Photograph by Mat Kauten at Taliesin in 1944. Property of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York).

Gertrude Kerbis – an architect because of Taliesin

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Photographer (and apprentice) Mat Kauten took this photograph looking at Taliesin’s Garden Room in 1944. I think Gertrude Kerbis might have seen Taliesin at the same time of year that Kauten took his photographs.

Here’s the story: a while ago, I received an email from Elizabeth Blasius, an architectural historian and co-founder of Preservation Futures.1

Blasius had questions about a memory that award-winning architect Gertrude Kerbis spoke about on a couple of occasions. Kerbis talked about some obscure things relating to Taliesin, so Blasius had asked people she knew who might know the answer. So, of course she went to someone in the Wrightworld.

she’s in Chicago, a place filled with Frankophiles.

Eric Rogers, Events and Communications Manager at the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, gave her my name and contact info.

Her questions, and my answer, are what this post is about.

In part because they let me do one of my favorite things: walk around Taliesin in the past.

Kerbis was not an apprentice in the Taliesin Fellowship  and apparently never met Frank Lloyd Wright.


circa 1945, she had an encounter with Taliesin that changed her life.

Blasius wrote and told me that while Kerbis was a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, she:

[R]ead a Life magazine article about Frank Lloyd Wright. She was fascinated with his work, and discovered that Taliesin was not far from Madison.

She then hitchhiked to Spring Green, and found herself on the grounds of Taliesin.

FYI: Spring Green is around 45 miles (72 km) west of Madison.

When Kerbis arrived at Taliesin, no one was there. Still, she walked all around it, and looked in through its windows.

At one point

she heard steps behind her, turned around and there was a white peacock in “full flutter”.

Sounds like the peacock was standing its ground; I doubt it thought she was a mate.

After the peacock incident

Kerbis realized it was late. Since she’d hitchhiked all the way out there, she decided to hunker down and stay at Taliesin.

She said that, luckily, she found an open window into a bathroom and climbed in! Then she spent the night in one of the bedrooms. While she never mentioned what her bedroom was like, she found a record player and played Beethoven.

Blasius told me that “next morning she had decided to become an architect.”

Blasius was of course curious about this. I would be, too:

  • How the hell could she walk around all over the place and not see anyone? She stayed overnight, so it’s not like the Wrights had just gone out for dinner.
  • And were there really peacocks at Taliesin?

Her email made my day.

It was a puzzle with all these pieces that I knew.

So, yes: what Blasius relayed to me made total sense.

First off:

Kerbis didn’t see anyone at Taliesin that day because, after the late 1930s, Wright and the Taliesin Fellowship picked up and left Wisconsin every fall. Therefore, the Wrights and the community of men and women working and living with them migrated to Taliesin West in Arizona. They would settle at T-West, and continue living in their community and working on Wright’s architectural commissions until the following spring.


Kerbis, while walking around Taliesin, saw “floor-to-ceiling” windows at Taliesin according to Blasius.

This also made sense to me.

Since Wright no longer lived in Wisconsin during the winter, he opened up the rooms and put glass into more walls

like I wrote about here and here.

I pictured where Kerbis would have walked around and seen through those windows, like into the room at the top of this post. And in the photo below by famous photographer Ezra Stoller:

Exterior photograph looking northeast at Taliesin. Taken by Ezra Stoller

Photograph in the book, Masters of Modern Architecture, by John Peter (Bonanza Books, New York, 1958), 47. I showed this photo in my post, “In Return for the Use of the Tractor“.

There’s a black rectangle to the right of the birch trees that’s really a floor-to-ceiling picture window. And the French doors on the left look into the Taliesin Drafting Studio.

As for peacocks:

I knew that some lived at Taliesin. I never heard they were white, but I’ve seen at least one photo of one. And that’s below:

Photograph taken on a roof at Taliesin, with a peacock on the left in mid-view. Taken by Douglas Lockwood, 1945-48. Property of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York).

Taliesin apprentice Douglas Lockwood took this photo at Taliesin sometime after World War II. The peacock is on the left under the roof outside the Hill Wing apartments.

Was Taliesin totally abandoned every year?

No. While most of the Fellowship went to Arizona, some apprentices stayed in Wisconsin for the winter. They took care of the animals and watched over all the buildings. Their work paid their tuition.

If there were people, why didn’t Gertrude see anybody?

Members of the Fellowship didn’t live at the Taliesin residence in the winter. They inhabited Midway Barn. It’s on the Taliesin estate and is less than half a mile away from Taliesin. But you can’t see Taliesin from Midway.

Kerbis and the bathroom:

Is that true?

Yes, it is. If you were a thin enough.

There’s one place in the building where you could see a bathroom from the outside, with a window that’s large enough to crawl through (for a petite person). There’s another bathroom you could see a little bit, although I don’t think you could crawl into it through the window. But both of them are on the ground floor of Taliesin.

I couldn’t find good photos of either bathroom area. But a good plan of that floor is at ARTSTOR. I’ll show a version of the drawing below with arrows pointing out the bathrooms:

Drawing of the ground floor of Taliesin. Drawing executed in 1936-1939. Drawing #2501.024.The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural  Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York). Drawing #2501.024.

This drawing was executed 1936-39. Wright changed a few things on this floor by the time Kerbis came to Taliesin in 1945. But the two bathrooms were and are still where the arrows are pointing. The bathroom on the right has a really, really, small window, so I don’t know if that would have been open when Kerbis was walking around.

While there are two bathrooms, I think only a diminutive person could crawl through into the bathroom on the left.

BY THE WAY you scoundrels: in my 25 years, I never saw those windows open at Taliesin so don’t get any ideas.

The next day when she woke up

Gertrude decided she was going to be an architect.

She tells the story in this video about her.

She starts talking about her experience at Taliesin around 3 minutes in.

More on Gertrude Kerbis:

Here’s the blog post that Blasius wrote about Gertrude Kerbis’s career. Kerbis was remarkable. My thanks to Elizabeth Blasius for asking me questions. It was fun figuring it out.


Posted August 11, 2023
The photograph at the top of this post is in The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York).

1. Preservation Futures “is a Chicago-based firm exploring the future of historic preservation through research, action, and design.”

Daylight photograph in the Arizona desert with a waxing moon.

Reading Correspondence, 2021

Reading Time: 4 minutes

A desert landscape outside of Scottsdale, Arizona. Taken December 2021.

Beating the wave of the Omicron variant of Covid-19, we went to Arizona the second week of December. We went there for the Open House at the Organic Architecture + Design Archives. The OA+D Archives was founded by people who have wanted to secure the future of information on those who practice “Organic Architecture“. So, they have assembled objects—drawings, photographs, models, etc.—particularly by those architects who worked with, or apprenticed under, Frank Lloyd Wright.

The OA+D recently acquired the Taliesin Architects collection. “TA” were members of the Taliesin Fellowship and Frank Lloyd Wright’s former apprentices. After his death in 1959, they completed his ongoing projects. This naturally led to people coming to these former Wright apprentices to design their own homes and buildings. These former apprentices incorporated the firm in 1960 and ran it until 2003. The collection has many things from the firm; basically thousands of objects.

By the way, former apprentices constructed buildings all around Spring Green, Wisconsin. This was on the Spring Green Traveler’s Guide (which has been folded into the website for the Spring Green Chamber of Commerce). Although I went to the Chamber of Commerce site through the Wayback Machine to show you the web page with the

Architectural Driving Tour

Tour guides had to learn about the Traveler’s Guide since it was the easiest handout when helping visitors figure out the area. I think I learned about it the first weekend I ever gave tours. I’ve seen guides flip automatically to the page with the Architectural Driving Tour if someone came looking for a tour after the last one had left for the day.

But the trip last week brought us close to Wright’s winter home, Taliesin West.

So I made an appointment

Not to go on a tour (I’ve taken Taliesin West tours about 10 times). I went to transcribe some of “the correspondence”. This is the correspondence from Frank Lloyd Wright’s archives. It’s over 200,000 pieces (so a postcard is one piece, and a 10-page letter is another piece). It’s to/from Wright, his family, his business associates, et al.

Over 30 years ago, all of the correspondence was photographed and put on Microfiche. Then it was indexed in a five-volume set of books. You can look for the names of people who wrote to Wright, who he wrote to, when they wrote, what building they were writing about, etc. Every piece has an index number. You want to check out that piece of writing, you write down the identification number and look for it on the piece of Microfiche.

I think even if you were the President of all Historians, you wouldn’t get a lot of chances to physically pick up the “real stuff”.

The Avery Fine Arts & Architectural Library, along with many things, has a copy of the Mircofiche. As does Taliesin West.

As well as the Getty Research Center in Los Angeles.

I first looked at the correspondence (and other things in Wright’s archive) almost 15 years ago (I wrote about it in my post about photographer, Raymond Trowbridge). And yet, looking at letters and telegrams from all these people associated with Wright / Taliesin—to discover his activities on his whole estate—is like seeing the streamers shooting out from the sun’s corona. You can’t closely see what’s going on at the sun itself; you see its outer edge and its effects.

In other words,

relatively few of the letters and telegrams deal with the actual buildings on the Taliesin estate. There just aren’t that many letters of him acquiring stone or writing down a formula for a plaster color. When he wanted something anywhere at Taliesin, he could just tell people what he wanted because he was often there.

Yet, I have dug around in ways over the years to find answers.

That’s how I found the letter where Herb Fritz offered Wright some stone “In Return for the Use of the Tractor“.

While I didn’t know what I’d find this time around, I looked for stuff related to Wright’s “Midway Barn” on the Taliesin estate.

The greatest find:

Happily, I found the only piece of correspondence that specifically related to Midway Barn! In May 1938, the Gillen Woodwork Corp shipped material for roofing, they said, on “your Midway Barn.” That 1938 date explained why the director of the Archives, the late Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer, had said for years that the building was begun in 1938. But in the Frank Lloyd Wright: Complete Works, vol. 2, 1917-42 (2009), Pfeiffer wrote that Midway’s date is c. 1920.

I always hoped it was because Pfeiffer had seen my writing somewhere about Midway, in which I gave evidence that the building existed by 1920. And, thus, was persuaded by my genius. (Or perhaps something else. I don’t know, but I prefer “genius”.)

Or possibly,

Because “Bruce” took a look at a drawing they have in the Archives. It’s drawing Number 3420.005,  first executed in 1920 by draftsman, Rudolph Schindler. Schindler left this at Taliesin, and, like many drawings of the estate, Wright continuously drew on it. Still, when you look at the copy at the link from ARTSTOR, you see a building right in the middle of the drawing, under the scribbles. It looks suspiciously like Midway.

Now, I don’t trust Wright’s drawings of Taliesin, because he often drew what he wanted to exist at Taliesin along with what was actually there.

I wrote about that (of course I did) in my post, “Exhibiting Patience“.

But Schindler’s original drawing appears to show what stood there in reality.

Here’s a crop from the drawing, below:

Drawing 3420.005 from The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York)

Crop of drawing 3420.005. The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York).

Schindler’s drawing is the darkest part in the middle. Now this makes me wonder who originally wanted that structure built.

Wright, maybe, but his brother-in-law, Andrew Porter, had owned that piece of land until about a month before Shindler made the drawing.1 And as I said, Schindler seemed to draw what actually existed. Not all of those scribbles that Wright added later.

Well, as I’ve said for years: if Wright had made it easy, I wouldn’t have a career.

Originally posted December 19, 2021.
I took the photograph at the top of the post on December 12, 2021.

1 November 8, 1920.