Photograph by Kevin Dodds, looking north in the hallway of Taliesin's Guest Wing.

Bats at Taliesin

Last summer I wrote “A Slice of Taliesin“, which described some of the work done by the Preservation Crew at Taliesin. In fact, that work was about twenty feet to the left + 4-6 feet below where Preservation Crew member Kevin Dodds was standing when he took took the photograph above.

Photograph above looks at the west wall in Taliesin’s Guest Wing in December 2006.
Kevin took it after the removal of the non-historic drywall had begun.

Kevin took the photo below a few months later1

The drywall demolition work uncovered a little bat cluster:

Photograph by Kevin Dodds in February 2007 looking at bats found in Taliesin's Guest Wing.

I am typing right now as far away from the screen as I can get because this photo just freaks me out.

Why’s that?

Bats freak me out.

And it’s April, which means that the bats are starting to wake up from their hibernation. Therefore, I’m going to write today about them and about Taliesin. That’s because I did not have a phobia of bats before I started working there.

When I mean phobia

I don’t want them eliminated. And I’m fine with seeing them at a distance. But being around them when they’re flying (or when they fall on the floor, which they can’t get up from), makes me scream uncontrollably. Others will say, “Oh, come on, what’s the problem?” while I’m screaming and running out of the room.

Before Taliesin,

the closest I’d come to seeing them was that scene with the bat in the movie, The Big Chill.

Since I moved to the area in the 1990s to be closer to Taliesin, I would see them flit past my face when I took walks at night in the summers. I was amazed at their echolocation. They’d fly by and it was kind of cool.

So the reaction came on unexpectedly

I believe I had my first negative reaction when cleaning at the Hillside structure later on.

“Nate” (another tour guide) and I were doing some deep cleaning at the Hillside Theater (deep cleaning was another thing I use to do at Taliesin, like I wrote about in the post, “I’m Just a Tour Guide“). We came across a bat sleeping on a wall. Nate slowly gathered the bat up so he could put it in a place away from people. I don’t know if it was the way the bat moved, or its squealing distress call.2 But as Nate kept saying, “It’s no problem, see? He’s just fine. . . “, I kept backing up, replying to him on the edge of hysteria that “it’s ok (!!!!)”

Plus, there were the House openings in April

That was done for years before there was heat inside Taliesin’s living quarters. I mentioned House openings in “Physical Taliesin History“. And more than once, the Opening crew found bats, sluggishly trying to keep warm. So, we designated Tom, a fellow House opener, as the bat catcher. One time, there was one bat that Tom found in the toilet, still alive, but it had fallen in the water.3

Apparently bats would hang on the edge of toilet rims. Most of the time they were fine, but sometimes they fell.

Tom took the wet and cold bat out of the toilet bowl, dried it carefully with a towel, and put it on a rock outside to let it warm up in the sunshine. Then he found another bat. I think it was also hanging from the rim of a toilet bowl, but hadn’t fallen in. He took it outside and put it next to the colder bat.

He swore that he looked over and the second bat had put its wing around the bat who had been wet. And when they warmed up, they flew away.

That’s adorable!

I know. But I still can’t stop screaming when I get around them.

But bats eat bugs!

I know. I know they all don’t have rabies. They are fascinating to watch coming out of chimneys. And I thank my little bat friends for their circumlocution around me when I walk at night. But… you know… screaming.

I also saw them while giving tours

One time, my two guests and I were in a room at Hillside. I saw a bat drop from the ceiling and fly behind them. And I didn’t even squeak.

Another time, I was the first person walking into Taliesin’s Living Room and saw a bat hanging from one of the cypress strips on the ceiling.

Color photograph looking south in Taliesin's living room. Taken October 2003.

Looking south in the living room. I took this photo on Oct. 27, 2003.

The bat hung near the top of the gable in the color photograph above.

I don’t know if anyone on the tour saw the bat (nobody mentioned it), but I did my best to speak about anything that didn’t rise above shoulder height. So I talked about the wood on the tables and the furniture’s low seats. I talked about the piano in the room, the stone on the floors, the fireplace, and the view out of the windows.

And, finally:

There was the story that I told on tours for my last few summers. It has to do with Terry Teachout.

Terry was the culture writer for the Wall Street Journal and died unexpectedly in January of 2022. He and I met in 2005 and became friends. He loved Spring Green, the nearby American Players Theatre, and Taliesin. He was invited to stay one night at the House by Minerva Montooth (a Taliesin resident who lived there with the Wrights in the Taliesin Fellowship).

A few days later, Terry sent me some of the writing he was doing for his post about that night in the House. He related listening to music in Taliesin’s living room (the room you see in the photograph above). He described how, at one point,

“A black bird came in, flew around the ceiling, then fluttered out. I never saw it again.”

I loved telling people on my tours that I replied, “Terry… that was a bat.”

First Published April 5, 2022.
Photographs by Kevin Dodds used with permission.


Studies on bats

The current state of bats on the Taliesin estate has been checked on by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. As you may be aware, brown bats are having problems because of “white nose syndrome”: https://www.batcon.org/about-bats/bats-101/

Long thing about “bat distress vocalizations: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-64323-7

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, on saving Wisconsin bats: https://dnr.wisconsin.gov/topic/WildlifeHabitat/Bats

The USDA on Wisconsin bats: https://wildlifedamage.cals.wisc.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/289/2020/10/WildlifeDamage-Bat-6-2020.pdf

The Department of Natural Resources in Wisconsin did a survey of the bats on the Taliesin estate, and I found it on the Wayback Machine from February, 2017:  https://web.archive.org/web/20170315012654/http://www.taliesinpreservation.org/learn/current-recent-projects#bats

It was also put onto the Taliesin Preservation Facebook page, here: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=10154518556099234


Notes:

1. Mostly, the preservation crew did the work that makes a lot of noise and mess during the winter. That way, they wouldn’t bother guests on the estate during the tour season.

2. I’m very proud of myself for staying through the entire recording of the bat’s distress calls even though I imagined bat distress sounds for about 5 minutes afterward.

3. As for how there could be water in the toilets when the whole house was unheated during the winter: All of the water systems were drained at the end of the season, with anti-freeze put into pipes just in case. Then everything was filled back up in the spring.

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

Another find at Hillside

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

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

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

What was this find?

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

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

How this was found out:

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

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

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

The draftsman who drew it:

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

Schindler’s version is interesting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luckily I wasn’t alone on this project, because

Anne was ultimately proven right:

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

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

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

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

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

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

In a book by a former Hillside teacher:

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

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

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

Then,

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

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

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

Then, lo and behold,

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

And, finally,

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

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

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

BOOYAH!

Originally posted, February 19, 2022.

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


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

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

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

Photograph of room at Taliesin (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York).

What I did one time before Christmas

This is a photograph of a room that I spent part of an afternoon contemplating and figuring out.

Not this year (we were in Arizona!). No, this took place in the aughts.

Why are you talking now?

I thought I would bring this up because late December/New Years reminds me of something I did before I started my Christmas vacation one year. That is:

I identified a photograph

Seems kind of strange when I put it that way.

You identified a photo. What does that mean? Did you think it was a Polar Bear Cub before you realized you were looking at a photograph?

No. I’m talking about a photo taken inside Taliesin, but we didn’t know where. In this post I’m going to write about how I figured out which room the photo was showing.

That’s because, as I’ve noted before,

Wright made a lot of changes at Taliesin.

And while the photo (seen at the top of this post) showed furnishings that indicated it was taken somewhere inside Taliesin, the space no longer existed. At least not the way it was shown.

Earlier, someone else thought maybe it was a photograph of another room, and stuck it in the image binder.

But that also didn’t seem correct.

So, I took it out and put the image in a “to be determined” folder. And it stayed there for years, waiting for a home.

Additionally, this wasn’t the best photo you’ve ever seen. I mentioned before (when I wrote about the dam at Taliesin), how, when I first worked in the office, a lot of the photos were, like, seventh generation Xeroxes. This was close: a printout of a scan of a photo emailed to the Preservation Office in about 1996. It looked kind of like what you see below:

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

The desk lamp you see on the left is all over Taliesin, and the woodwork looks like Taliesin, too. But nothing else looked familiar. The room had light walls and a flat ceiling. But I didn’t recognize anything through its open door (the black rectangle you see). Also, the configuration—wall, door, and radiator, maybe, to the door’s right—didn’t fit anything that I knew.

So I kept this small printout in a pocket in one of the binders, for years. Then, one time I had a few hours before I took off for Christmas. So, I decided to look at it closely. Perhaps I could figure out what room the photograph showed.

So, I drew it

When I write that I “drew” it, I don’t mean like some super, well-trained person who can depict what they see.

You know, like when you go to someone’s apartment and they say, “It’s such a mess,” and it’s, like, immaculate?
Well, when I say my place is a mess it is, really, a mess.

That is, I wrote drew a straight line on the left (denoting the wall), a door that opened in, maybe a radiator, and what looked like a wall on the right that took up part of the room. Here’s an approximation:

Drawing of details in photograph

The line on the left is the wall. The pointy thing at the top of the wall is supposed to be the door, and the slight arc is the arc of the door that you see in good drawings. The distorted rectangle is the radiator. The bulge on the bottom right is supposed to be the wall corner.
I’m sorry it doesn’t have the brilliant MS Paint work of Allie Brosh in her “Hyperbole and a Half” website, but it will do.

I took that shape (and the knowledge of changes at Taliesin), and—after checking to see that it wasn’t showing Hillside (where people also lived on the Taliesin estate)—I walked through Taliesin in my head.

From basically c. 1925-1959.

So, from Taliesin’s second fire, until Wright’s death. While more people had color film by the 1950s, many did not, so I harbored the possibility that the photograph came from that decade. And, since the image might have been reversed, I had to flip it back and forth in my head.

Now, I think it’s best for all of us that I don’t remember exactly how I came to concluding that I was seeing, possibly, one particular room. But, OMG! I found it! In an old drawing. It’s drawing #2501.024, at the Avery, a cropped version of which I’ve put below:

The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives drawing 2501.024 (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York).

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

What does the drawing show?

This shows the floor beneath where the Wrights lived at Taliesin. The drawing was executed 1936-39. The room I was seeing in the photograph shows up in the drawing, as the last large room (with a closet) on the lower right. This room is known as the “Blue Room”.

(members of the Taliesin Fellowship were asked about the name, and they didn’t know or couldn’t remember why it was called that).

I can tell you that I checked out how long figuring out which room this was in the photograph. It took me about 2 hours and 45 minutes. I wrote an email to two members of the Preservation Crew, gave them the salient details, I asked them what they thought, then closed up the office and left for Christmas.

They agreed with me

One (Tom) thought that a closet built inside the room (even though there was already a closet) was built in 1943 to take the weight of the changes above. The changes in 1943 were made to a room two floors above.

The Preservation Crew, after getting done all of the work down here (as I wrote about in “A Slice of Taliesin“) finished restoration/preservation/reconstruction. The area where they worked is a zone of Secondary Significance; meaning they can change things if need be. So, the preservation of the room allowed the crew to take out the closet. It was no longer needed because they transferred the weight using added micro laminated beams.

When they finished their restoration work and removed the closet, they let some staff members in to see the space:

Taliesin Preservation staff in restored room at Taliesin.

I took this photograph in 2018. The four people stand in the background, to the right of the doorway and against the wall, stand where the Preservation Crew has removed the closet.

Success in doing this this (attending to those little things in the back of my mind) is one of the things that gave me the courage to explore and pursue what may have looked, from the outside, like a waste of time. 

First published December 31, 2021.

The photograph at the top of this post is the property of: The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York). The photographer is unknown.

Broadacre City model in the Dana Gallery at Hillside

Preservation by Distribution

The model of Broadacre City, Wright’s idea/design for decentralized living. Photo taken while the model—mentioned in the post below—was displayed against the north wall of the Dana Gallery at the Hillside building on the Taliesin estate. Raggedkompany took this photograph in 2008/09.1

One day over 16 years ago, a woman came in for a tour of Taliesin.

She did a kind and thoughtful thing

She brought photocopies of letters that her aunt, Lucretia Nelson, had written to her parents (this woman’s grandparents) while Nelson was in Wright’s Taliesin Fellowship in 1934. So this woman wanted to give this to someone associated with Taliesin.

Fortunately I was on hand to take these from her.

Her act caused me to name this post, “Preservation by distribution”. That is: you try to get copies of things out there, in order to help them survive.

I spoke briefly to Lucretia’s niece (Lois) before she took her tour of Taliesin. While she was on tour, I read her aunt’s letters as quickly as possible, while getting what info I could on Lucretia Nelson. It turns out that in 1934, Nelson had written an article for “At Taliesin”. These were weekly newspaper articles that the Taliesin Fellowship had written in the 1930s. So I copied that for her and had it when she came off the bus after her tour.

Architect and writer, Randolph C. Henning, collected, transcribed and edited these columns, which he put into a book. I wrote about this book in my post on books by apprentices.

That day I got Lois’s address, since I wanted to absorb some of what Lucretia Nelson had written. I felt I should give her more information once I had a some time to look things over. So when I did, I told her who Lucretia had mentioned, and pointed out an important event in Wright’s career that Nelson had written about.

I’ll talk about that further below. First of all, I should mention Lucretia and some of those people. And why she was at Taliesin.

Who was Lucretia Nelson?

Nelson (1912-1991) received a B.A. in painting at University of California-Berkeley in 1934. Apparently after graduation, she came into the Fellowship with a college friend, Sim “Bruce” Richards. Frank Lloyd Wright had seen Bruce’s work in Berkeley during a lecture and had encouraged the young man to join the Fellowship. So the two friends (Bruce and Lucretia) headed to Taliesin, where they met up with another former UC-Berkeley student, Blaine Drake (Drake had entered the Fellowship the December before).2

Lucretia was there in 1934, possibly into 1935. The men, who later became architects, stayed longer. Bruce until 1936; and Blaine until 1941. Meanwhile, Lucretia returned to UC-Berkeley, received a Master’s degree, then taught in its department of decorative arts, where she also became an administrator.

Her year in the Taliesin Fellowship was something that she often remembered and one can understand why: she was devoted to the connection between life and art, which she saw around her when in the Taliesin Fellowship.

Two things that stuck out in Lucretia’s letters:

She wrote about one change to Taliesin. It was planned for her room, and she told her parents that:

“You see it gives me instead of one small window on the north side under the deep eves [sic]… a south exposure and a wall almost entirely of windows.”*

This change is going to cause a problem.

The upcoming change altered the room. The southern wall in the room was moved further south. The that was the wall that she said would be “almost entirely of windows”. Then-apprentice, Edgar Tafel, wrote about this change for the July 4th, 1935 “At Taliesin”. He said that,

Fortunately, Taliesin is in an ever state of change.  Walls are being extended and new floors are being laid to accommodate our musical friends.  We are trying out the new concrete mixer – which marks a new day in our building activities.

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), 139-40.

This concrete caused a problem decades later:

Unfortunately for Taliesin, this concrete work blocked a drain behind this south wall. Water going behind the wall would freeze in the winter. This created a wedge from 1935 until the early 1990s. My understanding is that the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation (the site owners) began trying to figure out this problem in the late 1980s.

By that time, the back wall (visible on tours of Taliesin) was protruding seven inches out of plumb. Here’s a drawing that Taliesin Preservation did before the start of the project, just to give you a sense of things:

Drawing of a section of Taliesin during preservation work in 1993-94.

The part people saw was to the right of the stone wall.

During the preservation work, earth was removed from the back of the wall, which was slowly pushed back into place using jacks. This made the wall once again plumb. Then two drainage systems (one behind the wall) were installed.

This big project was done the winter before I started giving tours at Taliesin (1993-94).

Lucretia’s other important note:

In that same letter where she mentioned the upcoming work, Lucretia said that “a guest last week” who “has his son here” gave $1,000 for the construction of Wright’s “Broadacre Citymodel.

Every Frankophile (in other words, a Wrightfan) in the audience might have done a double-take at that last sentence.

The model of Broadacre City was Wright’s thought project about decentralized living (not tied to any real site). This $1,000 gave Wright and the Taliesin Fellowship the resources to construct it.

And the guest was Edgar Kaufmann, Sr.

Who was Kaufmann?

Edgar Kaufmann, Sr. was visiting Taliesin (with his wife, Liliane), because their son, Edgar, Jr., had joined the Fellowship a couple of months before. Edgar Sr. ran Kaufmann’s, a department store in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Most importantly, in less than a year, he and Liliane would receive plans for their weekend home near Pittsburgh. That home is known as Fallingwater.

Fallingwater: the building that started to put Wright back on the forefront of architecture.

Kaufmann’s $1,000 check not only meant that the architect had the money so his apprentices could build the 12 foot X 12 foot model. The money seemed to signal that Kaufmann believed in Wright’s ideas and work. And that, perhaps, he might hire Wright for that home they were thinking of building.

Originally published, November 21, 2021.
Thanks to Raggedkompany for permission to use his photograph at the top of this post.

* I changed this post on May 7, 2020 when I realized I’d incorrectly identified a photograph. I deleted the photograph here, but talked about what room it was really showing in my post “Oh my Frank – I was wrong“.

There’s an earlier version of “Preservation by Distribution”, with the mistake. It’s on the Wayback Machine, here.

**Bonus—See my post about the glorious Wayback Machine, here.


1 In 2012 the model became part of the collection of The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (Museum of Modern Art | The Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York). 

2 In case you’re wondering: as far as I know, Lucretia was just friends with both Bruce and Blaine.

A red door at the alcove at Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin studio

Found window:

I took the photograph above on May 14, 2004.
Looking (plan) north at the door to the alcove of Taliesin’s Drafting Studio.

Recently, I came across what I wrote to myself during Taliesin’s Save America’s Treasures project in 2003-04. It reminded me of one of the “finds” during that project. That’s what I’m going to write about in this post.

This is not the same as Save America’s Treasures Hillside Theatre project. That project, begun in 2020, is being undertaken by the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation.

This other “SATs” project was carried out by Taliesin Preservation. The project’s purpose was to construct a drainage solution to the Taliesin residence. The Taliesin residence is at the “brow” of a hill (Taliesin, meaning “Shining Brow” in Welsh), so all the water had to get from the top of the hill to the bottom.

What – Wright didn’t think about rain going downhill?

Wright initially installed drainage at Taliesin. However, because he continuously changed Taliesin—and he never used gutters—the water, eventually, went through the building.

Not an ideal circumstance

One of the things I discovered in preservation is that water, in its liquid and solid form, is the most pernicious substance. It can expand, creating pressure. In humidity it can encourage mold. It can turn plaster into mush and wooden beams into fibrous soggy filaments.

Taliesin had all of these things and more.

Taliesin’s Save America’s Treasures project was designed, then, to move water, ice, and snow around the building, while not completely rebuilding or destroying it. Therefore, in order to do this, all of the flagstone in the main court was removed, and drainage was added under it to move the water around it. In addition, concrete walls were constructed under the main building, to help the drainage. This removed stone included that in Taliesin’s Breezeway (that’s the area under the roof between his home and his studio). So, the construction firm that worked with Taliesin Preservation removed the stone, while the Preservation Crew removed a door and door jam of the alcove in Taliesin’s Breezeway. A photograph of that door at the alcove is at the top of this post.

When the crew member removed the door and frame, he found a window hidden in the stone column on the west (or on the left in the photo above).

A completely unexpected find

We had no idea the window was there.

Although, things being “uncovered” and “found” during this project happened so much that when the crew member found this window, I was like, “Oh, yes. Of course. Something else. Thanks, Frank!

How he found the window was by removing the door jamb from the stone pier. As it turned out, the top foot (or so) of the stone pier was hollow, with a 1′ 3″ window tucked inside.

I’ll show a couple of photos to explain. First, is a photograph showing the alcove with the door removed:

The stone alcove outside of Wright's Taliesin Drafting Studio.

Looking (plan) north into the alcove outside of Taliesin’s Drafting Studio. You can see where the frame was removed. The found window is at the top on the left. I took this photograph.

Next is a photo looking at the column with the window:

Stone pier outside of Taliesin drafting studio in November, 2003.

Looking (plan) northwest at the column with the window. To the right of the window is where the door to Wright’s drafting studio usually is.

Then a close-up looking at the window:

The window found in the pier outside Wright's Taliesin studio.

I took this photograph of the newly discovered window (with a red frame) in November 2003.
The stone on either side hid the window. The wooden board has the word “Spring Gr…” written on top of it. 

The newly discovered window explained some things:

We had already noticed a gap between the top of the pier and the ceiling above it. We had wondered if there was a problem at all. But this window proved that the pier had never supported anything in the ceiling.

So: Wright had the pier built, then at some point he decided he didn’t want the little window there anymore. Therefore, he just had his apprentices enclose it by slapping some stone on one side, then on the other. It was probably the simplest solution.

After finding this, I embarked on my usual activity:

I looked for evidence of this little window in floor plans, elevations, and photographs. Although, the pier is underneath a deep overhang, thus any glancing photographs of the area didn’t show a tiny window like this.

And, while I’ve noted that Taliesin’s drawings are unreliable, they can be helpful.

For that reason, I looked at drawings hoping to catch something. One of those drawings was a Xerox. It’s a hand-drawn floor plan, with written measurements alongside everything (maybe Wright had one of his early apprentices do this early in the history of the Taliesin Fellowship).

This drawing, #2501.035, is below:

Drawing 2501.035.

The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York). Drawing #2501.035.

Looking at the drawing with a magnifying glass I saw “1′ 3″ window” written and it was pointed right at “our” window. I’ve put a close-up of the drawing to show it, below (with the words 1′ 3″ highlighted):

Drawing 2501.035, cropped

The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York). Drawing #2501.035.

I saw this notation on the drawing at the end of the day, when I was alone in the office. When I saw it, I just started laughing. This amazing thing that we found. . . and there it sat for years, unnoticed, in a drawing.

After laughing, I wrote up the information, and sent that, as well as the scans showing photos, floor plans, and elevations, and my new photos, in an email to my supervisor.

That day was a hell of a lot of fun.

Published September 31, 2021.

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 interior. On left: by Raymond Trowbridge, 1930. On right, by Keiran Murphy 2019.

Why Did You Have to do That, Mr. Wright?!1

Two views of the same space, 89 years apart.

Frank Lloyd Wright began his home, Taliesin (south of Spring Green, Wisconsin), in 1911 and worked on it almost continuously until he died in 1959. As researcher and historian I easily documented over 100 changes he made just to his home (that number doesn’t include the necessary construction after Taliesin’s first or second fires).

And this doesn’t count his work on the other buildings on the Taliesin estate; about which you can read at Wikipedia. If you go to the Taliesin (studio) page, there are links to the four other buildings on the estate. Yes, I did start all of the Wikipedia entries on those Taliesin estate buildings, why do you ask?

And the changes I numbered were just those that could be documented through photographs.

Taliesin is very important, yes

That’s why we call Taliesin a sketchbook. In addition, it was an experiment for the artist/architect/genius-extraordinaire [that looks like I’m being snotty, but I’m not].

I was told by someone who worked in the Wisconsin State Historic Preservation Office that when they began talking about Taliesin restoration, they didn’t want to create the Taliesin “zoo”. As they restored/preserved the building, they didn’t want to pick out what they thought were the “best” changes done there by Wright.

Their conclusion: restore Taliesin back to the last decade of the architect’s life, 1950-59. And as close to 1959 as possible/doable, combined with new technologies that wouldn’t screw up the building in the future. So that’s how, for example, Taliesin got geothermal heating and cooling.

And I agree. I fiercely want Taliesin to be as it was in Wright’s lifetime—as long as the “building envelope” is “sealed” to help the building survive long past my death.

YET

I wrote all of this because I have a confession: there are changes I really wish that guy hadn’t made to his home.

Some things that used to be at Taliesin just seem so cool. Their rarity is part of the attraction. And, yes, I love what is there today… but  sometimes I really wish he’d left well enough alone.

Look below for an example.

The first photo, taken 1926-33, shows the entry to his living quarters. The part you see under the roof is what I’m talking about. Between those three stone piers were French doors. They opened to the exterior balcony that ended at a parapet behind where that teenage boy is sitting (he’s sitting on a little bit of roofing). He added the balcony in Taliesin III (so, after the second fire). It stood one floor above today’s “front door” at Taliesin.

Postcard of Taliesin, 1926-30. Unknown photographer
Postcard property of Patrick Mahoney. Used with permission. The photograph is published in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin: Illustrated by Vintage Postcards, by Randolph C. Henning, p. 61.

Then in 1942 (approximately), Wright constructed a roof over that balcony, making it into a storage room. Former Wright apprentice / longtime Taliesin Fellowship member John DeKoven Hill called the room “the hell hole”.

The same view in the 1950s:

The next photograph shows the same part of the building, with a roof where the balcony used to be. It’s the configuration one sees today:

Photo of Taliesin 1955 taken by Maynard Parker

Maynard Parker took the photograph above in 1955 by for House Beautiful magazine. Then you click on the photo above, at the website of its owners (the Huntington Library) it’s backwards from its correct orientation.

What you see in the 1955 photo by Parker/for House Beautiful, is great, of course. But I look at archival photos, or scan what’s in my memory, comparing it to what he had before 1942 and I want to whine: “oh man – why did you do that?”

Then, here’s what I’m thinking: “grumble, grumble – sketchbook — grumble grumble… architectural genius… grumble grumble… HIS gorram house… grumble…”

But what right do I have, given the mistakes from the past?

… you can’t deny all those times in which people, with the best of intentions, completely destroyed something.

Like so many buildings by architect Louis Sullivan in Chicago

And Wright’s Larkin Building in Buffalo

Check out this from the Buffalo City Gazette shows newspaper articles talking about the building’s decline

You get the point.

FINALLY

There’s also the fact that the National Park Service, which confers “National Historic Landmark” status, is firmly against people “creating a false sense of history.” That is a hard-and-fast rule.

Besides, if Taliesin had all the things in it that I really like it would end up being a Taliesin that never actually existed.

But I can still yell at him in my head, though.

 

 

Initially published on May 4, 2021

At the top of this page are two photos. The one on the left was taken in 1930 by Raymond Trowbridge (who I’ve written about) and is at the Chicago History Museum (and online here). I took the photo on the right a couple of years ago, showing the same room. You can tell it’s the same because what remains the same in the two photographs are the ceramics in the fireplace on the left and, against the wall, the built-in bench and the radiator cover. He lowered the ceiling in 1933-34 when a bedroom/sitting room was built one floor above for his youngest daughter, Iovanna Lloyd Wright.


1 accompanied by lots of words for him that I cannot repeat in polite company.

Frank Lloyd Wright on balcony at Taliesin.

Mortar Mix

This post is about figuring out where Wright was standing in the photo at the top of this page.

And, several years ago, “Looked at some mortar,” was my answer to the question, “What did you do at work today?”

Wait – what? Why?

A collection of images in Delaware:

Earlier that day someone from the Hagley Museum and Library (Wilmington, Delaware) wrote me (as the historian for Taliesin Preservation) looking for a date on some images they have. It’s a collection of negatives by John Gordon Rideout.

According to the Hagley Museum,

John Gordon Rideout (1898-1951) was a noted industrial designer and architect based primarily in Ohio. The images in this digital collection come from an album of negatives in a collection of Rideout’s papers. Some of the images, likely dating to the early 1930s, depict Frank Lloyd Wright and his Spring Green, Wisconsin, estate, Taliesin.

There are 192 negatives from Rideout. Most of the images don’t show Taliesin, but I hope I had something to do with that date that’s on that page. 1933-34 is the date I gave for Rideout’s Taliesin images.

Figuring the date out from the other photos was easy. However, there was one photograph in the collection that I couldn’t immediately figure out. That photo is at the top of this page. That’s what led to me to look at mortar. In that photograph Wright stands against a stone wall with a ceiling over his head, and the frame of a window on the photograph’s left hand side. I figured I could find the wall where he was standing by looking for some of those mortar blobs. Turns out I was correct.1

Finding the site of the photo:

If I hadn’t seen the rest of the Rideout’s collection I might have thought Rideout had taken the image years earlier. That’s because Wright doesn’t look like the man we know: the fashionable, well-known man from the 1930s surrounded by his apprentices in the studios in Wisconsin or Arizona. The man in the photograph above looked like someone maybe 15 years before. I think it was his tie, billowy shirt, and the magnifying glass (like a monocle) that hangs around his neck.

Fortunately, according to Taliesin Fellowship member, Dr. Joseph Rorke:2

. . . [O]ne of the first things that Olgivanna did was to persuade Frank to abandon his flowing artist’s tie and shorten his hair, presumably because he was beginning to look faintly quaint and old-fashioned.
Meryl Secrest. Frank Lloyd Wright: A Biography (1992; HarperPerennial, HarperCollins, New York City, 1993), 428. 

Regardless of when the photo was taken I had to figure out where Wright was standing. I knew he was at Taliesin (because of the stone, stucco, and wood) and despite what I thought, the photo comes from the early 1930s. So, I mentally walked through the structure to figure out his location.

Why didn’t I just know where he was?

Since Wright changed walls, doors, windows, etc., all the time at Taliesin, sometimes things in photographs no longer exist. And I don’t trust Taliesin’s drawings 100% of the time (he used the drawings to work things out; or he changed the designs as the construction proceeded). Based on what I know, I thought Wright was standing on a balcony off of his private office (the balcony no longer exists; he expanded the room).

So I drove to Taliesin to see if I was correct.1

Finding the mortar

I printed the photo and went to the room at Taliesin where I thought it was taken. Luckily two employees of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation were there working so I could ask them what they thought. The three of us went back and forth on it until we agreed to go over to the back of Wright’s vault.

Here’s the area we looked at:

Stone wall in Wright's private office with this studio in the background.

This was a photograph taken by me (thanks to Kyle for letting me inside the space to take photos).

Near the upper right portion of the photograph, under the horizontal pieces of stone, you can match the mortar to what’s in the photo with Wright. The stones are on the outside of his vault. In the photo with Wright, the top blotch of mortar is at around the same level as the top of his head.

So, there you go: the stone & mortar didn’t change. Just the stuff to the left of it did.

To the left of the stone you see into Taliesin’s drafting studio. The desk in the photo is where Wright would answer his mail in later years.

It’s not a working studio

Well, d’uh Keiran. I know it’s not a working studio. You do realize that Frank Lloyd Wright is dead, don’t you?

Yes I know that (about Wright’s relationship to life). But Wright stopped using this room as a drafting studio after 1939. In that year, another studio of his in Wisconsin was finished. That’s the 5,000 square foot drafting studio at Hillside on the Taliesin estate. So, it’s on the estate, but about half a mile away.

I talked about the studio in my post about Hillside. In fact, most of the photos you’ve seen where Wright is working in a studio in Wisconsin were taken at Hillside, not at Taliesin. You can also read this post at Wikipedia (the post that I, um, wrote), which is on Hillside and has an exterior photograph of that studio.

After the drafting was moved to Hillside, Wright used the Taliesin studio as his office.

Photographs taken in Wright’s studio (later his office) back to what was just shown:

Wright's desk in his office (his former studio).

This was a photograph taken by me (thanks to Kyle for letting me inside the space to take photos).

Here’s Wright’s office desk from the other side. The stone on the left is his vault. I put in an arrow to show where I took the other photograph from. When Rideout took the photo of Wright, Wright was standing about where the arrow is pointing. Out through the windows there’s the beige-colored wall. That wall didn’t exist when Rideout took the photo of Wright. At that time, Wright’s private office was further to the left. The place where the beige wall is today was, at that time, an exterior balcony.

Originally published April 10, 2021.

The photograph of Frank Lloyd Wright at the top of this page was taken by John Gordon Rideout. Courtesy of the Hagley Museum & Library. The photograph is available from this URL: https://digital.hagley.org/2701_negalbum_strip22_004.


1 I tend to say “correct” instead of “right” when I’m talking/writing about things related to Taliesin because. . . Wright, y’know. I’ve noticed that others who work/ give tours at Wright buildings also say “correct” instead of “right”. It’s a way to keep one’s sanity. Because when you give tours of a Wright building, you’re already saying his name and also saying, “And to your right. . . . “

2 Taliesin Fellowship, 1957-2013. “Dr. Joe” was 95 when he passed away.

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.”

Chicago History Museum, ICHi-89163, Raymond W. Trowbridge, photographer

About a Wall at Taliesin That No Longer Exists

I wrote this to myself over a decade ago.

When I was asking questions about the history of Taliesin (as I often do). But, to start off: this post is about the photo at the top of this page.

I’ve been trying to figure out the history of a wall between two rooms in Wright’s living quarters at Taliesin. These rooms, known as the Loggia and the Loggia fireplace, were, in 1911, a guest bedroom and a sitting room (which had a fireplace then, too). Taliesin’s living quarters were destroyed by fire down to the foundations and chimneys in 1914.

Wright rebuilt the living quarters in 1914-15 and renamed them Taliesin II. In the rebuilding, he took the guest bedroom and redesigned it into a room he called the Loggia (then added a guest bedroom to the south of the sitting room). He picked “Loggia” as the name for the room because there were stone piers on one side of the room (and it had a stone floor).

What is a “Loggia”?

Wikipedia has a nice definition of loggia.

Wright noted that the Loggia “looked up the Valley to the Lloyd-Jones Chapel.” [this quote is in his autobiography, published in Frank Lloyd Wright: Collected Writings, v. 2, 241.] The ‘Valley’ is the Wisconsin valley settled by his Lloyd Jones family.

The east side of the Loggia looked toward the family Valley; its west side opened to the Loggia fireplace, and you can see it in a Taliesin II floor plan that’s online here. The room is labelled “sitting room” because it worked with the bedroom to its right.

The living quarters were again consumed by fire in 1925. Reconstruction occurred on the building throughout that year, giving us (as he later named it) Taliesin III. This version of the living quarters is what still exists. Although it looked lot different in 1959 than when he rebuilt in 1925.

I mean, it’s still rectangular and constructed of stone, plaster and wood, with cedar shingles on the roof and plate glass in the windows, but…. The man made changes in almost every part of the building so understanding old photographs takes a little bit of reconfiguring in your brain.

There aren’t many photos for either of these spaces (today’s Loggia and loggia fireplace) before 1950. That’s why, when I first saw the photo at the top of this page, I didn’t know what room I was looking at.

The photo is in the public domain, which is why I feel fine showing it.

You are seeing the interior of Taliesin, though. This is looking northeast from the Loggia fireplace area (the fireplace is behind the photographer). The stone wall you see on the right stood between the Loggia fireplace and the Loggia. It was probably a foot wide, close to 5 feet tall, and about 10 feet long. No other photograph shows it, and Wright removed it some time in the 1930s.

When was the photo taken? Evidence suggests the photograph took it in the summer of 1930. I’ll explain how I know that in the next blog post.

What are you seeing in this photograph?

The photo is cool if you don’t know Taliesin, but it’s probably pretty confusing if you do. If you stood at this same spot at Taliesin today, only two things are the same: the radiator cover to the left of the chair on the left is the same (the radiator cover is what looks like a wooden table with spindles). And the passageway behind the chair, through the wooden door, is still there,

Only the door itself isn’t. That’s because Wright no longer needed it.

When this photo was taken, you would have gone through the door, take a left, then through another door. Then you’d be outside. In the 1940s, Wright changed that entryway. Because of that, he removed the wooden door since he no longer needed it.

What the photograph shows that is now different:

Now that I’ve covered what’s the same, there’s what’s different. Or some of it, anyway.

What’s most noticeably different to anyone at Taliesin today is the stone wall (with wood above it) on the right. The wall had a glass door framed in wood and that doesn’t exist anymore. And, at the top of the photo, there’s the parapet (the stucco wall) with vertical wooden piers.

What you would see today:

If you were at Taliesin today you would not see the stone wall or the parapet. That’s different because of the other major change: the ceiling is much lower. In 1933-34 he lowered ceiling to build rooms above for his daughter, Iovanna (1925-2015).

And of course when I write that Wright “built” anything: the people who did this were either workers or architectural apprentices. And, after 1932, most of the work was by his apprentices in the Taliesin Fellowship.

One of them, Abe Dombar, wrote about the changed that lowerd the ceiling in “At Taliesin”. This was the regular newspaper features. This one was published February 9, 1934:

          Two new rooms added to the pageant of Taliesin’s 40 rooms merely by lowering the ceiling of the loggia and raising the roof above it to get the most playful room in the house.  The boys call it a “scherzo.”  This is little eight year old Iovanna’s room.  Until now she was the only apprentice who didn’t have his or her own room.”

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), 20-21.

That change made everything you see in the upper half of the photograph different. And everything you see in the lower part of the photo is different because of the removed wall and door.

The stone wall that no longer exists:

That wall, though. I’ve spent a lot of energy on trying to figure out when, exactly, he had it removed. And I’ve tried to figure out what was going on underneath it, allowing it to stand without damaging the floor. Because looking at its possible dimensions (I think it was about 1’x5’x10’—30cm x 1.5m x 3m, or so), the wall (built in limestone) probably weighed around a ton (just over 900 kg).  

But I’ve checked, and there’s no wall below taking the weight. You’d think that he would have done something to the floor below to hold something that heavy, but no.  

And, while I often say “Taliesin keeps its history within its walls”,

There’s nothing around this area that tells you a wall was there. I’ve walked along the floor (probably even gotten on my hands and knees and crawled along it). There’s nothing there that lets you know that a substantial wall, about a foot wide, once stood on it. While normally at Taliesin, you can’t just hack a stone wall down and not leave a footprint. But, that’s not what’s going on here.

I think what might have happened is that Wright rebuilt the living quarters in 1925, and after it was done, decided to add the stone wall on top of the preexisting stone floor. Then he later decided to get rid of it.

But there’s no record of anyone taking it down. His apprentices in the Taliesin Fellowship were doing so much that they didn’t have time to note things or take photos of their work.

And studying the building usually doesn’t result in tracking down every change (even if you knew it happened). Or, frequently, figure out how to ask who did what/where/when.

I think the Administrator of Historic Studies at the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, Indira Berndtson, has done the best job tracking things down in part because she has lived at Taliesin (and Taliesin West), and has known people in Wright’s life so well. Starting in the mid-late 1980s, she began doing interviews with former apprentices, clients, and friends of Wright’s. Because she knew (and knows) so many of these people, she might be speaking to them, and be reminded of something someone else said. Then she could add, “So-and-so said they remembered you all doing this,” and that would push someone’s memory to add to the story.

Information at changes to Taliesin:

The only time you get actual, on-the-spot information is when Taliesin Fellowship apprentices wrote letters to family, wrote the weekly “At Taliesin” newspaper articles (1934-37) or, in the case of one, kept a daily diary (this was Priscilla Henken who was in the Taliesin Fellowship with her husband in 1942-43). There are books and articles that people wrote about their time in the Fellowship, but other than those things, there’s no consistent way of getting information on changes at Taliesin as they were happening.

Sketches of the wall exist, but nothing definitive. There’s one drawing which appears to match reality, but it doesn’t show the wall. I’ve dated that drawing to  1936-37 based on architectural details and you can get to it through this link.

If you look at the drawing, the Loggia fireplace is the fireplace that’s at the lower right, backed up against a rectangular roof.

Back to the wonderful photograph above:

Ken Hedrich took the next, dated, photograph of the space in 1937. That doesn’t show the wall.

btw: he took this photograph (linked through here) for the January 1938 issue of Architectural Forum magazine, which focused on Wright.

In the end, at this moment,1 I have the curiosity that there was a wall at Taliesin that was later removed, for which there really isn’t any evidence and I can’t quite figure out why the wall didn’t mess up the floor (making the stone floor, or the ceiling below, crack with the weight).

Although I always hope that I’ll come across a diary entry where someone wrote, “we were asked to take down a stone wall. I had stone grit in my food for 3 days afterwards.”

First published 1/21/2021

The photograph at the top of this post was by Raymond Trowbridge and is at the Chicago History Museum, ICHi-89166. It is in the public domain. This is a larger version on the keiranmurphy.com website.


1 Although I wrote this originally over a decade ago, I still don’t know how the wall was standing without causing an effect on the floor, I still haven’t come across many photographs of it, and I haven’t come across anyone writing about taking it down.