Did Wright ever live in Wisconsin in the winter?

The simple answer is yes.

But today anyone walking into his living quarters at Taliesin sees flagstone floors and floor-to-ceiling French doors with single-pane glass (as you see in this interior photo at the Wisconsin Historical Society). So, it’s a natural thing to wonder, if you know Wisconsin at all (or have heard of the IceBowl), how the hell someone could have lived in this house in a Wisconsin winter.

In 1911, when Frank Lloyd Wright first designed Taliesin, he did intend it to be a year-round home. And he knew the state gets cold in the winter, so it was more airtight at that time (as you see here) and had radiators as well as fireplaces. His Wisconsin home worked with Wisconsin winter weather up until the 1930s. After that, Wright left for Arizona practically every fall/winter. He was going there with his family and apprentices in the Taliesin Fellowship to live and work. After a few years of searching for a site, he found land in Scottsdale in 1937, signed the papers on it the following February, and began building his winter home (Taliesin West).

Once the basic Taliesin West structure was built (including, very importantly to Wright, a drafting studio where he could work in the winter), he, his family, and his apprentices moved back and forth every year. He would leave Wisconsin in the fall, and arrive back the next spring. These gaps allowed him to come back with “fresh” eyes and ideas. So the two Taliesins (Wisconsin and Arizona) changed constantly under his direction. By 1959 (the year that Wright died), Taliesin in Wisconsin reflected this: by that time, he hadn’t had to worry about Wisconsin winters for over 20 years. He could return every spring, move out or eliminate walls, and add more glass and stone (of course, when I write that “he” did this or that, the physical work was really done by his apprentices—young men and women—in the Taliesin Fellowship).

Click on the links below for photos from the Wisconsin Historical Society that show the inside of the house in these later years during the summer. You’ll see all of the stone and glass:

https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Image/IM64955

https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Image/IM64906

Of course, all of this didn’t stop the man from having, sometimes, overly romantic views of the winter. Among what he wrote in his 1932 autobiography about his home in the winter is that Taliesin “was a frosted palace roofed and walled with snow, hung with iridescent fringes, the plate-glass of the windows delicately fantastic with frosted arabesques.” Frank Lloyd Wright Collected Writings: 1930-32, volume 2. Edited by Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer, introduction by Kenneth Frampton (Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., New York City, 1992), p. 228.

Took me awhile to realize that when he lovingly described “frosted arabesques”, he meant frost. When he was writing in 1932, Taliesin was still where he would live in the winter, and he described frost growing on the inside of the windows in his house. I’ve lived with frost inside the windows in Wisconsin. It’s, um… unpleasant, to say the least.

First published 9/8/2020.
I took the photograph at the top of this post in 2016.


Here’s a link to a post I did about a book by a member of the Taliesin Fellowship.