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

Found window:

I took the photograph above on May 14, 2004.
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.

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

Post-It Notes on Taliesin Drawings

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

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

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

Looking at drawings:

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

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

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

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

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

So, what happened?

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

Why Bruce hadn’t caught the drawing:

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

Ebay and The Album:

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

It was all anyone could talk about

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

This money was raised through donations

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

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

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

What this has to do with this post:

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

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

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

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

The scan below:

has the footprint of the bunk beds.

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

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

This scan has their elevation:

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

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

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

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

Drawings & post-it notes:

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

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

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


Notes:

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

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

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