Photograph of Keiran Murphy talking to someone in front of her sales items while at the holiday art fair in 1997.

Selling my wares to the public

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Taken in 1997. Me talking to someone at the art fair that was held in the Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor Center. I’m standing to the left of all of the stained-glass pieces that I had made.

No:  “selling my wares” in this post does not mean I’ll write about giving Taliesin tours.

I’m talking about my time making (and selling) stained-glass items. My work was not completely

although, yes it sort of was,

related to Taliesin and Frank Lloyd Wright. So, first I’ll show you a pretty, geometrical, piece that I made (unrelated to either Frank Lloyd Wright or Taliesin):

Looking at a blue and yellow rectangular stained glass piece.
Photograph, and stained-glass piece, by Keiran Murphy

But why I’m writing this today:

For years, December was the month in which I sold my stained-glass items at an arts and crafts event in the Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor Center.

As I wrote above, my stained glass has a little (ok, maybe a bit) to do with Frank Lloyd Wright and Taliesin.

But, primarily,

I started making stained glass the first full year I worked in the Taliesin tour program,

my first summer of tours was 1994, then I went back to school the fall semester to finish my degree.

and geometric designs were among the first things I made.

Although, I also made objects such as ornaments and candle holders, like you see at the top of this page (they were easier to make). As you also see in the photo up there, I designed, and sold, pieces with a Wright connection. That photo above shows my rendition of the Guggenheim Museum and Fallingwater.

Photo by Keiran Murphy of her piece of stained glass that shows Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater.

This is in my kitchen. I sold another one of these after I corrected a mistake in this version.

Additionally, I created designs from compositions that I saw at Taliesin and Hillside.

How much I charged for these:

I was told to charge $3 for every piece of glass I used in a piece that I made. That accounts for materials and time. So, an ornament with 4 pieces would be $12. But that Fallingwater piece in the photo? Over $300. It’s cool, but would someone spend that much money on something that small?

I put a list of designs I put on paper for later stained-glass windows that are related just to Taliesin and the Taliesin estate. I sold most of them, and traded one:

  • Taliesin’s Entry Steps

Photo and drawing of Taliesin's Entry Steps by Keiran Murphy.

 

  • The “Hill Tower” in the Middle Court

Photo and drawing by Keiran Murphy of Taliesin's Hill Tower.

You can see in the numbers I wrote on the paper before cutting it (and, then, the glass). This is part of the procedure with the copper-foil method of making stained-glass designs.

Photograph looking at Taliesin waterfall. Taken October 29, 2004 by Keiran Murphy.
Photo by Keiran Murphy

Obviously, that’s a picture of the real waterfall at Taliesin. I executed a stained-glass piece of the waterfall, but I can’t find a photo of it or its drawing. I took this photo in 2004. 

  • And the Hillside Theater Foyer roof.

Get back to the arts show—how did it start?

One afternoon in October, 1995 after all the tours had gone out, several staff members started talking. 

While talking, they had an idea.

They all knew that, once December came along, nothing would be going on in the building except for the gift shop staff getting items out to customers. The  gift store was still open on the weekends, however, for people buying gifts.

The folks that day in the visitor center thought: why not take the café area,

which was not in use because the restaurant was closed

re-arrange the tables there, and set up some homemade items to sell?

After all, by December, while the tour season was completely done, the gift store was still open on the weekends. Therefore the main floor would be heated to catch anyone interested in holiday shopping.1

The thought was: do this the first two weekends of that month.

After all, we had homegrown talent:

I had recently started making stained glass; a shuttle bus driver made her own paper and paper boxes;2 a guide/gift store attendant crocheted scarves; and her husband made decorative wooden carvings. Feeling optimistic, we asked a supervisor if we could try selling on the main floor in December. This wouldn’t cost them any money and we’d clean up after ourselves.

They allowed the idea.

So, we tried it that first December.

Ah, yes! This was like the pluckiness of the Taliesin Fellowship itself. Once more, it was like Andy Hardy saying,

Come on let’s put on a show!

We did this with no expectations. We moved the tables and chairs into place that Saturday morning in December, set up our stuff and hung out with our items. People who came in to buy things at the Taliesin gift shop took a look at our displays and bought some things. Overall, it was a success, even though we didn’t publicize it.

That started a tradition

at the Visitor Center of an arts and crafts weekend (although now just one weekend in December). I think we did it on 10 Decembers.

I found a write-up about one of them on the Taliesin Preservation website at the Wayback Machine.3 That write-up (for the “Annual Holiday Art Festival”) has a lot of detail. A lot. Which makes me wonder if I wrote the piece (even though someone else oversaw the website at that time).

This Holiday Show

fit in very well with Spring Green‘s newly-created “Country Christmas” celebrations in the village across the Wisconsin River.

Spring Green’s “Country Christmas”

The first full weekend of December has a light parade, followed the next night by fireworks.4

Consequently,

the small success in the Visitor Center caught the attention of others in the organization. So a few notes were put out, and the next year a few more people came and sold items. In a few years, there was a fabulous mixture of sales items, locally-made sausage, cheese, and wine, as well as entertainment.5

The last event

was year 10.

I think perhaps that the no-frills, “let’s just move some tables around”, was overwhelmed by its modest success. Eventually, there had to be organizers, and advertising, and a lot more work than it was worth to many people.

And, personally,

by that year, I lived in a house where I could only make stained-glass pieces in the garage. But it wasn’t climate controlled. Now, I didn’t need comfy temperatures, but

by December,

sometimes it got so cold that I warmed up my hands by resting them on the electric, metal, radiator that I’d turned on.

While in the summer,

I had to take a break when I cut glass on the days when the heat made me sweat too much. I didn’t want to lacerate my fingers (or cut a vein).6

Is there a lesson in this?

I think so.

But that lesson goes back to

what I started with:

making stained glass.

After all, a classmate in Grad School once observed that:

“Those who can’t do art, teach Art History”

Despite at least two classmates who were artists; one of whom teaches and continues making art.

And due to my experience crafting stained-glass designs, I think people who learn art history should take an art class. You know, actually make something. I remember when I was in grad school for AH at the University, I met some students getting their BFAs who had to take AH, but not the other way around.

Yet

when I had to work with materials,

and find out what does and doesn’t work in a composition, and USE some of that geometry I learned as a high school sophomore,

I realized it takes quite a bit of work and knowledge to make even a halfway-decent piece of art.

 

 

First published December 9, 2022
I was given the photograph at the top of this page, but cannot remember who took it.


Notes

1 Later on, they kept the visitor center open only when tours were going on. So: nothing past November. But in the early years, they were still trying to “feel out” the ends of the tour seasons.

2 One of her boxes sits, right now, to my lower right.

3 Remember I wrote about the Wayback Machine in September of last year.

4 If you want to be enveloped in “smalltowniness”, take a look at the video for the song, “My Hometown“, by Camela Widad. She wrote the song about Spring Green, and filmed it in, and around, here. It’s a great little song. It’s got a summer vibe, so you might want to wait until you’re sick of winter.

Part of the video for “My Hometown” was shot at the Post House Garden, which is where the Post House (once the oldest restaurant in Wisconsin) used to stand.

The Post House burned down in a fire in 2004. The owners decided not to rebuild.

5 And, it is the reason why I know, and love, Merry Christmas from the Family, by Robert Earl Keen. That’s thanks to the photographer-writer-musician who used to play it at the Visitor Center on Saturdays at the event.

6 “Don’t get mad at the glass” was what I learned, early and painfully, to tell myself. That was after I, yes: got mad at the glass and cut my finger while aggressively moving around. It was one of my first “learning by doing” lessons in the glass craft. Fortunately, there was no scar, but I did bleed.

Photograph of room at Taliesin (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York).

What I did one time before Christmas

Reading Time: 5 minutes

This is a photograph of a room that I spent part of an afternoon contemplating and figuring out.

Not this year (we were in Arizona!). No, this took place in the aughts.

Why are you talking now?

I thought I would bring this up because late December/New Years reminds me of something I did before I started my Christmas vacation one year. That is:

I identified a photograph

Seems kind of strange when I put it that way.

You identified a photo. What does that mean? Did you think it was a Polar Bear Cub before you realized you were looking at a photograph?

No. I’m talking about a photo taken inside Taliesin, but we didn’t know where. In this post I’m going to write about how I figured out which room the photo was showing.

That’s because, as I’ve noted before,

Wright made a lot of changes at Taliesin.

And while the photo (seen at the top of this post) showed furnishings that indicated it was taken somewhere inside Taliesin, the space no longer existed. At least not the way it was shown.

Earlier, someone else thought maybe it was a photograph of another room, and stuck it in the image binder.

But that also didn’t seem correct.

So, I took it out and put the image in a “to be determined” folder. And it stayed there for years, waiting for a home.

Additionally, this wasn’t the best photo you’ve ever seen. I mentioned before (when I wrote about the dam at Taliesin), how, when I first worked in the office, a lot of the photos were, like, seventh generation Xeroxes. This was close: a printout of a scan of a photo emailed to the Preservation Office in about 1996. It looked kind of like what you see below:

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

The desk lamp you see on the left is all over Taliesin, and the woodwork looks like Taliesin, too. But nothing else looked familiar. The room had light walls and a flat ceiling. But I didn’t recognize anything through its open door (the black rectangle you see). Also, the configuration—wall, door, and radiator, maybe, to the door’s right—didn’t fit anything that I knew.

So I kept this small printout in a pocket in one of the binders, for years. Then, one time I had a few hours before I took off for Christmas. So, I decided to look at it closely. Perhaps I could figure out what room the photograph showed.

So, I drew it

When I write that I “drew” it, I don’t mean like some super, well-trained person who can depict what they see.

You know, like when you go to someone’s apartment and they say, “It’s such a mess,” and it’s, like, immaculate?
Well, when I say my place is a mess it is, really, a mess.

That is, I wrote drew a straight line on the left (denoting the wall), a door that opened in, maybe a radiator, and what looked like a wall on the right that took up part of the room. Here’s an approximation:

Drawing of details in photograph

The line on the left is the wall. The pointy thing at the top of the wall is supposed to be the door, and the slight arc is the arc of the door that you see in good drawings. The distorted rectangle is the radiator. The bulge on the bottom right is supposed to be the wall corner.
I’m sorry it doesn’t have the brilliant MS Paint work of Allie Brosh in her “Hyperbole and a Half” website, but it will do.

I took that shape (and the knowledge of changes at Taliesin), and—after checking to see that it wasn’t showing Hillside (where people also lived on the Taliesin estate)—I walked through Taliesin in my head.

From basically c. 1925-1959.

So, from Taliesin’s second fire, until Wright’s death. While more people had color film by the 1950s, many did not, so I harbored the possibility that the photograph came from that decade. And, since the image might have been reversed, I had to flip it back and forth in my head.

Now, I think it’s best for all of us that I don’t remember exactly how I came to concluding that I was seeing, possibly, one particular room. But, OMG! I found it! In an old drawing. It’s drawing #2501.024, at the Avery, a cropped version of which I’ve put below:

The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives drawing 2501.024 (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York).

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

What does the drawing show?

This shows the floor beneath where the Wrights lived at Taliesin. The drawing was executed 1936-39. The room I was seeing in the photograph shows up in the drawing, as the last large room (with a closet) on the lower right. This room is known as the “Blue Room”.

(members of the Taliesin Fellowship were asked about the name, and they didn’t know or couldn’t remember why it was called that).

I can tell you that I checked out the length of time it had taken me to figure which room was in the photo: 2 hours and 45 minutes. I wrote an email to two members of the Preservation Crew, gave them the salient details, I asked them what they thought, then closed up the office and left for Christmas.

They agreed with me

One (Tom) thought that a closet built inside the room (even though there was already a closet) was built in 1943 to take the weight of the changes above. The changes in 1943 were made to a room two floors above.

The Preservation Crew, after getting done all of the work down here (as I wrote about in “A Slice of Taliesin“) finished restoration/preservation/reconstruction. The area where they worked is a zone of Secondary Significance; meaning they can change things if need be. So, the preservation of the room allowed the crew to take out the closet. It was no longer needed because they transferred the weight using added micro laminated beams.

When they finished their restoration work and removed the closet, they let some staff members in to see the space:

Taliesin Preservation staff in restored room at Taliesin.

I took this photograph in 2018. The four people stand in the background, to the right of the doorway and against the wall, stand where the Preservation Crew has removed the closet.

Success in doing this (attending to those little things in the back of my mind) is one of the things that gave me the courage to explore and pursue what may have looked, from the outside, like a waste of time. 

First published December 31, 2021.

The photograph 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). The photographer is unknown.

Photograph by Kevin Dodda of Taliesin in snow.

How did Frank Lloyd Wright feel about Christmas?

Reading Time: 2 minutes

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 is of 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.