Black and white photograph of dormitory room at Taliesin

Oh my Frank – I was wrong!

A bed in a room at Taliesin. I’ll explain why it’s here in the post below.

About what? About a photograph.

But, while I’ve been wrong sometimes about things with Taliesin, I haven’t usually communicated those things to other people.

In this case, I was wrong about a photograph I put in a post of mine from last year: “Preservation by Distribution“. While I’ve taken the misidentified photo out of that post, in today’s post, I’ll explain what the photo really shows, and how I figured out I was wrong.

Let me explain:

The top of today’s post has the same photo I got wrong. I originally showed the photo in “Preservation by Distribution”. That post is about a generous gift from two women whose aunt, Lucretia Nelson, was an apprentice in the Taliesin Fellowship.

(read about the gift from the women, and their aunt, in the “Preservation by Distribution” post).

The women gave us copies of letters that Nelson wrote to her parents. In one of the letters, Nelson described a change that was going to happen under her room. When I wrote “Preservation by Distribution”, I thought the change Nelson wrote about was going to happen on the outside of the room that’s in the photograph.

But I was wrong. Not about the change; just about the photograph.

That is:

everything that I learned from what Nelson described remains unchanged. All I got wrong was the room that I thought photo showed. I think I figured this out yesterday.

But since learning I was wrong, it’s taking me a little while to re-think the space. Because

I’d been mistaken for 18 years.

I got this wrong in 2004.

And, since discovering my mistake, I corrected the “Preservation by Distribution” post. But, still –

18 years!!

Ok, fine. Then what room are we seeing in that photo?

The photograph appears to show a bedroom a couple of rooms to the west of Taliesin’s Drafting Studio. I only started to figure this out

2 days ago,

when I was thinking about writing a new post. While I didn’t look at the photo above, I looked at photos by George Kastner, an architect and draftsman who worked for Wright in 1928-29. Kastner came to Taliesin in November, 1928 and took photographs there in that month, and in December.

If you’d like to read about Kastner, The Organic Architecture + Design Archives1 published a journal issue on some of his collection in 2019.
The article is by Randolph C. Henning, and it’s published in Volume 7, Number 3.

Regardless, here’s the Kastner photo that got this started:

This photo shows Kastner’s room at Taliesin, which had a bay window (on the right):

Looking (plan) southeast. Room was later the bedroom of William Wesley Peters.
Photograph by architect, George Kastner. Taken November 28, 1928.
Courtesy, Brian A. Spencer, Architect.

Photograph taken on November 28, 1928. By architect George Kastner. Courtesy of Brian A. Spencer, Architect. Looking (plan) east/southeast in what later became the bedroom of Wright’s son-in-law, architect Wes Peters.

Although I’d never seen this room before, I knew right where this was: I was looking at part of a former carriage house at Taliesin that Wright turned into a bedroom.

Like I wrote in my post, “Guest Quarters“, Wright wanted to make Taliesin an attractive place to stay, so he converted spaces into bedrooms.

The bay window on the bedroom faced Taliesin’s Middle Court.2

Next

I looked at another photograph of the room by Kastner. You can see it’s the same room, because of the night table that’s on the right. It has the same lamp. And the same screen is against the wall:

Looking (plan) northeast. Room later became the bedroom of William Wesley Peters.
Photograph by architect, George Kastner. Taken December 17, 1928.
Courtesy, Brian A. Spencer, Architect.

So: there’s the screen that you see in the photo at the top of this page, and the desk with the lamp that you see in the last photo. Looking east/northeast.

So looking at these two images made me realize that I was wrong about the room in the photo at the top of this post.

Because

the room I thought was in the photograph had the same Japanese screen, but never had bay windows. So, I mentally searched for Taliesin’s rooms that had bay windows at one time. And I looked for drawings to show me the windows in the rooms.

I double- checked, and I think I found the best floor plan of Taliesin with the bay windows. It was was drawn in 1924, and I put it below.

Since the room I wanted to show is pretty small, I thought I’d show the whole plan to give you an idea of what I’m trying to show. What you see is the floor plan for several courtyards in the Taliesin complex:

Drawing of Taliesin published in Wendingen magazine in 1924, 1925.
Originally published in Wendingen Magazine, 1924, 1925.
Published in the 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).
Location of original drawing unknown.

I’m going to show a detail from the lower right hand side of the drawing. That’s below, with the courtyard labelled “Mid-Way”.

Detail of Taliesin drawing published in Wendingen magazine in 1924, 1925.
Originally published in Wendingen Magazine, 1924, 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).
Location of original drawing unknown.

The drawing, published in 1925, has an archival number of 1403.023. But those who put the magazine (then book) together didn’t return the original drawing. So, the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation gave it a number, but didn’t have the drawing. 

The bay window in the photo was next to the door of the “STUDENTS BED ROOM” in the drawing.

The room has two small windows on the wall opposite of the bay windows. I think the photo is showing the window on the left in the room.

And, fortunately,

George Kastner took another photo that’s really helpful to figuring this out. This is an exterior photo that shows that wall with the two windows. That photo is below. I added an arrow to the photo so you can see where the window is:

Looking (plan) southwest at N facade of Taliesin.
Photograph by architect, George Kastner. Taken December 19, 1928.
Courtesy, Brian A. Spencer, Architect.

Looking (plan) west/southwest at the north façade of Taliesin. I put the arrow into the photograph to show which window I think is showing in the photograph at the top of this post.

What happened to this room?

So, this area was always used by apprentices in the Taliesin Fellowship after Wright and his wife, Olgivanna, started it in 1932. Apprentices in the Fellowship lived in the bedrooms. Later, Wright had the apprentices add three more windows on the wall with the two windows.3

The final changes were made before Wes Peters, his wife, Svetlana, and their son moved in there in 1943. Apparently at that time they—the Fellowship as a whole, or just Peters and his wife—removed the bay windows.

Today, it’s still a bedroom.

 

First published May 6, 2022
The image above is at the Wisconsin Historical Society on this page.


Notes:

1 Their website is: https://www.oadarchives.com/. As of early May, the site administrators were having problems with it, but I’ll take this notice off when the site’s working again.

2 Here’s where I always wanted to “correct” some guides and staff at Taliesin Preservation. Starting around 2005, guides, drivers, and other staff members began referring to a tour drop-off area as the “Middle Court”. I think that’s because this area’s right near Taliesin’s “Lower Court”. So, that’s on your left, and there’s a courtyard in front of you. But that courtyard was known (in drawings) as the Upper Court. The Middle Court was called that because it’s between two courtyards.

3 The windows are in a drawing published in the January 1938 issue of Architectural Forum magazine. 

1910-1911 exterior photograph on the Hillside Home School campus.

Another find at Hillside

A photograph from 1910-1911 showing three structures on the campus of the Hillside Home School. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hillside building is on the left and behind it, with the hipped gable roof, is the dormitory for the high school boys. The third structure on the far right was known as the Home Cottage and was for the younger boys.

In my last post I wrote about finding something during the Comprehensive Hillside Chronology. Today, I’m posting about another find made during that project.

Although, I credit this find to my research and writing partner on that project, Anne Biebel (principal, Cornerstone Preservation). She made the mental connection; I only agreed after the surrounding evidence became too strong.

What was this find?

That Wright’s Hillside structure was physically attached to another building that he didn’t design. Literally: Wright connected his building to a wooden, 3-story building right behind it.

Whew – I feel better just coming out and saying that.

How this was found out:

Anne and I looked at the Hillside drawings while researching. At that moment, we weren’t looking at drawings of Wright’s Hillside structure done when Wright first built it for his aunts.

No: we were looking at another drawing, dated November 8, 1920. Wright requested it from a draftsman to show the entire Taliesin estate. We were looking at the draftsman’s copy. 1

Wright’s copy of the drawing had changes he made to it over the decades. His version is at the Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library and is reproduced in b&w here. I showed a bit of it a few months ago when talking about reading correspondence about Midway Barn on the Taliesin estate.

The draftsman who drew it:

That was Rudolph Schindler (1887-1953), an Austrian-born American architect who worked under Wright in the United States and Japan from February 1918 to August 1921. 2

Schindler’s version is interesting

His drawing (in his papers at UC-Santa Barbara) seems to show the buildings as they actually existed. This, compared to Wright’s drawings, in which Wright always seemed to add those things at Taliesin that he wanted to exist.

While I won’t show you Schindler’s drawing, I’ll show you the drawing that I made from his. 3

No: this is (more or less) a good drawing, not the mess I drew you when I posted about figuring out that photograph of the Blue room at Taliesin. I tried to trace what Schindler drew.

What you see below is my rendition of the part of Schindler’s drawing that shows the campus for the Hillside Home School:

Keiran Murphy's drawing of the buildings on the old campus of the Hillside Home School in 1920.

The text in Arial font (like “Laundry…”) identifies buildings that Schindler didn’t label.

Below is that part of Schindler’s drawing that made Anne think Wright’s Hillside building was literally attached to something else.

Keiran Murphy's close-up of two buildings on the old Hillside Home School campus in 1920.

Schindler just labelled the “Hillside School Bldg”; I added “Boys Dormitory”. But the thing that intrigued Anne was the gray rectangle attached to the right side of the Boys Dormitory. She identified that as a corridor from Wright’s Hillside School building.

By the way, if you’re curious about the open rectangle between the two parts of Wright’s building: that was Schindler’s way of showing that this was a bridge connecting the Science and Arts room to the rest of the structure.

Anne sat across from me while we looked at the drawing and said with excitement that she thought that the Boys Dormitory was attached to Wright’s “Hillside School Bldg”. I totally pooh-poohed it. Besides, another drawing (an aerial, below, done in 1910 for the “Wasmuth” portfolio) doesn’t show anything around the Hillside structure:

Aerial view drawing, Frank Lloyd Wright's Hillside Home School structure.
From the J. Willard Marriott Digital Library, Rare Books collection,
The University of Utah

Luckily I wasn’t alone on this project, because

Anne was ultimately proven right:

Over the next few weeks, I kept writing and exploring, looking at drawings with a fine-toothed comb (and probably a loupe). But I noticed things this time. Like,

Check out the building section: the building keeps going on the right:

The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York), #0216.010.The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York), drawing #0216.007.

The arrow pointing down on the right-hand side is showing—not the end of the building, but—a hallway coming out of it. The hallway that doesn’t really show up in the floor plans or other drawings.

In fact, this find also explained something about the Hillside drawings: there are none of the north side of the Art and Science rooms (the Roberts Room and Dana Gallery). Those rooms are seen in sections, but no Hillside drawing shows what the outside of the building looked like on the north.

Well, I finally started to believe it. Then, I re-read something and found that this very connection was written about –

In a book by a former Hillside teacher:

Mary Ellen Chase (a writer, and educator) wrote about her life as a student and teacher in A Goodly Fellowship. From 1909-1913, the Hillside Home School was her first teaching job. She wrote,

Older boys of high school age had their own homelike dormitory near by [sic]. In 1903 this was connected with an adequate and beautiful school building of native limestone, designed and erected by Frank Lloyd Wright, the son of Anna Lloyd-Jones and a nephew of [the Aunts] Ellen and Jane.

“The Hillside Home School” chapter in A Goodly Fellowship, by Mary Ellen Chase (The Macmillan Company, New York City, 1939), 98.

Then,

we pulled all of the information together (but no photos yet) to support the theory that the gymnasium was attached to Wright’s Hillside building. And that Wright later completely destroyed this connection by the time he started his Taliesin Fellowship in 1932.

Then, early the next year, the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy put out a “Call for Papers” for its 2010 conference (in September). The conference theme was “Modifying Wright’s Buildings and Their Sites: Additions, Subtractions, Adjacencies”. After consulting with Anne, I submitted a conference proposal to give a presentation on our find (Anne was fine with me giving the presentation).

Later, she and I were asked to turn the presentation into an article for a book. So, we worked on the article, still with no photographic proof that the buildings were connected.

Then, lo and behold,

In February of 2011, an album of photographs of Hillside in 1906 appeared (also mentioned in my last post). One of them showed the Boys dormitory, with the hallway terminating into it.

And, finally,

In March or April, 2011, as Anne and I worked on the article in the book, we went to the Wisconsin Historical Society Archives. We opened a folder of photographs in the John P. Lewis collection and—SCORE!—there was a beautiful photo showing that hallway more clearly. That’s below.

PHotograph of boy in striped, long-sleeved shirt and shorts in summer, with buildings behind him.
Wisconsin Historical Society, Lewis, John P. : Wright collection, 1869-1968.
Image ID: 84042

That boy is standing just west of the Boys Dormitory and Wright’s Hillside building. The Science Room (now the Dana Gallery) is behind him.

BOOYAH!

Originally posted, February 19, 2022.

The photograph at the top of this post was taken by a Hillside Home School student, class of 1911. In 2005, her daughters, Elizabeth Weber and Margaret Deming, came into the Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor Center to take a tour, giving us the chance to scan the photographs that their mother had taken while she was a student. I asked Elizabeth Weber’s permission to publish the photograph (which appears in the book in which Anne and I wrote the article).
See? Another example of “Preservation by Distribution“!


1. Wright scholar, Kathryn Smith, might have alerted the Preservation Crew about Schindler’s drawing, and got us a photograph of it. Why did she let us know this—and also alert us to the Taliesin photographs by Raymond Trowbridge?—Preservation by distribution.

2. Email from Kathryn Smith to me, January 8, 2021. This information came from her book, SCHINDLER HOUSE, Abrams, 2001, p. 11-16.

3. Anne and I looked at Schindler’s drawing, but I don’t know if I can show it, since it’s not been printed anywhere.

Looking south in the Hillside Drafting Studio

Hillside Drafting Studio flooring

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 (now it is 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, which I wrote about.

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 wrote about the book 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!

Exterior of Fellowship dining room, summer.

Old Dining Room

The photograph above shows the dining room areas, first built before 1920, then used by the Wrights and the Taliesin Fellowship. The area dining rooms were on the left, with the kitchen located behind the tower on the right.

I have had the goal of figuring out the history of Frank Lloyd Wright’s home, Taliesin, for awhile. Well, a lot. It’s almost like it’s, I dunno, a career or something.

And, I’ve written about figuring out Taliesin’s history in this blog here, and here, and a few more places.

Regardless, come along with me while I talk about how I figured out something because of photographs and what others wrote.

The old Fellowship dining room at Taliesin is a simple example.

That’s the dining room Wright was exiting in 1925 when he saw that his home was on fire:

… [O]ne evening at twilight as the lightning of an approaching lightning storm was playing and the wind rising I came down from the evening meal in the little detached dining room on the hill-top to the dwelling on the court below to find smoke pouring out of my bedroom. Again—there it was—Fire!

Frank Lloyd Wright, An Autobiography, in Frank Lloyd Wright Collected Writings: 1930-32, volume 2. Edited by Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer, introduction by Kenneth Frampton (1992; Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., New York City, 1992), 294.

Below is a photo from the Wisconsin Historical Society, taken prior to that day:

Taliesin dining area and Hill Tower, summer. 1920-22.
Wisconsin Historical Society. See image online here:
https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Image/IM38788

The door he was coming out of was to the left of the stone pier. You can’t see the door because it’s behind all of that foliage.
https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Image/IM38788

There’s a tree coming out of the roof on the left hand side of the photograph. That tree was there for close to a decade (don’t worry: the tree didn’t stand inside a room).

Continuing on Taliesin’s history

Taliesin’s second fire happens in 1925, then, after ups and downs in his career over the next seven years, Frank Lloyd Wright and his wife, Olgivanna, founded the Taliesin Fellowship in 1932. The apprentices in the Fellowship did a lot of work at Taliesin in the 1930s so they could have places to live and eat.

(I wrote about one of them, Edgar Tafel, and his book, Apprentice to Genius, in this post).

Here are the changes in the dining room in the 1930s:

Eventually, the main Fellowship dining room was at Hillside. But, in those early Fellowship years, while the group still ate at Taliesin, Wright added a chimney with two fireplaces to the existing dining room. Abe Dombar, then a Taliesin Fellowship apprentice (along with his brother Bennie; they both became architects) mentioned this in his “At Taliesin” article on March 23, 1934:

….  Additions were made… and the little dining room soon grew to be the big dining room.  The apprentices that were there helped to make it grow.  The low ceiling of the old dining room now projected out into the new part to form a deck….

And then they built a corner fireplace on the far side by the windows.

At Taliesin: Newspaper Columns by Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Fellowship, 1934-1937. Edited and with commentary by Randolph C. Henning (Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale and Edwardsville, Illinois, 1991), 30.

The chimney mentioned in Dombar’s article is seen in an aerial photograph from the Wisconsin Historical Society, below:

Aerial of Taliesin in summer, 1932-33. Cropped.
Owner: Wisconsin Historical Society. Available at: https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Image/IM38757

The chimney stands on the far left-hand side of the photograph, to the left of the tree.
Wisconsin Historical Society, ID 38757. The image is online here.

Then, in 1936, Wright invited young photographer, Edmund Teske, to live at Taliesin as the Fellowship photographer. Teske’s photos also show the tree.

In 1937, photos were taken for Architectural Forum mag

On preparation for an issue of that magazine devoted to his work, that fall, Wright dispatched young photographers Bill and Ken Hedrich (of the photography firm, Hedrich-Blessing) to photograph Taliesin and his other recent work. This magazine issue was released the next January. Among other things, that issue of Architectural Forum included unique photographs from the Taliesin estate, as well as the Johnson Wax world headquarters, and that little Wright building known as “Fallingwater”.

During his session, Ken Hedrich took a distant photograph of Taliesin, which showed the building without that tree in the roof. I don’t have that one to show, but here‘s a photograph Ken took on a roof looking over a courtyard with the dining room in the background. It ends at the chimney, and has no tree through the roof.

So, I’m figuring this stuff out: “Ok, the chimney’s built, then the tree is eliminated. Got it.”

Around that time, I grabbed another piece of writing. This is the book, Working With Mr. Wright: What It Was Like, by Curtis Besinger. He wrote about his years in the Taliesin Fellowship (1939-43; 1946-55).

Besinger on a change to the dining room in 1939:

He was involved in this during his first fall in the Fellowship:

I was also involved in one other construction project that fall, a remodeling of the Taliesin dining room…,

One morning, having finished his breakfast in the nearby little dining room, Mr. Wright1 came into the Fellowship dining room and announced that he wanted to put a clerestory in the ceiling to let more light as well as the morning sun into the room…. He directed some people to start knocking off the plaster on the ceiling along the east side of the ridge…. He made a rough drawing to indicate how he wanted the clerestory built….

Curtis Besinger. Working with Mr. Wright: What It Was Like (1995; Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, England), 26.

Even though he wrote his memoir years after his time at Taliesin, I trust Besinger’s memory on when this construction took place. That earliest experience at Taliesin makes a strong impression.

Here’s the conclusion to this information:

By looking at things written contemporaneously (as well as in memoirs), and by using definitively dated photographs (the Teske and Hedrich-Blessing photos), I was able to figure out when the chimney was built (1932-33); then when the tree disappeared (1936-37); then when the clerestory was constructed (1939).

In my nonstop refining of the dates of Taliesin’s changes, I looked at all the photocopies, took a pencil, and re-dated them accordingly. Figuring out these photographs has helped me to figure out changes; and on the other hand, figuring out changes has helped me figure out photographs.

First published, August 21, 2021.

The image at the top of this post is published online at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Taliesin_Exterior_21.jpg. The image is licensed under the Creative Commons  Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.


1 While it’s slowly changing, people who knew him and worked with him referred to him as Mr. Wright. I was taught that specifically when I started giving tours. But, as I was completing grad school at that time, I carried the lesson on referring to an artist. First introduce them by their full name and thereafter just use their last names. I tried to call him “Frank Lloyd Wright” otherwise, but I can’t guarantee it.

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.

Photograph of two signs indicating whether Keiran is at her desk, or not

“We like the way you write the history of Taliesin”

My photograph of the two signs that my coworker made for me

Well, yes, of course. But in this case I’m paraphrasing what someone said to me after they’d read my submission for a preservation plan of Wright’s Taliesin structure.

In this post I’m going to look again at some of my writing; in particular, that which analyzes Taliesin.

Why was this said?

They told me this in the fall of 2006 or sometime in 2007. They were employed by the firm Isthmus Architecture and were looking over the “historic chronologies” that I had written of the Taliesin structure. The purpose of the chronologies: determine what the structure looked like in the last years of Frank Lloyd Wright’s life (and at his death). I wrote about this restoration aim back in May of this year.

Knowing Wright’s home (and knowing me) I thought it was better to figure out what the architect had done to the building from c. 1950 to his death (1959). I hoped to clean up some mistakes, misinterpretations, and misrememberings. Maybe.

Did this work?

I think I did a good job. I figured out things that changed a room on the first floor of the structure (this is known as the “Blue Room”), and I assisted in determining what the underside of a terrace looked like, despite what a former Wright apprentice remembered. The terrace underside is seen in a photograph taken in 1955 by Maynard Parker, below:

Photograph of Taliesin taken by Maynard Parker. Courtesy of The Huntington Library, San Marino, California.

We were talking about this while standing under the Loggia Terrace. The area is under the section with all of the French doors. It was believed (because we were told) that the soffit hadn’t been plastered in Wright’s lifetime. This 1955 photograph has the plastered soffit (the light area under that horizontal line). You can get to a larger version of the image by clicking the photo above.

Good thing I was standing there when someone said, “Wright never had an underside to the terrace.” I probably felt feverish, but still attempted a voice that sounded reasonable when I said, “Uh—yes he did.” Then probably explained one or two photographs that showed the soffit and promised to get them for those who were looking.

At those times—when I can quickly answer the question of “did he have this at Taliesin?”—I felt like a magician pulling things out of a hat.

Anyways…

So, I want to get back to what they said about my writing. I know these things about the building’s history in part because I began writing detailed analytical chronologies of the Taliesin structure in 2004. At first these just covered its residential wing (the part of the building where he lived and that burned in the two fires). And I wrote these chronologies about his drafting studio and attached offices.

How much did I write about?

While just a percentage of the building, Wright’s residential wing totals (let me check) 34 rooms (a room can include the kitchen, but also hallways and vestibules). I also wrote on the rooms in the “Studio/Office” wing (including the first floor of this area). This has 11 rooms.

After I completed that research, my boss gave me the go-ahead to continue on the rest of the building. So, that meant studying five more sections (“areas”) of the building, and 69 more rooms (again, a “room” — something that’s numbered — might be a closet or hallway). Sounds daunting, but I didn’t start out that way. And I grouped things together. Because, really, no one went down to every closet every 5 years taking photographs and measurements. Sometimes, they never touched them.

For example, the whole floor under where the Wrights lived: that was all one document. However, Taliesin’s Living Room and Wright’s Bedroom also received individual documents.

Still: I wrote a lot.

This led to my co-worker (the woman I mentioned last week) making me a little sign that I could put on my desk (an image of the sign, with its two sides, is the photo at the top of this page). It identifies me as “Detective Keiran”. The sign is triangular and I could rotate it to say when “Detective Keiran” was “In” or “Out”. Very sweet.

But back to the chronologies.

I wanted to ensure that anyone could pick up a “doc” (the history of the room or section, sometimes more than one room) and understand any room at Wright’s Wisconsin home now, or 50 years from now. Regardless of whether or not any of us are still around. In addition, I imagined state senators visiting and reading, or maybe people doing preliminary research for that far away “Loving Frank” movie (btw last I heard, it’s not in production).

How I tried to do this:

Each “doc” has an intro and a drawing on what’s being talked about. I could take these analyses, then rearrange them and put them back together if someone wanted detailed information on, say, all of Taliesin’s bathrooms.

The whole building has 18 bathrooms.

But we don’t have a lot of information on them. Wright didn’t keep detailed drawings of them. People didn’t take photos of them, or in them. What can I say? It was a different time.

The person who commented on my writing had read these documents which got deeper and deeper into Taliesin history. And all of them include self-referential writing with, usually, the caution not to trust Wright’s drawings or take any conclusion as absolute fact. Those suggestions were usually in my footnotes. Of which there are dozens. Naturally.

Here are some of them:

It is unknown at this time how accurate these floor plans were, a common problem when approaching Taliesin. An effort has been made to differentiate built from unbuilt elements.

And the same thing, in other words:

An analysis through a combination of floor plans and photographs must be undertaken to understand what existed in the history of the building. An attempt will be made to differentiate that which Wright planned, versus that which was built, both of these conditions usually existing simultaneously on the drawings, especially those of Taliesin I (1911-14) and II (1914-25).

And the first footnote copied in all the docs:

The person who has done the most work on this document is… Keiran Murphy…. All of the conclusions are her conclusions, unless otherwise noted. Phrases or words in brackets or bold are conclusions or statements that highlight the nature of the document as a preliminary draft, and are the conclusions or questions of Keiran Murphy.

These things that I wrote try so hard to underplay everything: “Keiran Murphy, and only Keiran, was the researcher. She researched mightily. She tried really hard to be correct. Unless she was wrong. But the conclusions, correct or otherwise, are hers. She owns them very much, and still might be very very wrong.”

Originally published on July 23, 2021.

Exterior photograph looking south at Taliesin's Garden Court with Curtis Besinger working on stone

In Return for the Use of the Tractor

Photograph taken in 1943. From Taliesin’s Breezeway looking (plan) south at Wright’s apprentice, Curtis Besinger. He’s in Taliesin’s Garden Court, sorting through flagstones that would later be put on the ground in the courtyard.

In my goal of researching Taliesin’s history, I examined Wright’s correspondence looking for anything that might give information about changes Wright made to the building. This research uncovered something about materials at Taliesin, and that is below.

Wright didn’t write out most changes he wanted at Taliesin:

If Wright built Taliesin for a client, he would have written things in detail. But he didn’t, since this was his own home. So, despite the fact that Wright lived at Taliesin for almost 48 years, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of correspondence between Wright and construction personnel, or between him and those in his office where he told them what he wanted done. I couldn’t even find things for when he was out of the country.

In contrast, when he was at Taliesin, things weren’t written down because he was there to give directions.

Some of what I did to figure things out:

Once I realized I couldn’t get information that way, I started poking around in any other direction I could. I read letters between Wright and visitors, workers, apprentices… basically, anyone I could think of who worked for Wright, or visited him at his home. Newspaper and magazine articles are good, and photographs are great, too.

For anything written, I hoped someone would mention something in a letter, like when they came this or that was being constructed or expanded. Ideally this would include a detailed description of everything in the room, along with measurements, please.

My find:

Through this method, I discovered a piece of correspondence written in April 1942, from Herbert Fritz, Jr. to Frank Lloyd Wright.

“Herb” Fritz (whose father was a former draftsman for Wright1) was born in 1915, became Wright’s apprentice for 3 years (1938-41), followed by a purchase of land near Wright’s home. Fritz became an architect and practiced almost until he died in 1998.2

Herb wrote to Wright several months after he bought that land (which he later named “Hilltop”). He was designing his home there, and the land had stone that he could work, but he needed to be able to move it.

So, Fritz offered a trade:

“In return for the use of the tractor,” Fritz wrote, “I would like to give you a cord or two of rock for each hour”3 that he needed the vehicle.

I was totally jazzed. First, this was exactly what I was hoping for. Secondly, this answered a question I’d had about Taliesin for years. I had noticed, in archival photographs, stonework changing at Taliesin in the early 1940s. So much work, that when I noticed a change I could almost count on it having occurred some time during World War II.

But I’d never come across anything that explained it.

Herb’s letter arrived when Wright was out of town, so there’s no written reply. But there must have been a verbal agreement between the two men. Nothing else explains that amount of stone and when all those changes were made.

Fritz offered a “cord”; that’s a lot

In volume, that is. It’s: 4 ft x 4 ft x 8 ft; or 128 cubic feet / 3.62 cubic meters (here’s a link showing a cord).

I don’t know exactly how much stone Wright acquired through this, but it must have been quite a bit. The photograph at the top of this page shows an apprentice while making a change: Wright added a level of stone in the Garden Court on top of the existing one.

The apprentice in the photograph above, Curtis Besinger, also wrote about changes in 1943 at Taliesin that were done in stone. He related these in his book, Working With Mr. Wright: What It Was Like.

And in 1945, photographer Ezra Stoller took photographs at Taliesin for a Fortune magazine article on the two Taliesins that came out the next year. The easiest way for me to figure out changes is by using dated photographs. One of those photographs Stoller took is below from a book I own4:

Exterior photograph looking northeast at Taliesin. Taken by Ezra Stoller
Photograph in the book, Masters of Modern Architecture, by John Peter (Bonanza Books, New York, 1958), 47.

The photograph shows one of the changes at Wright’s drafting studio. The south wall of the studio is to the right of the bell. It has the vertical, glass, doors. Wright had his apprentices build a new stone patio in front of those glass doors.

Why Fritz agreed to this:

While this find totally excited me, I couldn’t figure out why Fritz did it. He had to have known that Wright would take full advantage of such an offer in exchange for the use of Taliesin’s farming tractor. So, since I was at Taliesin West after this find, I asked “Bruce” Brooks Pfeiffer for ideas about it.

Bruce, former Wright apprentice who was born in 1930, noted that the request made sense because of World War II. The United States’ entry into the war began a period of gasoline and rubber rationing. Yet, because Wright’s tractor was a farm vehicle, it wouldn’t have been subject to it.

This stone from Fritz helped Wright transform Taliesin from a year-round Wisconsin residence into a home occupied mostly during the state’s warmer months. This way, Taliesin could fully convert into his summer home, while Taliesin West in Arizona could truly become his winter home (I wrote about this before, in “Did Wright Ever Live in Wisconsin in the Winter?”).

Originally published June 13, 2021.
The photograph at the top of the page was taken by Priscilla or David Henken and was published in Taliesin Diary: A Year with Frank Lloyd Wright, by Priscilla Henken (W.W. Norton & Company, New York City, London, 2012), 170.


1 Herb’s father was Herb Fritz, Sr., a draftsman and one of the two survivors of the 1914 fire/murders at Taliesin.

2 He shows up a few times in the Meryle Secrest biography on Frank Lloyd Wright. In fact, he described how he saw Wright in dreams sometimes, and it’s with his memory that Secrest ended the biography.

3 April 1942 Herbert Fritz letter to Frank Lloyd Wright. The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York), Microfiche ID #F055C01.

4 Masters of Modern Architecture, by John Peter (Bonanza Books, New York, 1958), 47.

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.

Dam, waterfall, and hydro-house at Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin

My Dam History

In early fall 2019, the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation began work on Taliesin’s dam on Wright’s estate in Wisconsin. Hopefully, they’ll finish the work in 2022. Then, the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation will again fill Taliesin’s pond. Once that happens, visitors will see the waterfall running on the north side of the stream.

Those working in preservation for the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation did a segment on the work in a Facebook feed in August 2020 that’s pretty cool. It included an explanation of what they were doing and why.

This recent work made me think about the historic photographs of the waterfall (like the one above) and my study of them, so that’s what my post is about today. My study of the dam led into how I approached the study of Taliesin’s history overall.

My start in the dam history

I first came across a lot of photographs (or photocopies) of the dam and waterfall that winter I worked in the Preservation Office. My work was mostly arranging photos into binders so people could find them later.

I wrote about arranging those photographs associated with Taliesin a couple of blog posts ago. Those photos included 33 of the dam/waterfall. As those features weren’t near the building at all, I worked to figure out when the photos were taken. Sometimes the photos would be postcards that had been sent, so I could get a “taken by” date on them. Other than that a lot of times I figured out things at Taliesin by a game of “spot the difference” (like those cartoons you used to see in the newspaper on Sundays).

Since I only found four photographs with dates attached to them, I figured out their dates by looking at things around them. I looked closely at the stone, the heights of trees, and the thickness of tree branches. When I finished (and so I could keep the memory of what I learned) I wrote these things down into a short document. I named it: “Preliminary research into the construction history of the Lower Dam on the Taliesin Estate”.

Or, as I called it, “My Dam History” (usually said loudly to anyone who would listen). What I put below is based on the things I learned then, and what I found out in the years since.

Wright on his dam:

Wright began construction on his home in April or May 1911 and began building the dam by the end of that year or the beginning of the next. He wrote that, aside from creating the pond,

[T]he stream… had a great dam. A thick stone wall thrown across it, to make a pond at the very foot of the hill, and raise the water in the valley to within sight from Taliesin. The water below the falls thus made, was sent, by hydraulic ram,1 up to a big stone reservoir built into the higher hill, just behind and above the hilltop garden. . . .

Frank Lloyd Wright. An Autobiography (Longmans, Green and Company, London, New York, Toronto, 1932), 173.

So, because of the hydraulic ram, Taliesin had running water.

It’s also the reason why Taliesin probably didn’t have outhouses. I wrote about that in a post in August, 2021.

Early Dam photos:

A photo of the dam in its initial construction is below:

Taliesin photograph by Taylor Woolley.
© 2011 Utah State History. All Rights Reserved.

Wright’s draftsman, Taylor Woolley, took the photo in the winter of 1911-12. It shows Taliesin at the top photograph and at least one wall built for the dam/pond at the bottom. You can see photographs of the early completed waterfall if you look at the book, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin: Illustrated by Vintage Postcards, by Randolph C. Henning.

A Hydro-house Constructed for Electricity

Close to 15 years after Wright first started Taliesin, he decided to take advantage of the waterfall’s power. So, he designed and built a hydro-electric generator at the dam. This was finished in early 1926.2

The hydro-house is in the photo at the top of the page

It’s the little structure to the right of the falls in that photograph. The hydro-house was similar to Taliesin: it had the same materials and angle on the roof, and the same color plaster on the parapet like what you found on the stucco walls at the house. People made postcards showing it, which is how I got the image above. A former co-worker gave it to me after finding it in a box of postcards while he and his wife were at a county fair.

But the stucco wall that you see wasn’t at the falls for very long. Water from the falls probably sprayed the stucco wall constantly. However, the hydro-house machinery was safer under under the roof. So the generator ran more-or-less successfully for about 20 years before Wright had it taken out.

Bad photocopies made for interesting lessons:

Oh, and I forgot this: for the most part, I was looking at 3rd, 4th, 7th generation photocopies. So I had to figure out images from what were basically blotchy dots.

To give you a sense of what I was seeing, I took the scan of that dam photo above and messed with it. I changed contrast and kept making copies of it. That’s what I below. Actually the image here looks better than what I remember seeing (eventually, I got better versions of most of the images).

But, the initial poor quality of the images made me really work on my analytical side. And it taught me to stop and start looking very closely at things. It’s think:  was that one stone a little bit different than one seen in another photo? Did it look like it had a few chunks taken out of it compared to what I saw before? Is there a new stone to the left of those three stones there? Is there less plaster on the wall?

Another thing about this work (looking at stone and the size of tree branches to figure out which photograph was taken earlier or later) was trying to block out preconceived notions on what I might expect to see in an image.

The end of my work days:

I might spend the afternoon looking at three photographs, going from one to the other with a loupe (a magnifier). The office used to be a horse stable at Taliesin, and had the sound of Taliesin’s waterfall as my backdrop.

It’s helpful especially with Wright’s home, because Wright often had things drawn there that never existed; or would change things while the features were being built. Like that hydro-house: it looks really cool in that photograph but as I wrote above, the waterlogged plaster was probably coming off it within a week. Trying to clear my brain when I looked at spaces hopefully stopped me from wasting time on some theory.

In addition, the end of this process meant that at times when people (tour guides, visitors to Taliesin, architects, other Frankophiles) asked something about a room, I could walk them through it at different times (because I’d spent hours walking through the spaces in my head). I found myself on at least one occasion saying, “It doesn’t look like that now, but it used to.”

And most of these people have never been there when I answered “what did you do at work today?” with, “I looked at some stone. And figured stuff out.”

Links below:

Here are hyperlinks at the Wisconsin Historical Society of photographs showing Taliesin’s waterfall with the hydro-house, after the removal of the parapet:

https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Image/IM25845

https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Image/IM60721

https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Image/IM25573

First published February 24, 2021

I own the postcard seen at the top of this post. I don’t know who the photographer was. They probably took the photo in 1926 or 1927.


Notes:

1 A hydraulic ram is one of the many things I’ve learned about while working at Taliesin. If you’ve ever been near a hydraulic ram you hear a constant clicking sound as the water is forced up vertically. I think about that when people talk about the sounds of Taliesin. It gets pretty darned quiet at night in the country so the hydraulic ram would have a sound, I imagine, close to the sound of the ticking of a distant clock.

2 Architectural historian Kathryn Smith wrote an article with former Wright apprentice Don Kalec on photographs taken of Taliesin, apparently by Clarence Fuermann, on three occasions. One of these is a photograph showing the hydro-house. It was published in the Journal of the Organic Architecture + Design Archives and includes over 50 archival photos.

Chicago History Museum, ICHi-89163, Raymond W. Trowbridge, photographer

About a Wall at Taliesin That No Longer Exists

I wrote this to myself over a decade ago.

When I was asking questions about the history of Taliesin (as I often do). But, to start off: this post is about the photo at the top of this page.

I’ve been trying to figure out the history of a wall between two rooms in Wright’s living quarters at Taliesin. These rooms, known as the Loggia and the Loggia fireplace, were, in 1911, a guest bedroom and a sitting room (which had a fireplace then, too). Taliesin’s living quarters were destroyed by fire down to the foundations and chimneys in 1914.

Wright rebuilt the living quarters in 1914-15 and renamed them Taliesin II. In the rebuilding, he took the guest bedroom and redesigned it into a room he called the Loggia (then added a guest bedroom to the south of the sitting room). He picked “Loggia” as the name for the room because there were stone piers on one side of the room (and it had a stone floor).

What is a “Loggia”?

Wikipedia has a nice definition of loggia.

Wright noted that the Loggia “looked up the Valley to the Lloyd-Jones Chapel.” [this quote is in his autobiography, published in Frank Lloyd Wright: Collected Writings, v. 2, 241.] The ‘Valley’ is the Wisconsin valley settled by his Lloyd Jones family.

The east side of the Loggia looked toward the family Valley; its west side opened to the Loggia fireplace, and you can see it in a Taliesin II floor plan that’s online here. The room is labelled “sitting room” because it worked with the bedroom to its right.

The living quarters were again consumed by fire in 1925. Reconstruction occurred on the building throughout that year, giving us (as he later named it) Taliesin III. This version of the living quarters is what still exists. Although it looked lot different in 1959 than when he rebuilt in 1925.

I mean, it’s still rectangular and constructed of stone, plaster and wood, with cedar shingles on the roof and plate glass in the windows, but…. The man made changes in almost every part of the building so understanding old photographs takes a little bit of reconfiguring in your brain.

There aren’t many photos for either of these spaces (today’s Loggia and loggia fireplace) before 1950. That’s why, when I first saw the photo at the top of this page, I didn’t know what room I was looking at.

The photo is in the public domain, which is why I feel fine showing it.

You are seeing the interior of Taliesin, though. This is looking northeast from the Loggia fireplace area (the fireplace is behind the photographer). The stone wall you see on the right stood between the Loggia fireplace and the Loggia. It was probably a foot wide, close to 5 feet tall, and about 10 feet long. No other photograph shows it, and Wright removed it some time in the 1930s.

When was the photo taken? Evidence suggests the photograph took it in the summer of 1930. I’ll explain how I know that in the next blog post.

What are you seeing in this photograph?

The photo is cool if you don’t know Taliesin, but it’s probably pretty confusing if you do. If you stood at this same spot at Taliesin today, only two things are the same: the radiator cover to the left of the chair on the left is the same (the radiator cover is what looks like a wooden table with spindles). And the passageway behind the chair, through the wooden door, is still there,

Only the door itself isn’t. That’s because Wright no longer needed it.

When this photo was taken, you would have gone through the door, take a left, then through another door. Then you’d be outside. In the 1940s, Wright changed that entryway. Because of that, he removed the wooden door since he no longer needed it.

What the photograph shows that is now different:

Now that I’ve covered what’s the same, there’s what’s different. Or some of it, anyway.

What’s most noticeably different to anyone at Taliesin today is the stone wall (with wood above it) on the right. The wall had a glass door framed in wood and that doesn’t exist anymore. And, at the top of the photo, there’s the parapet (the stucco wall) with vertical wooden piers.

What you would see today:

If you were at Taliesin today you would not see the stone wall or the parapet. That’s different because of the other major change: the ceiling is much lower. In 1933-34 he lowered ceiling to build rooms above for his daughter, Iovanna (1925-2015).

And of course when I write that Wright “built” anything: the people who did this were either workers or architectural apprentices. And, after 1932, most of the work was by his apprentices in the Taliesin Fellowship.

One of them, Abe Dombar, wrote about the changed that lowerd the ceiling in “At Taliesin”. This was the regular newspaper features. This one was published February 9, 1934:

          Two new rooms added to the pageant of Taliesin’s 40 rooms merely by lowering the ceiling of the loggia and raising the roof above it to get the most playful room in the house.  The boys call it a “scherzo.”  This is little eight year old Iovanna’s room.  Until now she was the only apprentice who didn’t have his or her own room.”

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), 20-21.

That change made everything you see in the upper half of the photograph different. And everything you see in the lower part of the photo is different because of the removed wall and door.

The stone wall that no longer exists:

That wall, though. I’ve spent a lot of energy on trying to figure out when, exactly, he had it removed. And I’ve tried to figure out what was going on underneath it, allowing it to stand without damaging the floor. Because looking at its possible dimensions (I think it was about 1’x5’x10’—30cm x 1.5m x 3m, or so), the wall (built in limestone) probably weighed around a ton (just over 900 kg).  

But I’ve checked, and there’s no wall below taking the weight. You’d think that he would have done something to the floor below to hold something that heavy, but no.  

And, while I often say “Taliesin keeps its history within its walls”,

There’s nothing around this area that tells you a wall was there. I’ve walked along the floor (probably even gotten on my hands and knees and crawled along it). There’s nothing there that lets you know that a substantial wall, about a foot wide, once stood on it. While normally at Taliesin, you can’t just hack a stone wall down and not leave a footprint. But, that’s not what’s going on here.

I think what might have happened is that Wright rebuilt the living quarters in 1925, and after it was done, decided to add the stone wall on top of the preexisting stone floor. Then he later decided to get rid of it.

But there’s no record of anyone taking it down. His apprentices in the Taliesin Fellowship were doing so much that they didn’t have time to note things or take photos of their work.

And studying the building usually doesn’t result in tracking down every change (even if you knew it happened). Or, frequently, figure out how to ask who did what/where/when.

I think the Administrator of Historic Studies at the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, Indira Berndtson, has done the best job tracking things down in part because she has lived at Taliesin (and Taliesin West), and has known people in Wright’s life so well. Starting in the mid-late 1980s, she began doing interviews with former apprentices, clients, and friends of Wright’s. Because she knew (and knows) so many of these people, she might be speaking to them, and be reminded of something someone else said. Then she could add, “So-and-so said they remembered you all doing this,” and that would push someone’s memory to add to the story.

Information at changes to Taliesin:

The only time you get actual, on-the-spot information is when Taliesin Fellowship apprentices wrote letters to family, wrote the weekly “At Taliesin” newspaper articles (1934-37) or, in the case of one, kept a daily diary (this was Priscilla Henken who was in the Taliesin Fellowship with her husband in 1942-43). There are books and articles that people wrote about their time in the Fellowship, but other than those things, there’s no consistent way of getting information on changes at Taliesin as they were happening.

Sketches of the wall exist, but nothing definitive. There’s one drawing which appears to match reality, but it doesn’t show the wall. I’ve dated that drawing to  1936-37 based on architectural details and you can get to it through this link.

If you look at the drawing, the Loggia fireplace is the fireplace that’s at the lower right, backed up against a rectangular roof.

Back to the wonderful photograph above:

Ken Hedrich took the next, dated, photograph of the space in 1937. That doesn’t show the wall.

btw: he took this photograph (linked through here) for the January 1938 issue of Architectural Forum magazine, which focused on Wright.

In the end, at this moment,1 I have the curiosity that there was a wall at Taliesin that was later removed, for which there really isn’t any evidence and I can’t quite figure out why the wall didn’t mess up the floor (making the stone floor, or the ceiling below, crack with the weight).

Although I always hope that I’ll come across a diary entry where someone wrote, “we were asked to take down a stone wall. I had stone grit in my food for 3 days afterwards.”

First published 1/21/2021

The photograph at the top of this post was by Raymond Trowbridge and is at the Chicago History Museum, ICHi-89166. It is in the public domain. This is a larger version on the keiranmurphy.com website.


1 Although I wrote this originally over a decade ago, I still don’t know how the wall was standing without causing an effect on the floor, I still haven’t come across many photographs of it, and I haven’t come across anyone writing about taking it down.