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

A room at Taliesin

Reading Time: 9 minutes

Alexander Woollcott with Frank Lloyd Wright outside of Taliesin. 

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s where it is:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It makes you think:

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

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

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

That makes sense

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

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

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

However,

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

See,

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

But things got complicated.

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

No doubt

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

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

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

But, come on:

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

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

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

So, in September 1933,

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

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

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

You can read my teenage thoughts about Sting in my post: “Dune, By Frank Herbert“. I wrote this about the second installment of the Dune movie by Denis Villeneuve coming out in March 2024.

To get back to Iovanna’s bedroom:

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

You can see it at the top of this post.

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

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

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

So I did what I usually try do:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contrast this

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

And one more thing: the bathroom

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

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

Moreover,

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 more things:

coz: in for a penny, in for a pound

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

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

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

Also, in 2006

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

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

One of those people might have been architect Philip Johnson

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

Stick with me here

At one point, Stern talked to Johnson about Wright:

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

Philip Johnson: …. We went to see Wright in 1930 in Taliesin East [sic].5 I stayed overnight in the part that’s now all closed in and ruined, in the upper terrace there, just above the big room. We visited and had a great time and we realized that he was a very, very great man.

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

He mentions “the big room”. In 1930, there wouldn’t have been any other “big room” on the Taliesin estate except for the Taliesin Living Room.6 He was wrong about the placement of the room on that floor, but there was nothing else up there in 1930 that matches it.

OK!

I hope I explained what I found/think.

That is:

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

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

 

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


Notes

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

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

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

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

5. Johnson was wrong on when he and Hitchcock visited Taliesin. According to Wright on Exhibit, the book by architectural historian, Kathryn Smith, they came in June 1932. Wright on Exhibit: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Architectural Exhibitions, by Kathryn Smith (Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 2017), 83.

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

Black and white graphic of the Hill Tower at Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin.

A recommended book: At Taliesin

Reading Time: 5 minutes

The graphic at the top of this page is one of the designs created by the Taliesin Fellowship for their weekly “At Taliesin” newspaper articles that ran from 1934 through late 1937. Architect Randolph C. Henning found these “At Taliesin” articles and put them into a book that I want to write about today.

The book is

At Taliesin: Newspaper Columns by Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Fellowship, 1934-1937, edited and with commentary by Henning (Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale and Edwardsville, Illinois, 1991). I included it in the list of books I wrote about awhile ago, but I’ll concentrate on it in this post.

In part because, this book  contains essential primary material about:

  • Frank Lloyd Wright
  • Taliesin, and
  • The Taliesin Fellowship.

Before this book, the “At Taliesin” articles were relatively unknown. Henning wrote in the preface that when he decided to search for them, he thought he would find several dozen.

Or 100 “at most”.

In the end, he tracked down 285 of them. He transcribed them, edited them, and also wrote commentary on and around them. 112 articles are in the book.

The book was only published once,

in hardcover. However, many copies are still available online and elsewhere for purchase. Online aggregate www.abebooks.com is somewhere I often look for books. I typed in the title found this  listing with over 30 copies.

And you could borrow it from your library.

I’m recommending it now because

once you get past its cover which looks like a college textbook

It’s actually a fun summer read.

Most of the articles fit on one to two pages. And many are just a trip. I mean that in a good way: many are a total blast.

As I wrote before:

“At Taliesin” “demonstrates why these kids in their early 20s would move out to rural Wisconsin to live and work with a man old enough to be their grandfather, and like it.

Their insanity reminded me that, yes, there was a time in my life in which I spent 4 to 5 hours on a Friday or Saturday night on a roof playing drums.

I was not a drummer. I was 21 years old.

Oh, that time passed quickly.

That’s just a year younger than architect Cornelia Brierly when she wrote this “At Taliesin” article in May, 1935:

Screen grab of an "At Taliesin" article published in the Wisconsin State Journal on May 22, 1935.

The whole article is on p. 125-127 of the “At Taliesin” book.

Secondly,

the book is a source about the life and culture of the Taliesin Fellowship. The authors wrote about things going on at Taliesin, but also, as Cornelia did, they relayed their thoughts on new ideas.

Most of the articles

end with a listing of movies that were to be shown at the Hillside Playhouse to the public on the coming Sunday afternoon. Because the “At Taliesin” articles weren’t just philosophical treatises: they were a bid by the Fellowship to entice an audience to come out and pay 50 cents for a movie and cup of coffee.1

The articles also gave weekly updates on building activities at Taliesin.

The July 4, 1935 article

tells you construction they did at Taliesin:

Fortunately, Taliesin is in an ever state of change.  Walls are being extended and new floors are being laid to accommodate our musical friends.  We are trying out the new concrete mixer – which marks a new day in our building activities.

Edgar Tafel. “At Taliesin”, p. 140.

I wrote about this change in my post, “Preservation by distribution“.

Thirdly:

The book has 38 fantastic photographs. Like the one below:

Black and white photograph looking southeast in the Hillside Dana Gallery

This is the fireplace in the Dana Gallery at Hillside. The photo is on page 201 of the “At Taliesin” book. I put this image in my post, “Truth Hiding in Plain Sight“.

and 20 drawings:

Black and white map of the Taliesin estate drawn from memory by John H. Howe.

The image above comes from 154 of Apprentice to Genius because I couldn’t get a good copy of the one on pages 6-7 from the “At Taliesin” book.

In addition, the “At Taliesin” book has 31 articles by Frank Lloyd Wright. In one, he

actually

compliments someone else’s architecture!2

Wright wrote in the August 9, 1935 article that:

…. In their jail and courthouse Pittsburghers own a masterpiece of architecture.  A great American architect H.H. Richardson of Boston built the building.  He was a big man in every way and his bigness was of a kind that not only marks a distinct epoch in American architecture but commands the respect of the civilized world. 

Frank Lloyd Wright. “At Taliesin”, p. 149.

In addition,

Henning wrote overviews for each year that the Fellowship wrote articles: 1934 to 1937. In the introductions to these chapters, he describes what was going on with the group, Frank Lloyd Wright, and the world at large.

Plus

Henning included articles about Taliesin written in the 1930s by professional writers. These writers came from the newspapers in Madison. They were invited out to Taliesin on the weekends. One writer, Betty Cass3 wrote about the “affair of the stringed instruments”. The article is a silly (true) story staring Wright and his wife, Olgivanna.

In it, Olgivanna watches as her husband keeps leaving the living room and coming back in with larger stringed instruments that have been delivered to Taliesin. They’ve obviously cost more and more money, but Olgivanna, helpless, watches as he comes back with them.

The last one is a bass viola. This was, Cass writes, “larger than he was, a regular Paul Bunyan of an instrument.” And Wright is mostly obscured behind it with “just twinkling eyes just peeking over the shiny brown side of the giant he was trying to strum.” “At Taliesin”, p. 308.

At that point, the humor of all of it got to Olgivanna, who started laughing so much that she cried.

 

 

First published July 11, 2023.
The graphic at the top of this post is used courtesy of The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York).


Notes:

1. I’m not going to reel off all the movies. Read the book if you want to see them! – you could binge them…

we’ll call it “Fringing”

(y’know: binging on movies seen by Frank Lloyd Wright).

Check out how Wright ended his penned article on August 9, 1935:

We are happy to announce the extraordinary program to be presented at the Playhouse this Sunday, Aug. 11.

Four films, of such importance and such different character, will form one of the most significant and delightful performances ever presented at the Playhouse.

Le Million, one of the best films by the greatest French director, Rene Clair,–no film made, unless it be another by this same director, has integrated sound and movement more beautifully;

A Dog’s Life, an early and rare film, one of the few remaining made by Charlie Chaplin;

Orphan’s Benefit, the funniest of all the 30 or more Disneys we have seen;

Czar Duranday, a wonderfully made Russian cartoon of a famous Russian fairy story.

Three of these films have been chosen from the finest we have seen during the past two years at the Playhouse.  Don’t miss this “picnic” next Sunday at three if you want to enjoy a hilariously entertaining afternoon.

“At Taliesin”, August 9, 1935. In the “At Taliesin” book, 150-151.

2. I know, I know: Wright insulting other people’s architecture. Most of us Frankophiles are aware of the man’s many traits, but some people really think he was an S.O.B.

3. Betty Cass is related to Bob Willoughby. He and I both worked at Taliesin Preservation and he read to us one winter at Taliesin.

Photograph taken in Taliesin's living room on Frank Lloyd Wright's birthday. Wright is with 5 others, including his wife, Olgivanna (standing), and daughter, Iovanna (seated closest to him).

Frank Lloyd Wright’s birthday

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Frank Lloyd Wright was born on June 8, 1867.

If you’re in the Wrightworld you know this.

Read my post, “Keiran don’t try to correct the internet“, about how people originally thought he was born in 1869.

In today’s post, I’m going to write about traditions within the Taliesin Fellowship connected to Wright’s birthday.

In addition to giving him a reason to have a party, Wright’s decision to celebrate his birthday with the Fellowship was cohesive.

The Fellowship was founded in 1932 in the midst of the Great Depression. So, Wright’s birthday gave the “boys” and the “girls” a celebratory purpose during the Fellowship’s hardscrabble years. After all, from 1932-35, the house for Malcolm and Nancy Willey in Minnesota was the only commission that Wright had.

In addition, Wright’s birth date, June 8, can be really nice in Wisconsin.

(and hopefully the mosquitoes aren’t in full force)

Here’s what an apprentice wrote about celebrating Wright’s birthday in 1934:

AT TALIESIN, June l4, l934

            Birthday celebrations would be really celebrations if we became one year younger instead of older each time – that is, if we didn’t start too soon.  We really celebrated last Friday when Mr. Wright became one year younger and said that next year he will be in his fifties.  Equipped with everything possible and impossible we drove through the country to a rocky pine-covered hill and had a magnificent picnic.  

From At Taliesin: Newspaper Columns by Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Fellowship, 1934-1937 (Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale and Edwardsville, Illinois, 1991), edited and with commentary by Randolph C. Henning. Page 51.

Then, in 1936, they held a scavenger hunt.

Here’s the beginning of its description:

AT TALIESIN, June 12, 1936

            That the apprentices, regardless of years, should have the spirit of youth is a cardinal qualification of membership in the Fellowship.  Nothing has brought that quality to the surface more than the “treasure-hunt” we held on the occasion of Mr. Wright’s birthday.  While the treasure hunt lasted we were all children very young in spirit.  Don’t laugh at us for being childish until you have tried the hunt yourself.  You will find that you will leave most of your dignity and all of your reserve at home or lose it on the road.
By Earl Friar

From “At Taliesinedited and with commentary by Randolph C. Henning. Page 207.

Check out the whole scavenger hunt on pages 207-210 in the “At Taliesin” book. It’s a blast that includes a live turkey gobbler!

But in 1937-38, Wright started the desert camp, Taliesin West, in Arizona.

Subsequently, celebrating his birthday became an even bigger deal.

The “birthday formal” would become the first big gathering with invited guests the group could have after they had returned from the desert. Check out this photo of men and women in Taliesin’s Garden Court during Wright’s birthday formal in the 1950s:

Exterior summer party at Taliesin in Wisconsin with men and women in formal dress.
By Richard Vesey. Courtesy, Wisconsin Historical Society. Richard Vesey photographs and negatives, 1955-1963

Plus, Wright and the Fellowship knew the party wouldn’t be sullied by chilly/damp rain

or snow

Seriously—Prince was not exaggerating:

sometimes it does snow in April:

btw: I embedded this song for a chuckle about its title; not to get you depressed about a lost friend. Prince was from Minnesota and knows that sometimes it snows in April. But, seriously: since the song starts with the words, “Tracy died…” do not listen to this song if you want to remain chipper. Just be amused by Prince’s half-shirt.

And by June it’s usually warm and dry.

Time for a party!

With time, Wright’s birthday became more formal

Check out my photo below of all the fancy people:

Photograph by Keiran Murphy of people at Taliesin's Garden Court during the 2019 Frank Lloyd Wright birthday formal.

I took this photograph in Taliesin’s Garden Court during Wright’s birthday formal in 2019. If I’d been thinking, you would see a photo of me in my fancy dress, too.

In addition, Wright’s birthday became the time for one of the year’s

Box Project presentations.

The Box Projects were really important for the Taliesin Fellowship as a learning institution.

Olgivanna Lloyd Wright, Wright’s wife, explained the Box Projects well:

The Box is a tradition in the Fellowship, occurring twice a year, at Christmas and at the birthday. It consists of designs by the young people, plans, abstractions, models, paintings, weaving and ceramics….

After giving Wright their projects as Olgivanna explained:

           Each one explains that he has done and Frank gives him the benefit of his criticism, indicating to him the direction he should take….

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), 186.

Therefore, the Box Projects allowed Wright to check on the development of the work by apprentices.

Everyone did a project—

even the spouses of apprentices.

During Wright’s birthday Box in 1943, Priscilla Henken (the wife of apprentice/architect David Henken) gave a floor plan for a school (even though she wasn’t a draftsmen). I got a photo of the plan from her published diary:

Drawing by Priscilla Henken on page 176 of Taliesin Diary: A Year with Frank Lloyd Wright.

This drawing was published on page 176 of Taliesin Diary: A Year with Frank Lloyd Wright, by Priscilla Henken (W.W. Norton & Co., New York, London, 2012).

Moreover, Priscilla noted some very nice things that Wright said about her drawing:

About my plans, which FL looked at after tea, he said that I had a lot of common sense, that I took the school as it was made an extraordinarily good thing out of it; that I had a lot of brains under this hair of mine; that now he knew I was busy during a lot of the time he couldn’t account for me; that I was the surprise… package of the box.

Taliesin Diary: A Year with Frank Lloyd Wright, by Priscilla Henken, 175.

The Box Projects and Wright’s birthday celebration are an interesting way to mark how Frank and Olgivanna Lloyd Wright created the culture of the Taliesin Fellowship.

Culture:

The CliffNotes website gives a good definition of it under “Sociology“. Culture, it says:

consists of the beliefs, behaviors, objects, and other characteristics common to the members of a particular group or society. Through culture, people and groups define themselves, conform to society’s shared values, and contribute to society. Thus, culture includes many societal aspects: language, customs, values, norms, mores, rules, tools, technologies, products, organizations, and institutions.

In 1994 when I started in tours, the Fellowship still had the Box Project presentations around Wright’s birthday. But that was changed in the mid-late 1990s. The reason for that was the difficulty apprentices had with moving from Arizona in the midst of their preparation for “the Birthday Box”. Consequently, they switched the presentation to September. That way, they could spend all summer working on it. And didn’t have to drive all that way from Arizona on little sleep, or worry about smashing the models or losing the computer files in the migration.1

First published on June 3, 2023.
The photograph at the top of this page was taken for The Capital Times in Madison for Wright’s birthday in 1957.


Note:

1. They changed the Box Presentation in Arizona, I think, to March or April.

Photograph taken by Edmund Teske. Taliesin in winter with snow and ice.

Snow at Taliesin

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Edmund Teske took this photograph in the winter of 1936-37. He was in the Breezeway at Taliesin, looking northeast towards the Living Room.

This week, a winter storm is crossing the United States. This storm reminded me of one of the “At Taliesin” newspaper articles written by apprentices in the Taliesin Fellowship.

This article is in At Taliesin: Newspaper Columns by Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Fellowship, 1934-1937, ed. by Randolph C. Henning. It’s on p. 241-42 of the “At Taliesin” book:

AT TALIESIN, February 20, 19371

In winter the sharp lines of the horizon along the ridges of our surrounding hills disappear and in the soft light of evening the valleys merge into the hills and the hills vanish into the sky.  Trees upon the hills are patterned tracery.  Pods of weeds, close by, are sharp edged black spots upon the white: staccato notes in the prevailing rhythm of quiet.

Snow: sharp, keen, icy, in billowing drifts or in long horizontal ledges, brings harmony to the landscape of our Wisconsin farmland: farmland that in summer is fenced in and fenced up and out by farm after farm of farmers who have worked out countless ingenious ways to characterize their acres of land.  The boxed-in boxes of farmhouses, styes, coops, pens scattered about, hit and miss, over the countryside mar the land’s native beauty.

          We view – in winter – Wisconsin’s hills as we saw the Arizona desert stretching off toward distant mountains: untouched, whole, clean.

          What man could not do to the Arizona desert because of nature’s protection, the winter snow has buried in Wisconsin.

As the hot desert sun decorates simplicity by sending color into the myriad lichens upon the patterned rock faces of the desert floor, so our winter sun flashes light and fire into the ice-jeweled thistles showing above the frosted earth in our own valleys.

And as the saguaro-cactus stands in heroic silhouette against the sunny southern sky, the ice clad Wisconsin trees crackle and shimmer: miraculous against the cobalt above.

What we went in search for to Arizona we have here around us: this harmonious union of natural things.  A union here made supreme and impervious to harm by ice and snow: white and blue – silver and black.  Again contrast and accentuation – in the distance a red spot – the Wisconsin barn.

            EUGENE MASSELINK

First published December 20, 2022
The photograph at the top of this post was published in Architectural Forum magazine, January 1938, volume 68, number 1, p. 3.


Notes:

1 You read Masselink talking about Arizona, but everyone is in Wisconsin. That’s because the land where Wright will build Taliesin West has not been found yet. That will happen in November of 1937.

Thanksgiving at Taliesin

Reading Time: 2 minutes

My next post, Oldest Part of Taliesin, II , is on the way (part I is here). First though, I’m going to add a portion of an “At Taliesin” article posted in 1936 that was about Thanksgiving. In 1936, the Taliesin Fellowship, with the Wrights, celebrated Thanksgiving in Wisconsin.

Here’s writer, Marya Lilien, on the Thanksgiving that had just passed. This “At Taliesin” article was published December 4, 1936:

Thanksgiving dinner

Visitors who have seen Taliesin probably noticed that there is something uncompromising about Taliesin people’s clothes.  We are seen either in overalls and working gloves or in evening dresses, respectfully dark suits: never the in-between morning clothes, afternoon clothes, etc.  So it is also with our activities.  Either at work, even in the studio – always prepared to jump in for some “dirty” job – or having beautiful parties and feasts.

Our Thanksgiving dinner was a real feast.  Mrs. Wright directing everything in the preparation, yet never tired to add some new surprising touches of her refined taste both to the menu and decoration, making the party true to Taliesin tradition and yet have some unusual atmosphere.

And in this beautiful atmosphere among pine branches and chrysanthemums as if growing out of the interior architecture – there came to us the romance of Japanese prints – told by our Master.  Mr. Wright has this wonderful manner of giving his most profound thoughts in a conversational tone.  They seem so natural – in fact, I think every great thought is natural only it takes a great mind and creative imagination to formulate it and show it to people.

….

And in the low beautiful Fellowship dining room with pine branches overhead and yellow chrysanthemums dramatic and picturesque scenes, past and present, passed before our eyes: each of them seeming to have itself the colors and design of a Japanese print, as Mr. Wright was telling how the hoarded cases and boxes in Japanese court circles finally got open after centuries to show their contents and to tell him and the world their illuminating story.  And find a final resting place in the great museums of the new world.

By MARYA LILIEN

 

In 1936, Thanksgiving took place on the last Thursday in November. That changed in 1941, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt changed Thanksgiving to the fourth Thursday in November.

Architect, writer, and Wright expert, Randolph C. Henning, went through most of the “At Taliesin” newspaper articles published in 1934-1937. He transcribed as many of these as possible and published them in a book: At Taliesin: Newspaper Columns by Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Fellowship, 1934-1937 – 

I mentioned this and other books in my post, “Books by apprentices“.

He gave me an electronic version of the articles. That’s how I acquired the article that Lilien wrote.

 

First published November 23, 2022.

The post, “What’s the Oldest Part of Taliesin, Part II” is here.

Hillside floor plan published in Ausgeführte Bauten und Entwürfe von Frank Lloyd Wright

Truth hiding in plain sight

Reading Time: 7 minutes

This is a drawing of a building that Frank Lloyd Wright designed for his aunts and their Hillside Home School. They ran the school, which was south of Spring Green, Wisconsin, for almost 30 years. Wright designed this structure for them in 1901. This drawing was published in 1910.

Previously, I wrote about the project I did with architectural historian, Anne Biebel (principal, Cornerstone Preservation), about Wright’s Hillside structure on the Taliesin estate. This post is going to be about something I discovered during that project, which was a comprehensive chronology on Hillside.

About the project:

The Aunts ran the school from 1887-1915. We tried to look at the total history of the Hillside building, but also the history of the school. Since my job was to gather as much information as possible, I looked at old newspaper articles and had a lot of fun finding old facts, photographs, and drawings.

I tried to be objective about the site

So, when I started, I approached Hillside much as I approach Taliesin when studying it. That meant that I went over everything with a fine toothed comb. However, Hillside was never the same dealio (at least not as he’d originally built for his aunts: 1901-03.). That’s coz, Hello!—they were paying clients. Yes, they were his Aunts and they did love their nephew; but: still. He couldn’t mess around with their building. Not while they still had control of it!

And, because Wright was building this for someone else,

I could trust the Hillside drawings that Wright did for the original construction (unlike those he did for his home, Taliesin).

Still, only 12 drawings exist in Hillside’s earliest years. 1 Three more drawings were done later: two were done in 1910 from a portfolio, known as the “Wasmuth”. That’s because the publisher in Berlin was Ernst Wasmuth. The floor plan from the Wasmuth is at the top of this post. I got it from an online version of the University of Utah Rare Books Collection.

Or if you’re feeling fancy, say the full title in German, since it was published in Germany. The original title is Ausgeführte Bauten und Entwürfe von Frank Lloyd Wright (“Executed Buildings and Designs by…”). 

The last drawing of Hillside was done in 1941 for a retrospective of his work: In the Nature of Materials : The Buildings of Frank Lloyd Wright 1887-1941.

Looking over things:

In the Hillside Chronology project, I studied the drawings like I usually do: I try to look at historical evidence without preconceptions. Otherwise, it’s easy to only see things you want to see, and miss things staring you in the face. So, I looked at the early drawings of Hillside, inch by inch. And…

I finally noticed something

in one of the rooms.

This room, a long room ending in a point, is now known as the Dana Gallery. Look at the drawing at the top of this page. At the top of the drawing is a “T”. The left side of the “T” is the room known as the Dana Gallery today. This room was originally the Science room for the Hillside Home School. The right side of the “T” is another room that’s almost a mirror image of the Dana Gallery. That room, on the right side of the “T”, is now known as the Roberts Room and was  originally the Art room.

The names of the rooms (Dana Gallery, Roberts Room) come from two people who gave money to Wright’s aunts when they were completing the building. Wright told the story about the names in the 1943 edition of his autobiography:

One of my clients, Mrs. Susan Lawrence Dana, gave them the little Art and Science building next to the School building and equipment, complete. She loaned the Aunts twenty-seven thousand dollars more to help complete the main school building. Another client, Charles E. Roberts, 2 gave nine thousand dollars to help in a subsequent pinch….

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), 125.

How the Dana Gallery/Roberts Rooms are alike:

Among other things (I’m sure) each room is accessible through 5 steps down from the floor above; has skylights; has a “prow” window (like a triangle coming out of the building) on the end; and a chimney.

Their fireplaces are different, though.

The fireplace in the Roberts Room has a horizontal piece of stone across the firebox. But the fireplace in the Dana Gallery has a design that looks really modern. Even though it, too, is in stone, there are triangles on the design, and either side of it has angles.

Here’s a photo of the Dana Gallery with the fireplace from The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives:

Black and white photograph looking southeast in the Hillside Dana Gallery

Unknown photographer. Dated 1936-40. Property of The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York), #3301.0008.

The creation of the fireplace was detailed in a December 11, 1936 article in “At Taliesin”, written by Gene Masselink:

. . . . Last summer Mr. Wright commissioned Benny to complete a fireplace in three weeks.

So Benny lugged stone after stone into the Dana gallery.  He worked at it at all hours–you could hear him pounding away long after it was dark outside….  The design had been carefully worked out.  The lintel was six feet from the floor and the stones were all especially cut to form a pattern on the back of the fireplace.  It required skill and some engineering to properly construct the flue.  Finally with the help of five others Benny laid the greatest sandstone lintel block.  And that night at the celebration in honor of the job, the first fire was built.

Hans, solid German carpenter, declares it would never draw and even as the Fellowship held its breath and as the flames roared up, lighting the room with their best six foot height and the smoke went up the flue out into the moonlit night, Hans still shook his head.

We drank a toast: no one that night prouder or happier than Benny.

EUGENE MASSELINK

Randolph C. Henning, ed. and with commentary. At Taliesin: Newspaper Columns by Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Fellowship, 1934-1937 (Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale and Edwardsville, Illinois, 1991), 225, 226.

Due to Gene’s writing:

I figured there had been a fireplace when Wright first designed for his aunts, then Benny redesigned the fireplace mantel to its current appearance. I mean, sure, the Dana Gallery had been the Science room—so maybe flammable things aren’t your first go-to in a design—but, on the other hand (a) the only flammable things I ever saw in my Chemistry classes were the controlled flames of Bunsen burners, and (b) Hillside’s gym also had a running track with a fireplace on the west side.

So, I just figured that those Hillside students weren’t “pantywaists” like I was by the time I was in grade school. 3 I mean, sure! Have open flames around those kids using chemicals, and exercising on the running track!

To get back to the point:

During the project with Anne, I looked more carefully at the Hillside drawings. And I saw, in drawing #0216.004 that, while the Roberts room originally had a chimney, the Dana Gallery did not:

Floor plan. #0216.004

The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York), #0216.004.

The chimney on the left had no fireplace, while the chimney on the right did. Looking more closely, the chimney at the Science room had two SINKS in front of it. With a WALL between them. I didn’t know what that was all about.

So, then I thought:

look at the Wasmuth drawing

Because I knew he labelled things in it. Yes, they were in German, and I don’t have a German-to-English dictionary, but there’s Google translate.

So I looked at it. The chimney in the Dana Gallery (the chimney on the left) has this in all caps: DUNKEL RAUM

That means:

Dark room

Of course!

Hillside was a school out in the country. Teach those kids photography! That’s why there’s a scrapbook of photographs taken of Hillside in 1906, now at the Wisconsin Historical Society.  

In fact, the floor of the Dana Gallery has a shadow of the dark room’s wall, which you see in the photo I took, below:

But unfortunately I’ve never seen a photograph showing the walls of the dark room. The photograph below shows you about what’s been seen of the room when the Aunts ran the school. You can see how it was a science classroom:

Black and white photograph of the Science Room at the Hillside Home SchoolFirst published February 9, 2022.
The drawing at the top of this post was published in Ausgeführte Bauten und Entwürfe von Frank Lloyd Wright (“Executed Buildings and Designs by Frank Lloyd Wright”) in Berlin in 1910. I’ve put it here in part because I do not know who has the rights to it.


1. I’ve wondered if there were more. 

2. This link only brings you to the page on Wikipedia about the Charles E. Roberts Stable (although it tells you a bit about the man himself). There’s no Wikipedia page about the Charles E. Roberts House, though. If you were feeling generous and had the interest or patience, you should write about it.

3. That’s what one of the nuns called us in the 8th grade because we weren’t fighting in the Falkland Islands war. That’s not a statement about Catholic schools; just a statement about a weird moment as a kid. As I’ve gotten older that statement makes less and less sense. In part because we were all American citizens.

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

Gene Masselink

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Abstraction looking (plan) north at Taliesin against the hill in Wisconsin.
Pen, ink, and paint. By Gene Masselink.

Eugene Meyer “GeneMasselink (1910-1962): Taliesin Fellowship, 1933 until his death. This post will be about him, and why I like him.

Gene was born in South Africa, then his family moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he grew up with his brother, Ben. A talented visual artist, Gene came into the Fellowship with a BS in painting from Ohio State University. The Taliesin Fellowship wasn’t only a group for architectural apprentices, and Gene didn’t join intent on doing architecture. He did, however, paint and illustrate within the group for years, including the image of Taliesin up at the top of this page.

And, as many Fellowship members did, he helped build models. Here’s a 1936 photograph by Edmund Teske showing Gene working a model of the Johnson Wax building:

Property: The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York).
Photograph of Gene Masselink taken in 1936 by Edmund Teske.

How Gene became the secretary:

When he came into the Fellowship in 1933, Karl Jensen was the secretary (this is a photo of Jensen at Taliesin). Gene became Karl’s assistant. Therefore, when Karl left in 1934, Gene took over the job. Subsequently, Gene became was one of the “triumvirate” of crucial Fellowship members. This triumvirate was composed of Gene, Wes (Peters, engineer), and Jack (Howe, head draftsman). The Fellowship wouldn’t have been the same without Gene, just like it wouldn’t have been the same without Wes & Jack.

He:

  • Kept Wright’s correspondence—with friends, family, and clients—on track and up-to-date through all of the traveling back and forth from Wisconsin to Arizona.
  • Followed the bills—which, as you can imagine, were quite complicated when it came to Wright.
  • Learned to how to run the printing press. Thus, Gene became the resident pressman, printing the 1943 edition of Wright’s autobiography.1

In fact, on the last page of his 1943 autobiography, Wright specifically thanked Gene:

Gene (Masselink) of the Fellowship and his helpers have untangled day by day, month by month, the mass of inter-lined and defaced scripts that would tease anyone, especially myself. Gene is the only one who could read them.

Having both seen Wright’s handwriting, and his small edits that are hard to keep track of, I applaud Wright’s recognition of Gene’s work.

Here’s Gene with a couple of “the boys” and The Master:

Frank Lloyd Wright and 4 apprentices in Taliesin's Drafting Studio, 1930s.Looking (plan) northwest at Wright at a drafting table in the Taliesin studio. Standing behind him are (L-R): Gene Masselink, Bennie Dombar, Edgar Tafel, and Jack Howe. This photograph is from the Associated Press and is in the public domain. The Library of Congress says the photo was taken in 1953. However, they’re wrong. Wright was not in his 80s in the photograph above, and both Bennie and Edgar left the Fellowship in 1941. This photograph, on the other hand, has Gene and Wright in this same room in the 1950s.2

Yet, this is not a post about him just as an artist. No, I decided to write about Gene today because I just genuinely like the man (who passed away before I was born). Gene’s way of keeping everything together at Taliesin reminds me a little of the character of Walter “Radar” O’Reilly from M*A*S*H*.

He jumped in as, I think, Wright envisioned the Fellowship—everyone together, all for one, one for all. And he seemed to have a sense of humor about all of it. You’ll see it in his “At Taliesin” article from 1935 below.

Examples:

Below, Gene writes about his responsibilities as the secretary in the August 4, 1935 “At Taliesin”:

“Have I a little list?  Koko was only an amateur with his.

Remember in “Physical Taliesin history” (fn1) how I said that working at Taliesin made me learn about things? I just learned how “I have a little list” is related to Gilbert and Sullivan musicals.

Lists – lists everywhere and lists for everything.  Large important Madison lists on large white paper.  Spring Green lists on any old paper.  Dodgeville grocery and butcher lists on ruled note-pads from the kitchen.  Lists typewritten and lists handwritten in every kind of pen and or pencil within reach.  Lists lost and half remembered – they flutter about me dominating my kingdom of letters and articles and filing cards and endless odds and ends of what is bravely called “business”.  The word should be spelled busy-ness, or why not busy-mess.  But the list is only embryo compared with the listers actually getting what the list lists.  There are so few who will stand to wait longer than three days for what they’ve listed and at the end of that time a package of cigarettes or “Plowboy” or “Red Man” or one spool of thread or a pound of 6-penny casing nails will assume terrific proportions.  Not my peach only but my life is continually jeopardized by little lists.

….

EUGENE MASSELINK

Randolph C. Henning, ed. and with commentary. At Taliesin: Newspaper Columns by Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Fellowship, 1934-1937 (Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale and Edwardsville, Illinois, 1991), 147-148.

Gene about listening to the radio!

This links to my love of Old Time Radio that I wrote about in this post.

Gene was in the hospital after breaking his hip and was bedridden. He wrote about his experience in the hospital, and about passed the time listening to the radio:

AT TALIESIN, June 11, 1937

. . .  After this is all over and I’m selling apples on some street corner, this Radio will sell apples with me.  My mind has become so controlled by its direction that any sudden break from its supervision would be fatal.

         The Life problems of Bill and Mary and Susan and Jim of all the Tom Dick and Harrys radio story tellers can think of are my problems now.  And let me say that these problems are without parallel in the history of literature.  Each day fresh heartaches and new situations keep the agony of life constantly on the run and bring vicarious sorrow into the lives of Americans, incidentally make my own hip-problem only the most minor consideration for me to think of. . . .

It has opened the walls of this tiny room to a world many times removed and I maintain wherever I go it shall go.

Its love me, love my Radio from now on.

EUGENE MASSELINK

Randolph C. Henning, 267-268.

Gene by someone else:

Gene showed up in Taliesin Diary: A Year With Frank Lloyd Wright, by Priscilla Henken. Here’s Priscilla on November 16, 1942 (p. 59):

… Gene always speaks hurriedly & nervously as if he were doing ten things at once & only nine were getting done.
 
Former apprentice Curtis Besinger dedicated his 1995 book, Working With Mr. Wright: What it Was Like, to Gene Masselink. Besinger wrote,

As Mr. Wright’s secretary for many years, Gene’s grace, awareness, and sense of humor served to anticipate and ameliorate many of the strains of Fellowship life. Unfortunately he didn’t live to write the book which in some stress-filled situation he threatened to write: “Mr. Wright goes to New York…, to Italy… to Paris

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

Finally, his work:

In the 1950s, Gene began designing murals for the following buildings by Wright:

While Masselink’s original icons were removed from the altar, they can still be seen in the basement. See Mark Hertzberg’s blog post about the church to see photographs of the icons.

Others have investigated his work. Check these out:

Published January 31, 2022.
The drawing at the top of this post is the property of The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York).


Notes:

1. I can’t imagine that would have been possible for him to print all of the copies of the 1943 edition of the autobiography. However, I’ve seen letters that Gene wrote to Jack Howe, describing the activities. Plus, “Gene’s Press Room” is the name of a room at Taliesin.

2. Bonus: the Wisconsin Historical Society has another photograph taken of Gene that day. He’s seen in the same clothes walking in Taliesin’s Garden Court with another Fellowship member, Kay Rattenbury (1918-1996).