Photo looking west in Taliesin's garden court. Taken in 1929 by Architect George Kastner. Courtesy Brian A. Spencer, Architect.

Things I don’t know at Taliesin

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In 1929, architect George Kastner (then, a draftsman for Frank Lloyd Wright) took the photograph at the top of this post. It looks west in Taliesin’s Garden Court while stonemasons lay the wall that separates this courtyard from the other courtyards at Taliesin. This wall insured that this courtyard would be free from cars.

Today I will write some other things that I’ve not been able to figure out at Taliesin.

It’s part of the enjoyment all over Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin estate (and all of its buildings): there’s just so much to know!

I will just concentrate on the Taliesin structure (not the entire estate).

First of all:

while I thought you Frankophiles out there would like the photo at the top of this post

I am going to talk about what’s behind the wall you see under construction in the photograph at the top if this page. The photo is great, but there are things behind it that I haven’t figured out.

I’ll show two photos taken behind that wall that show what I can’t explain:

Photograph showing two wooden details at Frank Lloyd Wright's home Taliesin. The details indicate a change at the building.

You’re looking at the door into Taliesin’s Front Office. Its windows look onto Taliesin’s Entry Court.1

I put the arrows in the two photographs to show you the part that I’m curious about. The arrows point at pieces of wood embedded in the two piers. So it looks like something was there that was maybe horizontal. Was it a wooden gate?

The pieces of wood are gently worn and don’t look like they’ve been hacked off. But they’ve been there for a long time. And I cannot figure out when they were put there, or what their original purpose was. The piers might have something to do with the drawing from the Taliesin II era (1914-1925), below, but I do not know:

Cropped version of a floor plan for Taliesin, Frank Lloyd Wright's Wisconsin home and studio.
The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York).  Drawing #1403.016.

But they do not appear in drawings, and photographs give me no clue of their purpose or use.

Another Taliesin change:

There was something that Wright changed to the west of this area. It’s on the south side of the old cow barn.

Wright placed the cow barn under Taliesin’s original hayloft. I’ll point you to the area in the photo below, taken in 1912:

Photograph looking west in Taliesin's Garden Court (then the forecourt).
Wisconsin Historical Society: Photo by Henry Fuermann and Sons.
Collection: Henry Fuermann and Sons Taliesin I and II photographs, 1911-1913, 1915.

Looking west. Taliesin’s hayloft, the horizontal part of the building under the roof, is in the background. Further beyond that is a cow with a baby calf. They’re past where Taliesin ended at that time.

At the ground level,

under the hayloft, you see the outline of a stone pier under the left-hand side. The stone pier is on the south wall. Now, Wright changed this area, but I don’t know when. However, you can see the change in the stone, like in the photo that I took, below:

Looking (plan) southeast. I took this on August 12, 2005.

If you look at the stone wall, I drew over the two vertical lines in the stone that show change. The arrow on the top is pointing out a wooden window. The window must have been put there fairly early because it shows up in a photograph from 1914. I posted about it in my second part of “What is the oldest part of Taliesin“. I’ll show that photo again:

Postcard of crowd at Taliesin. Caption on card: "WEST WING. WRIGHT'S BUNGALOW". Property: Patrick Mahoney
Property: Patrick Mahoney. Published in “Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin, Illustrated by Vintage Postcards”. Ed, Randolph C. Henning. Page 39.
Unknown photographer.

A postcard looking (plan) northeast at the western façade of Taliesin’s hayloft, summer (the hayloft is under the roof). Because the collection of people are unexpected at a farmhouse, Randolph C. Henning (who put this postcard in his book about Taliesin postcards), thinks this was taken the day after Taliesin’s 1914 fire and murders.

I don’t know why he did this, but a change appears in a drawing.2

That drawing is below.

I expanded the stone pier in the drawing:

Crop of floor plan showing Frank Lloyd Wright's home and studio, Taliesin.
The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York), #1104.009.

On the drawing, you can see where I wrote the words “cow barn”. At the corner on the right in the cow barn, you can see the drawing of a door swinging inward. The pier to the right of that door is hand drawn.

Here’s my thought: maybe he expanded the cow barn and added the door there. But I don’t know why. Then he didn’t need it anymore so he covered it up.

Now, the last thing –

This was at Taliesin in the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s.

This is a change that makes me go, “Uh… Mr. Wright?…

wth are you doing?”

For reasons that I do not know,

Frank Lloyd Wright removed the wall corner one floor under Taliesin’s living room.

That wing of the building was rebuilt after Taliesin’s 1925 fire.

But later Wright removed a portion of the supporting wall at the corner on the ground floor of Taliesin’s living quarters. For years. Then, he changed it back to what it looks like today, with a foundation at the ground and walls, like you can see in the drone footage below:

Screenshot from drone footage seen on YouTube.

This photograph comes from the drone footage in “Taliesin in Spring Green, WI”. That’s available on Travel Wisconsin’s YouTube page.

Well, except for the ivy growing on the stone. Man! stuff grows so much in a Wisconsin summer.

So here’s what happened:

Wright rebuilt Taliesin in 1925 after that second fire, and the building looked like it does now. Then, for some reason, he removed a corner on the first floor of that wing.

So, the corner of the building, under Taliesin’s Living Room, was cantilevered. It shows up in a drawing better than it shows up in most photos.3 Check out the drawing, #2501.015:

Elevation showing Frank Lloyd Wright's Wisconsin Home and Studio, Taliesin.
The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York).

[Yeah yeah yeah: I know I tell you to not trust Taliesin’s drawings …. Unless I tell you to trust the drawings.]

It looks like that corner cantilevered there by 1936.

I theorize this based on photographs taken by Edmund Teske in 1936 while at Taliesin. Teske’s photographs show changes around that area of Taliesin’s north façade. It’s occurred to me that maybe Wright was checking on cantilevering? It’s not like he’d never done it before….

Maybe he was thinking about something else?

This is why

I never ask those questions (“why did he do that?”). Still, I’ve had this one question—regarding this cantilever—for… 15 years?

Anyway, I’ll try to show it to you. The good thing is that photographer Pedro Guerrero took a photograph at Taliesin in the early 1950s in which you can see the cantilevered corner, hidden underneath the summer growth.

This photograph was published in the Frank Lloyd Wright Quarterly magazine (v 8, n 3, Summer, 1997), p. 16-17. Here’s my copy of the photo:

Photograph of Taliesin by Pedro E. Guerrero. Photograph showing Frank Lloyd Wright's living quarters at his home, Taliesin. A drawn arrow points to a detail on the photograph.

You can find this photograph at Guerrero’s website. You click on the portfolio for Guerrero’s Taliesin photographs and keep clicking through until you come to it.

Although the reason why Wright changed it back is clear:

it has to do with sculptor Heloise Christa.

“Heloise” was a member of the Taliesin Fellowship for almost 70 years.

In 1990, she told the Administrator of Historic Studies of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, Indira Berndtson, that Wright changed that corner in 1957. She knew that because the change was under Wright’s direction the year that she became pregnant with her son, Christopher.

Wright wanted to open up the space on the floor where Heloise lived so she had room with Christopher.3

 

First published May 14, 2023.
My thanks to Brian A. Spencer for allowing me to publish the photographs taken by George Kastner. That includes the one at the top of this post.


Notes

1. It wasn’t called the Front Office in Wright’s lifetime. It was sometimes referred to as the “back studio” (its space flows from Taliesin’s Drafting Studio to the east).
2. wow: something at Taliesin that exists in a drawing. It’s rare, but you can trust Taliesin’s drawings. Sometimes.
3. I know – once again a drawing at Taliesin seems to match reality. Strange stuff. For me, anyway.

Looking south in the Hillside Drafting Studio

Hillside Drafting Studio flooring

Reading Time: 5 minutes

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 (currently 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.

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 recommended the book here and wrote about it 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!