Black and white photograph of dormitory room at Taliesin

Oh my Frank – I was wrong!

A bed in a room at Taliesin. I’ll explain why it’s here in the post below.

About what? About a photograph.

But, while I’ve been wrong sometimes about things with Taliesin, I haven’t usually communicated those things to other people.

In this case, I was wrong about a photograph I put in a post of mine from last year: “Preservation by Distribution“. While I’ve taken the misidentified photo out of that post, in today’s post, I’ll explain what the photo really shows, and how I figured out I was wrong.

Let me explain:

The top of today’s post has the same photo I got wrong. I originally showed the photo in “Preservation by Distribution”. That post is about a generous gift from two women whose aunt, Lucretia Nelson, was an apprentice in the Taliesin Fellowship.

(read about the gift from the women, and their aunt, in the “Preservation by Distribution” post).

The women gave us copies of letters that Nelson wrote to her parents. In one of the letters, Nelson described a change that was going to happen under her room. When I wrote “Preservation by Distribution”, I thought the change Nelson wrote about was going to happen on the outside of the room that’s in the photograph.

But I was wrong. Not about the change; just about the photograph.

That is:

everything that I learned from what Nelson described remains unchanged. All I got wrong was the room that I thought photo showed. I think I figured this out yesterday.

But since learning I was wrong, it’s taking me a little while to re-think the space. Because

I’d been mistaken for 18 years.

I got this wrong in 2004.

And, since discovering my mistake, I corrected the “Preservation by Distribution” post. But, still –

18 years!!

Ok, fine. Then what room are we seeing in that photo?

The photograph appears to show a bedroom a couple of rooms to the west of Taliesin’s Drafting Studio. I only started to figure this out

2 days ago,

when I was thinking about writing a new post. While I didn’t look at the photo above, I looked at photos by George Kastner, an architect and draftsman who worked for Wright in 1928-29. Kastner came to Taliesin in November, 1928 and took photographs there in that month, and in December.

If you’d like to read about Kastner, The Organic Architecture + Design Archives1 published a journal issue on some of his collection in 2019.
The article is by Randolph C. Henning, and it’s published in Volume 7, Number 3.

Regardless, here’s the Kastner photo that got this started:

This photo shows Kastner’s room at Taliesin, which had a bay window (on the right):

Looking (plan) southeast. Room was later the bedroom of William Wesley Peters.
Photograph by architect, George Kastner. Taken November 28, 1928.
Courtesy, Brian A. Spencer, Architect.

Photograph taken on November 28, 1928. By architect George Kastner. Courtesy of Brian A. Spencer, Architect. Looking (plan) east/southeast in what later became the bedroom of Wright’s son-in-law, architect Wes Peters.

Although I’d never seen this room before, I knew right where this was: I was looking at part of a former carriage house at Taliesin that Wright turned into a bedroom.

Like I wrote in my post, “Guest Quarters“, Wright wanted to make Taliesin an attractive place to stay, so he converted spaces into bedrooms.

The bay window on the bedroom faced Taliesin’s Middle Court.2

Next

I looked at another photograph of the room by Kastner. You can see it’s the same room, because of the night table that’s on the right. It has the same lamp. And the same screen is against the wall:

Looking (plan) northeast. Room later became the bedroom of William Wesley Peters.
Photograph by architect, George Kastner. Taken December 17, 1928.
Courtesy, Brian A. Spencer, Architect.

So: there’s the screen that you see in the photo at the top of this page, and the desk with the lamp that you see in the last photo. Looking east/northeast.

So looking at these two images made me realize that I was wrong about the room in the photo at the top of this post.

Because

the room I thought was in the photograph had the same Japanese screen, but never had bay windows. So, I mentally searched for Taliesin’s rooms that had bay windows at one time. And I looked for drawings to show me the windows in the rooms.

I double- checked, and I think I found the best floor plan of Taliesin with the bay windows. It was was drawn in 1924, and I put it below.

Since the room I wanted to show is pretty small, I thought I’d show the whole plan to give you an idea of what I’m trying to show. What you see is the floor plan for several courtyards in the Taliesin complex:

Drawing of Taliesin published in Wendingen magazine in 1924, 1925.
Originally published in Wendingen Magazine, 1924, 1925.
Published in the book, The Life-Work of the American Architect Frank Lloyd Wright, by Frank Lloyd Wright, H. Th. Wijdeveld, ed. (Santpoort, Holland: C. A. Mees, 1925).
Location of original drawing unknown.

I’m going to show a detail from the lower right hand side of the drawing. That’s below, with the courtyard labelled “Mid-Way”.

Detail of Taliesin drawing published in Wendingen magazine in 1924, 1925.
Originally published in Wendingen Magazine, 1924, 1925.
Then the magazine issues were published as a book, The Life-Work of the American Architect Frank Lloyd Wright, by Frank Lloyd Wright, H. Th. Wijdeveld, ed. (Santpoort, Holland: C. A. Mees, 1925).
Location of original drawing unknown.

The drawing, published in 1925, has an archival number of 1403.023. But those who put the magazine (then book) together didn’t return the original drawing. So, the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation gave it a number, but didn’t have the drawing. 

The bay window in the photo was next to the door of the “STUDENTS BED ROOM” in the drawing.

The room has two small windows on the wall opposite of the bay windows. I think the photo is showing the window on the left in the room.

And, fortunately,

George Kastner took another photo that’s really helpful to figuring this out. This is an exterior photo that shows that wall with the two windows. That photo is below. I added an arrow to the photo so you can see where the window is:

Looking (plan) southwest at N facade of Taliesin.
Photograph by architect, George Kastner. Taken December 19, 1928.
Courtesy, Brian A. Spencer, Architect.

Looking (plan) west/southwest at the north façade of Taliesin. I put the arrow into the photograph to show which window I think is showing in the photograph at the top of this post.

What happened to this room?

So, this area was always used by apprentices in the Taliesin Fellowship after Wright and his wife, Olgivanna, started it in 1932. Apprentices in the Fellowship lived in the bedrooms. Later, Wright had the apprentices add three more windows on the wall with the two windows.3

The final changes were made before Wes Peters, his wife, Svetlana, and their son moved in there in 1943. Apparently at that time they—the Fellowship as a whole, or just Peters and his wife—removed the bay windows.

Today, it’s still a bedroom.

 

First published May 6, 2022
The image above is at the Wisconsin Historical Society on this page.


Notes:

1 Their website is: https://www.oadarchives.com/. As of early May, the site administrators were having problems with it, but I’ll take this notice off when the site’s working again.

2 Here’s where I always wanted to “correct” some guides and staff at Taliesin Preservation. Starting around 2005, guides, drivers, and other staff members began referring to a tour drop-off area as the “Middle Court”. I think that’s because this area’s right near Taliesin’s “Lower Court”. So, that’s on your left, and there’s a courtyard in front of you. But that courtyard was known (in drawings) as the Upper Court. The Middle Court was called that because it’s between two courtyards.

3 The windows are in a drawing published in the January 1938 issue of Architectural Forum magazine. 

Hillside floor plan published in Ausgeführte Bauten und Entwürfe von Frank Lloyd Wright

Truth hiding in plain sight

This is a drawing of a building that Frank Lloyd Wright designed for his aunts and their Hillside Home School. They ran the school, which was south of Spring Green, Wisconsin, for almost 30 years. Wright designed this structure for them in 1901. This drawing was published in 1910.

Previously, I wrote about the project I did with architectural historian, Anne Biebel (principal, Cornerstone Preservation), about Wright’s Hillside structure on the Taliesin estate. This post is going to be about something I discovered during that project, which was a comprehensive chronology on Hillside.

About the project:

The Aunts ran the school from 1887-1915. We tried to look at the total history of the Hillside building, but also the history of the school. Since my job was to gather as much information as possible, I looked at old newspaper articles and had a lot of fun finding old facts, photographs, and drawings.

I tried to be objective about the site

So, when I started, I approached Hillside much as I approach Taliesin when studying it. That meant that I went over everything with a fine toothed comb. However, Hillside was never the same dealio (at least not as he’d originally built for his aunts: 1901-03.). That’s coz, Hello!—they were paying clients. Yes, they were his Aunts and they did love their nephew; but: still. He couldn’t mess around with their building. Not while they still had control of it!

And, because Wright was building this for someone else,

I could trust the Hillside drawings that Wright did for the original construction (unlike those he did for his home, Taliesin).

Still, only 12 drawings exist the first earliest years. 1 Three more drawings were done later: two were done in 1910 from a portfolio, known as the “Wasmuth”. That’s because the publisher in Berlin was Ernst Wasmuth. The floor plan from the Wasmuth is at the top of this post. I got it from an online version of the University of Utah Rare Books Collection.

Or if you’re feeling fancy, say the full title in German, since it was published in Germany. The original title is Ausgeführte Bauten und Entwürfe von Frank Lloyd Wright (“Executed Buildings and Designs by…”). 

The last drawing of Hillside was done in 1941 for a retrospective of his work: In the Nature of Materials : The Buildings of Frank Lloyd Wright 1887-1941.

Looking over things:

In the Hillside Chronology project, I studied the drawings like I usually do: I try to look at historical evidence without preconceptions. Otherwise, it’s easy to only see things you want to see, and miss things staring you in the face. So, I looked at the early drawings of Hillside, inch by inch. And…

I finally noticed something

in one of the rooms.

This room, a long room ending in a point, is now known as the Dana Gallery. Look at the drawing at the top of this page. At the top of the drawing is a “T”. The left side of the “T” is the room known as the Dana Gallery today. This room was originally the Science room for the Hillside Home School. The right side of the “T” is another room that’s almost a mirror image of the Dana Gallery. That room, on the right side of the “T”, is now known as the Roberts Room and was  originally the Art room.

The names of the rooms (Dana Gallery, Roberts Room) come from two people who gave money to Wright’s aunts, the leaders of the Hillside Home School, when they were completing Wright’s building. Wright told the story about the names in the addition he made to his autobiography in 1943:

One of my clients, Mrs. Susan Lawrence Dana, gave them the little Art and Science building next to the School building and equipment, complete. She loaned the Aunts twenty-seven thousand dollars more to help complete the main school building. Another client, Charles E. Roberts, 2 gave nine thousand dollars to help in a subsequent pinch….

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), 125.

How the Dana Gallery/Roberts Rooms are alike:

Among other things (I’m sure) each room is accessible through 5 steps down from the floor above; has skylights; has a “prow” window (like a triangle coming out of the building) on the end; and a chimney.

Their fireplaces are different, though.

The fireplace in the Roberts Room has a horizontal piece of stone across the firebox. But the fireplace in the Dana Gallery has a design that looks really modern. Even though it, too, is in stone, there are triangles on the design, and either side of it has angles.

Here’s a photo of the Dana Gallery with the fireplace from The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives:

Black and white photograph looking southeast in the Hillside Dana Gallery

Unknown photographer. Dated 1936-40. Property of The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York), #3301.0008.

The creation of the fireplace was detailed in a December 11, 1936 article in “At Taliesin”, written by Gene Masselink:

. . . . Last summer Mr. Wright commissioned Benny to complete a fireplace in three weeks.

So Benny lugged stone after stone into the Dana gallery.  He worked at it at all hours–you could hear him pounding away long after it was dark outside….  The design had been carefully worked out.  The lintel was six feet from the floor and the stones were all especially cut to form a pattern on the back of the fireplace.  It required skill and some engineering to properly construct the flue.  Finally with the help of five others Benny laid the greatest sandstone lintel block.  And that night at the celebration in honor of the job, the first fire was built.

Hans, solid German carpenter, declares it would never draw and even as the Fellowship held its breath and as the flames roared up, lighting the room with their best six foot height and the smoke went up the flue out into the moonlit night, Hans still shook his head.

We drank a toast: no one that night prouder or happier than Benny.

EUGENE MASSELINK

Randolph C. Henning, ed. and with commentary. At Taliesin: Newspaper Columns by Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Fellowship, 1934-1937 (Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale and Edwardsville, Illinois, 1991), 225, 226.

Due to Gene’s writing:

I figured there had been a fireplace when Wright first designed for his aunts, then Benny redesigned the fireplace mantel to its current appearance. I mean, sure, the Dana Gallery had been the Science room—so maybe flammable things aren’t your first go-to in a design—but, on the other hand (a) the only flammable things I ever saw in my Chemistry classes were the controlled flames of Bunsen burners, and (b) Hillside’s gym also had a running track with a fireplace on the west side.

So, I just figured that those Hillside students weren’t “pantywaists” like I was by the time I was in grade school. 3 I mean, sure! Have open flames around those kids using chemicals, and exercising on the running track!

To get back to the point:

During the project with Anne, I looked more carefully at the Hillside drawings. And I saw, in drawing #0216.004 that, while the Roberts room originally had a chimney, the Dana Gallery did not:

Floor plan. #0216.004

The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York), #0216.004.

The chimney on the left had no fireplace, while the chimney on the right did. Looking more closely, the chimney at the Science room had two SINKS in front of it. With a WALL between them. I didn’t know what that was all about.

So, then I thought:

look at the Wasmuth drawing

Because I knew he labelled things in it. Yes, they were in German, and I don’t have a German-to-English dictionary, but there’s Google translate.

So I looked at it. The chimney in the Dana Gallery (the chimney on the left) has this in all caps: DUNKEL RAUM

That means:

Dark room

Of course!

Hillside was a school out in the country. Teach those kids photography! That’s why there’s a scrapbook of photographs taken of Hillside in 1906, now at the Wisconsin Historical Society.  

If you take a tour of the Taliesin estate that brings you through Hillside (their Estate or Highlights tours), you can see where the dark room’s wall was. You go into the Dana Gallery, and the shadow of in the wall of the dark room is on the floor, like what I took, below:

But unfortunately I’ve never seen a photograph showing the walls of the dark room. The photograph below shows you about what’s been seen of the room when the Aunts ran the school. You can see how it was a science classroom:

Black and white photograph of the Science Room at the Hillside Home SchoolFirst published February 9, 2022.
The drawing at the top of this post was published in Ausgeführte Bauten und Entwürfe von Frank Lloyd Wright (“Executed Buildings and Designs by Frank Lloyd Wright”) in Berlin in 1910. I’ve put it here in part because I do not know who has the rights to it.


1. I’ve wondered if there were more. 

2. This link only brings you to the page on Wikipedia about the Charles E. Roberts Stable (although it tells you a bit about the man himself). There’s no Wikipedia page about the Charles E. Roberts House, though. If you were feeling generous and had the interest or patience, you should write about it.

3. That’s what one of the nuns called us in the 8th grade because we weren’t fighting in the Falkland Islands war. That’s not a statement about Catholic schools; just a statement about a weird moment as a kid. As I’ve gotten older that statement makes less and less sense.

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 of Taliesin's Loggia by Raymond C. Trowbridge

Raymond Trowbridge photos

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

First coming across the Trowbridge photographs:

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

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

Taliesin Preservation becoming aware of the photographs:

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

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

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

My first trip to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Archives:

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

Here’s a note for you:

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

The first find by coincidence:

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

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

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

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

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

A while later I found out more about Trowbridge:

A few years later, when I had some time in the middle of the week, I sent a comment via email “To Whom It May Concern” at the Chicago History Museum. I explained who I was and that they needed to change Trowbridge’s dates on his photos at Taliesin. They’d written that his photos were 1923-35,1 but those dates were wrong. I told them the dates for the images Taliesin should be 1930-33.

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

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

Good news from the Chicago History Museum:

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

The last stroke of luck:

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

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

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

All of these things:

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

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

First published, 1/28/2021.

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


1. They gave the dates 1923-35 because Trowbridge became a photographer in 1923 and died in 1935.