Looking south in the Hillside Drafting Studio

Hillside Drafting Studio flooring

Looking south in the Hillside Drafting Studio, with its flooring.

The black and white photograph on the right shows the V.C. Morris Gift Shop, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in San Francisco (now it is a men’s clothing store).

In this post, I am diving into the flooring at the Hillside Drafting Studio on Wright’s Taliesin Estate. I wrote about Hillside here. Hillside’s Drafting Studio, added in the 1930s, is 5,000 sq feet of space (1,524 m2). The Hillside Studio became Wright’s main studio in Wisconsin after the Taliesin Fellowship completed it.

There was one real point of curiosity about the studio’s flooring, which has pinstripes. This post concentrates on that flooring.

As I wrote before in my Hillside post, the Taliesin Fellowship apprentices, in the 1930s, wrote about working on the studio. Here, in the September 5, 1937 “At Taliesin”1 article, an apprentice writes that:

“…. Two months of continual and concentrated group activity by the Fellowship should announce the fact that our principal workroom – an abstract forest in oak timber and sandstone – is in order.  Then watch our dust!”2

Uh… not yet

The Fellowship, and Wright, only started using the studio full-time in 1939.

Wait – what? Why not?

Well, the structure had been built, but it didn’t have a finished floor. You can see a photograph of the unfinished floor in a photo below. It was taken in 1937 by Ken Hedrich for the magazine, Architectural Forum. Its January 1938 edition concentrated on Wright.

Ken photographed the Taliesin estate, while his brother, Bill Hedrich, went to Pennsylvania and took the first, famous, photograph of Fallingwater (the house over the waterfall).3

While Bill photographed elsewhere, Ken photographed all over the Taliesin estate. His work included the Hillside Studio and you can see the state of it in the fall of 1937:

Looking north in the Hillside Drafting Studio
Photograph taken by Ken Hedrich of the firm Hedrich-Blessing.

1938 Architectural Forum magazine issue: January 1938, volume 68, number 1, 18.

This photograph looks north in the Hillside Drafting Studio. Wright and the Taliesin Fellowship did not yet use the studio, because the room did not have its finished flooring.

When you walk into the studio today you see a wooden, waxed flooring, that has pinstripes. These pinstripes were not painted on the floor surface. What one sees is the veneered wood on its side. It’s as if you are seeing the edge of a wafer cookie.

To illustrate the “wafer cookie” look

I’ll show a photograph of the edge of some of the flooring:

The edge of the laminated flooring at Wright's Hillside studio in Wisconsin

I took this photograph.

Wright only used this type of flooring in one other place: on the mezzanine in “Wingspread“. That’s the name of a house he designed in Wisconsin for Herbert Johnson. Here are some of my pictures from that:

I took this photograph by the grand fireplace at Wingspread. Most of the people in this photograph worked in the Taliesin tour program.

The photograph below is the flooring of the mezzanine that matches what’s at the Hillside studio.

I took this closeup of the mezzanine flooring.

I don’t know Wright’s thoughts on the flooring.

However:

I know where it came from, when it was installed in the Hillside studio, and when Wright and the Taliesin Fellowship started studio operations in there.

That’s all because of someone else’s work.  

We know the month they moved to the Hillside Drafting Studio because of Kenneth B. Lockhart (1914-1994). He arrived in the Taliesin Fellowship in 1939. The Administrator of Historic Studies of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation interviewed Lockhart several times. In their May 5, 1988 interview, “Kenn” [sic] said that he arrived as an apprentice right after Wright and the Fellowship moved to the Hillside studio in July, 1939.

Where the flooring comes from:

That flooring caused curiosity for years. Where did it come from? And Herbert Johnson’s name floated around in the tour program in relation to that flooring. Did Johnson give the flooring to Wright? Was the flooring first planned for Wingspread? Was the flooring “overdraft” from Wingspread?

The answer to questions one and three, by the way, is NO

Yet, the question on how Wright got the flooring still had to be answered. And it was, by the Administrator of Historic Studies. In 1992, Indira tracked down its history. She started her task by asking former architectural Wright apprentice, Edgar Tafel.

Tafel had worked on the Johnson Wax World Headquarters, also commissioned by Herbert Johnson.

This is the same Edgar Tafel who wrote Apprentice to Genius, which I wrote about.

Tafel told Indira that he thought of a connection between the Evans Products Co. and Frank Lloyd Wright. With that in mind, she went looking in Wright’s correspondence.  

Correspondence between Wright and Evans Products Co.

There are 8 letters between that business and Wright (or his secretary, Gene Masselink).

The first letter (E030C06) was written on March 15, 1940. Their records indicate that they shipped flooring to Wright on November 28, 1938, but hadn’t yet been paid (the bill was $400.00).

Wright replied (E03D01) on March 22, 1940. He wrote that he appreciated their patience regarding the “laminated flooring in our draughting [sic] room.”

And he wrote that it had been difficult getting paid by clients. Yet, the flooring has been doing “good work for you – as well as for us” as at least a hundred people go through the buildings during the summer and have admired the “beauty and durability of the floor.”

Unfortunately, there does not appear to be a record that Wright ever paid the Evans Products Co.

One of the last letters from the Evans Product Co. was written on September 26, 1941. This is #E033E05. The author (apparently a secretary), began by noting how so many things had changed since that day they shipped the flooring to Wright on November 28, 1938.

They emphasized how Europe (then at war) had changed very much since that day. Then, they ended the letter noting that “there will always be an England” but (I’m paraphrasing here) they hoped that there would not always be a $400 outstanding debt from Frank Lloyd Wright to the Evans Products Co.!

Once more

I found this information in 2009 while working at Wright’s archives (then at Taliesin West in Arizona). I had spent months working on the history of Hillside with architectural historian, Anne Biebel (the principal of Cornerstone Preservation). And I finally answered where that flooring came from; which Indira had discovered it 17 years before!

Published October 8, 2021

I took the photograph at the top of this page on August 26, 2009.


1 “At Taliesin” was the name of weekly articles published by Wright and the Taliesin Fellowship in the 1930s. They were found, transcribed and edited by Randolph C. Henning. He published them in a book in the early 1990s. I wrote about the book in my post, “Books by Apprentices

2 Randolph C. Henning, ed. and with commentary. At Taliesin: Newspaper Columns by Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Fellowship, 1934-1937 (Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale and Edwardsville, Illinois, 1991), 273.

3 Not that you’ve never heard of Fallingwater, but it’s a big world out there on the World Wide Web. So, what the hell!

Taliesin II living quarters, approximately 1922

Taliesin II: the forgotten middle child of Taliesin

The photo at the top of this page shows the living quarters of Taliesin: the portion of the building rebuilt after the fire of 1914 and destroyed in the fire of 1925. Someone took is around 1922.

Frank Lloyd Wright and Taliesin II:1

Frank Lloyd Wright named his home Taliesin, but later wrote that the building after the 1914 fire was Taliesin II, and that the building after the second fire (of 1925) was Taliesin III.

Taliesin II gets lost because Wright built it after the 1914 fire (caused by an act of violence). Then, an electrical power destroyed it again, in 1925. The home that exists today was where Wright lived when:

    • He recovered his career in architecture
    • Started the Taliesin Fellowship
    • Designed some of his most well-known buildings (including Fallingwater), and
    • Became, apparently, the first “starchitect”

Although, as of 1939 his main studio in Wisconsin was his newly designed and built drafting studio at Hillside2 on the southern part of his Taliesin estate (which I wrote about in an earlier blog post).

So Taliesin II gets overshadowed

Also, Wright was out of the country a lot from 1915-1922 , working in Tokyo on the Imperial Hotel.

Still, by the time he finished with the Imperial Hotel, he had added two more rooms to Taliesin’s living quarters (on the ground floor and one above that). Then made that part of the building taller.

Here’s that part of the building in the early 1920s:

Taliesin II from the

From the Eric Milton Nicholls Collection at the National Library of Australia

The Griffins took the photograph above on their trip to the United States in 1924-25. Compare this photo to the one at the top of the page: the chimney you see here on the right on the photo at the top of the page is the same chimney that you see on the left in the photo above. The photographer took this photo from the Hill Crown at Taliesin. On the right hand side of the photograph was a guest room. Today, that’s part of Frank Lloyd Wright’s bedroom.

The photo comes from the National Library of Australia

Take a look at this page, where you can get more information on the photo. It comes from the collection of Eric Milton Nicholls, architectural partner to husband and wife architects Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin.

Down on this page, you’ll see that I put hyperlinks to all of the photographs that the Griffins took of Taliesin.

In addition to the changes Wright did at his living quarters, he extended Taliesin to the west, adding a root cellar and ice house in 1916, and, by 1924, another horse stable, and also chicken coops, a granary and a pigsty.3

If Taliesin II had stood longer, more photographs would exist of it.

Plus, the reason for less photographs is that Wright was out of the country for large chunks of time from the late 1910s to the early 1920s. He didn’t return to live full time in the United States until 1922, after he had finished most of his work on Japan’s Imperial Hotel. Then things went sort of “sideways” with his longtime partner, Miriam Noel.

Wright and Noel married in November 1923.

Noel lived with him about 5 or 6 months as his wife. She left by April or early May the next year.

My personal opinion is that those two seemed to bring out the worst in each other. You can read about her in Meryle Secrest’s Wright biography (don’t be afraid of its number of pages—someone told me to skip the first 100). Another book is Frank Lloyd Wright: A Biography, by Finis Farr.

Or you can read the fictionalized Miriam in The Women, by T.C. Boyle.

Wright met Olgivanna Milanoff about six months after Miriam left. Olgivanna, who married him in 1928, moved into Taliesin by January 1925.  On April 20 of that year another fire (probably because of bad wiring) struck Taliesin. It destroyed Taliesin’s living quarters. No one died, but Wright lost thousands of dollars worth of Japanese art bought. While he worked on rebuilding Taliesin, Noel found out about Olgivanna (now pregnant with her and Wright’s child). Miriam’s discovery resulted in more bad press and career problems (even before the stock market crashed in 1929).

            That’s the easy version of that story.  

Although, when you know where to look, you can find photographs online of Taliesin II.

I’d love to plaster this page with Taliesin II photos, but I think I’d get into trouble (copyrights and all that). So, I will show where you can find these images for the rest of my post.

Photographs of Taliesin II

There are a couple of places where can you find Taliesin II photographs in print:

By the way: if you get the “Global Architecture” book, or “Selected Houses v. 2”, trust me when I tell you that, while the cover of the books has a Wright-designed rug on the floor of the Taliesin living room, that rug was never there while he was alive.

Here are links to images on-line:

Eric Milton Nicholls Collection, National Library of Australia:

Nicholls worked in the office in Australia of architects Walter Burley Griffin and his wife, Marion Mahony Griffin.

The site shows seven photos taken on the Taliesin Estate: five show Taliesin II, one shows the dam and waterfall, and one shows the Hillside structure. Of these seven, the Griffins took some when they visited the U.S. in 1924-25 (like the photo I showed above). But one shows Taliesin II a little earlier: https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-150233395/view. It looks like it was taken around 1917, before the Griffins went to Australia.

Links to the five other photos:

If for some reason these URLs don’t work, go to the Library of Australia in the Nicholls Collection: https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-150140881

Go to Search and the Taliesin photographs are on Pages 821-840.

Here are other photographs, most at the Wisconsin Historical Society:

Exteriors

Interiors:

  • Taliesin II Dining Room:https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Image/IM83015
    • The design of the ceiling shows this to be Taliesin II, not Taliesin I. A Taliesin tour guide told me this years ago (hi, Bryan).
    • Aside from the ceiling another thing that shows this is Taliesin II is the design of the chair in the foreground. This “room” is not surrounded by four walls; so, the living room “starts” when the ceiling drops down.
  • Another Taliesin II Dining Room photo (from the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation website), https://franklloydwright.org/an-autobiography-in-wood-and-stone/1403-0038-dining-s/
    • It’s showing the same space as the first one above. Go back and forth between the two to see the differences.
  • Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin, sitting at a table near the window: https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Image/IM23788
    • He’s sitting in Taliesin’s living room, along the east wall, north of the photos of the dining “room” above. So if you were sitting where he was, and looked to your left you would see the dining area.
  • Frank Lloyd Wright at the Taliesin Drafting Studio, 1924: https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Image/IM27896
    • We know where he is because of the fireplace on the left hand side of the photograph. The photographer who took this photograph was probably standing in the space where all the drafting was done (which you see in the next photo).
    • One of the things I find silly about this photo is that Wright looks to me like he’s 4 feet tall.
  • Drafting Studio. https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Image/IM66179
    • The person closest to the photographer was Nobuko Tsuchiura, she was a draftsperson4 at Taliesin with her husband, Kameki, from the beginning of 1924 to the end of 1925.
  • Taliesin II Living Room:https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Image/IM83334
    • The TII living room is noted by the long rectangle at the fireplace.

First published on March 2, 2021

I don’t know who took the photograph of the Taliesin II living quarters that is at the top of this entry. I got a copy of it from someone who convinced someone else not to throw this out.


Notes:

1 Some say the words Taliesin I, Taliesin II, and Taliesin III shouldn’t be used. That using these numbers imply the building was completely destroyed twice with a new one built on top of the ruins. But the Taliesin fires only destroyed 1/3 of the building (but not its drafting studio or farm wings).

While I don’t commonly call the house that stands “Taliesin III”, I use those terms because Wright wrote them in his autobiography. Even if someone says he’s wrong, I’m not going to disagree with his choices because Taliesin was his house, and he was a lot smarter than I am or ever will be.

2 And, in a a moment of a snake-eating-its-own-tail thing, I first wrote the Wikipedia page about Hillside that I linked to. I’m using it here to back up my  assertion. I’ll try not to link back to this blog post if I update the Wikipedia page on how much work Wright did at the Hillside drafting studio.

3 He labelled it as a pigsty in a floor plan, but someone told me that Wright used it as a goat pen. Probably because even randy goats can smell better than pigs.

4 I asked people who’ve worked in architecture what term I should use to describe Nobuko Tsuchiura. I didn’t know if “draftsman” was proper, and “draftswoman” seemed odd. Someone suggested “draftshuman”, but I thought I should go with something that is more commonly used nowadays. “Draftsperson” was the most suggested so that’s why I put that here.