Photograph of Keiran with a tour group on Taliesin's Hill Crown. Keiran has white pants on.

Tour guides and trust

Reading Time: 6 minutes

A photo of me on Taliesin’s Hill Crown while giving the Loving Frank Tour in 2008. I’m wearing white pants.

When people on tours would ask me how long I’d worked there, sometimes I’d say, “Since I dyed my hair for fun instead of covering up the gray.” I was definitely covering up the gray in the photo above.

I stopped dyeing my hair in 2015. So I was doing it before it was cool!1

For years, as a tour guide, I was part of the public face of Taliesin Preservation. It was important to me to try to explain to people why the hell giving us their money was worth it. And I felt I had to be worthy of the trust that visitors put in me.

So, my post today is going to be about the trust I endeavored to earn as a tour guide.

On tour

Giving a tour meant that I brought people through the spaces, explained what the spaces were, hopefully gave them time to enjoy them, then move them through (without cutting their times short by any of my timing mistakes). Then got them back to the shuttle bus on time, and to the Visitor Center so the next tour left on time.

I called guides who were really bad on timing “chronometrically challenged”.

I came up with that term while my timing was impeccable. I know former guides and staff don’t believe me, but I was practically flawless in the ’90s.

in my defense,

two more rooms were later opened to tours inside Taliesin. So, really, 7-10 minutes had to be carved out someplace else.

At the same time,

I had to make sure that

  • people didn’t walk away while on their cellphones,
  • smoke cigarettes,2
  • go into any of the apartments or dormitory rooms (which are private);
  • walk down into the Guest Wing of the House (the first floor),
    • if you really need to see the Guest Wing, watch Kyle Dockery of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation give a virtual tour of it in 2020 on their Facebook page.
  • hit their heads,
  • sit on drafting stools that are over 100 years old,
  • go into the silos at Midway Barn,
  • or stand in the path of an oncoming car owned by a Taliesin resident.
    • more people lived on the Taliesin estate before the Covid-19 pandemic; but the Taliesin shuttle bus is still zooming around.

In addition, I wanted people to have confidence on where I was taking them. And I wanted them to be carried along without worrying about the time.

Someone told me once that the 4-hour Estate Tour with me didn’t feel like it was 4 hours long, so I keep that happy memory.

And also, as guides we directed people’s attention to certain places so that they wouldn’t go where they shouldn’t.

For example,

If you told people to stay away from the parapet at the edge of the Lower Court

(because the wall is too low)

people seemed to walk to the edge of the parapet that you just told them to stay away from.

Exterior photograph of Taliesin by Maynard Parker. Taken in 1955. Courtesy of the Huntington Library, San Marino, California.

Maynard Parker took this photo on Taliesin’s Lower Parking Court in 1955. I added the arrow to point out the parapet.

The Preservation Crew made changes on the edge to create positive pitch. So, if I backed up to the parapet, I would be able to sit on it. I’m not that tall so the height could be dangerous for someone much taller than me.

The best way

I controlled the movement of folks on tour was by sweeping my hand back to the building. This encouraged people to look at the building and stop walking to the wall.

One of my photographs showing the building is below. You’ll have to imagine me sweeping my arm:

Color photograph of Lower Court at Taliesin. Taken by Keiran Murphy on April 6, 2005.

This photograph is on the Lower Court. Apprentice Louis Davidson Gottlieb took a photo looking in the same direction and published it in her book, A Way of Life: An Apprenticeship with Frank Lloyd Wright. I posted her photo in my post, “How I became the historian for Taliesin“.

Still, you don’t have complete control

In some cases, a person comes in with their own interpretation of the site, or the staff.  

You just never know.

I read a blog post last year by a woman from Great Britain who was completely put off about the lack of bathrooms on a Taliesin tour. Her inability to deal with the lack of common bathrooms formed the major part of her post. I wondered: was it really that bad, or was this her interpretation?3

Another case in point:

Talking about the murders that took place at Taliesin in 1914:

For years I did not talk about the cause of the deaths in the 1914 Taliesin fire without being asked.

It’s not that I want to ignore that it happened. I really didn’t know how to talk about them (and I still don’t). Because it’s like, “Taliesin – so amazing and incredible and beautiful and full of delights! It’s on UNESCO‘s World Heritage list!…” … And then, you know: axe murders.

Truly, my own reaction on first hearing about them was like, “WHAT?!” A woman’s head nearly “cleft in two”. A child murdered where he sat and incinerated.

I didn’t want anyone to find themselves on a tour at Taliesin and hearing me talk about this when they had no idea ahead of time.

Plus,

there’s the erroneous “Julian killed them when they jumped out of the one window” story.

Still: it did happen. You can’t talk about Taliesin and NOT talk about fires.

So,

in my early years of tour guiding, I phrased it as, “as a result of the events surrounding the fire, Mamah and six other people would die.

After that,

I would talk about Taliesin’s second fire. Consequently, someone on the tour would often ask what caused the fires. Therefore, I could prepare people for what they would hear. I felt this was an organic approach that wouldn’t stun people.

But, then in 1998,

Ken Burns released his Frank Lloyd Wright documentary.

When I gave my first House tour the following May, I gave my standard line of “as a result…”

someone said,

“that’s not all that happened.”

I said, “Oh, yes, the first fire was set by a servant….” But inside I was like, “OH… CR…ud.”

I realized that if more people now knew about the 1914 murders, they would figure I was lying to them if I didn’t address it immediately.

          So I actively brought that information in.

Then,

there was the bigger deal as of 2007. That’s when the book Loving Frank came out. 

sorry that Nancy beat you Ken, but that’s the way it goes

So eventually I found the best time to talk was in the first major courtyard at Taliesin.4

State it quickly, with no overt gore…

well, you do have to say “ax” (or “hatchet”), but you don’t give details.

Personally,

what made this more important to me was maintaining the trust of those on my tours.

Trust

IMO is an intrinsic part of the bargain. If I do not answer truthfully, why should anyone, who was paying the organization that runs tours, place further trust in me?

In the end, the only way I could do it for years was to stick to being honest and give what I could. I think that helped me to not obsess about everything I said incorrectly, or what I forgot, or… etc., etc.

I have to turn my brain off; otherwise I’d never get to sleep at night.

 

First published July 24, 2023.
The photograph was taken by someone from Taliesin Preservation while I was leading the first Loving Frank tour. That was a special event with author, Nancy Horan.


Notes

1. actually a friend in college started going gray by the time she was 19 and she never dyed her hair. So, Lauren was way cooler than all of us.

2. I don’t know if that’s such a problem today. I recall giving group tours to people from Germany and Japan (not at the same time) and they were confused because they couldn’t smoke cigarettes on the estate. My memory comes from before the turn of the twentieth century for goodness sakes.

3. And, yes, they take people to the bathrooms if they ask (plus, there’s a bathroom break on the 4-hour Estate Tour). But we didn’t tell people, because when you mention bathrooms, everyone’s going to go, “oh, yeah: I should use one now.” Which you can do when you have 2 people on your tour as opposed to 21, or 25. By the way: most of the bathrooms on the Taliesin estate were not designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. He had bathrooms where most of them are today, but they were changed and modified over the years. Truth is, for the most part we don’t know what the bathrooms looked like when Wright was alive. He didn’t leave detailed plans.

4. I don’t talk about the murders on this video of me at Taliesin over on Taliesin Preservation’s website. But I can’t remember if I talked about it in 2009 while doing the video and if that was just cut out. Or if we decided it wasn’t best to bring up the murders in a video.

 

First page of the Feature Section in the Washington Herald newspaper, on November 28, 1915. Includes drawings, letters, and photograph of the face of Miriam Noel.

What about the second wife?

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Yah: what about Wright’s second wife? That’s who I’ll write about today.

Years ago, a group of coworkers and I performed a comedy sketch for a friend who was leaving Taliesin Preservation. At one point in the sketch, we voiced common questions that folks ask when they take a tour. Among them were “how tall was he?” and “why are all the ceilings so low?”

[which is simply hi-larious lemme tell you]

But my favorite made-up question was from the co-worker who said the title of today’s blog post. I found it such a brilliant, off-hand “joke for the world’s smallest audience”.

But that begs the question: what about Frank Lloyd Wright’s second wife?

Those in the Wrightworld know

She wasn’t Mamah

Wright and Borthwick never married.

That was in part because Wright’s first wife wouldn’t grant him a divorce. I think that Wright would have married Mamah, despite the fact that he spoke a lot at that time about changing roles of marriage and women, due to their reading of Swedish feminist, Ellen Key. Key promoted the concept that women should not be the property of their husbands.

Yet, he understood at that time that he needed to place Mamah “under my protection” (as he said) at Taliesin.

The woman of the couple “living in sin”

would be in a terrible position to earn a living. The Dodgeville Chronicle newspaper reported in its January 5, 1912 article that Wright told them:

“The only circumstance which is the basis for the statement that I eloped with another man’s wife or deserted a wife or abandoned my children will be found in the fact that I neglected to inform the newspapers of Chicago of my intentions and the arrangements which had been made honestly with all who had any right to be consulted.” 

No: Wright’s second wife was Maude “Miriam” Noel.

While I touched on her once before, I will be writing about her in this post. That’s because her birthday is May 9 (she was born in 1869).1

She was born Miriam Hicks in a suburb of Memphis, Tennessee, and took the last name of Noel after her marriage to Emil Noel. They might have married when Miriam was 15.2 The two of them moved to Chicago, where Miriam had their three children. Miriam and Emil later divorced.3

She went to Paris in the first decade of the 20th century,4 and became a sculptress (although nothing of her work survives). Apparently, she left Europe at the start of World War I to return to Chicago and live with her daughter, Norma.5 Now, WWI starts in full force by early August, 1914, and the fire and murders at Taliesin happened on August 15. Noel read about the murders, which recapped Wright’s personal scandals (etc. etc., plus ça change).

The papers, then, were inundated with the stories of the lives lost at Taliesin.

While Wright wrote years later in his autobiography that he destroyed piles of sympathy letters, he did read some of those sent to him. That’s because, while he was receiving too many sympathy letters to count, there were still business correspondence that he had to attend to.

So, Wright instructed his draftsmen in Chicago to go through the letters and contact him with anything of importance. Apparently, one of the men thought he would be cheered by this letter of sympathy that said that, as an artist who had suffered loss, she understood where he was. Wright received the letter in December, 1914.

The architect acknowledged it, so Noel wrote another one. According to biographer, Finis Farr, in the second letter, Noel suggested they meet:

[A] few days later Miriam Noel sat opposite Wright’s desk…. He saw a woman who was no ordinary person, and who retained much of what had evidently been great youthful beauty. Richly dressed, with a sealskin cape, she had a pale complexion contrasting with her heavy dark red hair….

“How do you like me?” Miriam Noel asked.

“I’ve never seen anyone remotely resembling you,” said Wright.6

Wright was in a very delicate spot.

Years later, regarding his mourning for Mamah, he wrote that,

A horrible loneliness began to clutch me, but I longed for no one I ever loved or that I had ever known. My mother was deeply hurt by my refusal to have her with me. My children—I had welcomed them always—but I did not want them now. They had been so faithfully kind in my extremity. I shall never forget.

But strange faces were best and I walked among them.

I do not understand this any better now than I did then. But so it was. Months went by, but they might have been, and I believe they were, for me, a lifetime.7

IMO,8 Miriam, whether she planned it or not, was the perfect person for him at that point. Wright was probably among the walking dead in those months after August 15, 1914. And along came this sensuous stranger, who he probably engaged with physically very early. The emotions, and intensity, probably distracted him emotionally.

In fact, very quickly the two were plunged into drama. By August of 1915, she wrote him these letters that implied already that they were having emotional fights. If you want to see some of this, read the November 28, 1915 edition of the Washington Herald newspaper  (available via Chronicling America from the Library of Congress). The story includes part of one of the letters that Miriam had written in August 4. The writing is… turgid:

“I went to pieces at mention of the things that were going on at Taliesin. The disappointment was too horrible. I shall always go to pieces like this, I know. Your letter has just come. For God’s sake do not torment me by relating your life as it is at Taliesen [sic].

Fears Her Own Emotion.

            “Do not come. I cannot see you again. It will simply precipitate another outburst. Your carnivals at Taliesin are not for me. I do not want to be in them nor do I want to be told of them. A merry party of debauchers using your house for purposes too shocking for words—invited for that purposes. . . . if you write me again about it, I don’t think I shall be able to read the letter.

Why are you reading these “turgid” letters?

That’s because of a woman named Nellie Breen.

Nellie Breen was Wright’s housekeeper. Wright unfortunately left her in charge of his home on several occasions. At that time Breen got a hold of letters written by Noel to Wright. Due to this, Breen went to the United States Department of Justice and filed charges against Wright. These charges were for Wright’s violation of the Mann Act.

Created in 1910, the Mann Act

“criminalizes the transportation of any woman or girl for the purpose of prostitution or debauchery, or for any other immoral purpose.”

Or: another thing I learned while working at Taliesin.

Breen said Wright was violating the Mann Act by bringing Noel into Wisconsin from Illinois. And Wright had the charges dismissed due to the work by the lawyer Clarence Darrow

– yes it’s true! Wright really was related to ever-y-thing!

Ok, coming back from that

Thanks, Clarence!

Wright would stay with Miriam, from this time, and into his work in Japan on the Imperial Hotel. I theorize that Wright’s responsibilities on his commission kept him busy enough to get along with Noel for periods of time.

Wright’s son, John, had a front row to the relationship:

I remember… when Dad soft-shoed into the drafting room and read her note to me. He thought it wonderful. I thought it terrible. Dad viewed the occasion so lightly, he smiled when the poetess faced him, he winked and the poetess chased him. He had an empty place with him and he felt a need to fill it up with something that is a little like love, or was it poetry? But, as the drama developed and the meaning of the poetry became clear to Dad, it was too late.9

The last of the relay race:

Wright finished the Imperial Hotel, and he and Miriam came back to Taliesin by August 1922. That November, his first wife, Catherine Lee Tobin Wright, granted him a divorce. Then Wright and Miriam married in November 1923.

The second Mrs. Wright left him by May of the next year (1924). The two began divorce proceedings, which were stopped when, apparently, Miriam found out about Olgivanna (who I wrote about regarding Taliesin’s 1925 fire).

Which ignited Miriam’s revenge.

That a surprise? Look at the damned letter in the Washington Herald that she apparently wrote after they’d only been together for 8 months!

And on, and on, the relationship between Wright and Miriam twisted and tangled up, losing Wright his clients and even more dignity within the American press.

Lastly

If you want to read about Miriam, there are the biographies by Meryle Secrest, Brendan Gill, and Finis Farr that I wrote in the Notes, below.

In addition, author TC Boyle made her into a hell of a character in his book,

or an annoying PITA, depending on your viewpoint; both of which are legitimate

The Women (Penguin Books, New York, 2009).

One of our staff members read it to us at lunch. I wrote about this when I related some of what we did at my old job during the Winter.

First published, May 2, 2023.
The image at the top of this post comes from the cover of the November 28, 1915 Feature Section in the Washington Herald newspaper.


Notes

1. Miriam Noel died on January 3, 1930.

2. Meryl Secrest Frank Lloyd Wright: A Biography (Alfred A. Knopf, New York City, 1992), 238.

3. Brendan Gill. Many Masks: A Life of Frank Lloyd Wright (G P Putnam’s Sons, New York, 1987), 235.

4. Secrest, note on page 581. According to Secrest, Emil Noel died in 1911. Secrest didn’t write whether Emil and Miriam were living together at the time, or if Miriam had left for Paris without her husband in 1904.

5. Meryl Secrest. Frank Lloyd Wright: A Biography (Alfred A. Knopf, New York City, 1992), 237-238. I’ve taken the basic biography of Miriam Noel from Meryle Secrest’s biography. Noel appears in the chapter, “Lord of Her Waking Dreams.” That title is a modification of what Noel wrote to Wright in a letter.

6. Finis Farr. Frank Lloyd Wright: A Biography (Charles Scriber’s Sons, New York, 1961), 146, 147. Farr wrote that David Robinson, the Office Manager, gave him the letter. Ok: so that’s the guy we can blame for Wright meeting Miriam.

7. Frank Lloyd Wright. An Autobiography (Longmans, Green and Company, London, New York, Toronto, 1932), 191.

8. and, if I haven’t said this before: the tenor of this post is pretty much all imo. Not that I’m wrong, I just don’t want you to think that this is the lasting authority.

9. John Lloyd Wright, My Father, Frank Lloyd Wright (originally published as My Father Who is on Earth (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1946; Dover Publications, Inc., New York; 1992), 108-109.

Headline describing the April 20, 1925 fire at Taliesin, Frank Lloyd Wright's Wisconsin home

What a Way to Begin

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Have you ever fallen in love with someone, were blissfully going along, and then

something crazy-bad happened

outside of the control of either of you?

It’s a test of your mettle. And you move beyond your fears and you are all there for that person. It’s a test and you’ve aced it, in this binding experience.

Well,

that is, in short, my completely unauthorized and totally subjective start of the story of Olgivanna Milanoff Hinzenberg (later, Olgivanna Lloyd Wright) and the dashing, brilliant architect, Frank Lloyd Wright1 in the aftermath of the fire that ripped through Taliesin on April 20, 1925.

So, that’s what I’m going to talk about in this post. Because the anniversary is right around the corner.

Let’s go back in history

In 1924, Frank Lloyd Wright was living back in Wisconsin, after his supervision and building of the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo Japan, followed by designing and building in California.

He referred to most of these California homes as the Textile Block homes. Wright had a cool idea with these homes. They would be made out of specially-designed concrete blocks, that used material from the site. This way they would be less expensive, and use local material as the aggregate that would normally be displaced during construction. Plus, Wright was trying to think of a way to beautify the “gutter rat” (as he said) of concrete. They were “textile block” because of the way they were “knitted” together. He tried to do this once more in Oklahoma, but it wasn’t as easy or as inexpensive as he thought they would be.

Then, by mid-May, 1924

he was newly single after his second wife, Miriam Noel, had left.

About 6 months later, in late November, Wright went to Chicago and visited friend Jerry Blum. Wright says in his autobiography that Blum was a “diamond-in-the-rough painter” who had been “spoiled” by his parents giving him “too much easy money.”2 Blum brought Wright to an afternoon ballet performance in Chicago.

Afternoon ballet performances might not be the common thing nowadays, but then again, this was 1924. After all, my parents used to drive us to NYC in the late 1970s/early ’80s to see matinees on Broadway on Sunday afternoons. It was inexpensive, but mom made sure we all held hands because at that time, Times Square could be a little sketchy, to say the least.

The theater was packed and Wright and Blum sat in the box seats with one free seat. That’s where Wright and Olgivanna

had a meet-cute.

She was brought in to the only free seat in the theater just as the performance began. Wright wrote that he was drawn to this striking woman with no jewelry, and with dark hair worn straight down on either side of her face. He wrote in his autobiography in 1943 about this chance meeting:

Suddenly in my unhappy state something cleared up—what had been the matter with me came to look me in the face—it was, simply, too much passion without poetry… that was it, the best in me for years and years wasted—starved! This strange chance meeting was it… poetry? I was a hungry man.

An Autobiography (1943 edition), 5093

The photograph below is Olgivanna, apparently on her first visit to Taliesin:

Photograph of Olgivanna Lloyd Wright on her first trip to Taliesin in Wisconsin

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

She’s standing in front of the south wall of Taliesin’s Drafting Studio.

Shortly after the new year, Olgivanna moved into Taliesin with her daughter, Svetlana.

Then, just over 3 months later,

on April 20, 1925, Olgivanna, Wright, Svetlana, and a few others were eating in Taliesin’s dining room up on the hill. At that time, a fire began in Taliesin’s living quarters and would destroy them.

I wrote just about the this fire two years ago, in this post.

Olgivanna wrote about Taliesin’s 1925 fire, later published in her autobiography:

One evening while the three of us were having dinner in the little dining room up on the hill, separate from the residence, I smelled smoke. The telephone rang incessantly. The housekeeper and her husband did not bother about it and said later that they were not conscious that the smoke might spell fire. “There must be something wrong,” I said. “Don’t you think we had better find out? Frank,” I insisted, “I think we had better go down and see what is going on. The smell of smoke is growing stronger.”

            We stepped out and saw Taliesin in flames. We ran down fast. The neighbors began to arrive….

They all fought the flames for hours until rain came, dousing them. Yet, while the studio and offices were untouched, the living quarters, and almost everything in them, were destroyed mostly down to stone.

Olgivanna wrote that Wright had been so concerned about stopping the fire, that he argued against people removing objects from the building. So, he sat on the hill blaming himself for all of the lost art.

Continuing her story,

Olgivanna wrote:

I moved close to him and said, “We will get more works of art. We have each other. Nothing can stop us. We will rebuild Taliesin. you will make it more beautiful now. Let us look at it as a truly fresh beginning of our life, all new. Great opportunities lie before us.” “And,” I whispered to him, “I’m going to have a baby.”

…. He put his hands around me and said, “Nothing matters but you and me – now we will be welded together.”

The Life of Olgivanna Lloyd Wright: From Crna Cora to Taliesin; from Black Mountain to Shining Brow, compiled and edited by Maxine Fawcett-Yeske, Ph.D. and Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer, D.H.L. (ORO Editions, 2017), 83.

After this, there would be lots of problems in the press, and with money, and, you know, that weekend Wright spent in jail.

Helped, or created, by problems with Miriam Noel.

But according to Olgivanna, her push (and optimism) immediately after the fire helped him start to rebuild. Talk about a test by fire, man.

 

First published April 19, 2023.
The newspaper headline at the top of this post is from the New Britain Herald and was printed on April 21, 1925.


Notes:

1 Re: Wright as “dashing” – his widow’s peak seen in the photo below is quite respectable. It’s got a flavor of Christopher Walken:

Frank Lloyd Wright with draftsmen outside of Taliesin.
Photograph published in Big Little Nobu. Right No Deshi Josei Kenchikuka Tsuchiura Nobuko

Back: left to right: Kamecki Tsuchiura, Nobuko Tsuchiura, with Silva Moser behind her husband, Werner Moser.
Seated are: Frank Lloyd Wright, Erich Mendelsohn, with Richard Neutra in the front.

2. Frank Lloyd Wright, An Autobiography, new and revised ed. (New York: Duell, Sloan, and Pearce, 1943), 508. I don’t know why Wright wrote that about Blum, but it’s amusing to read.

3. You may have read about this meeting in the book by Roger Friedland and Harold Zellman: The Fellowship: The Unknown Story of Frank Lloyd Wright & the Taliesin Fellowship. And, yes, I have opinions about it.

In fact, my major opinion is that if you haven’t read it, please don’t.

 
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

Reading Time: 6 minutes

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.

JSTOR 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

Here’s “What’s the oldest part of Taliesin, Part II“.


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“.

Photograph of a section of Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin, fall.

Unfinished Wing

Reading Time: 5 minutes

George Kastner took this photograph on November 28, 1928. It’s looking northeast at the far western end of Taliesin.

“I don’t know why you say it was a pigsty,” Minerva said to me (Minerva became a member of the Taliesin Fellowship in the 1950s). “It always had goats.”

She was referring to a section at the end of Taliesin. It’s rectangular, with a shed roof, and stands over a sandy area. It’s never been lived in. I’d heard it was called a pigsty because Frank Lloyd Wright had the label “Hog Pens” in it, the first time it appeared in a drawing. You’ve seen part of this drawing before, but this part (below) shows the far western part of the Taliesin structure. “Hog Pens” is there, in and outline:

Part of the Taliesin II floor plan executed in 1924. Archival number 1403.023
Location of original drawing, unknown.

The drawing was originally published in Wendingen Magazine during issues it published on Wright in 1924 and 1925.
Then the magazine issues were published as a book, The Life-Work of the American Architect Frank Lloyd Wright, by Frank Lloyd Wright, H. Th. Wijdeveld, ed. (Santpoort, Holland: C. A. Mees, 1925).

Most of what you see in the drawing was designed as the “Farm Court”. It had the hog pens, a yard with a circular pool for the pigs, and a room on the right placed there for the boar.

Moreover,

90 degrees to the left of the Hog Pens was the poultry house. This space contained the entire chicken life cycle:

  • the “incubator room” (for hatching eggs),
  • the chicken coop (raising the chickens),
  • and the abattoir (harvesting them).

Between the poultry house and the pigsty/goat pen was the octagonal “Granary” with circular “Silo”.

Those two were never built. Even though Wright had drawings showing them.
See — I told you not to trust the drawings. But you didn’t listen to me, did you.

All of these spaces (for hogs, chickens, and feed) are all related to the photograph that is at the top of today’s post. And that’s what I’m going to write about today.

Architect, Brian A. Spencer gave me the copy of the photograph at the top of this post. This, and other photographs of Taliesin were taken in 1928 by George Kastner.

Kastner appeared in my post “Oh My Frank: I Was Wrong” and one of his photographs is in “Wall at Taliesin’s Garden Court“.

Kastner arrived at Taliesin to work under Wright on November 20, 1928.1 His dated photographs give us a certain date on details at Taliesin. Better yet, Kastner labelled the photographs on the back!

What did he write on the back of the photo at the top of this post?

Unfinished Wing

So, even though this part of the building had been around since 1924 (according to that drawing and photos 2 ) it was, according to Kastner (or Wright), “unfinished”.

Did Wright ever use this part of the building the way he originally planned?

We know this was built after 1920.

How do we (ok: mostly me) know that?

The Pigsty/Goat pen was added after the November 1920 drawing by Rudolph Schindler (I referenced the drawing in a post late last year).

And this part of the building existed by 1924 when the Tsuchiuras (Kameki and Nobuko) were at Taliesin.

But, then what? Did he ever have pigs there?

So, here’s what I did:

I investigated whether or not Wright had the time to finish this part of the building, what with a fire and bankruptcy and all that crap.

Although, I didn’t really do this. I just knew the work of the ones that did. 3

So, Wright’s life in the 1920s is abbreviated below:

1922

In August, Wright comes back from Japan after working on the Imperial Hotel for years. But, he probably didn’t have time to construct the farm wing before the winter set in. And he might have held off while trying to settle into other commissions. Because, in

1923

he’s in Los Angeles working on commissions from February through late September.

Then he was back at Taliesin in October and November, when he married his second wife, Miriam Noel. Then he was in California again from December until

1924

the end of February.

He’s back in Wisconsin near the time of the death of his mentor, Louis Sullivan (Sullivan died in Chicago on April 24).

Miriam Noel left Wright by late April/early May.

Wright stayed put at Taliesin for most of the rest of the year.

He meets Olgivanna in late November after a trip on in late November to see the ballet with a friend.

Looking at the dates and Wright’s availability, I think that 1924 was when Wright built what’s in that drawing: a chicken coop, hog pens, incubator room, and sure, parking spaces. He had the time, and perhaps thought it was time to get some farming done in Wisconsin (Wisconsin is the Dairy State after all).4

1925

In the beginning of this year, Wright, along with his new love Olgivanna and her daughter, Svetlana, was living at Taliesin. In April 20 of that year, the second Taliesin fire happens.

That little fire certainly pulled him away from thinking about the chicken coops on the other end of the building. So, Wright redesigned and rebuilt Taliesin’s living quarters for most of the remainder of 1925.

Then

In early December, Olgivanna gave birth to her and Wright’s daughter, Iovanna. The life of Wright and the three other people in his life (Olgivanna and the two daughters) for lots of reasons having

NOTHING TO DO WITH FIRES

goes off the rails for years. Due to this, Wright sure didn’t have a lot of time to think about being a dandy country farmer. 

And, while that part of the building did eventually have chickens (for years), George Kastner’s 1928 photograph says that the entire western side of the building was not, for years, used for farm work.

Originally published July 25, 2022.
The photograph at the top of this post is the property of Brian A. Spencer, architect. Used with permission.


Notes:

1 Kastner and others lived with the Wrights at the camp Wright designed in Arizona, Ocotillo. Several of Kastner’s photographs are in the article, “Desert Camp Memoir: George Kastner and Frank Lloyd Wright”, in Journal of Organic Architecture + Design, vol. 7, no. 3, 2019

2 I can’t show you the photos of that part of the building in 1924. They’re not owned by me and I have never been in contact with the person or institution that has the rights to them. The owners would be really (and justifiably) pissed off if I showed them. But I was able to show the photo of Taliesin after the 1925 fire photo months ago, because it’s published in a book. Although if anyone wants to get in touch with the owners and give me a call I’m sure I could do a good job writing about them.

3 Wright scholars have figured out Frank Lloyd Wright’s activities 1911-32. I found this information by looking in the books, FLLW: Designs for an American Landscape (185-201) (link to the Library of Congress exhibit web page, here); Meryle Secrest’s biography, FLLW: A Life, the book, FLLW: 1910-22, The Lost Years, by Anthony Alofsin, and “Wright and the Imperial Hotel: A Postscript,” by Kathryn Smith, Art Bulletin 67, no. 2 (June 1985).

4 ALTHOUGH, in some sort of Wisconsin crime against all that is perfect, the website “www.comesmellourdairyair.com” is owned by someone from outside of the state. Why, Vicarious Ranch in California of all things! They’ve got goats, pigs, lambs and a creamery, which sounds wonderful, so I hope they make a good living.

Summer photograph in Taliesin's Garden Court looking plan west.

Wall at Taliesin’s Garden Court

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Taliesin’s Garden Court photo taken in August, 2002 by Doug Hadley, then the Landscape Coordinator.

In this post I’m going to write about when a stone wall was built at Taliesin’s Garden Court, changing it from an entryway into a private courtyard.

The Garden Court used to be the courtyard where people stopped when they arrived. I showed a couple of old photographs of that courtyard in my post, “When Did Taliesin Get Its Front Door?” The courtyard was the forecourt from the time that Taliesin was built in 1911, until after its second fire in 1925.

After that, Wright made it into the Garden Court.

Ok – got it. But why do you have to use capital letters in front of the words Garden and Court, like a snooty know-it-all?

I think it’s because Garden Court is its proper name. I didn’t name it that. Plus, when you’re at Taliesin (or talking about it), you say those words and everyone knows what space you’re talking about.

Like, when I went to Taliesin West (Wright’s home in Arizona) people said “Kiva“, “Cabaret” and “Pavilion“, while talking about those spaces. I didn’t really know what they were talking about, but tried to not look as confused as I felt. I knew they’d tell me on tour, so hopefully I’d learn. Although, I still have to check with myself on The Cabaret vs. The Pavilion.

Besides: it’s not “snooty know-it-all”. . . it’s “socially awkward…” I don’t think I’m snooty, anyway.

Besides,

Wright labelled the court in the drawing published in the book, In the Nature of Materials. And also in one other Taliesin drawing, below:

Taliesin drawing, circa 1943. #2501.060, cropped.
The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York).

If you click the link, you’ll see the whole drawing is larger. I made the label “Garden Court” a little bigger, and lighter.
The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York).

Back to the Garden Court

Like I said, Wright created it after Taliesin’s two fires. It might be because Wright didn’t like people driving right up to the living quarters.

This was even though he might have had reason for optimism about his career in 1925.

This is despite the 1925 fire that had destroyed so many of his art objects. And, oh yeah: his damned home. Again.

But there were probably some positive signs floating around. After all, he had done some interesting work in California, and was well known because of his Imperial Hotel. That building was one of the few that stood in Tokyo after Japan’s devastating Great Kanto earthquake two years before.

And, finally, on the personal side, Miriam Noel (his second, unstable, wife) had left him (the year before), and he was newly in love with Olgivanna (with whom he spent the rest of his life). 

Regardless, he no longer wanted people driving right to the forecourt when they came to Taliesin. So he added a few things to redirect people on their way up.

So he blocked the old drive in two ways:

From the south:

He built a stone court that ended with a parapet. You see the wall at the end of the terrace in this 1932-33 photo from the Wisconsin Historical Society:

Aerial of Taliesin, in the summer.
Published originally in 1933 in the original prospectus for the Taliesin Fellowship.
Wisconsin Historical Society, image ID: 38757

The arrow in the photo points to where the carriages used to drive when there was a road that continued way.

From the west:

This west here is the part of the building on the left in the photo; under “Image ID: 38757”.

It might have been easier to drive up that way because you didn’t even have to drive up a hill, to get right outside of his studio. So, men and women could be working in the studio, then look up and see people they didn’t know right outside of of the windows. Or those people might walk into the room.

In order for them to drive from the west to the studio

They would have driven through a couple of gates, then under the old hayloft and past the former horse stables.

I suppose it wouldn’t have been bad if Wright were waiting for a client. Plus, there was a door under the hayloft to keep random people (and cows) out. But if the draftsmen forgot to close the door, and people came in, it could really interrupt you.

Like, for a couple of years, when I worked more in the tour department at Taliesin Preservation. On the first floor of the visitor center, there’s a door that goes out to a loading dock. That’s because one summer, at least two groups of people walked in, thinking the door was the building’s entrance.1 We had to tape a little sign on the door telling them “This is not an entrance”. Seemed to work well.

You can imagine other draftsmen or -women,  working on a nice drawing in Wright’s studio, when a stranger comes walking in to the room, wanting to know if this was the “Crazy House” (like I mentioned in my post, “This Stuff Is Fun For Me“).

btw, at that time, they didn’t ask if Taliesin was the House on the Rock. Because that didn’t exist yet.

So, the wall might have been an effort to make a journey to the studio more onerous. The wall isolated the former Forecourt, and allowed an expansion of the gardens.

He took one of his drawings to figure out his plan

Here’s a Taliesin II drawing where he made changes in pencil. An arrow is pointing at the wall below

Taliesin drawing, c. 1917 with changes made 1925-1943.
The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York).

The drawing above links to the version online. If you click on it, you’ll see that the actual drawing is a lot bigger.
The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York)

One of the changes Wright wanted was to make the old CARRIAGE HOUSE into bedrooms. So, he took a pencil and drew in bay windows at the Carriage House.

One of those rooms with bay windows is where George Kastner lived when he started working for Wright. You saw two photographs inside Kastner’s room in my last post, “Oh My Frank, I Was Wrong!

Kastner also took a photo outside of his room. At that time, November or December, 1928, he was living at Taliesin. The photograph shows the Garden Court wall being built:

Exterior photograph taken at Taliesin in the fall of 1928.
Photograph by architect, George Kastner. Taken on November 28, 1928.
Courtesy of Brian A. Spencer, Architect

Taken in the Middle Court, looking (plan) northeast. The new bay windows are on the left, with the Taliesin III living quarters in the distance on the right. The chimney for the studio fireplace is the second chimney on the right.
The chimney on the left eventually became the fireplace for the living room used by Wes Peters, and his wife, Svetlana Hinzenberg Peters.

A photograph I took in this area is below. The stone wall is slightly taller than it was in Kastner’s photo. Stonemasons later heightened the wall by a stone course or two, probably in the year after Kastner took his photograph.

Looking plan east in Taliesin's Middle Court toward the Garden Court. 4-29-2004.

I took this photograph in April 2004.

First published, May 20, 2022
The photograph at the top of this post was taken by former Landscape Management Coordinator, Doug Hadley


Note:

  1. My theory on why people would walk in the door was is that the grounds people had cut down the yew bushes, so people saw the door more easily when driving by the building. But putting up the sign on the door stopped people from walking in unexpectedly.
Contemporary. Looking southwest in Taliesin's living room at the fireplace.

1940s Change in Taliesin’s Living Room

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Photograph from the 2000s taken by me in Taliesin’s living room. Looking toward the fireplace with the inglenook (the built-in bench).

Today, I thought about photographs from the book, Apprentice to Genius, by Edgar Tafel that I recommended almost a year ago. Looking through the book reminded me of a change to the inglenook (the built-in bench) at the fireplace in Taliesin’s living room. I’m going to talk about that change in this post.

A moment about Wright’s living room

While I’ve written about his living room before, I haven’t really talked about it much. That’s in part because, while Wright obviously loved it and rebuilt it after his home’s two fires, he didn’t spend a lot of time changing it.

I mean, comparatively speaking.

Because he changed other rooms. A lot. Like the room I talked about in here; I mean, c’mon: it’s inside Taliesin and figuring out where the room stood (or stands. . . it’s still there) can be really difficult.

But, in contrast, there are things in Taliesin’s living room that he kept the same.

For example:

  1. The door from the main hallway was always in the same space.
  2. The room always had almost square windows.
  3. The dining area was always on the south wall.

And,

The fireplace always had an inglenook. In addition, for years (and after each fire), the inglenook ended a bookshelf on the end, farthest from the firebox. Maybe this bookshelf kept the space on the couch warmer when you had a fire.

Here’s the inglenook and bookshelf during the Taliesin I era:

Black and white photograph of inglenook in Taliesin I living room. By Taylor Woolley
Property of Utah Historical Society, Taylor Woolley collection, ID #695922.

Photograph taken 1911-1912 by Taylor Woolley, Wright’s draftsman at Taliesin at that time. Photograph located at the Utah Historical Society, ID #695922.

btw, I have tried to read the titles on the books on the shelf. Unfortunately, when I magnified it, the book titles just got blurry.

The bench was reconstructed for Taliesin II, after the 1914 fire.

Which can see in this Taliesin II photograph from the Wisconsin Historical Society.

And, again, after the fire of 1925.

You can see the inglenook here in an early Taliesin III photo, at Greatbuildings.com.1

And then we come to one of the photographs from “Apprentice to Genius”. The photograph from it below was taken in 1940 by Pedro Guerrero:

Photograph of Taliesin's living room and fireplace. By Pedro Guerrero.
Photograph taken in 1940.
Property: Pedro E. Guerrero Archives.

The bookshelf is the vertical section at the end of the bench.
This photograph is on page 112 of Apprentice to Genius.

In addition, this photograph shows that Wright had a small bookshelf on the opposite side of the bench. You can see the books where the bench terminates into the wall in the living room, to the left of the fireplace mantle.

btw: I’ve looked at the books on that little shelf and can’t read the titles there, either.

I suppose that could be a nice thing to have if you were at that fireplace in the winter, reading.

And then he made changes in the 1940s

Particularly the early 1940s. Why?

Because Wright, his family, and a few others were (more-or-less) confined to Wisconsin after the United States involvement in World War II. This involvement led to rationing, which resulted in his forced residence of Taliesin again year-around.

In addition,

Being forced to stay at his digs in the Midwest allowed Wright to think seriously on how he could change his home to make it more suitable to living in the summer.

Aside from all those stone changes he made in 1942-43 when he got an offer for “a cord or two of stone for every hour that I use the tractor.”

So, along with large changes at Taliesin, he made changes to this part of the living room. 

Here’s what I think happened:

That bookcase probably helped to preserve heat near the fireplace. So, he got rid of the bookcase, since he wouldn’t have to worry about conserving heat there any more, once they could all get back to Taliesin West in the winter. Besides, taking away that bookcase would make the bench more open to people walking around during hors d’oeuvres for Sunday formal evenings.2

He also eliminated the little bookshelf to the left of the fireplace, and put mortared stone in its place.

The removal of both book storage areas, were just two of five or six changes. You can see the cleaned up area in Apprentice to Genius, p. 113. Or in the photo below taken in the 1950s by Maynard Parker. Parker Taliesin took photographs at Taliesin in 1955 for House Beautiful.3

Color photograph taken of bench and fireplace in Taliesin living room, 1955.
Courtesy of the Huntington Library, San Marino, California.
Call Number: photCL MLP 1266

Now:

I do not know if Wright thought of the changes near the fireplace all at once, or if he made a change at the bookcase, followed by others over time.

Like when you go to wipe up a coffee spill on the counter and three hours later you’re mopping the entire kitchen floor after having wiped down all the cupboards while you rearranged (and threw out) the old spices (oh, you were so naive when you thought you’d use that much Cayenne).

But, maybe this came to him fully formed. From the bookcase, to the mantelpiece, or maybe the mantelpiece to the bookcase.

And, yes,

There’s a water stain on the ceiling. One time, a Taliesin Preservation employee (hey, Bob!) said to us that leaks in Wright buildings were like Alfred Hitchcock making a cameo appearance in his movies.4

I also like the plaster on the back of the built-in: sort of dark gold. I haven’t determined whether he made it lighter the last summer he lived in Wisconsin. Although, one of his former apprentices, David Dodge, said one time that Wright had apprentices redo colors on the walls every year. Although I don’t know if that was for every square inch of every wall in every space, but “David” said he could see why Wright redid the colors.

David said that just because the same flowers grow in the same place as the year before doesn’t mean the red or yellow of that rose will be the exact same shade in every way.

First published March 16, 2022.


Notes:

1. This photograph is published in the Volume 6 Number 1 issue of the Journal of the Organic Architecture + Design archives.

2. Formal evenings were held every Sunday when I started in 1994. Why they were held on Sundays, I don’t know. They were definitely Saturdays later and were held two times a month after I’d worked a season or two.

3. House Beautiful magazine, November 1955, v.97, number 11, p. 233-90 +. Parker gave his collection to the Huntington Library in California.

4. Although I can tell you that, this part of the ceiling has never leaked in my experience with Taliesin. And, while work has always been done to stop them, the roofs of Taliesin do/can leak. I recall one day maybe a dozen years ago, when TPI’s then-executive director told a reporter with excitement that, “Nothing leaked this spring!” [paywall] It’s not that Wright didn’t know what he was doing; he was just always changing things. So he was putting “creases” in the “envelope” of the building.

Frank and Olgivanna Lloyd Wright outside at Taliesin with Alexander Woollcott holding baby goat.

Guest Quarters

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Frank Lloyd Wright (left) with his wife, Olgivanna, and friend, writer Alexander Woollcott outside the architect’s home, Taliesin, 1935-43. Woollcott holds a baby goat. The west wall of a bedroom is in the background. This became Wright’s bedroom in 1936.

My years of working at Taliesin Preservation gave me time to uncover the history of Wright’s changes at the Taliesin estate. Although (no surprise, I admit), most of my interest centered on the Taliesin structure by Wright (his home, studio, and former farm).

In trying to figure out Taliesin’s history, I spent time looking at copies of his drawings. While I was/am always cautious toward them, I came to trust some that actually seemed to match what existed.

You’ll see them or a link to them in my post today.

For example

Wright drew elevations in the early 1920s of the portion of Taliesin on which he was adding a guest apartment. This work was done after he returned from working on the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo.

I noted this change when I wrote about Taliesin II (Taliesin’s forgotten middle child).

This drawing from the early 1920s is number 2501.025.

“2501” on the drawing usually indicates “Taliesin III” (meaning, post-1925). But details in the drawing mean it comes from the Taliesin II era (before the 1925 fire). I’ll show which portion is exclusively Taliesin II. The part where I’ve added the arrow is what became Olgivanna Lloyd Wright’s bedroom. In the Taliesin II era, that room had that small balcony that I’ve pointed the arrow at:

Elevation of Taliesin, 1920-25. 2501.025
Property: The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York

I think Wright added this “Guest Apartment” to increase the attractiveness of coming to Taliesin. Even today, you’re about a 45-minute drive west of Madison, the Wisconsin state capital. Moreover, in the early 1920s the only place to stay was in the village of Spring Green (three miles away), which had one hotel. This was a three-story building with the Hotel Myers and a restaurant on its first floor named the Dutch Kitchen.2 And in the 1920s, you couldn’t have even gotten a Brandy Old Fashioned there.

Thus, the architect designed a guest apartment (without a kitchen) at Taliesin. The two bedrooms, living room and separate bathrooms were on the same floor as the architect, separated by his own rooms by a door.

Then, the second fire happened

The April 20, 1925 fire destroyed Wright’s living quarters and he began rebuilding that summer. The reconstruction included the guest apartment. A Taliesin III drawing shows part of this in the drawing linked to here. It’s an elevation and floor plan on one sheet, labelled as “guest living room”.

You’ve seen this “guest living room” before

A door separated the “guest living room” from everything else on the floor. This door was seen in the photograph in my post “About a Wall at Taliesin That No Longer Exists”. It’s the open door on the left-hand side of the photo.

While ups and downs in Wright’s life after 1925 kept him away from Taliesin, he and his family were there in 1928 and he wanted to invite someone to his “guest quarters” when everyone was living again at home. I know this because of a letter that I found on one of my trips down to Frank Lloyd Wright’s archives when they were still at Taliesin West in Arizona.3

As I’ve written, as Wright was the architect, he didn’t have to ask permission to change whatever he wanted. So, there are very few (or non-existant) letters or telegrams to pinpoint changes. As a result, I looked for details (and, goodness, still do) in any way that I could.

What did I find?

Since I read letters between Wright and people he knew, I looked into those between him and friends, employees, etc. I knew writer Alexander Woollcott visited, so I read those letters. And, in 1928, soon after Wright and his family had returned to Taliesin, Wright invited Woollcott to visit, even encouraged him to bring a friend. On page two of this letter he wrote:

. . . . You could have my little studio with a big stone fireplace to write in, and he or she could have a little studio nearby to draw in. We would look [hook?] you up together in the guest quarters back of the house,—two bedrooms and a sunny sitting room with a big fireplace in it. . . .

FICHEID: W045B08: 1/1/1928 (unknown month and day).
The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York

Those “two bedrooms” at the “guest quarters back of the house” are the ones I’ve been writing about.

I recognized this sunny room with the big fireplace in it. It’s in the photograph below. The photo was published in the March, 1929 issue of Liberty magazine:

Taken inside Taliesin, looking southwest in Loggia fireplace. 1926-29.
Copyright David Phillips| The Chicago Architectural Photographing Company.
Published in the Journal of the Organic Architecture + Design Archives, volume 6, number 1, 2018, 73.

This image is published in the Journal of the Organic Architecture + Design Archives, volume 6, number 1, 2018, 73. That’s available through here.

I’m not sure how often these two rooms were used for guests. Anyway, in 1936, Wright changed the two guest bedrooms into separate bedrooms for his wife and himself and then re-designated their former bedroom as the Guest Bedroom.

OH, and one last point:

Wright’s letter to Woollcott shows that the architect thought of those two rooms as guest rooms. But on a practical level, originally they might have been planned as bedrooms for the daughters Svetlana and Iovanna.

I thought about all of this last year, and these thoughts evolved into a presentation on Wright’s changes to Taliesin for Iovanna, which I did for the Monona Terrace “Virtual Wright Design Series” in October of 2020. That presentation, “Life Is Not Monotonous at Taliesin” is on Youtube, here.

Originally published on September 19, 2021.

The photograph at the top of this page was published in Frank Lloyd Wright. Frank Lloyd Wright Collected Writings, volume 4: 1939-49, edited by Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer, introduction by Kenneth Frampton (Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., New York City, 1994), 192.

 


Notes

1. This means that I will not trust anything that man put into a drawing unless I see a photograph of it. “Fool me once…” etc.
2. The Administrator in Historic Studies for the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation clarified the name of the hotel (as previously I just had the name of the Dutch Kitchen).
3. I would have spent useless time during my first trip to the archives if the registrar hadn’t taken pity on me and got me a very nice listing of correspondence about the actual Taliesin structure, and not just everything latter that contained the word “Taliesin”. Taliesin was mentioned in letters from people wanting to join the “Taliesin Fellowship”, or everyone wanting to get the magazine they put out for a while entitled “Taliesin”. It was so great when the Director and Curator of Collections at the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation gave me this modified list.

Photograph of Taliesin's Loggia by Raymond C. Trowbridge

A slice of Taliesin:

Reading Time: 6 minutes

1930 photo looking south in Taliesin’s Loggia. Notice the vertical water stain on the horizontal band of plaster in the background.

Many photos taken inside Taliesin during Wright’s lifetime show water stains. That’s why I’m showing this photograph by Raymond Trowbridge again: it shows Taliesin’s Loggia with a vertical water stain in the background. Personally, I’ve never seen that part of the roof leaking, but I have seen water coming into Taliesin. I start this post with scary water, then give you a short version of what the Preservation Crew did about that (that jumps over a bit of the story), which changed into an even bigger fix.

That can happen with historic preservation. One problem can highlight other problems. It was overwhelming even though I didn’t work on the Preservation Crew – I just researched Taliesin’s history!

Regardless, the way to approach preservation at Taliesin is how you “eat an elephant“: sometimes it’s just best to go after the smaller things until the resources are there to complete the project.

Here’s (most of) my part in the story:

I was eating lunch in Olgivanna Lloyd Wright‘s bedroom one summer day. I worked as a Taliesin House Steward one-day-a-week at that time, and Olgivanna’s Bedroom wasn’t yet on tours. So it was nice to take a break there. As I watched a summer downpour, I looked out the windows onto the Loggia Terrace (here in a recent photo from Flickr). While the roof didn’t (doesn’t) leak, I watched as buckets of water poured into the space between a stone half-wall on the terrace, and the wall that it leaned away from.

Wright added the half-wall in the 1950s, so it wasn’t attached to the taller stone wall behind it.

Check out the photo below to see this noticeable crack:

A stone wall at Taliesin with Olgivanna Lloyd Wright's Bedroom in the background.

Taken on the Loggia Terrace. The red framed windows at Olgivanna Lloyd Wright’s Bedroom are in the background.
Kevin Dodds took this photograph in November, 2002.

Remember I wrote about how Wright buildings are smaller than you think? That’s not true here: that crack is as big as it looks

As I stood there in Olgivanna’s bedroom, I tried not to think about how much water was pouring into the building, and where it was going. I didn’t have the resources to do anything about the problem, and worrying would drive me crazy.

Fortunately, the Preservation Crew did do something.

In fact, they started doing something right after that photo above was taken. Kevin, a Preservation Crew member, photographed this in the beginning of their work.

They took the pier apart, looking into the building. On the other side of that stone wall above, they saw that the hearth at Olgivanna Lloyd Wright’s Bedroom fireplace was deflecting. To fix the hearth, the Preservation Crew went under the building.

Why?

They had to support the hearth. But they didn’t want to support it on the floor below, in “the Gold Room”.1 They had to go into the crawlspace under the Gold Room to create support for its floor.

But, see, after its second fire Wright rebuilt Taliesin on the ashes of Taliesin II. So this crawlspace was a mess. The man who spearheaded the project2 explained it to me.

Imagine it:

Wright had recently spent over eight years of his life on a consuming project (the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo), and had acquired tons of art. That he brought home. And just under three years later his living quarters were, once again, consumed by fire.3

Wright wrote in his autobiography about that fire’s aftermath:

Left to me out of most of my earnings, since Taliesin I was destroyed, all I could show for my work and wanderings in the Orient for years past, were the leather trousers, burned socks, and shirt in which I stood, defeated, and what the workshop contained.

But Taliesin lived wherever I stood! A figure crept forward from out the shadows to say this to me. And I believed what Olgivanna said.

Frank Lloyd Wright, An Autobiography (Duell, Sloan and Pearce, New York, 1943), 262.

So, Wright moved on. Because what else was he going to do? Therefore, when the Preservation Crew (really, two men) started work, the crawlspace was full of dirt and ash. Literally: the ashes from the Taliesin II fire.

This photo shows the crawlspace.

It was taken a month after that photo showing the stone pier on the Loggia Terrace:

A crawlspace with dirt and stone piers underneath Taliesin

Photograph taken in December, 2002, by Kevin Dodds.

The “after” photo is below.

Kevin took this after the debris and ash (but NOT the stone piers) were removed. Then they built a support for the vertical section they built in the floor above:

Wooden platform in Taliesin's crawlspace.

Photograph in Taliesin’s crawlspace taken in February, 2003 by Kevin Dodds.

With that, they were able to put the structure in the Gold Room to support the hearth in Olgivanna’s Bedroom.

The support in the Gold Room.

This structure supported the stone hearth at Olgivanna Lloyd Wright’s fireplace:

Photograph of a fireplace in the room at Taliesin known as "the Gold Room".

Photograph looking north in the room at Taliesin known as “the Gold Room”. Taken March 2004, by Kevin Dodds.

With that, they left it alone until they could get back to it.

In 2004, a year after this work, students from the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture (now The School of Architecture), working under the direction of the Preservation Crew, repaired the terrace outside of Olgivanna Lloyd Wright’s Bedroom (that’s the light blue area you see in the the first photo of the half-wall).

In 2005, the half-wall was rebuilt

Here’s a photo of the pier, rebuilt (with two layers of flashing):

Stone half-wall on Loggia Terrace at Taliesin

Photograph by Kevin Dodds taken May 2005. Looking southwest at the rebuilt half-wall on the Loggia Terrace. The dark membrane at the bottom of the photograph is waterproofing. This was covered by flagstone once the Loggia Terrace was restored.

In 2006, the crew continued in the crawlspace

After creating wooden forms, they prepared to pour concrete piers in it. Here’s one photo I took:

Concrete being brought in a hose to Taliesin.

I wasn’t usually involved with this stuff. But I had to get out and see the pumper truck. That photo above is showing the arm bring the concrete in. They brought it in through a little passageway (out of sight on the photograph’s left side). The passageway goes to the crawlspace where the forms were set for the concrete pour.

The concrete supports were created and set.

When that was done, they put jacks on top of them, then devised a way to bring steel beams into the crawlspace. It’s cool: hollow, rectangular, steel pieces were about two feet long were brought in, then bolted together.

Looking at a new beam in Taliesin's crawlspace

Jacks supporting the beams in the crawlspace that the Preservation Crew had constructed and prepared. Photograph taken March 2007 by Kevin Dodds.

The crawlspace looked like this for awhile.

The Preservation Crew had to wait until the next phase: jacking up the beams to correct the deflection.

Once this was accomplished, they contracted with Custom Metals (Madison, WI) to permanently weld the steel I-beams in the crawlspace.

Welding posts to concrete pads in crawlspace

Photos that show welding are so cinematic!
Taken by Kevin Dodds in February, 2010.

New posts and beams in crawlspace at Taliesin.

Photograph of the metal posts, beams, and concrete pads in Taliesin’s crawlspace. Taken February, 2010 by Kevin Dodds.

Once this was settled, they worked upstairs.

The Preservation Crew restored Olgivanna’s Bedroom in 2010. The bedroom was prepped and put on Taliesin House tours.

In 2011, Taliesin turned 100 years old.

After the tour season finished that year, the Preservation Crew began to completely restore Taliesin’s Loggia. After this, they restored all of the spaces in Taliesin’s Guest Wing rooms.

So now the Guest Wing is level, warmer, doesn’t smell like mildew, and the crew rebuilt amazing pieces of furniture. While you can’t see the crawlspace on a tour, you can go on a Virtual Tour through Taliesin’s Guest Wing (via Facebook), here.

When I look back on these things, I’m a little amazed. And I was only the sidelines for most of it!

Published August 31, 2021
The photograph at the top of this post is by Raymond C. Trowbridge at the Chicago History Museum, ICHi-89168. It is in the public domain.
Thanks to Kevin Dodds and Ryan Hewson from the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation for allowing me to publish the work photographs.


1 It’s unknown why the room was given that name. Taliesin Preservation asked members of the Taliesin community (members of the Taliesin Fellowship) why it was given that name and the people they asked didn’t know.

2 Jim, the former Estate Manager who brought me to the crawlspace, is written about here.

3 This was an electrical fire.

Exterior of Fellowship dining room, summer.

Old Dining Room

Reading Time: 5 minutes

The photograph above shows the dining room areas, first built before 1920, then used by the Wrights and the Taliesin Fellowship. The area dining rooms were on the left, with the kitchen located behind the tower on the right.

I have had the goal of figuring out the history of Frank Lloyd Wright’s home, Taliesin, for awhile. Well, a lot. It’s almost like it’s, I dunno, a career or something.

And, I’ve written about figuring out Taliesin’s history in this blog here, and here, and a few more places.

Regardless, come along with me while I talk about how I figured out something because of photographs and what others wrote.

The old Fellowship dining room at Taliesin is a simple example.

That’s the dining room Wright was exiting in 1925 when he saw that his home was on fire:

… [O]ne evening at twilight as the lightning of an approaching lightning storm was playing and the wind rising I came down from the evening meal in the little detached dining room on the hill-top to the dwelling on the court below to find smoke pouring out of my bedroom. Again—there it was—Fire!

Frank Lloyd Wright, An Autobiography, in Frank Lloyd Wright Collected Writings: 1930-32, volume 2. Edited by Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer, introduction by Kenneth Frampton (1992; Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., New York City, 1992), 294.

Below is a photo from the Wisconsin Historical Society, taken prior to that day:

Taliesin dining area and Hill Tower, summer. 1920-22.
Wisconsin Historical Society. See image online here:
https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Image/IM38788

The door he was coming out of was to the left of the stone pier. You can’t see the door because it’s behind all of that foliage.
https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Image/IM38788

There’s a tree coming out of the roof on the left hand side of the photograph. That tree was there for close to a decade (don’t worry: the tree didn’t stand inside a room).

Continuing on Taliesin’s history

Taliesin’s second fire happens in 1925, then, after ups and downs in his career over the next seven years, Frank Lloyd Wright and his wife, Olgivanna, founded the Taliesin Fellowship in 1932. The apprentices in the Fellowship did a lot of work at Taliesin in the 1930s so they could have places to live and eat.

(I wrote about one of them, Edgar Tafel, and his book, Apprentice to Genius, in this post).

Here are the changes in the dining room in the 1930s:

Eventually, the main Fellowship dining room was at Hillside. But, in those early Fellowship years, while the group still ate at Taliesin, Wright added a chimney with two fireplaces to the existing dining room. Abe Dombar, then a Taliesin Fellowship apprentice (along with his brother Bennie; they both became architects) mentioned this in his “At Taliesin” article on March 23, 1934:

….  Additions were made… and the little dining room soon grew to be the big dining room.  The apprentices that were there helped to make it grow.  The low ceiling of the old dining room now projected out into the new part to form a deck….

And then they built a corner fireplace on the far side by the windows.

At Taliesin: Newspaper Columns by Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Fellowship, 1934-1937. Edited and with commentary by Randolph C. Henning (Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale and Edwardsville, Illinois, 1991), 30.

The chimney mentioned in Dombar’s article is seen in an aerial photograph from the Wisconsin Historical Society, below:

Aerial of Taliesin in summer, 1932-33. Cropped.
Owner: Wisconsin Historical Society. Available at: https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Image/IM38757

The chimney stands on the far left-hand side of the photograph, to the left of the tree.
Wisconsin Historical Society, ID 38757. The image is online here.

Then, in 1936, Wright invited young photographer, Edmund Teske, to live at Taliesin as the Fellowship photographer. Teske’s photos also show the tree.

In 1937, photos were taken for Architectural Forum mag

On preparation for an issue of that magazine devoted to his work, that fall, Wright dispatched young photographers Bill and Ken Hedrich (of the photography firm, Hedrich-Blessing) to photograph Taliesin and his other recent work. This magazine issue was released the next January. Among other things, that issue of Architectural Forum included unique photographs from the Taliesin estate, as well as the Johnson Wax world headquarters, and that little Wright building known as “Fallingwater”.

During his session, Ken Hedrich took a distant photograph of Taliesin, which showed the building without that tree in the roof. I don’t have that one to show, but here‘s a photograph Ken took on a roof looking over a courtyard with the dining room in the background. It ends at the chimney, and has no tree through the roof.

So, I’m figuring this stuff out: “Ok, the chimney’s built, then the tree is eliminated. Got it.”

Around that time, I grabbed another piece of writing. This is the book, Working With Mr. Wright: What It Was Like, by Curtis Besinger. He wrote about his years in the Taliesin Fellowship (1939-43; 1946-55).

Besinger on a change to the dining room in 1939:

He was involved in this during his first fall in the Fellowship:

I was also involved in one other construction project that fall, a remodeling of the Taliesin dining room…,

One morning, having finished his breakfast in the nearby little dining room, Mr. Wright1 came into the Fellowship dining room and announced that he wanted to put a clerestory in the ceiling to let more light as well as the morning sun into the room…. He directed some people to start knocking off the plaster on the ceiling along the east side of the ridge…. He made a rough drawing to indicate how he wanted the clerestory built….

Curtis Besinger. Working with Mr. Wright: What It Was Like (1995; Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, England), 26.

Even though he wrote his memoir years after his time at Taliesin, I trust Besinger’s memory on when this construction took place. That earliest experience at Taliesin makes a strong impression.

Here’s the conclusion to this information:

By looking at things written contemporaneously (as well as in memoirs), and by using definitively dated photographs (the Teske and Hedrich-Blessing photos), I was able to figure out when the chimney was built (1932-33); then when the tree disappeared (1936-37); then when the clerestory was constructed (1939).

In my nonstop refining of the dates of Taliesin’s changes, I looked at all the photocopies, took a pencil, and re-dated them accordingly. Figuring out these photographs has helped me to figure out changes; and on the other hand, figuring out changes has helped me figure out photographs.

First published, August 21, 2021.

The image at the top of this post is published online at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Taliesin_Exterior_21.jpg. The image is licensed under the Creative Commons  Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.


1 While it’s slowly changing, people who knew him and worked with him referred to him as Mr. Wright. I was taught that specifically when I started giving tours. But, as I was completing grad school at that time, I carried the lesson on referring to an artist. First introduce them by their full name and thereafter just use their last names. I tried to call him “Frank Lloyd Wright” otherwise, but I can’t guarantee it.