Black & white photograph of Wright in Wales next to Sir Clough Williams-Ellis

How many countries did Wright visit and when?

Frank Lloyd Wright in Wales in 1956, sitting outside next to Welsh architect, Sir Clough Williams-Ellis (1883-1978).

A tour guide at Taliesin asked me this question and so this is what I was able to answer for them based on the books I had around me. I won’t stick to an alphabetical order; just roughly chronologically.

Japan:

He took his first trip to Japan in February 1905 with his first wife Catherine (Kitty) Tobin. 1 They were there three months (this came from Meryle Secrest’s biography on Wright, Frank Lloyd Wright: A Biography (University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1992; HarperPerennial, HarperCollins, New York City, 1993), 187).

He took photographs in Japan that are wonderful. His son, David Wright, 2 gave the photographs to the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust, and they published a book with 50 of the photographs almost three decades ago. In 2017, these images were also put into an online exhibit.

 Check ’em out.

Europe:

In 1909, Wright’s left the United States for Europe, ostensibly to check on his portfolio

often known as the Wasmuth I mentioned in a post a couple of weeks ago

while earlier that summer, Mamah Borthwick (then Mamah Cheney) had departed from her husband, Edwin, to visit a friend in Colorado. Wright and Borthwick met up in New York City, leaving for Europe in October. They would stay together in Europe for one year. Architect/Architectural Historian, Anthony Alofsin, pieced together the best account of Wright’s travels in Europe in his book, FLLW: The Lost Years, 1910-1922: A Study of Influence.

I mentioned Alofsin’s book in my post, “This Book is Going to Be Big

We knew that Wright was in Berlin with Borthwick several weeks after they arrived in Europe. And Wright also wrote about being in Paris in 1910 in his Autobiography. Anthony Alofsin pinpointed Wright’s time in Vienna, Darmstadt (Germany), and Fiesole (Italy).

In the summer of 1910, Wright applied for an emergency passport to go to Turkey with his “wife” “Mamah Borthwick Wright”, but there isn’t proof that he and Borthwick actually made it into that country.

And Wright also visited architect and friend, Charles Ashbee, in Great Britain when he first went to Europe, then, visited again in September 1910, after he had left Borthwick on the continent.

She had to stay away until she and her husband, Edwin Cheney, had been separated for two years before she could receive a divorce based on family abandonment.

Wright returned to Europe in January 1911 while checking on the Wasmuth Portfolio.

Japan again:

Wright started Taliesin in 1911, Borthwick moved in, but they both stayed rather silent after the drama of 1911-1912

written about in a “Flashback” at the Chicago Tribune, which I wrote about in “The Stuff is Fun for Me

But, then in 1913, they both went to Japan. Wright did this in his pursuit of a large commission in Tokyo: the Imperial Hotel. They were there January 26 and returned in May.

Then there was the Imperial Hotel commission:

Wright secured the commission in late 1916 and would spend a lot of time in Japan from then until 1922. 3 While the hotel was not formally opened until 1923, Wright left the site in 1922, and never returned to Japan.

From the rest of the 1920s, he stayed in the United States.

Wright’s further trips in the 1930s and 1950s:

Brazil:

He visited “Brazil in 1931 as a judge for the design for the Columbus Memorial, by invitation of the Pan-American Union of Architects.” “Wright and South America,” by Alberto Sartori, in Frank Lloyd Wright: Europe and Beyond, ed. by Anthony Alofsin (University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1999), 148.

Russia:

Wright participated in the 1937 “Conference of Architects” in Moscow with his wife, Olgivanna, for a week. It’s kind of hard knowing that the Wrights were in the Soviet Union during Stalin’s purges.

But according to Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer (who assembled Wright’s archives) Wright wrote an unpublished essay after the trip praising the people, but not the system (Frank Lloyd Wright Collected Writings, volume 3: 1931-39). 4

Mexico:

He went to Mexico City in 1952 as part of the 60 Years of Living Architecture show.

Europe again in the 1950s:

London (1950 & 1956),

Italy (1951), for the 60 Years of Living Architecture.

Paris (1952), for the 60 Years of Living Architecture.

Zurich (1955),

Wales (1956).

Iraq:

He went to Iraq in 1957 for a commission to design an opera house in Baghdad (he redesigned the entire city; the city & the Opera House were never completed due to the overthrow of King Faisal II in 1958). 5

For years I played a “Triviathon” with friends on New Year’s Eve. It’s done over the radio out from a nearby town, with “teams” of people listening at home and calling in the answers. It was an enjoyable way of seeing in the new year with no loud bars, or worrying about bad winter weather-driving, and over-anxious police officers (we all lived close to each other).

Several of us had worked at Taliesin in various capacities, so all of us knew the answer to the trivia question, “This architect and toy designer said he was inspired by his father’s design in Asia for his Lincoln Logs.” However, I was the one who immediately yelled “Baghdad!!” when the trivia question asked Wright, the Middle East, and the year 1957.

Published March 1, 2022.

The photograph at the top of this page is from the book, Frank Lloyd Wright: The Crowning Decade, 1949-1959, ed. by Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer. As the photograph was in that book, I assume this is the property of The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York).


1. A nice write up on “Kitty” is a .pdf at the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust, here.

2. 1895-1997. Wright designed a home for David and his wife, Gladys Wright, in 1950.

3. Wright scholar, Kathryn Smith, traced Wright’s trips to and from Japan in the article, “Wright and the Imperial Hotel: A Postscript,” Art Bulletin 67, no. 2 (June 1985).

4. Edited by Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer, introduction by Kenneth Frampton (Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., New York City, 1993), 211.

5. Knowing the name of King Faisal, and the year that he was overthrown, is another example of something that I know because of my years at Taliesin.

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

Truth hiding in plain sight

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 the first 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, the leaders of the Hillside Home School, when they were completing Wright’s building. Wright told the story about the names in the addition he made to his autobiography in 1943:

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.  

If you take a tour of the Taliesin estate that brings you through Hillside (their Estate or Highlights tours), you can see where the dark room’s wall was. You go into the Dana Gallery, and the shadow of in the wall of the dark room is on the floor, like what 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.