This is a roundabout story that comes to a simple conclusion: I found a Taliesin drawing.
Over 12 years ago I worked on a Comprehensive Chronology of the Hillside Structure on Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin estate with Anne Biebel, the principal of Cornerstone Preservation (she was the person who suggested I read the local newspapers, 1910s-early 1930s, which introduced me to their weirdness).
This project led me down to Wright’s archives to do research. While now at the Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library in New York, until the fall of 2012, Wright’s archives were at his winter home, Taliesin West, in Arizona.
In particular I looked at his drawings that weren’t assigned to any of his commissions.
Or, actually I looked at photographs of the drawings, not the actual, physical drawings (natch).
I thought it might help the chronology if I found drawings for furniture at Hillside.
Reading what I just wrote sounds silly. In 2009 Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer (former apprentice) was the director of the Frank Lloyd Wright Archives. He, in large part, created it and ran it starting in the early 1960s. He would probably know a drawing showing a detail from Hillside, wouldn’t he?
But I also know that, while “Bruce” knew so many things in the archives, I know one site very well: Taliesin and the Taliesin estate. So I thought it possible that there were drawings of chairs or tables that Bruce hadn’t recognized as belonging to Hillside.
In the end, I was correct, if only in part. Yes, I came across a drawing that showed furniture in a building on the Taliesin estate. No, the furniture wasn’t for Hillside. The drawing showed furniture for Taliesin.
I can understand why Bruce hadn’t known this drawing came from Taliesin. Bruce didn’t know the furniture in the drawing when he the archives and the arranged its drawings. That changed because of “The Album” that surfaced on the online auction site, Ebay, in 2005.
The Album was a beautiful, handmade photo album with 33 photographs. Most show Taliesin in 1911-1912. Its appearance on Ebay caused a flurry of excitement in the Wrightworld. The seller sent scans of many of the images to interested parties (including me). That whole week had the intensity of being on the social media site Facebook during the Superbowl.
People called and emailed all week long: had I seen the images, did I want scans of the images, could I donate money to help buy the images (I didn’t have the money, then or now). That Friday, after an exciting night spent watching the auction online (and hitting the “refresh” button on my web browser over and over again), the Wisconsin Historical Society won it with their highest (and only) bid: $22,100.
The money I couldn’t afford to donate went into the pot that allowed the Wisconsin Historical Society to win the album.
The story on the album can be seen at the Wisconsin Historical Society here. If you’ve got a subscription to The New York Times, you can read the story in the February 13, 2005 issue. Or you can read about it in an archived page of The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel here.1
All of the photographs from The Album are available at the WHS here.
Two of the photos in The Album show bunk beds in a room at Taliesin. They totally tweaked my brain and are here and here.2 I can almost guarantee that when I first saw these photos I took out our copies of Taliesin drawings to see what I’d previously missed. What I missed is what’s in the drawing at the top of this page.3
That drawing above shows several rooms, with two fireplaces. The fireplace on the left has a rectangular room to its left. The outline of the 2 bunk beds is drawn in pencil on the far left side of the rectangular room.
Four + years after The Album, I was studying photos of unidentified Wright drawings, looking for possible Hillside furniture. Flipping through the photos I came across the drawing that I have reproduced below (in two parts). This drawing shows those bunk beds. Its ID number is 7803.001. While many of Wright’s drawings can be found online (through ARTSTOR), this one isn’t on there. That’s because it wasn’t known which building it was connected to when these things were put online. I received permission to reproduce my scan here. It, and the drawing at the top of this page (as it says so in the embedded text), is the property of The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York).
has the footprint of the bunk beds.
You can see the part of drawing 7803.001 above is the floor plan showing the two bunk beds with the chest between them. I don’t think the chest (that horizontal rectangle) was for clothes: the drawers you see in the photographs at the Wisconsin Historical Society weren’t deep enough.
At the top of the photo above, you see “Bed Room off Studio” in Wright’s handwriting.
Since I had seen the bunk beds in the photographs, I knew exactly what Wright meant about “Bed Room off Studio”. The “Bed Room” was for the draftsman that would be living and working with him at Taliesin. The “Studio” (Wright’s studio) was the room at the fireplace on the right.
Unfortunately I didn’t get to tell Bruce when I found this drawing. It was likely that he wasn’t in the office that day. Wish I’d thought of it while we smoked cigarettes outside, though (I smoked then). After all, he told me Herb Fritz likely asked for Wright’s tractor because of gasoline rationing.
When I found the drawing, I didn’t know what to do. I scanned the photo of it, but since I was always on a time schedule for the Taliesin West trips, I could only stick a post-it note on it. Probably noting that it was from Taliesin I, and including my name.
I did make an effort to contact staff at the Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library (which has had the archive since 2012-13) when it occurred to me that they probably didn’t save the Post-It note. Hopefully what I wrote here serves the story as well.
First published on June 29, 2021.
The drawing at the top of this page is the property of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York) and can be found online here.
1 The photographer wasn’t known when the Journal Sentinel did the story, but his identity is known now: Taylor Woolley. The Utah Historical Society has the negatives for most of the images; I’ve shown them a couple of times on these pages.
2 although, really, since these are known I’m surprised that no one has started making Wright-designed bunk beds yet.
3 Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer misidentified this drawing as Taliesin II instead of Taliesin I; the drawing was published in 1913 in Western Architect magazine. That was identified by scholar & architect, Anthony Alofsin, in his essay, “Taliesin I: A Catalogue of Drawings and Photographs,” Taliesin 1911-1914, Wright Studies, v. 1, ed. Narciso Menocal (Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale and Edwardsville, Illinois, 1992), 114.
Whenever I have a question regarding anything Taliesin-related Keiran Murphy is the first person I turn to."
Never in my life have I been given a more sensitive and comprehending tour of anything, anywhere. Listening to her talk about Wright and looking at everything she pointed out, I felt as if my eyes had opened to twice their normal size."
… her knowledge of Frank Lloyd Wright is close to astonishing. Over many years she has simply absorbed him—and his beloved Taliesin—into her bones.” “I am in awe at her willingness—her delight—in sharing what she knows with others."