Daylight photograph in the Arizona desert with a waxing moon.

Reading Correspondence, 2021

A desert landscape outside of Scottsdale, Arizona.
Taken December 2021.

Beating the wave of the Omicron variant of Covid-19, we went to Arizona the second week of December. We went there for the Open House at the Organic Architecture + Design Archives. The OA+D Archives was founded by people who have wanted to secure the future of information on those who practice “Organic Architecture“. So, they have assembled objects—drawings, photographs, models, etc.—particularly by those architects who worked with, or apprenticed under, Frank Lloyd Wright.

The OA+D recently acquired the Taliesin Architects collection. “TA” were members of the Taliesin Fellowship and Frank Lloyd Wright’s former apprentices. After his death in 1959, they completed his ongoing projects. This naturally led to people coming to these former Wright apprentices to design their own homes and buildings. These former apprentices incorporated the firm in 1960 and ran it until 2003. The collection has many things from the firm; basically thousands of objects.

By the way, former apprentices constructed buildings all around Spring Green, Wisconsin. This was on the Spring Green Traveler’s Guide (which has been folded into the website for the Spring Green Chamber of Commerce). Although I went to the Chamber of Commerce site through the Wayback Machine to show you the web page with the

Architectural Driving Tour

Tour guides had to learn about the Traveler’s Guide since it was the easiest handout when helping visitors figure out the area. I think I learned about it the first weekend I ever gave tours. I’ve seen guides flip automatically to the page with the Architectural Driving Tour if someone came looking for a tour after the last one had left for the day.

But the trip last week brought us close to Wright’s winter home, Taliesin West.

So I made an appointment

Not to go on a tour (I’ve taken Taliesin West tours about 10 times). I went to transcribe some of “the correspondence”. This is the correspondence from Frank Lloyd Wright’s archives. It’s over 200,000 pieces (so a postcard is one piece, and a 10-page letter is another piece). It’s to/from Wright, his family, his business associates, et al.

Over 30 years ago, all of the correspondence was photographed and put on Microfiche. Then it was indexed in a five-volume set of books. You can look for the names of people who wrote to Wright, who he wrote to, when they wrote, what building they were writing about, etc. Every piece has an index number. You want to check out that piece of writing, you write down the identification number and look for it on the piece of Microfiche.

I think even if you were the President of all Historians, you wouldn’t get a lot of chances to physically pick up the “real stuff”.

The Avery Fine Arts & Architectural Library, along with many things, has a copy of the Mircofiche. As does Taliesin West.

As well as the Getty Research Center in Los Angeles.

I first looked at the correspondence (and other things in Wright’s archive) almost 15 years ago (I wrote about it in my post about photographer, Raymond Trowbridge). And yet, looking at letters and telegrams from all these people associated with Wright / Taliesin—to discover his activities on his whole estate—is like seeing the streamers shooting out from the sun’s corona. You can’t closely see what’s going on at the sun itself; you see its outer edge and its effects.

In other words,

relatively few of the letters and telegrams deal with the actual buildings on the Taliesin estate. There just aren’t that many letters of him acquiring stone or writing down a formula for a plaster color. When he wanted something anywhere at Taliesin, he could just tell people what he wanted because he was often there.

Yet, I have dug around in ways over the years to find answers.

That’s how I found the letter where Herb Fritz offered Wright some stone “In Return for the Use of the Tractor“.

While I didn’t know what I’d find this time around, I looked for stuff related to Wright’s “Midway Barn” on the Taliesin estate.

The greatest find:

Happily, I found the only piece of correspondence that specifically related to Midway Barn! In May 1938, the Gillen Woodwork Corp shipped material for roofing, they said, on “your Midway Barn.” That 1938 date explained why the director of the Archives, the late Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer, had said for years that the building was begun in 1938. But in the Frank Lloyd Wright: Complete Works, vol. 2, 1917-42 (2009), Pfeiffer wrote that Midway’s date is c. 1920.

I always hoped it was because Pfeiffer had seen my writing somewhere about Midway, in which I gave evidence that the building existed by 1920. And, thus, was persuaded by my genius. (Or perhaps something else. I don’t know, but I prefer “genius”.)

Or possibly,

Because “Bruce” took a look at a drawing they have in the Archives. It’s drawing Number 3420.005,  first executed in 1920 by draftsman, Rudolph Schindler. Schindler left this at Taliesin, and, like many drawings of the estate, Wright continuously drew on it. Still, when you look at the copy at the link from ARTSTOR, you see a building right in the middle of the drawing, under the scribbles. It looks suspiciously like Midway.

Now, I don’t trust Wright’s drawings of Taliesin, because he often drew what he wanted to exist at Taliesin along with what was actually there.

I wrote about that (of course I did) in my post, “Exhibiting Patience“.

But Schindler’s original drawing appears to show what stood there in reality.

Here’s a crop from the drawing, below:

Drawing 3420.005 from The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York)

Crop of drawing 3420.005. The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York).

Schindler’s drawing is the darkest part in the middle. Now this makes me wonder who originally wanted that structure built.

Wright, maybe, but his brother-in-law, Andrew Porter, had owned that piece of land until about a month before Shindler made the drawing.1 And as I said, Schindler seemed to draw what actually existed. Not all of those scribbles that Wright added later.

Well, as I’ve said for years: if Wright had made it easy, I wouldn’t have a career.

Originally posted December 19, 2021.
I took the photograph at the top of the post on December 12, 2021.


1 November 8, 1920.

Top photograph: Taliesin in Wisconsin, with snow. Bottom photograph: Taliesin West board room.

Taliesin is in Wisconsin

The photograph with snow was taken in one of the courtyards of Taliesin, in Wisconsin.
The photograph below it shows a portion of Taliesin West in Arizona.

In my post last week I wrote about how sometimes people think that Taliesin is not Frank Lloyd Wright’s home, but is actually the House on the Rock, a house which is a Wisconsin attraction that sits seven miles away.

Well, and other things can get confused in relation to Taliesin. Why is that?

That’s because there’s another Taliesin.

Well, when I say “another Taliesin”, it’s not like there’s another building that looks just like Taliesin sitting out in a temperate, hilly landscape (like Taliesin in Wisconsin). I mean that there’s a structure with the name “Taliesin”. That’s Wright’s winter home, Taliesin West, in Arizona.

In fact I wrote about Taliesin West a while ago, in my piece, “Did Wright Ever Live in Wisconsin in the Winter?”

Now, those of you who are Wright fans are completely, comfortably aware of the differences between the two sites. But those of you who are here just because of me

First of all: Thanks!

might not know this.

So, the two Taliesins:

One is in the Midwest, Wisconsin; and one is in Arizona (Scottsdale, actually). Wright called the one in the Midwest “Taliesin”, “Taliesin North:, or “Taliesin of the North”. On the other hand, the structure in Arizona, during its early years (in the 1930s and ’40s), was sometimes called “the Camp”. However, ultimately, Wright named it Taliesin West.

Now, you look at the photographs at the top of this post (showing parts of the two Taliesins), you can see they look very different from each other.

That’s because Taliesin West was made to be lived in during the winter in the desert. And, while it has his living quarters, and a drafting studio, kitchen, etc., it has thick concrete walls (to soak in the heat during the day). You can see part of it in the photo below:

Portion of the concrete and "desert masonry" vault at Taliesin West.

The grey is all concrete, with the flat part of the local stones placed against the outside so that they face out. This way of working with the concrete, invented by Wright for Taliesin West, is called “desert masonry”.
I took this photograph in 2007.

Wright’s apprentices in the Taliesin Fellowship (most of them unskilled) could build the structure fairly easily. And, since it was usually sunny and warm in the desert, the building had a lot of canvas roofs. So, despite the dust (which happens a lot) or rain (which happens a lot at times of the year), Wright didn’t put windows onto the building until the mid-1940s.1

As a result of these things (thick concrete walls, canvas roofs, no window glass), Taliesin West was originally like a desert camp.

Yet, the two Taliesins can still cause confusion:

Taliesin West, in ways, has become more well known than Wright’s Wisconsin home. I think that’s because it is close to the larger population of California. Besides, Wright started it when he was reaching the busiest part of his career. By the late 1930s, he had built Fallingwater in Pennsylvania, and made the cover of Time Magazine.

So, as a result of the confusion, there were times (when I worked at Taliesin) in which staff at Taliesin in Wisconsin would receive phone calls—from staff at Taliesin West—in which someone bought a tour ticket online or over the phone, for Taliesin. But thought they were taking a tour at Taliesin West.

Therefore, while they would show up in Arizona. Simultaneously, tour staff in Wisconsin waited for the person to show up for their reserved tour.

Reminds me of one time when I went to the Grand Canyon. I had my book and kept telling my driving partner that we’d be able to get there, no problem; that (even in January) that the roads were open. Well, they are: to the south rim of the Grand Canyon. Not to the north rim of the Grand Canyon. I didn’t realize this until we stopped at the chain link fence on the road that said that NO: the road to the north rim is closed for the winter.

I looked down at the book and—right there—it said the same thing.

Obviously, I had seen what I wanted to see.

Regardless, to help stop the confusion at Taliesin, the staff taking tour reservations in Wisconsin came up with a plan. They answered the phones with

“Taliesin tours in Wisconsin…”

This really cut down on those calls from Arizona.

However, it still didn’t always work, as it turned out in something that happened with me.

Now, I sometimes spoke to members of the press as the historian, and had done presentations. Sometimes I spoke about our tours, or gave presentations on Taliesin’s history, or talked about how we reacted to the book Loving Frank being released, or to the events on Taliesin’s 100th anniversary.

The bread and butter stuff.

But, there was this one time:

I was scheduled for an interview in September 2012. The interview would be put on audio tape and broadcast later. The interviewer called a few days ahead of time to confirm the basic information, etc.

She and I were closing up this prep phone call, and she mentioned how glad she was that we could schedule this. Because, “Well, I’m going to be out in Scottsdale for a wedding anyway, so scheduling this seemed perfect….”

I said,

“I’m sorry – did you say Scottsdale?”

….

Once we established that she expected to do the interview in Arizona, I had to tell her that, no, we were in Wisconsin. I believe I asked her if she had heard the tour staff answer the phone with “Taliesin tours in Wisconsin…” She kept hearing us say that, but apparently didn’t take that in. Therefore, for the entire time, she thought she was arranging to come to Taliesin West, in Scottsdale, Arizona.

I gave her what information I could. Hopefully she did ok, because I didn’t have the media person at Taliesin West on speed dial.

In Conclusion:

While writing this post, I looked for what I remembered about the Taliesin Preservation website at that time on the Wayback Machine (remember I wrote about that a few weeks ago). With this handy tool, I searched for an archived version of Taliesin Preservation‘s website.  When I compared the archived website pages from August 2012, to October, 2012, I saw that, by October, the words “Spring Green, WI” have been added to the header of every page of the site.

Here’s the page from then:

Screengrab of Taliesin Preservation home page in October 2012, saying "Taliesin Spring Green, WI"

I don’t know if this eliminated the problem, but there comes the point where you do everything you can.

Posted November 8, 2021.

I took the two images at the top of this post. The top photograph shows part of Taliesin in Wisconsin. I took the photograph in January.
The photograph below it is a part of Taliesin West in Arizona. I took that photograph in February.

I took the photograph of Taliesin West in the middle of this post in 2007. That was the trip I took when I realized that going to Arizona in July isn’t really worth what you save.


1 “mid-1940s”: a transcribed letter shows the glass came in 1945. On March 1 of that year, Frank Lloyd Wright’s wife, Olgivanna Lloyd Wright, sent a letter to “Jack” Howe’s mother (Jack was John H. Howe, in the Taliesin Fellowship). In the letter, she writes that “today or tomorrow, the glass is coming!”

Thanks to the Administrator of Historic Studies at the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation for this information.

Photograph by Kevin Dodda of Taliesin in snow.

How did Frank Lloyd Wright feel about Christmas?

Someone asked me that question in early December. Yet, I’ve tried to answer it, with no clear success, for years. After all, Wisconsin can be charmingly Christmas-Themed, with a dusting of snow and a chill in the air.* In addition, in his autobiography, Wright described Taliesin in winter as being a “frosted palace roofed and walled with snow”. But, he didn’t seem especially fond of Christmas, particularly in the first years after he built his Wisconsin home in 1911.

Wright talking about Christmas

In 1924, when Wright had a new love in his life, his future wife, Olgivanna, he wrote her a letter saying that Christmas reminded him of his children he had left in Oak Park, IL in 1909. His letter to her is in The Life of Olgivanna Lloyd Wright, 234.

However, less than a decade after they met, the Wrights began the Taliesin Fellowship, and eventually Wright would leave Wisconsin in the winter, spending that time with his family and apprentices at Taliesin West in Arizona. Thus, Christmas became an activity enjoyed by the group in the desert. To read about their Christmases, read The Life of Olgivanna Lloyd Wright.

Wright’s Christmas-card moments

He did have plenty of these in the 1890s/early 1900s with the family in Oak Park. They were described aplenty in the book written by Wright’s second son, John. In John’s the book, My Father, Frank Lloyd Wright (first published in 1946 under the amusing title, My Father, Who is on Earth), he wrote about growing up in Oak Park, and later working with his father. These memories also include how he felt about his dad as a father; the day of Taliesin’s 1914 fire; and the day his dad fired him! It’s unique and you should pick it up.

John wrote memories involving Christmas while growing up. One of these memories is a Christmas Eve night when he was perhaps 5 or 6. I’ll leave you with John’s description of watching his father put the presents out, then his father “caught” him and carried him back to bed:

…. He unboxed toys on a big white sheet under the tree, sat on the floor and played with each one before placing it. When he played with the mechanical donkey that jumped up and down I almost dashed in. When he pulled out a monkey that climbed a string, I giggled so loud the jig was up! Out rushed Papa, swooped me up in his arms, whisked me backed to bed, told me I had been dreaming. I still like to think it was a dream—and good old St. Nick, a reality. And not too long ago, Dad said, “I still believe in Santa Claus.”
John Lloyd Wright, My Father, Frank Lloyd Wright (Dover Publications, Inc., New York; 1992), 40.

First published, 12/23/2020
The winter photograph taken at Taliesin at the top of this post is by Kevin Dodds and was reproduced with permission.


* overlooking the fact that, one time after 1992 (the year I came to live in this state), it reached -25F (-32C) degrees on Christmas day.