Frank Lloyd Wright's bedroom. Photo by Maynard Parker, Huntington Library-Parker Collection.

Anna to her son

Color photo taken in 1955 in Wright’s bedroom at Taliesin. There’s a framed photo on his desk, near the barrel chair.
It shows his aunts (Jennie and Nell Lloyd Jones) on the left, and his mother on the right.

Anna, as in Anna Lloyd Wright, Frank Lloyd Wright’s mother. This post is about Anna in general, but also whether or not she ever lived at Taliesin.

Although, I won’t give a deep analysis on how the architect felt about his mother, or vice versa.

Anna (first named Hannah) Lloyd Jones was born in Wales in 1838 and died in Oconomowoc in eastern Wisconsin in 1923. Wright wrote about her in his autobiography, saying that:

“…. Although she believed Education the direct manifestation of God…, Sister Anna loved—Beauty.

Soon she became a teacher in the countryside, riding a horse over the hills and through the woods to and from her school each day.”

Frank Lloyd Wright. An Autobiography in Frank Lloyd Wright Collected Writings, volume 2: 1930-32. Edited by Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer, introduction by Kenneth Frampton (1992; Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., New York City, 1992), 108.

Anna’s choices:

She made choices that had a strong effect on her son’s career. In 1876 she went to the Centennial Exposition and discovered the Froebel Gifts.

I wrote about them when I gave history of Hillside on the Taliesin estate.

The Froebel Gifts were an essential part of the new kindergarten method of teaching, and Anna took classes on how to teach her children to use them. They’ll affect Wright’s designs and, he wrote later that, “The smooth shapely maple blocks” of the Gifts, would “never afterward” leave his fingers. “[S]o form,” he wrote, “became feeling….” [Frank Lloyd Wright, 111.]

The first summer the family moved back in Wisconsin (1878, the year Wright turned 11) and lived in Madison. Anna sent her son 45 miles west, to “The Valley” outside of Spring Green where her family lived. Wright lived and worked at Uncle James Lloyd Jones’s farm. As I wrote in “Wright and Nature”, the architect vividly wrote about his memories in The Valley. He wrote that life in The Valley taught him “how to add tired to tired and add tired.” And that he was to learn,

“that the secret of all the human styles in architecture was the same that gave character to the trees.”
Frank Lloyd Wright. An Autobiography in Frank Lloyd Wright Collected Writings, 126.

Yet,

In spite of these good things, I’m ambivalent about Anna. Did she follow him around too much? Did she put him on too much of a pedestal that leaked into how he felt about himself? Was she abusive to her step-daughter Lizzie?

Why am I bringing this up now? I’m bringing her up because, when we went to Arizona last month,

I read some of her letters.

In December, I read transcriptions of some letters to I look for those things about Wright’s mother as she lived at Taliesin.

Here‘s I wrote about that trip.

I did this because, while I’ve been told over the years that she lived at his home, I wanted to check. That’s because being told things doesn’t always make them true. After all, when I gave tours I was told by a visitor that “my guide at [another Wright site] said that Wright had designed Taliesin with a room for both his wife and his mistress.”

In reply I [HOPE] I said: “His wife and his partner, Mamah Borthwick?” … coz you have to use that vocabulary in order to change the narrative … “No, I’m sorry I don’t remember seeing that in any of Taliesin’s drawings….”

Regardless,

In her biography on the architect, author Meryle Secrest mentioned Anna living at Taliesin. Secrest wrote that Wright contacted his sisters (Jane and Maginel) about the problems that caused. But Secrest didn’t quote from the letters. Given how people can misread and misunderstand, I wanted to check. 

So, in December,

At Taliesin West, I got a chance to look at some of the letters that Anna wrote to her son after he started Taliesin. I read some of what she wrote while he was in Japan working on the Imperial Hotel. And I made notes that do show that she was living at Taliesin while he was away from his home. Of course the problem with that is, when she and her son lived at the house, there was no reason for Anna to write him.

And unfortunately,

I’ve not found anything written by Anna where she described exactly in which room at Taliesin she lived, or what built-ins the room had, or what colors were plastered on which colors.

No, unfortunately, when she wrote to her son, Anna sounded like a normal human. She didn’t write like she was writing for some historian a century later. I mean, really: she wrote to her son and his companion, Miriam Noel, on March 16, 1917 that she was had been found on the floor “in the hall from my room”, but still didn’t mention which was “my” room.1

Grumble grumble….

Yet, in that letter on March 16, Anna did write something interesting. She told her son to allow a new draftsman at Taliesin to live, instead, “in the house on the hill….”

I know what that means

The “house on the hill” is the part of Taliesin that had a kitchen, storage rooms, and the larger dining room.2 The photo below shows this area at Taliesin. It’s a postcard that former apprentice Edgar Tafel owned. He said it was taken 1917-18:

Photograph of Taliesin Hill Wing, in snow.

The apartment that Anna mentioned was on the left in the photograph. The kitchen was at the base of the chimney on the right. Today, if you were to walk past this, you wouldn’t be able to see the room that held the kitchen.

(besides, you can’t walk there because it’s private property and people live there)

But you wouldn’t be able to easily see the room with the old kitchen because Wright added a dining room, blocking most of that view. Sometime after this photo was taken, Wright would add the dining room that he walked out of in 1925 to see the fire at his house (read my post about the fire, here).

First published January 8, 2022
Image screen-grab at the top of this post is by Maynard L. Parker, photographer. Courtesy of The Huntington Library, San Marino, California, from the webpage below:
https://hdl.huntington.org/digital/collection/p15150coll5/id/10269

This photograph on his desk is one of the only ones that Wright had in his home.


Notes:

1 The letter was written March 16, 1917, but I couldn’t find the microfiche number for it.

2 This is where knowing the building well helps out. I read this letter that Olgivanna wrote to Maginel in May 1932. It’s published in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Monona Terrace: The Enduring Power of a Civic Vision, by David V. Mollenhoff and Mary Jane Hamilton (University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, 1999), 82. In the letter Olgivanna wrote:

We are in desperate condition. The Sechrests have shut us out of the hill – nailed all the doors leading to their part, dining rooms, kitchens, storerooms, waiting for money we owe them (three months salary)…. We are cooking and eating in the kitchen below.

I instantly knew what being shut “out of the hill” and what “eating in the kitchen below” meant. The “hill” being the kitchen and dining room on the hill that I talked about above. Eating in “the kitchen below” meant the kitchen in the main living quarters. They weren’t the full-time kitchen any longer and they were “below” because the other kitchen was on the hill.

Frank and Olgivanna Lloyd Wright outside at Taliesin with Alexander Woollcott holding baby goat.

Guest Quarters

Frank Lloyd Wright (left) with his wife, Olgivanna, and friend, writer Alexander Woollcott outside the architect’s home, Taliesin, 1935-43. Woollcott holds a baby goat. The west wall of a bedroom is in the background. This became Wright’s bedroom in 1936.

My years of working at Taliesin Preservation gave me time to uncover the history of Wright’s changes at the Taliesin estate. Although (no surprise, I admit), most of my interest centered on the Taliesin structure by Wright (his home, studio, and former farm).

In trying to figure out Taliesin’s history, I spent time looking at copies of his drawings. While I was/am always cautious toward them, I came to trust some that actually seemed to match what existed.

You’ll see them or a link to them in my post today.

For example

Wright drew elevations in the early 1920s of the portion of Taliesin on which he was adding a guest apartment. This work was done after he returned from working on the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo.

I noted this change when I wrote about Taliesin II (Taliesin’s forgotten middle child).

This drawing from the early 1920s is number 2501.025.

“2501” on the drawing usually indicates “Taliesin III” (meaning, post-1925). But details in the drawing mean it comes from the Taliesin II era (before the 1925 fire). I’ll show which portion is exclusively Taliesin II. The part where I’ve added the arrow is what became Olgivanna Lloyd Wright’s bedroom. In the Taliesin II era, that room had that small balcony that I’ve pointed the arrow at:

Elevation of Taliesin, 1920-25. 2501.025
Property: The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York

I think Wright added this “Guest Apartment” to increase the attractiveness of coming to Taliesin. Even today, you’re about a 45-minute drive west of Madison, the Wisconsin state capital. Moreover, in the early 1920s the only place to stay was in the village of Spring Green (three miles away), which had one hotel. This was a three-story building with the Hotel Myers and a restaurant on its first floor named the Dutch Kitchen.2 And in the 1920s, you couldn’t have even gotten a Brandy Old Fashioned there.

Thus, the architect designed a guest apartment (without a kitchen) at Taliesin. The two bedrooms, living room and separate bathrooms were on the same floor as the architect, separated by his own rooms by a door.

Then, the second fire happened

The April 20, 1925 fire destroyed Wright’s living quarters and he began rebuilding that summer. The reconstruction included the guest apartment. A Taliesin III drawing shows part of this in the drawing linked to here. It’s an elevation and floor plan on one sheet, labelled as “guest living room”.

You’ve seen this “guest living room” before

A door separated the “guest living room” from everything else on the floor. This door was seen in the photograph in my post “About a Wall at Taliesin That No Longer Exists”. It’s the open door on the left-hand side of the photo.

While ups and downs in Wright’s life after 1925 kept him away from Taliesin, he and his family were there in 1928 and he wanted to invite someone to his “guest quarters” when everyone was living again at home. I know this because of a letter that I found on one of my trips down to Frank Lloyd Wright’s archives when they were still at Taliesin West in Arizona.3

As I’ve written, as Wright was the architect, he didn’t have to ask permission to change whatever he wanted. So, there are very few (or non-existant) letters or telegrams to pinpoint changes. As a result, I looked for details (and, goodness, still do) in any way that I could.

What did I find?

Since I read letters between Wright and people he knew, I looked into those between him and friends, employees, etc. I knew writer Alexander Woollcott visited, so I read those letters. And, in 1928, soon after Wright and his family had returned to Taliesin, Wright invited Woollcott to visit, even encouraged him to bring a friend. On page two of this letter he wrote:

. . . . You could have my little studio with a big stone fireplace to write in, and he or she could have a little studio nearby to draw in. We would look [hook?] you up together in the guest quarters back of the house,—two bedrooms and a sunny sitting room with a big fireplace in it. . . .

FICHEID: W045B08: 1/1/1928 (unknown month and day).
The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York

Those “two bedrooms” at the “guest quarters back of the house” are the ones I’ve been writing about.

I recognized this sunny room with the big fireplace in it. It’s in the photograph below. The photo was published in the March, 1929 issue of Liberty magazine:

Taken inside Taliesin, looking southwest in Loggia fireplace. 1926-29.
Copyright David Phillips| The Chicago Architectural Photographing Company.
Published in the Journal of the Organic Architecture + Design Archives, volume 6, number 1, 2018, 73.

This image is published in the Journal of the Organic Architecture + Design Archives, volume 6, number 1, 2018, 73. That’s available through here.

I’m not sure how often these two rooms were used for guests. Anyway, in 1936, Wright changed the two guest bedrooms into separate bedrooms for his wife and himself and then re-designated their former bedroom as the Guest Bedroom.

OH, and one last point:

Wright’s letter to Woollcott shows that the architect thought of those two rooms as guest rooms. But on a practical level, originally they might have been planned as bedrooms for the daughters Svetlana and Iovanna.

I thought about all of this last year, and these thoughts evolved into a presentation on Wright’s changes to Taliesin for Iovanna, which I did for the Monona Terrace “Virtual Wright Design Series” in October of 2020. That presentation, “Life Is Not Monotonous at Taliesin” is on Youtube, here.

Originally published on September 19, 2021.

The photograph at the top of this page was published in Frank Lloyd Wright. Frank Lloyd Wright Collected Writings, volume 4: 1939-49, edited by Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer, introduction by Kenneth Frampton (Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., New York City, 1994), 192.

 


1 This means that I will not trust anything that man put into a drawing unless I see a photograph of it. “Fool me once…” etc.

2 The Administrator in Historic Studies for the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation clarified the name of the hotel (as previously I just had the name of the Dutch Kitchen).

3 I would have spent useless time during my first trip to the archives if the registrar hadn’t taken pity on me and got me a very nice listing of correspondence about the actual Taliesin structure, and not just everything latter that contained the word “Taliesin”. Taliesin was mentioned in letters from people wanting to join the “Taliesin Fellowship”, or everyone wanting to get the magazine they put out for a while entitled “Taliesin”. It was so great when the Director and Curator of Collections at the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation gave me this modified list.

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.