#7803.001 The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York)

Post-It Notes on Taliesin Drawings

This is a roundabout story that comes to a simple conclusion: I found a Taliesin drawing.

Over 12 years ago I worked on a Comprehensive Chronology of the Hillside Structure on Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin estate with Anne Biebel, the principal of Cornerstone Preservation (she was the person who suggested I read the local newspapers, 1910s-early 1930s, which introduced me to their weirdness).

This project led me down to Wright’s archives to do research. While now at the Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library in New York, until the fall of 2012, Wright’s archives  were at his winter home, Taliesin West, in Arizona.

Looking at drawings:

In particular I looked at his drawings that weren’t assigned to any of his commissions.

Or, actually I looked at photographs of the drawings, not the actual, physical drawings (natch).

I thought it might help the chronology if I found drawings for furniture at Hillside.

Reading what I just wrote sounds silly. In 2009 Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer (former apprentice) was the director of the Frank Lloyd Wright Archives. He, in large part, created it and ran it starting in the early 1960s. He would probably know a drawing showing a detail from Hillside, wouldn’t he?

But I also know that, while “Bruce” knew so many things in the archives, I know one site very well: Taliesin and the Taliesin estate. So I thought it possible that there were drawings of chairs or tables that Bruce hadn’t recognized as belonging to Hillside.

So, what happened?

In the end, I was correct, if only in part. Yes, I came across a drawing that showed furniture in a building on the Taliesin estate. No, the furniture wasn’t for Hillside. The drawing showed furniture for Taliesin.

Why Bruce hadn’t caught the drawing:

I can understand why Bruce hadn’t known this drawing came from Taliesin. Bruce didn’t know the furniture in the drawing when he the archives and the arranged its drawings. That changed because of “The Album” that surfaced on the online auction site, Ebay, in 2005.

Ebay and The Album:

The Album was a beautiful, handmade photo album with 33 photographs. Most show Taliesin in 1911-1912. Its appearance on Ebay caused a flurry of excitement in the Wrightworld. The seller sent scans of many of the images to interested parties (including me). That whole week had the intensity of being on the social media site Facebook during the Superbowl.

It was all anyone could talk about

People called and emailed all week long: had I seen the images, did I want scans of the images, could I donate money to help buy the images (I didn’t have the money, then or now). That Friday, after an exciting night spent watching the auction online (and hitting the “refresh” button on my web browser over and over again), the Wisconsin Historical Society won it with their highest (and only) bid: $22,100.

This money was raised through donations

The money I couldn’t afford to donate went into the pot that allowed the Wisconsin Historical Society to win the album.

The story on the album can be seen at the Wisconsin Historical Society here. If you’ve got a subscription to The New York Times, you can read the story in the February 13, 2005 issue. Or you can read about it in an archived page of The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel here.1

All of the photographs from The Album are available at the WHS here.

What this has to do with this post:

Two of the photos in The Album show bunk beds in a room at Taliesin. They totally tweaked my brain and are here and here.2 I can almost guarantee that when I first saw these photos I took out our copies of Taliesin drawings to see what I’d previously missed. What I missed is what’s in the drawing at the top of this page.3

That drawing above shows several rooms, with two fireplaces. The fireplace on the left has a rectangular room to its left. The outline of the 2 bunk beds is drawn in pencil on the far left side of the rectangular room.

So, this brings us back to my trip to the Archives:

Four + years after The Album, I was studying photos of unidentified Wright drawings, looking for possible Hillside furniture. Flipping through the photos I came across the drawing that I have reproduced below (in two parts). This drawing shows those bunk beds. Its ID number is 7803.001. While many of Wright’s drawings can be found online (through ARTSTOR), this one isn’t on there. That’s because it wasn’t known which building it was connected to when these things were put online. I received permission to reproduce my scan here. It, and the drawing at the top of this page (as it says so in the embedded text), is the property of The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York).

The scan below:

has the footprint of the bunk beds.

Drawing 7803.001 Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (Musum of Modern Art|The Avery Architectural & FIne Arts Library, Columbia University, New York)

You can see the part of drawing 7803.001 above is the floor plan showing the two bunk beds with the chest between them. I don’t think the chest (that horizontal rectangle) was for clothes: the drawers you see in the photographs at the Wisconsin Historical Society weren’t deep enough.

This scan has their elevation:

Drawing 7803.001 Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (Musum of Modern Art|The Avery Architectural & FIne Arts Library, Columbia University, New York)

At the top of the photo above, you see “Bed Room off Studio” in Wright’s handwriting.

Since I had seen the bunk beds in the photographs, I knew exactly what Wright meant about “Bed Room off Studio”. The “Bed Room” was for the draftsman that would be living and working with him at Taliesin. The “Studio” (Wright’s studio) was the room at the fireplace on the right.

Unfortunately I didn’t get to tell Bruce when I found this drawing. It was likely that he wasn’t in the office that day. Wish I’d thought of it while we smoked cigarettes outside, though (I smoked then). After all, he told me Herb Fritz likely asked for Wright’s tractor because of gasoline rationing.

Drawings & post-it notes:

When I found the drawing, I didn’t know what to do. I scanned the photo of it, but since I was always on a time schedule for the Taliesin West trips, I could only stick a post-it note on it. Probably noting that it was from Taliesin I, and including my name.

I did make an effort to contact staff at the Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library (which has had the archive since 2012-13) when it occurred to me that they probably didn’t save the Post-It note. Hopefully what I wrote here serves the story as well.

First published on June 29, 2021.
The drawing at the top of this page is the property of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York) and can be found online here.


Notes:

1 The photographer wasn’t known when the Journal Sentinel did the story, but his identity is known now: Taylor Woolley. The Utah Historical Society has the negatives for most of the images; I’ve shown them a couple of times on these pages.

2 although, really, since these are known I’m surprised that no one has started making Wright-designed bunk beds yet.

3 Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer misidentified this drawing as Taliesin II instead of Taliesin I; the drawing was published in 1913 in Western Architect magazine. That was identified by scholar & architect, Anthony Alofsin, in his essay, “Taliesin I: A Catalogue of Drawings and Photographs,” Taliesin 1911-1914, Wright Studies, v. 1, ed. Narciso Menocal (Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale and Edwardsville, Illinois, 1992), 114.

Exterior photograph looking south at Taliesin's Garden Court with Curtis Besinger working on stone

In Return for the Use of the Tractor

Photograph taken in 1943. From Taliesin’s Breezeway looking (plan) south at Wright’s apprentice, Curtis Besinger. He’s in Taliesin’s Garden Court, sorting through flagstones that would later be put on the ground in the courtyard.

In my goal of researching Taliesin’s history, I examined Wright’s correspondence looking for anything that might give information about changes Wright made to the building. This research uncovered something about materials at Taliesin, and that is below.

Wright didn’t write out most changes he wanted at Taliesin:

If Wright built Taliesin for a client, he would have written things in detail. But he didn’t, since this was his own home. So, despite the fact that Wright lived at Taliesin for almost 48 years, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of correspondence between Wright and construction personnel, or between him and those in his office where he told them what he wanted done. I couldn’t even find things for when he was out of the country.

In contrast, when he was at Taliesin, things weren’t written down because he was there to give directions.

Some of what I did to figure things out:

Once I realized I couldn’t get information that way, I started poking around in any other direction I could. I read letters between Wright and visitors, workers, apprentices… basically, anyone I could think of who worked for Wright, or visited him at his home. Newspaper and magazine articles are good, and photographs are great, too.

For anything written, I hoped someone would mention something in a letter, like when they came this or that was being constructed or expanded. Ideally this would include a detailed description of everything in the room, along with measurements, please.

My find:

Through this method, I discovered a piece of correspondence written in April 1942, from Herbert Fritz, Jr. to Frank Lloyd Wright.

“Herb” Fritz (whose father was a former draftsman for Wright1) was born in 1915, became Wright’s apprentice for 3 years (1938-41), followed by a purchase of land near Wright’s home. Fritz became an architect and practiced almost until he died in 1998.2

Herb wrote to Wright several months after he bought that land (which he later named “Hilltop”). He was designing his home there, and the land had stone that he could work, but he needed to be able to move it.

So, Fritz offered a trade:

“In return for the use of the tractor,” Fritz wrote, “I would like to give you a cord or two of rock for each hour”3 that he needed the vehicle.

I was totally jazzed. First, this was exactly what I was hoping for. Secondly, this answered a question I’d had about Taliesin for years. I had noticed, in archival photographs, stonework changing at Taliesin in the early 1940s. So much work, that when I noticed a change I could almost count on it having occurred some time during World War II.

But I’d never come across anything that explained it.

Herb’s letter arrived when Wright was out of town, so there’s no written reply. But there must have been a verbal agreement between the two men. Nothing else explains that amount of stone and when all those changes were made.

Fritz offered a “cord”; that’s a lot

In volume, that is. It’s: 4 ft x 4 ft x 8 ft; or 128 cubic feet / 3.62 cubic meters (here’s a link showing a cord).

I don’t know exactly how much stone Wright acquired through this, but it must have been quite a bit. The photograph at the top of this page shows an apprentice while making a change: Wright added a level of stone in the Garden Court on top of the existing one.

The apprentice in the photograph above, Curtis Besinger, also wrote about changes in 1943 at Taliesin that were done in stone. He related these in his book, Working With Mr. Wright: What It Was Like.

And in 1945, photographer Ezra Stoller took photographs at Taliesin for a Fortune magazine article on the two Taliesins that came out the next year. The easiest way for me to figure out changes is by using dated photographs. One of those photographs Stoller took is below from a book I own4:

Exterior photograph looking northeast at Taliesin. Taken by Ezra Stoller
Photograph in the book, Masters of Modern Architecture, by John Peter (Bonanza Books, New York, 1958), 47.

The photograph shows one of the changes at Wright’s drafting studio. The south wall of the studio is to the right of the bell. It has the vertical, glass, doors. Wright had his apprentices build a new stone patio in front of those glass doors.

Why Fritz agreed to this:

While this find totally excited me, I couldn’t figure out why Fritz did it. He had to have known that Wright would take full advantage of such an offer in exchange for the use of Taliesin’s farming tractor. So, since I was at Taliesin West after this find, I asked “Bruce” Brooks Pfeiffer for ideas about it.

Bruce, former Wright apprentice who was born in 1930, noted that the request made sense because of World War II. The United States’ entry into the war began a period of gasoline and rubber rationing. Yet, because Wright’s tractor was a farm vehicle, it wouldn’t have been subject to it.

This stone from Fritz helped Wright transform Taliesin from a year-round Wisconsin residence into a home occupied mostly during the state’s warmer months. This way, Taliesin could fully convert into his summer home, while Taliesin West in Arizona could truly become his winter home (I wrote about this before, in “Did Wright Ever Live in Wisconsin in the Winter?”).

Originally published June 13, 2021.
The photograph at the top of the page was taken by Priscilla or David Henken and was published in Taliesin Diary: A Year with Frank Lloyd Wright, by Priscilla Henken (W.W. Norton & Company, New York City, London, 2012), 170.


1 Herb’s father was Herb Fritz, Sr., a draftsman and one of the two survivors of the 1914 fire/murders at Taliesin.

2 He shows up a few times in the Meryle Secrest biography on Frank Lloyd Wright. In fact, he described how he saw Wright in dreams sometimes, and it’s with his memory that Secrest ended the biography.

3 April 1942 Herbert Fritz letter to Frank Lloyd Wright. The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York), Microfiche ID #F055C01.

4 Masters of Modern Architecture, by John Peter (Bonanza Books, New York, 1958), 47.