Photograph of Frank Lloyd Wright by Edward Steichen, Bequest of Edward Steichen. Located in the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

Wright was not a shyster

Reading Time: 5 minutes

A trickster, possibly.

maybe an s.o.b.

But not a con man (not even on the order of Harold Hill).

However, I know why you think Frank Lloyd Wright was like that.

After all—

He borrowed lots of money from people and couldn’t give it back.

And pulled so much money out of former client Darwin Martin.

Check out this documentary on Wright, Martin, and Buffalo that came out in 2016. It’s great.


In 1932, Wright convinced a bunch of kids (the Taliesin Fellowship) to give him money to learn about architecture when he had no clients.

But while they paid him,

they fixed his buildings both before and after he had clients again,

Apprentices working at Hillside probably in 1933. Yeah, chiseling stone without a shirt on (like the man pictured above) isn’t up to OSHA standards, but then again, I found newspaper stories around that time in which people had to be reminded not to throw cans of used motor oil into their fireplaces to get the fire going (and usually suffered burns from the resultant explosions).

And farmed

his land,

Apprentice Bill Patrick hoes squash in a photograph on page 66 of the book: A Way of Life: An Apprenticeship with Frank Lloyd Wright, by architect Lois Davidson Gottlieb.

While working in the kitchen and serving meals.

As well as,


his furniture

like his drafting tables for the Hillside studio.

You know, drafting? Like, doing something people should get paid for?

Although I get the feeling that becoming an architect is like becoming a doctor: you get the degrees, then you go and work in an office.

… which you get paid for…. C’mon: stay focused!

And later,

Even when things were on the up again, they built the “camp” in the Arizona desert starting in the late 30s.

a.k.a., Taliesin West.

And that’s not counting

the whole, “leaving his wife and 6-kids” thing.

Yeah yeah yeah: it was a lot, ok?

My fingers are too tired to copy/paste all of the stories that will come up. You can read about it if you put “frank lloyd wright” and “scandal” into a search engine.

But as I told architectural historian Kathryn Smith one time:

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


I read The Lost Years by Anthony Alofsin. Alofsin identified Wright’s desire to create an educational community back in 1909-11. Wright thought this education would transform architecture:

Recalling the training of artists in Japan or the practice of apprenticeship in the Middle Ages, he concluded that a new education was necessary for youth, incorporating the spirit of great architecture, “the study of the nature of materials, the nature of the tools and processes at command….”

The Lost Years, 1910-1922: A Study of Influence, 90.

Not only that:

Wright seemed to honestly believe that he could build beautiful homes for less money.

Even thought the whole country didn’t take him up on that.

So, he wasn’t just full of it. I believe he actually did think it would all work out.


He honestly thought that, within a few years of its beginning, his apprentices wouldn’t have to pay tuition for being at the Taliesin Fellowship. He thought that the cost of their tuition would pay for itself while he created a self-sustaining community.

For example,

he wrote this in a brochure for the Taliesin Fellowship:

[T]he Fellowship has a two-hundred-acre farm, and as another there are yearly fees fixed at about what a medium-grade college education would cost plus work the apprentice can do. Eventually, paid services to Industry in architectural research will contribute substantially to put the tools needed into the hands of the workers and reduce or eventually abolish the fee so worthwhile young men and women may work for their living not as education but as culture.

The Taliesin Fellowship (brochure for the Fellowship), December 1933.

Frank Lloyd Wright Collected Writings, volume 3: 1931-39. Edited by Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer, introduction by Kenneth Frampton (Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., New York City, 1993), 163.

And the work

in the self-sustaining community of the Fellowship would teach apprentices to be better architects. He wrote this in the 1943 edition of an Autobiography:

The field work is as important a responsibility as the work in the draughting room, or in the garden, the kitchen or the dining rooms. This seems very difficult for young America to accept. One of our young men could not see the work in the kitchen as anything but menial work to be done by a servant. When he was told he didn’t have to do it his conscience troubled him because all the others were going that work…. After the work in the kitchen he would sit and make drawings for the new arrangements he felt we needed. He would suggest new systems of serving, which would eliminate waste motions. He was just as interested in work as in any other. His knowledge of the working of a kitchen and dining room on whatever scale is instilled into his very being—a knowledge earned and gained by him by way of actual experience—not by way of a superficial inadequate theory of designing.

Frank Lloyd Wright, An Autobiography, new and revised ed. (New York: Duell, Sloan, and Pearce, 1943), 425.


There’s no denying what Priscilla Henken witnessed when she and her husband David were apprentices during World War II. She wrote on August 6, 1943 about the inefficiency she witnessed in the Fellowship:

“plows, rakes, hoes, wire rusting in weather of all sorts – and forgotten; berries neglected on the bushes; man power used to dress up a house instead of to repair it—all to show off for guests. Potemkin’s false front and shabby rear.”
Taliesin Diary: A Year with Frank Lloyd Wright, by Priscilla Henken (W.W. Norton & Co., New York, London, 2012), 206.

Like I said:

With Wright, there is a difference between the ideal and the reality.


December 31, 2023.
The portrait at the top of this post is available online here from the National Portrait Gallery.
I added Wright’s quote in the photo. It came from a letter he wrote the people of Spring Green that was published in the Weekly Home News on June 10, 1926 while Wright was having problems with his second wife, Miriam Noel. When I found the photograph by Edward Steichen, I thought of putting the quote in it because it’s like one of those inspirational posters that has taken a turn. I laughed so hard I cried.


1. “Shyster” is apparently based on a German word from the 18th century. When I looked for “Shyster” on, I found that:

A shyster is someone who might rip you off or do something unethical in order to get his way. A used car salesman might tell you a car is a thousand dollars, but when you read the fine print, it turns out you’ll pay a lot more. That salesman is a shyster — someone who lies and deceives for his own benefit.

Photograph of landscape around Taliesin in late winter. Grass, trees, and the building in view.

My March Madness

Reading Time: 4 minutes

I took this photograph in March 2005, showing the landscape around Taliesin. There was a work-related reason for it: I was photographing the area to see how it matched up with Taliesin in 1911. That’s because the Wisconsin Historical Society had just won the bid for “The Album” of Taliesin photos from 1911-1912 (here’s my post on The Album).

I think if I were standing at that spot today, it would be a little duller and

[as I look out the windows to confirm]

it would be cloudy. And there would be more blobs of snow. Of course, there has been (and continues to be) lots of snow on the East Coast, so I imagine that others are getting tired of the winter, too.

But what I am writing about today is not winter. I want to write about March Madness.

Not the March Madness

those in the United States know. That is, rooting for men’s and women’s college basketball teams during the NCAA championship tournaments.


For me, March Madness has to do with Frank Lloyd Wright

I know that’s a surprise to my readers.1

But at least it helps explain the photo of Taliesin that’s at the top of this page.

You see, for decades following 1994 (when I started working at Taliesin), I came to expect tour dreams in the late winter/early spring.

That is:

I would have dreams in the spring about giving tours at Taliesin.

Now, I know that for many other adults, they have dreams in which they find themself back in high school, with a bunch of stressful things happening.

  • Trying to get to class
  • Finding out that there’s a huge test that they didn’t prepare for
  • Or that there’s a big test in a class that they never even showed up in
    • I think being naked is sometimes in there, too.

For me, however,

My stress dreams involved, ostensibly, leading tours and things all going wrong.

Although, just to get this out there: I never had a dream where I was giving a tour naked.

I had TWO FLAVORS of tour-stress dreams each spring:

1.) I was doing something wrong

Most often, I would dream that I was leading a tour and was outrageously late.

How late?


Like, I would be one-and-a-half hours into leading a two-hour tour and I wasn’t near the front door. Yet–despite that fact that my dreamself  knew this–I could never get the group closer to the inside of the building.

Although, we did have this one guide IRL. I’ll call him Tom. He would be so late on his tours that the bus drivers regularly left him and his group on the Taliesin Estate.

Let me tell you: all the shuttle bus drivers were really patient with guides. So, you know that someone has to be really chronometrically-challenged for bus drivers to regularly leave them.

In fact, one time Tom was left at Hillside on the south end of the Taliesin estate. When he walked out of Hillside and his shuttle bus driver wasn’t there, he just WALKED with his group to Taliesin (which is about half a mile away).2

The other dream subjects:

2.) Either staff or visitors messed with me

Most of the time, these dreams were just where visitors did things they should not do on tours.

Like, people sitting in chairs they shouldn’t sit in.3 That is: people on my tours plopping down on the original, delicate, Frank Lloyd Wright-designed “barrel” chairs (like the chairs in the foreground of the photo below) –

Frank Lloyd Wright's bedroom. Photo by Maynard Parker, Huntington Library-Parker Collection.
Maynard L. Parker, photographer. Courtesy of The Huntington Library, San Marino, California.
Call Number photCL MLP 1266

At least one of my dreams included someone leaning back on one of Wright’s barrel chairs, and they almost tipped backwards. Oh, in this case, into the Chinese painting you see in Taliesin’s Guest Bedroom, below:

Photograph of the Guest Bedroom at Taliesin. Taken by Keiran Murphy.

That photo reminds me:

one time I had a dream where a student at the School of Architecture4 took over the Guest Bedroom (the room in the photo). When I walked into the room with my group, the room looked like any college dorm room. There were empty food plates on the floor and posters on the walls.

There was one dream where someone on the tour was eating Doritos.

In one dream, something happened at tickets:

I was escorting my tour group onto the shuttle bus to take us all to the Taliesin estate. But the line wouldn’t stop: people just kept walking past me toward the shuttle. I went to the ticket seller to ask and she replied,

Oh! Well 45 Japanese tourists came in, so I just put them on your tour.

I think–hope–that in all these dream-tours I tried to keep the peace.

Instead of, you know, using foul language, a.k.a., four-letter-words.

Like this [NSFW] guy.


I don’t have these dreams anymore. I dreamed almost nightly about Taliesin and giving tours in 2020, the year of Covid. So I assumed I would just keep having tour dreams.

Well, one of my last tour dreams took place in that year (2020). I wrote about this dream on a social media site:

I had a dream last night that I was taking people on a tour of Taliesin, but when I got out of the bus and started walking with these people, I could never find it. We walked through all of these marble rooms and just kept going on, thinking it was through the next door.

I can’t explain it. Hopefully I’ll dream of it again. Preferably happy dreams. And when spring finally comes to Wisconsin.


Posted originally on March 16, 2023.
I took the photograph at the top of this post in March, 2005.


1. that was a joke.

2. To those who are reading this who I used to work with: “Tom” was there in the 1990s, so most of you never met him.

3. We had a few places where people could sit at Taliesin. Mostly in Wright’s Living Room. But, while members of the Taliesin Fellowship could sit in the chairs, we couldn’t let those on tours do so. In part because we had thousands of people coming through every tour season.

4. Formerly the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture. They used to live on the Taliesin Estate in the summer.