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

Found window:

I took the photograph above on May 14, 2004.
Looking (plan) north at the door to the alcove of Taliesin’s Drafting Studio.

Recently, I came across what I wrote to myself during Taliesin’s Save America’s Treasures project in 2003-04. It reminded me of one of the “finds” during that project. That’s what I’m going to write about in this post.

This is not the same as Save America’s Treasures Hillside Theatre project. That project, begun in 2020, is being undertaken by the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation.

This other “SATs” project was carried out by Taliesin Preservation. The project’s purpose was to construct a drainage solution to the Taliesin residence. The Taliesin residence is at the “brow” of a hill (Taliesin, meaning “Shining Brow” in Welsh), so all the water had to get from the top of the hill to the bottom.

What – Wright didn’t think about rain going downhill?

Wright initially installed drainage at Taliesin. However, because he continuously changed Taliesin—and he never used gutters—the water, eventually, went through the building.

Not an ideal circumstance

One of the things I discovered in preservation is that water, in its liquid and solid form, is the most pernicious substance. It can expand, creating pressure. In humidity it can encourage mold. It can turn plaster into mush and wooden beams into fibrous soggy filaments.

Taliesin had all of these things and more.

Taliesin’s Save America’s Treasures project was designed, then, to move water, ice, and snow around the building, while not completely rebuilding or destroying it. Therefore, in order to do this, all of the flagstone in the main court was removed, and drainage was added under it to move the water around it. In addition, concrete walls were constructed under the main building, to help the drainage. This removed stone included that in Taliesin’s Breezeway (that’s the area under the roof between his home and his studio). So, the construction firm that worked with Taliesin Preservation removed the stone, while the Preservation Crew removed a door and door jam of the alcove in Taliesin’s Breezeway. A photograph of that door at the alcove is at the top of this post.

When the crew member removed the door and frame, he found a window hidden in the stone column on the west (or on the left in the photo above).

A completely unexpected find

We had no idea the window was there.

Although, things being “uncovered” and “found” during this project happened so much that when the crew member found this window, I was like, “Oh, yes. Of course. Something else. Thanks, Frank!

How he found the window was by removing the door jamb from the stone pier. As it turned out, the top foot (or so) of the stone pier was hollow, with a 1′ 3″ window tucked inside.

I’ll show a couple of photos to explain. First, is a photograph showing the alcove with the door removed:

The stone alcove outside of Wright's Taliesin Drafting Studio.

Looking (plan) north into the alcove outside of Taliesin’s Drafting Studio. You can see where the frame was removed. The found window is at the top on the left. I took this photograph.

Next is a photo looking at the column with the window:

Stone pier outside of Taliesin drafting studio in November, 2003.

Looking (plan) northwest at the column with the window. To the right of the window is where the door to Wright’s drafting studio usually is.

Then a close-up looking at the window:

The window found in the pier outside Wright's Taliesin studio.

I took this photograph of the newly discovered window (with a red frame) in November 2003.
The stone on either side hid the window. The wooden board has the word “Spring Gr…” written on top of it. 

The newly discovered window explained some things:

We had already noticed a gap between the top of the pier and the ceiling above it. We had wondered if there was a problem at all. But this window proved that the pier had never supported anything in the ceiling.

So: Wright had the pier built, then at some point he decided he didn’t want the little window there anymore. Therefore, he just had his apprentices enclose it by slapping some stone on one side, then on the other. It was probably the simplest solution.

After finding this, I embarked on my usual activity:

I looked for evidence of this little window in floor plans, elevations, and photographs. Although, the pier is underneath a deep overhang, thus any glancing photographs of the area didn’t show a tiny window like this.

And, while I’ve noted that Taliesin’s drawings are unreliable, they can be helpful.

For that reason, I looked at drawings hoping to catch something. One of those drawings was a Xerox. It’s a hand-drawn floor plan, with written measurements alongside everything (maybe Wright had one of his early apprentices do this early in the history of the Taliesin Fellowship).

This drawing, #2501.035, is below:

Drawing 2501.035.

The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York). Drawing #2501.035.

Looking at the drawing with a magnifying glass I saw “1′ 3″ window” written and it was pointed right at “our” window. I’ve put a close-up of the drawing to show it, below (with the words 1′ 3″ highlighted):

Drawing 2501.035, cropped

The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York). Drawing #2501.035.

I saw this notation on the drawing at the end of the day, when I was alone in the office. When I saw it, I just started laughing. This amazing thing that we found. . . and there it sat for years, unnoticed, in a drawing.

After laughing, I wrote up the information, and sent that, as well as the scans showing photos, floor plans, and elevations, and my new photos, in an email to my supervisor.

That day was a hell of a lot of fun.

Published September 31, 2021.

A photograph I took of a stone wall inside Taliesin.

I looked at stone

A stone wall on the north side of Taliesin’s entry foyer. Based on the red wash across most of the stones, the bottom of the wall survived Taliesin’s 1925 fire.

Sometimes, while working at Taliesin (as I wrote once before), my answer to the question, “What did you do at work today?” was, “I looked at stone.” I’ll explain that here, because it engendered some interesting conclusions.

In order to understand that, you’ve got to know Frank Lloyd Wright’s stone at Taliesin.

(what? You didn’t think I’d say that?).

It should be no surprise that Wright employed local stone when building his home; the stone came from about a mile down the road to the north. And, as he built his home in Southwestern Wisconsin, he had plenty of dolomite limestone indicative of the surrounding Driftless Area. He used it in Taliesin’s foundations, chimneys, walls (when he didn’t use plaster or glass), and flagstone floors.

He also wanted it laid a certain way

The stone had to be in the same orientation that was in the quarry (it was kept horizontal; not orientation like facing east or south, etc.). And, on walls, he told the masons to vary its depth. This way, it would echo the look of stone outcroppings (and is gorgeous with snow on it). You see the snow on the stone in the photo below from my entry about newly seen photos:

A photograph of Taliesin in winter, published in the Chicago Tribune

Posted in a “Flashback” article from December 4 by Ron Grossman at The Chicago Tribune: “Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin was a refuge for illicit romance. But tragedy tore apart the love he built.”

Hey, at least he took notice:

Wright later wrote that the stonemasons –

[L]earned to lay the walls in the long, thin, flat ledges natural to it, natural edges out. As often as they laid a stone they would stand back to judge the effect. They were soon as interested as sculptors fashioning a statue. One might imagine they were, as they stepped back, head cocked to one side, to get the effect.

An Autobiography, published in Frank Lloyd Wright Collected Writings, volume 2: 1930-32. Edited by Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer, introduction by Kenneth Frampton (Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., New York City, 1992), 227.

This wonderfully unique stonemasonry allows you to see crags and details of individual stones from a dozen or so feet away. As a result, I learned to “read” the walls, quickly finding their stone configurations to follow through time. I mean: pick a stone (or several) in a wall, and see how the building changed around it/them—walls getting longer or taller; things appearing and disappearing.

Although, honestly, it’s easier to figure out when the walls got longer. You can see the vertical lines in the masonry when Wright had stonemasons (and, later, his apprentices) expand the walls. While it seems that Wright wanted things done quickly, both I and others have thought that Wright also wanted people to know the changes that were done.

How I figured this out

I first studied the individual stones when I began writing the history of one room at Taliesin, the Garden Room.1

Its chimney has been in the same location since Wright started his home in 1911. But a former coworker, looking at the chimney in archival photographs, concluded Wright must have completely rebuilt the chimney after the first fire of 1914. That’s because the stone didn’t match what was under its capstone.

Originally, I was set to put what she wrote into my historic doc.2 But then I asked myself: did Wright completely dismantle the 1911-14 chimney? I had the archival photos, and the time, so I started to study them (probably with a magnifying glass and/or a loupe).

I discovered that the chimney today, while changed, is the same chimney that existed in 1911. After Taliesin’s 1914 fire, Wright made it taller and that’s what confused Kelly. I’ll show the images below with the stones pointed out (with “circles and arrows on the back of each one explaining what each one was…”).

Someone took this photo of the chimney below in the Taliesin I era:

Looking east at the chimney for what became the Garden Room (in the foreground) with stones pointed out. Photo owned by Wisconsin Historical Society.

Then, look at the photo below from the Taliesin II era, with the stones, again, circled and numbered:

This photograph was originally published in 1915. It can be found in multiple places, included at the Wisconsin Historical Society, here.

You can see in the photo why Kelly got confused: there are two capstones (two horizontal lines) in the photo taken in 1915. She tried to match the stones under the lower capstone with what existed in 1911-14. But no. They must have heightened the chimney while constructing Taliesin II, and then Wright decided, “it needs to be a little higher”, so they added a few stone courses. Fortunately, I figured this out because I looked until I found the correct stones.

Finding stones that way was probably the first time I did that (and the first time I spent that much time staring at stone).

This work, and more like it, eventually trained my eye to catch things. And, not just with individual stones: it trained my eyes to find specific stone groupings/configurations. Now I can look at an old photo of a wall, see one squarish stone and two little ones to the right, quickly find that place on the wall IRL, and know where I am. It’s like one of those tricks I talked about last time that makes me sound like a magician.  

On the Other Hand

One of the easiest things to find at Taliesin are its wall sections that went through one of the fires (most likely the second fire). See, the limestone at Taliesin has iron, which turns red when it goes through fire. It can be quite lovely.

Taliesin walls that survived the second fire are all red (those built after the fire have select, red, stones built into them). A photo of one of the walls that went through the second fire at the top of this post.

First published July 29, 2021.
I took the photograph at the top of this page on September 1, 2003.


Notes:

1 There’s a “Garden Room” at Taliesin West, but that Garden Room is Wright’s living room at his winter home in Arizona (here’s a link to a photo of it). This Garden Room (the one in WI) is not his living room. It’s the former porte-cochere that Wright turned into an informal sitting room in the 1940s. I believe Wright called it the Garden Room because it looks out onto the Garden Court.

2 As I wrote on July 23, this is done in the hope that I did this work so, say, in 20 or 50 years someone else won’t have to.

Frank Lloyd Wright on balcony at Taliesin.

Mortar Mix

This post is about figuring out where Wright was standing in the photo at the top of this page.

And, several years ago, “Looked at some mortar,” was my answer to the question, “What did you do at work today?”

Wait – what? Why?

A collection of images in Delaware:

Earlier that day someone from the Hagley Museum and Library (Wilmington, Delaware) wrote me (as the historian for Taliesin Preservation) looking for a date on some images they have. It’s a collection of negatives by John Gordon Rideout.

According to the Hagley Museum,

John Gordon Rideout (1898-1951) was a noted industrial designer and architect based primarily in Ohio. The images in this digital collection come from an album of negatives in a collection of Rideout’s papers. Some of the images, likely dating to the early 1930s, depict Frank Lloyd Wright and his Spring Green, Wisconsin, estate, Taliesin.

There are 192 negatives from Rideout. Most of the images don’t show Taliesin, but I hope I had something to do with that date that’s on that page. 1933-34 is the date I gave for Rideout’s Taliesin images.

Figuring the date out from the other photos was easy. However, there was one photograph in the collection that I couldn’t immediately figure out. That photo is at the top of this page. That’s what led to me to look at mortar. In that photograph Wright stands against a stone wall with a ceiling over his head, and the frame of a window on the photograph’s left hand side. I figured I could find the wall where he was standing by looking for some of those mortar blobs. Turns out I was correct.1

Finding the site of the photo:

If I hadn’t seen the rest of the Rideout’s collection I might have thought Rideout had taken the image years earlier. That’s because Wright doesn’t look like the man we know: the fashionable, well-known man from the 1930s surrounded by his apprentices in the studios in Wisconsin or Arizona. The man in the photograph above looked like someone maybe 15 years before. I think it was his tie, billowy shirt, and the magnifying glass (like a monocle) that hangs around his neck.

Fortunately, according to Taliesin Fellowship member, Dr. Joseph Rorke:2

. . . [O]ne of the first things that Olgivanna did was to persuade Frank to abandon his flowing artist’s tie and shorten his hair, presumably because he was beginning to look faintly quaint and old-fashioned.
Meryl Secrest. Frank Lloyd Wright: A Biography (1992; HarperPerennial, HarperCollins, New York City, 1993), 428. 

Regardless of when the photo was taken I had to figure out where Wright was standing. I knew he was at Taliesin (because of the stone, stucco, and wood) and despite what I thought, the photo comes from the early 1930s. So, I mentally walked through the structure to figure out his location.

Why didn’t I just know where he was?

Since Wright changed walls, doors, windows, etc., all the time at Taliesin, sometimes things in photographs no longer exist. And I don’t trust Taliesin’s drawings 100% of the time (he used the drawings to work things out; or he changed the designs as the construction proceeded). Based on what I know, I thought Wright was standing on a balcony off of his private office (the balcony no longer exists; he expanded the room).

So I drove to Taliesin to see if I was correct.1

Finding the mortar

I printed the photo and went to the room at Taliesin where I thought it was taken. Luckily two employees of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation were there working so I could ask them what they thought. The three of us went back and forth on it until we agreed to go over to the back of Wright’s vault.

Here’s the area we looked at:

Stone wall in Wright's private office with this studio in the background.

This was a photograph taken by me (thanks to Kyle for letting me inside the space to take photos).

Near the upper right portion of the photograph, under the horizontal pieces of stone, you can match the mortar to what’s in the photo with Wright. The stones are on the outside of his vault. In the photo with Wright, the top blotch of mortar is at around the same level as the top of his head.

So, there you go: the stone & mortar didn’t change. Just the stuff to the left of it did.

To the left of the stone you see into Taliesin’s drafting studio. The desk in the photo is where Wright would answer his mail in later years.

It’s not a working studio

Well, d’uh Keiran. I know it’s not a working studio. You do realize that Frank Lloyd Wright is dead, don’t you?

Yes I know that (about Wright’s relationship to life). But Wright stopped using this room as a drafting studio after 1939. In that year, another studio of his in Wisconsin was finished. That’s the 5,000 square foot drafting studio at Hillside on the Taliesin estate. So, it’s on the estate, but about half a mile away.

I talked about the studio in my post about Hillside. In fact, most of the photos you’ve seen where Wright is working in a studio in Wisconsin were taken at Hillside, not at Taliesin. You can also read this post at Wikipedia (the post that I, um, wrote), which is on Hillside and has an exterior photograph of that studio.

After the drafting was moved to Hillside, Wright used the Taliesin studio as his office.

Photographs taken in Wright’s studio (later his office) back to what was just shown:

Wright's desk in his office (his former studio).

This was a photograph taken by me (thanks to Kyle for letting me inside the space to take photos).

Here’s Wright’s office desk from the other side. The stone on the left is his vault. I put in an arrow to show where I took the other photograph from. When Rideout took the photo of Wright, Wright was standing about where the arrow is pointing. Out through the windows there’s the beige-colored wall. That wall didn’t exist when Rideout took the photo of Wright. At that time, Wright’s private office was further to the left. The place where the beige wall is today was, at that time, an exterior balcony.

Originally published April 10, 2021.

The photograph of Frank Lloyd Wright at the top of this page was taken by John Gordon Rideout. Courtesy of the Hagley Museum & Library. The photograph is available from this URL: https://digital.hagley.org/2701_negalbum_strip22_004.


1 I tend to say “correct” instead of “right” when I’m talking/writing about things related to Taliesin because. . . Wright, y’know. I’ve noticed that others who work/ give tours at Wright buildings also say “correct” instead of “right”. It’s a way to keep one’s sanity. Because when you give tours of a Wright building, you’re already saying his name and also saying, “And to your right. . . . “

2 Taliesin Fellowship, 1957-2013. “Dr. Joe” was 95 when he passed away.