Photograph of Frank Lloyd Wright in the Taliesin studio with four architectural apprentices.

The Taliesin Fellowship

Reading Time: 5 minutes

A photograph of Frank Lloyd Wright sitting with apprentices near the fireplace in the Taliesin studio. Photo taken in the early 1940s by David or Priscilla Henken.

When I gave tours, I introduced the Taliesin Fellowship as:

a coeducational apprentice program that Wright and his wife, Olgivanna, started in 1932. They wanted the apprentices to participate in almost every aspect of their lives and taught the apprentices to “Learn By Doing”. The Taliesin Fellowship eventually became a school.

For years, the school was the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture.

Now it’s the School of Architecture, an accredited architecture program that awards Master’s degrees and traces its origins back to the Fellowship. But it no longer operates out of either Taliesin site.

The Fellowship, though

is/was never easy to explain.

Like, when you say “Fellowship” people think it involves scholars at are awarded grants, like an NEH fellowship.

Not quite.

Taliesin Fellowship apprentices lived at the Taliesins: Wisconsin in the summer and Arizona in the winter. They farmed in Wisconsin, and cooked, made music, built/repaired the structures, drafted in the studios, and supervised construction of his buildings. At first for Frank Lloyd Wright, and then for Taliesin Architects after his death.

And they paid tuition for this.

When I got my job in 1994 and told professor Narciso Menocal1 in my department, he disparaged “those people”.

            But I never went back to Menocal and said what I wrote in the “Wright Was Not a Shyster“:

            “with Wright, there was a difference between the ideal and the reality.”

In the ideal, the Fellowship was supposed to echo an apprenticeships from the Middle Ages. He wrote in an early prospectus for the Fellowship that:

“SO WE BEGIN this working Fellowship as a kind of daily work-life. Apprentices at work on buildings or in crafts which have a free individual basis: a direct work-experience made healthy and fruitful by seeing Idea as work and work as Idea take effect, actually, in the hand of the young apprentice.

Frank Lloyd Wright, An Autobiography, new and revised ed. (New York: Duell, Sloan, and Pearce, 1943), 392.

YET,

while the Wrights explained it in their prospectus:

“Each apprentice will work under the inspiration of direct architectural leadership, toward machine-craft in this machine age. All will work together in a common daily effort to create new forms needed by machine work and modern processes if we are to have any culture of our own worth having…. Our activities, we hope, will be gradually extended to include collateral arts by way of such modern machine crafts as we can establish.”

Frank Lloyd Wright, An Autobiography, new and revised ed. (New York: Duell, Sloan, and Pearce, 1943), 391.

it didn’t always work out the way they envisioned it.

After all,

Former Fellowship member, Curtis Besinger, explained something about Fellow apprentices:

Some came expecting an academic environment, a school with required and regular hours of classwork, and with some free time…. Some came expecting an artistic community, a sort of bohemian life of freedom in which one could do what he wanted…. Some came expecting an egalitarian co-op with everyone having an equal say. Some came expecting a lesser degree of commitment and involvement….

 Few newcomers to the Fellowship received special treatment…. Of course, there were exceptions, but “wholesome neglect” was the practice and the policy.

Curtis Besinger. Working with Mr. Wright: What it was Like (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, England, 1995), 22-23.

Nevertheless,

when I gave a presentation on the history of the Fellowship to guides at Taliesin Preservation not that long ago, a current guide (I think that’s what she was?) asked questions about the Fellowship. It reminded me of the impressions we received from people.

How could people do all of this: cook, clean, farm, make music, and – oh yeah – work in the drafting studio.

Were they masochists who liked being taken advantage of? What did the Fellowship give them?

Times change. The woman who asked me wasn’t in a grade school, but…

This reminded me of the questions I encountered all the time while giving tours.

neither I nor anyone else working there came up with the best answer

They’re things that I don’t know if anyone could answer, even if they read all the books I first put in my post, “Books by Apprentices“.

Nevertheless,

One of the things, I liked about giving tours was holding these various ideas simultaneously in my head, continuously: did the Wrights take advantage of people? Yes. But no one stayed if they didn’t get something out of it. Priscilla Henken, then an apprentice, kept a diary, which gives a day-to-day good and bad portrait of life in the Fellowship. The National Book Museum published it as Taliesin Diary: A Year with Frank Lloyd Wright and it gives an unvarnished view as well as many previously unseen photographs (like the one at the top of this post).

But personally,

I think the Fellowship helped keep Wright young.

My impression of Wright’s later years is contrasted by my knowledge of the later years of Pablo Picasso.2 Picasso’s peers were passing away and he wasn’t surrounded by many young people. So the painter took to thinking and reconfiguring the work of the Masters.

So in the 1950s Picasso was painting his version of Las Meninas by Diego Velasquez (1599-1660), work by Eugene Delacroix (1798-1863), and then Dejeuner Dur L’Herbe by Eduard Manet (1832-1883). Manet’s painting is below:

Painting: Le Dejeuner Sur L'Herbe by Edouard Manet, 1863. Located at the Musee d'Orsay. 2 women (clothed or partially clothed) at a park with two clothed men.

Then there’s Picasso’s version from the early 1960s:

Pablo Picasso's version of Manet's "Luncheon on the Grass", 1961. One man clearly visible with two nuder or partially nude women.

I looked at Picasso’s work from the 1950s and ’60s and it was better than what I remembered, but I wonder if he would have done something different if he was surrounded by young artists (unless he was so competitive that it was impossible).

But one night,

months ago, as I thought about the Fellowship,

as one often does

And I remembered the saying I’ve heard about the Grateful Dead3:

They may not be the best at what they do, but they’re the only ones who are doing it.

Note: the folks who said that loved the Dead, too.

 

Published June 15, 2023.
The image at the top of this post is from Taliesin Diary: A Year with Frank Lloyd Wright, by Priscilla Henken. Page 107, bottom. It’s also in my post, “Hey Keiran Q and A“.


Notes:

1. Narciso Menocal was an Architectural Historian in the University of Wisconsin Art History Department. He’s the reason I knew more about Louis Sullivan than Frank Lloyd Wright when I started working at Taliesin: Menocal ran a Graduate Seminar on Sullivan. But he was never my advisor (I asked another professor to be my advisor after he lectured in our first class and I thought “this is why I started grad school”).

2. 1881-1973. I also took a graduate seminar on Picasso. Until I looked at images for today’s post, I really didn’t like anything he did after 1939. Picasso, like Wright, was also a prolific artist who lived until his early 90s, had several well-known romantic relationships, and had a wife named Olga. Although Olgivanna was rarely just called “Olga” and she was 30 years younger than Wright as opposed to Picasso’s later paramour Francois Gilot (also an artist and mother of Paloma and Claude). She was 40 years younger than Picasso (research for this part of my page brought me to this web page just on Picasso’s muses).

3. If you’ve got a couple of hours, here’s a link to part of one of their concerts in 1974. My oldest sister (who saw 300+ Dead shows) would have been happy to see/hear it.

Black and white photograph looking southwest in Taliesin's living room. Taken by Maynard Parker in 1955. In view: wooden furniture, plaster on walls, artifacts on tables.

Here’s another change at Taliesin:

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Maynard Parker took the photo at the top of the post. It’s Taliesin’s Living Room and he took it 1955 for House Beautiful magazine’s issue devoted to Wright.

In this post I’ll be writing about the horizontal wood shelf in the center of the photo.

FWIW:

if I haven’t told you already, I’ve never tried to figure out why Frank Lloyd Wright made any changes at Taliesin.

Well: the fact that his house has a kitchen, bedrooms and bathrooms is self-explanatory…,

but I’m talking about experiments or changes. Like Wright adding the skylight in the “Little Kitchen” to show Solomon Guggenheim how the natural lighting at his museum would work.

Anyway,

For years, there was a door just to the left of where you entered the Living Room. It came out of the kitchen (known now as the “Little Kitchen”).

That door from the kitchen to the Living Room was there all the way back to the Taliesin I era (1911-1914). At that time the kitchen’s doors opened into the hallway and the living room.

The drawing from 1911, below, shows the main entry, kitchen and Living Room. You can see where the doors were at that time:Floor plan of Taliesin living room and kitchen drawn in 1911 by Frank Lloyd Wright. Drawing 1104.003. The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art } Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York).

Here’s another drawing from 1925 (after the second fire) to show you the same doorway:

Floor plan of Taliesin's living room executed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Drawing number 2501.001, so may be the first drawing did of his house following the April 1925 fire. The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York).

The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives, drawing #2501.001.

Then

In 1943, Wright got the commission for the Guggenheim Museum and then prepared for Guggenheim’s visit to Taliesin.1 Wright made many changes to Taliesin at that time. I’ve always thought that perhaps Wright made changes in order to entice the new client.

It might be part of the other changes Wright made in the early 1940s that I wrote about over a year ago.

But

these are slightly here I’m writing about different changes in this part of the room in the early 1940s.

These were changes related to the connection between the Little Kitchen and the Living Room.

Here’s a photo with an arrow pointing at the door into the Little Kitchen.

Black and white photograph looking southwest in Taliesin Living Room, 1937. In view: wooden chairs and funiture, light limestone walls. Photograph has an arrow pointing at a wooden door.In the fall of 1937, Ken Hedrich (of Hedrich-Blessing photographers) took photos all over Taliesin and the Taliesin estate; while brother Bill took photos of that new Wright building designed over a waterfall.

By the way: I always struggle to remember which Hedrich brother took photos at Taliesin (Ken) and which one took photos at Fallingwater (Bill). I almost think I should tattoo “Ken Hedrich took the Taliesin photos” on my arm…. Although today I had to look for the answer from my own blog (the post “Hillside Drafting Studio Flooring“)…. So I’ll just keep this website and blog going for… well until I’m in my late 90s at least.

Wright expanded the Little Kitchen in 1943. When that work was complete, the large door near the fireplace no longer went outside; it just opened into the kitchen.

Since he didn’t need the door Living Room any longer, Wright just had the apprentices veneer the original door with stone. They did a pretty good job matching, too.  You wouldn’t really know it have been a door there unless you already knew.

Here’s a photo with stone where the door was, and the shelf in place:

Black and white photograph of the southwest corner of Taliesin's Living Room. Photograph taken by Maynard Parker in 1955.After he removed the wooden door and veneered it with stone he put in the shelf you can see there. I have never seen a photo with the stone, but no shelf.

While he might have just wanted that shelf there to draw your eye, or complete the design or match the trim on the south wall (that you see on the left-hand side of the photo).

But,

since a wooden door had been in the southwestern corner of the Living Room since 1925, the shelf under the bottom of the cabinet might really have been put there just to keep visitors from trying to exit the old way: the now non-existent door.

If you’d been a guest a few times at Taliesin, maybe you’d gotten used to getting a snack at night from the kitchen while staying in the Guest Bedroom? So, perhaps that shelf kept you from walking smack dab into a wall?

Now,

If you ever took a tour at Taliesin from 1994 until 2018, you walked into the Living Room and that corner was drywalled with gold paint on it. So the corner looked like what you see below:

Interior of Taliesin Living room. In view: wooden furniture, limestone walls, and Asian artifacts. Photograph from 1992.

The photo above is what that corner looked like when I first started working at Taliesin.2 And there were more rugs on the floor. That’s not original either. They’re rugs from the collection, but they weren’t there. Bruce Pfeiffer (former Wright apprentice and the original Curator of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Archives) used to say that many rugs in the Living Room made it look like an Asian rug shop. Well, former Wright apprentice John de Koven Hill was the one who “okayed” their location. Since “Johnny” joined the Taliesin Fellowship long before Bruce he outranked him, I guess.

Since the gold in that corner was determined not to be original to Wright’s lifetime, the drywall was removed. “Stilfehler” took a photograph of the corner on a tour and loaded it onto Wikimedia Commons:

Photograph of the Taliesin Living Room with wooden built-in furniture and limestone on the walls. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

First published August 26, 2023.
The photograph at the top of this post is also in the Maynard Parker collection at the Huntington Library. It’s online here.


Notes:

1. I thought for years that Wright did all these changes in anticipation of Guggenheim’s visit. You would, too, if you’ve read Working With Mr. Wright: What It Was Like­, by Curtis Besinger. But in 2012, the diary of Priscilla Henken was published. This was a daily diary that Henken wrote in from October 1942 to late August 1943. On page 195 of the diary, July 18, 1943, Henken wrote that the Wrights, who had been away for days from Taliesin, were back and that: “The contract is for a million dollar museum for non-objective art, sponsored by Solomon Guggenheim….” So: that changed things.

2. By the way: the photo shows the very end of the inglenook in the Living Room (it’s under the metal Asian statue). That’s got gold, too. Was that original? Yes it was. And I’ve been told it’s gold leaf.

Photograph of Taliesin's Entry Foyer taken by Keiran Murphy in May 2004.

When did Taliesin get its front door?

Reading Time: 8 minutes

My May 2004 photograph looking at Taliesin’s entry and entry foyer.

I find humor regarding Wright’s placement of his own home’s front door, so my post today is going to be about that.

I say “humor” because of how Wright is praised on his placement of the front doors of his homes. That he placed the entrances in ways that create a journey of surprise to visitors as they seek them out.

Therefore, his houses do not usually have the front doors smack dab in front of you.

Photograph taken from the street looking at Wright's Windlow House in summer

Ok, well there was that one time.

And he was young! The house (the Winslow) was his first independent commission in 1893. He was 25 or 26. Haven’t we all done things as we’re learning the ins and outs of our own lives?

Edward C. Waller apartment building by Frank Lloyd Wright, summer.

Well, THAT’S an apartment building. You gotta make the entry really large to help people to go in —

Chancey L. Williams House by Frank Lloyd Wright

STOP THAT!!

Those are all photographs of Wright buildings, but I’m trying to make a point.

. . . . Against my fictional self.

But, seriously: I find the history of Taliesin’s “front door” funny because, when he first designed his home in 1911, when you arrived at Taliesin’s first courtyard, a door was one of the first things you saw, but it wasn’t the front door.

Let me back up and show you:

So, in 1911, you would drive past Taliesin’s waterfall, and along the carriage path up the hill, and stop under the roof of the Porte-Cochere, in the photo below.1

Photograph of Taliesin's porte-cochere seen in late fall/early spring

This photograph was taken by Wright’s draftsman, Taylor Woolley, in the late fall or early spring, 1911-12.

And once you stopped under the roof, you could get out of your vehicle and walk into the “forecourt”. And here, you saw this door, behind the vertical wood strips there at the low wall near the middle of the photo:

Wisconsin Historical Society, Lynn Anderson Collection
Postcard property of Patrick Mahoney. Published in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin: Illustrated by Vintage Postcards, by Randolph C. Henning, p. 17. It’s a great book of images to get you started on your Frankophile feast.

And yes, behind the vertical pieces of wood are bug screens. Even though Wright supposedly hated them. I think it took only one summer in Wisconsin, with the Taliesin pond, for Wright to understand that the mosquitoes in Wisconsin can be pretty nasty.

Knowing me, if I were invited to Taliesin in 1912 I probably would have walked right up to that door, figuring that was the main house entry. But that’s not where Wright designated the front door. No; apparently Wright’s planned trip for visitors to the main, formal, Taliesin entry was that they would walk straight from the Porte-Cochere, through the forecourt, and up three steps and under the roof on the left that you see in the photo above.

The photo below I think shows you the straight shot he wanted you to take.

The continued walk to the door:

You go up those steps and under that roof. And on your left was another door. Which was not the front door.

Wisconsin Historical Society, Fuermann Collection, ID# 83113

Here’s why I think this is funny: in many of his designs, I get the impression that there is just one door that he intentionally leads you to. But at his home, he’s got these other doors and I think I’d get frustrated after awhile.

Although under the roof, you could see the river

I think he hoped to draw you to the view in the distance to see the Wisconsin River.

Photograph in summer taken by Taylor Woolley at Taliesin.

And, then you’d see the front door. It would be on your right.

The best view of the door is actually in a drawing:

I’ve never seen a photo of that door on the outside during Taliesin I or II.

Elevation of Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin I.
The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York).2

You can only see the door at that time from the inside, at Taliesin’s living room. You can see one view on the other side of the inglenook which I wrote about in my last post, 1940s Change in Taliesin’s Living Room.

But the other thing that is really interesting was that when you walked through Taliesin’s “front door” at that time, you walked right into the Living/Dining room of Taliesin.

And before that, you walked passed the kitchen.

This caught my eye starting about three months ago:

That’s because I was writing an article on Wright’s kitchens at Taliesin. This will appear in the Spring 2022 edition of the magazine, SaveWright . SaveWright is the magazine put out by The Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy.

Here’s one thing Wright wrote about kitchens in 1907:

… Access to the stairs from the kitchen is sufficiently private at all times, and the front door may be easily reached from the kitchen without passing through the living room.

“The Fireproof House for $5,000”,  in Frank Lloyd Wright Collected Writings: 1894-1930, volume 1. Edited by Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer, introduction by Kenneth Frampton (Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., New York City, 1992), 81-2.

So, he’s not paying attention to this, in his own home. At that time at Taliesin, the only way to get to the front door would be by walking past the kitchen. And, if you were inside the kitchen, the only way to get to that front door would be by going through the living room/dining area.

You’ll see this if you look at the Taliesin drawing in my post, “Did Taliesin Have Outhouses?

And he’s working out these ideas at Taliesin: like I wrote, “The Fireproof House for $5,000” was published in 1907.

In addition,

He does the same thing in Taliesin II 

That is, 1914-1925

Although I think by that time, he tried to hide that first door when you stopped at the Porte-Cochere.

Here are a couple of Taliesin II photos:

Looking east at Taliesin II forecourt. Photograph by Clarence Fuermann.
Wisconsin Historical Society.
Collection Name: Henry Fuermann and Sons Taliesin I and II photographs, 1911-1913, 1915
Looking north in Taliesin II forecourt. Photograph by Clarence Fuermann.
Wisconsin Historical Society,
Collection Name: Henry Fuermann and Sons Taliesin I and II photographs, 1911-1913, 1915

Taliesin’s front door is past the ceramic vase you see in the shadows. The kitchen is through the open windows that you can see above the low, stucco.

Then the 1925 fire happens

So, Wright keeps the door in the same place, but changes how you get there. And, for almost 15 years, he had you drive east of the living quarters to get arrive at the front door. An aerial photograph showing the road is below:

Aerial of Taliesin taken Feb. 7, 1934
From the William “Beye” Fyfe collection at The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives

From the book, The Fellowship: The Unknown Story of Frank Lloyd Wright & the Taliesin Fellowship, by Roger Friedland and Harold Zellman (Harper Collins Publishers, New York, 2006). This image was published in the page opposite page 1.

That road in the aerial brought you to the steps on the way to the front door that you see below in this 1929 photograph.

Photograph of Taliesin's entry steps taken in 1929 by Vladimir Karfik
The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York).

These steps took (and take) you to Taliesin’s entry. When this photograph was taken you, would walk up the three sets of steps and the door into Taliesin was to the right of the chimney.

Here’s what former apprentice Edgar Tafel wrote about his first experience walking into the house:

At Taliesin, we went through a Dutch door, its top half swinging open. Below, flagstone, and all around us natural stone. The ceiling was low, sandy plaster just above our heads. Wright led the way into his living room. What an impression that room made! It was my first total Frank Lloyd Wright atmosphere. How I was struck by those forms, shapes, materials! It was heartbreaking – I had never imagined such beauty and harmony.

This comes from page 20 in Apprentice to Genius: Years With Frank Lloyd Wright, the book I recommended last year.

In 1943, Wright changed the entrance to where it is now:

Another former apprentice, Curtis Besinger, wrote about his in the book, Working With Mr. Wright: What It was Like.

I mentioned this book when I wrote about books by apprentices. 

He described in in the chapter, “Spring and Summer, 1943”:

It seemed that some students from Harvard had complained to Mr. Wright when visiting Taliesin that they had had difficulty finding the entrance. He was going to correct this.

… These new doors were visually on the center of the garden court, and made a stronger connection between the interior of the entry area and the court.

Curtis Besinger. Working with Mr. Wright: What it was Like (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, England, 1995), 147.

Re: “students from Harvard”:

When I gave tours, if I had time after bringing people to the front door, I’d tell them about the Harvard students. I often added that “Wright said Harvard took good plums and turned them into prunes.”3

Here’s a photograph taken in 1945 (I included it in my post, “In Return for the Use of the Tractor“):

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 formal entry was to the right of the two tall birch trees in the center of the photo. Although people usually went inside through the door to the left of the two tall birch trees.

Although the students from Harvard possibly influenced Wright to take away some of the FIVE DOORS that he had on that side of the house. Seriously: take a look at drawing 2501.048. It shows Taliesin’s living quarters, 1937-43.

First published March 26, 2022.


Notes:

  1. Another word I’ve learned while working at Taliesin. Porte-Cochere: a “carriage porch” and “a covered carriage or automobile entryway leading to a courtyard.”
    The Dictionary of Architecture and Construction, 4th ed. (2006, Cyril J. Harris, ed., McGraw Hill, New York, 1975).
  2. If you click on the drawing, you’ll see it’s characterized as “Taliesin II”. That’s wrong. Architectural details in the drawing show that this was actually 1911-14, Taliesin I. It just hasn’t been corrected. If you know anyone close to the Avery library who wants to contract with me as a consultant to correct these dates on Taliesin drawings, I’m all up for it; please give them my contact information. Thx.
  3. As always, I learned the “gist” of that quote, but I can’t find the actual quote itself.

Wright wrote something about the same in his book about mentor Louis Sullivan, Genius and the Mobocracy. Wright while writing about university education, says that the “creeping paralysis” in ” higher learning” takes “Perfectly good fresh young lives—like perfectly good plums… destined to be perfectly good prunes.”

That’s in the Frank Lloyd Wright: Collected Writings 1939-49, volume 4, 343-344.
I like the way I first heard it, rather than how Wright wrote it. Maybe he said it someplace else.

A red door at the alcove at Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin studio

Found window:

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Looking (plan) north at the door to the alcove of Taliesin’s Drafting Studio.

Recently, I came across what I wrote to myself during Taliesin’s Save America’s Treasures project in 2003-04. It reminded me of one of the “finds” during that project. That’s what I’m going to write about in this post.

This is not the same as Save America’s Treasures Hillside Theatre project. That project, begun in 2020, is being undertaken by the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation.

This other “SATs” project was carried out by Taliesin Preservation. The project’s purpose was to construct a drainage solution to the Taliesin residence. The Taliesin residence is at the “brow” of a hill (Taliesin, meaning “Shining Brow” in Welsh), so all the water had to get from the top of the hill to the bottom.

What – Wright didn’t think about rain going downhill?

Wright initially installed drainage at Taliesin. However, because he continuously changed Taliesin—and he never used gutters—the water, eventually, went through the building.

Not an ideal circumstance

One of the things I discovered in preservation is that water, in its liquid and solid form, is the most pernicious substance. It can expand, creating pressure. In humidity it can encourage mold. It can turn plaster into mush and wooden beams into fibrous soggy filaments.

Taliesin had all of these things and more.

Taliesin’s Save America’s Treasures project was designed, then, to move water, ice, and snow around the building, while not completely rebuilding or destroying it. Therefore, in order to do this, all of the flagstone in the main court was removed, and drainage was added under it to move the water around it. In addition, concrete walls were constructed under the main building, to help the drainage. This removed stone included that in Taliesin’s Breezeway (that’s the area under the roof between his home and his studio). So, the construction firm that worked with Taliesin Preservation removed the stone, while the Preservation Crew removed a door and door jam of the alcove in Taliesin’s Breezeway. A photograph of that door at the alcove is at the top of this post.

When the crew member removed the door and frame, he found a window hidden in the stone column on the west (or on the left in the photo above).

A completely unexpected find

We had no idea the window was there.

Although, things being “uncovered” and “found” during this project happened so much that when the crew member found this window, I was like, “Oh, yes. Of course. Something else. Thanks, Frank!

How he found the window was by removing the door jamb from the stone pier. As it turned out, the top foot (or so) of the stone pier was hollow, with a 1′ 3″ window tucked inside.

I’ll show a couple of photos to explain. First, is a photograph showing the alcove with the door removed:

The stone alcove outside of Wright's Taliesin Drafting Studio.

Looking (plan) north into the alcove outside of Taliesin’s Drafting Studio. You can see where the frame was removed. The found window is at the top on the left. I took this photograph.

Next is a photo looking at the column with the window:

Stone pier outside of Taliesin drafting studio in November, 2003.

Looking (plan) northwest at the column with the window. To the right of the window is where the door to Wright’s drafting studio usually is.

Then a close-up looking at the window:

The window found in the pier outside Wright's Taliesin studio.

I took this photograph of the newly discovered window (with a red frame) in November 2003.
The stone on either side hid the window. The wooden board has the word “Spring Gr…” written on top of it. 

The newly discovered window explained some things:

We had already noticed a gap between the top of the pier and the ceiling above it. We had wondered if there was a problem at all. But this window proved that the pier had never supported anything in the ceiling.

So: Wright had the pier built, then at some point he decided he didn’t want the little window there anymore. Therefore, he just had his apprentices enclose it by slapping some stone on one side, then on the other. It was probably the simplest solution.

After finding this, I embarked on my usual activity:

I looked for evidence of this little window in floor plans, elevations, and photographs. Although, the pier is underneath a deep overhang, thus any glancing photographs of the area didn’t show a tiny window like this.

And, while I’ve noted that Taliesin’s drawings are unreliable, they can be helpful.

For that reason, I looked at drawings hoping to catch something. One of those drawings was a Xerox. It’s a hand-drawn floor plan, with written measurements alongside everything (maybe Wright had one of his early apprentices do this early in the history of the Taliesin Fellowship).

This drawing, #2501.035, is below:

Drawing 2501.035.

The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York). Drawing #2501.035.

Looking at the drawing with a magnifying glass I saw “1′ 3″ window” written and it was pointed right at “our” window. I’ve put a close-up of the drawing to show it, below (with the words 1′ 3″ highlighted):

Drawing 2501.035, cropped

The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York). Drawing #2501.035.

I saw this notation on the drawing at the end of the day, when I was alone in the office. When I saw it, I just started laughing. This amazing thing that we found. . . and there it sat for years, unnoticed, in a drawing.

After laughing, I wrote up the information, and sent that, as well as the scans showing photos, floor plans, and elevations, and my new photos, in an email to my supervisor.

That day was a hell of a lot of fun.

Published September 31, 2021.
I took the photograph at the top of this post on May 14, 2004.

Exterior of Fellowship dining room, summer.

Old Dining Room

Reading Time: 5 minutes

The photograph above shows the dining room areas, first built before 1920, then used by the Wrights and the Taliesin Fellowship. The area dining rooms were on the left, with the kitchen located behind the tower on the right.

I have had the goal of figuring out the history of Frank Lloyd Wright’s home, Taliesin, for awhile. Well, a lot. It’s almost like it’s, I dunno, a career or something.

And, I’ve written about figuring out Taliesin’s history in this blog here, and here, and a few more places.

Regardless, come along with me while I talk about how I figured out something because of photographs and what others wrote.

The old Fellowship dining room at Taliesin is a simple example.

That’s the dining room Wright was exiting in 1925 when he saw that his home was on fire:

… [O]ne evening at twilight as the lightning of an approaching lightning storm was playing and the wind rising I came down from the evening meal in the little detached dining room on the hill-top to the dwelling on the court below to find smoke pouring out of my bedroom. Again—there it was—Fire!

Frank Lloyd Wright, An Autobiography, in Frank Lloyd Wright Collected Writings: 1930-32, volume 2. Edited by Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer, introduction by Kenneth Frampton (1992; Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., New York City, 1992), 294.

Below is a photo from the Wisconsin Historical Society, taken prior to that day:

Taliesin dining area and Hill Tower, summer. 1920-22.
Wisconsin Historical Society. See image online here:
https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Image/IM38788

The door he was coming out of was to the left of the stone pier. You can’t see the door because it’s behind all of that foliage.
https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Image/IM38788

There’s a tree coming out of the roof on the left hand side of the photograph. That tree was there for close to a decade (don’t worry: the tree didn’t stand inside a room).

Continuing on Taliesin’s history

Taliesin’s second fire happens in 1925, then, after ups and downs in his career over the next seven years, Frank Lloyd Wright and his wife, Olgivanna, founded the Taliesin Fellowship in 1932. The apprentices in the Fellowship did a lot of work at Taliesin in the 1930s so they could have places to live and eat.

(I wrote about one of them, Edgar Tafel, and his book, Apprentice to Genius, in this post).

Here are the changes in the dining room in the 1930s:

Eventually, the main Fellowship dining room was at Hillside. But, in those early Fellowship years, while the group still ate at Taliesin, Wright added a chimney with two fireplaces to the existing dining room. Abe Dombar, then a Taliesin Fellowship apprentice (along with his brother Bennie; they both became architects) mentioned this in his “At Taliesin” article on March 23, 1934:

….  Additions were made… and the little dining room soon grew to be the big dining room.  The apprentices that were there helped to make it grow.  The low ceiling of the old dining room now projected out into the new part to form a deck….

And then they built a corner fireplace on the far side by the windows.

At Taliesin: Newspaper Columns by Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Fellowship, 1934-1937. Edited and with commentary by Randolph C. Henning (Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale and Edwardsville, Illinois, 1991), 30.

The chimney mentioned in Dombar’s article is seen in an aerial photograph from the Wisconsin Historical Society, below:

Aerial of Taliesin in summer, 1932-33. Cropped.
Owner: Wisconsin Historical Society. Available at: https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Image/IM38757

The chimney stands on the far left-hand side of the photograph, to the left of the tree.
Wisconsin Historical Society, ID 38757. The image is online here.

Then, in 1936, Wright invited young photographer, Edmund Teske, to live at Taliesin as the Fellowship photographer. Teske’s photos also show the tree.

In 1937, photos were taken for Architectural Forum mag

On preparation for an issue of that magazine devoted to his work, that fall, Wright dispatched young photographers Bill and Ken Hedrich (of the photography firm, Hedrich-Blessing) to photograph Taliesin and his other recent work. This magazine issue was released the next January. Among other things, that issue of Architectural Forum included unique photographs from the Taliesin estate, as well as the Johnson Wax world headquarters, and that little Wright building known as “Fallingwater”.

During his session, Ken Hedrich took a distant photograph of Taliesin, which showed the building without that tree in the roof. I don’t have that one to show, but here‘s a photograph Ken took on a roof looking over a courtyard with the dining room in the background. It ends at the chimney, and has no tree through the roof.

So, I’m figuring this stuff out: “Ok, the chimney’s built, then the tree is eliminated. Got it.”

Around that time, I grabbed another piece of writing. This is the book, Working With Mr. Wright: What It Was Like, by Curtis Besinger. He wrote about his years in the Taliesin Fellowship (1939-43; 1946-55).

Besinger on a change to the dining room in 1939:

He was involved in this during his first fall in the Fellowship:

I was also involved in one other construction project that fall, a remodeling of the Taliesin dining room…,

One morning, having finished his breakfast in the nearby little dining room, Mr. Wright1 came into the Fellowship dining room and announced that he wanted to put a clerestory in the ceiling to let more light as well as the morning sun into the room…. He directed some people to start knocking off the plaster on the ceiling along the east side of the ridge…. He made a rough drawing to indicate how he wanted the clerestory built….

Curtis Besinger. Working with Mr. Wright: What It Was Like (1995; Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, England), 26.

Even though he wrote his memoir years after his time at Taliesin, I trust Besinger’s memory on when this construction took place. That earliest experience at Taliesin makes a strong impression.

Here’s the conclusion to this information:

By looking at things written contemporaneously (as well as in memoirs), and by using definitively dated photographs (the Teske and Hedrich-Blessing photos), I was able to figure out when the chimney was built (1932-33); then when the tree disappeared (1936-37); then when the clerestory was constructed (1939).

In my nonstop refining of the dates of Taliesin’s changes, I looked at all the photocopies, took a pencil, and re-dated them accordingly. Figuring out these photographs has helped me to figure out changes; and on the other hand, figuring out changes has helped me figure out photographs.

First published, August 21, 2021.

The image at the top of this post is published online at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Taliesin_Exterior_21.jpg. The image is licensed under the Creative Commons  Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.


1 While it’s slowly changing, people who knew him and worked with him referred to him as Mr. Wright. I was taught that specifically when I started giving tours. But, as I was completing grad school at that time, I carried the lesson on referring to an artist. First introduce them by their full name and thereafter just use their last names. I tried to call him “Frank Lloyd Wright” otherwise, but I can’t guarantee it.

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

In Return for the Use of the Tractor

Reading Time: 4 minutes

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.

Books by apprentices

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Last time I wrote on the book Years With Frank Lloyd Wright: Apprentice to Genius by former Wright apprentice, Edgar Tafel. This week I’m writing about more books by Taliesin Fellowship apprentices.

If you need to remember what the Taliesin Fellowship is, click here

Memoirs by former apprentices:

Reflections From the Shining Brow: My years with Frank Lloyd Wright and Olgivanna Lazovich Wright, by Kamal Amin

Amin came from Egypt to join the Fellowship in 1951 and remained until 1978. Amin gives a unique view about Frank Lloyd Wright, and his wife, Olgivanna.

Working with Frank Lloyd Wright: What it was Like, by Curtis Besinger

This is a nice companion to “Apprentice to Genius”. Besinger became a Wright apprentice in 1939 and stayed until 1955. He brings you year by year through his experience at Taliesin in Wisconsin in the summer, and Taliesin West in Arizona in the winter. He also discussed projects through the years, like the Unitarian meeting House in Madison. Additionally, he talked about activities in the Fellowship: movies the group saw, and about playing and practicing music. And the author wrote about the effect of World War II on the group.

See the book below (A Taliesin Diary, by Priscilla Henken), for the day-to-day Fellowship life during World War II.

Tales of Taliesin: A Memoir of Fellowship, by Cornelia Brierly

Cornelia was an early Taliesin apprentice, and this book contains a collection of her remembrances. Her memories are unique and often humorous. In addition, the book includes interesting photos from her collection.

Picturing Wright: An Album from Frank Lloyd Wright’s Photographer, by Pedro Guerrero

Picturing Wright shows Wright’s openness. “Pete” was 22 years old, with no experience, when he asked Wright if he could work for him. Wright, who was 50 years older, saw Peter’s talent and gave him all the work he wanted.

Check out Guerrero’s website, https://guerrerophoto.com/. This has a great collection of his photographs all through his career.

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

Most books by apprentices were written years later, but this was an actual diary kept at the time. Priscilla and her husband, David, were in the Fellowship (1942-43) and she wrote in her diary every day. What she saw and felt give a unique perspective on daily life in the group, and on Wright and his family. The book includes photographs taken by the Henkens when they were apprentices, that have not appeared elsewhere.

Frank Lloyd Wright and Taliesin, by Frances Nemtin

“Frances”, was in the Taliesin Fellowship from 1946 until she died in 2015, wrote this book about Wright’s design and about the Taliesin Fellowship. The book contains original photographs.

She wrote a variety of booklets about her life in the Fellowship, but this is one of the few published in hardcover. 

Some of her booklets may still be in gift shop at the Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor Center, so maybe you’ll see them if you take a Taliesin tour this year.

Taliesin Reflections: My Years Before, During, and After Living With Frank Lloyd Wright, by Earl Nisbet

Nisbet was an apprentice under Wright in 1951-1953. His “Taliesin Reflections”—short scenes—are mixed with profiles of people in the Fellowship (Gene Masselink, Wes Peters, Jack Howe, and others). When Nisbet went to work as an architect, he employed lessons from Wright in his practice. The book has original illustrations and photographs.

Autobiographies by former apprentices:

Pedro Guerrero: A Photographer’s Journey with Frank Lloyd Wright, Alexander Calder, and Louis Nevelson, by Pedro Guerrero

In this book, “Pete” writes about growing up, as well as his career. He worked not only with Frank Lloyd Wright, but with two other major 20th Century artists. He photographed the sculptors: Alexander Calder and Louise Nevelson. Also, Guerrero writes about his work in the magazines House Beautiful, House & Garden, and Vogue among others (while always working at Wright’s request).

Related:

The film documentary, “American Masters — Pedro E. Guerrero: A Photographer’s Journey”, was released on PBS, American Masters, in 2017.

Escape Home: Rebuilding a Life after the Anschluss — A Family Memoir, by Charles Paterson (Author), Carrie Paterson (Author, Editor), Hensley Peterson (Editor)

Charles Paterson was in the Taliesin Fellowship from 1958-60. Truthfully, I purchased the book only for its Taliesin Fellowship connection. I read it in its entirety during the Covid-19 lock-down. So, that’s one thing to be grateful for in the year 2020.

Paterson’s life begins in the 1930s in Austria. Then, his father helped him and his sister escape to Australia during World War II. The three were alive at the end of the war and reunited in the United States. Yet, Paterson’s study under Wright was one stop before he moved to the raw Colorado town of Aspen, where he became an architect.

And all of this is without mentioning Paterson’s uncle, architect Adolf Loos!

More Than One Author:

At Taliesin: Newspaper Columns by Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Fellowship, 1934-1937, compiled by Randolph Henning

Another companion to “Apprentice to Genius”.

The editor found as many of the weekly “At Taliesin” newspaper as he could. Then he typed them up and edited them into this book. The “At Taliesin” articles were written in the 1930s and show Wright and his apprentices as they lived them. The apprentices worked as entertainers, cooks, laborers, and farmhands. Also, imo, the book shows why these kids would move to rural Wisconsin to live and work with a man old enough to be their grandfather. And like it. The book contains photographs found almost nowhere else.

Here’s my blog post just about this book.

About Wright: An Album of Recollections by Those Who Knew Frank Lloyd Wright, Edgar Tafel, ed., with foreword by Tom Wolfe.

This book has written memories by a wide group of people from all aspects of Wright’s life: friends, co-workers, family, and former apprentices.

Books showcasing photographs and graphics:

A Way of Life: An Apprenticeship with Frank Lloyd Wright, by Lois Davidson Gottlieb.

Gottlieb apprenticed under Wright in 1948-49. She took the photographs of both Taliesins that are in this book. The colors in the photos are amazing and make you really appreciate Kodachrome film.

William Wesley Peters: The Evolution of a Creative Force. Editor emeritus John DeKoven Hill, with text by John C. Amarantides, David E. Dodge, et al.

“Wes” Peters’ “Box Projects” (bi-yearly projects given as presents by apprentices to Frank Lloyd Wright). The projects by Peters are beautifully illustrated, with an essay that explains them.

Websites:

Here are links to blogs written by former apprentices:

JG on Wright, John W. Geiger, Apprentice of Frank Lloyd Wright

John Geiger tried to trace apprentices and the years they started under Wright. So, this site includes the list he created. He also had photographs that he gave to the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation.

An explanation of the site is here: https://jgonwright.net/jgdb1.html

Robert M. Green, an apprentice in the last months of Frank Lloyd Wright’s life, kept a website and wrote about his reasons for leaving the Taliesin Fellowship.

https://web.archive.org/web/20011120175318/http://robertgreen.com/robert_green/robert_green.asp


First published April 5, 2021.
I took image at the top of this page.