Black and white photograph of John and Marybud Lautner outside at Taliesin, 1933-34. By Hank Schubart.

Taliesin Kitties

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Photograph of future architect (then apprentice) John Lautner (1911-1994) and wife Mary Faustina Roberts Lautner (“Marybud”, 1913-1995) standing at the southwest corner of Taliesin’s hill crown.  Behind them is the chimney that served the dining rooms of the Taliesin Fellowship and the Wrights. I wrote about this space, here. The photo was taken by apprentice and later architect, Hank Schubart (1916-1998).

This is going to be a cat-themed post. But it does have a connection to Frank Lloyd Wright, I swear!

Let me explain….

Here are my cats, Wes and Gene:

Color photo of cats Wes and Gene on the floor.

This is a photo of them lying on the kitchen floor. My husband says they’re competing in the synchronized cat napping nationals.

Now, the names “Wes” and “Gene” are related to Frank Lloyd Wright and Taliesin. But I was not completely in charge of them being named Wes and Gene.

— well, ok, yes, actually, I was, since I was the one who first decided to name them that.

However —

I was not the person who focused my attention on names related to Taliesin.

You see,

in 2015, 5 kittens showed up on the Taliesin estate. Cats aren’t there all the time, but they do (and can) show up. Sometimes they are owned by residents at Taliesin. Or, sometimes they take up residence. At least one of these cats became internationally famous.

In fact,

anyone who took a tour at Taliesin starting in the late 1990s up to the twenty-teens met this cat. She was a long-haired calico named Sherpa.

Color photograph of the calico cat, Sherpa at Taliesin on a stone wall. Photo by Keiran Murphy

Sherpa laying on a stone wall outside of the old Taliesin Fellowship dining room (it functions currently as an office and sometimes a guest room).

Sherpa appeared in the Taliesin tour program in the late 1990s. She lived at the Hillside structure and had one litter of kittens that delighted visitors.

the summer at Hillside with Sherpa and her kittens meant lots of real-time lessons on working with animals. There was no way you could talk about Wright’s history or ideas when there were 3 or 4 adorable kittens playing and jumping over each other on the deck at the edge of Hillside’s dining room (a photo of the deck is in a photo at Flickr, here).

After the season’s end, Sherpa was caught and spayed. By this time, she already walked in front of several tours at Taliesin, so she was given the name Sherpa. Since the Taliesin estate was basically her home, she settled in closer to the Taliesin building and began to “lead tours” there.1

That was because she knew where the guides went on tours, so she would walk ahead of the guides and group.

She appeared on a magazine cover

after a group of Japanese architects took a tour. They were as delighted by Sherpa as by the architecture. So one photo they took of her ended up on the cover of a magazine, below:

Back to Wes and Gene:

I hadn’t known about the kittens until I mentioned the desire for cats to a coworker at Taliesin Preservation. I was searching for a home, and having cats was on the agenda. Then she asked, “did you hear about the Taliesin kittens?”

The kindle of five domestic shorthaired kittens had arrived in late spring. They were big enough to make themselves known to the students at the School of Architecture, who were then in session and living at Wright’s Hillside building.

Since they appeared on the Taliesin estate, my coworker, the students, and staff at the local vet clinic knew them as the “Taliesin kittens”. As I had already decided I wanted two male kittens, it took me less than 10 minutes to come up with the names Wes and Gene.

PLEASE NOTE: I decided immediately that I was NOT going to name them Frank and Lloyd, or Lloyd and Wright.

No, I’m not a cat lady! I’m just a Frankophile!

While I have not written on my blog about Wright’s son-in-law and engineer, Wes Peters, I did write about Gene Masselink last year.

Are they worthy of their names?

Wes is a little like Wes Peters, because he’s really big. But, while I love the guy, Gene is not worthy of the memory of Eugene Masselink.

And how did Wright feel about cats?

I don’t know.

In fact, I don’t know how Wright felt about domesticated animals overall. Except for horses. He long admired them and rode them as long as he was able.  The photograph below is Wright on a horse outside of the Hillside school building.2 The photo was taken in the 1950s.

Color photograph--Frank Lloyd Wright at the Hillside Home School on a horse with his wife Olgivanna and apprentice, Joe Fabris. Photo by Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer.

Photograph of Wright on a horse to the east of the Assembly Hall at the Hillside Home School. Olgivanna Lloyd Wright stands on the right and apprentice, Joe Fabris, is wearing the t-shirt.

However, there is the doghouse:

That’s right: in 1956, 12-year-old Jim Berger wrote Frank Lloyd Wright. He was the son of clients Robert and Gloria Berger, who built their Wright house in San Anselmo, California. Jim asked Wright to design a home for their dog, Eddie. Jim would pay for the plans and materials through money he earned on his paper route. This link from the Smithsonian Magazine shows you the whole story, and Jim’s initial letter to Wright.

In addition,

Olgivanna Lloyd Wright liked dogs and you can find photos online of the Wrights sitting together outside at Taliesin West with her dog, Casanova. Casanova appears with Frank Lloyd Wright in the Garden Room (the living room) at Taliesin West. They’re on the webpage, “Five stylish men with dogs“. 

 

First published February 8, 2023.
The photograph at the top of this post was taken by Hank Schubart and is in The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York). Hank Schubert collection, 6501.0140.


Notes:

1 We used to do a 1 mile, all exterior Walking Tour. Sherpa would show up when we were with our groups on the road below Taliesin, and walk in front of us to Hillside. She would hang out at Hillside until the Walking tour came by in the afternoon. Then she would lead the later tour back to Taliesin, where the tours began.

2 This link shows you 94-year-old Joe Fabris at Wright’s Price Tower in Bartlesville, OK. It gives you a nice overview of that space. Joe is seen speaking to the Price Tower curator of Collections and Exhibitions (Hi, Scott!).

 
Photograph taken by Edmund Teske. Taliesin in winter with snow and ice.

Snow at Taliesin

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Edmund Teske took this photograph in the winter of 1936-37. He was in the Breezeway at Taliesin, looking northeast towards the Living Room.

This week, a winter storm is crossing the United States. This storm reminded me of one of the “At Taliesin” newspaper articles written by apprentices in the Taliesin Fellowship.

This article is in At Taliesin: Newspaper Columns by Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Fellowship, 1934-1937, ed. by Randolph C. Henning. It’s on p. 241-42 of the “At Taliesin” book:

AT TALIESIN, February 20, 19371

In winter the sharp lines of the horizon along the ridges of our surrounding hills disappear and in the soft light of evening the valleys merge into the hills and the hills vanish into the sky.  Trees upon the hills are patterned tracery.  Pods of weeds, close by, are sharp edged black spots upon the white: staccato notes in the prevailing rhythm of quiet.

Snow: sharp, keen, icy, in billowing drifts or in long horizontal ledges, brings harmony to the landscape of our Wisconsin farmland: farmland that in summer is fenced in and fenced up and out by farm after farm of farmers who have worked out countless ingenious ways to characterize their acres of land.  The boxed-in boxes of farmhouses, styes, coops, pens scattered about, hit and miss, over the countryside mar the land’s native beauty.

          We view – in winter – Wisconsin’s hills as we saw the Arizona desert stretching off toward distant mountains: untouched, whole, clean.

          What man could not do to the Arizona desert because of nature’s protection, the winter snow has buried in Wisconsin.

As the hot desert sun decorates simplicity by sending color into the myriad lichens upon the patterned rock faces of the desert floor, so our winter sun flashes light and fire into the ice-jeweled thistles showing above the frosted earth in our own valleys.

And as the saguaro-cactus stands in heroic silhouette against the sunny southern sky, the ice clad Wisconsin trees crackle and shimmer: miraculous against the cobalt above.

What we went in search for to Arizona we have here around us: this harmonious union of natural things.  A union here made supreme and impervious to harm by ice and snow: white and blue – silver and black.  Again contrast and accentuation – in the distance a red spot – the Wisconsin barn.

            EUGENE MASSELINK

First published December 20, 2022
The photograph at the top of this post was published in Architectural Forum magazine, January 1938, volume 68, number 1, p. 3.


Notes:

1 You read Masselink talking about Arizona, but everyone is in Wisconsin. That’s because the land where Wright will build Taliesin West has not been found yet. That will happen in November of 1937.

Hillside floor plan published in Ausgeführte Bauten und Entwürfe von Frank Lloyd Wright

Truth hiding in plain sight

Reading Time: 7 minutes

This is a drawing of a building that Frank Lloyd Wright designed for his aunts and their Hillside Home School. They ran the school, which was south of Spring Green, Wisconsin, for almost 30 years. Wright designed this structure for them in 1901. This drawing was published in 1910.

Previously, I wrote about the project I did with architectural historian, Anne Biebel (principal, Cornerstone Preservation), about Wright’s Hillside structure on the Taliesin estate. This post is going to be about something I discovered during that project, which was a comprehensive chronology on Hillside.

About the project:

The Aunts ran the school from 1887-1915. We tried to look at the total history of the Hillside building, but also the history of the school. Since my job was to gather as much information as possible, I looked at old newspaper articles and had a lot of fun finding old facts, photographs, and drawings.

I tried to be objective about the site

So, when I started, I approached Hillside much as I approach Taliesin when studying it. That meant that I went over everything with a fine toothed comb. However, Hillside was never the same dealio (at least not as he’d originally built for his aunts: 1901-03.). That’s coz, Hello!—they were paying clients. Yes, they were his Aunts and they did love their nephew; but: still. He couldn’t mess around with their building. Not while they still had control of it!

And, because Wright was building this for someone else,

I could trust the Hillside drawings that Wright did for the original construction (unlike those he did for his home, Taliesin).

Still, only 12 drawings exist in Hillside’s earliest years. 1 Three more drawings were done later: two were done in 1910 from a portfolio, known as the “Wasmuth”. That’s because the publisher in Berlin was Ernst Wasmuth. The floor plan from the Wasmuth is at the top of this post. I got it from an online version of the University of Utah Rare Books Collection.

Or if you’re feeling fancy, say the full title in German, since it was published in Germany. The original title is Ausgeführte Bauten und Entwürfe von Frank Lloyd Wright (“Executed Buildings and Designs by…”). 

The last drawing of Hillside was done in 1941 for a retrospective of his work: In the Nature of Materials : The Buildings of Frank Lloyd Wright 1887-1941.

Looking over things:

In the Hillside Chronology project, I studied the drawings like I usually do: I try to look at historical evidence without preconceptions. Otherwise, it’s easy to only see things you want to see, and miss things staring you in the face. So, I looked at the early drawings of Hillside, inch by inch. And…

I finally noticed something

in one of the rooms.

This room, a long room ending in a point, is now known as the Dana Gallery. Look at the drawing at the top of this page. At the top of the drawing is a “T”. The left side of the “T” is the room known as the Dana Gallery today. This room was originally the Science room for the Hillside Home School. The right side of the “T” is another room that’s almost a mirror image of the Dana Gallery. That room, on the right side of the “T”, is now known as the Roberts Room and was  originally the Art room.

The names of the rooms (Dana Gallery, Roberts Room) come from two people who gave money to Wright’s aunts when they were completing the building. Wright told the story about the names in the 1943 edition of his autobiography:

One of my clients, Mrs. Susan Lawrence Dana, gave them the little Art and Science building next to the School building and equipment, complete. She loaned the Aunts twenty-seven thousand dollars more to help complete the main school building. Another client, Charles E. Roberts, 2 gave nine thousand dollars to help in a subsequent pinch….

Frank Lloyd Wright. Frank Lloyd Wright Collected Writings, volume 4: 1939-49. Edited by Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer, introduction by Kenneth Frampton (Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., New York City, 1994), 125.

How the Dana Gallery/Roberts Rooms are alike:

Among other things (I’m sure) each room is accessible through 5 steps down from the floor above; has skylights; has a “prow” window (like a triangle coming out of the building) on the end; and a chimney.

Their fireplaces are different, though.

The fireplace in the Roberts Room has a horizontal piece of stone across the firebox. But the fireplace in the Dana Gallery has a design that looks really modern. Even though it, too, is in stone, there are triangles on the design, and either side of it has angles.

Here’s a photo of the Dana Gallery with the fireplace from The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives:

Black and white photograph looking southeast in the Hillside Dana Gallery

Unknown photographer. Dated 1936-40. Property of The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York), #3301.0008.

The creation of the fireplace was detailed in a December 11, 1936 article in “At Taliesin”, written by Gene Masselink:

. . . . Last summer Mr. Wright commissioned Benny to complete a fireplace in three weeks.

So Benny lugged stone after stone into the Dana gallery.  He worked at it at all hours–you could hear him pounding away long after it was dark outside….  The design had been carefully worked out.  The lintel was six feet from the floor and the stones were all especially cut to form a pattern on the back of the fireplace.  It required skill and some engineering to properly construct the flue.  Finally with the help of five others Benny laid the greatest sandstone lintel block.  And that night at the celebration in honor of the job, the first fire was built.

Hans, solid German carpenter, declares it would never draw and even as the Fellowship held its breath and as the flames roared up, lighting the room with their best six foot height and the smoke went up the flue out into the moonlit night, Hans still shook his head.

We drank a toast: no one that night prouder or happier than Benny.

EUGENE MASSELINK

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), 225, 226.

Due to Gene’s writing:

I figured there had been a fireplace when Wright first designed for his aunts, then Benny redesigned the fireplace mantel to its current appearance. I mean, sure, the Dana Gallery had been the Science room—so maybe flammable things aren’t your first go-to in a design—but, on the other hand (a) the only flammable things I ever saw in my Chemistry classes were the controlled flames of Bunsen burners, and (b) Hillside’s gym also had a running track with a fireplace on the west side.

So, I just figured that those Hillside students weren’t “pantywaists” like I was by the time I was in grade school. 3 I mean, sure! Have open flames around those kids using chemicals, and exercising on the running track!

To get back to the point:

During the project with Anne, I looked more carefully at the Hillside drawings. And I saw, in drawing #0216.004 that, while the Roberts room originally had a chimney, the Dana Gallery did not:

Floor plan. #0216.004

The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York), #0216.004.

The chimney on the left had no fireplace, while the chimney on the right did. Looking more closely, the chimney at the Science room had two SINKS in front of it. With a WALL between them. I didn’t know what that was all about.

So, then I thought:

look at the Wasmuth drawing

Because I knew he labelled things in it. Yes, they were in German, and I don’t have a German-to-English dictionary, but there’s Google translate.

So I looked at it. The chimney in the Dana Gallery (the chimney on the left) has this in all caps: DUNKEL RAUM

That means:

Dark room

Of course!

Hillside was a school out in the country. Teach those kids photography! That’s why there’s a scrapbook of photographs taken of Hillside in 1906, now at the Wisconsin Historical Society.  

In fact, the floor of the Dana Gallery has a shadow of the dark room’s wall, which you see in the photo I took, below:

But unfortunately I’ve never seen a photograph showing the walls of the dark room. The photograph below shows you about what’s been seen of the room when the Aunts ran the school. You can see how it was a science classroom:

Black and white photograph of the Science Room at the Hillside Home SchoolFirst published February 9, 2022.
The drawing at the top of this post was published in Ausgeführte Bauten und Entwürfe von Frank Lloyd Wright (“Executed Buildings and Designs by Frank Lloyd Wright”) in Berlin in 1910. I’ve put it here in part because I do not know who has the rights to it.


1. I’ve wondered if there were more. 

2. This link only brings you to the page on Wikipedia about the Charles E. Roberts Stable (although it tells you a bit about the man himself). There’s no Wikipedia page about the Charles E. Roberts House, though. If you were feeling generous and had the interest or patience, you should write about it.

3. That’s what one of the nuns called us in the 8th grade because we weren’t fighting in the Falkland Islands war. That’s not a statement about Catholic schools; just a statement about a weird moment as a kid. As I’ve gotten older that statement makes less and less sense. In part because we were all American citizens.

Abstract drawing. Property: The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York).

Gene Masselink

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Abstraction looking (plan) north at Taliesin against the hill in Wisconsin.
Pen, ink, and paint. By Gene Masselink.

Eugene Meyer “GeneMasselink (1910-1962): Taliesin Fellowship, 1933 until his death. This post will be about him, and why I like him.

Gene was born in South Africa, then his family moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he grew up with his brother, Ben. A talented visual artist, Gene came into the Fellowship with a BS in painting from Ohio State University. The Taliesin Fellowship wasn’t only a group for architectural apprentices, and Gene didn’t join intent on doing architecture. He did, however, paint and illustrate within the group for years, including the image of Taliesin up at the top of this page.

And, as many Fellowship members did, he helped build models. Here’s a 1936 photograph by Edmund Teske showing Gene working a model of the Johnson Wax building:

Property: The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York).
Photograph of Gene Masselink taken in 1936 by Edmund Teske.

How Gene became the secretary:

When he came into the Fellowship in 1933, Karl Jensen was the secretary (this is a photo of Jensen at Taliesin). Gene became Karl’s assistant. Therefore, when Karl left in 1934, Gene took over the job. Subsequently, Gene became was one of the “triumvirate” of crucial Fellowship members. This triumvirate was composed of Gene, Wes (Peters, engineer), and Jack (Howe, head draftsman). The Fellowship wouldn’t have been the same without Gene, just like it wouldn’t have been the same without Wes & Jack.

He:

  • Kept Wright’s correspondence—with friends, family, and clients—on track and up-to-date through all of the traveling back and forth from Wisconsin to Arizona.
  • Followed the bills—which, as you can imagine, were quite complicated when it came to Wright.
  • Learned to how to run the printing press. Thus, Gene became the resident pressman, printing the 1943 edition of Wright’s autobiography.1

In fact, on the last page of his 1943 autobiography, Wright specifically thanked Gene:

Gene (Masselink) of the Fellowship and his helpers have untangled day by day, month by month, the mass of inter-lined and defaced scripts that would tease anyone, especially myself. Gene is the only one who could read them.

Having both seen Wright’s handwriting, and his small edits that are hard to keep track of, I applaud Wright’s recognition of Gene’s work.

Here’s Gene with a couple of “the boys” and The Master:

Frank Lloyd Wright and 4 apprentices in Taliesin's Drafting Studio, 1930s.Looking (plan) northwest at Wright at a drafting table in the Taliesin studio. Standing behind him are (L-R): Gene Masselink, Bennie Dombar, Edgar Tafel, and Jack Howe. This photograph is from the Associated Press and is in the public domain. The Library of Congress says the photo was taken in 1953. However, they’re wrong. Wright was not in his 80s in the photograph above, and both Bennie and Edgar left the Fellowship in 1941. This photograph, on the other hand, has Gene and Wright in this same room in the 1950s.2

Yet, this is not a post about him just as an artist. No, I decided to write about Gene today because I just genuinely like the man (who passed away before I was born). Gene’s way of keeping everything together at Taliesin reminds me a little of the character of Walter “Radar” O’Reilly from M*A*S*H*.

He jumped in as, I think, Wright envisioned the Fellowship—everyone together, all for one, one for all. And he seemed to have a sense of humor about all of it. You’ll see it in his “At Taliesin” article from 1935 below.

Examples:

Below, Gene writes about his responsibilities as the secretary in the August 4, 1935 “At Taliesin”:

“Have I a little list?  Koko was only an amateur with his.

Remember in “Physical Taliesin history” (fn1) how I said that working at Taliesin made me learn about things? I just learned how “I have a little list” is related to Gilbert and Sullivan musicals.

Lists – lists everywhere and lists for everything.  Large important Madison lists on large white paper.  Spring Green lists on any old paper.  Dodgeville grocery and butcher lists on ruled note-pads from the kitchen.  Lists typewritten and lists handwritten in every kind of pen and or pencil within reach.  Lists lost and half remembered – they flutter about me dominating my kingdom of letters and articles and filing cards and endless odds and ends of what is bravely called “business”.  The word should be spelled busy-ness, or why not busy-mess.  But the list is only embryo compared with the listers actually getting what the list lists.  There are so few who will stand to wait longer than three days for what they’ve listed and at the end of that time a package of cigarettes or “Plowboy” or “Red Man” or one spool of thread or a pound of 6-penny casing nails will assume terrific proportions.  Not my peach only but my life is continually jeopardized by little lists.

….

EUGENE MASSELINK

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), 147-148.

Gene about listening to the radio!

This links to my love of Old Time Radio that I wrote about in this post.

Gene was in the hospital after breaking his hip and was bedridden. He wrote about his experience in the hospital, and about passed the time listening to the radio:

AT TALIESIN, June 11, 1937

. . .  After this is all over and I’m selling apples on some street corner, this Radio will sell apples with me.  My mind has become so controlled by its direction that any sudden break from its supervision would be fatal.

         The Life problems of Bill and Mary and Susan and Jim of all the Tom Dick and Harrys radio story tellers can think of are my problems now.  And let me say that these problems are without parallel in the history of literature.  Each day fresh heartaches and new situations keep the agony of life constantly on the run and bring vicarious sorrow into the lives of Americans, incidentally make my own hip-problem only the most minor consideration for me to think of. . . .

It has opened the walls of this tiny room to a world many times removed and I maintain wherever I go it shall go.

Its love me, love my Radio from now on.

EUGENE MASSELINK

Randolph C. Henning, 267-268.

Gene by someone else:

Gene showed up in Taliesin Diary: A Year With Frank Lloyd Wright, by Priscilla Henken. Here’s Priscilla on November 16, 1942 (p. 59):

… Gene always speaks hurriedly & nervously as if he were doing ten things at once & only nine were getting done.
 
Former apprentice Curtis Besinger dedicated his 1995 book, Working With Mr. Wright: What it Was Like, to Gene Masselink. Besinger wrote,

As Mr. Wright’s secretary for many years, Gene’s grace, awareness, and sense of humor served to anticipate and ameliorate many of the strains of Fellowship life. Unfortunately he didn’t live to write the book which in some stress-filled situation he threatened to write: “Mr. Wright goes to New York…, to Italy… to Paris

Curtis Besinger. Working with Mr. Wright: What It Was Like (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, England, 1995), xiv.

Finally, his work:

In the 1950s, Gene began designing murals for the following buildings by Wright:

While Masselink’s original icons were removed from the altar, they can still be seen in the basement. See Mark Hertzberg’s blog post about the church to see photographs of the icons.

Others have investigated his work. Check these out:

Published January 31, 2022.
The drawing at the top of this post is the property of The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York).


Notes:

1. I can’t imagine that would have been possible for him to print all of the copies of the 1943 edition of the autobiography. However, I’ve seen letters that Gene wrote to Jack Howe, describing the activities. Plus, “Gene’s Press Room” is the name of a room at Taliesin.

2. Bonus: the Wisconsin Historical Society has another photograph taken of Gene that day. He’s seen in the same clothes walking in Taliesin’s Garden Court with another Fellowship member, Kay Rattenbury (1918-1996).