Looking (plan) west in Taliesin's Drafting Studio. Frank Lloyd Wright's desk is on the right, with his vault behind the stone wall. Photo by Keiran Murphy

The Restoration of Taliesin’s Drafting Studio

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Today I’m going to write about the restoration of the Taliesin Drafting Studio from 1998-2000.

Why?

It’s a tangent.

On November 9, 2023 I watched a “Wright Virtual Visit” from the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy. That afternoon, they broadcast a program about the current preservation work at the Hillside theater on the Taliesin estate.

Read about how Wright redesigned that part of the building after a fire in 1952.

The theater has been undergoing a restoration for several years (prolonged by, oh yah, a world-wide pandemic). The work includes moisture mitigation, climate control, and the construction of green rooms in Hillside’s dirt-floor basement. The photo below is what I think of when I think “Hillside basement”:

A dirt floor, stone walls and debris in the Hillside Home School basement. Photo by Keiran Murphy.

I took this photograph in 2009.

That ain’t so anymore. In fact, to see what’s happening is—personally—mind bending. Getting a climate control system into the Hillside Theater was first talked about in the late 1990s.

The prospect became like getting heat back into the house.

So I thought

“Yeah, SURE you’re gonna do that….”

Taliesin, at least, has wooden floors. The only wooden floors at the Hillside theater are on the stage. Everywhere else has stone, concrete, single-pane glass, and metal furniture.

He didn’t care so much once he no longer lived in Wisconsin year-round.

Major preservation of the Theater started moving in 2018 with the announcement of a Save America’s Treasures grant to restore the space.

See Taliesin Preservation’s blog post about the project.

Since the Wright Virtual Visit showed how close it is to being done, 

I love

that the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation got to show their work.

Taliesin’s Director of Preservation (Ryan Hewson) kept me and my husband apprised about what they were going to do, and one of my photos of him in the basement is below:

Looking east in Hillside's basement while the space is being prepared for rehabilitation. By Keiran Murphy

I took the photo above when Ryan gave us a tour in September, 2020.

Here’s the before/after photos from the Virtual Visit:

Before and after photos of the Hillside Home School Basement on a Wright Virtual Visit.

In my photo of Ryan, he was standing to the right of where they later put the red Exit  sign.

As I watched

This Wright Virtual Visit, I thought about the work the Preservation Crew did to restore the Taliesin Drafting Studio in 1998-2000.

The work, completed in just over 2 years, mostly didn’t get press coverage.1

So that’s why today

I will give you the shorthand version of that project.


On June 18, 1998

an 80-m.p.h. (129 km/h) straight-line wind storm came through Wisconsin and knocked the 229-year-old Taliesin Tea Circle oak tree onto the roof of the Front Office at Taliesin.

Photograph of Taliesin Tea Circle in the summer of 1994.

Photograph by Keiran Murphy.

Of course I was there. Well, not literally standing there, but I worked at Taliesin. And those facts:

  • the date,
  • the wind velocity,
  • and the age of the fallen oak,

were branded into my brain.

The tree fell on the first day of my weekend.

But while I wasn’t working that day, I drove to Taliesin when I heard that something might have happened with the Tea Circle tree. As I drove up the hill around Taliesin, I was disconcerted because the tree’s crown was… in the wrong place. That’s because, of course, the tree had fallen over.

Check out images of the fallen tree and building from Taliesin Preservation’s Facebook page.

It was so weird that the big oak with its canopy of leaves sheltering the Taliesin Tea Circle—and at least half of the courtyard—was, suddenly, gone.

A positive observation

came from former Wright apprentice, Herb Fritz.2 Herb asked a friend (and former guide)3 to bring him to Taliesin after the tree and its debris were taken away.

Why?

Herb said that he had waited his entire life to see Taliesin without that tree.

Its disappearance opened an unobstructed view of the building.

Back to the point:

The tree was lost on a Thursday. The Preservation team came the next day to assess the damage, and began planning the restoration.

Ideally, you wouldn’t have to restore a space while simultaneously repairing its pre-existing problems but there wasn’t any choice.

If you want to get into the damage assessment and exploration, look at this link.4 It’s from the Wayback Machine.

When the tree fell,

I wasn’t yet working as the historian. But other members of the staff worked quickly to figure out the history at Wright’s death.

The major restoration work

WAS NOT

in Taliesin’s Drafting Studio.

It was in the Front Office, the space adjacent to it. However, one of the restoration issues was that not many photos showed that area.

Not only that,

but the room was, at that time, the office of the CEO and staff of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation for 6 months every year.

It looked like an office.

It had a photocopy machine, a fax machine, and regular desks and drawers.

A door and non-original wall separated this office space from the studio, so they could keep working while Taliesin tours went on. You can see the wall in the photo by Judith Bromley in the Kathryn Smith’s book, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin and Taliesin West:

Taliesin studio with a drafting table, rug, fireplace, and artworks. Photograph by Judith Bromley.

Photograph taken in 1996. The wooden tall-back benches are in front of the wall that separated the studio from the Front office.

That wall had probably been there for over 25 years.

Everyone moved from the office while tours kept going through the Drafting Studio.

For future historians: that’s why the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation ended up in the former horse stable at Taliesin. That horse stable had been converted into office space when Taliesin Preservation started. That’s where I first worked with images and figured out the history of Taliesin’s dam.

The Preservation office created a plan on what to do.

That first winter:

The Preservation Crew had to work one floor below. They had to push the wall back into place and structurally secure the area.

But they could not stand upright in the area with the dirt basement. So, they shoveled out the dirt by the bucketload.

The shovel handles were too long.

So they had to cut the handles down so they had room to dig.

The other work

was figuring out what things in the 1950s looked like in Wright’s former office.

Fortunately, they found photos taken by Ezra Stoller in 1945 1951 (see through the link).

As well as photos that Maynard Parker took in 1955:

Looking (plan) southwest in the Taliesin studio in 1955. By this time, he used the studio as his office. 

You can see them at work in the photos below:

Reconstruction of Taliesin's Front Office in 1999. Photograph by member of the preservation department.

Two photographs taken in 1999 by someone from the preservation department. Courtesy Taliesin Preservation.
If you take a tour you walk through both of these spaces.

The left-hand photo shows that insulation was installed under the roof. They figured the extra thickness less than an inch (or about 2 cm) was acceptable. On the right-hand photograph, the red vertical lines were used for the post placement in the rebuilt bookshelf you see below:

Taliesin's Front Office. Photograph by Stilhefler in 2018.This image is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

If you want to know what was there on that wall: there had been built in cabinets that were used by the office, including all of the office supplies.

Once the crew did the important structural work they had to restore the studio.

When doing that, they reconstructed a couple of built-ins around the fireplace and a box in front of the stone vault.

Additionally,

I recall that they found Wright’s office desk. It had been in a former work space and had to be restored. Unfortunately I forget who gave the money for that. So when you go into the former studio today, that desk is original. A recent photo of it is through this link. But you see on historic photos that it was a LOT messier when Wright was alive: 

Photograph of Frank Lloyd Wright at his desk. Taken in 1957. Eugene Masselink is standing with him.
Wisconsin Historical Society.
Collection: Richard Vesey photographs and negatives, 1955-1963

It looks like Wright’s secretary, Gene Masselink, is talking to him at his desk in August 1957. Photograph by Richard Vesey.

Sometimes I think Wright’s desk should still be filled with all of this stuff, just like it was when he was alive. However I think that veers into hyperreality via Jean Baudrillard. That is: the fake is better than the real. So we gotta stick with the reality that’s there at Taliesin. Because, even though I love Taliesin, I will not dress up as a female Fellowship member in the 1950s. Making bread, playing musical instruments, working in the fields, and cleaning Mr. Wright’s Bedroom would make me cranky.

 

Published December 1, 2023.
I took the photograph at the top of this post in 2005.


Notes:

1. It’s not that we didn’t want to. There just wasn’t the money or staff. Plus, once the restoration work was mostly finished, the tour season (a.k.a. the money machine) started. All we could do was add “Come see the newly restored Taliesin Drafting Studio” on information about the upcoming tour season.

2. Herb (1915-1998) was the former apprentice whose offer of stone to Wright that I wrote about in my post, “In Return for the Use of the Tractor“.

3. That friend, Craig, is with me in this web page someone wrote about their visit to Taliesin.

4. At that time, Taliesin Preservation did the preservation/restoration work as well as tours. Since early 2020, the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation has carried out all the preservation work while Taliesin Preservation, Inc. does the tour program.

Taken in summer, photograph looking (plan) east in "Mrs. Wright's Garden". Taken 1961-1969. The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York).

The Prisoner, Taliesin, and my sister

Reading Time: 6 minutes

 

The photograph above shows “Mrs. Wright’s Garden” at Taliesin. Taliesin’s Hill Crown is to the left of the wall. His sister’s house, Tan-y-Deri, is in the distance on the right.

All of us have engaged in things where obscure cultural touchstones are a part of the back-and-forth discussion.

For instance:

You can show a photograph of a Penny Farthing bicycle and some, like me, will instantly think of the surreal television series, The Prisoner

“Surreal” is probably not the correct term

but I have an MA in Art History and early 20th Century art is among my favorites, so I think I outrank you.

but it works for the description of a striking television show.

Likewise, I always think of The Prisoner when I see the photo at the top of this page, which comes from page 53 of Frank Lloyd Wright and Taliesin, by Frances Nemtin.

What you are seeing is the sitting area around “Mrs. Wright’s Garden” at Taliesin. And the swirly canopies above the chairs are making me think that. 

Which

the Taliesin Fellowship started construction on by 1961.

they later added a swimming pool, which you’ll see below.

But the photo above just has the little wading pool on its right-hand side. That little pool has a fountain feature in blue like the feature you see, in red, at a pool at Wright’s Taliesin West.

I took a photo of the pool and showed it in my post, “Taliesin West Inspiration“.

Another photo,

below, shows the area in 1968. By then it had an inground pool:

Photograph in summer looking (plan) east at the pool in Mrs. Wright’s Garden. The photographer, “Jim” Potter, said he took this photograph in 1968.

The swirly canopies over the chairs, and my thoughts of The Prisoner comes from the umbrellas over the chairs at the top of the post make me think there should be some women standing in mini-skirts in the ’60s, like this enjoyable foray from the Carol Burnett Show:

Screenshot of Vicki Lawrence dancing with Carol Burnett in 1967 during the Carol Burnett show.

For years

the pool and garden were just south of Taliesin’s Hill Crown. The area was surrounded by square, limestone walls and was added by 1961 (and the pool was added by ’68). Its existence (along with the Taliesin pond on the estate) probably increased mosquitos, so netting was added above it. The netting was light blue, which you can see in the photo.

btw: the chairs were there when Wright was alive. If you look at the book by Nemtin, you can see a photograph of Wright and his family sitting in them on Page 62.

The pool and walls were removed after Olgivanna died in 1985 (she died in March and I think they started the removal that summer). If you look closely at the Hill Crown retaining wall, you can see where the stone changed. Just so you’re not crawling around on the grass during your next Taliesin tour, I took the photo below at the Hill Crown retaining wall:

Close-up looking at the stone on the retaining wall at Taliesin's Hill Crown. Photograph by Keiran Murphy

I took this in April 2005. The slight arc I pointed out on the stone in the photo was where I think a “Moon Gate” went (you can see another moon gate in the two photos above).

Because of the garden/pool

I’ve introduced at least two people to the surreality of The Prisoner by sending them the photo of that pool.

well, okay, and maybe talking to them about show and showing them clips on YouTube. But that’s… mostly it, I swear.

So

moments from that show (which I’ve only seen once or twice) still make me twist my head up like a dog trying to understand what the hell the silly humans just said.1

And yet, we all have these things. 

Iconic moments

images, words, and ideas that connect us to a certain group at a certain time.

And once, while at college, one of my roommates kept a running list of the “in-jokes” we all shared. As I recall we had a list of over 100 in-jokes at the end of our sophomore year.

btw—several, including me!, have won awards.

We’re all winners.

And yet, The Prisoner brings to mind

another tangent:

hang on:

It’s the moment when I was introduced to a set of Star Wars fans. I found out about this subset while watching Weird Al Yankovic‘s video for “White and Nerdy“. The guy I was dating mentioned Weird Al getting a videocassette copy of a program.

That moment slipped by me as unimportant.

Not important to me, but important to him and others in this small subset. Because what Weird Al surreptitiously received was a contraband copy of The Star Wars Holiday Special. a.k.a.: The Special That Director George Lucas Tried To Kill, but was unsuccessful due to geekiness at the Ultra-Level.

As a result, that boyfriend and I watched the SWHS on YouTube. I will not provide a link to that show; if you want to see it, goddamn it, Google it. It is a thing you cannot unsee. I later wrote to myself that:

Yes, I am one of the few, the not-so-proud, to have seen the mythical ‘Star Wars’ Holiday Special….

I think a bunch of guys were shoved into a room and forced to come up with an hour-long story focused on one of the main characters of Star Wars who doesn’t speak. As a F-U to their captors, they came up with any shit they could throw at the screen to fill up time. And, sure, there’s the appearance of Boba Fett. But that, and Princess Leia singing, came after so much that you’re numb

I now know what makes Harrison Ford so bitter.

Oh… the humanity. Oh my god. Oh my eyes. Oh my brain

And, oh those inside jokes, the moments of small touchstones.

Lastly, regarding touchstones:

We in the U.S.A. are upon Thanksgiving and many of us are reminded of family.

And, of those small touchstones and family thoughts, I recall that I expected a time in which I’d have to start listening to my oldest sister prepare for her upcoming birthday. I figured she would talk about this in the year up to it. Because that birthday would be on the numbers that you see below:

Numbers representing the date January 23, 2045.

Could have been that she never would have thought about it and would have thought I was weird for it coming into my head.

Which still brings me back to something published a few years ago on Facebook by Lay Minister Patti Fitchett: “He’s my brother and he weighs a ton!

Her essay addresses what it’s like to lose a sibling. In part she writes:

Often our feelings for our real life siblings don’t come close to the fairy tale relationships we see depicted in movies. How many of us remember a childhood punctuated by shrieks of “Mom, they’re pointing at me again! Make them stop pointing at me!”?

If I’m around in the future I might remember that numerical coincidence that will mark her birthday anniversary.2

 

First published November 22, 2023.
The photograph at the top of this page was published in Frank Lloyd Wright and Taliesin, by Frances Nemtin, p. 53. It is care of The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York).


Notes:

  1. The Simpsons did a great send up of moments from The Prisoner in this edited video.
  2. Bummer alert: E will not be here to celebrate it and is not here to remember it. That’s due to dumbass cancer.
Exterior photograph of Frank Lloyd Wright's Hillside school. Taken in summer 2009 by Keiran Murphy.

More evidence of Hillside fire damage

Reading Time: 3 minutes

A photograph looking northeast at Hillside. You can see the south wall of his theater with the glass, and a wooden structure over the back steps to the Hillside sound and projection booth, and the Hillside chimney with signs of fire on the chimney stack.

In my last post on November 3 I talked about fire remnants that people can see on tours of the Taliesin estate.

After that, researcher Greg Brewer1 reminded me that, D’UH, there’s a big reminder of Hillside’s 1952 fire that anyone can see if they take a tour.

btw: the “D’UH” didn’t come from him. It’s my own internal dialog. Most people who know me have probably heard “d’uh” come out of my mouth multiple times a day; it’s a reaction to the realization that whatever I had concluded was wrong and/or hilariously incomplete.

Why . . . ?

did I gravitate to the more difficult thing to see at Hillside in that post?

My mind goes for the stuff that’s unusual to me.

The Theater chimney is so average to me that it didn’t jump out in my memory.

See? I’m too smart for my own good sometimes.

So what I’ll write about this post is what Greg Brewer remind me of: what anyone can see outside of the Hillside Theater.

It’s a ghost left over from the 1952 fire, on the outside of the Hillside theater chimney.

You can see this ghost in the photo at the top of this page and when you take a Taliesin Estate tour or the Highlights Tour.

Here’s a pre-fire photo:

You can see the roof of the theater in the c.1920 photo below from the National Library of Australia:

Looking northeast at the Hillside Home School building by Frank Lloyd Wright

National Library of AustraliaEric Milton Nicholls Collection

When you click on the photo, the date from the library says “1903”, but that’s because they’re going on the date that Wright’s Hillside building was initially constructed. The photo was taken by former draftsmen for Wright (Marion Mahoney Griffen and Walter Burley Griffen) when they visited the U.S.

Then in 1940, Pedro Guerrero took a photo of that part of the building and you can again see the roof at the chimney before the fire of 1952:

Looking northeast at Hillside structure by Wright, 1940. Photograph by Pedro Guerrero.

This photograph was published in the book, Frank Lloyd Wright: Collected Writings, volume 4, 1939-49. Ed. Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer.

The fire happened in April 1952. The Taliesin Fellowship apprentices cleaned up the site that summer and began building the theater that stands in its place.

A sign of Wright’s control

Of course the Old Man had control of everything that happened during the Hillside reconstruction.

That’s why

the Hillside Theater chimney still includes the signs of the fire.

We know about Wright’s control over this because of former apprentice Jim Pfefferkorn (1922-2016). He wrote a remembrance about the work he did at the Hillside Theater.

In particular, Wright directed Pfefferkorn to build the wooden box off over the stairs up to the lighting booth.

You can see that box in the photo at the top of this page.

Wright visited the work a lot. While Pfefferkorn was building the box, he asked Wright if they should lower the chimney, since it now looked bigger in relation to the building.

Pfefferkorn said that Wright looked at the chimney/roof for awhile, then decided it should stay as it was.

That’s another example

Of Wright’s control over the different places at the Taliesin estate.

 

First published November 12, 2023.
I took the photograph at the top of this post in 2009.


Note:

1. Thank you, Greg for reminding me of this detail of the chimney.

Brewer presented at the 2022 conference of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy and wrote about Frank Lloyd Wright’s Roloson Houses and unbuilt Roloson Apartments in the Journal of Organic Architecture + Design, Vol. 8, No. 1.

Looking northwest at Frank Lloyd Wright's Hillside building during April 26, 1952 fire

Charred Beams at Taliesin

Reading Time: 6 minutes

I’m going to write today about two places on the Taliesin estate where you can see fire damage.

One place where fire happened, Taliesin, is well known. The other place is Hillside, which you can see in the photograph at the top of this page.

See, there are five buildings on the Taliesin estate. 1 You can see them listed on the aerial below:

Screenshot from Google aerial. Names of buildings on Taliesin estate added by Keiran Murphy.

This is a screenshot I from Google maps several years ago.

When you take a tour you can see fire damage in both Wright’s residence and in Hillside. You see Hillside and Taliesin on either the Highlights Tour (over 2 hours) or the Taliesin Estate Tour (4 hours). But since all of the tours take place on the Taliesin estate, sometimes people refer to either site as “Taliesin”.

So, just like Taliesin gets mixed up with Taliesin West, or the House on the Rock, the Hillside building gets mixed up with residence Taliesin.

Speaking of,

This happened with Time Magazine.

I know you’re shocked.

On June 8, 1998, the Volume 151, No. 22 issue of Time came out, and it concerned the “Artists and Entertainers of the Century“.

They picked Le Corbusier as the greatest architect of the century. We weren’t heartbroken. Their choice makes sense: Corbusier had a lot of influence on overall building design.

Yet,

in the issue, they added a paragraph entitled, “Frank Lloyd Wright: A Maverick Who Believed in Form With Feeling“.

With this paragraph they included a photo of “Frank Lloyd Wright’s home”.

I think the photo they used was by Wright’s photographer, Pedro Guerrero. It showed the building like the one below:

That’s not Frank Lloyd Wright’s home.

I think the Taliesin Preservation‘s media person contacted Time. I’m sure they ran a correction but I don’t remember seeing it.

So, what’s this all about again?

This post is about areas in both the Taliesin structure and Hillside where you can see evidence of fire. First I’ll talk about fire evidence at Taliesin, because it’s easier to see.

It spontaneously came on tour,

because things on tours organically cycle through the narrative. Usually stuff is picked by guides talking to each other.

For instance, at one time guides talked about Wright and Thomas Jefferson: both had Welsh ancestry; had homes they constantly modified; had similar religious beliefs; were farmers as well as architects; and both apparently died in debt.

The reason why Jefferson was brought up is because there’s a plaster maquette of Thomas Jefferson’s bust in Frank Lloyd Wright’s bedroom. It’s in this photo on Wikimedia Commons.

I even added the Thomas Jefferson maquette in my first Nanowrimo novel, “Death by Design“. it’s November 3, so remember that you still have time to write your novel this month.

But, right now

guides pay attention to charred beams at Taliesin.

You see them when you walk in the Breezeway between Taliesin’s studio and the Living Quarters. They are visible through the wooden grate you see in the ceiling below:

Looking (plan) south in Taliesin's Breezeway. In view: the lit ceiling grating, the top of the pier in the Breezeway; and a "caution" tape as Taliesin was under construction during Save America's Treasures in 2003-2004

I took this photo during the Save America’s Treasures drainage project that took place at Taliesin in 2003-04, so that’s why you see the “Caution” tape.
I wrote about some of that project here.

The guide often invites people to look up at the safety light in the ceiling. From there, they see charred beams, like in the photo below:

Seeing charred beams at Taliesin sistered next to fresh beams. As viewed through a wooden ceiling grate. Photo by Keiran Murphy.

No one in the tour program deliberately brought the charred beams onto the tour.2 For years, lot of guides might not have known about them.

So: what changed?

I think people noticed after Taliesin got a donated sound system.

In 2005 Bill Costigan of Poindexter’s sound design donated great audio speakers to Taliesin. Bill and an employee set the system up at Taliesin that spring while we were preparing for the tour season.

long-story-short: he had previously seen an old boombox playing music in Taliesin’s Living Room balcony. That made him take pity on us.

At that time, interior tours closed down for 6 months of the year. In April staff cleaned and prepped for the season. Since Costigan and his assistant came in April, they could do everything without running into tours.

While setting up, they took an extra speaker and placed it into the Breezeway to broadcast music.3 The music made people look up, and notice the charred beams. Therefore, the guides brought info about the charred beams onto the tour.

I believe the beams were damaged after the Taliesin II fire.

Then,

someone read something that Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer wrote about Wright’s reactions to the Taliesin fires. Since Taliesin’s living quarters were destroyed twice but his studio wasn’t touched, Bruce relayed that in 1957,

Wright said

God may have judged my character, but never my work.

Letters to Apprentices by Frank Lloyd Wright. Edited and introduction by Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer, p. 3.

Perhaps Wright was inspired by the recent Hillside fire

Hillside’s 1952 fire destroyed classrooms, the dining room, and the Playhouse theater, but didn’t touch the Hillside Drafting Studio.

The day after the fire, Wright gave the Weekly Home News a great quote about that fire. Wright told the Home News that:

That smoke-tone is wonderful. I couldn’t have darkened it so evenly if I’d done it myself. Nature is God’s technician.

The Weekly Home News, May 1, 1952, front page.

You can also see why the rest of the building wasn’t damaged in the photo Maynard Parker took in 1955:

Looking west at Frank Lloyd Wright's Hillside Home School. Assembly Hall on left, Hillside Drafting Studio on the right under the "serrated" roof line. Photograph by Maynard Parker. Courtesy of the Huntington Library, San Marino, California.

There’s a bridge separating the older part from the Drafting Studio on the right. This provided at least a stopping place for flames if the wind had shifted that day.

Unfortunately,

Tour guides usually don’t have time to point out visible charred wood at Hillside. It’s a bracket under the ceiling.

Tours usually enter the room like Maynard Parker photographed in 1955:

Looking east in the Hillside Assembly Hall. Photograph Maynard Parker taken in 1955. Courtesy of the Huntington Library, San Marino, California. 

To see the fire-damaged bracket, you’d have to walk into the center of the room and look back. Plus, most of the time tours enter the Assembly Hall, the tour commenced less than 20 minutes before. That’s too much info to give people that early.

I usually talked about the fire when we were looking down into the Hillside dining room. Because the Dining Room’s existence is due to the fire. The photo below is looking toward the dining room from the Assembly Hall. The dining room is under the gable. You can’t see the bracket from here:

If you wanted to point out the burned bracket, you’d have to direct people above what you can see in the balcony. And then telling people to look, “under the ceiling… to the right…. You see that black wood? No, not that one…” is counter-productive.

Although, evidence of the 1952 fire is in the floor boards. Sometimes I noted that if there was time. I put a photo below showing the floor at the edge of the Assembly Hall where you can see the change:

Looking south at the floor on the edge of the Hillside Assembly Hall. This part of the floor shows changes made after the 1952 fire at Hillside.

Ghosts of changes are always instructive in the buildings on the Taliesin estate. 

 

First published November 3, 2023.
The photo at the top of this post appeared in a newspaper story about the fire. The newspaper image was given to Taliesin Preservation, so I don’t know which one.


1. or seven. Due to the changes that Wright made to Hillside, some count it as three buildings. I learned Hillside as one building so… tomato tomahto?

2. Which is probably good because things coming through the viscous bureaucracy might have robbed it of its vitality.

Like when I first started giving tours and used Narciso Menocal‘s interpretation of the Flower in the Crannied Wall sculpture at Taliesin.
Menocal’s interpretation, too, was viscous. I was newly-minted out of Grad School but even I realized that my folks on tour were just being polite. What can I say?

3. They put one over Taliesin’s Loggia, too, but I don’t know what happened to it.

Frank Lloyd Wright and Alexander Woollcott standing outside of Taliesin. Photograph in the Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Edgar Tafel collection.

A room at Taliesin

Reading Time: 9 minutes

Alexander Woollcott with Frank Lloyd Wright outside of Taliesin. 

a room that existed before we (or I) knew it existed.

I’m going to write about my discovery of that room’s appearance today. It’s the room with the windows that you see behind Wright, Woollcott, and the birch trees.

It was thought that the room was originally designed for Wright’s youngest daughter Iovanna (born to Olgivanna in December 1925).

Meryle Secrest wrote in her Wright biography that in March 1925, Wright and Olgivanna “made an impulse decision to start a family of their own.” [Frank Lloyd Wright: A Biography, 315]

Secrest gave no evidence for this “impulse decision”. Obviously something impulsive happened and Olgivanna was young and pretty, so I’m like, “Yeah… Sure.”

Here’s where it is:

The room is one floor above Olgivanna’s bathroom, so you walk by it as you go into her room on a tour through Taliesin.  

FYI: The bathroom was dismantled, so it’s not on tours.

You can see the outside of Iovanna’s sitting room when you’re on the Hill Crown at Taliesin. Wright added the parapet1 which you can see in this photo I took:

Looking at Taliesin living quarters on a sunny day in spring. Iovanna's sitting room is behind the parapet. Photograph by Keiran Murphy

Taliesin Fellowship apprentices did the construction of the rooms in 1933-34. Abe Dombar wrote about it in this February 9, 1934 article:

Two new rooms were added to the pageant of Taliesin’s 40 rooms merely by lowering the ceiling of the loggia and raising the roof above it to get the most playful room in the house.  The boys call it a “scherzo.”  This is little eight year-old Iovanna’s room.

Several new apprentices, with the aid of two carpenters, were working on the job continuously from the architect’s first sketch on a shingle to designing and building in of the furniture.  And the girls made the curtains.  In celebration of the completion of the room we had a “room-warming” in the form of a surprise party for Iovanna. 

Abe Dombar. “At Taliesin,” February 9, 1934. Reprinted in At Taliesin: Newspaper Columns by Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Fellowship, 1934-1937, ed. by Randolph C. Henning, (Southern Illinois University Press, 1991), p. 20-21.

It makes you think:

While kids may have been more hardy in the past, that is a lot of space for a little girl. Here’s one drawing that shows it:

The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York), #2501.008.

Although the rooms in the 1930s were smaller, there was still a bedroom, sitting room, and bathroom.

That makes sense

when you think of the playroom he scaled down for his kids in his first home in Oak Park, Illinois.  

I was told years ago that it was originally scaled down for Iovanna when she was 8, but I’ve never seen an interior photo taken at that time.

Not that this would matter anyway. Remember: Wright’s building scale already messes with your mind.

However,

The number of rooms is also due to things happening in the Wright family.

See,

when the Wrights started the Taliesin Fellowship in 1932, Olgivanna’s oldest daughter, Svetlana (“Svet”), was 15. So the next summer, Wright designed those bedrooms for both Svet and Iovanna (then 7 years old).

But things got complicated.

One of those complications was related to one of the first Taliesin Fellowship apprentices: Wes Peters.

No doubt

Olgivanna made sure to keep her pretty young daughter away from all of the architectural apprentices in 1932 and ’33. But it was all intense and, even if you had them working 15 hours-a-day, young is young and those two (Wes and Svet) fell in love.

They wanted to get married and Svet’s parents said absolutely not.

And, yes, Frank Lloyd Wright fell in love with Catherine Lee Tobin when he was, maybe 19-20 (Kitty was 16-17); and Olgivanna got married when she was 19, but the marriages for those two ended in divorce, so….

But, come on:

check out the screenshots from the film apprentice Alden Dow made in 1933, the first summer those two knew each other. They’re so cute:

Screenshots of William Wesley Peters and Svetlana Wright Peters in 1933 film by Alden B. Dow.

The movie is the property of the Dow Archives, but you can see it in sections through this link.

So, in September 1933,

Wes and Svet left the Fellowship, even though Svet couldn’t get married until she was 18. You can read about their history in this book, “William Wesley Peters: The Evolution of a Creative Force“.

Svet’s age (15 or 16), gets me scandalized, but then again: I’m no longer a teenager.

I mean: I was completely bummed when—in grade school in the spring of 1980—I found out that Sting was 28 years old and married. But then I realized that, “uhh… Keiran? Sting’s not waiting for you.” [I may remember this moment because I was surprised by that grown-up thought]. 

To get back to Iovanna’s bedroom:

For years, we thought that before that area had rooms and a bathroom, there was just a mezzanine up there that ended above Taliesin’s Living Room.

You can see it at the top of this post.

And that it ended on the other end just over Wright’s bedroom.

To picture it, you can see part of the mezzanine in this post.

However, in 2004-5, I was asked to research the entire history of that floor up there.

So I did what I usually try do:

I try to wipe my mind of preconceptions2 and look at photos. And so, for the the first time, I saw something earlier photos at Taliesin that shouldn’t have existed at that time. I saw in these earlier photos a chimney flue for the fireplace that’s in Iovanna’s Bedroom. Among other photos,3 the flue appears in one taken in 1928:

Photograph by architect George Kastner of Taliesin. Taken on November 11, 1928.

This photo is published on p. 4 in the Journal of the Organic Architecture + Design archives, Vol. 7, no. 3, 2017 in the article for that issue, “Desert and Memoir: George Kastner and Frank Lloyd Wright,” by Randolph C. Henning.

That flue I pointed out goes to only one fireplace: the one for Iovanna’s Bedroom. Yet George Kastner took this photograph in 1928, 5 years before the apprentices even started working in that area. So it didn’t match what I thought I knew. I thought that, before 1933, this stone mass was simply… stone. That it was like the stone mass that’s on the south side of Taliesin’s living room. That this part was only stone.

Like what was in Hillside’s Dana Gallery on the Taliesin estate that I wrote about in “Truth Hiding in Plain Site“. That it was mostly stone before the Taliesin Fellowship.

But since I couldn’t deny what was in photographs,

I got in my car and drove to Taliesin to see what I could find.

I went upstairs, looking for evidence that things had changed. First thing I noticed was that the stone was executed at one time, as opposed to being changed later. See my photo of the fireplace below:

Interior photograph of fireplace in Iovanna Lloyd Wright's Bedroom. By Keiran Murphy on 9-24-2003.

Contrast this

With the fireplace in the adjacent room. In 1933-34, Apprentices built that fireplace out of the existing chimney. And it certainly looks like it.

I took the photo below where you see the side of the chimney. On the left hand side you see stone that used to be outside. The red stones were those that went through the Taliesin fires in 1914 and 1925. The lighter stone on the right is stone placed there by apprentices when they built the fireplace mantelpiece:

Side of the chimney in Iovanna Lloyd Wright's sitting room. Photo by Keiran Murphy in 2003.

 

After looking at the two fireplaces, I thought about that “At Taliesin” article. In the article, Abe Dombar says,

Two new rooms added to the pageant of Taliesin’s 40 rooms….

But there weren’t two rooms on that floor in 1934. There were three: Iovanna’s bedroom, the bathroom, and the sitting room (the room at the newer fireplace).

In fact, the drawing doesn’t label Iovanna’s bedroom. It only labels “Iovanna’s room”, which is the sitting room with the new mantelpiece.

And one more thing: the bathroom

You can see the bathroom in the plan above. When I started thinking maybe Iovanna’s Bedroom was there before 1933-4, I thought how it doesn’t make a lot of sense for Wright to build a bathroom out of line with the bathroom one floor below. Often bathrooms are in line with each other because this makes laying the plumbing lines easier.

yeah, yeah, yeah: we can talk about how impractical Wright could be as an architect, but at Taliesin he had to live with whatever he designed. And bathrooms are expensive, even if the labor was free….

Moreover,

in 2007, I looked at Taliesin’s drawings for real in Wright’s archives. Luckily for me, Taliesin’s estate manager suggested I take photocopies of Taliesin’s drawings so I could take notes on what I saw in them.

In drawing #2501.007, I saw the word “nook” in pencil with a line going about where Iovanna’s Bedroom was:

Elevation of Taliesin. The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York). #2501.007.

The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York), #2501.007.

I can’t tell you when 2501.007 was drawn, but the details say 1925-32. I think that in the early Taliesin III period, what became Iovanna’s Bedroom was originally a sitting room, a “nook”, that could be used as a bedroom if needed.

alas, we don’t have Wright’s design for the couch/bed simplicity of a futon frame

3 more things:

coz: in for a penny, in for a pound

One Taliesin drawing shows the “sash details” of the windows in Taliesin’s Living Quarters. This is drawing #2501.032. See the detail of it below:

The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York). 2501.032.

The three windows I pulled out from the drawing match the three windows currently on the east wall of Iovanna’s Bedroom. The drawing labels these windows as being for—not a clerestory or above the mezzanine, but—”Gallery Bed Room”.

Also, in 2006

The Taliesin Preservation crew worked in a closet in Iovanna’s Bedroom and found remnants of pipes going through the floor above Olgivanna’s bathroom. I asked what those pipes could be, and one crew member (I forget who) said they were small enough to be used for a sink, but not a toilet or tub.

Wright could have had this little room up there and if someone were just staying overnight, they could use the sink in the morning to brush their teeth.

One of those people might have been architect Philip Johnson

See, back in the 2000s someone emailed me at work. He was working on a book of interviews conducted by architect Robert A.M. Stern with Philip Johnson.

Stick with me here

At one point, Stern talked to Johnson about Wright:

Robert A.M. Stern: And in researching for the book [on the International Style] you also went to visit Wright?

Philip Johnson: …. We went to see Wright in 1930 in Taliesin East [sic]. I stayed overnight in the part that’s now all closed in and ruined, in the upper terrace there, just above the big room. We visited and had a great time and we realized that he was a very, very great man.

The Philip Johnson Tapes: Interviews with Robert A.M. Stern (The Monacelli Press, printed in China, 2008), 41.
The book’s price tag is over $40, but I’m that crazy: I got the book on sale for $10.

He mentions “the big room”. In 1930, there wouldn’t have been any other “big room” on the Taliesin estate except for the Taliesin Living Room.5 He was wrong about the placement of the room on that floor, but there was nothing else up there in 1930 that matches it.

OK!

I hope I explained what I found/think.

That is:

When Wright rebuilt his living quarters after the 1925 fire, he built a mezzanine above the main floor that ended in a small room with its own fireplace, three windows on the east wall, and windows (or possibly French doors) on the other side.

The windows above and behind where Alexander Woollcott and Frank Lloyd Wright are standing in the photo at the top of this post might have looked into this “nook”.

 

The photo at the top of this post was taken 1937-41 and published in Apprentice to Genius: Years with Frank Lloyd Wright, by Edgar Tafel, p. 179.
First published October 22, 2023.


Notes

1. He expanded the space and added the parapet in 1943 for an anticipated visit by Solomon Guggenheim (of the Guggenheim Museum commission) and curator, Hilla Rebay.

2. Which I remember every damned time I think about the window found in Taliesin’s guest bedroom that was staring me in the face for years in photos. I’ll write about it another time to go over it in detail. It’ll be penance.

3. I think I first noticed it in a photo that I can’t show because I don’t think it’s ever been published. It’s Whi(x3)48218, an aerial photograph in the Howe Collection at the Wisconsin Historical Society.

4. Her personal spaces were featured in a Wright Virtual Visit in 2021, which is on Facebook, here.

5. It wasn’t at Hillside because Johnson said they visited it and while it was a great building, he described Hillside in 1930 as “a total wreck”.  

The Home page of SaveWright.org before the 2023 Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy conference.

2023 Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy Conference

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Next week, the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy is holding their 2023 conference. The conference will be in Minneapolis-St. Paul and its theme is “Colleagues & Clients: Women’s Roles in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Architecture”.

Due to my connection to Taliesin and my life in the Wrightworld, they’re awarding me the “Wright Spirit Award“. So I’m going to the whole conference, which I’ve never done before!1

The WSA

“recognizes efforts of extraordinary individuals and organizations that have preserved the legacy of Frank Lloyd Wright through their tireless dedication and persistent efforts.”

I guess that means my work on these pages, too. I really like the way the tourism coordinator at Monona Terrace described me in the WSA application:

Keiran distills Wright’s original drawings, correspondence, and more than a century’s worth of historic photographs to dispel myths, confirms legends, all while placing herself—and us—within the spirit of the times. With this, she has provided assistance to not only Taliesin’s team of interpreters, but to outside researchers, students, and visitors….

It’s really nice to be noticed. I mean, aside from the tours I gave to over 11,000 people.

(and that one guy on Wikipedia who yelled at me in BOLD CAPITAL letters because I changed things on “his” Wikipedia page)

The three-day conference:

Every morning includes presentations (some panels). Then in the afternoon the Frankophiles tromp onto buses and we take off to buildings by Wright or those related to him. We’re also heading to the Minneapolis Museum of Art.

The MIA is not the building by Frank Gehry in Minnesota (the Weisman). I.e.: swoopy, shiny metal on the building’s exterior. No, it’s all classical.

On Friday, we’re going to Wright’s

  • Neils House
    • Which was on the market when the web page was put up. Then it was pulled back off. Maybe we’ll find out later.
  • Willey House
    • Which was really influenced by Nancy Willey (Malcom Willey’s wife), who followed the design really closely.

and

The Lovness Estate includes a Wright-cottage built in 1974. The conference brochure says Wright designed 4 buildings for the Lovnesses, including that cottage. Don and Virginia Lovness built it because they were seeing Wright’s buildings being destroyed. When they finished it, Wright’s son-in-law, Wes Peters, supposedly said that the newly build cottage, “had more architecture per square foot than any Wright building”.

“More architecture per square foot” is exactly what I was told Wes Peters said about Taliesin’s Guest Bedroom. So: either Wes liked bringing that phrase out from the vault; or that phrase is one of those that Wright tour guides like using. Like “the path of discovery”, “move your chair/table”, and “I was under oath”.

The conference schedule:

Every morning people give presentations on the conference theme. And in the afternoon, us Frankophiles get our box lunches, board the buses and take off for Wright and Wright-related buildings.

Here are a couple of things I’m really psyched for in the presentations.

Thursday:

Steve Sikora, co-owner of the Willey House, will talk about the house and who it was a harbinger of Wright’s design direction in the 1930s.

On Friday,

Bridget Bartal, Curatorial Fellow at Cranbrook Art Museum is presenting “(Mis)Fitting Taliesin: The Women of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin Fellowship

I’m interested in what she’ll say.

Years ago, someone did a short documentary titled, “A Girl is a Fellow Here“. That was supposedly what Wright said: the “Fellows” were members of the Taliesin Fellowship. So, with a play on words, a female apprentice in the Fellowship could literally be a “Fellow”.

I think the woman who did the documentary could have done a better job because she thought any women whose name was associated with Taliesin became an architect. Sounds cool, but it ain’t true.

Heloise Christa, in the Fellowship for decades, wasn’t an architect; she was a sculptor.

Susan Lockhart also there for decades, was a graphic designer, then later worked in wood and glass. Plus, she designed the Wright Spirit Awards.

On Saturday,

Among others, Anne Kinney is speaking in the morning session.

Her parents were Margaret and Patrick Kinney, who commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright for their house. Their home is a Usonian house (Wright’s designs for moderate incomes). In the morning her father would get stone from the quarry and lay it when he got home in the afternoon.

Anne still owns the house that she grew up in. I first got to see it because my husband has worked with Anne’s nephew, who has invited us over. And I went there this summer and acted all fangirly around Anne.

Here’s a photo I took from that day:

Exterior of stone house by Frank Lloyd Wright for Patrick and Margaret Kinney in Lancaster, Wisconsin.

A photo I took outside of the Kinney House in Lancaster, Wisconsin.

Anne Kinney leaves me—literally—starstruck.

She is the Retired Deputy Center Director at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Smart people are so cool. And it’s intelligence around space and physics!! You can read her oral history here. She spoke about her background, and all of the great things she and other women have done for female colleagues in Physics.

But she also talked about growing up in the Wright-designed house,

I think that has a lot to do with why I went– why I was so attracted to mathematics and science and ultimately space, because the thing, if you see early photos of the house with these gorgeous stone walls, limestone, midwestern limestone with tons of fossils in it and at angles of 60 and 180 degrees, I mean it’s just beautiful. And it looks like a spaceship in its early incarnation.

Then

there’s the Gala on Saturday night, where I’ll receive the award.

I think we’ll have a good time. I still haven’t figured out where we’ll put the award, though.

 

First published September 23, 2023.
The image at the top of this post is a screengrab from the home page of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy’s website.


Notes:

I’ve given presentations at three conferences for the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy. I wrote about the subjects I talked about at the conferences in two of my posts:

I also talked about a find at Taliesin when I did the Pecha Kucha in 2022.

1. I couldn’t afford to go. I still can’t really afford to go, but it’ll be great to see people and get an award.

Movie poster showing Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon on beach, with two sharks above them referring to the "sharknado" phenomenon.

I am not drunk; I have MS

Reading Time: 6 minutes

An image of Annette Funicello with Frankie Avalon from a movie poster from one of their beach blanket movies. Funicello was a person with MS that I grew up knowing about. I added the sharks in homage to the “Sharknado” film series because the absurdity seemed to fit the life I’d just discovered.

This past August, I had my first experience of falling in front of other people with nothing precipitating it.

The 4 of us were hanging out after a special event, and were leaving the venue. I took a step from a minuscule stair, lost my footing (on nothing), and landed on my right side.

My cane beside me.

The stability that the cane gives me usually keeps me completely vertical.

Anyway

I sat on my butt for a moment while the woman with me asked me if I needed help. I mumbled, “damn MS” and took her hand.1

I’m glad I didn’t really hurt myself or break my glasses. I had scratches but no bruises. But the embarrassment kept coming back for days. F**K.

Sometimes things happen and I figure it’s because I’m tired, or something that could happen to anyone.

But other times I have to admit to myself: it’s because of the MS.

Multiple sclerosis is one of those diseases that you’ve heard of, but, judging from my own pre-2014 knowledge, you don’t really know much about.

I recall cartoons in grade school explaining the disease in the 1970s.

Here’s a modern cartoon explaining MS.

The immune system attacks the insulation around the neurons in the brain and Central Nervous System (CNS). It mistakes this insulation (the myelin sheath) for a foreign invader.

These attacks damage the myelin and cause lesions (scar tissue). These lesions interfere with the speed of messages from one part of your brain or body to another. And since humans have around 86 billion neurons, that’s a lot of small message carriers that can get screwed up.

Before 2014 my knowledge of MS ended with the cartoon footage of happy little white cells munching on the neurons.

In fact, in September 2011 a close friend from high school told me that another high school friend of ours had MS. “Oh my God,” I breathed, giving her a hug.

I didn’t realize it, but at 43 years old I already had MS.

It started in June of 2011.

That morning I woke up with the feeling of “pins and needles” in my right hand that didn’t dissipate despite my stretching, moving, or massaging.

Later on I looked at the calendar and figured out that it was just about 10 weeks after ending a 13.5 year relationship.

Although it makes me feel weak, the physical and emotional stress from ending that relationship apparently pushed me into my first MS “flare” (also known as an exacerbation).

A couple of days with “pins and needles” not going away I made an appointment with the doctor to figure it out. That was the beginning of several years of talking to doctors. And being told I had carpal tunnel, all the while telling them that wasn’t it. It didn’t feel the same.

Yet,

all I had was the feeling that my hand was “waking up” after being asleep. All the time. That was it.

A year into it I told my PCP “I know I don’t have a bleeding head wound and I don’t think it’ll go away, but I want to know what’s going on.”2

That was a week after I received the call from Dr. B.’s nurse who told me about the appointment for the rheumatologist. That call came two months after I had refused an appointment with one because I looked at the definition and realized I didn’t have rheumatism. They still set up the appointment.

Anyway, I sat down with the Rheumatologist a month an a half later. I told her my symptoms and she said, “No, you don’t have it.”

In 2013, after about two-and-a-half years in, I gave up asking.

After one other doctor told me I had carpal tunnel.

I figured I’d spend the rest of my life with this pins-and-needles sensation.3

6 months later

I started falling. Oh, and I went out one afternoon, had two beers, got up three hours later and now sober but walking like a stumbling drunk.

Fortunately, when I again went to my doctor’s office to make an appointment, Dr. B. wasn’t free. The clinic secretary

(Jerry! Love that lady!!)

suggested I make an appointment with a new doctor.

Dr. S. did one exam with me, recommended an MRI, and said “don’t go looking on the internet.”

Two days after the MRI

Which DOES sound like a car crashing into a concrete wall over and over again.

I had another appointment with Dr. S. She told me I had MS.

She asked me what I thought when I heard “MS”. I said,

“wheelchairs.”

She replied, well, not every person with MS is in a wheelchair.

And, despite the falling at the top of this post, that’s still true for me.

Dr. S. then asked me what questions I had. I asked for a website I could go to in order to read about this. She gave me the address for the National MS Society. And I asked for antidepressants.

I left the appointment and

realized something:

I suddenly discovered a group of people who had weird things they couldn’t explain.

Who wondered wtf was going on.

And who probably also had doctors who didn’t listen to them.

A couple of days later I had an idea for a t-shirt I might get. So I went to Google and typed in “I’m not drunk…”

The autocomplete was: “I have MS”

It’s like what David Sedaris wrote in “Santaland Diaries“:

All of us take pride and pleasure in the fact that we are unique, but I’m afraid that when all is said and done the police are right: it all comes down to fingerprints.
“Santaland Diaries,” in Holidays on Ice (Little, Brown, and Company, 1997), 33.

Now, at the time I still worked at Taliesin Preservation in research and tours. I loved giving tours and figured I could still do them. At that time the doctors said, “uh… no, Keiran: not at this time.”

They put me on steroids to quiet my brain down.4 That did the trick, even though I felt like I drank a pot of coffee on the days of the infusions.5 It took a few more months, then I went back to giving tours at the end of the season.

The next year I got a walking stick, then a cane. I felt the walking stick “broadcast” the message that:

the words "Your Guide Has An Issue" in black on a white background.

But on warm days when I sometimes stumbled early in the tour, I still felt the need to tell my group, “don’t worry; your guide is not drunk. I just have a neurological disorder….”

Here are some links you might be interested in:

  • The movie, When I walk. It’s a documentary by Jason DaSilva about his journey. He has PPMS (Primary Progressive MS). PPMS is the MS that will put you in a wheelchair in a couple of years:

https://tubitv.com/movies/527922/when-i-walk

About 10-15% of people who get MS get this type. The rest start off with my type, which is RRMS (or RMS): Relapsing Remitting MS. People are turning to “RMS” because to say that you “remit” implies that if you’re not having a flare that you don’t have MS. I wasn’t having a flare when I fell in front of three others. I exercise and such, but sometimes that’s the way things are.

  • Sidecar: A short film. The main character is going into SPMS (Secondary Progressive MS). A former motorcyclist, he goes to see his brother racing and is confronted by all the people who think he’s all better now, isn’t he? Or is he just afraid of losing and using this as an excuse? NSFW.

  • “The Hot Water Test”: A song and video by Art Alexakis, the lead singer of the band, Everclear. He wrote it several years ago after he revealed that he has MS. It’s a great song for everyone with a disease:

 

First published September 11, 2023.
I took the image at the top of this post from an image search years ago.


Notes:

1. btw: the woman who helped me up from sitting on the ground was over 8 months pregnant. On the one hand I suppose her mothering instinct had kicked in. OTOH, uh…

2. it’s never really gone away. On the large scheme of things with MS having a pins-and-needles feeling on one hand is nothing. I’ve read about others with MS who were walking across the street, fell, and weren’t able to get back up because half of their body went numb. I read about a woman who broke her jaw because the MS made her go blind in one eye but she didn’t realize is and walked into a concrete corner. And I heard about another woman who begged for an MRI to test for MS for over 5 years and meanwhile completely lost the feeling in the soles of her feet. And lots of other things I don’t look at because they freak me out too much.

3. I can’t get into a detailed discussion about how I kept going to her to try to get something, anything. So yes, if you would like to get into a conversation with me about that doctor, I’m all up for it. It might involve hours of scalding anger, tears, and LOTS of foul language. Although I hear it’s not good to get angry about things you can’t do anything about. You scream and rail, and nothing feels better…. [grumble grumble grumble]

4. the pins and needles sensation doesn’t feel as bad most of the time. That might be because my body partially recovered. With my type of MS, you have flares then the body calms down and repairs itself. Sometimes completely; sometimes just mostly. Because I wasn’t treated for the first attack, I was left w/the neural scars, hence the pins and needles.

5. There’s a Frankophile out there who’s kind of intense. I used to sometimes refer to her as me, “on steroids”. Since I did steroids, I can tell you: she is not me on steroids. She is me “on crack”.

Labor Day: Time to Walk the Mackinac Bridge

Reading Time: 4 minutes

A photo I took of the Mackinac Bridge on a day when there wasn’t a Walk.

I spent three Labor Day weekends in Mackinaw City, Michigan with my old boyfriend, his mother, sister, and brother-in-law. Michael’s sister and BIL had a summer home up there.

FYI: “Mackinaw” in Mackinaw City is pronounced the same as the “Mackinac” in Mackinac Bridge and Island. If I remember right, they decided to spell Mackinaw City with a W so that people would know how to pronounce it.

Mackinaw City is at the top of Lake Michigan. It’s touristy with lots of pasty-places,1 and fudge and souvenir shops where you can purchase candy-colored stickers, pins, and magnets emblazoned with the labels, “Mackinaw City” “Mackinac Island” and “Mackinac Bridge”.

The Mackinac Bridge opened on November 1, 1957 and my post today is about my experience of “walking the bridge” on Labor Day.

What does the Bridge do?

The Bridge connects the “tip of the mitt” of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula (most of the state of Michigan is shaped like a mitten) and its Upper Peninsula (a.k.a: the U.P.2).

It is 5 miles (8 km) long from one end to the other and is:

“currently the fifth longest suspension bridge in the world….” and “the longest suspension bridge in the western hemisphere.

https://www.mackinacbridge.org/history/the-mighty-mac/

Just so you know:

Mackinac Island is the island on Lake Huron between the Upper and Lower Peninsula of Michigan that doesn’t allow cars. It was used in the movie, Somewhere in Time. That’s the movie that starred Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour and came out in 1980.

The Bridge

Michiganders are incredibly proud of their bridge, which crosses the Mackinac Straits (the meeting place of Lakes Huron and Michigan).

In fact, Michiganders are so proud of their bridge that they shut down one side of it every Labor Day to allow people to walk across it.

Photograph of crowds on the right walking the Mackinac Bridge with car traffic on the left. Taken in Mackinaw City.

The Bridge Walk

And it’s not just a walk. It’s an event.

Since everyone has to walk in the same direction, probably more then half of the walkers assemble in Mackinaw City (in the UP) at around 5 a.m. (dark that time of year) to catch buses that drive across that bridge to St. Ignace on the Lower Peninsula, where the walk will start.

On the morning of the second year I went with my then-boyfriend, he gave us a pep talk before we left the house at 5 a.m.:

Ok, gentlemen,

welcome to [his mother’s] Boot Camp.

Your assignment:

pedal-locomotion – across water.

Under your own power.”

That was better than he was at 4:30 a.m. that morning, when we woke up at “Stupid-o’clock.”

We went

with all these other nutty people to the starting point where we got on to 1 of 6 waiting buses.

The buses took us across the bridge to St. Ignace where we once again waited… to walk back across the bridge.

There are so many people who want to do the Bridge Walk that there are, like, 120 school buses commandeered to go to St. Ignace from Mackinaw City. The buses, in groups of 6, fill up and take off across the bridge, followed by the next 6.

These buses run from about 5 a.m. to around 7:30 (or later) to shuttle thousands of people across the bridge to St. Ignace.

The first year I did it I remember seeing all those insane people waiting at St. Ignace.

“Who!” I thought.

“In their right minds!

“Would be insane enough to go—early enough!!—to stand!

“In the DARK!

“Waiting to walk a bridge?!”

For several years, apparently I was one of those people. 

Don’t worry

After your 5-mile walk across the bridge you get a certificate.

One year, I was #1400-something. Hey, I did Nanowrimo for about 5 years. That got me a certificate when I’d “win” by writing a 50,000 word novel in a month. I don’t think I have the Walk certificates,3 but I’ve got a couple of Nanowrimo certificates.

Most who finished the Walk had driven to Mackinaw City for the event, so they were now close to their cars. And on the way back to them, they could eat a hearty breakfast… and pick up fudge.

Now,

while I make fun of this whole thing, “Walking the Bridge” is a pretty cool event.

The bridge is so massive that the mid-section has only metal air-flow grating on the road surface. This grating lets air move through the bridge and prevents oscillations on its large span.

The first time I Walked the Bridge, as I looked down to the grating, I saw hundreds of feet below to the water in the Straits of Mackinac between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. I was so disoriented by this I almost walked into oncoming traffic.

But once you come back to being vertical, you look past the sea of humanity and watch the early-morning sun on your left, and see the beautiful sky on either side of you.

As you might understand

I like the oddness that the Bridge Walk demonstrates in humanity.

Here we are, good and bad, selfish and selfless. Yet somehow we can still rejoice in our goofiness of waking up at Stupid O’Clock and walking across a 5-mile-long engineering feat for almost no reason at all.4

If you’re interested, here’s where you can read up about the Labor Day Bridge Walk on their website: https://www.mackinacbridge.org/events/walk/

 

First published September 1, 2023
I took the photo at the top of this post in late spring 2006.


Notes:

1. Pasty: “the balanced meal in a crust“. Not “pasties“: the tassels worn by Burlesque dancers.
2. The Upper Peninsula, or “the UP” is pronounced “You-pea”. Which explains why sometimes people from there are called “Yoopers“.
3. Because… you know.
4. My old boyfriend grew up outside of Grand Rapids, MI. After he had moved out, one night before Labor Day, his dad said to his mom, “You know, I think if we leave at” like, 2 a.m., “we should be able to get there in time for the walk.” And that’s what John and Mary did.

Black and white photograph looking southwest in Taliesin's living room. Taken by Maynard Parker in 1955. In view: wooden furniture, plaster on walls, artifacts on tables.

Here’s another change at Taliesin:

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Maynard Parker took the photo at the top of the post. It’s Taliesin’s Living Room and he took it 1955 for House Beautiful magazine’s issue devoted to Wright.

In this post I’ll be writing about the horizontal wood shelf in the center of the photo.

FWIW:

if I haven’t told you already, I’ve never tried to figure out why Frank Lloyd Wright made any changes at Taliesin.

Well: the fact that his house has a kitchen, bedrooms and bathrooms is self-explanatory…,

but I’m talking about experiments or changes. Like Wright adding the skylight in the “Little Kitchen” to show Solomon Guggenheim how the natural lighting at his museum would work.

Anyway,

For years, there was a door just to the left of where you entered the Living Room. It came out of the kitchen (known now as the “Little Kitchen”).

That door from the kitchen to the Living Room was there all the way back to the Taliesin I era (1911-1914). At that time the kitchen’s doors opened into the hallway and the living room.

The drawing from 1911, below, shows the main entry, kitchen and Living Room. You can see where the doors were at that time:Floor plan of Taliesin living room and kitchen drawn in 1911 by Frank Lloyd Wright. Drawing 1104.003. The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art } Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York).

Here’s another drawing from 1925 (after the second fire) to show you the same doorway:

Floor plan of Taliesin's living room executed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Drawing number 2501.001, so may be the first drawing did of his house following the April 1925 fire. The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York).

The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives, drawing #2501.001.

Then

In 1943, Wright got the commission for the Guggenheim Museum and then prepared for Guggenheim’s visit to Taliesin.1 Wright made many changes to Taliesin at that time. I’ve always thought that perhaps Wright made changes in order to entice the new client.

It might be part of the other changes Wright made in the early 1940s that I wrote about over a year ago.

But

these are slightly here I’m writing about different changes in this part of the room in the early 1940s.

These were changes related to the connection between the Little Kitchen and the Living Room.

Here’s a photo with an arrow pointing at the door into the Little Kitchen.

Black and white photograph looking southwest in Taliesin Living Room, 1937. In view: wooden chairs and funiture, light limestone walls. Photograph has an arrow pointing at a wooden door.In the fall of 1937, Ken Hedrich (of Hedrich-Blessing photographers) took photos all over Taliesin and the Taliesin estate; while brother Bill took photos of that new Wright building designed over a waterfall.

By the way: I always struggle to remember which Hedrich brother took photos at Taliesin (Ken) and which one took photos at Fallingwater (Bill). I almost think I should tattoo “Ken Hedrich took the Taliesin photos” on my arm…. Although today I had to look for the answer from my own blog (the post “Hillside Drafting Studio Flooring“)…. So I’ll just keep this website and blog going for… well until I’m in my late 90s at least.

Wright expanded the Little Kitchen in 1943. When that work was complete, the large door near the fireplace no longer went outside; it just opened into the kitchen.

Since he didn’t need the door Living Room any longer, Wright just had the apprentices veneer the original door with stone. They did a pretty good job matching, too.  You wouldn’t really know it have been a door there unless you already knew.

Here’s a photo with stone where the door was, and the shelf in place:

Black and white photograph of the southwest corner of Taliesin's Living Room. Photograph taken by Maynard Parker in 1955.After he removed the wooden door and veneered it with stone he put in the shelf you can see there. I have never seen a photo with the stone, but no shelf.

While he might have just wanted that shelf there to draw your eye, or complete the design or match the trim on the south wall (that you see on the left-hand side of the photo).

But,

since a wooden door had been in the southwestern corner of the Living Room since 1925, the shelf under the bottom of the cabinet might really have been put there just to keep visitors from trying to exit the old way: the now non-existent door.

If you’d been a guest a few times at Taliesin, maybe you’d gotten used to getting a snack at night from the kitchen while staying in the Guest Bedroom? So, perhaps that shelf kept you from walking smack dab into a wall?

Now,

If you ever took a tour at Taliesin from 1994 until 2018, you walked into the Living Room and that corner was drywalled with gold paint on it. So the corner looked like what you see below:

Interior of Taliesin Living room. In view: wooden furniture, limestone walls, and Asian artifacts. Photograph from 1992.

The photo above is what that corner looked like when I first started working at Taliesin.2 And there were more rugs on the floor. That’s not original either. They’re rugs from the collection, but they weren’t there. Bruce Pfeiffer (former Wright apprentice and the original Curator of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Archives) used to say that many rugs in the Living Room made it look like an Asian rug shop. Well, former Wright apprentice John de Koven Hill was the one who “okayed” their location. Since “Johnny” joined the Taliesin Fellowship long before Bruce he outranked him, I guess.

Since the gold in that corner was determined not to be original to Wright’s lifetime, the drywall was removed. “Stilfehler” took a photograph of the corner on a tour and loaded it onto Wikimedia Commons:

Photograph of the Taliesin Living Room with wooden built-in furniture and limestone on the walls. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

First published August 26, 2023.
The photograph at the top of this post is also in the Maynard Parker collection at the Huntington Library. It’s online here.


Notes:

1. I thought for years that Wright did all these changes in anticipation of Guggenheim’s visit. You would, too, if you’ve read Working With Mr. Wright: What It Was Like­, by Curtis Besinger. But in 2012, the diary of Priscilla Henken was published. This was a daily diary that Henken wrote in from October 1942 to late August 1943. On page 195 of the diary, July 18, 1943, Henken wrote that the Wrights, who had been away for days from Taliesin, were back and that: “The contract is for a million dollar museum for non-objective art, sponsored by Solomon Guggenheim….” So: that changed things.

2. By the way: the photo shows the very end of the inglenook in the Living Room (it’s under the metal Asian statue). That’s got gold, too. Was that original? Yes it was. And I’ve been told it’s gold leaf.

Photograph by Mat Kauten at Taliesin in 1944. Property of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York).

Gertrude Kerbis – an architect because of Taliesin

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Photographer (and apprentice) Mat Kauten took this photograph looking at Taliesin’s Garden Room in 1944. I think Gertrude Kerbis might have seen Taliesin at the same time of year that Kauten took his photographs.

Here’s the story: a while ago, I received an email from Elizabeth Blasius, an architectural historian and co-founder of Preservation Futures.1

Blasius had questions about a memory that award-winning architect Gertrude Kerbis spoke about on a couple of occasions. Kerbis talked about some obscure things relating to Taliesin, so Blasius had asked people she knew who might know the answer. So, of course she went to someone in the Wrightworld.

she’s in Chicago, a place filled with Frankophiles.

Eric Rogers, Events and Communications Manager at the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, gave her my name and contact info.

Her questions, and my answer, are what this post is about.

In part because they let me do one of my favorite things: walk around Taliesin in the past.

Kerbis was not an apprentice in the Taliesin Fellowship  and apparently never met Frank Lloyd Wright.

But

circa 1945, she had an encounter with Taliesin that changed her life.

Blasius wrote and told me that while Kerbis was a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, she:

[R]ead a Life magazine article about Frank Lloyd Wright. She was fascinated with his work, and discovered that Taliesin was not far from Madison.

She then hitchhiked to Spring Green, and found herself on the grounds of Taliesin.

FYI: Spring Green is around 45 miles (72 km) west of Madison.

When Kerbis arrived at Taliesin, no one was there. Still, she walked all around it, and looked in through its windows.

At one point

she heard steps behind her, turned around and there was a white peacock in “full flutter”.

Sounds like the peacock was standing its ground; I doubt it thought she was a mate.

After the peacock incident

Kerbis realized it was late. Since she’d hitchhiked all the way out there, she decided to hunker down and stay at Taliesin.

She said that, luckily, she found an open window into a bathroom and climbed in! Then she spent the night in one of the bedrooms. While she never mentioned what her bedroom was like, she found a record player and played Beethoven.

Blasius told me that “next morning she had decided to become an architect.”

Blasius was of course curious about this. I would be, too:

  • How the hell could she walk around all over the place and not see anyone? She stayed overnight, so it’s not like the Wrights had just gone out for dinner.
  • And were there really peacocks at Taliesin?

Her email made my day.

It was a puzzle with all these pieces that I knew.

So, yes: what Blasius relayed to me made total sense.

First off:

Kerbis didn’t see anyone at Taliesin that day because, after the late 1930s, Wright and the Taliesin Fellowship picked up and left Wisconsin every fall. Therefore, the Wrights and the community of men and women working and living with them migrated to Taliesin West in Arizona. They would settle at T-West, and continue living in their community and working on Wright’s architectural commissions until the following spring.

Secondly:

Kerbis, while walking around Taliesin, saw “floor-to-ceiling” windows at Taliesin according to Blasius.

This also made sense to me.

Since Wright no longer lived in Wisconsin during the winter, he opened up the rooms and put glass into more walls

like I wrote about here and here.

I pictured where Kerbis would have walked around and seen through those windows, like into the room at the top of this post. And in the photo below by famous photographer Ezra Stoller:

Exterior photograph looking northeast at Taliesin. Taken by Ezra Stoller

Photograph in the book, Masters of Modern Architecture, by John Peter (Bonanza Books, New York, 1958), 47. I showed this photo in my post, “In Return for the Use of the Tractor“.

There’s a black rectangle to the right of the birch trees that’s really a floor-to-ceiling picture window. And the French doors on the left look into the Taliesin Drafting Studio.

As for peacocks:

I knew that some lived at Taliesin. I never heard they were white, but I’ve seen at least one photo of one. And that’s below:

Photograph taken on a roof at Taliesin, with a peacock on the left in mid-view. Taken by Douglas Lockwood, 1945-48. Property of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York).

Taliesin apprentice Douglas Lockwood took this photo at Taliesin sometime after World War II. The peacock is on the left under the roof outside the Hill Wing apartments.

Was Taliesin totally abandoned every year?

No. While most of the Fellowship went to Arizona, some apprentices stayed in Wisconsin for the winter. They took care of the animals and watched over all the buildings. Their work paid their tuition.

If there were people, why didn’t Gertrude see anybody?

Members of the Fellowship didn’t live at the Taliesin residence in the winter. They inhabited Midway Barn. It’s on the Taliesin estate and is less than half a mile away from Taliesin. But you can’t see Taliesin from Midway.

Kerbis and the bathroom:

Is that true?

Yes, it is. If you were a thin enough.

There’s one place in the building where you could see a bathroom from the outside, with a window that’s large enough to crawl through (for a petite person). There’s another bathroom you could see a little bit, although I don’t think you could crawl into it through the window. But both of them are on the ground floor of Taliesin.

I couldn’t find good photos of either bathroom area. But a good plan of that floor is at ARTSTOR. I’ll show a version of the drawing below with arrows pointing out the bathrooms:

Drawing of the ground floor of Taliesin. Drawing executed in 1936-1939. Drawing #2501.024.The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural  Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York). Drawing #2501.024.

This drawing was executed 1936-39. Wright changed a few things on this floor by the time Kerbis came to Taliesin in 1945. But the two bathrooms were and are still where the arrows are pointing. The bathroom on the right has a really, really, small window, so I don’t know if that would have been open when Kerbis was walking around.

While there are two bathrooms, I think only a diminutive person could crawl through into the bathroom on the left.

BY THE WAY you scoundrels: in my 25 years, I never saw those windows open at Taliesin so don’t get any ideas.

The next day when she woke up

Gertrude decided she was going to be an architect.

She tells the story in this video about her.

She starts talking about her experience at Taliesin around 3 minutes in.

More on Gertrude Kerbis:

Here’s the blog post that Blasius wrote about Gertrude Kerbis’s career. Kerbis was remarkable. My thanks to Elizabeth Blasius for asking me questions. It was fun figuring it out.

 

Posted August 11, 2023
The photograph at the top of this post is in The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York).


1. Preservation Futures “is a Chicago-based firm exploring the future of historic preservation through research, action, and design.”