American architect Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) looks over a drawing with his assistants at the Hillside Drafting Studio on the Wright's Taliesin Estate near Spring Green, Wisconsin, c. 1957. (Photo by ? Marvin Koner/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

The Taliesin Fellowship

Reading Time: 5 minutes

A photograph of Frank Lloyd Wright with apprentices at a drafting table in the Hillside Drafting Studio. Photo taken by Marvin Koner in June 1958.

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.

But while it sounds simple

the Fellowship is/was never easy to explain.

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

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

Wright awarded no grants or degrees and taught no classes.

The Taliesin Fellowship apprentices lived at the Taliesins (Wisconsin in the summer; Arizona in the winter) and farmed, 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 paid tuition to do this.

            I never went back to Menocal and said

like I wrote in “Wright Was Not a Shyster

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

In the ideal, the Fellowship would echo 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.


while the Wrights explained 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,

Curtis Besinger (former longtime Fellowship member) wrote about the expectations new apprentices had:

Some came expecting an academic environment, a school with required and regular hours of classwork…. 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.


Besinger’s memories of his time echoed many things that people on tour asked:

How could people do all of this: cook, clean, farm, make music, and – oh yeah – work in the drafting studio? And pay for the privilege?

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“.

And still,

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.

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 rethinking the work of the Masters.

Therefore, in the 1950s he painted his version of Las Meninas by Diego Velasquez (1599-1660), a 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).

And one night,

months ago, as I thought about the Fellowship,

as one often does

I remembered the saying I’ve heard about the Grateful Dead:3

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 by © Marvin Koner/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images.

Take a look

at “Taliesin Life and Times” by William Walter Schildroth, Architect. He was an apprentice from 1959 (after Frank Lloyd Wright’s death) to 1961 and describes why he came into the Taliesin Fellowship, his  duties, and how he learned “by doing”.


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. 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). Until I looked at images for today’s post, I really didn’t like anything he did after 1939. 

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.

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

Frank Lloyd Wright’s birthday

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Frank Lloyd Wright was born on June 8, 1867.

If you’re in the Wrightworld you know this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AT TALIESIN, June l4, l934

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

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

Then, in 1936, they held a scavenger hunt.

Here’s the beginning of its description:

AT TALIESIN, June 12, 1936

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

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

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

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

Subsequently, celebrating his birthday became an even bigger deal.

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

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

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

or snow

Seriously—Prince was not exaggerating:

sometimes it does snow in April:

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

And by June it’s usually warm and dry.

Time for a party!

With time, Wright’s birthday became more formal

Check out my photo below of all the fancy people:

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

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

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

Box Project presentations.

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

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

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

After giving Wright their projects as Olgivanna explained:

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

The Life of Olgivanna Lloyd Wright: From Crna Cora to Taliesin; from Black Mountain to Shining Brow, compiled and edited by Maxine Fawcett-Yeske, Ph.D. and Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer, D.H.L. (ORO Editions, 2017), 186.

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

Everyone did a project—

even the spouses of apprentices.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

Photograph in 1998 of Keiran Murphy lecturing to staff in the Hillside Theatre.

Hey Keiran Q and A

Reading Time: 6 minutes

A photograph of me taken by the Executive Director at Taliesin Preservation in 1998. I was giving a lecture on Taliesin’s history.

I talked about “Hey Keiran” in my blog post on “How I became the historian for Taliesin.”

Back then, the only way people got their weekly schedules was to pick up the printed ones at work.
Craig, at that time the head guide, thought a weekly question/answer section would remind people to pick up them up. They called it “Hey Keiran!” and printed them on the back of the schedules.
I thought it was called “Hey Keiran!” because people would ask me things all the time while I was walking through the main floor. Yet someone recently reminded me that the name was inspired by what Dan Savage wanted to call his question-and-answer feature1 at The Onion satirical newspaper.

“Hey Keiran!” is the reason why I’ve contemplated what side of the bed Wright slept on,2 if he knew Feng Shui,3 and whether or not Taliesin had outhouses.

Here are two Hey Keiran Q-and-As that I think are pretty cool. They were too short to write a whole post about, but I thought they deserved to be enjoyed by the masses.

Note that I’ve edited the Hey Keirans for clarity, etc., etc.:

Title saying "Hey Keiran!"

Another geek adventure

until your questions bathe me in the sweat of hardworking researchment (or I figure out answers to questions you’ve already asked), I’ll give you this:


we have a copy of a photograph that shows Frank Lloyd Wright and Olgivanna reading in his bedroom, in front of his bookshelves.

Melvin E. Diemer took it after FLLW moved to the room in 1936, but before he expanded the room in 1950

(I know this because the bookshelves show a slightly different configuration than what existed after he expanded the room).

So, the general date for the photo was 1936-1950.

But then

I had some time before Thanksgiving. And you know me when I have time to think about photos.

In this case, I was musing and thought,

Hey, Keiran! The photo shows books on the bookshelves – maybe you could look them up and get a better sense of the photograph’s date?

[btw, I talk to myself like this all the time. Oh, and there’s a bridge I want to sell you.]

Therefore, I took the time to look on-line for the titles of the books. I  found some of the books and, as a result, came to the conclusion that this photograph was taken sometime between 1940-1950. Yay!!!!

Here’s the gold, people:Photograph of Frank and Olgivanna Lloyd Wright in front of a bookshelf at Taliesin. Some of the books are named.

©Wisconsin Historical Society—Deimer Collection, #3976. Please don’t copy this on a large scale, but it is on their website.

What I could read is below:

The New Universe, Baker Brownell, pub. 1926,

A Storyteller’s Holiday (2 vols.), by George Moore, pub. 1928,

The People, Yes, by Carl Sandburg, pub. 1936,

After 1903—What?, by Robert Benchley, pub. 1938,

Panic, by Archibald MacLeish, pub. 1938, and

A Concise History of Gardening, by A.J. MacSelf, this ed. pub. by Garden City Pub. Co., 1940.

At the time that I wrote that Hey Keiran article, the book, After 1903—What? was in the room at Taliesin known as the Garden Room (someone took a photo of it, here).

I mentioned that in the Hey Keiran article:

I freaked out on a tour

(in a good way)

when I looked down and saw this book. Donna

(the House Steward working that day)

seemed to handle it ok. I think that is because she’s used to me coming into Taliesin and finding odd things that I get really excited about.


Here’s another Hey Keiran!

This is the question:

Q: When was the portrait of Anna Lloyd Wright put above the fireplace in Wright’s studio? Originally, Wright had an Amida Buddha painted on a 3-part screen—if I’m interpreting an old photo correctly. What happened to that? Sold? What was up there when he died?

Here’s my response:

A: Anna’s portrait was up there when Wright died. Initially, we were told that Wright put his mother’s portrait up there when it was painted.
So we thought he put it there c. 1920.


when I began looking at historic photographs, I couldn’t find evidence of that.

In fact, a couple of photographs clearly show the Amida Buddha, and those photos date from the late 20s-early 30s.

(so, before the Taliesin Fellowship started in 1932).

One of those photos is on the Wisconsin Historical Society website. That photo is below:

Photograph in Frank Lloyd Wright's studio of a model of a building design.

Photograph from the Wisconsin Historical Society.
Collection: Frank Lloyd Wright Projects Photographs.

You can see two panels of the Amida Buddha screen in the background.

So, when did Anna’s portrait get up there?4

Former apprentice, the late Kenn Lockhart, answered that question in an interview with Indira Berndtson

(she is the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Administrator of Historic Studies: Collections and Exhibitions)

Indira interviewed him at Taliesin on July 27, 1990, and he talked about the painting. Lockhart, who entered the Fellowship in 1939, said in his interview that:

“I have an idea that one of his relatives had it and it came. Because I remember when it arrived. We were living here [i.e., at Taliesin] during the [second World] war.”

Here’s a photograph of Lockhart sitting in Wright’s studio, on the built-in seat by the studio’s fireplace. Priscilla Henken likely took the photograph in 1942-43:

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

Photograph in Taliesin Diary: A Year with Frank Lloyd Wright, by Priscilla Henken. Page 107, bottom. Lockhart is in the middle of the photo, facing the viewer. Frank Lloyd Wright sits on the far left. The apprentices David Henken, Curtis Besinger and Ted Bower sit on the right.

Wright did not sell The Amida triptych. After he removed the triptych from that wall, he put it into storage. I know that because it doesn’t appear in other photos of Taliesin interiors while he was alive. At some point, the Taliesin Fellowship brought it down to storage at Taliesin West in Arizona.

The screen was restored in the 1990s. The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation sent it up here for viewing one summer in the late 1990s, but it didn’t go where Anna’s portrait is. After that summer, the screen went back down to T-West and has been occasionally shown at the Phoenix Art Museum.

So, that’s it.

Ultimately, I wrote hundreds of “Hey Keiran” pieces. Most were only one-page long. However I did mess with font sizes and such to get them to stay on one page.

I’ll add other things when they fit here and there.

First published August 23, 2022.
This photograph was taken when I was around 30 years old. As I recall, I was answering TPI’s Executive Director (Juli Aulik) on how I was going to uncover all of Taliesin’s history. . . . Still workin’ on it.


1 Savage wanted to call it “Hey Faggot!”

2 After analyzing a couple of photos, I concluded that Wright might have slept on the left side of the bed (like the photo below),

Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin bedroom, 1927-28
Published in Frank Lloyd Wright Selected Houses, v. 2: Taliesin. p. 56.

then switched to the right side of the bed (like in the photo here), which is just INSANE.

3 After rejecting the idea for years, I think he might have realized something about it. Although I still don’t think he “studied” it.

4 The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Administrator of Historic Studies reminded me that I do know the answer now on when Anna’s portrait came to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Drafting Studio at Taliesin. Kenn Lockhart was correct: this did have to do with Wright’s family. The painting is by John Young Hunter, and Indira looked up correspondence Hunter had with Taliesin. The painter knew Wright’s sister, Maginel, and asked her if she was interested in the painting. Wright ended up purchasing it, and it was sent to Taliesin in 1939. [confirmation of it was sent in correspondence H053E09.]