Exterior Taliesin photograph by Richard Vesey from 1957. In the Wisconsin Historical Society - Vesey Collection.

Taliesin West inspiration

Looking (plan) southeast from the Taliesin Hill Crown toward the Plunge Pool terrace, with Wright’s newly-expanded bedroom on the left. Most of the landscape you see in the distance is the Taliesin estate.

I think something that Wright did at Taliesin West (in Arizona) inspired him in a change he made at Taliesin (in Wisconsin). That change was within the work as he expanded his bedroom in 1950.

Expanded?

Yes: here’s a quick and dirty history of the room:

It was originally constructed in 1925, then became his bedroom in 1936.

(he probably did some more changes at that time, but I haven’t figured them out yet)

And, in 1950 he expanded his bedroom to its current configuration (that one sees on tours). That change was accomplished by further building out the room onto the existing stone terrace that he had initially constructed in 1936.1

While Wright himself didn’t specifically say this, the change was apparently made for a photograph. That’s because Architectural Forum magazine was doing a piece on Wright that included an insert on Taliesin.

I like to say that Wright was “sprucing up the house” for the photo.

The photo shows Wright sitting at his desk in the bedroom and was taken in the fall of 1950 by Ezra Stoller and published in the January 1951 issue.

(Since the firm that Stoller founded, ESTO, is specific about people using their images

[like, I wouldn’t be surprised if they came after my ass for showing the photo even if I linked to their org, and even if followed “fair use” ]

so I’m not gonna show it here. But you can find that issue of Architectural Forum online. That issue is scanned & reproduced here.
It’s a 190 MB pdf [Portable Document Format], to give you a sense of how long it would take to download.  

Anyway, that’s not what I’m here to talk about.

I’m here to talk about other changes he made at the same time around his bedroom.

That’s because I was lying in bed a couple of nights ago when it occurred to me that the changes that Wright made in 1950 right outside of his bedroom were influenced by the spatial arrangements he had used at his winter home, Taliesin West.

I do some of my best Taliesin thinking at night. Unfortunately, I often forget a lot of what I think about,2 but on this occasion, I got out of bed and wrote it down.

So on this post, I’m going to explain that.

Here’s part of what Wright wrote in his autobiography in 1943 about Taliesin West:

Taliesin West is a look over the rim of the world….
There was lots of room so we took it…. The plans were inspired by the character and beauty of that wonderful site. Just imagine what it would be like on top of the world looking over the universe at sunrise or at sunset with clear sky in between…. It was a new world to us and cleared the slate of the pastoral loveliness of our place in Southern Wisconsin. Instead came an esthetic, even ascetic, idealization of space, of breadth and height and of strange firm forms, a sweep that was a spiritual cathartic for Time if indeed Time continued to exist.

Frank Lloyd Wright, An Autobiography, new and revised ed. (New York: Duell, Sloan, and Pearce, 1943), 453.

In fact, Wright changed a lot of things at Taliesin based on his winters in the Arizona desert. Only some of those things took place in the 1940s, like what I wrote in the post, “In Return for the Use of the Tractor“, he took advantage of the fact that he didn’t have to deal with Wisconsin winters anymore.

However, I hadn’t thought about changes that he made to the vistas around Taliesin due to what he’d observed in Arizona.

Not until that recent night.

Part of what I’ve noticed at Taliesin West (and I’m not alone) that he was using the exteriors of the structures to point your eyes to certain places. I think that’s part of being on the “rim of the world.”

So, while I laid in bed I remembered how, when one is in Wisconsin, the terrace outside of his bedroom (changed when he did things in 1950) gives you views that frame the nature around it that kind of look like what he did at Taliesin West.

Summer photograph of Wright's bedroom and terrace taken in 1957. Property: Scott Architectural Library

Courtesy, Scott Architectural Archives. Taken during the Spring Green Centennial of 1957. On that summer day, Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Fellowship opened up the Taliesin estate to “locals” and let them walk around all over. The photograph shows Wright’s newly-expanded bedroom on the left, with the hills across the highway (HWY 23) in the distance. By the time this photograph was taken, Wright and the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation owned almost everything that can be seen.

Compare to the photograph below that I took at Taliesin West early one morning in February 2007. Wright’s office is to the left, with steps leading to an upper level, with the McDowell Mountains in the background.

Keiran Murphy's exterior photograph of Taliesin West taken on February 15, 2007.

Compare the photo above to the Taliesin photo at the top of this post.

See? Pool—Steps—Hills

Moreover, about the photo at the top of this post:

I was confused about the puddles on the terrace (around and behind the Buddha) until I saw the photo from the Wisconsin Historical Society, below:

Property: Wisconsin Historical Society - Vesey collection
Wisconsin Historical Society – Vesey Collection, WHi-64877.

You can see the stream of water, the white vertical line from the pool, and in front of the balcony. The puddle on the flagstones is in the foreground from that little fountain. It’s to the right of the metal Buddha in the middle of the photograph.

It you were standing at that spot then turned around, you’d see the landscape and fields just south of the Taliesin structure.

You see Tan-y-deri,

another building on the estate. That’s the house that Wright designed for his sister, Jane. The photograph below was taken toward Tan-y-deri by Janet Caligiuri Brach. She took it on Sunday, April 24, 2022 while on a tour:

Photograph taken April 24, 2022. Taken on Frank Lloyd Wright's Bedroom terrace at Taliesin.

Photo by Janet Caligiuri Brach. Used with permission.

Taken at the edge of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Bedroom Terrace, looking (plan) south. At the mid-point is the tower. This is the Romeo and Juliet Windmill. Tan-y-deri stands to the lower right of “R&J”.

Oh, and before I go:

Here’s something else from Taliesin West that Wright brought to Taliesin in 1950. That terrace with the pool (called “the Plunge Pool Terrace”) ends with the same kind of masonry that’s used at Taliesin West.

This was a dry concrete that the apprentices put into forms, with the limestone facing out. They put newspaper or other things over the stone, so when they took away the forms, you could still see the rock.

You can see this masonry in another Taliesin West photograph of mine, that I showed in, “Taliesin is in Wisconsin

I can show this type of masonry in a photo of the terrace that I took in 2005, below:

Taken by Keiran Murphy on May 17, 2005.

Looking (plan) northwest at the edge of the Plunge Pool Terrace with the that’s inspired by Taliesin West. This terrace was also apparently executed in 1950.

Published June 18, 2022.
The photograph at the top of this post is from the Wisconsin Historical Society – Vesey Collection, WHi-64841. Click here to get to their page with the image.


Notes:

  1. Since it’s been awhile since I wrote this, I’ll add it again: when I write, “he/Wright constructed this-or-that”, or “he/Wright expanded this-or-that”, what I mean is that he was designing or directing the work. His apprentices in the Taliesin Fellowship were doing the physical work. 
  2. That’s why my husband wants to get me something to write on at night.
Exterior photograph looking south at Taliesin's Garden Court with Curtis Besinger working on stone

In Return for the Use of the Tractor

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.