Color photo taken at ground level under Taliesin's horse stable. Photograph by Keiran Murphy

Newspaper under Taliesin’s Horse Stable

Reading Time: 6 minutes

No, not Taliesin’s first horse stable (as seen in this post).

I’m talking about the other Taliesin horse stable. The one he added some time in the Taliesin II era (you know, “The Forgotten Middle Child of Taliesin“).

I think he stopped using the first stable when he started having draftsmen live with him. So he turned the first stable (and a carriage house) into apartments.

I found this newspaper while working on the history of the spaces at Taliesin.

I called these the “Chronologies”. These were narratives of the spaces in chronological order. These were of Taliesin’s rooms, spaces, or groups of rooms. In the end I created over 25 of them and gave them to the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation so that my knowledge and information didn’t disappear into the ether….

These covered Taliesin’s Living Room and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Bedroom, but also places with few photographs where no one ever lived. Like that second horse stable, the tack room next to it, or the rooms and under it… so other mechanical spaces.

Still,

they all add up to Taliesin having 101 rooms spread out over 7 wings.

And, sure: one of those rooms is a closet, but one-hundred-and-one is still a fun number to throw out there.

And one of Taliesin’s rooms was known as “the Kohler Room”. You see the outside of it in the photo at the top of this post. Its the room with four windows. It’s labelled as the Kohler Room on at least one floor plan: drawing #2501.046. They called it that because there was a Kohler generator there for additional electricity.

The space is also known as called “Gene’s Print Room” because it held the printer that Gene Masselink worked on.

Getting back to the point

If you look at the photo, you can see a rectangular window on the wall perpendicular to the Kohler Room. The window looks into a garage that was, originally, a throughway for the driveway. On the ceiling of that garage is 

the discovery

I remembered last week.

I was watching a video tour of Fallingwater that Boaz Frankel (of Next Pittsburgh) took. In it, Executive Director Justin Gunther1 takes Frankel through the unusual spaces at Fallingwater, like the kitchen, private offices, and the basement.

At just over 7:20 into Frankel’s video

Gunther shows a detail in the basement: its ceiling shows the impressions of the wood from the forms that were built to set up the concrete in the ceiling.

Gunther talking about the concrete detail reminded me of what I’m going to write about today: when I was writing about the history of that horse stable, I found a piece of newspaper embedded in the ceiling of the garage. The newspaper tells us when the pour was made.

When I was doing the “chrono” on the horse stable, my research sometimes took place in my head. Sometimes it took place while I peered at every drawing or bit piece of oral histories that I could think of.

Or, sometimes I did it by driving to Taliesin and walking around the spaces at Taliesin, trying to poke into everywhere I had the nerve to go

I was a little nervous because my balance sucked (even before my MS2).

We don’t know exactly when Wright added this stable, but it might have been part of the changes that the Baraboo Weekly News mentioned in 1919:

Story from Baraboo Weekly News on October 2, 1919

The title of the piece is:

Wright Adding to Property: Architect Making a Number of Changes to his Wisconsin Home Near Spring Green

In part, the note says that Wright was making “improvements”, and an “addition” which was “being built to the stable and a number of fine cattle will find shelter there[e].

Since there was nothing added to Taliesin’s original stable, I think this points to the current Taliesin stable you can see in the drawing below.

Drawing executed in 1924 of the western wing of Taliesin. Drawing number 1403.023. Owner of drawing unknown.

Wendingen Magazine published the drawing in its issues devoted to Wright in 1924 and 1925.
Then the magazine issues were published as a book, The Life-Work of the American Architect Frank Lloyd Wright, by Frank Lloyd Wright, H. Th. Wijdeveld, ed. (Santpoort, Holland: C. A. Mees, 1925).

The horse stable is the vertical rectangle to the left of the “SHELTER”. The drawing shows that the drive went under it. That’s why you see “SLOPE UNDER STABLE” and “RAMP” which I labelled in red. Not only could you drive up to the house, but farmhands could drive a trailer under it and they could sweep the horse manure onto waiting wagon. 

Unfortunately,

that scoundrel didn’t even leave us any other drawings; this one comes from 1924.

And

you can also see the words “Cow Barn” on the drawing: the horizontal section 15.

Wright never built that, but I think this must have been what the Baraboo Weekly News was talking about. Well, regardless of how Wright used the area around the sable, he wanted to change how someone got to his home after Taliesin’s 1925 fire.

In Taliesin’s earliest years, you drove to the house by going up to the Porte-Cochere, like what’s in the photo below:

Photograph of Taliesin's porte-cochere seen in late fall/early spring
Photograph of Taliesin by Taylor Woolley in the Utah Historical Society, ID #695913

But after 1925 he eliminated the chance to do that.

Instead

People drove from the dam and waterfall around Taliesin’s pond at the base of the hill:

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

then up the drive and under the horse stable.

Very few visitors took photographs at this part of the house. Fortunately, though, you can see the drive going under the stable in one photo I showed here before. I’m showing it again and lightened up part of it to show the drive. It where the added arrow is, too:

Photograph of a part of Taliesin taken on December 17, 1928. Photograph by architect George Kastner. Courtesy, Brian A. Spencer

Photograph by architect, George Kastner. George Kastner took this photograph on December 17, 1928. Brian A. Spencer collection

The date on the photograph is in 1928, but a piece of newspaper

told me when this drive was completed.

When the workmen poured the concrete (like Gunther at Fallingwater said) and built the wooden forms, they put the newspaper down to keep the concrete from curing on them. That’s how, when I was investigating the garage and snapped photos, I found the newspaper you can see below:

Newspaper crop. Photo by Keiran Murphy

Date from bit of newspaper. Photo by Keiran Murphy

October 1, 1926.

Wright wasn’t at Taliesin that day. At the time, he was hiding in Minnesota due to problems with his second wife, Miriam Noel. But obviously, he still had work going on at his house.

Wright changed this drive in 1939

and built a large parking court that still exists. Here’s my photo from when I researched the stable. The red arrow I added is at the garage:

Looking west on Taliesin's Lower Parking court. Photo taken in May 2005 by Keiran Murphy

The last I heard,

That whole wing is in pretty good shape, so it doesn’t look like this area desperately needs restoration or reconstruction.

 

 

Published May 13, 2024
I took the photograph at the top of this post almost 20 years ago, in July 2004. You’re looking (plan) east at the first floor under the horse stables. You walk past this stonework on one Taliesin tour: the 4-hour Taliesin Estate tour.


Notes:

1. Gunther and I sat close to each other at the conference in September when I received my “Wright Spirit award“. I regret not speaking to him.

2. My father once said to me, “Balance is not a gift God gave to you.” Which honestly made me really happy.

 

Photograph of Keiran Murphy talking to someone in front of her sales items while at the holiday art fair in 1997.

Selling my wares to the public

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Taken in 1997. Me talking to someone at the art fair that was held in the Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor Center. I’m standing to the left of all of the stained-glass pieces that I had made.

No:  “selling my wares” in this post does not mean I’ll write about giving Taliesin tours.

I’m talking about my time making (and selling) stained-glass items. My work was not completely

although, yes it sort of was,

related to Taliesin and Frank Lloyd Wright. So, first I’ll show you a pretty, geometrical, piece that I made (unrelated to either Frank Lloyd Wright or Taliesin):

Looking at a blue and yellow rectangular stained glass piece.
Photograph, and stained-glass piece, by Keiran Murphy

But why I’m writing this today:

For years, December was the month in which I sold my stained-glass items at an arts and crafts event in the Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor Center.

As I wrote above, my stained glass has a little (ok, maybe a bit) to do with Frank Lloyd Wright and Taliesin.

But, primarily,

I started making stained glass the first full year I worked in the Taliesin tour program,

my first summer of tours was 1994, then I went back to school the fall semester to finish my degree.

and geometric designs were among the first things I made.

Although, I also made objects such as ornaments and candle holders, like you see at the top of this page (they were easier to make). As you also see in the photo up there, I designed, and sold, pieces with a Wright connection. That photo above shows my rendition of the Guggenheim Museum and Fallingwater.

Photo by Keiran Murphy of her piece of stained glass that shows Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater.

This is in my kitchen. I sold another one of these after I corrected a mistake in this version.

Additionally, I created designs from compositions that I saw at Taliesin and Hillside.

How much I charged for these:

I was told to charge $3 for every piece of glass I used in a piece that I made. That accounts for materials and time. So, an ornament with 4 pieces would be $12. But that Fallingwater piece in the photo? Over $300. It’s cool, but would someone spend that much money on something that small?

I put a list of designs I put on paper for later stained-glass windows that are related just to Taliesin and the Taliesin estate. I sold most of them, and traded one:

  • Taliesin’s Entry Steps

Photo and drawing of Taliesin's Entry Steps by Keiran Murphy.

 

  • The “Hill Tower” in the Middle Court

Photo and drawing by Keiran Murphy of Taliesin's Hill Tower.

You can see in the numbers I wrote on the paper before cutting it (and, then, the glass). This is part of the procedure with the copper-foil method of making stained-glass designs.

Photograph looking at Taliesin waterfall. Taken October 29, 2004 by Keiran Murphy.
Photo by Keiran Murphy

Obviously, that’s a picture of the real waterfall at Taliesin. I executed a stained-glass piece of the waterfall, but I can’t find a photo of it or its drawing. I took this photo in 2004. 

  • And the Hillside Theater Foyer roof.

Get back to the arts show—how did it start?

One afternoon in October, 1995 after all the tours had gone out, several staff members started talking. 

While talking, they had an idea.

They all knew that, once December came along, nothing would be going on in the building except for the gift shop staff getting items out to customers. The  gift store was still open on the weekends, however, for people buying gifts.

The folks that day in the visitor center thought: why not take the café area,

which was not in use because the restaurant was closed

re-arrange the tables there, and set up some homemade items to sell?

After all, by December, while the tour season was completely done, the gift store was still open on the weekends. Therefore the main floor would be heated to catch anyone interested in holiday shopping.1

The thought was: do this the first two weekends of that month.

After all, we had homegrown talent:

I had recently started making stained glass; a shuttle bus driver made her own paper and paper boxes;2 a guide/gift store attendant crocheted scarves; and her husband made decorative wooden carvings. Feeling optimistic, we asked a supervisor if we could try selling on the main floor in December. This wouldn’t cost them any money and we’d clean up after ourselves.

They allowed the idea.

So, we tried it that first December.

Ah, yes! This was like the pluckiness of the Taliesin Fellowship itself. Once more, it was like Andy Hardy saying,

Come on let’s put on a show!

We did this with no expectations. We moved the tables and chairs into place that Saturday morning in December, set up our stuff and hung out with our items. People who came in to buy things at the Taliesin gift shop took a look at our displays and bought some things. Overall, it was a success, even though we didn’t publicize it.

That started a tradition

at the Visitor Center of an arts and crafts weekend (although now just one weekend in December). I think we did it on 10 Decembers.

I found a write-up about one of them on the Taliesin Preservation website at the Wayback Machine.3 That write-up (for the “Annual Holiday Art Festival”) has a lot of detail. A lot. Which makes me wonder if I wrote the piece (even though someone else oversaw the website at that time).

This Holiday Show

fit in very well with Spring Green‘s newly-created “Country Christmas” celebrations in the village across the Wisconsin River.

Spring Green’s “Country Christmas”

The first full weekend of December has a light parade, followed the next night by fireworks.4

Consequently,

the small success in the Visitor Center caught the attention of others in the organization. So a few notes were put out, and the next year a few more people came and sold items. In a few years, there was a fabulous mixture of sales items, locally-made sausage, cheese, and wine, as well as entertainment.5

The last event

was year 10.

I think perhaps that the no-frills, “let’s just move some tables around”, was overwhelmed by its modest success. Eventually, there had to be organizers, and advertising, and a lot more work than it was worth to many people.

And, personally,

by that year, I lived in a house where I could only make stained-glass pieces in the garage. But it wasn’t climate controlled. Now, I didn’t need comfy temperatures, but

by December,

sometimes it got so cold that I warmed up my hands by resting them on the electric, metal, radiator that I’d turned on.

While in the summer,

I had to take a break when I cut glass on the days when the heat made me sweat too much. I didn’t want to lacerate my fingers (or cut a vein).6

Is there a lesson in this?

I think so.

But that lesson goes back to

what I started with:

making stained glass.

After all, a classmate in Grad School once observed that:

“Those who can’t do art, teach Art History”

Despite at least two classmates who were artists; one of whom teaches and continues making art.

And due to my experience crafting stained-glass designs, I think people who learn art history should take an art class. You know, actually make something. I remember when I was in grad school for AH at the University, I met some students getting their BFAs who had to take AH, but not the other way around.

Yet

when I had to work with materials,

and find out what does and doesn’t work in a composition, and USE some of that geometry I learned as a high school sophomore,

I realized it takes quite a bit of work and knowledge to make even a halfway-decent piece of art.

 

 

First published December 9, 2022
I was given the photograph at the top of this page, but cannot remember who took it.


Notes

1 Later on, they kept the visitor center open only when tours were going on. So: nothing past November. But in the early years, they were still trying to “feel out” the ends of the tour seasons.

2 One of her boxes sits, right now, to my lower right.

3 Remember I wrote about the Wayback Machine in September of last year.

4 If you want to be enveloped in “smalltowniness”, take a look at the video for the song, “My Hometown“, by Camela Widad. She wrote the song about Spring Green, and filmed it in, and around, here. It’s a great little song. It’s got a summer vibe, so you might want to wait until you’re sick of winter.

Part of the video for “My Hometown” was shot at the Post House Garden, which is where the Post House (once the oldest restaurant in Wisconsin) used to stand.

The Post House burned down in a fire in 2004. The owners decided not to rebuild.

5 And, it is the reason why I know, and love, Merry Christmas from the Family, by Robert Earl Keen. That’s thanks to the photographer-writer-musician who used to play it at the Visitor Center on Saturdays at the event.

6 “Don’t get mad at the glass” was what I learned, early and painfully, to tell myself. That was after I, yes: got mad at the glass and cut my finger while aggressively moving around. It was one of my first “learning by doing” lessons in the glass craft. Fortunately, there was no scar, but I did bleed.

Looking south in the Hillside Drafting Studio

Hillside Drafting Studio flooring

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Looking south in the Hillside Drafting Studio, with its flooring.
The black and white photograph on the right shows the V.C. Morris Gift Shop, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in San Francisco (currently a men’s clothing store).

In this post, I am diving into the flooring at the Hillside Drafting Studio on Wright’s Taliesin Estate. I wrote about Hillside here. Hillside’s Drafting Studio, added in the 1930s, is 5,000 sq feet of space (1,524 m2). The Hillside Studio became Wright’s main studio in Wisconsin after the Taliesin Fellowship completed it.

There was one real point of curiosity about the studio’s flooring, which has pinstripes. This post concentrates on that flooring.

As I wrote before in my Hillside post, the Taliesin Fellowship apprentices, in the 1930s, wrote about working on the studio. Here, in the September 5, 1937 “At Taliesin”1 article, an apprentice writes that:

“…. Two months of continual and concentrated group activity by the Fellowship should announce the fact that our principal workroom – an abstract forest in oak timber and sandstone – is in order.  Then watch our dust!”2

Uh… not yet

The Fellowship, and Wright, only started using the studio full-time in 1939.

Wait – what? Why not?

Well, the structure had been built, but it didn’t have a finished floor. You can see a photograph of the unfinished floor in a photo below. It was taken in 1937 by Ken Hedrich for the magazine, Architectural Forum. Its January 1938 edition concentrated on Wright.

Ken photographed the Taliesin estate, while his brother, Bill Hedrich, went to Pennsylvania and took the first, famous, photograph of Fallingwater (the house over the waterfall).3

While Bill photographed elsewhere, Ken photographed all over the Taliesin estate. His work included the Hillside Studio and you can see the state of it in the fall of 1937:

Looking north in the Hillside Drafting Studio
Photograph taken by Ken Hedrich of the firm Hedrich-Blessing.

1938 Architectural Forum magazine issue: January 1938, volume 68, number 1, 18.

This photograph looks north in the Hillside Drafting Studio. Wright and the Taliesin Fellowship did not yet use the studio, because the room did not have its finished flooring.

When you walk into the studio today you see a wooden, waxed flooring, that has pinstripes. These pinstripes were not painted on the floor surface. What one sees is the veneered wood on its side. It’s as if you are seeing the edge of a wafer cookie.

To illustrate the “wafer cookie” look

I’ll show a photograph of the edge of some of the flooring:

The edge of the laminated flooring at Wright's Hillside studio in Wisconsin

I took this photograph.

Wright only used this type of flooring in one other place: on the mezzanine in “Wingspread“. That’s the name of a house he designed in Wisconsin for Herbert Johnson. Here are some of my pictures from that:

I took this photograph by the grand fireplace at Wingspread. Most of the people in this photograph worked in the Taliesin tour program.

The photograph below is the flooring of the mezzanine that matches what’s at the Hillside studio.

I took this closeup of the mezzanine flooring.

I don’t know Wright’s thoughts on the flooring.

However:

I know where it came from, when it was installed in the Hillside studio, and when Wright and the Taliesin Fellowship started studio operations in there.

That’s all because of someone else’s work.  

We know the month they moved to the Hillside Drafting Studio because of Kenneth B. Lockhart (1914-1994). He arrived in the Taliesin Fellowship in 1939. The Administrator of Historic Studies of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation interviewed Lockhart several times. In their May 5, 1988 interview, “Kenn” [sic] said that he arrived as an apprentice right after Wright and the Fellowship moved to the Hillside studio in July, 1939.

Where the flooring comes from:

That flooring caused curiosity for years. Where did it come from? And Herbert Johnson’s name floated around in the tour program in relation to that flooring. Did Johnson give the flooring to Wright? Was the flooring first planned for Wingspread? Was the flooring “overdraft” from Wingspread?

The answer to questions one and three, by the way, is NO

Yet, the question on how Wright got the flooring still had to be answered. And it was, by the Administrator of Historic Studies. In 1992, Indira tracked down its history. She started her task by asking former architectural Wright apprentice, Edgar Tafel.

Tafel had worked on the Johnson Wax World Headquarters, also commissioned by Herbert Johnson.

This is the same Edgar Tafel who wrote Apprentice to Genius.

Tafel told Indira that he thought of a connection between the Evans Products Co. and Frank Lloyd Wright. With that in mind, she went looking in Wright’s correspondence.  

Correspondence between Wright and Evans Products Co.

There are 8 letters between that business and Wright (or his secretary, Gene Masselink).

The first letter (E030C06) was written on March 15, 1940. Their records indicate that they shipped flooring to Wright on November 28, 1938, but hadn’t yet been paid (the bill was $400.00).

Wright replied (E03D01) on March 22, 1940. He wrote that he appreciated their patience regarding the “laminated flooring in our draughting [sic] room.”

And he wrote that it had been difficult getting paid by clients. Yet, the flooring has been doing “good work for you – as well as for us” as at least a hundred people go through the buildings during the summer and have admired the “beauty and durability of the floor.”

Unfortunately, there does not appear to be a record that Wright ever paid the Evans Products Co.

One of the last letters from the Evans Product Co. was written on September 26, 1941. This is #E033E05. The author (apparently a secretary), began by noting how so many things had changed since that day they shipped the flooring to Wright on November 28, 1938.

They emphasized how Europe (then at war) had changed very much since that day. Then, they ended the letter noting that “there will always be an England” but (I’m paraphrasing here) they hoped that there would not always be a $400 outstanding debt from Frank Lloyd Wright to the Evans Products Co.!

Once more

I found this information in 2009 while working at Wright’s archives (then at Taliesin West in Arizona). I had spent months working on the history of Hillside with architectural historian, Anne Biebel (the principal of Cornerstone Preservation). And I finally answered where that flooring came from; which Indira had discovered it 17 years before!

Published October 8, 2021
I took the photograph at the top of this page on August 26, 2009.


1 “At Taliesin” was the name of weekly articles published by Wright and the Taliesin Fellowship in the 1930s. They were found, transcribed and edited by Randolph C. Henning. He published them in a book in the early 1990s. I recommended the book here and wrote about it in my post, “Books by Apprentices

2 Randolph C. Henning, ed. and with commentary. At Taliesin: Newspaper Columns by Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Fellowship, 1934-1937 (Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale and Edwardsville, Illinois, 1991), 273.

3 Not that you’ve never heard of Fallingwater, but it’s a big world out there on the World Wide Web. So, what the hell!

Black and white photograph of apprentices Edgar Tafel and Jack Howe sitting on Taliesin's Hill Crown.

Apprentice to Genius: A Recommended Book

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Apprentices Edgar Tafel (left) and Jack Howe (right) sitting on Taliesin’s hill crown. Wright’s bedroom is to the right of Howe’s left elbow.

“You’ve made it,” I whispered to myself. At the far end of the room, on a raised platform serving as a stage, stood Mr. Wright. It was like coming into a presence. And what presence he had! He shot out electricity in every direction.

Near him were a grand piano and an old wind-up phonograph screeching out a Beethoven symphony. He was testing the acoustics. I crossed the room, still holding my breath, and said, “Mr. Wright, I’m Edgar Tafel. From New York.”

. . . . “Young man,” he addressed me, “help move this piano.”
Edgar Tafel. Years with Frank Lloyd Wright: Apprentice to Genius (1985; Dover Publications, Inc.; McGraw-Hill Book Company, New York, 1979), 19-20.

At first, I thought about recommending the book, “Understanding Frank Lloyd Wright’s Architecture“, by Donald Hoffmann, because it talks about the specifics of Wright’s design. But what would I recommend to someone who has no idea who he was, and why they should care? What book out there explains him, and is a bit fun? Finally, this book came to mind: Years with Frank Lloyd Wright: Apprentice to Genius , by Edgar Tafel

The author of “Apprentice to Genius”, architect Edgar Tafel (March 12, 1912-January 18, 2011), apprenticed under Frank Lloyd Wright in the Taliesin Fellowship for nine years. Then, in the early 1970s, he began lecturing on his experiences in the Taliesin Fellowship, developed this book and published it in 1979.

Hold on: I should explain the Taliesin Fellowship.

You can’t look at Wright after 1932 without taking the “Fellowship” into account. Wright and his wife, Olgivanna, founded the Fellowship in 1932. Wright, 65 years old at the time, had only completed two commissions in the previous eight years. Encouraged by his wife, the two created an apprenticeship program with himself as the master architect. Open to men and women, apprentices would live on site with the Wrights at Taliesin in Wisconsin. Eventually, the apprentices would live in almost all of the buildings on Wright’s Taliesin Estate. Not a commune, they comprised a community that participated in almost every daily aspect of the life of Frank Lloyd Wright and Olgivanna. They worked in construction, had social activities (such as making music), did all-around maintenance (heating, plumbing, etc.) as well as garden and farm work, all while also working in the drafting studio.

In 1937 (after spending several winters in Arizona with the group), Wright bought land in Scottsdale. He and the Fellowship began building a winter compound there: “Taliesin West“. The construction of Taliesin West led to a yearly “migration” between the two compounds: Wisconsin in the spring-summer-fall, and Arizona from late fall to early/mid-spring. (I mentioned these migrations in my blog post, “Did Wright ever live in Wisconsin in the winter?“)

Oh, and I should mention: apprentices paid tuition. Tuition in 1932 was $650, but Wright took $400 from Tafel, because that’s all the young man could afford.

The first book by a former apprentice:

“Apprentice to Genius” was also the first book on Wright that I read when I started giving tours in 1994. Tafel, 20 years old in 1932 when he became an apprentice, stayed until 1941. When Tafel arrived, Wright had only completed two buildings in the previous eight years. Whereas, by the time Tafel left, Wright was becoming nationally famous. He was the architect for (among many other buildings) Fallingwater in Pennsylvania, and the world headquarters for Johnson Wax (Johnson Wax Administration Building in Racine, Wisconsin).

One of the world’s most famous houses, you saw a photo of Fallingwater on my blog post last week; and, if you’ve never seen the “Great Room” of Johnson Wax, click the hyperlink for the Administration Building, because it’s incredible.

On top of that, Wright had appeared on the cover of Time magazine.

“App to Gen” was the first book-length publication on what it was like in the group with Wright as its leader. Woven throughout the book is a biography on Wright, an explanation of the architect’s philosophy of design, and stories of the every day life of the Taliesin Fellowship. Tafel took time to write about how he cared for Wright, and why.

Tafel’s book:

  • Showed Frank Lloyd Wright’s humor, passion and intelligence;
  • Told the story of the lean years of Wright’s Taliesin Fellowship, the start of the desert compound, and the start of Wright’s career resurrection;
  • Showed these young men and women, 18-24 years old, acting like goofballs with the Wrights mostly allowing it (although Wright did force a tablespoon of castor oil on Edgar1 the morning after Edgar drank too much);
  • Published unique photographs from Tafel’s own archive;
  • And told the Fallingwater story.

The “Fallingwater story”

The story is that Wright drew Fallingwater, one of the world’s most famous buildings, in two-and-a-half hours while the client drove to Taliesin.

There are arguments on whether the story actually happened the way Edgar told it. In fact, those also in Wright’s drafting studio that day continuously argued in good humor about the story’s truthfulness, probably for the rest of their lives.

But did Wright actually take crisp pieces of paper and, for the first time, delineate a masterpiece while the clients drove to his home? Some said that he had sketches for the design and that’s what he presented to the client, Edgar Kaufmann, Sr.; not the beautiful presentation drawing of the home over the waterfall on the cover of Time. Regardless, as Wright told his grandson one time: “It makes a great story.”2

You can read details on the Fallingwater story (and decide how right if might be) at the Post-Gazette here.

Lastly, on the book and its author:

The book, printed by Dover publication as a paperback, was sold for years—decades—at $12.95 or so. Edgar Tafel autographed my paperback version when he came to Taliesin in 2005. The paperback is still available, mostly through Amazon.com, but I later bought the hardcover original through www.abebooks.com. My hardcover came for only about $18, delivered. That version also has some of the book’s photographs in color, which was a nice surprise.

Edgar Tafel was interviewed in the documentary on Frank Lloyd Wright by Ken Burns (the documentary that led my friends to say, “I Never Knew He was Such an S.O.B.!“).

Here are further appearances by Tafel on YouTube:

Next week I’ll give a list of books by former Taliesin Fellowship apprentices. But for now, here’s a link to the Taliesin Fellows, an organization of former apprentices.

Originally published March 27, 2021.
The photograph at the top of this post was in “Apprentice to Genius,” page 38. The photograph is now in the Edgar Tafel architectural records and papers, 1919-2005 in the Avery Drawings and Archives Collection.


1  Most apprentices in the Fellowship were known by one name; usually not their last name. So, you weren’t a private in the army; you were part of a community. This did sometimes lead to people going by names other than what they were born with (or known by) before walking in. Although I don’t know how many “John”s or “William”s had to change their names to something else.

2 And yes: I did actually really hear his grandson say that. Brandoch asked his grandfather about one of the apocryphal Wright stories (I’ll tell you some time). He said his grandfather replied that [more-or-less], “did I say that? I don’t remember saying it. But… it makes a great story.”

Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater in Pennsylvania.

Frank Lloyd Wright buildings are smaller than you think

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Photograph of Fallingwater by Esther Westerveld from Haarlemmermeer, Nederland in 2012.
The people standing on the upper terrace in this photograph are not 7 feet tall. They are normal-sized people.
It’s the architecture that’s messing with your mind.

I’m talking about what everyone—outside of Frank Lloyd Wright homeowners—has experienced: you go to a Wright structure and it’s smaller in reality than what it looks like in photos. I do try to remember that, but it’s always a shock when I walk into any of his buildings.

Why do I always get it wrong? Former apprentice, Edgar Tafel, explained why in his book, “Apprentice to Genius”:

. . . Mr. Wright made one extensive change that affected every physical element—as well as the impressions and reactions of every person who entered the house: He changed the scale and brought it down to his own human reference. He often used to tell us. . . . , “I took the human being, at five feet eight and one-half inches tall, like myself, as the human scale. If I had been taller the scale might have been different.”1
Edgar Tafel. Years with Frank Lloyd Wright: Apprentice to Genius (1985; Dover Publications, Inc.; McGraw-Hill Book Company, New York, 1979), 50.

Wright’s trick in his architecture

Wright apparently said a person only needs 6 inches over their heads so, since he was the “human scale”, when you enter his buildings, the ceilings would be 6 feet 2 inches tall. This creates “compression”. Then the ceilings suddenly get taller in the spaces where you are meant to linger. That creates a “release”.

The ceilings, entryways, and trim (emphasizing the horizontal) create the scale. So, when we see ceilings and doorways  in photographs, we “read” them as 7 feet tall, or taller, because that’s what we’re used to. Since we see them that tall, we read everything else as bigger.1 This element of design is one of the reasons that I like to see people in photographs of Wright buildings: because other people give you a sense of the scale (even when the people mess with the pretty architecture!<–I’m mostly joking right there).

Although, I still laugh at myself when I go to a Wright building because, yup: they’re smaller than I thought they would be.

How this trick played into Preservation work at Taliesin

Over a decade ago, while the Preservation Crew was restoring Olgivanna Lloyd Wright’s bedroom, they were planning on reconstructing some of its Wright-designed built-in furnishings.

She and her husband shared a bedroom at Taliesin until 1936, then they moved to adjoining rooms. This was probably because Wright didn’t sleep very much and was almost 30 years older than she was (so he needed even less sleep). Makes sense to me: if I want to sleep while my husband watches movies in bed, I put on my sleep mask.

So, the plan included the Preservation Crew rebuilding a set of small horizontal shelves at a mullion (you can see color photos of the rebuilt shelves below). But the Crew had a problem: no detailed drawings of the room exist. So how would they know how big the shelves should be? Now, if Taliesin had been built for a client, there would have been floor plan and elevation drawings, as well as drawings for furniture and built-ins. All of those things would have measurements. But because Taliesin was his own home (reconstructed after the second fire of 1925), he could simply tell the carpenters and builders what to build. Or he gave them sketches. However, those must have been thrown out, since no drawings existed.

My find at the Wisconsin Historical Society

Luckily at this time, I took a trip to the Wisconsin Historical Society to look at photographs in the John H. Howe collection (“Jack” had been in the Taliesin Fellowship from 1932-64 and took thousands of photographs). Two of his photographs show Olgivanna Lloyd Wright’s bedroom, which show the shelves. I emailed the photographs (one at this link) to the onsite collections manager for the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. A few days later, he stopped by the office and told me that one of the photos showed a perfume bottle on one of the shelves. And, he said, “We have that perfume bottle.”

Apparently, he also showed the Preservation Crew the photograph and perfume bottle, and they used the perfume bottle to get the scale of the shelves they were going to rebuild.

You can see the rebuilt room in the photograph below, followed by a close-up of the shelves:

Photograph of Olgivanna Lloyd Wright’s bedroom. The shelves are to the right of the small chair.

Taken by user Stilfehler. Information and a larger version of this image is at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Taliesin_Interior_32.jpg
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Shelves in Olgivanna Lloyd Wright’s Bedroom. The perfume bottle, on the top shelf, is green. It’s behind an amber-colored glass jar so you can see just a little bit of it.

Taken by user Stilfehler. Information and a larger version of this image is at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Taliesin_Interior_28.jpg
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

There are other things that the Preservation Crew has done in Olgivanna Lloyd Wright’s bedroom, and on the Taliesin Estate overall, that are inventive and smart. Still, given my contribution to their work, I always liked to tell the story of the perfume bottle while giving tours through her bedroom.

OK, Keiran, that’s a cute trick. But why did he do this with the scale?

I think the full answer to the question probably requires reading Frank Lloyd Wright’s autobiography to understand his design philosophy,2 but I think he did it for at least two reasons. Firstly, he did it because it makes the space feel larger. Especially when you sit down. And, secondly, the lower scale creates more compression which, upon “release” generates feelings of surprise, drama and delight inside his homes.

First published March 19, 2021.
The image at the top of this post is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. The image is available at Creative Commons, which has its licensing information and a larger version. 


1 Well, then you go, “what – so the guy never designed for people over 5’8″?” He did. For example, Louis Penfield, who commissioned Wright for a home in Ohio, was 6 feet 9 inches tall. Wright made the hallways thinner and the ceilings taller. You can rent the building overnight. It’s the only Wright building I’ve been in where everything, yes, looks as big as the pictures.

2 Or “why did he do this” requires the answer given by another former tour guide (hi again, Bryan): “Oh! Because he was a genius.”

Taliesin II living quarters, approximately 1922

Taliesin II: the forgotten middle child of Taliesin

Reading Time: 7 minutes

The photo at the top of this page shows the living quarters of Taliesin: the portion of the building rebuilt after the fire of 1914 and destroyed in the fire of 1925. Someone took is around 1922.

Frank Lloyd Wright and Taliesin II:1

Frank Lloyd Wright named his home Taliesin, but later wrote that the building after the 1914 fire was Taliesin II, and that the building after the second fire (of 1925) was Taliesin III.

Taliesin II gets lost because Wright built it after the 1914 fire (caused by an act of violence). Then, in 1925, an electrical fire again destroyed it. Wright began rebuilding that summer.

The home that exists today was where Wright lived when:

    • He recovered his career in architecture
    • Started the Taliesin Fellowship
    • Designed some of his most well-known buildings (including Fallingwater), and
    • Became, apparently, the first “starchitect”

Although, as of 1939 his main studio in Wisconsin was his newly designed and built drafting studio at Hillside2 on the southern part of his Taliesin estate (which I wrote about in an earlier blog post).

So Taliesin II gets overshadowed

Also, Wright was out of the country a lot from 1915-1922 , working in Tokyo on the Imperial Hotel.

Still, by the time he finished with the Imperial Hotel, he had added two more rooms to Taliesin’s living quarters (on the ground floor and one above that). Then made that part of the building taller.

Here’s that part of the building in the early 1920s:

Taliesin II from the

From the Eric Milton Nicholls Collection at the National Library of Australia

The Griffins took the photograph above on their trip to the United States in 1924-25. Compare this photo to the one at the top of the page: the chimney you see here on the right on the photo at the top of the page is the same chimney that you see on the left in the photo above. The photographer took this photo from the Hill Crown at Taliesin. On the right hand side of the photograph was a guest room. Today, that’s part of Frank Lloyd Wright’s bedroom.

The photo comes from the National Library of Australia

Take a look at this page, where you can get more information on the photo. It comes from the collection of Eric Milton Nicholls, architectural partner to husband and wife architects Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin.

Down on this page, you’ll see that I put hyperlinks to all of the photographs that the Griffins took of Taliesin.

In addition to the changes Wright did at his living quarters, he extended Taliesin to the west, adding a root cellar and ice house in 1916, and, by 1924, another horse stable, and also chicken coops, a granary and a pigsty.3

If Taliesin II had stood longer, more photographs would exist of it.

Plus, the reason for less photographs is that Wright was out of the country for large chunks of time from the late 1910s to the early 1920s. He didn’t return to live full time in the United States until 1922, after he had finished most of his work on Japan’s Imperial Hotel. Then things went sort of “sideways” with his longtime partner, Miriam Noel.

 

Wright and Noel married in November 1923.

Noel lived with him about 5 or 6 months as his wife. She left by April or early May the next year.

My personal opinion is that those two seemed to bring out the worst in each other. You can read about her in Meryle Secrest’s Wright biography (don’t be afraid of its number of pages—someone told me to skip the first 100). Another book is Frank Lloyd Wright: A Biography, by Finis Farr.

Or you can read the fictionalized Miriam in The Women, by T.C. Boyle.

Wright met Olgivanna Milanoff about six months after Miriam left. Olgivanna, who married him in 1928, moved into Taliesin by January 1925.  On April 20 of that year another fire (probably because of bad wiring) struck Taliesin. It destroyed Taliesin’s living quarters. No one died, but Wright lost thousands of dollars worth of Japanese art. While he worked on rebuilding Taliesin, Noel found out about Olgivanna (now pregnant with her and Wright’s child). Miriam’s discovery resulted in more bad press and career problems (even before the stock market crashed in 1929).

            That’s the easy version of that story.  

Although, when you know where to look, you can find photographs online of Taliesin II.

I’d love to plaster this page with Taliesin II photos, but I think I’d get into trouble (copyrights and all that). So, I will show where you can find these images for the rest of my post.

Photographs of Taliesin II

There are a couple of places where can you find Taliesin II photographs in print:

By the way: if you get the “Global Architecture” book, or “Selected Houses v. 2”, trust me when I tell you that, while the cover of the books has a Wright-designed rug on the floor of the Taliesin living room, that rug was never there while he was alive.

Here are links to images on-line:

Eric Milton Nicholls Collection, National Library of Australia:

Nicholls worked in the office in Australia of architects Walter Burley Griffin and his wife, Marion Mahony Griffin.

The site shows seven photos taken on the Taliesin Estate: five show Taliesin II, one shows the dam and waterfall, and one shows the Hillside structure. Of these seven, the Griffins took some when they visited the U.S. in 1924-25 (like the photo I showed above). But one shows Taliesin II a little earlier: https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-150233395/view. It looks like it was taken around 1917, before the Griffins went to Australia.

Links to the five other photos:

If for some reason these URLs don’t work, go to the Library of Australia in the Nicholls Collection: https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-150140881

Go to Search and the Taliesin photographs are on Pages 821-840.

Here are other photographs, most at the Wisconsin Historical Society:

Exteriors

Interiors:

  • Taliesin II Dining Room:https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Image/IM83015
    • The design of the ceiling shows this to be Taliesin II, not Taliesin I. A Taliesin tour guide told me this years ago (hi, Bryan).
    • Aside from the ceiling another thing that shows this is Taliesin II is the design of the chair in the foreground. This “room” is not surrounded by four walls; so, the living room “starts” when the ceiling drops down.
  • Another Taliesin II Dining Room photo (from the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation website), https://franklloydwright.org/an-autobiography-in-wood-and-stone/1403-0038-dining-s/
    • It’s showing the same space as the first one above. Go back and forth between the two to see the differences.
  • Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin, sitting at a table near the window: https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Image/IM23788
    • He’s sitting in Taliesin’s living room, along the east wall, north of the photos of the dining “room” above. So if you were sitting where he was, and looked to your left you would see the dining area.
  • Frank Lloyd Wright at the Taliesin Drafting Studio, 1924: https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Image/IM27896
    • We know where he is because of the fireplace on the left hand side of the photograph. The photographer who took this photograph was probably standing in the space where all the drafting was done (which you see in the next photo).
    • One of the things I find silly about this photo is that Wright looks to me like he’s 4 feet tall.
  • Drafting Studio. https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Image/IM66179
    • The person closest to the photographer was Nobuko Tsuchiura, she was a draftsperson4 at Taliesin with her husband, Kameki, from the beginning of 1924 to the end of 1925.
  • Taliesin II Living Room:https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Image/IM83334
    • The TII living room is noted by the long rectangle at the fireplace.

First published on March 2, 2021

I don’t know who took the photograph of the Taliesin II living quarters that is at the top of this entry. I got a copy of it from someone who convinced someone else not to throw this out.


Notes:

1 Some say the words Taliesin I, Taliesin II, and Taliesin III shouldn’t be used. That using these numbers imply the building was completely destroyed twice with a new one built on top of the ruins. But the Taliesin fires only destroyed 1/3 of the building (but not its drafting studio or farm wings).

While I don’t commonly call the house that stands “Taliesin III”, I use those terms because Wright wrote them in his autobiography. Even if someone says he’s wrong, I’m not going to disagree with his choices because Taliesin was his house, and he was a lot smarter than I am or ever will be.

2 And, in a a moment of a snake-eating-its-own-tail thing, I first wrote the Wikipedia page about Hillside that I linked to. I’m using it here to back up my  assertion. I’ll try not to link back to this blog post if I update the Wikipedia page on how much work Wright did at the Hillside drafting studio.

3 He labelled it as a pigsty in a floor plan, but someone told me that Wright used it as a goat pen. Probably because even randy goats can smell better than pigs.

4 I asked people who’ve worked in architecture what term I should use to describe Nobuko Tsuchiura. I didn’t know if “draftsman” was proper, and “draftswoman” seemed odd. Someone suggested “draftshuman”, but I thought I should go with something that is more commonly used nowadays. “Draftsperson” was the most suggested so that’s why I put that here.