Looking west in the Taliesin Drafting Studio toward Wright's vault, with his desk at the lower right.

DON’T TOUCH THAT STONE

Looking west in the Drafting Studio that Wright used at Taliesin until World War II (after that he used it as an office). His desk is on the right-hand side. If you look at the ascending stairs, you see two lines: one that is horizontal, and another that’s vertical. These are remnants from a change that occurred at the stone.

As I wrote in “I looked at stone“, the masonry used in Taliesin’s piers, walls, and floors often holds evidence of the building changes. So this post is going to be about two changes at Taliesin that are also visible in its stone. In this case, both of these can be seen in Taliesin’s Drafting Studio.

So, what are these changes?

Evidence of one change is on the west side of the room, and evidence of one is by the room’s doorway. I’ll write about the evidence seen in the stone because I hope they will stay there.1 Particularly because one of the changes is the only sign that something was there when Wright was alive. So I really hope no one touches it. That change is by the door on the east wall of the Drafting Studio.

First, though

There’s a sign of a change that stands on the outside of Taliesin’s vault that I want to talk about. That change can be seen in the photo at the top of this post, which shows the vault on the room’s west side. It’s by the steps that go up to the top of the vault.

Vault? wth are you talking about: I don’t see a metal door on this “vault” you’re talking about. You’re hallucinating.

Oh, sorry [she says to her cranky-alter-ego]: the stone you see is around a bank vault that is on the edge of the room. In Taliesin’s studio you’re looking at the back of the vault. You get into the vault through a bank door on the other side. btw: The steps don’t bring you into the vault.

Wright didn’t plan on using the top of the vault, because most of the vault was originally outside.

Ok, I’m getting ahead of myself

Let’s go back to the lines on the stone.

The change on the stone is the two lines to the right of the steps: a horizontal line and a vertical line. There aren’t any known photos or drawings that show the room’s configuration in the area to show exactly what wall caused those lines. But the lines would have been created in the ‘teens to the early ’20s. Looking at the lines though, I think they were made because a plaster wall/walls terminated at that spot on the vault.

Hold on – I’ll take you back in Taliesin’s history:

Here’s a photo when Wright first built the studio in 1911. So the vault wasn’t there. But you get a sense of how the west side of the room ended and that might help to visualize what terminated in the vault that was added later.

At the time the photo was taken, the studio was a rectangular room with a gable roof. The side of the room where the vault will eventually show up is on the right hand side in this one photo from the Taliesin I era. That photo was taken by Wright’s draftsman, Taylor Woolley:

Taken by Taylor Woolley in Wright's Taliesin drafting studio, 1911. Looking west.

Woolley took this 1911 photo looking west in the Taliesin drafting studio. When the room was finished, Wright put the drafting tables to Wooley’s left, as well as where he was standing, and behind him (you can see the other view of the studio in this photo). The two men in the background of this photo are unidentified.

Can you tell us what we’re seeing?

From what I can figure, Taylor Woolley was standing about where the lamp is in the photograph at the top of this post. You can see the building is close to being finished, because of the trim on the ceiling, but there’s still more that’s laid on the table in the foreground.

Wright scholar, Sidney Robinson, pointed out that the vault was probably built by 1913.2 That’s because there’s a drawing that was published that year that shows it. It’s drawing number 1403.011. If you click the link go to see the drawing online, they tell you it’s a 1914 drawing. But they’re wrong. The drawing was published in Western Architect 1913.2

And, oh sh*t – that means I’ve got to use a fricking drawing to try to prove something, and I’m always like, “don’t trust the drawings“…. OK: Let’s say we CAN’T prove that the damned vault was there in 1913, but it showed up in a PHOTO at least.

Black and white photograph looking (plan) west at roofs at Taliesin.

Standing on the top of Taliesin’s Living Room roof by its chimney, looking west. Taliesin’s Drafting Studio is to the left of the arrow, the vault under the arrow, and Wright’s private office to the right of the arrow. I know this was published in Frank Lloyd Wright: Man In Possession of His Earth, which was put out by the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation in 1962, so that’s who I think owns the photo, but I’m not sure.

Based on details, this photo was taken between 1918-1921. Wright expanded the studio before Taliesin’s second fire, and so the vault was then inside.

ANYHOW,

The marks on the stone outside of the Vault come from its changes. Luckily the marks have stayed there, unmolested.

Additionally,

on the opposite side of this room, there’s another mark on the stone. This is on the stone column you walk by when you enter the studio. Here’s the room today. I put an arrow pointing at the column:

Photograph by Stilfehler and published under the Creative Commons License: Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International. Looking northeast in the Taliesin drafting studio.

Looking east in Taliesin’s Drafting Studio. The column is where the Preservation Crew found a window during Taliesin’s Save America’s Treasures project in 2003-04.
Photograph by “Stilfehler”, on Wikimedia.org.

That column has a red and white vertical line you can see. It shows up in the photo I took below:

Photograph in Wright's studio looking at east wall, with a double door, a stone pier, and the red plaster wall.

Looking east in the Taliesin Drafting Studio.

That red and white line is there because there a built-in radiator cover terminated at the column for decades. You can see that radiator in the studio back in to the Taliesin II era. Here’s a photo from 1917-18 that shows it:

Photograph ahosing Taliesin drafting studio with drafting tables, Asian art, and models. An arrow points at a radiator cover in the studio.

This photograph is a postcard that Wright’s sister Maginel gave to Edgar Tafel. The photo is published in the book, About Wright: An Album of Recollections by Those Who Knew Frank Lloyd Wright, ed. Edgar Tafel. Looking east in the Taliesin Drafting Studio. The black arrow is pointing at the radiator cover.

The radiator cover shows up in photographs throughout Wright’s life.

Yet

the photos also show he changed it. Originally, the radiator was perpendicular to the stone column. Then he moved the radiator from perpendicular to, to parallel to, the east wall.

But he kept what looks like the first cover. Maybe he made it into a little cabinet. Because a little door, with a handle, appears on the old radiator cover in several photos from the mid-1950s. These are at the Wisconsin Historical Society, like this one below:

Photograph looking (plan) southeast at the Monona Terrace model. Taken in 1955.
Photograph by George H. Stein (1913-2004). At the Wisconsin Historical Society, Image ID #29226.

Photograph by George Stein. Stein took the photo in December 1955. Looking southeast in Taliesin’s Drafting Studio.

You can see the part of the old cover with the door and door handle next to the Monona Terrace model. And to the right of the cover, you see the top of the radiator, against the east wall. The photo taken in the ’50s. So, maybe the radiator cover that’s in the 1917-18 photo from Tafel’s book has been turned into a cabinet, maybe? As near as I can figure out, the former radiator cover (that became a cabinet?) was there when Wright died.

Or I think it was there.

That’s because I came across a photo of it years ago that showed the radiator cover, and the cabinet. The Chicago Tribune published that photo in 1962 [that’s (W)right, after his death], I bought it on Ebay3 and it’s below:

Photograph from the Chicago Tribune of the Taliesin drafting studio. A cello, harpsichord and world globe on the right.

Looking east in the Taliesin Drafting Studio in 1962. The photo shows the radiator and Wright’s Asian art works.

There’s a note on the back of the photo saying “September 20, 1962”.

At some point that entire built-in was removed, along with that radiator. And the floor in this area, where the radiator had been, must have been removed/replaced, so you can’t see a sign that the piping was there. So the physical evidence on the floor is gone. And the only thing that remains (as far as I know and can remember from my time at Taliesin) is what’s on the stone column.

So, before I end this post, I’ll put in this request to those who might work on or restore the Taliesin Drafting Studio: don’t touch that stone!

First published, September 25, 2022.
I took the photograph at the top of this post in 2005…. And, despite what some might think, YES, he used that lamp on the desk!

 


Notes:

1 Not that I think people will chuck things out at Taliesin willy nilly, but sometimes stuff happens.

2 I don’t know where Wright got the vault itself. It’s fireproofed and must be heavy, but I never got the chance to do the research on where Wright acquired it.

3 Although I should say that Bruce Pfeiffer was wrong, since he’s the one who dated the drawings. Anyway, the drawing appears in the article was “Taliesin, the home of Frank Lloyd Wright, and a study of the owner,” by Charles Robert Ashbee, Western Architect, 19 (February 1913), 16-19.

4 There’s got to be some joke about historians prowling Ebay for things related to their obsessions.

Looking (plan) northeast at the Entry Foyer at Taliesin.

Found Floor

I took this photo looking (plan) northeast towards Taliesin Entry Foyer after we found a floor during a project. Read about it below.

I have written that I need to be careful about what I think happened at Taliesin, because I’ve been wrong on things.

This post shows an example of something I got wrong.

It’s related to a floor. It’s the floor at the top of this post, but not one you usually see.

To start with, in 2003, right after I became the Taliesin historian, I was asked to write a history of all of the rooms in the living quarters of Taliesin. It was during the drainage project at Taliesin in 2003-04 funded in part by Save America’s Treasures.1

I wrote here before about how we found a window at Taliesin during that project.

Specifically, I had to start with one room that was going to be impacted by Save America’s Treasures work.

That room is Taliesin’s Entry Foyer

It, or its area, has existed in Taliesin’s floor plan since Wright started Taliesin in 1911 and the “SAT”s project was going to be putting drainage in, or just outside of, that room.

So, yeah: might as well figure out the history of the space.

Just to be clear: it’s not that Wright didn’t draw anything for Taliesin. He just didn’t always follow his own drawings.

Anyway, studying this room had its own issues. In part because there aren’t a lot of photographs inside the space. In part, also, because for years there was a low stucco wall hiding the outside of the room.

You can see the wall in my post “When did Taliesin get it front door?

Regardless, to figure the room’s history in the summer of 2003, I looked at Taliesin drawings that I could more-or-less trust.

One of them,

is a Taliesin II drawing (Taliesin II is c. 1914-1925). It shows the Entry Foyer with a stone floor. I put a cropped version of it below with the Entry Foyer outlined in red:

Taliesin's Entry Foyer seen in drawing #1403.015
The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York).

The drawing shows the room with the stucco wall outside. I think he put the wall there to help keep the gravel dust from the drive getting into the house.

If you walked behind the stucco wall to the door into Taliesin, you walked down two steps, walk a few steps north (toward the kitchen), then took a right and walked up two steps to get into that door inside.

Then in 1925, Taliesin’s second fire happens. That fire (like the fire of 1914) destroyed Taliesin’s living quarters down to the stone.

So, Wright built again.

And because he made this into a private courtyard, he took the stucco wall away.

(I wrote about this in my post, “Wall at Taliesin’s Garden Court”)

After that, you came from the Garden Court, right up to the main level of the Living Quarters. There aren’t a lot of photos around from this time. But looking at what I could find, and whatever drawings there were, I figured that those stone steps in the Taliesin II drawing (if they’d ever existed), were destroyed by Wright when he was rebuilding.

So, I dutifully wrote my conclusion in my history on the Entry Foyer.

Be Careful What You Write

So, it’s September of 2003, and Taliesin’s Save America’s Treasures project is going on. Its plans called for taking out half the stone floor out in the Entry Foyer.

The plan was: put concrete footings under where that floor goes, and insert drainage to get the water down the hill.

They took out the stone floor, and removed the bedding sand under it. That day, the Taliesin Estate manager came in around noon and said to me,

“Um, Keiran… they found something”

“What – they found a bike?”

There was a rumor we might find a bicycle (or car) that had been thrown down the hill.2

“No…” and he started telling me it was something big.

I hopped in my car, went over to Taliesin and saw what they found:

a flagstone floor.

The floor that appears in the photograph at the top of this page.

I remember walking around on it and at one point jumping up and down. The floor that I had only ever seen in a drawing, which I didn’t think existed anymore, was right under my feet!

I probably also thought, “never – NEVER – say ANYTHING at Taliesin existed, or not, before you have absolute proof!”

Here’s a photo from that time, looking north on the floor:

Photograph looking north in Taliesin's Entry Foyer with the newly found floor.

The photo above is looking north in the space. The wall in the background is the same wall that’s in my post, “I Looked at Stone“.

The newly found floor in the photograph above is dark gray. The newly found floor is dark gray because the stone was wet.

I did say this Save America’s Treasures project at Taliesin was a drainage project, right?

Evidently, the stone was wet because water was coming from Taliesin’s Hill Crown. Made me surprised that the floor didn’t suffer more from frost heaving in Wisconsin winters.

Another photo I took at that time is below. It shows some of the Taliesin II stone steps:

Looking (plan) north at the steps and found floor at Taliesin's Entry Foyer

I probably crawled all over the floor looking for red stones—those are stones affected by fire, like I wrote in “I Looked at Stone”. Here’s another closeup showing the stones. You can see pink/red and what looks like soot:

Looking (plan) east at the newly found floor in the Entry Foyer of Taliesin.

Looking (plan) east. My handheld camera bag gives a sense of scale.

I talked to the stonemason from the project’s contractor about the floor. He said the mortar between the flagstones was concrete. He thought that if the original mortar had been lime, it would have been burned off. Then Wright’s would have replaced it with the concrete. I guess he was right because Wright covered this floor soon afterward during Taliesin’s reconstruction.

Two months after the floor,

we found the window just outside of Wright’s drafting studio. There’s more, but for the rest of that year into the next spring, the Preservation Crew and the contractor slowly rebuilt things, put in new stone and put back the gardens.3 A Preservation Crew member had taken out the doors from the Entry Foyer, completely restored them, and put them back, too. A ribbon cutting marking the end of the project took place in May. I took a photograph a couple of days before the ribbon cutting. That photo is below:

Looking (plan) east at the Entry Foyer of Taliesin near the end of the project

You’re seeing Taliesin’s Entry Foyer, with the flagstone floor put back in (the found floor is underneath).

First published June 4, 2022.


Notes:

1. It’s a bit more complicated, but in essence this is the gist.

2. By the way: no, we didn’t find anything like that in Taliesin’s Garden Court or on the hill. Nor any bicycle, car, unicycle, or radio.

3. The Preservation Crew at that time was at Taliesin Preservation. Now they’re at the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation.

Taliesin interior. On left: by Raymond Trowbridge, 1930. On right, by Keiran Murphy 2019.

Why Did You Have to do That, Mr. Wright?!1

Two views of the same space, 89 years apart.

Frank Lloyd Wright began his home, Taliesin (south of Spring Green, Wisconsin), in 1911 and worked on it almost continuously until he died in 1959. As researcher and historian I easily documented over 100 changes he made just to his home (that number doesn’t include the necessary construction after Taliesin’s first or second fires).

And this doesn’t count his work on the other buildings on the Taliesin estate; about which you can read at Wikipedia. If you go to the Taliesin (studio) page, there are links to the four other buildings on the estate. Yes, I did start all of the Wikipedia entries on those Taliesin estate buildings, why do you ask?

And the changes I numbered were just those that could be documented through photographs.

Taliesin is very important, yes

That’s why we call Taliesin a sketchbook. In addition, it was an experiment for the artist/architect/genius-extraordinaire [that looks like I’m being snotty, but I’m not].

I was told by someone who worked in the Wisconsin State Historic Preservation Office that when they began talking about Taliesin restoration, they didn’t want to create the Taliesin “zoo”. As they restored/preserved the building, they didn’t want to pick out what they thought were the “best” changes done there by Wright.

Their conclusion: restore Taliesin back to the last decade of the architect’s life, 1950-59. And as close to 1959 as possible/doable, combined with new technologies that wouldn’t screw up the building in the future. So that’s how, for example, Taliesin got geothermal heating and cooling.

And I agree. I fiercely want Taliesin to be as it was in Wright’s lifetime—as long as the “building envelope” is “sealed” to help the building survive long past my death.

YET

I wrote all of this because I have a confession: there are changes I really wish that guy hadn’t made to his home.

Some things that used to be at Taliesin just seem so cool. Their rarity is part of the attraction. And, yes, I love what is there today… but  sometimes I really wish he’d left well enough alone.

Look below for an example.

The first photo, taken 1926-33, shows the entry to his living quarters. The part you see under the roof is what I’m talking about. Between those three stone piers were French doors. They opened to the exterior balcony that ended at a parapet behind where that teenage boy is sitting (he’s sitting on a little bit of roofing). He added the balcony in Taliesin III (so, after the second fire). It stood one floor above today’s “front door” at Taliesin.

Postcard of Taliesin, 1926-30. Unknown photographer
Postcard property of Patrick Mahoney. Used with permission. The photograph is published in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin: Illustrated by Vintage Postcards, by Randolph C. Henning, p. 61.

Then in 1942 (approximately), Wright constructed a roof over that balcony, making it into a storage room. Former Wright apprentice / longtime Taliesin Fellowship member John DeKoven Hill called the room “the hell hole”.

The same view in the 1950s:

The next photograph shows the same part of the building, with a roof where the balcony used to be. It’s the configuration one sees today:

Photo of Taliesin 1955 taken by Maynard Parker

Maynard Parker took the photograph above in 1955 by for House Beautiful magazine. Then you click on the photo above, at the website of its owners (the Huntington Library) it’s backwards from its correct orientation.

What you see in the 1955 photo by Parker/for House Beautiful, is great, of course. But I look at archival photos, or scan what’s in my memory, comparing it to what he had before 1942 and I want to whine: “oh man – why did you do that?”

Then, here’s what I’m thinking: “grumble, grumble – sketchbook — grumble grumble… architectural genius… grumble grumble… HIS gorram house… grumble…”

But what right do I have, given the mistakes from the past?

… you can’t deny all those times in which people, with the best of intentions, completely destroyed something.

Like so many buildings by architect Louis Sullivan in Chicago

And Wright’s Larkin Building in Buffalo

Check out this from the Buffalo City Gazette shows newspaper articles talking about the building’s decline

You get the point.

FINALLY

There’s also the fact that the National Park Service, which confers “National Historic Landmark” status, is firmly against people “creating a false sense of history.” That is a hard-and-fast rule.

Besides, if Taliesin had all the things in it that I really like it would end up being a Taliesin that never actually existed.

But I can still yell at him in my head, though.

 

 

Initially published on May 4, 2021

At the top of this page are two photos. The one on the left was taken in 1930 by Raymond Trowbridge (who I’ve written about) and is at the Chicago History Museum (and online here). I took the photo on the right a couple of years ago, showing the same room. You can tell it’s the same because what remains the same in the two photographs are the ceramics in the fireplace on the left and, against the wall, the built-in bench and the radiator cover. He lowered the ceiling in 1933-34 when a bedroom/sitting room was built one floor above for his youngest daughter, Iovanna Lloyd Wright.


1 accompanied by lots of words for him that I cannot repeat in polite company.

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.

Looking east at Taliesin's agricultural wing.

“This stuff is FUN for me”: Taliesin photographs from Frank Lloyd Wright’s lifetime.

The photograph above was published 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”. It’s one of two photographs taken at Taliesin on December 25, 1911. That was is published in my entry, “I looked at stone.”

That’s what I said to journalist Ron McCrea in 2010 after I’d spent my weekend looking at photos of Taliesin (he was writing about them, Wright, and Mamah Borthwick in his book, Building Taliesin, published in 2012). 

What prompted this statement here has to do with the photos on this link (archived from The Wayback Machine).

The photos didn’t just capture my attention. No: I yelled in a way that they show you in movies or cartoons. It’s yelling with lots of special characters: “Holy C*$#!”

What made me yell:

The article’s two photographs—exteriors of Taliesin I (Taliesin 1911-14)—I’d only seen as dark/dusty photos, or drawings made from them.

And it appears the photographer took these the on Christmas day, 1911. On that day, Wright (and his partner, Borthwick) gave an (unintentionally disastrous) press briefing at Taliesin. They did this because they hoped to stave off public damnation. Wright thought he could do that by addressing the press.

(or the “war correspondents” as he called them, in the Day Book newspaper, on Jan. 4).

The “newspaper men” put them back on the front pages because, while they’d left their families in Oak Park, Illinois in 1909, Wright returned alone in late 1910. Everyone reading the newspapers thought Wright and Borthwick had ended their relationship.

That was not true:

Wright was in the US, but acquired land in Wisconsin to build his home. Meanwhile, Cheney was in Europe. She had to wait until she could divorce her husband based on “abandonment”.

Thus, she was Mamah Cheney until August 5, 1911, then reverted to her maiden name, Borthwick.

The “war correspondents” found the two, realized that Wright had not reconciled with wife Catherine, and descended on Taliesin.

The hope by Wright (and Borthwick) that a public statement would calm the press didn’t work out. Even though Wright said in Baraboo News (Baraboo, WI, January 4), “may not the matter be left in privacy to those whose concern it chiefly is?”, it was too late. That newspaper, on December 28, said that Taliesin was “known as Crazy House.”

I encourage you at this point, if you haven’t done so already, to click the link to Grossman’s story so you can look at the “Crazy House” photos.

A drawing in 1914 made from a 1911 photograph

Drawing showing Taliesin's north facade

If you read the article, the first photograph, underneath the article’s title, shows the building’s northern face, with a parapet ending in a stone pier to the immediate left. I had never seen the photo before. But someone took the photo and made it into a drawing. That appeared in the Des Moines Daily News (published August 18, 1914). I put that drawing above. I think I should be ok to publish it. Given its age, it’s now in the public domain.

I wanted to show how you’d see that same part of the building today, but I couldn’t. Almost nothing in the photograph from Taliesin I (or the drawing) is the same. That’s because Wright kept adding on and changing the building. However, I say that, “Taliesin keeps its history within its walls.” So I’ll show where that history marker is, but I’ll orient you first.

A view toward Taliesin’s entry steps

You walk up the steps at Taliesin to Wright’s studio at Taliesin (the north wall of the studio is to the right). The parapet from the Taliesin I photo ended at the stone that is to the left of the tree trunk (the tree trunk is to the left of the window that’s on the extreme right in the photograph) .

The next photo is the other side of that stone wall. That tree trunk I just mentioned is just to the right of the end of wall. 

That little black rectangle you see is where the cap on the parapet terminated into the stone.

The second image in the Grossman article, near the bottom, shows that same wing (the agricultural wing) from its broad western façade. That photograph is at the top of this entry, because it first appeared in print before 1924. The images, while not being unknown to me, are probably pretty rare for fans of Frank Lloyd Wright or even Taliesin. That’s how many changes Wright made to the structure over time.

This second image (showing Taliesin’s far western facade), shows the building’s hayloft ending on the right side with a garage that has the cantilevered roof. I don’t know if the garage ever held cars since there are no photographs of cars in there and no photographs with wheel tracks leading up to the garage either. There are no close up photos of it, but you see the garage across the hill in this photo at the Wisconsin Historical Society.

Another photograph used in a newspaper article

Grossman’s article used a second image taken in late December 1911, the day of Wright and Borthwick’s press conference.

I found this image because of a habit I had (and have). I search online for old Taliesin photographs. When I worked, I did this on my Friday afternoons after I had finished any other projects. I would type “Taliesin” and other qualifiers into a search bar to see what came up.

Note to the neophyte: make sure to narrow the search so that you aren’t seeing results regarding Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Arizona; things about the 1914 murders/fire at Taliesin; some movie out there about vampires with a character who is, I guess, named Taliesin*; and information on actor/voice actor, Taliesin Jaffe (I’m sorry Mr. Jaffe, but I’ve never seen anything you’ve been in).

One day that brought me to a newspaper article in the Chicago Evening American, published on December 29, 1911:

I don’t remember my first thought in seeing the agricultural wing photo, but I’m sure I was really excited. And, ultimately a little disappointed, because the photograph was muddy and a little dark and, well, just newspaper print. It’s very likely I looked at it, tried to get what information I could by scanning it, then expanded, lightened, and darkened, and gave up.

I thought that these photographs, if they existed, were in a drawer or a folder, stuck away or mislabeled. After all, I had no idea of the photo of Taliesin’s north facade existed at all out there. But, obviously, I was wrong and the original photos were NOT lost.


* Here’s part of the problem in not exploring what comes up in my website searches: “Taliesin Meets the Vampires” is not a movie. “Taliesin Meets the Vampires”—if I had taken a moment to click on the link—is a “Vampire blog” where you “will find views and reviews of vampire genre media, from literature, the web, TV and the movies.” Well, I’m glad I did that because I prefer looking at a page on a website to finding, then watching, a vampire movie.


First published, 12/11/2020.

The photograph at the heading for this post comes from the Chicago Tribune Historical Images.

A Trip Into Hillside History

In the late 00’s, I wrote a “comprehensive chronology” of Wright’s Hillside building with the principal of Cornerstone Preservation (which specializes in architectural research and planning). This led me to reading all of those old newspapers I wrote about recently. The post where I detailed some of what you learn by reading old newspapers.1

That work informs the information I’ll write here

It’s a short, intense, introduction to Hillside, a building on Wright’s Taliesin estate. Hillside (the Hillside Home School) was once designed by Wright for a school for his aunts. Then, starting 30 years later, he began making changes to it. The building today includes a dining room and kitchen, an assembly hall, studio, and  theater.

Hillside history:

Frank Lloyd Wright originally designed the Hillside Home School in 1901. It’s on the south part of the Taliesin estate. After he started the Taliesin Fellowship, he added on to it by in the 1930s and ’40s, and then changed it after a fire occurred there in 1952. “Hillside” seems to be the only building by Wright that shows, distinctly, 4 time periods in his work, spread out over half a century.

The oldest part of the building (1901-02) looks over a dining room reconstructed under Wright’s direction in the 1950s. Walk again through the oldest part (a 1901 hallway), into the Hillside Drafting Studio. This was designed and built in the 1930s.

A walk outside brings you to the Hillside Theater foyer; Wright did that in the late 1940s. The foyer is right next to the theater, also redesigned after the 1952 fire.

So, in Hillside, you jump back and forth in time through Wright’s designs from 1901 to the last part, completed in 1955.

The buildings commissioned by the Aunts:

The building was commissioned initially by two amazing women who were aunts of Frank Lloyd Wright’s: Ellen (“Nell”) and Jane (“Jennie”). The structure served their school, which was also known as the Hillside Home School. Everyone in the area (including the schoolchildren) knew them as Aunt Jennie and Aunt Nell,2 or just “the Aunts”. The school was a coeducational day and boarding school that served children grades 1-12 and ran from 1887 to 1915. Wright actually designed three buildings for the Aunts: the “Home Building”,3 a dormitory and library, built in 1887 (when Wright was 20); a windmill, “Romeo and Juliet”,3 built when he was 30; and the Hillside Home School structure, finished when he was 36.

Those three structures were within a school campus that had additional housing, a greenhouse, a laundry, and a barn with horse stables.

Here are some hyperlinks to photos at the Wisconsin Historical Society that show things at the school:

  • A photo looking at most of the campus, with everything but the octagonal barn, the West Cottage, and the windmill.
  • A photo showing some of the buildings with the Romeo and Juliet Windmill in the distance.
  • And a photo of the octagonal barn.

If one were to go through Hillside today, you would just see the Hillside Home School and the Romeo and Juliet Windmill. Wright slowly eliminated the other school buildings, destroying the last one in 1950.

OK! So I gave you the basic background, here’s info on the school and Jennie and Nell Lloyd Jones.

The Aunts:

Both were educators:

Nell (1845-1919) taught instructors in kindergarten education. Jennie (1847/8-1917) was the head of the history department at the River Falls Normal School.

Ok, why did Wright call her “Aunt Jane” in his autobiography when you keep writing “Aunt Jennie”? I think he introduced her as Jane because he had a sister named Jane (Jane Porter), who was apparently known as Jennie.

Two things about my ignorance:

(1) Kindergarten education

It’s more complex than I knew before I started giving tours in the 1990s. To me, kindergarten was that fun school I went to as a little girl where we took a nap each day.

But kindergarten was a method of teaching children invented by Germany Friedrich Froebel (froy-bel). He created these learning devices called the “Froebel Gifts” that were designed to teach children about the underlying geometry in nature.4

Wright’s mother discovered the Froebel Gifts at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, and introduced them to her son.

Here’s the 99 Percent Invisible podcast episode about the Kindergarten and Froebel:

Froebel’s Gifts

(2) Normal Schools:

Thanks to Wikipedia, I now know that “Normal Schools” were schools for teaching people how to be teachers. As opposed to how to be, you know, “normal”.

More on the Aunts’ Hillside Home School:

There’s a great book on the Hillside Home School: A Goodly Fellowship, by educator Mary Ellen Chase. You can find the book in libraries, or for purchase through www.abebooks.com.

The Aunts gave Chase her first teaching job. While I wish I could copy everything she wrote, I’ll give you this:

Chapter IV, “The Hillside Home School”, p. 85-121.

p. 90
[D]uring the three years I lived and worked with [the Aunts], they always took me by surprise and left me in wonder…. I was later to understand how together they gave the warmth and the fire, the stability and the strength, the soul and the spirit which for nearly thirty years sustained and supported the most wholesome and abundant of schools….

Some graduates of Hillside:

The students who went to the Hillside Home School included:

  • Future illustrator (and author), Maginel Wright Enright (Wright’s youngest sister);
  • The first woman elected to the state legislature of Illinois (Florence Fifer Bohrer);
  • Future Wisconsin Governor, Phillip LaFolette;
  • A female doctor who was Chief of the Ear, Nose, and Throat Clinic in the 1920s at Long Branch Hospital in Long Branch, New Jersey (Dr. Helen Upham);
  • Wright’s sons, future architects Frank Lloyd Wright, Jr. (known as Lloyd Wright) and Wright’s second son, John Lloyd Wright (who famously also invented Lincoln Logs).

In 1907, the Weekly Home News (Spring Green’s newspaper), ran a story on the school  and stated that by that year those who graduated from Hillside were automatically accepted into the University of Illinois at Chicago, or to Wellesley College.

Below is the link to the short piece I was asked to write in early 2020 while at Taliesin Preservation. It was from a call from the National Trust for Historic Preservation 1000 Places “where Women Made History”:
https://web.archive.org/web/20200920033632/https://contest.savingplaces.org/egiguylh?_ga=2.51589609.1571769439.1600570401-1325809123.1580253164

The Aunts closed the school in 1915.

Their ages, economic problems caused by poor real estate choices, a lack of a successor and, yes, the murders at their nephew’s home less than a mile away (in August 1914) were among the reasons the Aunts had to close their school. They sold the buildings and land to Wright and died a few years later.

The buildings were unused between 1915 and 1932. In the late ‘teens-early twenties, Wright was working in Japan on the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo,* then had commissions in California. Then another devastating fire occurred at his house in 1925, followed by lots of personal, legal, and economic problems (that are too numerous to go into here).

Wright looked back to the Hillside buildings:

In 1928, he started thinking about using the buildings for a school (he called it the “Hillside Home School of the Allied Arts”). That didn’t go anywhere for a variety of reasons. So, in 1932, he and his third wife, Olgivanna, opened the Taliesin Fellowship, an architectural apprenticeship program, with him at the head. 23 apprentices arrived that October to work with Wright. At his home, Taliesin, he converted the former hayloft, horse stable and cow barn into dormitory rooms.

Wright’s career after the Fellowship’s founding in 1932:

Upon founding the Taliesin Fellowship, Wright sent the apprentices to work at Hillside. They built onto the existing school by starting a 5,000 sq. foot drafting studio with eight dormitory rooms on each side. By November of the next year, they had converted the school’s gymnasium into a theater, named the Playhouse by Wright. Here are links to a couple of photographs that show the Hillside Drafting Studio and the Playhouse:

Construction work on the Hillside studio:
https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Image/IM25967

The Playhouse its opening weekend:
https://www.gettyimages.com/detail/news-photo/the-new-taliesin-hillside-theater-looking-toward-the-rear-news-photo/1139715311

While construction of the Hillside Drafting Studio began pretty early in the Fellowship history (1932? 1933?), Wright didn’t structurally complete until late 1938. It’s cute reading accounts by Taliesin Fellowship apprentices in the mid-’30s: they wrote about how the drafting studio be in use soon!5 However, they didn’t get it all set up and opened until July 1939.

The Hillside Drafting Studio becomes the main studio for Wright in Wisconsin:

Once the Fellowship and Wright moved into the Hillside Drafting Studio, all of the drafting work in Wisconsin was done there (not in his first studio at his house).

Here‘s for a photo of Wright working in the Hillside Drafting Studio. It’s from the collection of photos by his photographer, Pedro Guerrero. I don’t know, but I would imagine that having the larger space with less distraction was a goal for working with young architectural apprentices. The only outdoor light came from clerestory windows above and two doors on the north side of the room.

I’m not sure what happened while World War II was going on, but drafting was definitely done in the studio when World War II was over. I looked at one of the major books cataloguing Wright’s architecture (William Allin Storrer’s The Frank Lloyd Wright Companion) to count the number of commissions. Looks like Wright and the Fellowship designed and executed 240 buildings from 1945 until the architect’s death in 1959. And, in the summer, the Fellowship did all of the design work at the Hillside Studio in Wisconsin.

Wright did more construction at Hillside after World War II:

By 1948 he added a foyer onto the Playhouse. The foyer is made mostly out of stone with no insulation. That’s in part because by 1948, Wright and the Fellowship were spending every winter in Arizona at Taliesin West. I’ve not seen ice inside the building in April, but I have seen my breath in the cold (as of September 2020, tours don’t go into Hillside after Halloween and before May 1).

In 1950, Wright had the Home Building torn down.

Two years later there was a major fire at Hillside:

I don’t know if Wright would have changed things at Hillside in the 1950s, but a fire, caused by brush, happened on April 26, 1952. It destroyed the part of the building that had the 1901 classrooms on the building’s south side. The fire also mostly destroyed the Playhouse. In the edition of The Weekly Home News on May 1, Wright said “… the building will be much better looking…” when he rebuilt it. And that, “That smoke-tone is wonderful… I couldn’t have darkened it so evenly if I’d done it myself. Nature is God’s technician.”

The building was cleaned up in the summer of 1952 with construction happening the following two summers (click here for a photo of Wright by Pedro Guerrero supervising an apprentice Kelly Oliver on the roof at Hillside during reconstruction). The building was apparently complete by Wright’s birthday, June 8, in 1955.

This Hillside Theater (or Theatre depending on how fancy you feel) has two sections of metal seats, set into poured concrete and 90 degrees to each other.

Because this part of the building was constructed during the summer, Wright didn’t seem to care so much about drainage or things of that nature. After more than 50 years, this was a growing concern. The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation received a Save America’s Treasures grant for the Theater, announced in 2018. Restoration work began in 2020.

First published 9/23/2020.
The photograph at the top of this post shows the Hillside Assembly Hall. I took this in 2008.


Notes:

1 In part, you learn that a lot of people died 100 years ago from, say, fever, dropsy, appendicitis, or what happens when you lean your loaded shotgun against tree while jumping over a fence (note: if it’s in the newspaper, the loaded shogun probably fell over, shot you and killed you).

2 I didn’t even know I was referenced in this article until over 2 years after I wrote this post above.

3 Disclosure: I initially wrote the Wikipedia entry.

4 The first kindergarten was in Wisconsin.

5 You read these cute accounts in a weekly newspaper column entitled “At Taliesin” that were found, transcribed, then edited into a book by Randolph C. Henning.