The number "42" on a black background. By Mark Konig at https://unsplash.com/photos/fbKMKNVJjwo

Things I learned at Taliesin

Reading Time: 6 minutes

To know why the top of the post says the number “42”, read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams.

I know these things –

through my work at as the Taliesin historian, when I worked in the Taliesin tour program, and/or I answered weekly questions in the “Hey Keiran” feature. You’ll see a variety of things here. Remember –

Frank Lloyd Wright wrote:

“I like the company of a number of clever and plausible eclectics”1

and this is an eclectic list:

The Wisconsin state bird

is the American Robin.

Photograph of American Robin taken on May 14, 2021 by KikoAKT01

Wisconsin’s state flower

is the Wood Violet

Nakoma and Nakomis are the parents of the fictional character, Hiawatha2 (from Longfellow‘s “The Song of Hiawatha“)

Frank Lloyd Wright designed statues of them for an unbuilt project in Madison. Then he reproduced the statues in small sizes.

He put statues of Nakoma and Nakomis both inside his Hillside structure, and in Taliesin.

Even though Wright was wrong on the gender. In Longfellow’s poem, Hiwawatha’s mother being is NOKOMIS. Wright made his father Nakomis.

Some photos of the statues are below:

In the Assembly Hall at Hillside

There is a smaller version of Nakoma, as seen in a video tour on-line:

Photograph taken in the Assembly Hall at Frank Lloyd Wright's Hillside Home School building. An arrow points at Wright's statue of Nakoma.

I took this screen grab from a video tour I did in 2009. Taliesin Preservation put online thanks to producer/editor, Claudia Looze.

And a smaller pair of them are at Taliesin:

You can see the small versions in Taliesin’s living room on the light deck. The photo below shows them in 1955:

Photograph looking east in Taliesin's living room. Taken in 1955 by Maynard L. Parker. Courtesy of The Huntington Library, San Marino, California.

This is an unpublished photograph of the set that photographer Maynard Parker took in 1955 for the November issue of the magazine, House Beautiful.

More things I’ve learned:

Bats are considered good luck in China

Bats—literally, living, sleeping bats—used to hang on wooden carvings inside Taliesin

They snoozed all day, so these bats didn’t start my screamy-phobia of them, like I posted about.

Yes, bats eat mosquitoes.

I learned that barn swallows eat mosquitoes, too

Mosquitoes can get very bad at Taliesin, and barn swallows fly around Taliesin all summer. Preservation Crew member, Kevin Dodds, took a photo of baby barn swallows in their nest. He gave me permission to post it below:

Photograph of four barn swallows in a mud nest at Taliesin. Taken by Kevin Dodds.

The swallows are in a little mud nest at Taliesin. You might see swallows early in the summer on a 2-hour House Tour or the 4-hour Estate tour.
This photograph shows the nest under the roof near Taliesin’s ice house. Permission for photo from Dodds.

More information I learned:

Frank Lloyd Wright’s life taught me the definition of the “Mann Act4

The Mann Act “criminalizes the transportation of any woman or girl for the purpose of prostitution or debauchery, or for any other immoral purpose.” [here’s a link on it from Cornell Law school] It was designed to stop human trafficking, but was also used by women whose husband’s abandoned them for other women. So, Wright’s second wife, Miriam, tried to use it on Wright in 1926 after he fled Wisconsin for Minnesota with his future wife, Olgivanna.

Plus, he was almost being arrested for it in the 1910s.

I know the date of Japan’s Great Kanto earthquake.

I’m sure plenty of other people know about it.
It mostly destroyed Tokyo on September 1, 1923.
But I know it because of Frank Lloyd Wright. His Imperial Hotel in Tokyo was supposed to see its grand opening that very day. The fact that the building survived made Wright world-famous.

I know what a “Quit Claim deed” is

Chief architect of Taliesin Associated Architects and Wright’s son-in-law, Wes Peters, bought up the Taliesin estate one or two times, then sold it back to Wright for $1 in a Quit Claim deed.

I probably first read this in the biography on Wright by Meryle Secrest.

The definition of the word “jocund”

That’s in a poem stanza in the fireplace at the Hillside Assembly Hall. This is footage of me speaking in front of that fireplace. I don’t know if I talk about the poem that’s carved into its mantle. The stanza of the poem is from “Elegy Written in a County Churchyard” by poet Thomas Gray.

Here that stanza:

Oft did the harvest to their sickle yield,

         Their furrow oft the stubborn glebe has broke;

How jocund did they drive their team afield!

         How bow’d the woods beneath their sturdy stroke!

Oh, and 1 more thing about this poem:

It taught me that “glebe” means “ground“.

I know what a hydraulic ram is

I think I covered this in my post, “My Dam History“. My photo from that post is below:

Dam, waterfall, and hydro-house at Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin
Photograph taken 1926-27 of the hydro-house on the Taliesin estate. Photographer unknown. Taken from a postcard owned by Keiran Murphy

John Michel Montgolfier invented the hydraulic ram.

and he and his brother invented the hot air balloon.

My knowledge on the second fact didn’t come from Taliesin. I know it because another Taliesin guide told me (hi, Nath!).

I know the name of the last king of Iraq:

King Faisal II.

He commissioned Wright to design an opera house in the capital city of Baghdad. The reason the commission never went further is because he was overthrown in 1958.

A Balalaika is a Russian, stringed instrument.

I know that because it sits in Taliesin’s living room at its “music corner”

Speaking of Russia,

They created the samovar. A is a tall, decorative metal container that holds water for boiling. One sits just outside of Taliesin’s living room. Here’s a photo showing it at Taliesin, taken in 2018:

Taliesin photograph looking northwest into Taliesin's living room from an alcove. Taken July 4, 2018.

The samovar is on the table in the foreground.

Ideally, chicken coops face south.

I know that because there were chicken coops at Taliesin that were later turned into dorm rooms. A couple of people on tour told me about chicken coops, and once you hear this, it makes sense. That way the chickens get the most light. So, yes: the chicken coops at Taliesin face south.

You can see the drawing showing the chicken coops below. It’s also in my post “Unfinished wing” (read that post and you’ll know why “Hog Pens” is highlighted in the drawing below).

Partial floor plan of Taliesin II, 1924. Location of original drawing unknown.

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

An oar lock on a Venetian gondola is officially called a Forcole.

I know that because there’s an oar lock in Wright’s bedroom that was a gift from students in Venice. Here’s another photo by Maynard Parker that shows it by the east wall. It’s the wooden piece that looks like sculpture:

Black and white photograph looking at built-in bookcase at wall in Frank Lloyd Wright's bedroom. Includes an oar lock, a harmonium, and a special box for holding Wright's architecture medals.

Photograph of Wright’s bedroom in 1955 by Maynard Parker. Published in House Beautiful magazine, November 1955, 308.3

Ok, that’s it for now.

 

Published January 20, 2023.
The photograph at the top of this post is by Mark Konig from https://unsplash.com/photos/fbKMKNVJjwo

Edit: June 4, 2023:

Ice houses are quite ancient.

The construction of one was detailed in a Cuneiform tablet in c. 1780 BCE. Read Wikipedia’s post about ice houses to find out about this.

I read this because I was researching the ice house at Taliesin.


Notes:

1 An Autobiography, by Frank Lloyd Wright (Longmans, Green and Company, London, New York, Toronto, 1932), 343.

2 There was a man named Hiawatha in the history of the Iroquois Nation, but he’s completely different than Longfellow’s Hiawatha.

3 House Beautiful magazine published this photo again in its October, 1959 issue, 232.

4 Even before  Eliot Spitzer’s prostitute scandal in 2008.

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

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

Reading Time: 5 minutes

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.