Contemporary. Looking southwest in Taliesin's living room at the fireplace.

1940s Change in Taliesin’s Living Room

Photograph from the 2000s taken by me in Taliesin’s living room. Looking toward the fireplace with the inglenook (the built-in bench).

Today, I thought about photographs from the book, Apprentice to Genius, by Edgar Tafel that I recommended almost a year ago. Looking through the book reminded me of a change to the inglenook (the built-in bench) at the fireplace in Taliesin’s living room. I’m going to talk about that change in this post.

A moment about Wright’s living room

While I’ve written about his living room before, I haven’t really talked about it much. That’s in part because, while Wright obviously loved it and rebuilt it after his home’s two fires, he didn’t spend a lot of time changing it.

I mean, comparatively speaking.

Because he changed other rooms. A lot. Like the room I talked about in here; I mean, c’mon: it’s inside Taliesin and figuring out where the room stood (or stands. . . it’s still there) can be really difficult.

But, in contrast, there are things in Taliesin’s living room that he kept the same.

For example:

  1. The door from the main hallway was always in the same space.
  2. The room always had almost square windows.
  3. The dining area was always on the south wall.

And,

The fireplace always had an inglenook. In addition, for years (and after each fire), the inglenook ended a bookshelf on the end, farthest from the firebox. Maybe this bookshelf kept the space on the couch warmer when you had a fire.

Here’s the inglenook and bookshelf during the Taliesin I era:

Black and white photograph of inglenook in Taliesin I living room. By Taylor Woolley
Property of Utah Historical Society, Taylor Woolley collection, ID #695922.

Photograph taken 1911-1912 by Taylor Woolley, Wright’s draftsman at Taliesin at that time. Photograph located at the Utah Historical Society, ID #695922.

btw, I have tried to read the titles on the books on the shelf. Unfortunately, when I magnified it, the book titles just got blurry.

The bench was reconstructed for Taliesin II, after the 1914 fire.

Which can see in this Taliesin II photograph from the Wisconsin Historical Society.

And, again, after the fire of 1925.

You can see the inglenook here in an early Taliesin III photo, at Greatbuildings.com.1

And then we come to one of the photographs from “Apprentice to Genius”. The photograph from it below was taken in 1940 by Pedro Guerrero:

Photograph of Taliesin's living room and fireplace. By Pedro Guerrero.
Photograph taken in 1940.
Property: Pedro E. Guerrero Archives.

The bookshelf is the vertical section at the end of the bench.
This photograph is on page 112 of Apprentice to Genius.

In addition, this photograph shows that Wright had a small bookshelf on the opposite side of the bench. You can see the books where the bench terminates into the wall in the living room, to the left of the fireplace mantle.

btw: I’ve looked at the books on that little shelf and can’t read the titles there, either.

I suppose that could be a nice thing to have if you were at that fireplace in the winter, reading.

And then he made changes in the 1940s

Particularly the early 1940s. Why?

Because Wright, his family, and a few others were (more-or-less) confined to Wisconsin after the United States involvement in World War II. This involvement led to rationing, which resulted in his forced residence of Taliesin again year-around.

In addition,

Being forced to stay at his digs in the Midwest allowed Wright to think seriously on how he could change his home to make it more suitable to living in the summer.

Aside from all those stone changes he made in 1942-43 when he got an offer for “a cord or two of stone for every hour that I use the tractor.”

So, along with large changes at Taliesin, he made changes to this part of the living room. 

Here’s what I think happened:

That bookcase probably helped to preserve heat near the fireplace. So, he got rid of the bookcase, since he wouldn’t have to worry about conserving heat there any more, once they could all get back to Taliesin West in the winter. Besides, taking away that bookcase would make the bench more open to people walking around during hors d’oeuvres for Sunday formal evenings.2

He also eliminated the little bookshelf to the left of the fireplace, and put mortared stone in its place.

The removal of both book storage areas, were just two of five or six changes. You can see the cleaned up area in Apprentice to Genius, p. 113. Or in the photo below taken in the 1950s by Maynard Parker. Parker Taliesin took photographs at Taliesin in 1955 for House Beautiful.3

Color photograph taken of bench and fireplace in Taliesin living room, 1955.
Courtesy of the Huntington Library, San Marino, California.
Call Number: photCL MLP 1266

Now:

I do not know if Wright thought of the changes near the fireplace all at once, or if he made a change at the bookcase, followed by others over time.

Like when you go to wipe up a coffee spill on the counter and three hours later you’re mopping the entire kitchen floor after having wiped down all the cupboards while you rearranged (and threw out) the old spices (oh, you were so naive when you thought you’d use that much Cayenne).

But, maybe this came to him fully formed. From the bookcase, to the mantelpiece, or maybe the mantelpiece to the bookcase.

And, yes,

There’s a water stain on the ceiling. One time, a Taliesin Preservation employee (hey, Bob!) said to us that leaks in Wright buildings were like Alfred Hitchcock making a cameo appearance in his movies.4

I also like the plaster on the back of the built-in: sort of dark gold. I haven’t determined whether he made it lighter the last summer he lived in Wisconsin. Although, one of his former apprentices, David Dodge, said one time that Wright had apprentices redo colors on the walls every year. Although I don’t know if that was for every square inch of every wall in every space, but “David” said he could see why Wright redid the colors.

David said that just because the same flowers grow in the same place as the year before doesn’t mean the red or yellow of that rose will be the exact same shade in every way.

First published March 16, 2022.


Notes:

1. This photograph is published in the Volume 6 Number 1 issue of the Journal of the Organic Architecture + Design archives.

2. Formal evenings were held every Sunday when I started in 1994. Why they were held on Sundays, I don’t know. They were definitely Saturdays later and were held two times a month after I’d worked a season or two.

3. House Beautiful magazine, November 1955, v.97, number 11, p. 233-90 +. Parker gave his collection to the Huntington Library in California.

4. Although I can tell you that, this part of the ceiling has never leaked in my experience with Taliesin. And, while work has always been done to stop them, the roofs of Taliesin do/can leak. I recall one day maybe a dozen years ago, when TPI’s then-executive director told a reporter with excitement that, “Nothing leaked this spring!” [paywall] It’s not that Wright didn’t know what he was doing; he was just always changing things. So he was putting “creases” in the “envelope” of the building.

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.

Books by apprentices

Last time I wrote on the book Years With Frank Lloyd Wright: Apprentice to Genius by former Wright apprentice, Edgar Tafel. This week I’m writing about more books by Taliesin Fellowship apprentices.

If you need to remember what the Taliesin Fellowship is, click here

Memoirs by former apprentices:

Reflections From the Shining Brow: My years with Frank Lloyd Wright and Olgivanna Lazovich Wright, by Kamal Amin

Amin came from Egypt to join the Fellowship in 1951 and remained until 1978. Amin gives a unique view about Frank Lloyd Wright, and his wife, Olgivanna.

Working with Frank Lloyd Wright: What it was Like, by Curtis Besinger

This is a nice companion to “Apprentice to Genius”. Besinger became a Wright apprentice in 1939 and stayed until 1955. He brings you year by year through his experience at Taliesin in Wisconsin in the summer, and Taliesin West in Arizona in the winter. He also discussed projects through the years, like the Unitarian meeting House in Madison. Additionally, he talked about activities in the Fellowship: movies the group saw, and about playing and practicing music. And the author wrote about the effect of World War II on the group.

See the book below (A Taliesin Diary, by Priscilla Henken), for the day-to-day Fellowship life during World War II.

Tales of Taliesin: A Memoir of Fellowship, by Cornelia Brierly

Cornelia was an early Taliesin apprentice, and this book contains a collection of her remembrances. Her memories are unique and often humorous. In addition, the book includes interesting photos from her collection.

Picturing Wright: An Album from Frank Lloyd Wright’s Photographer, by Pedro Guerrero

Picturing Wright shows Wright’s openness. “Pete” was 22 years old, with no experience, when he asked Wright if he could work for him. Wright, who was 50 years older, saw Peter’s talent and gave him all the work he wanted.

Check out Guerrero’s website, https://guerrerophoto.com/. This has a great collection of his photographs all through his career.

A Taliesin Diary: A Year with Frank Lloyd Wright, by Priscilla Henken

Most books by apprentices were written years later, but this was an actual diary kept at the time. Priscilla and her husband, David, were in the Fellowship (1942-43) and she wrote in her diary every day. What she saw and felt give a unique perspective on daily life in the group, and on Wright and his family. The book includes photographs taken by the Henkens when they were apprentices, that have not appeared elsewhere.

Frank Lloyd Wright and Taliesin, by Frances Nemtin

“Frances”, was in the Taliesin Fellowship from 1946 until she died in 2015, wrote this book about Wright’s design and about the Taliesin Fellowship. The book contains original photographs.

She wrote a variety of booklets about her life in the Fellowship, but this is one of the few published in hardcover. 

Some of her booklets may still be in gift shop at the Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor Center, so maybe you’ll see them if you take a Taliesin tour this year.

Taliesin Reflections: My Years Before, During, and After Living With Frank Lloyd Wright, by Earl Nisbet

Nisbet was an apprentice under Wright in 1951-1953. His “Taliesin Reflections”—short scenes—are mixed with profiles of people in the Fellowship (Gene Masselink, Wes Peters, Jack Howe, and others). When Nisbet went to work as an architect, he employed lessons from Wright in his practice. The book has original illustrations and photographs.

Autobiographies by former apprentices:

Pedro Guerrero: A Photographer’s Journey with Frank Lloyd Wright, Alexander Calder, and Louis Nevelson, by Pedro Guerrero

In this book, “Pete” writes about growing up, as well as his career. He worked not only with Frank Lloyd Wright, but with two other major 20th Century artists. He photographed the sculptors: Alexander Calder and Louise Nevelson. Also, Guerrero writes about his work in the magazines House Beautiful, House & Garden, and Vogue among others (while always working at Wright’s request).

Related:

The film documentary, “American Masters — Pedro E. Guerrero: A Photographer’s Journey”, was released on PBS, American Masters, in 2017.

Escape Home: Rebuilding a Life after the Anschluss — A Family Memoir, by Charles Paterson (Author), Carrie Paterson (Author, Editor), Hensley Peterson (Editor)

Charles Paterson was in the Taliesin Fellowship from 1958-60. Truthfully, I purchased the book only for its Taliesin Fellowship connection. I read it in its entirety during the Covid-19 lock-down. So, that’s one thing to be grateful for in the year 2020.

Paterson’s life begins in the 1930s in Austria. Then, his father helped him and his sister escape to Australia during World War II. The three were alive at the end of the war and reunited in the United States. Yet, Paterson’s study under Wright was one stop before he moved to the raw Colorado town of Aspen, where he became an architect.

And all of this is without mentioning Paterson’s uncle, architect Adolf Loos!

More Than One Author:

At Taliesin: Newspaper Columns by Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Fellowship, 1934-1937, compiled by Randolph Henning

Another companion to “Apprentice to Genius”.

The editor found as many of the weekly “At Taliesin” newspaper as he could. Then he typed them up and edited them into this book. The “At Taliesin” articles were written in the 1930s and show Wright and his apprentices as they lived them. The apprentices worked as entertainers, cooks, laborers, and farmhands. Also, imo, the book shows why these kids would move to rural Wisconsin to live and work with a man old enough to be their grandfather. And like it. The book contains photographs found almost nowhere else.

About Wright: An Album of Recollections by Those Who Knew Frank Lloyd Wright, Edgar Tafel, ed., with foreword by Tom Wolfe.

This book has written memories by a wide group of people from all aspects of Wright’s life: friends, co-workers, family, and former apprentices.

Books showcasing photographs and graphics:

A Way of Life: An Apprenticeship with Frank Lloyd Wright, by Lois Davidson Gottlieb.

Gottlieb apprenticed under Wright in 1948-49. She took the photographs of both Taliesins that are in this book. The colors in the photos are amazing and make you really appreciate Kodachrome film.

William Wesley Peters: The Evolution of a Creative Force. Editor emeritus John DeKoven Hill, with text by John C. Amarantides, David E. Dodge, et al.

“Wes” Peters’ “Box Projects” (bi-yearly projects given as presents by apprentices to Frank Lloyd Wright). The projects by Peters are beautifully illustrated, with an essay that explains them.

Websites:

Here are links to blogs written by former apprentices:

JG on Wright, John W. Geiger, Apprentice of Frank Lloyd Wright

John Geiger tried to trace apprentices and the years they started under Wright. So, this site includes the list he created. He also had photographs that he gave to the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation.

An explanation of the site is here: https://jgonwright.net/jgdb1.html

Robert M. Green, an apprentice in the last months of Frank Lloyd Wright’s life, kept a website and wrote about his reasons for leaving the Taliesin Fellowship.

https://web.archive.org/web/20011120175318/http://robertgreen.com/robert_green/robert_green.asp


First published April 5, 2021.
I took image at the top of this page.