Looking north at Taliesin, 1920-24. On the far left is a workman’s apartment. On the far right are Wright’s living quarters. You can’t see Wright’s studio and other apartments for the workmen because the building wraps around the hill the other side of the hill.

I don’t know if Wright was thinking of a tapestry when he drew the design for the curtain, but it does make sense. In the curtain, you can see the top of the hill. You can’t see that if you’re looking at Taliesin from the other side from what you see in the photo above.

So was he thinking about the design backwards?

Possibly. Since working on this post I’ve had to remind myself which way the curtain hangs because I keep getting turned around. Makes me very glad that I learned “left” and “right” in kindergarten.

Although I did ask the Administrator of Historic Studies at the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation about my “tapestry” theory. She seemed to “get” what I was talking about, of the curtain being the mirror image of reality, but she said that Wright did not design the curtain as a tapestry. According to Indira, Wright asked “his friend Dorothy Liebes if she could weave it,” but it was too big. So it was done the way it stands at the Hillside Theater. 

First published October 17, 2022.
I took the photograph on the top of this page.

 


Notes

1 Wait – aren’t I always excited about this?… why, yes, yes I am.

2 Some “early birds” – William Wesley “Wes” Peters, John “Jack” Howe, Yen Liang and Edgar Tafel arrived earlier that summer. Tafel wrote about the early time in Apprentice to Genius, the book I recommended a year ago.

3 I made trips 6 times in as many years. TPI paid for some, but at least half were on my own dime. I did it for work, but also for myself. I wanted to see these things and learn them. PLUS! I got to hang at T-West often in the winter – who needs a fricking vacation when they’ve got to see Frank Lloyd Wright’s buildings, and his letters and drawings, and photos of Taliesin by others?

Black and white photograph of valley in southwestern Wisconsin settled by Frank Lloyd Wright's family.

History of Native Americans in The Valley

This photo was taken in 1930. The photograph was looking south (with the Taliesin structure behind the photographer and to the left). I picked this photo because it shows the beauty of the valley in which Taliesin stands.

I’m going to write about The Valley and Native Americans today because native people’s do have a history in the area, and we’re coming upon Columbus Day / Indigenous Peoples’ Day.1

While there was never a village or long-term settlement of Native American people in the Lloyd Jones Valley itself, evidence shows they used the valley. And the map below shows which people were in Wisconsin, and southwest Wisconsin where Frank Lloyd Wright lived.

Native Americans in Wisconsin

Map of Wisconsin showing the placement of indigenous nations.
This Tribal Lands map was produced by Wisconsin First Nations.

To put things in context with Wright/Taliesin, I’m going to write a little about the Indigenous people in Wisconsin.

They began arriving

in what becomes the state of Wisconsin beginning 12,000 years ago at the end of the last Ice Age. Migration concentrated around the Great Lakes.

The Great Lakes:

Here’s mnemonic device to remember their names:

H uron
O ntario
M ichigan
E rie
S uperior

Settlement in the rest of Wisconsin didn’t start until at least 1,500 BCE. That’s because, while the Ice Age had ended, the retreat of the glaciers left some of Wisconsin an “uninhabitable bog.”

Patty Loew, Indian Nations of Wisconsin: Histories of Endurance and Renewal (Wisconsin Historical Society Press, Madison, 2001), 2.

Wisconsin tribes:

The North and West settlers were the Dakota and Ho-Chunk (formerly known as the Winnebago).

“Winnebago” is the transliteration from the Mesquakie (or Fox Nation) word, Ouinipegouek, which means “people of the stinking water.”  This was not meant as an insult; it looks like it was a mistake.

Patty Loew, Indian Nations of Wisconsin, 40.

But, yeah, no thanks. “Ho-Chunk” is their language and means, “The people of the big voice” or “people of the sacred language.”

Settlers in Northeast, Central and South Wisconsin were the Menominee, Ojibwe and Potawatomi.

Patty Loew, Indian Nations of Wisconsin, 8.

Back to the Valley, near the Wisconsin River

A bend at the river brought hunters. That’s because where the river bends by Taliesin today, the water is deeper. So, it stays unfrozen most of the winter.

Check out the bend in the drone image below:

Screenshot from a drone flight taken in December, 2017. It shows the Wisconsin River and the Taliesin estate.

Screenshot from a drone flight by “wsor95“. Looking south over to the Taliesin estate. The edge of the Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor Center is on the left-hand side of the photograph. To the left and right of the bridge is the bend where the Wisconsin River remains liquid through most of the winter (even when the temperatures in Wisconsin can get to negative 40 degrees2).

Since the water stays unfrozen, both hunters and birds could fish. And the hunters could catch birds who came for the fish.3

Other signs of Indigenous people

Native people also made effigy mounds in Southwestern Wisconsin, like at Governor Dodge State Park which is about a 15-minute drive away from The Valley. Construction on effigy mounds throughout the state began around 500 BCE.

Patty Loew, Indian Nations of Wisconsin, 6.

Indigenous and European cultures first interacted with each other due to United States citizens settling the area and (mostly) French fur traders.

This began to rearrange settlement areas in Wisconsin—different groups of indigenous people moved to different areas in order to live unmolested.

Skirmishes occurred over the three groups (settlers, Fox and Sauk)

fortunately these conflicts mostly bypassed the Ho-Chunk, but lead to their diminishment.

Southwestern Wisconsin

Then, in 1821, lead ore was discovered in Southwestern Wisconsin. This, and other things, eventually led to “the Winnebago War” of 1827 and, more importantly (due to reasons other than the lead ore),

The Black Hawk War

This was in 1832 and things happened close to The Valley.

Here’s what the historic sign says on the edge of the drive into the Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor Center parking lot:.

In this vicinity, during the Black Hawk War of 1832, General Henry Atkinson and approximately 1,000 soldiers crossed the Wisconsin River in pursuit of Sac [sic] Indian leader Black Hawk and his followers. On July 26th, at the old abandoned Village of Helena, the soldiers dismantled the village’s buildings to make rafts for the crossing.

Treaty of 1837

Many people moved west across the Mississippi River, but some would return. The return of “non-treaty abiding” Ho-Chunk were followed by removals on:

four more occasions between 1844 and 1873

which (due to public disapproval of the harsh removal of Ho-Chunk in 1873) until it led to a provision in the Homestead Act that:

any adult head of a [Ho-Chunk] family could file a claim for federally-owned land, make minimal improvements, and, after five years, own it.

Many a Fine Harvest: Sauk County, 1840-1990, by Michael J. Goc, 15.

During this time (1863), the Lloyd Joneses came in.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s sister, Maginel Wright Enright, wrote about this in her book, The Valley of the God-Almighty Joneses. I’ll end this with her words. They’re the most personal remembrances of Indigenous People in the Valley:

…. When [her grandfather] Richard and his family had first reached the wilderness, the Indians [sic] were formidable, mysterious; … still masters of the forest then. In the winter, when it was very cold… Richard and [grandmother] Mallie and whoever was sleeping in the trundle bed would wake to the click of the door latch. They would lie still… knowing that it was an Indian come to lie awhile by the fire and warm himself. In the morning there was no trace of the guest. That evening, or the next day, they could find a haunch of venison or a bag of meal or nuts on the doorstep as payment for the night’s lodging.

In the summers, when Richard worked out of doors, the Indians watched him from the silence of the forest. They watched and waited; they did not make hasty judgments.

But now they watched and waited in pathetic little bands over the land that had once been their home and hunting grounds, before men came to civilize it. They were lost and bitter, and farm animals disappeared when they were near, especially when they’d got hold of some liquor. Richard still tried to be friendly to them; he understood their tragedy, how it must feel to have the earth they loved taken from them. Perhaps he felt a little guilty for being one of the takers.

Another time when Richard and the boys were rushing to get the wheat crop under cover before a storm broke, a group of thirty Indians came through the field. They saw what was happening, and without a word began to help. When the last load was safely in the barn they went away, and the storm broke….

[A]t first, when [the Indians] were driven away, it had not seemed a final thing. Then, gradually, they sensed the enormity of what was happening to this land that the intruders had named America. They learned their lesson, admitted defeat, and did not come back.

Maginel Wright Barney, The Valley of the God-Almighty Joneses: Reminiscences of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Sister (Appleton-Century, New York, 1965), 55-56.

Here’s a piece by Maginel that recalls landscape paintings of the local area.

Long-pointe landscape by artist and sister of Frank Lloyd Wright, Maginel Wright Enright.

Thanks to Kyle Dockery, Collections Coordinator for the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, for helping me to correctly identify the owner of this piece by Maginel.

 

First published October 3, 2022.
The photograph at the top of this post is Chicago History Museum, ICHi-89173, Raymond W. Trowbridge, photographer. It is in the public domain. Here’s where you can see the image at the Chicago History Museum website. My post about Raymond Trowbridge (with more photos) is here.

 


Notes:

1 I’m not a historian of indigenous people. I gathered this information from Indian Nations of Wisconsin: Histories of Endurance and Renewal, by Patty Loew, and Many a Fine Harvest: Sauk County, 1840-1990, by Michael J. Goc. I found these books thanks to assistance from librarians at the Spring Green Community Library.

2 Living in Wisconsin has taught me that -40 Fahrenheit is equal to -40 Celsius. Now, while there are places in the U.S.A. that can get a lot colder, I still remember quizzically staring at the thin line on the bottom of the outdoor thermometer one morning, thinking it was broken.

3 In one of those magical moments, one winter day while I worked at Taliesin Preservation in the Visitor Center, all of us kept going all day to the main level to watch about 4 bald eagles stand at the edge of the ice on the river’s bend and hunt for fish.

Hey – those of you working at the Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor Center in the winter! Keep a watch out for this, ok?

Looking west in the Taliesin Drafting Studio toward Wright's vault, with his desk at the lower right.

DON’T TOUCH THAT STONE

Looking west in the Drafting Studio that Wright used at Taliesin until World War II (after that he used it as an office). His desk is on the right-hand side. If you look at the ascending stairs, you see two lines: one that is horizontal, and another that’s vertical. These are remnants from a change that occurred at the stone.

As I wrote in “I looked at stone“, the masonry used in Taliesin’s piers, walls, and floors often holds evidence of the building changes. So this post is going to be about two changes at Taliesin that are also visible in its stone. In this case, both of these can be seen in Taliesin’s Drafting Studio.

So, what are these changes?

Evidence of one change is on the west side of the room, and evidence of one is by the room’s doorway. I’ll write about the evidence seen in the stone because I hope they will stay there.1 Particularly because one of the changes is the only sign that something was there when Wright was alive. So I really hope no one touches it. That change is by the door on the east wall of the Drafting Studio.

First, though

There’s a sign of a change that stands on the outside of Taliesin’s vault that I want to talk about. That change can be seen in the photo at the top of this post, which shows the vault on the room’s west side. It’s by the steps that go up to the top of the vault.

Vault? wth are you talking about: I don’t see a metal door on this “vault” you’re talking about. You’re hallucinating.

Oh, sorry [she says to her cranky-alter-ego]: the stone you see is around a bank vault that is on the edge of the room. In Taliesin’s studio you’re looking at the back of the vault. You get into the vault through a bank door on the other side. btw: The steps don’t bring you into the vault.

Wright didn’t plan on using the top of the vault, because most of the vault was originally outside.

Ok, I’m getting ahead of myself

Let’s go back to the lines on the stone.

The change on the stone is the two lines to the right of the steps: a horizontal line and a vertical line. There aren’t any known photos or drawings that show the room’s configuration in the area to show exactly what wall caused those lines. But the lines would have been created in the ‘teens to the early ’20s. Looking at the lines though, I think they were made because a plaster wall/walls terminated at that spot on the vault.

Hold on – I’ll take you back in Taliesin’s history:

Here’s a photo when Wright first built the studio in 1911. So the vault wasn’t there. But you get a sense of how the west side of the room ended and that might help to visualize what terminated in the vault that was added later.

At the time the photo was taken, the studio was a rectangular room with a gable roof. The side of the room where the vault will eventually show up is on the right hand side in this one photo from the Taliesin I era. That photo was taken by Wright’s draftsman, Taylor Woolley:

Taken by Taylor Woolley in Wright's Taliesin drafting studio, 1911. Looking west.

Woolley took this 1911 photo looking west in the Taliesin drafting studio. When the room was finished, Wright put the drafting tables to Wooley’s left, as well as where he was standing, and behind him (you can see the other view of the studio in this photo). The two men in the background of this photo are unidentified.

Can you tell us what we’re seeing?

From what I can figure, Taylor Woolley was standing about where the lamp is in the photograph at the top of this post. You can see the building is close to being finished, because of the trim on the ceiling, but there’s still more that’s laid on the table in the foreground.

Wright scholar, Sidney Robinson, pointed out that the vault was probably built by 1913.2 That’s because there’s a drawing that was published that year that shows it. It’s drawing number 1403.011. If you click the link go to see the drawing online, they tell you it’s a 1914 drawing. But they’re wrong. The drawing was published in Western Architect 1913.2

And, oh sh*t – that means I’ve got to use a fricking drawing to try to prove something, and I’m always like, “don’t trust the drawings“…. OK: Let’s say we CAN’T prove that the damned vault was there in 1913, but it showed up in a PHOTO at least.

Black and white photograph looking (plan) west at roofs at Taliesin.

Standing on the top of Taliesin’s Living Room roof by its chimney, looking west. Taliesin’s Drafting Studio is to the left of the arrow, the vault under the arrow, and Wright’s private office to the right of the arrow. I know this was published in Frank Lloyd Wright: Man In Possession of His Earth, which was put out by the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation in 1962, so that’s who I think owns the photo, but I’m not sure.

Based on details, this photo was taken between 1918-1921. Wright expanded the studio before Taliesin’s second fire, and so the vault was then inside.

ANYHOW,

The marks on the stone outside of the Vault come from its changes. Luckily the marks have stayed there, unmolested.

Additionally,

on the opposite side of this room, there’s another mark on the stone. This is on the stone column you walk by when you enter the studio. Here’s the room today. I put an arrow pointing at the column:

Photograph by Stilfehler and published under the Creative Commons License: Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International. Looking northeast in the Taliesin drafting studio.

Looking east in Taliesin’s Drafting Studio. The column is where the Preservation Crew found a window during Taliesin’s Save America’s Treasures project in 2003-04.
Photograph by “Stilfehler”, on Wikimedia.org.

That column has a red and white vertical line you can see. It shows up in the photo I took below:

Photograph in Wright's studio looking at east wall, with a double door, a stone pier, and the red plaster wall.

Looking east in the Taliesin Drafting Studio.

That red and white line is there because there a built-in radiator cover terminated at the column for decades. You can see that radiator in the studio back in to the Taliesin II era. Here’s a photo from 1917-18 that shows it:

Photograph ahosing Taliesin drafting studio with drafting tables, Asian art, and models. An arrow points at a radiator cover in the studio.

This photograph is a postcard that Wright’s sister Maginel gave to Edgar Tafel. The photo is published in the book, About Wright: An Album of Recollections by Those Who Knew Frank Lloyd Wright, ed. Edgar Tafel. Looking east in the Taliesin Drafting Studio. The black arrow is pointing at the radiator cover.

The radiator cover shows up in photographs throughout Wright’s life.

Yet

the photos also show he changed it. Originally, the radiator was perpendicular to the stone column. Then he moved the radiator from perpendicular to, to parallel to, the east wall.

But he kept what looks like the first cover. Maybe he made it into a little cabinet. Because a little door, with a handle, appears on the old radiator cover in several photos from the mid-1950s. These are at the Wisconsin Historical Society, like this one below:

Photograph looking (plan) southeast at the Monona Terrace model. Taken in 1955.
Photograph by George H. Stein (1913-2004). At the Wisconsin Historical Society, Image ID #29226.

Photograph by George Stein. Stein took the photo in December 1955. Looking southeast in Taliesin’s Drafting Studio.

You can see the part of the old cover with the door and door handle next to the Monona Terrace model. And to the right of the cover, you see the top of the radiator, against the east wall. The photo taken in the ’50s. So, maybe the radiator cover that’s in the 1917-18 photo from Tafel’s book has been turned into a cabinet, maybe? As near as I can figure out, the former radiator cover (that became a cabinet?) was there when Wright died.

Or I think it was there.

That’s because I came across a photo of it years ago that showed the radiator cover, and the cabinet. The Chicago Tribune published that photo in 1962 [that’s (W)right, after his death], I bought it on Ebay3 and it’s below:

Photograph from the Chicago Tribune of the Taliesin drafting studio. A cello, harpsichord and world globe on the right.

Looking east in the Taliesin Drafting Studio in 1962. The photo shows the radiator and Wright’s Asian art works.

There’s a note on the back of the photo saying “September 20, 1962”.

At some point that entire built-in was removed, along with that radiator. And the floor in this area, where the radiator had been, must have been removed/replaced, so you can’t see a sign that the piping was there. So the physical evidence on the floor is gone. And the only thing that remains (as far as I know and can remember from my time at Taliesin) is what’s on the stone column.

So, before I end this post, I’ll put in this request to those who might work on or restore the Taliesin Drafting Studio: don’t touch that stone!

First published, September 25, 2022.
I took the photograph at the top of this post in 2005…. And, despite what some might think, YES, he used that lamp on the desk!

 


Notes:

1 Not that I think people will chuck things out at Taliesin willy nilly, but sometimes stuff happens.

2 I don’t know where Wright got the vault itself. It’s fireproofed and must be heavy, but I never got the chance to do the research on where Wright acquired it.

3 Although I should say that Bruce Pfeiffer was wrong, since he’s the one who dated the drawings. Anyway, the drawing appears in the article was “Taliesin, the home of Frank Lloyd Wright, and a study of the owner,” by Charles Robert Ashbee, Western Architect, 19 (February 1913), 16-19.

4 There’s got to be some joke about historians prowling Ebay for things related to their obsessions.

Looking outside in the summer the dissected boiler from Taliesin's Living Quarters.

Blue smoke at Taliesin

A photograph I took in 2007 while the Preservation Crew removed the boiler from Taliesin’s living quarters. Taliesin’s living room is one floor up and to the right.

Didn’t I write in here about the time there was blue smoke inside Taliesin’s Living Quarters one fall day in 1995?

[searches this blog for the words “blue” and “smoke”, but to no avail.]

I don’t mean blue smoke like decorative smoke that’s supposed to go along with cartoon Taliesin smurfs.1 No: this blue smoke filled the living quarters one day after the heat was turned on.

So, while I don’t know the details, this post is going to be about the new heating system that was installed at Taliesin. Because it’s the first weekend of September and I remember the fact that it’s going to get cold again.  

As I recall,

it happened one day in the autumn of 1995. I arrived at Taliesin’s front door with my House Tour guests and was greeted by the House Steward. She told us it might be a little chilly because they’d turned off the heat. That was because blue smoke filled the house after they turned it on that morning.

I checked online to find out what “blue smoke” coming from a heating system means. “Just Answer” told me the smoke was from an “accumulation of dust that can cause fumes.” I read that and went, “Well, sh*t – if that’s all it was, we should have just kept using the heater.”and right there is why it’s best for Taliesin that I stayed in research and writing instead of MAKING MATERIAL DECISIONS ON FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT’S HOME.

Following the blue smoke

the Preservation Crew investigated the system. While there wasn’t a sign of imminent catastrophe, they concluded that the presence of smoke and fumes was not a matter of just getting a new “panel” and fixing things easily.

I don’t know the age of the former radiators that comprised the heating system at Taliesin’s Living Quarters, but they were old.2 Maybe they didn’t date to Frank Lloyd Wright’s lifetime (he died in 1959), but, since I’m talking about Taliesin in the mid-1990s? Possibly.

Therefore,

Preservation turned off the heat inside Taliesin’s living quarters. They understood that the heat could not be turned on again until many problems were solved,

like, what I wrote about in “A Slice of Taliesin” is only a small part

and an appropriate system was researched, prepared, and acquired.

In fact, they didn’t even remove the old boiler until things veered closer to getting heat in the building.

That happened in 2007.

That’s when I took the photograph of the dismantled boiler at the top of this post.

Just so you know: NO, the boiler that was removed was not “the boiler” where Julian Carlton hid in 1914 – what the hell are you thinking?

Following this,

the only way the Taliesin Living Quarters were heated was through little space heaters placed in the rooms.

Hence, part of the reason that I’m still attuned to the question, “Did Wright ever live in Wisconsin the winter?
Wright had radiators from the beginning. Yet, people didn’t usually see them because the little heaters drew their attention.

Obviously, the space heaters were only plugged in/turned on when tours were going on. Which saved money and ensured that Taliesin House Stewards could monitor the devices.

Man,

I felt for the House Stewards and the tour guides when the weather was cold. I didn’t have to go to the house every day, since I hadn’t worked full-time in the tour program since 2002. But it was hard to talk about Wright’s genius in his house with little electric heaters. Although, while they didn’t make the space nice and toasty, they gave the “aura” of heat. The sense that, “Well, we’re doing the best we can.”

And so,

since Taliesin’s living quarters didn’t have heat until 2014, the building was shut down after October 31.3 In order to prepare for the winter, the tour staff moved the artifacts, rugs, and furniture into separate areas. The work by the tour staff took several days in November, and two weeks in the spring.

I mentioned “House opening” in my post, “Physical Taliesin history“.

Here’s a hint on what Taliesin’s Living Room looked like when it was almost set:

Looking (plan) northwest in Taliesin’s Living Room. Taken by me on the first day of House opening in 2006.

I confess that seeing this photograph squeezes my heart. Not in a good way. Man, I hated House opening.

Honestly,

I sometimes doubted that I’d ever see heat in Taliesin again. Not that the folks in Preservation weren’t making lists and slowly going through improvements, but I had worked there so long while things changed incrementally, and tour guides/staff still gave tours when outside temps were 40F (4.45C) the night before.

I felt like, “You don’t care about us!!!”

A panel from Calvin and Hobbes of Calvin laughing and pointing at his friend/rival, Susie

My alteration of a panel in a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon detailing how I felt while opening Taliesin in the spring following the removal of the boiler in Taliesin’s living quarters.

so.

I just realized

that the managers in the Preservation Crew were speaking like the pilot on your airplane while you’re waiting to take off. You get into your seat and they tell you you’ll be leaving shortly. Then sometimes you seem to sit there interminably on the “apron” before moving. But the pilot always has a positive attitude, telling you that you will be on your way in just a moment. Even when you aren’t. I guess with the Preservation at Taliesin, the crew did enough work (over 20 years) to remove the airplane chocks, then get onto the taxiway for takeoff.

You can get some more understanding by looking at a Preservation Report first loaded onto Taliesin Preservation‘s website in 2011.

Altho,

I just looked at the Wayback machine,4 and they don’t have the Preservation Report. Here, you can have my copy of the issue I’m thinking of.

p.s.: these were written by Ryan Hewson. He works for the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation as the Preservation Director of Taliesin (Wisconsin). He had me proofread these, which I why I had an electronic copy.

The installation of the geo-thermal system at Taliesin was summarized here. And here’s an “after” photograph from the boiler room:

If that geothermal system seems familiar, it’s because I mentioned it in, “Why Did You Have to do That, Mr. Wright?!

To reiterate:

  • As I remember it, the heat was turned off in 1995,
  • The radiator was removed in 2007,
  • The geo-thermal heating system was fully installed and switched on in 2014.5

First published September 4, 2022.

 


Notes:

1 Yes, I did just spend time imagining Taliesin Blue Smurfs: Smurfs with canes, porkpie hats and capes. Did you?

2 Here’s information for those working in Preservation on the Taliesin estate: the large hole in the Hillside Theatre foyer is NOT a drain for water.

Since almost no guides were around when hot air used to come out of the vent, I’ve heard many “newer” guides (I mean, those who came after 1997) wonder out loud if that was for water.

That hole used to be a hot air vent. It worked when I first gave tours. You would walk in on a chilly day in September or October, and hot air came out of that hole. I think it helped people emotionally to know that Wright tried to make the space warm. I mean, it’s all stone and has no insulation.

3 While the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation is working on Wright’s Hillside Theater, there’s still no heat inside most of the rest of the Hillside School building.

4 Here’s my post about the Wayback Machine.

5 It wouldn’t have made sense to move things ahead of time, since Preservation was just going to have to do a bunch of work later.

Photograph in 1998 of Keiran Murphy lecturing to staff in the Hillside Theatre.

Hey Keiran Q and A

A photograph of me taken by the Executive Director at Taliesin Preservation in 1998. I was giving a lecture on Taliesin’s history.

I talked about “Hey Keiran” in my blog post on “How I became the historian for Taliesin.”

Back then, the only way people got their weekly schedules was to pick up the printed ones at work.
Craig, at that time the head guide, thought a weekly question/answer section would remind people to pick up them up. They called it “Hey Keiran!” and printed them on the back of the schedules.
I thought it was called “Hey Keiran!” because people would ask me things all the time while I was walking through the main floor. Yet someone recently reminded me that the name was inspired by what Dan Savage wanted to call his question-and-answer feature1 at The Onion satirical newspaper.

“Hey Keiran!” is the reason why I’ve contemplated what side of the bed Wright slept on,2 if he knew Feng Shui,3 and whether or not Taliesin had outhouses.

Here are two Hey Keiran Q-and-As that I think are pretty cool. They were too short to write a whole post about, but I thought they deserved to be enjoyed by the masses.

Note that I’ve edited the Hey Keirans for clarity, etc., etc.:


Title saying "Hey Keiran!"

Another geek adventure

until your questions bathe me in the sweat of hardworking researchment (or I figure out answers to questions you’ve already asked), I’ll give you this:

So,

we have a copy of a photograph that shows Frank Lloyd Wright and Olgivanna reading in his bedroom, in front of his bookshelves.

Melvin E. Diemer took it after FLLW moved to the room in 1936, but before he expanded the room in 1950

(I know this because the bookshelves show a slightly different configuration than what existed after he expanded the room).

So, the general date for the photo was 1936-1950.

But then

I had some time before Thanksgiving. And you know me when I have time to think about photos.

In this case, I was musing and thought,

Hey, Keiran! The photo shows books on the bookshelves – maybe you could look them up and get a better sense of the photograph’s date?

[btw, I talk to myself like this all the time. Oh, and there’s a bridge I want to sell you.]

Therefore, I took the time to look on-line for the titles of the books. I  found some of the books and, as a result, came to the conclusion that this photograph was taken sometime between 1940-1950. Yay!!!!

Here’s the gold, people:Photograph of Frank and Olgivanna Lloyd Wright in front of a bookshelf at Taliesin. Some of the books are named.

©Wisconsin Historical Society—Deimer Collection, #3976. Please don’t copy this on a large scale, but it is on their website.

What I could read is below:

The New Universe, Baker Brownell, pub. 1926,

A Storyteller’s Holiday (2 vols.), by George Moore, pub. 1928,

The People, Yes, by Carl Sandburg, pub. 1936,

After 1903—What?, by Robert Benchley, pub. 1938,

Panic, by Archibald MacLeish, pub. 1938, and

A Concise History of Gardening, by A.J. MacSelf, this ed. pub. by Garden City Pub. Co., 1940.

At the time that I wrote that Hey Keiran article, the book, After 1903—What? was in the room at Taliesin known as the Garden Room (someone took a photo of it, here).

I mentioned that in the Hey Keiran article:

I freaked out on a tour

(in a good way)

when I looked down and saw this book. Donna

(the House Steward working that day)

seemed to handle it ok. I think that is because she’s used to me coming into Taliesin and finding odd things that I get really excited about.

Ok.

Here’s another Hey Keiran!

This is the question:

Q: When was the portrait of Anna Lloyd Wright put above the fireplace in Wright’s studio? Originally, Wright had an Amida Buddha painted on a 3-part screen—if I’m interpreting an old photo correctly. What happened to that? Sold? What was up there when he died?

Here’s my response:

A: Anna’s portrait was up there when Wright died. Initially, we were told that Wright put his mother’s portrait up there when it was painted.
So we thought he put it there c. 1920.

However,

when I began looking at historic photographs, I couldn’t find evidence of that.

In fact, a couple of photographs clearly show the Amida Buddha, and those photos date from the late 20s-early 30s.

(so, before the Taliesin Fellowship started in 1932).

One of those photos is on the Wisconsin Historical Society website. That photo is below:

Photograph in Frank Lloyd Wright's studio of a model of a building design.

Photograph from the Wisconsin Historical Society.
Collection: Frank Lloyd Wright Projects Photographs.

You can see two panels of the Amida Buddha screen in the background.

So, when did Anna’s portrait get up there?4

Former apprentice, the late Kenn Lockhart, answered that question in an interview with Indira Berndtson

(she is the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Administrator of Historic Studies: Collections and Exhibitions)

Indira interviewed him at Taliesin on July 27, 1990, and he talked about the painting. Lockhart, who entered the Fellowship in 1939, said in his interview that:

“I have an idea that one of his relatives had it and it came. Because I remember when it arrived. We were living here [i.e., at Taliesin] during the [second World] war.”

Here’s a photograph of Lockhart sitting in Wright’s studio, on the built-in seat by the studio’s fireplace. Priscilla Henken likely took the photograph in 1942-43:

 

Photograph of Frank Lloyd Wright in the Taliesin studio with four architectural apprentices.

Photograph in Taliesin Diary: A Year with Frank Lloyd Wright, by Priscilla Henken. Page 107, bottom.

Lockhart is in the middle of the photo, facing the viewer. Frank Lloyd Wright sits on the far left. The apprentices David Henken, Curtis Besinger and Ted Bower sit on the right.

Wright did not sell The Amida triptych. After he removed the triptych from that wall, he put it into storage. I know that because it doesn’t appear in other photos of Taliesin interiors while he was alive. At some point, the Taliesin Fellowship brought it down to storage at Taliesin West in Arizona.

The screen was restored in the 1990s. The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation sent it up here for viewing one summer in the late 1990s, but it didn’t go where Anna’s portrait is. After that summer, the screen went back down to T-West and has been occasionally shown at the Phoenix Art Museum.


So, that’s it.

Ultimately, I wrote hundreds of “Hey Keiran” pieces. Most were only one-page long. However I did mess with font sizes and such to get them to stay on one page.

I’ll add other things when they fit here and there.

First published August 23, 2022.
This photograph was taken when I was around 30 years old. As I recall, I was answering TPI’s Executive Director (Juli Aulik) on how I was going to uncover all of Taliesin’s history. . . . Still workin’ on it.


Notes

1 Savage wanted to call it “Hey Faggot!”

2 After analyzing a couple of photos, I concluded that Wright might have slept on the left side of the bed (like the photo below),

Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin bedroom, 1927-28
Published in Frank Lloyd Wright Selected Houses, v. 2: Taliesin. p. 56.

then switched to the right side of the bed (like in the photo here), which is just INSANE.

3 After rejecting the idea for years, I think he might have realized something about it. Although I still don’t think he “studied” it.

4 The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Administrator of Historic Studies reminded me that I do know the answer now on when Anna’s portrait came to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Drafting Studio at Taliesin. Kenn Lockhart was correct: this did have to do with Wright’s family. The painting is by John Young Hunter, and Indira looked up correspondence Hunter had with Taliesin. The painter knew Wright’s sister, Maginel, and asked her if she was interested in the painting. Wright ended up purchasing it, and it was sent to Taliesin in 1939. [confirmation of it was sent in correspondence H053E09.]

Taliesin August 1914 after first fire

Julian didn’t seal the entrances

Albert Rockwell took this photograph on August 15, 1914. It shows Taliesin’s burned living quarters.

WARNING: My post includes descriptions of the extreme violence that took place during Taliesin’s 1914 fire. Additionally, contemporary news reports often refer to murderer Julian Carlton as “the negro”. I’ve removed that term for Carlton when the sentences are still comprehensible, but did keep it in areas.

In this post I am dissecting what I think is the biggest myth surrounding the August 15, 1914 fire and murders at Taliesin: that the murderer sealed all of the entrances and killed everyone as they ran out of Taliesin’s one unlocked door.

Read my post on the fire for the basics and information on those killed.

And I wrote a note near the bottom of this post (1) that lists the newspapers that repeated the myth in 1914. However, I want to address the “he sealed the doors to the house” myth first.

This myth derives from something that survivor William Weston said. Here’s Weston, in the Detroit Tribune on August 16:

As each one put his head out,” said Weston, “the Negro struck, killing or stunning his victim. I was the last…” [ellipses included]

The ax struck me in the neck and knocked me down, but left me conscious. I got up and ran, the Negro after me. Then I fell, and he hit me again. I guess he thought he had me, because he ran back to the window and I got up and ran. When I looked back he had disappeared.

People gravitated to this statement:

“As each one put out his head…,” Carlton “struck, killing or stunning his victim. I was the last.”

However,

the other survivor, Herbert Fritz, gave a description that day which contradicts the myth. I copied his statement on what happened. The Chicago Daily Tribune first printed this on August 16:

I was eating in the small dining room off the kitchen with the other men, said Fritz.The room, I should say, was about 12 x 12 feet in size. There were two doors, one leading to the kitchen and the other opening into the court. We had just been served by Carleton and he had left the room when we noticed something flowing under the screen door from the court. We thought it was nothing but soap suds spilled outside.

The liquid ran under my chair and I noticed the odor of gasoline. Just as I was about to remark the fact a streak of flame shot under my chair, and it looked like the whole side of the room was on fire. All of us jumped up, and I first noticed that my clothing was on fire. The window was nearer to me than the other door and so I jumped through it, intending to run down the hill to the creek and roll in it.

It may be that the other door was locked. I don’t know. I didn’t think to try it. My first thought was to save myself. The window was only about a half a foot from the floor and three feet wide and it was the quickest way out.

Arm Broken by Fall.

I plunged through and landed on the rocks outside. My arm was broken by the fall and the flames had eaten through my clothing and were burning me. I rolled over and over down the hill toward the creek, but stopped about half way. The fire on my clothes was out by that time and I scrambled to my feet and was about

Cont’d, p. 6? column 1

to start back up the hill when I saw Carleton come running around the house with the hatchet in his hand and strike Brodelle, who had followed me through the window.

Then I saw Carleton run back around the house, and I followed in time to see him striking at the others as they came through the door into the court. He evidently had expected us to come out that way first and was waiting there, but ran around to the side in which the window was located when he saw me and Brodelle jump out.

I didn’t see which way Carlton went. My arm was paining me, and I was suffering terribly from the burns, and I supposed I must have lost consciousness for a few moments. I remember staggering around the corner of the house and seeing Carleton striking at the other men as they came through the door, and when I looked again the negro was gone.

Showing where everyone sat that day:

I determined everyone’s location due to work by other Wright biographers, and the article in the August 20, 1914 edition of the Weekly Home News (the newspaper of Spring Green). The Home News had the best article on the fire and murders.

I wrote the room in which each person sat on the drawing from 1914, below. The words, “living room”, “porch” and “men’s dining room” appear on the actual drawing:

Taliesin floor plan after the 1914 fire.
The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York), 1104.010

ARTSTOR also has this drawing on-line.

One person (Herbert Fritz) escaped through the south window without being touched. On the other hand, Julian Carlton attacked two men (Brodelle and Wm. Weston) who exited on that same side (the arrow with “Men’s Dining Room” is pointing at the room’s south wall). Carlton also attacked three that came out of the door on the north side of the room (Thomas Brunker, David Lindblom, and Ernest Weston). The details about the attacks on those three are not known.

Looking at what happened and what Fritz and Weston said, it appears that Weston witnessed:

        1. Fritz jumping out of the window,
        2. Emil Brodelle next jumped through the same window, where Carlton struck him, then
        3. Weston jumped. Carlton almost fatally struck Weston, who must have also been on fire.

Regardless,

people interpreted Weston’s quote, that “[a]s each one put out his head,” as “everyone attacked that day came through one door with Carlton waiting on the other side.”

The Chicago Daily Tribune printed Herbert Fritz’s statements that, “It may be that the other door was locked. I don’t know. I didn’t think to try it. My first thought was to save myself.” However, most other newspapers put the myth (the interpretation of Weston’s statements) into print. And newspapers often printed that Carlton locked all of the doors except for one.

Then, adding to the gruesomeness,

is the fiction that everyone at Taliesin stuck their heads out of Taliesin’s windows. In fact, the Chicago Daily Tribune states on August 16 that Carlton, “dashed at Weston and chopped at his head as the carpenter thrust it out the door.”

On that same day, the Decatur Daily Review wrote that Borthwick: “was the first to put her head through the window to escape the intense heat.” And that Carlton “struck her down with one blow, crushing her skull.”

Yet, no one saw Carlton attacking her, or her children.

The October 4, 1914 issue of the Washington Post has this:

Mamah Borthwick made a dash through the window. As she went out a hatched[sic] crashed into her head. Her innocent little son jumped after his mother. He, too, was killed by the hatchet. Then the daughter jumped. She was stricken down. One by one the guests jumped out, not knowing what had happened to the others. Each one was struck down. When the murderer was finished six lay dead and three wounded seriously.

The particularly violent and horrific narrative that the murderer stood outside of the one unlocked door is consistent in the contemporary news stories. And this, while even Nancy Horan wrote in Loving Frank that three of the victims—Mamah Borthwick and her children, John and Martha Cheney—sat in the terrace off Taliesin’s living room.

You can see where people sat in the drawing I put above.

This narrative stays because it’s so grisly.

In addition, in 1914, it was conveniently racist: of course, a fiendish Black man killed all those people. But, even more so, he did it with superhuman (animal?) speed and cruelty.

This detail, then, has been written in biographies and historical books. I didn’t start to get closer to this until I thought I really needed to read the primary sources.

That was when I realized people writing in 1914 were wrong about things at the time. Of course they were! On August 15 and 16, 1914, they were there, taking notes while trying to make sense of a pile of burning rubble that had once been a house. One that most had never seen before.

First published August 12, 2022.

Photograph A.S. Rockwell took the photograph at the top of this post on the day of, or the day after, the fire. The photograph in on Wikimedia Commons and is in the public domain. See here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Taliesin_After_Fire.jpg for information about the origin of the photograph.


Notes:

1 Newspapers where the myth was first printed:
The Chicago Daily Tribune, Aug. 16; the Decatur Daily Review, Aug. 16; the Detroit Tribune, Aug. 16; the Daily Clintonian, Aug. 17; the Des Moines Daily Review, Aug. 18; the Richland Democrat, Aug. 19; the Waterloo Evening Courier, Aug. 19; the Winchester Journal, Aug. 19 and the Camden Record on Aug.. 20 (both of which reprinted the Clintonian news report); and, repeated from the Judson News story is the Wanatah Mirror and the Westville Indicator of Aug. 20, the Monon News and most of the story in the Roann Clarion on Aug. 21; Spring Green’s newspaper, the Weekly Home News on Aug. 20 (which otherwise is probably the best reporting of the 1914 fire and murders); and the Washington Post on October 4.