Taken under the oak tree at the Tea Circle looking toward Taliesin's Drafting Studio

First year of tours

I took this photograph in 1994 under the oak tree at the Taliesin Tea Circle. The room with the French doors near the center of the photograph is Taliesin’s drafting studio. Wright used it as an office after he moved drafting operations to Hillside.

“1867. . . . 1886. . . . 1896. . . Oh, shit – 1901? 1902?”

That’s basically a transcription of what came out of my mouth in 1994 while I drove with Alex1 from Madison, Wisconsin to Spring Green and the Taliesin estate. The dates were important in Frank Lloyd Wright’s life and on the Taliesin estate.

The rundown of all those dates

1867: the year Wright was born.

despite how much he lied about the year he was born, which can get you into a rabbit hole on the internet unless you’re judicious

1886: the year Unity Chapel was designed/built.2 It’s the family chapel and can be seen from Taliesin.

1896: the year the Romeo & Juliet Windmill was commissioned by Wright’s aunts.

1901: the year the aunts commissioned Wright for the Hillside Home School stone structure. We were taught 1902 for a while. But, the Weekly Home News (Spring Green’s newspaper) edition of October 1, 1901 said:

“Owing to the increased attendance, the principals [i.e., the Aunts] have decided to build a new school house.  The plans have been drawn and sent from the studio of Frank Ll. Wright, architect, Chicago, and work upon the construction will begin at once.”

I recited those dates to continue my obsessive-studying over the previous week. Alex and I were newly hired tour guides. He and I knew each other because we were students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (he studied Architectural History and I was pursuing my Master’s degree in Art History3).

On that day in the car, however, I had no idea that I would become an expert on Taliesin, and would eventually live in the village of Spring Green.

More about tours:

At that time, Hillside tours were the first ones that all guides learned. An hour long, they gave the basics on Wright’s life and work while going through Hillside’s 14,000+ square feet. Meanwhile, Taliesin House tours were new. They’d only been offered three days a week the season before this. In 1994, they went out 2 times a day, every day but Wednesday. The tours were twice as long as Hillsides, and cost more than four times as much ($35 vs. $8 / $4 for children under 12 4).

Hillside tours were also the most popular. Apparently, one year over 30,000 people took one. Also, there was an architecture firm in the Hillside building, where apprentices at the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture worked in the Hillside Drafting Studio.5

Those at the school were literally apprentices working under the licensed architects. Later, the firm closed and the curriculum changed so they became actual students.

Lastly, there was an exterior Walking Tour created in ’86 or so. Before the House tour existed, the Walking Tour was the closest a person could get to Wright’s residence. And that was only while standing at the bottom of the hill around which Taliesin sits.

That summer:

Here are a couple of my Taliesin-related memories from 1994:

The first time I got a laugh on tour. It was when we came up to the exterior roof of the Hillside Theater foyer. Its ceiling rises to just about 6 feet tall. As I brought the group to the foyer, I gave the story I’d been told: that, “Wright always said that ‘People over 6 feet tall are wasted space.'”

Running through a Taliesin courtyard as birds fluttered by me, and chuckling while I thought, “what I did on my summer vacation.”

An interesting group of people

I remember laughing hysterically that summer with those funny, smart people. In fact, most of the people that I’ve encountered at Taliesin through 25+ years were whip-smart and creative, along with being devoted to Wright and his architecture. Another reason to stick around. Here’s a photograph of some from an end-of-the-season party one year at Hillside:

Staff at a party at Hillside
Photograph by Keiran Murphy.

As the buildings were (or are) unheated, closing down the structures commenced in the days after the season’s end. So, having a party allowed the staff to let off steam and prepare for the upcoming work. Plus, most of the staff wouldn’t see each other again until the following spring. Wright’s living quarters are heated now, but not Hillside. That still has to be prepped for Wisconsin winters. Unlike earlier years, the people who now close the buildings are the Preservation Crew.

Plus, my movie-viewing experience expanded:6

Alex and I were invited that summer to watch movies at the home of a Senior guide (who officiated my wedding 23 years later). He showed us The Last Picture Show, The Magnificent Ambersons, and Evil Dead, Part 2, among others I’m sure I’ve missed.

Craig also figured out how to hook the History geek into the Wright world.

uh… that’s me.

So, when a “House Guard” went on vacation, he put me on the schedule with the other guard, Germaine. Germaine, whose father was Wright’s gardener, became friends with Iovanna (the daughter of Frank Lloyd Wright and Olgivanna). Germaine, this elegant older woman, who always wore dresses and her hair in a chignon, spent years in the Taliesin Fellowship and later married apprentice Rowan Maiden.

House Guards (now known as House Stewards) opened the House in the morning, by cleaning and vacuuming. They, then and now, greet people at Taliesin’s front door and, at that time, gave out booties for guests to put on their shoes.

Booties were used to protect the rugs. I guess they do, but maybe not when thousands of feet walk over the rugs every tour season. The booty fuzz—a light blue—gets all over the rugs. You almost have to use your fingernails to scrape it up.

Germaine and I had time to talk that week. She told stories of the life at Taliesin and invited me up to Iovanna’s5 bedroom (in the floor above Frank Lloyd Wright and Olgivanna’s quarters). That’s when she told me that she and Iovanna used to sunbathe outside on a little balcony.

I mentioned this in the on-line presentation I gave in 2020 through The Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center.

Another memory

Photograph of Taliesin Tea Circle in the summer of 1994.
Photograph by Keiran Murphy.

Photograph of the Taliesin Tea Circle with the oak tree. The Chinese bell is hanging off the limb veering to the left.

I remember sitting in the Entry Foyer at Taliesin’s “front” door, waiting for a House tour. A member of the Taliesin Fellowship, architect Charles Montooth, came bounding up the steps of Taliesin’s Tea Circle on break (he usually worked at the Hillside drafting studio). He ran up to the large Chinese bell that hung from the oak tree limb you see in the photo above, then stopped in front of it and drummed it several times with his knuckles. He paused for a moment to listen to its faint ring, then ran back down to where he came out.

Taliesin tours certainly struck me,

as someone who had measured my worth mostly through test scores, as a very nice way to come into adulthood. Plus, giving tours meant that I was judged for the words that came out of my mouth instead of numbers on a page.

You can read here how the tour program became integrated into my life.

First published March 7, 2022.
I took both of the photographs used in this blog post.


1. not his real name

2. We also thought 1886 was the year he designed the first Hillside Home School building for his aunts, a.k.a., the “Home Building“. That was, until being corrected by someone else. The year he designed the Home Building is actually 1887.

3. I received my degree that December with my thesis on David Wojnarowicz.

4. No kids under that age were allowed on tours going into Wright’s Living Quarters at the House. Now tours take kids as young as 10 years old.

5. Now The School of Architecture, no longer at Taliesin.

6. I’m not talking about the biweekly online series, “Welcome to the Basement“.

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.

The Home Page of The Wayback Machine Home Page from Archive.org

Behold: The Wayback Machine

The image above is a screenshot from the home page of “The Wayback Machine“, which is explained below.

Here’s part of the explanation of The Wayback machine in Wikipedia:

The Wayback Machine is a digital archive of the World Wide Web. It was founded by the Internet Archive, a nonprofit library based in San Francisco, California. Created in 1996 and launched to the public in 2001, it allows the user to go “back in time” and see how websites looked in the past. Its founders, Brewster Kahle and Bruce Gilliat, developed the Wayback Machine to provide “universal access to all knowledge” by preserving archived copies of defunct web pages.

Since its creation in 1996, over 603 billion pages have been added to the archive….

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wayback_Machine

If you’ve never heard of the Wayback Machine on the Internet, you may have come across the phrase from the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show on television, starting in the 1960s (I watched it on Saturday-morning-cartoons). The Rocky and Bullwinkle show had a short cartoon, “Mr. Peabody’s Improbable History”, which featured a Time Machine known as The Wayback Machine.

Mr. Peabody, a talking, genius dog, is the grownup, taking care of a young boy named Sherman. They use the Wayback Machine to go back in time to correct history. Here’s the intro on Youtube:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6V7M4AfTOrw

Luckily I only wasted about 20 minutes finding, then watching, the intro and an episode of “Mr. Peabody’s Improbable History”.

Nice. You gonna tell us why you’re talking about this today, Keiran?

Yes. Glad you asked.

The Wayback Machine popped into my head because I was thinking about what to post today and remembered a photo I had previously seen on the Internet.

When I post, I look for photos that copyright rules let me show you all. I thought of this great Taliesin exterior that I got off the internet almost 15 years ago. I got the URL, but couldn’t find the image today.

So I went to The Wayback Machine. I put the URL into their archive, and the photo below came up:

Taken from the Hill Crown of Taliesin, looking (true) east at Taliesin’s living quarters. The unknown photographer apparently took this in the spring, based on the green leaves seen on the oak tree on the left hand side of the photograph. Architectural details indicate they took the photo in the 1950s, before Frank Lloyd Wright’s death.

When I found it, I said, “Behold: The Wayback Machine”

Said, most likely, in stentorian tones and accompanied (again, most likely), by a sweep of my arm.

Immediately after this, I thought I should write about this site as well as this on-line image.

Here’s the image through the Wayback Machine:

https://web.archive.org/web/20060127201224/http://studentwebs.coloradocollege.edu/~j_buscaglia/Images/897072.jpg

You see the name “j_buscaglia” in the location information for the image. I have attempted to locate “Buscaglia”, the person who had uploaded this image when they were, perhaps, learning HTML coding, etc. as a student. Years ago I found an email address for them at Colorado College and wrote them, but they never replied. Moreover, I never found information about the web page or anything else. So this is perhaps an “orphaned” image.

Things I find interesting in the photo:

You can see details to the right of the pine tree (detail, below).

A cropped view of the Garden Room

These are the west and south walls of “the Garden Room” in Taliesin’s living quarters. The south wall of the Garden Room has beige/yellow stucco, to the right of the French doors. Next to it is a tree trunk, followed by a limestone pier. The pier supports the edge of the balcony. The beige stucco attracted my eye, because there aren’t many photographs of that wall with stucco.

Before 1959, that wall often had tar paper (as waterproofing)

Look here for another photo of that wall with tar paper. This photo comes from the website of Pedro E. Guerrero, Wright’s photographer.

I don’t know why it took so long before Wright covered the tar paper. Although, in truth, the Guerrero photographs of Taliesin come from 1952-53. While Guerrero took many photographs of Wright and the two Taliesins, he worked on retainer. Wright would send the photographer all over the United States to photograph the architect’s newly constructed buildings. As a result, he could rarely visit just to photograph Taliesin.

If you were to go to Taliesin on a tour today, you would see that this wall has, not tar paper, but a stone veneer (here’s a photo of it). That veneer was applied by a member of the Taliesin Fellowship, Stephen Nemtin. He joined the Fellowship as an apprentice after Wright’s death and was asked to do this by Olgivanna Lloyd Wright, the architect’s widow.

I don’t know why the Fellowship veneered the stucco with stone. Maybe the stucco got too wet in the rain, ice, and snow.

Here’s the detail from that color photo again:

A cropped view of the Garden Room

The photo has a white, almost-vertical line underneath the balcony. That line is the trunk from a birch tree that used to grow there. That tree was originally one of a pair. The photograph below shows those two trees. I took this photo from my copy of the book, Wisconsin: A Guide to the Badger State, printed in 1941 as part of The American Guide Series:

Looking from Taliesin's Hill Crown to its living quarters, 1937-1943.

Photograph looking (true) east from Taliesin’s Hill Crown towards its Living Quarters. The birch trees are in the center of the photograph. The roof on the left was later over the Garden Room.

Finding my version of the image:

This book was part of the Federal Writers’ Project. It was a project of the Work Projects Administration in the state of Wisconsin and was sponsored by the Wisconsin Library Association. I took this image from the book, in its photographs between pages 310-311.

The Wisconsin Historical Society has the original image, on-line here.

I found this image, and the book, during another on-line photo-searching project of mine one Friday.1 After finding out about this photograph, and the book in which it was published, I bought the book via abebooks.com.

The book has, among other things, descriptions of driving tours one could take at that time around Wisconsin. The “Madison to Richland Center” drive is “Tour 20”. The book’s write-up gives a brief history of Taliesin, as well as telling you that you can take a tour at Taliesin (really, the Hillside Home School) for $1. In addition it tells you that you could take in a “moving picture, Sun. 3 p.m., included in tour fee; otherwise 50¢ per person.

The birch trees grew there over 15 years, but Wright’s expansion of the room above killed them: the new construction meant that the trees now grew through an interior room. Perhaps he did this just because he wanted to see the effect (and not worry about killing them). In fact, this was not the first time Wright’s expansion of his home killed a tree: his expansion at his first home and studio in Oak Park, Illinois, resulted in the death of a Willow tree.

I hadn’t planned it, but it seems that we stepped into an example of what Bertrand Goldberg characterized as “romantic kitsch” at Taliesin (relayed in my post of May 17, 2021).

Originally published on September 9, 2021.


Notes:

1 I wrote in early December, 2020 about some of my photo searching.

Some ouroboros for you:

Shortly after I posted this, the Internet Archive recently sent me a link to a 2:04 min. video from 1996, in which the Internet Archive staff explained the newly-created Wayback Machine.

Photograph of Taliesin's Loggia by Raymond C. Trowbridge

A slice of Taliesin:

1930 photo looking south in Taliesin’s Loggia. Notice the vertical water stain on the horizontal band of plaster in the background.

Many photos taken inside Taliesin during Wright’s lifetime show water stains. That’s why I’m showing this photograph by Raymond Trowbridge again: it shows Taliesin’s Loggia with a vertical water stain in the background. Personally, I’ve never seen that part of the roof leaking, but I have seen water coming into Taliesin. I start this post with scary water, then give you a short version of what the Preservation Crew did about that (that jumps over a bit of the story), which changed into an even bigger fix.

That can happen with historic preservation. One problem can highlight other problems. It was overwhelming even though I didn’t work on the Preservation Crew – I just researched Taliesin’s history!

Regardless, the way to approach preservation at Taliesin is how you “eat an elephant“: sometimes it’s just best to go after the smaller things until the resources are there to complete the project.

Here’s (most of) my part in the story:

I was eating lunch in Olgivanna Lloyd Wright‘s bedroom one summer day. I worked as a Taliesin House Steward one-day-a-week at that time, and Olgivanna’s Bedroom wasn’t yet on tours. So it was nice to take a break there. As I watched a summer downpour, I looked out the windows onto the Loggia Terrace (here in a recent photo from Flickr). While the roof didn’t (doesn’t) leak, I watched as buckets of water poured into the space between a stone half-wall on the terrace, and the wall that it leaned away from.

Wright added the half-wall in the 1950s, so it wasn’t attached to the taller stone wall behind it.

Check out the photo below to see this noticeable crack:

A stone wall at Taliesin with Olgivanna Lloyd Wright's Bedroom in the background.

Taken on the Loggia Terrace. The red framed windows at Olgivanna Lloyd Wright’s Bedroom are in the background.
Kevin Dodds took this photograph in November, 2002.

Remember I wrote about how Wright buildings are smaller than you think? That’s not true here: that crack is as big as it looks

As I stood there in Olgivanna’s bedroom, I tried not to think about how much water was pouring into the building, and where it was going. I didn’t have the resources to do anything about the problem, and worrying would drive me crazy.

Fortunately, the Preservation Crew did do something.

In fact, they started doing something right after that photo above was taken. Kevin, a Preservation Crew member, photographed this in the beginning of their work.

They took the pier apart, looking into the building. On the other side of that stone wall above, they saw that the hearth at Olgivanna Lloyd Wright’s Bedroom fireplace was deflecting. To fix the hearth, the Preservation Crew went under the building.

Why?

They had to support the hearth. But they didn’t want to support it on the floor below, in “the Gold Room”.1 They had to go into the crawlspace under the Gold Room to create support for its floor.

But, see, after its second fire Wright rebuilt Taliesin on the ashes of Taliesin II. So this crawlspace was a mess. The man who spearheaded the project2 explained it to me.

Imagine it:

Wright had recently spent over eight years of his life on a consuming project (the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo), and had acquired tons of art. That he brought home. And just under three years later his living quarters were, once again, consumed by fire.3

Wright wrote in his autobiography about that fire’s aftermath:

Left to me out of most of my earnings, since Taliesin I was destroyed, all I could show for my work and wanderings in the Orient for years past, were the leather trousers, burned socks, and shirt in which I stood, defeated, and what the workshop contained.

But Taliesin lived wherever I stood! A figure crept forward from out the shadows to say this to me. And I believed what Olgivanna said.

Frank Lloyd Wright, An Autobiography (Duell, Sloan and Pearce, New York, 1943), 262.

So, Wright moved on. Because what else was he going to do? Therefore, when the Preservation Crew (really, two men) started work, the crawlspace was full of dirt and ash. Literally: the ashes from the Taliesin II fire.

This photo shows the crawlspace.

It was taken a month after that photo showing the stone pier on the Loggia Terrace:

A crawlspace with dirt and stone piers underneath Taliesin

Photograph taken in December, 2002, by Kevin Dodds.

The “after” photo is below.

Kevin took this after the debris and ash (but NOT the stone piers) were removed. Then they built a support for the vertical section they built in the floor above:

Wooden platform in Taliesin's crawlspace.

Photograph in Taliesin’s crawlspace taken in February, 2003 by Kevin Dodds.

With that, they were able to put the structure in the Gold Room to support the hearth in Olgivanna’s Bedroom.

The support in the Gold Room.

This structure supported the stone hearth at Olgivanna Lloyd Wright’s fireplace:

Photograph of a fireplace in the room at Taliesin known as "the Gold Room".

Photograph looking north in the room at Taliesin known as “the Gold Room”. Taken March 2004, by Kevin Dodds.

With that, they left it alone until they could get back to it.

In 2004, a year after this work, students from the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture (now The School of Architecture), working under the direction of the Preservation Crew, repaired the terrace outside of Olgivanna Lloyd Wright’s Bedroom (that’s the light blue area you see in the the first photo of the half-wall).

In 2005, the half-wall was rebuilt

Here’s a photo of the pier, rebuilt (with two layers of flashing):

Stone half-wall on Loggia Terrace at Taliesin

Photograph by Kevin Dodds taken May 2005. Looking southwest at the rebuilt half-wall on the Loggia Terrace. The dark membrane at the bottom of the photograph is waterproofing. This was covered by flagstone once the Loggia Terrace was restored.

In 2006, the crew continued in the crawlspace

After creating wooden forms, they prepared to pour concrete piers in it. Here’s one photo I took:

Concrete being brought in a hose to Taliesin.

I wasn’t usually involved with this stuff. But I had to get out and see the pumper truck. That photo above is showing the arm bring the concrete in. They brought it in through a little passageway (out of sight on the photograph’s left side). The passageway goes to the crawlspace where the forms were set for the concrete pour.

The concrete supports were created and set.

When that was done, they put jacks on top of them, then devised a way to bring steel beams into the crawlspace. It’s cool: hollow, rectangular, steel pieces were about two feet long were brought in, then bolted together.

Looking at a new beam in Taliesin's crawlspace

Jacks supporting the beams in the crawlspace that the Preservation Crew had constructed and prepared. Photograph taken March 2007 by Kevin Dodds.

The crawlspace looked like this for awhile.

The Preservation Crew had to wait until the next phase: jacking up the beams to correct the deflection.

Once this was accomplished, they contracted with Custom Metals (Madison, WI) to permanently weld the steel I-beams in the crawlspace.

Welding posts to concrete pads in crawlspace

Photos that show welding are so cinematic!
Taken by Kevin Dodds in February, 2010.

New posts and beams in crawlspace at Taliesin.

Photograph of the metal posts, beams, and concrete pads in Taliesin’s crawlspace. Taken February, 2010 by Kevin Dodds.

Once this was settled, they worked upstairs.

The Preservation Crew restored Olgivanna’s Bedroom in 2010. The bedroom was prepped and put on Taliesin House tours.

In 2011, Taliesin turned 100 years old.

After the tour season finished that year, the Preservation Crew began to completely restore Taliesin’s Loggia. After this, they restored all of the spaces in Taliesin’s Guest Wing rooms.

So now the Guest Wing is level, warmer, doesn’t smell like mildew, and the crew rebuilt amazing pieces of furniture. While you can’t see the crawlspace on a tour, you can go on a Virtual Tour through Taliesin’s Guest Wing (via Facebook), here.

When I look back on these things, I’m a little amazed. And I was only the sidelines for most of it!

Published August 31, 2021
The photograph at the top of this post is by Raymond C. Trowbridge at the Chicago History Museum, ICHi-89168. It is in the public domain.
Thanks to Kevin Dodds and Ryan Hewson from the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation for allowing me to publish the work photographs.


1 It’s unknown why the room was given that name. Taliesin Preservation asked members of the Taliesin community (members of the Taliesin Fellowship) why it was given that name and the people they asked didn’t know.

2 Jim, the former Estate Manager who brought me to the crawlspace, is written about here.

3 This was an electrical fire.

Taliesin from the south. circa 1920

Taliesin’s 1925 Fire

Looking north at Taliesin, 1920-24. On the far left is a workman’s apartment. The vertical tower to the right of the apartment is called the “Hill Tower”. On the far right are Wright’s living quarters. The workman’s apartment and Wright’s living quarters are connected under roofs. But, you can’t see it all because the building wraps around the hill.

April 20 is the anniversary of the second fire at Taliesin: April 20, 1925. That fire (like the first one in 1914) pretty much destroyed Frank Lloyd Wright’s living quarters down to the chimneys and foundation. Fortunately no one was hurt.

Part of what Wright said about the fire:

In his autobiography, he wrote:

[O]ne evening at twilight as the lightning of an approaching lightning storm was playing and the wind rising I came down from the evening meal in the little detached dining room on the hill-top . . . to find smoke pouring out of my bedroom. Again–there it was–Fire!

Frank Lloyd Wright, An Autobiography, in Frank Lloyd Wright Collected Writings: 1930-32, volume 2. Edited by Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer, introduction by Kenneth Frampton (1992; Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., New York City, 1992), 294.

The “little detached dining room”? Where was that?

The “little detached dining room” isn’t connected to Taliesin’s living quarters. It’s connected to its Hill Tower. So you can find the room in the photograph at the top of the page by following the line of the tower down. The room is under the low-hipped roof above a horizontal rectangle of stone. Here’s a link to a photograph of the room, available at the Wisconsin Historical Society.

What was the cause of the 1925 fire?

According to Wright: “. . . . The fire had originated in a house-telephone that had given trouble as it stood by the head of my bed.” [An Autobiography in “Collected Writings,” volume 2, 295.]

Wright and the others at Taliesin that day spent several hours fighting the fire. And Wright was so desperate to save the building that, along with burning the soles of his feet, he burned his eyebrows off.

Description of one of those at Taliesin that day:

Draftsman Kameki Tsuchiura, who worked at Taliesin with his wife (draftsperson Nobuko Tsuchiura), wrote this on April 211:

We carried water in buckets but how helpless, we were only, Mr. Wright, I and Nobu, Mrs. Ohlson and Jack and [Mel, the chauffeur]. . . . We connected the hose to the water pipe and firemen came, but too late. His apartment, and all the guest apartment [sic] were burning. Strong wind blew from east to west. Such a smoke and flame that no one could get in the house to bring anything out. We could only cut the roof [that connected] Mr. Wright’s kitchen and studio and prevent the fire from spreading west. After 9 o’clock, wind changed, rain started to drop. And what a night we had till midnight, fire, thunderstorm, lightening and more fire!!

William Blair Scott Jr Collection, OA+D Archives

There is a book in Japanese on the architecture of Nobuko Tsuchiura. While I don’t know the full title (I don’t read Japanese), it translates in part as, “Big Little Nobu”. But the book include a photograph that shows the Taliesin living quarters after that second fire. So I put that below. It was taken at floor level, looking north. The fireplace you see on the right is now the fireplace in what became  Olgivanna Lloyd Wright’s bedroom.

Photograph looking across the main floor after Taliesin II was destroyed by fire in 1925.
Photograph taken by Kameki or Nobuko Tsuchiura.
In the book, “Big Little Nobu, Right No Deshi Josei Kenchikuka Tsuchiura Nobuko”
ISBN: 9784810705416.

You can find the book on-line. Its ISBN is 9784810705416. ⇐I originally wrote that number incorrectly. Thanks to one of the readers for catching that and contacting me.

While no one got hurt, Wright lost a lot of the art he collected while working in Japan

He wrote:

Left to me out of most of my earnings, since Taliesin I was destroyed, all I could show for my work and wanderings in the Orient for years past, were the leather trousers, burned socks, and shirt in which I stood, defeated, and what the workshop contained.

[An Autobiography in “Collected Writings,” volume 2, 295.]

Personally, it would be difficult not to think that the universe had something out for me. However, then Wright wrote this:

But Taliesin lived wherever I stood! A figure crept forward from out of the shadows to say this to me. And I believed what Olgivanna said.

[An Autobiography in “Collected Writings,” volume 2, 295.]

Olgivanna would become his third wife. I think it’s kind of cool that his description—when Olgivanna said “Taliesin lived wherever” he stood—is the first time that Frank Lloyd Wright mentioned Olgivanna.

Wright starts building “Taliesin III”

During Taliesin’s rebuilding, Wright put pieces of destroyed statuary into the walls:

Smoldering or crumbled in ashes, priceless blossoms-of-the-soul in all ages—we call them works of Art—lay broken, or had vanished utterly. . . .

A few days later clearing away the debris to reconstruct I picked up partly calcined marble heads of the Tang-dynasty, fragments of the black basalt of the splendid Wei-stone, Sung soft-clay sculpture and gorgeous Ming pottery turned to the color of bronze by the intensity of the blaze. The sacrificial offerings to—whatever Gods may be.

And I put these fragments aside to weave them into the masonry—the fabric of Taliesin III that now—already in mind—was to stand in place of Taliesin II. And I went to work.

[An Autobiography in “Collected Writings,” volume 2, 295.]

First published April 16, 2021

The photograph at the top of this post appears with the essay, “The Story of Taliesin: Wright’s First Natural House,” by Neil Levine, in Taliesin 1911-1914, Wright Studies, v. 1, ed. Narciso Menocal (Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale and Edwardsville, Illinois, 1992), fig. 1, p. 3.


1 I mentioned this couple in my post, Taliesin II: The Forgotten Middle Child of Taliesin.

Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater in Pennsylvania.

Frank Lloyd Wright buildings are smaller than you think

Photograph of Fallingwater by Esther Westerveld from Haarlemmermeer, Nederland in 2012.
The people standing on the upper terrace in this photograph are not 7 feet tall. They are normal-sized people.
It’s the architecture that’s messing with your mind.

I’m talking about what everyone—outside of Frank Lloyd Wright homeowners—has experienced: you go to a Wright structure and it’s smaller in reality than what it looks like in photos. I do try to remember that, but it’s always a shock when I walk into any of his buildings.

Why do I always get it wrong? Former apprentice, Edgar Tafel, explained why in his book, “Apprentice to Genius”:

. . . Mr. Wright made one extensive change that affected every physical element—as well as the impressions and reactions of every person who entered the house: He changed the scale and brought it down to his own human reference. He often used to tell us. . . . , “I took the human being, at five feet eight and one-half inches tall, like myself, as the human scale. If I had been taller the scale might have been different.”1
Edgar Tafel. Years with Frank Lloyd Wright: Apprentice to Genius (1985; Dover Publications, Inc.; McGraw-Hill Book Company, New York, 1979), 50.

Wright’s trick in his architecture

Wright apparently said a person only needs 6 inches over their heads so, since he was the “human scale”, when you enter his buildings, the ceilings would be 6 feet 2 inches tall. This creates “compression”. Then the ceilings suddenly get taller in the spaces where you are meant to linger. That creates a “release”.

The ceilings, entryways, and trim (emphasizing the horizontal) create the scale. So, when we see ceilings and doorways  in photographs, we “read” them as 7 feet tall, or taller, because that’s what we’re used to. Since we see them that tall, we read everything else as bigger.1 This element of design is one of the reasons that I like to see people in photographs of Wright buildings: because other people give you a sense of the scale (even when the people mess with the pretty architecture!<–I’m mostly joking right there).

Although, I still laugh at myself when I go to a Wright building because, yup: they’re smaller than I thought they would be.

How this trick played into Preservation work at Taliesin

Over a decade ago, while the Preservation Crew was restoring Olgivanna Lloyd Wright’s bedroom, they were planning on reconstructing some of its Wright-designed built-in furnishings.

She and her husband shared a bedroom at Taliesin until 1936, then they moved to adjoining rooms. This was probably because Wright didn’t sleep very much and was almost 30 years older than she was (so he needed even less sleep). Makes sense to me: if I want to sleep while my husband watches movies in bed, I put on my sleep mask.

So, the plan included the Preservation Crew rebuilding a set of small horizontal shelves at a mullion (you can see color photos of the rebuilt shelves below). But the Crew had a problem: no detailed drawings of the room exist. So how would they know how big the shelves should be? Now, if Taliesin had been built for a client, there would have been floor plan and elevation drawings, as well as drawings for furniture and built-ins. All of those things would have measurements. But because Taliesin was his own home (reconstructed after the second fire of 1925), he could simply tell the carpenters and builders what to build. Or he gave them sketches. However, those must have been thrown out, since no drawings existed.

My find at the Wisconsin Historical Society

Luckily at this time, I took a trip to the Wisconsin Historical Society to look at photographs in the John H. Howe collection (“Jack” had been in the Taliesin Fellowship from 1932-64 and took thousands of photographs). Two of his photographs show Olgivanna Lloyd Wright’s bedroom, which show the shelves. I emailed the photographs (one at this link) to the onsite collections manager for the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. A few days later, he stopped by the office and told me that one of the photos showed a perfume bottle on one of the shelves. And, he said, “We have that perfume bottle.”

Apparently, he also showed the Preservation Crew the photograph and perfume bottle, and they used the perfume bottle to get the scale of the shelves they were going to rebuild.

You can see the rebuilt room in the photograph below, followed by a close-up of the shelves:

Photograph of Olgivanna Lloyd Wright’s bedroom. The shelves are to the right of the small chair.

Taken by user Stilfehler. Information and a larger version of this image is at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Taliesin_Interior_32.jpg
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Shelves in Olgivanna Lloyd Wright’s Bedroom. The perfume bottle, on the top shelf, is green. It’s behind an amber-colored glass jar so you can see just a little bit of it.

Taken by user Stilfehler. Information and a larger version of this image is at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Taliesin_Interior_28.jpg
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

There are other things that the Preservation Crew has done in Olgivanna Lloyd Wright’s bedroom, and on the Taliesin Estate overall, that are inventive and smart. Still, given my contribution to their work, I always liked to tell the story of the perfume bottle while giving tours through her bedroom.

OK, Keiran, that’s a cute trick. But why did he do this with the scale?

I think the full answer to the question probably requires reading Frank Lloyd Wright’s autobiography to understand his design philosophy,2 but I think he did it for at least two reasons. Firstly, he did it because it makes the space feel larger. Especially when you sit down. And, secondly, the lower scale creates more compression which, upon “release” generates feelings of surprise, drama and delight inside his homes.

First published March 19, 2021.
The image at the top of this post is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. The image is available at Creative Commons, which has its licensing information and a larger version. 


1 Well, then you go, “what – so the guy never designed for people over 5’8″?” He did. For example, Louis Penfield, who commissioned Wright for a home in Ohio, was 6 feet 9 inches tall. Wright made the hallways thinner and the ceilings taller. You can rent the building overnight. It’s the only Wright building I’ve been in where everything, yes, looks as big as the pictures.

2 Or “why did he do this” requires the answer given by another former tour guide (hi again, Bryan): “Oh! Because he was a genius.”

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.

Photograph by Kevin Dodda of Taliesin in snow.

How did Frank Lloyd Wright feel about Christmas?

Someone asked me that question in early December. Yet, I’ve tried to answer it, with no clear success, for years. After all, Wisconsin can be charmingly Christmas-Themed, with a dusting of snow and a chill in the air.* In addition, in his autobiography, Wright described Taliesin in winter as being a “frosted palace roofed and walled with snow”. But, he didn’t seem especially fond of Christmas, particularly in the first years after he built his Wisconsin home in 1911.

Wright talking about Christmas

In 1924, when Wright had a new love in his life, his future wife, Olgivanna, he wrote her a letter saying that Christmas reminded him of his children he had left in Oak Park, IL in 1909. His letter to her is in The Life of Olgivanna Lloyd Wright, 234.

However, less than a decade after they met, the Wrights began the Taliesin Fellowship, and eventually Wright would leave Wisconsin in the winter, spending that time with his family and apprentices at Taliesin West in Arizona. Thus, Christmas became an activity enjoyed by the group in the desert. To read about their Christmases, read The Life of Olgivanna Lloyd Wright.

Wright’s Christmas-card moments

He did have plenty of these in the 1890s/early 1900s with the family in Oak Park. They were described aplenty in the book written by Wright’s second son, John. In John’s the book, My Father, Frank Lloyd Wright (first published in 1946 under the amusing title, My Father, Who is on Earth), he wrote about growing up in Oak Park, and later working with his father. These memories also include how he felt about his dad as a father; the day of Taliesin’s 1914 fire; and the day his dad fired him! It’s unique and you should pick it up.

John wrote memories involving Christmas while growing up. One of these memories is a Christmas Eve night when he was perhaps 5 or 6. I’ll leave you with John’s description of watching his father put the presents out, then his father “caught” him and carried him back to bed:

…. He unboxed toys on a big white sheet under the tree, sat on the floor and played with each one before placing it. When he played with the mechanical donkey that jumped up and down I almost dashed in. When he pulled out a monkey that climbed a string, I giggled so loud the jig was up! Out rushed Papa, swooped me up in his arms, whisked me backed to bed, told me I had been dreaming. I still like to think it was a dream—and good old St. Nick, a reality. And not too long ago, Dad said, “I still believe in Santa Claus.”
John Lloyd Wright, My Father, Frank Lloyd Wright (Dover Publications, Inc., New York; 1992), 40.

First published, 12/23/2020
The winter photograph taken at Taliesin at the top of this post is by Kevin Dodds and was reproduced with permission.


* overlooking the fact that, one time after 1992 (the year I came to live in this state), it reached -25F (-32C) degrees on Christmas day.