Photograph taken at Taliesin in late summer. The structure has been built, although not all of the windows are in. One man is bending working on teh ground.

What is the oldest part of Taliesin? Part I

Looking (plan) east at Taliesin from the balcony of its hayloft, fall 1911. Taken by Taylor Woolley, who worked as a draftsman for Wright at Taliesin. I showed this image in the post, “This will be a nice addition“.

While people don’t ask that question at other Frank Lloyd Wright buildings, it’s part and parcel of his personal home in Wisconsin.1 After all, he was already changing things after 1912, and he probably would have made changes at his home even if it never suffered two major fires.

And, remarkably, there are things at Taliesin that go back to 1911-12. Even where there wasn’t any fire.

Why am I bringing this up?

I thought I would share what people asked me sometimes while I gave tours. Hopefully I didn’t overwhelm them with info. But while “don’t talk about what you can’t see” is one of the tour-guiding rules, change was a part of Taliesin.

In fact, that’s true even in the photo at the top of this post. Wright changed almost all of the stone piers and chimneys that you see there.

Now, while Wright didn’t sit down in April of 1911 and say, “I want to change my home with Mamah all the time!”, he liked the flexibility of changing things as he had new ideas. He refined his ideas all the time, and his home was the best place see these new things.

After all, I’ve heard people say that –

Taliesin is like a life-sized model.

Even Taliesin’s most consistent feature, the Tea Circle, would change.

The Tea Circle

It’s a semi-circular stone bench where Wright and the Taliesin Fellowship used to have tea.

In the photo at the top of this post, the Tea Circle will be eventually built on the right, where you can see the man working under the two oak trees. They wouldn’t finish it until 1912.

So, the photo shows that they had removed all of the dirt around those oak trees, and built the retaining walls. Then they gave the roots of the oaks a chance to settle before making more disruptions.

But Wright’s plans included the Tea Circle at Taliesin almost from the beginning.

However, you can see that unfinished Tea Circle in another photo by Taylor Woolley, below. He took this in the spring of 1912. Taliesin’s basically been built, but the Tea Circle steps, and its stone seat, don’t yet exist:

Photograph at Taliesin in early spring. In view: pool on left, Flower in the Crannied Wall statue at Tea Circle.
By Taylor Woolley. Courtesy of Utah State History, Taylor Woolley Collection, ID 695904.

Looking west toward the Tea Circle. The chimney at Taliesin’s Drafting Studio is on the right. The Hayloft is under the horizontal roof in the background.

I used to look for the Tea Circle on plans to orient myself when I was first learning about Taliesin. I put one of Taliesin’s early drawing below, with an arrow pointing at the stone bench. Western Architect magazine published this drawing in February 1913:

Drawing of Taliesin complex. Published in February 1913.
Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York), 1403.011.

In fact, here are links to Taliesin plans that have the Tea Circle seat.

ARTSTOR says the drawings are from Taliesin II, but that’s wrong. I noted before that the former director of the Frank Lloyd Wright Archives, the late Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer, was wrong on the structural details of the building. But I never got the chance to talk to him about how he came up with the dates for the drawings.2

The Preservation Crew at the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation carried out restoration, preservation, and reconstruction on the Tea Circle in 2019.3 They had to replace a lot of the degraded/missing stone work there. Its form (and as much stone as possible) now matches what was there in when it was originally finished.

Anyway, here I was,

trying to figure out the date of Woolley’s photo showing the forecourt and unfinished Tea Circle.

that’s the problem with black & white photos: they make late fall and early spring look the same!

And, HOORAY! Wright’s scandals gave me the info.

See, on December 23, 1911, the Chicago Tribune sent a telegram to Wright asking to confirm or deny that he was living in Wisconsin with Mamah Borthwick.

(by then, she and Edwin had divorced, and she legally took back her maiden name)

The Tribune published his reply on Dec. 24,

Let there be no misunderstanding, a Mrs. E. H. Cheney never existed for me and now is no more in fact. But Mamah Borthwick is here and I intend to take care of her.

Since Wright’s telegram made things even worse, the next day, Wright and Borthwick invited the reporters inside Taliesin so he could give a public statement. He hoped doing this would explain things and take pressure off himself and his family.

It didn’t go well.

In part because Wright said, “In a way my buildings are my children”. The guy needed a publicist. But it was 1911; whatcha gonna do?

This disaster with the press answered my question:

As Wright escorted the reporters to the forecourt (now the Garden Court), he talked about upcoming work on the building and grounds. He said:

There is to be a fountain in the courtyard, and flowers. To the south, on a sun bathed slope, there is to be a vineyard. At the foot of the steep slope in front there is a dam in process of construction that will back up several acres of water as a pond for wild fowl.

Chicago Daily Tribune, December 26, 1911, “Spend Christmas Making ‘Defense’ of ‘Spiritual Hegira.'”

AHA!

There it is: at Christmas 1911, they hadn’t yet finished Taliesin’s dam! So the hydraulic ram wasn’t yet working to bring water to the reservoir behind the house, giving Taliesin running water and water for the pools!4

In contrast, Woolley’s photo has the fountain (on the left in the photo above). That means the water system was working.

More Taliesin photos

In January 1913, Architectural Record published photos taken in the previous summer. Click on the photo below for the link to a .pdf of that magazine. The link is the whole magazine for the first half 1913, so you’ll have to go through it.

Image from opening pages of "The Studio-Home of Frank Lloyd Wright". Includes a photograph looking West at Taliesin in the summer of 1912.

You go to the link (which has 6 months of the issues). You can find page 44 of the January issue, and that’s the start of 10 pages of Taliesin photos, like the screenshot above.

These Fuermann photos are what a lot of people envision when they think of Taliesin I.

You can also find them at the Wisconsin Historical Society in the Fuermann and Sons Collection.

And if you love them and want All The Fuermann Photos, you can buy the special issue on them that was published in the Journal of the Organic Architecture + Design Archives. They’ve got the photos Fuermann took in three photographic sessions. Architectural Historian, Kathryn Smith, explains their history.

More to come

I was ready to post this when I realized there are a few more things that you can see on tours that go back to 1911-12. So I’ll publish another post with more.

 

Taylor Woolley (then Wright’s draftsman), took the photograph at the top of this post. It’s at the Utah Historical Society, here

Published November 16, 2022


Notes

1 I don’t think they’ll be offering tours underground any time soon, in part because the openings into some places are only accessible by crawling on your hands and knees. Like what I wrote on in “A slice of Taliesin“.

2 I didn’t want to come off as a snotnosed smarty pants. Although maybe we could have talked about it. He seemed to trust my opinion by the end. He respected my opinions on one drawing I asked about.

3 The restoration work is due to a donation by educator and Architectural Historian, Sidney K. Robinson.

Watch Ryan Hewson, of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation talking about the restoration of the Tea Circle the “Frank Lloyd Wright x Pecha Kucha Live 2020” event. Pecha Kucha is a fast-paced slide show, and Hewson’s presentation is just over 6 minutes. It explains the work really well.

4 I wrote about my study of the dam in the post, “My dam history“.

1910-1911 exterior photograph on the Hillside Home School campus.

Another find at Hillside

A photograph from 1910-1911 showing three structures on the campus of the Hillside Home School. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hillside building is on the left and behind it, with the hipped gable roof, is the dormitory for the high school boys. The third structure on the far right was known as the Home Cottage and was for the younger boys.

In my last post I wrote about finding something during the Comprehensive Hillside Chronology. Today, I’m posting about another find made during that project.

Although, I credit this find to my research and writing partner on that project, Anne Biebel (principal, Cornerstone Preservation). She made the mental connection; I only agreed after the surrounding evidence became too strong.

What was this find?

That Wright’s Hillside structure was physically attached to another building that he didn’t design. Literally: Wright connected his building to a wooden, 3-story building right behind it.

Whew – I feel better just coming out and saying that.

How this was found out:

Anne and I looked at the Hillside drawings while researching. At that moment, we weren’t looking at drawings of Wright’s Hillside structure done when Wright first built it for his aunts.

No: we were looking at another drawing, dated November 8, 1920. Wright requested it from a draftsman to show the entire Taliesin estate. We were looking at the draftsman’s copy. 1

Wright’s copy of the drawing had changes he made to it over the decades. His version is at the Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library and is reproduced in b&w here. I showed a bit of it a few months ago when talking about reading correspondence about Midway Barn on the Taliesin estate.

The draftsman who drew it:

That was Rudolph Schindler (1887-1953), an Austrian-born American architect who worked under Wright in the United States and Japan from February 1918 to August 1921. 2

Schindler’s version is interesting

His drawing (in his papers at UC-Santa Barbara) seems to show the buildings as they actually existed. This, compared to Wright’s drawings, in which Wright always seemed to add those things at Taliesin that he wanted to exist.

While I won’t show you Schindler’s drawing, I’ll show you the drawing that I made from his. 3

No: this is (more or less) a good drawing, not the mess I drew you when I posted about figuring out that photograph of the Blue room at Taliesin. I tried to trace what Schindler drew.

What you see below is my rendition of the part of Schindler’s drawing that shows the campus for the Hillside Home School:

Keiran Murphy's drawing of the buildings on the old campus of the Hillside Home School in 1920.

The text in Arial font (like “Laundry…”) identifies buildings that Schindler didn’t label.

Below is that part of Schindler’s drawing that made Anne think Wright’s Hillside building was literally attached to something else.

Keiran Murphy's close-up of two buildings on the old Hillside Home School campus in 1920.

Schindler just labelled the “Hillside School Bldg”; I added “Boys Dormitory”. But the thing that intrigued Anne was the gray rectangle attached to the right side of the Boys Dormitory. She identified that as a corridor from Wright’s Hillside School building.

By the way, if you’re curious about the open rectangle between the two parts of Wright’s building: that was Schindler’s way of showing that this was a bridge connecting the Science and Arts room to the rest of the structure.

Anne sat across from me while we looked at the drawing and said with excitement that she thought that the Boys Dormitory was attached to Wright’s “Hillside School Bldg”. I totally pooh-poohed it. Besides, another drawing (an aerial, below, done in 1910 for the “Wasmuth” portfolio) doesn’t show anything around the Hillside structure:

Aerial view drawing, Frank Lloyd Wright's Hillside Home School structure.
From the J. Willard Marriott Digital Library, Rare Books collection,
The University of Utah

Luckily I wasn’t alone on this project, because

Anne was ultimately proven right:

Over the next few weeks, I kept writing and exploring, looking at drawings with a fine-toothed comb (and probably a loupe). But I noticed things this time. Like,

Check out the building section: the building keeps going on the right:

The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York), #0216.010.The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York), drawing #0216.007.

The arrow pointing down on the right-hand side is showing—not the end of the building, but—a hallway coming out of it. The hallway that doesn’t really show up in the floor plans or other drawings.

In fact, this find also explained something about the Hillside drawings: there are none of the north side of the Art and Science rooms (the Roberts Room and Dana Gallery). Those rooms are seen in sections, but no Hillside drawing shows what the outside of the building looked like on the north.

Well, I finally started to believe it. Then, I re-read something and found that this very connection was written about –

In a book by a former Hillside teacher:

Mary Ellen Chase (a writer, and educator) wrote about her life as a student and teacher in A Goodly Fellowship. From 1909-1913, the Hillside Home School was her first teaching job. She wrote,

Older boys of high school age had their own homelike dormitory near by [sic]. In 1903 this was connected with an adequate and beautiful school building of native limestone, designed and erected by Frank Lloyd Wright, the son of Anna Lloyd-Jones and a nephew of [the Aunts] Ellen and Jane.

“The Hillside Home School” chapter in A Goodly Fellowship, by Mary Ellen Chase (The Macmillan Company, New York City, 1939), 98.

Then,

we pulled all of the information together (but no photos yet) to support the theory that the gymnasium was attached to Wright’s Hillside building. And that Wright later completely destroyed this connection by the time he started his Taliesin Fellowship in 1932.

Then, early the next year, the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy put out a “Call for Papers” for its 2010 conference (in September). The conference theme was “Modifying Wright’s Buildings and Their Sites: Additions, Subtractions, Adjacencies”. After consulting with Anne, I submitted a conference proposal to give a presentation on our find (Anne was fine with me giving the presentation).

Later, she and I were asked to turn the presentation into an article for a book. So, we worked on the article, still with no photographic proof that the buildings were connected.

Then, lo and behold,

In February of 2011, an album of photographs of Hillside in 1906 appeared (also mentioned in my last post). One of them showed the Boys dormitory, with the hallway terminating into it.

And, finally,

In March or April, 2011, as Anne and I worked on the article in the book, we went to the Wisconsin Historical Society Archives. We opened a folder of photographs in the John P. Lewis collection and—SCORE!—there was a beautiful photo showing that hallway more clearly. That’s below.

PHotograph of boy in striped, long-sleeved shirt and shorts in summer, with buildings behind him.
Wisconsin Historical Society, Lewis, John P. : Wright collection, 1869-1968.
Image ID: 84042

That boy is standing just west of the Boys Dormitory and Wright’s Hillside building. The Science Room (now the Dana Gallery) is behind him.

BOOYAH!

Originally posted, February 19, 2022.

The photograph at the top of this post was taken by a Hillside Home School student, class of 1911. In 2005, her daughters, Elizabeth Weber and Margaret Deming, came into the Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor Center to take a tour, giving us the chance to scan the photographs that their mother had taken while she was a student. I asked Elizabeth Weber’s permission to publish the photograph (which appears in the book in which Anne and I wrote the article).
See? Another example of “Preservation by Distribution“!


1. Wright scholar, Kathryn Smith, might have alerted the Preservation Crew about Schindler’s drawing, and got us a photograph of it. Why did she let us know this—and also alert us to the Taliesin photographs by Raymond Trowbridge?—Preservation by distribution.

2. Email from Kathryn Smith to me, January 8, 2021. This information came from her book, SCHINDLER HOUSE, Abrams, 2001, p. 11-16.

3. Anne and I looked at Schindler’s drawing, but I don’t know if I can show it, since it’s not been printed anywhere.

Cover of Taliesin album. Image sent to Keiran Murphy in 2005.

The Album

This is a photograph of the cover of “The Album”. The image was sent to me by the person selling it through the online auction site, Ebay, in January 2005.

Since we’re in January, I’ll take the time to expand my story of “The Album” that I mentioned months ago in my entry, “Post-it Notes on Taliesin Drawings“.

The Album was how I knew that Wright had designed bunkbeds for his draftsmen. Two photographs in The Album showed the bunkbeds and later, I found a drawing of them in Wright’s archives. I marked it with a post-it note.

WHAT?! You’re putting Post-It notes on archival drawings?!
Calm down – read the post to get the story.

Finding out about The Album:

In January 2005, Carol Johnson (Taliesin Preservation’s then-Executive Director), met me after I’d just gotten out of my car for work and said,

“Tony told me there are photos of Taliesin on Ebay.”

“Tony” was Tony Puttnam (1934-2017), who became Wright’s apprentice in 1953.

The director knew they were really old and rare and sent me the website address for the Ebay auction so I could try to see them. Once I looked online, I recognized 2 of the 3 photographs shown by the seller.

Yes: these were really rare images in a handmade album (the cover of which is at the top of this page). Building details dated them to 1911-12.

I wrote to the seller, Helen Conwell, as someone who “might” buy them. I asked her to send me some of them.

Sounds sneaky, but I didn’t say anything fraudulent. My supervisor and I thought we might be able to get money for them, depending on what they were. We had dreams, you see.

Conwell sent me 28 scans (out of 33 images). I had seen 10 of them before this.

Where had I seen them?

See, in the early 1990s, when the Taliesin Preservation Commission—as the .org was known then—began the restoration of Taliesin, others tried to get this new organization up to speed. Architects, architectural historians,1 former Wright apprentices, and those in Wright’s archives at the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation gave “TPC” copies of photographs to enhance the knowledge of Taliesin’s history.

In particular, the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation gave copies of Taliesin I photographs from the “Clifford Evans collection” at the University of Utah.

Why Clifford Evans?

Here’s a rundown on Evans (1889-1973), an architect who donated his materials to the U of UT:

  • Evans was the architectural partner of a man named Taylor Woolley.
  • Taylor Woolley was a draftsman for Frank Lloyd Wright in Oak Park, Italy, and Taliesin.
  • Taylor Woolley gave some of his items to the Clifford Evans collection. Included were his photos taken during the first year of Taliesin, some of which are also in The Album.

I’ve already posted Woolley’s photographs on this blog. Here are some entries including them

  • The Woolley photos in Utah include 9 that The Album didn’t have.

I told people what I knew

The week The Album was up for auction and the whole Wright world was freaking (which I wrote in “Post-it Notes…”), I told people a version of what I just wrote above. It really didn’t do anything, but I felt the story had to get out there. Besides, I wasn’t the only person who knew these images were repeated elsewhere. There were those at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Archives; and a professor in Utah, named Peter Goss.2

Why were these important?

Previous to this album’s discovery, most Frankophiles knew the existence of about 60 photos of Taliesin I (1911-14). This album had 33 more images, 32 of which had never been published.

One had been published in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin and Taliesin West, by Wright scholar, Kathryn Smith.

Photos from The Album included several of Taliesin’s east façade, its carriage path in its first autumn, and almost 10 interiors, including Wright’s Drafting Studio.

One in the studio has workmen in front of its fireplace. The Wisconsin Historical Society says that they’re “maybe at Taliesin”. No: they’re actually at Taliesin. Trust me.

Nancy Horan wrote in her novel, Loving Frank, that these men were in the Living Room, but that’s wrong: the photo shows them in the Drafting Studio. I don’t blame her that she didn’t realize this was at the Drafting Studio fireplace. It took us a while to figure it out, too.

Note: when I write “us”, I usually mean “me”.

That’s not even mentioning the two photos with the bunkbeds.

Moreover,

The Album shows landscape photos all over what is now the Taliesin estate. There’s one of them, below, taken just south of Taliesin:

Looking south on the Taliesin estate with snow. Taliesin is behind the photographer.
Property Wisconsin Historical Society. Whi-29048

I went out later, trying to match the views. My attempt to do that is in color, below:

Looking south on the Taliesin estate in winter.

Photograph by me, March of 2005.

But, more importantly,

This album, showing the newly completed building, had a history that could be traced. In other words, it had a “provenance“. Someone from the Spring Green, Wisconsin area owned the album, then sold it to Conwell in the 1970s.

End of the auction:

Helen Conwell thought she would get about $200 for an album that sold for $22,100.

I wrote about it in “Post-it Notes…”, but you can also read here how Conwell got the album and how the Wisconsin Historical Society acquired it.

While the photographer was unknown in 2005, I knew it was likely Taylor Woolley. This was proven in 2010, when author Ron McCrea found Woolley’s collection at the Utah State Historical Society. He’s included in my post, “This Will Be a Nice Addition“.

So, that week was exciting.

And you can see all of the images online at the Wisconsin Historical Society website, here.

That said,

It’s been much too long since a big, unknown haul of Taliesin photographs has come to light. Seriously: we need new, old photos of Taliesin.

Now, there are photographs taken in the early 1940s by David or Priscilla Henken that were published in A Taliesin Diary: A Year With Frank Lloyd Wright.

But that was published almost a decade ago. Yet, I still have hopes that children of those who were in the Taliesin Fellowship in the 1950s will discover photographs their moms or dads took while apprentices at Taliesin.

What do I want to see?

Off the top of my head, I’d like detailed photographs of Olgivanna Lloyd Wright‘s bedroom taken in 1957-58. That’s a pipe dream, but what you see in her bedroom today was restored and worked on with as much information as possible. But it’s probably not the room as it stood. We do what we can.

“If we knew what we were doing, we wouldn’t call it research, would we?”

A quote often ascribed to Albert Einstein that he apparently never said/wrote. Read someone writing on how it doesn’t appear to have come from Einstein.

First published, January 20, 2022.
The scans of The Album’s cover, and the exterior photograph taken in the winter were sent to me by Conwell in 2005.
They are the property of the Wisconsin Historical Society, and can be found here and here.


Notes:

1. Like Sidney K. Robinson, who owns the Ford House by architect, Bruce Goff.

2. Goss wrote about Woolley in the article, “Taylor A. Woolley, Utah Architect and Draftsman to Frank Lloyd Wright,” Utah Historical Quarterly (2013) 81 (2): 149–158.
https://doi.org/10.2307/45063406

Dam, waterfall, and hydro-house at Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin

My Dam History

In early fall 2019, the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation began work on Taliesin’s dam on Wright’s estate in Wisconsin. Hopefully, they’ll finish the work in 2022. Then, the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation will again fill Taliesin’s pond. Once that happens, visitors will see the waterfall running on the north side of the stream.

Those working in preservation for the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation did a segment on the work in a Facebook feed in August 2020 that’s pretty cool. It included an explanation of what they were doing and why.

This recent work made me think about the historic photographs of the waterfall (like the one above) and my study of them, so that’s what my post is about today. My study of the dam led into how I approached the study of Taliesin’s history overall.

My start in the dam history

I first came across a lot of photographs (or photocopies) of the dam and waterfall that winter I worked in the Preservation Office. My work was mostly arranging photos into binders so people could find them later.

I wrote about arranging those photographs associated with Taliesin a couple of blog posts ago. Those photos included 33 of the dam/waterfall. As those features weren’t near the building at all, I worked to figure out when the photos were taken. Sometimes the photos would be postcards that had been sent, so I could get a “taken by” date on them. Other than that a lot of times I figured out things at Taliesin by a game of “spot the difference” (like those cartoons you used to see in the newspaper on Sundays).

Since I only found four photographs with dates attached to them, I figured out their dates by looking at things around them. I looked closely at the stone, the heights of trees, and the thickness of tree branches. When I finished (and so I could keep the memory of what I learned) I wrote these things down into a short document. I named it: “Preliminary research into the construction history of the Lower Dam on the Taliesin Estate”.

Or, as I called it, “My Dam History” (usually said loudly to anyone who would listen). What I put below is based on the things I learned then, and what I found out in the years since.

Wright on his dam:

Wright began construction on his home in April or May 1911 and began building the dam by the end of that year or the beginning of the next. He wrote that, aside from creating the pond,

[T]he stream… had a great dam. A thick stone wall thrown across it, to make a pond at the very foot of the hill, and raise the water in the valley to within sight from Taliesin. The water below the falls thus made, was sent, by hydraulic ram,1 up to a big stone reservoir built into the higher hill, just behind and above the hilltop garden. . . .

Frank Lloyd Wright. An Autobiography (Longmans, Green and Company, London, New York, Toronto, 1932), 173.

So, because of the hydraulic ram, Taliesin had running water.

It’s also the reason why Taliesin probably didn’t have outhouses. I wrote about that in a post in August, 2021.

Early Dam photos:

A photo of the dam in its initial construction is below:

Taliesin photograph by Taylor Woolley.
© 2011 Utah State History. All Rights Reserved.

Wright’s draftsman, Taylor Woolley, took the photo in the winter of 1911-12. It shows Taliesin at the top photograph and at least one wall built for the dam/pond at the bottom. You can see photographs of the early completed waterfall if you look at the book, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin: Illustrated by Vintage Postcards, by Randolph C. Henning.

A Hydro-house Constructed for Electricity

Close to 15 years after Wright first started Taliesin, he decided to take advantage of the waterfall’s power. So, he designed and built a hydro-electric generator at the dam. This was finished in early 1926.2

The hydro-house is in the photo at the top of the page

It’s the little structure to the right of the falls in that photograph. The hydro-house was similar to Taliesin: it had the same materials and angle on the roof, and the same color plaster on the parapet like what you found on the stucco walls at the house. People made postcards showing it, which is how I got the image above. A former co-worker gave it to me after finding it in a box of postcards while he and his wife were at a county fair.

But the stucco wall that you see wasn’t at the falls for very long. Water from the falls probably sprayed the stucco wall constantly. However, the hydro-house machinery was safer under under the roof. So the generator ran more-or-less successfully for about 20 years before Wright had it taken out.

Bad photocopies made for interesting lessons:

Oh, and I forgot this: for the most part, I was looking at 3rd, 4th, 7th generation photocopies. So I had to figure out images from what were basically blotchy dots.

To give you a sense of what I was seeing, I took the scan of that dam photo above and messed with it. I changed contrast and kept making copies of it. That’s what I below. Actually the image here looks better than what I remember seeing (eventually, I got better versions of most of the images).

But, the initial poor quality of the images made me really work on my analytical side. And it taught me to stop and start looking very closely at things. It’s think:  was that one stone a little bit different than one seen in another photo? Did it look like it had a few chunks taken out of it compared to what I saw before? Is there a new stone to the left of those three stones there? Is there less plaster on the wall?

Another thing about this work (looking at stone and the size of tree branches to figure out which photograph was taken earlier or later) was trying to block out preconceived notions on what I might expect to see in an image.

The end of my work days:

I might spend the afternoon looking at three photographs, going from one to the other with a loupe (a magnifier). The office used to be a horse stable at Taliesin, and had the sound of Taliesin’s waterfall as my backdrop.

It’s helpful especially with Wright’s home, because Wright often had things drawn there that never existed; or would change things while the features were being built. Like that hydro-house: it looks really cool in that photograph but as I wrote above, the waterlogged plaster was probably coming off it within a week. Trying to clear my brain when I looked at spaces hopefully stopped me from wasting time on some theory.

In addition, the end of this process meant that at times when people (tour guides, visitors to Taliesin, architects, other Frankophiles) asked something about a room, I could walk them through it at different times (because I’d spent hours walking through the spaces in my head). I found myself on at least one occasion saying, “It doesn’t look like that now, but it used to.”

And most of these people have never been there when I answered “what did you do at work today?” with, “I looked at some stone. And figured stuff out.”

Links below:

Here are hyperlinks at the Wisconsin Historical Society of photographs showing Taliesin’s waterfall with the hydro-house, after the removal of the parapet:

https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Image/IM25845

https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Image/IM60721

https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Image/IM25573

First published February 24, 2021

I own the postcard seen at the top of this post. I don’t know who the photographer was. They probably took the photo in 1926 or 1927.


Notes:

1 A hydraulic ram is one of the many things I’ve learned about while working at Taliesin. If you’ve ever been near a hydraulic ram you hear a constant clicking sound as the water is forced up vertically. I think about that when people talk about the sounds of Taliesin. It gets pretty darned quiet at night in the country so the hydraulic ram would have a sound, I imagine, close to the sound of the ticking of a distant clock.

2 Architectural historian Kathryn Smith wrote an article with former Wright apprentice Don Kalec on photographs taken of Taliesin, apparently by Clarence Fuermann, on three occasions. One of these is a photograph showing the hydro-house. It was published in the Journal of the Organic Architecture + Design Archives and includes over 50 archival photos.

Photograph of Taliesin's Loggia by Raymond C. Trowbridge

Raymond Trowbridge photos

In my last post I wrote about a photograph of a wall that no longer exists at Taliesin. I wrote that the photo as taken in 1930 and I’d explain it in my next post. That photograph showed the wall in the Loggia fireplace. The photograph above is by the same photographer and shows the other side of that wall. What you’re seeing is Taliesin’s Loggia. Here’s how I (or Taliesin Preservation) got the photos and how I know they were taken in 1930.

First coming across the Trowbridge photographs:

In the winter of 1997-98 (3 years into my employment, then working seasonally at Taliesin Preservation), I had a part-time job in the preservation office working with photographs related specifically to Wright’s home (later his Taliesin estate, which includes the Hillside stucture, Romeo & Juliet windmill, Midway Barn, his sister’s home, Tan-y-deri, along with its landscape). Photographs are among the things used to help understand the history of the Taliesin estate and do restoration/preservation. The work was needed that winter because an Architectural Historian from Taliesin Preservation had apparently left his office in a bit of a mess.

So I got a job in the office  (20 hours a week through the winter). I worked through the winter to bring order to the photocopies he’d left behind. As a result, I saw some amazing images for the first time.

Taliesin Preservation becoming aware of the photographs:

13 of them had been brought to our attention by Wright scholar, Kathryn Smith. She’d come across them while doing work in Chicago, photocopied them, and sent them to us, as part of what was described to me once as “preservation by distribution“. She’d sent the images maybe in the early 1990s. And she included all of the relevant information with the photocopies: collection ID-number, the photographer (Raymond Trowbridge), and who owns them (the Chicago Historical Society, now the Chicago History Museum).

By their details, it looked like someone took them in early Taliesin III; so 1925-32. They looked like the photographer took the images before the Wrights founded the Taliesin Fellowship (in 1932). Trowbridge knew what he was doing with these images. They have wonderful composition and light balance, show the texture of Taliesin’s stucco walls, its wooden banding, and its flagstone.

In my work, I arranged these into the binders of photocopies we’d started to assemble. Then the winter ended, and I went back to my work giving tours.

My first trip to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Archives:

Almost a decade passed. I started working in historic research (along with tours), got a raise and made plans to travel before I found ways to spend it all. This took me on my first of several trips to Wright’s archives, which at that time were located in an archives building at Taliesin West, his winter home in Arizona. The archives included over 22,000 drawings, over 40,000 photographs, correspondence related to his life and his work (letters to and from family, friends, clients, and others), and many other things I’m sure I never saw. While there, I went to the archives every workday. Monday to Friday, I showed up at 8:15 a.m., took an hour for lunch, and stayed until they ended their work every night (usually a little after 6 p.m.). And, bonus, I often got to do this in winter.

Here’s a note for you:

The second time I went to the archives, I thought I would save money by going in the summer. I don’t know how hot all of Arizona gets that time of year, but going voluntarily to Scottsdale in July is not worth any money that you save. That caution on Arizona’s hot temperatures might also apply in May and definitely June, August and early September.

The first find by coincidence:

On one of my trips, I hit my research goals early in the afternoon on Friday. I remembered the name Raymond Trowbridge and went looking for correspondence with him.

The archives has nine letters between Wright and Trowbridge from 1930 to 1933. In the first letter, ID #T001E02 (written September 20, 1930), Trowbridge answered a question that Wright had written to him (that letter’s not extant). Wright had apparently asked what type of photography equipment Trowbridge  had “with me at Taliesin.”

Looking at Trowbridge’s photos, I concluded that he was probably talking about the photographic session he’d just had, in which he took the 13 images. Because the images they were definitely taken during the summer (like the one below). So that made these photos from maybe August or early September of 1930. Cool.

Photograph at Taliesin taken by Raymond Trowbridge.
Looking east at Taliesin during summer. Taliesin’s living quarters in background.

I tucked that info away in my brain. When I returned to Wisconsin, I looked at the Trowbridge photographs, and changed their dates to 1930-33.

A while later I found out more about Trowbridge:

A few years later, when I had some time in the middle of the week, I sent a comment via email “To Whom It May Concern” at the Chicago History Museum. I explained who I was and that they needed to change Trowbridge’s dates on his photos at Taliesin. They’d written that his photos were 1923-36,1 but those dates were wrong. I told them the dates for the images Taliesin should be 1930-33.

The next Monday, I got an email from someone in the Rights and Reproductions Department telling me that Trowbridge didn’t take photos of Taliesin.

I replied that, well actually he did. Then I explained Kathryn Smith, the collection she’d sent, and I emailed a scan of one with its ID number (this scan, seen in my blog post, “Taliesin as a Structural Experiment”, was published in the booklet “Two Lectures on Architecture” in 1931).

Good news from the Chicago History Museum:

I heard back from this person several hours later. She wrote that, oh my god, yeah! They did have these images—as glass negatives. Someone had misfiled them and my email helped them locate them properly. And she told me they’d get high resolution scans & contact me after they put them onto an online photo sharing and storage service. A day or two later I accessed and downloaded these beautiful scans.

The last stroke of luck:

Then in 2018, while putting together a presentation for the annual Frank Lloyd Building Conservancy conference, I wrote again to the Rights and Reproductions Department at the Chicago History Museum. I asked how I could get permission to use one of the images, and how much Taliesin Preservation had to pay.

Even though I wasn’t paid to speak at the conference, I’d have to work out image permissions; I hoped I didn’t have to pay, but you never know.

The told me I didn’t have to pay for or sign anything. The photographer had died 83 years before, making all of his images in the public domain. I only have to give you the information you see on the images: who owns it, its archival number, and the name of the photographer. And I wrote this in the manner that they asked for (which is why the photographs give Raymond Trowbridge’s middle initial).

All of these things:

  • Kathryn Smith sending us the images (and the former staff member leaving the office in a mess);
  • finding the correspondence related to them because I had a couple of hours at Wright’s archives;
  • getting high res scans because I had some time in the winter to write to the image owner, and
  • finding out while I was setting up a lecture that they’re in the public domain

remain some of my best career-related serendipitous experiences as an adult.

First published, 1/28/2021.

Raymond C. Trowbridge took the photograph at the top of this post. It is Chicago History Museum, ICHi-89168, and is in the public domain. This is the larger version of the image on the Keiranmurphy.com website.


1. They gave the dates 1923-36 because Trowbridge became a photographer in 1923 and died in 1936 (actually, they first said 1935, but that must have been a typo, because the site now says he died in 1936).