Drawing of an elevation of the Guggenheim Museum. The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York), #4305.629.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s design of the Guggenheim Museum

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Drawing of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City.

My post this week is going to be about where Wright designed the Guggenheim Museum

He designed it in New York City, you silly!

No. I mean:

in which of his studios did Wright first draw the plan for the museum?

See, the Guggenheim is one of Wright’s most famous buildings, but the story of its commission and design isn’t the cinematic

           possibly apocryphal

story of Wright drawing of Fallingwater in two-and-a-half hours while the client drove from Milwaukee.

And the tale took a bit longer.

And while Wright received the commission in 1943—looong story short—it was still being built when he died in 1959.

The biz on the Gugg:

While there’s no question he designed it in a Wisconsin studio

He couldn’t go to Taliesin West in the early 1940s because of gasoline and rubber rationing,

I’ve never come across any apprentice remembering Wright first envisioning its plan, or talking about his ideas for it.

Therefore: I’ve been trying to find the exact studio where Wright first put pencil to paper. Like:

Did he do it in the Taliesin studio?

Or in the studio at Hillside?

Looking northwest in Hillside studio. Photograph by Keiran Murphy. Taken April 14, 2006.

This is a photo that I took in the Hillside drafting studio in April 2006. While there are items on the tables, I think that for the most part no one in the Taliesin Fellowship or at the School of Architecture was at that time currently in residence. Even in 2006 they usually didn’t “land” in Wisconsin until May.

Yet, when I first started in tours, I probably thought he drew it at Hillside.

After all, Hillside had his main studio there for decades as of the late 1930s.1

Yet

In 1995, former apprentice Curtis Besinger published Working With Mr. Wright: What It Was Like. That came out in ’95

Besinger wrote

that,

by the end of December 1942 there were only eleven of us remaining at Taliesin.

Curtis Besinger, Working With Mr. Wright, 139-140.

Besinger wrote that there were less people in The Taliesin Fellowship due to World War 2.2 So then I thought maybe Wright only used the studio at the Taliesin structure.  

But then

I read Taliesin Diary by Priscilla Henken. That came out in 2012.

            She and her husband were at Taliesin in 1942-43.

In her diary on July 9, 1943, she wrote that Wright went to New York City because:

“It’s quite definite that FL [sic] has signed the contract for the Guggenheim museum and Robert Moses is showing him the sites.”

Taliesin Diary: A Year with Frank Lloyd Wright, by Priscilla Henken (W.W. Norton & Co., New York, London, 2012), 191.

So I thought again. She wrote this entry in July. So maybe they had moved to the Hillside studio for the summer?

Well, I told myself: do what you always do:

CHECK THE DAMNED PHOTOS.

Here’s one in Taliesin Diary taken in 1942-43:

Photograph of four or five male and female apprentices practicing choir in Taliesin's drafting studio. Published in the book Taliesin Diary: A Year with Frank Lloyd Wright, by Priscilla Henken, p. 70, top.

While Fellowship members practiced choir in the space, you can see 2 drafting tables that Wright or others could use .

Further, I read from the book The Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright3 by Neil Levine. On page 320 in Chapter 10: “The Guggenheim’s Logic of Inversion”, Levine wrote that, during the summer of 1943, “no drawings exist” of the Guggenheim “from this preliminary stage”.

which, okay, means I didn’t have to look at photos; but it’s still neat to see. You should get the book. Hey, don’t cry to me if you don’t see the book for yourself.

And while the Guggenheim’s building site hadn’t yet been chosen by fall 1943, archives director Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer identified an early sketch from September 1943. That’s drawing 4305.002, below:

Early sketch by Frank Lloyd Wright of gallery space for future Guggenheim Museum. The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York), #4305.002

Neil Levine also posted Wright’s telegram

to the person who encouraged Solomon Guggenheim to contact Wright. That was Guggenheim’s Curator, Hilla Rebay:

BELIEVE THAT BY CHANGING OUT IDEA OF A BUILDING FROM HORIZONTAL TO PERPENDICULAR WE CAN GO WHERE WE PLEASE. WOULD LIKE TO PRESENT THE IMPLICATIONS OF THIS CHANGE TO MR. GUGGENHEIM FOR SANCTION.

          Written by Wright to Rebay, December 30, 1943, Microfiche ID# G054C06.

According to Levine,

Rebay encouraged Wright to expand his building plans. This way, perhaps “they would entice Guggenheim into building….”

The Architecture Of Frank Lloyd Wright, 321.

In January 1944, Wright sent a communication to Rebay that:

[T]he antique Ziggurat has great possibilities for our building. We will see. We can use it either top side down or down side top.’ …”

and

“we’ll have some fun with the modern version of a Ziggurat.”4

Then, in the book,

Building With Wright: An Illustrated Memoir, Wright’s clients, Herbert and Katherine Jacobs, gave us an idea of how Wright was developing things in early 1944. Herbert Jacobs (who wrote “Building With…”) relayed how the two had driven to Taliesin in February 1944 to see the plans for their second Wright house.

Herbert Jacobs wrote in the book that as the couple waited for Wright in the Taliesin studio that day (February 13), they saw “no less than eight colored sketches which we learned later were of the proposed Guggenheim museum.”5

It seems that, in this early design process, Wright was playing around with how to design the Guggenheim. As a building that got larger near the earth (like ancient Ziggurats), or a ziggurat that is larger up top than at the bottom.

Wright proposed this idea to Hilla Rebay as he developed the design for the Guggenheim, writing again that:

We can use it either top side down or down side top.

He meant that he could use the figure of a ziggurat, like in the drawing they made below:

Drawing of the Guggenheim Museum in pink, with the radius of the museum becoming smaller as it rises. The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York). Unknown drawing number.

The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architecture and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York).
btw: this is not Photoshop joke on my part. This is an actual image of a real drawing of the Guggenheim. Although I don’t think the intense pink color was seriously contemplated. Although in a way, pulling out the idea that Wright might have through about a pink Gugg is like a card you can pull out of your deck. Similar to “Frank Lloyd Wright’s son designed Lincoln Logs.”

Or design the Guggenheim Museum like you see in the drawing at the top of this page: larger at the top.

Obviously the later idea worked and I used to tell people on my tours that neither men walked into the completed building.

First published July 4, 2024.
The number of the drawing at the top of this post is 4305.629. You can find it online here.


Notes:

1. I know that thanks to former apprentice Kenn Lockhart and Indira Berndtson (retired administrator of historic studies, collections and exhibitions for the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation). “Indira” interviewed “Kenn” on July 27, 1990. They started the interview in the Taliesin studio and Kenn explained that when he applied in 1939 (c. July 5) to be an apprentice that all of the drafting was done at Taliesin’s drafting studio. Then he said, when he started his apprenticeship

[O]n July 8, one week later, the [Hillside] drafting room floor was finished and everything was set up for drawing.

Regarding the move to the Hillside studio:

“So July 8th, 1939 was the big move from here [the Taliesin studio]. And then he used this for client interviews and so forth….”

p. 15 of the transcribed interview.

2. Some were drafted into the service; some others signed up (like Pedro Guerrero). But still others were in CO camps or jail. “CO” camps were for conscientious objectors. In fact, Besinger wasn’t there for 3 years after being put in jail in 1943. The Federal Bureau of Investigation apparently investigated Wright, trying to discern whether or not he was influencing these young men to be against the war effort. Wright biographer Meryle Secrest showed that the FBI concluded that Wright saw the two world wars as an example of British imperialism; and therefore, he wasn’t un-American: just anti-British. [Meryle Secrest. Frank Lloyd Wright: A Biography (Alfred A. Knopf, New York City, 1992), 264.]

3. Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1996.

4. Prof. Levine quoted from the book Frank Lloyd Wright: The Guggenheim Correspondence, ed. Bruce Brooks (Press at California State University, and Southern Illinois University Press; in Fresno, California and Carbondale and Edwardsville, Illinois; 1986) for the letters from Wright to Rebay. The letter that Levine quoted from was written January 26, 1944 and appeared in Guggenheim Correspondence, 42.

5. Building With Wright: An Illustrated Memoir, by Herbert Jacobs, with Katherine Jacobs (Chronicle Books: A Prism Edition, San Francisco, 1978), 83.

American architect Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) looks over a drawing with his assistants at the Hillside Drafting Studio on the Wright's Taliesin Estate near Spring Green, Wisconsin, c. 1957. (Photo by ? Marvin Koner/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

The Taliesin Fellowship

Reading Time: 5 minutes

A photograph of Frank Lloyd Wright with apprentices at a drafting table in the Hillside Drafting Studio. Photo taken by Marvin Koner in June 1958.

When I gave tours, I introduced the Taliesin Fellowship as:

a coeducational apprentice program that Wright and his wife, Olgivanna, started in 1932. They wanted the apprentices to participate in almost every aspect of their lives and taught the apprentices to “Learn By Doing”. The Taliesin Fellowship eventually became a school.

For years, the school was the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture.

Now it’s the School of Architecture, an accredited architecture program that awards Master’s degrees and traces its origins back to the Fellowship. But it no longer operates out of either Taliesin site.

But while it sounds simple

the Fellowship is/was never easy to explain.

When I got my job in 1994 and told professor Narciso Menocal1 in my department, he disparaged “those people”.

Like, when you say “Fellowship” people think it involves scholars that are awarded grants, like an NEH fellowship.

Wright awarded no grants or degrees and taught no classes.

The Taliesin Fellowship apprentices lived at the Taliesins (Wisconsin in the summer; Arizona in the winter) and farmed, cooked, made music, built/repaired the structures, drafted in the studios, and supervised construction of his buildings. At first for Frank Lloyd Wright, and then for Taliesin Architects after his death.

And paid tuition to do this.

            I never went back to Menocal and said

like I wrote in “Wright Was Not a Shyster

            “with Wright, there was a difference between the ideal and the reality.”

In the ideal, the Fellowship would echo apprenticeships from the Middle Ages. He wrote in an early prospectus for the Fellowship that:

“SO WE BEGIN this working Fellowship as a kind of daily work-life. Apprentices at work on buildings or in crafts which have a free individual basis: a direct work-experience made healthy and fruitful by seeing Idea as work and work as Idea take effect, actually, in the hand of the young apprentice.

Frank Lloyd Wright, An Autobiography, new and revised ed. (New York: Duell, Sloan, and Pearce, 1943), 392.

YET,

while the Wrights explained in their prospectus:

“Each apprentice will work under the inspiration of direct architectural leadership, toward machine-craft in this machine age. All will work together in a common daily effort to create new forms needed by machine work and modern processes if we are to have any culture of our own worth having…. Our activities, we hope, will be gradually extended to include collateral arts by way of such modern machine crafts as we can establish.”

Frank Lloyd Wright, An Autobiography, new and revised ed. (New York: Duell, Sloan, and Pearce, 1943), 391.

it didn’t always work out the way they envisioned it.

After all,

Curtis Besinger (former longtime Fellowship member) wrote about the expectations new apprentices had:

Some came expecting an academic environment, a school with required and regular hours of classwork…. Some came expecting an artistic community, a sort of bohemian life of freedom in which one could do what he wanted…. Some came expecting an egalitarian co-op with everyone having an equal say. Some came expecting a lesser degree of commitment and involvement….

 Few newcomers to the Fellowship received special treatment…. Of course, there were exceptions, but “wholesome neglect” was the practice and the policy.

Curtis Besinger. Working with Mr. Wright: What it was Like (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, England, 1995), 22-23.

Nevertheless,

Besinger’s memories of his time echoed many things that people on tour asked:

How could people do all of this: cook, clean, farm, make music, and – oh yeah – work in the drafting studio? And pay for the privilege?

They’re things that I don’t know if anyone could answer, even if they read all the books I first put in my post, “Books by Apprentices“.

And still,

one of the things I liked about giving tours was holding these various ideas simultaneously in my head, continuously: did the Wrights take advantage of people? Yes. But no one stayed if they didn’t get something out of it. Priscilla Henken, then an apprentice, kept a diary, which gives a day-to-day good and bad portrait of life in the Fellowship. The National Book Museum published it as Taliesin Diary: A Year with Frank Lloyd Wright and it gives an unvarnished view as well as many previously unseen photographs.

But personally,

I think the Fellowship helped keep Wright young.

My impression of Wright’s later years is contrasted by my knowledge of the later years of Pablo Picasso.2 Picasso’s peers were passing away and he wasn’t surrounded by many young people. So the painter took to rethinking the work of the Masters.

Therefore, in the 1950s he painted his version of Las Meninas by Diego Velasquez (1599-1660), a work by Eugene Delacroix (1798-1863), and then Dejeuner Dur L’Herbe by Eduard Manet (1832-1883).

Manet’s painting is below:

Painting: Le Dejeuner Sur L'Herbe by Edouard Manet, 1863. Located at the Musee d'Orsay. 2 women (clothed or partially clothed) at a park with two clothed men.

Then there’s Picasso’s version from the early 1960s:

Pablo Picasso's version of Manet's "Luncheon on the Grass", 1961. One man clearly visible with two nuder or partially nude women.

I looked at Picasso’s work from the 1950s and ’60s and it was better than what I remembered, but I wonder if he would have done something different if he was surrounded by young artists (unless he was so competitive that it was impossible).

And one night,

months ago, as I thought about the Fellowship,

as one often does

I remembered the saying I’ve heard about the Grateful Dead:3

They may not be the best at what they do, but they’re the only ones who are doing it.

Note: the folks who said that loved the Dead, too.

 

Published June 15, 2023.
The image at the top of this post is by © Marvin Koner/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images.


Take a look

at “Taliesin Life and Times” by William Walter Schildroth, Architect. He was an apprentice from 1959 (after Frank Lloyd Wright’s death) to 1961 and describes why he came into the Taliesin Fellowship, his  duties, and how he learned “by doing”.


Notes:

1. Narciso Menocal was an Architectural Historian in the University of Wisconsin Art History Department. He’s the reason I knew more about Louis Sullivan than Frank Lloyd Wright when I started working at Taliesin: Menocal ran a Graduate Seminar on Sullivan. But he was never my advisor (I asked another professor to be my advisor after he lectured in our first class and I thought “this is why I started grad school”).

2. 1881-1973. I also took a graduate seminar on Picasso. Picasso, like Wright, was also a prolific artist who lived until his early 90s, had several well-known romantic relationships, and had a wife named Olga. Although Olgivanna was rarely just called “Olga” and she was 30 years younger than Wright as opposed to Picasso’s later paramour Francois Gilot (also an artist and mother of Paloma and Claude). She was 40 years younger than Picasso (research for this part of my page brought me to this web page just on Picasso’s muses). Until I looked at images for today’s post, I really didn’t like anything he did after 1939. 

3. If you’ve got a couple of hours, here’s a link to part of one of their concerts in 1974. My oldest sister (who saw 300+ Dead shows) would have been happy to see/hear it.

Black and white photograph looking southwest in Taliesin's living room. Taken by Maynard Parker in 1955. In view: wooden furniture, plaster on walls, artifacts on tables.

Here’s another change at Taliesin:

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Maynard Parker took the photo at the top of the post. It’s Taliesin’s Living Room and he took it 1955 for House Beautiful magazine’s issue devoted to Wright.

In this post I’ll be writing about the horizontal wood shelf in the center of the photo.

FWIW:

if I haven’t told you already, I’ve never tried to figure out why Frank Lloyd Wright made any changes at Taliesin.

Well: the fact that his house has a kitchen, bedrooms and bathrooms is self-explanatory…,

but I’m talking about experiments or changes. Like Wright adding the skylight in the “Little Kitchen” to show Solomon Guggenheim how the natural lighting at his museum would work.

Anyway,

For years, there was a door just to the left of where you entered the Living Room. It came out of the kitchen (known now as the “Little Kitchen”).

That door from the kitchen to the Living Room was there all the way back to the Taliesin I era (1911-1914). At that time the kitchen’s doors opened into the hallway and the living room.

The drawing from 1911, below, shows the main entry, kitchen and Living Room. You can see where the doors were at that time:Floor plan of Taliesin living room and kitchen drawn in 1911 by Frank Lloyd Wright. Drawing 1104.003. The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art } Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York).

Here’s another drawing from 1925 (after the second fire) to show you the same doorway:

Floor plan of Taliesin's living room executed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Drawing number 2501.001, so may be the first drawing did of his house following the April 1925 fire. The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York).

The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives, drawing #2501.001.

Then

In 1943, Wright got the commission for the Guggenheim Museum and then prepared for Guggenheim’s visit to Taliesin.1 Wright made many changes to Taliesin at that time. I’ve always thought that perhaps Wright made changes in order to entice the new client.

It might be part of the other changes Wright made in the early 1940s that I wrote about over a year ago.

But

these are slightly here I’m writing about different changes in this part of the room in the early 1940s.

These were changes related to the connection between the Little Kitchen and the Living Room.

Here’s a photo with an arrow pointing at the door into the Little Kitchen.

Black and white photograph looking southwest in Taliesin Living Room, 1937. In view: wooden chairs and funiture, light limestone walls. Photograph has an arrow pointing at a wooden door.In the fall of 1937, Ken Hedrich (of Hedrich-Blessing photographers) took photos all over Taliesin and the Taliesin estate; while brother Bill took photos of that new Wright building designed over a waterfall.

By the way: I always struggle to remember which Hedrich brother took photos at Taliesin (Ken) and which one took photos at Fallingwater (Bill). I almost think I should tattoo “Ken Hedrich took the Taliesin photos” on my arm…. Although today I had to look for the answer from my own blog (the post “Hillside Drafting Studio Flooring“)…. So I’ll just keep this website and blog going for… well until I’m in my late 90s at least.

Wright expanded the Little Kitchen in 1943. When that work was complete, the large door near the fireplace no longer went outside; it just opened into the kitchen.

Since he didn’t need the door Living Room any longer, Wright just had the apprentices veneer the original door with stone. They did a pretty good job matching, too.  You wouldn’t really know it have been a door there unless you already knew.

Here’s a photo with stone where the door was, and the shelf in place:

Black and white photograph of the southwest corner of Taliesin's Living Room. Photograph taken by Maynard Parker in 1955.After he removed the wooden door and veneered it with stone he put in the shelf you can see there. I have never seen a photo with the stone, but no shelf.

While he might have just wanted that shelf there to draw your eye, or complete the design or match the trim on the south wall (that you see on the left-hand side of the photo).

But,

since a wooden door had been in the southwestern corner of the Living Room since 1925, the shelf under the bottom of the cabinet might really have been put there just to keep visitors from trying to exit the old way: the now non-existent door.

If you’d been a guest a few times at Taliesin, maybe you’d gotten used to getting a snack at night from the kitchen while staying in the Guest Bedroom? So, perhaps that shelf kept you from walking smack dab into a wall?

Now,

If you ever took a tour at Taliesin from 1994 until 2018, you walked into the Living Room and that corner was drywalled with gold paint on it. So the corner looked like what you see below:

Interior of Taliesin Living room. In view: wooden furniture, limestone walls, and Asian artifacts. Photograph from 1992.

The photo above is what that corner looked like when I first started working at Taliesin.2 And there were more rugs on the floor. That’s not original either. They’re rugs from the collection, but they weren’t there. Bruce Pfeiffer (former Wright apprentice and the original Curator of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Archives) used to say that many rugs in the Living Room made it look like an Asian rug shop. Well, former Wright apprentice John de Koven Hill was the one who “okayed” their location. Since “Johnny” joined the Taliesin Fellowship long before Bruce he outranked him, I guess.

Since the gold in that corner was determined not to be original to Wright’s lifetime, the drywall was removed. “Stilfehler” took a photograph of the corner on a tour and loaded it onto Wikimedia Commons:

Photograph of the Taliesin Living Room with wooden built-in furniture and limestone on the walls. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

First published August 26, 2023.
The photograph at the top of this post is also in the Maynard Parker collection at the Huntington Library. It’s online here.


Notes:

1. I thought for years that Wright did all these changes in anticipation of Guggenheim’s visit. You would, too, if you’ve read Working With Mr. Wright: What It Was Like­, by Curtis Besinger. But in 2012, the diary of Priscilla Henken was published. This was a daily diary that Henken wrote in from October 1942 to late August 1943. On page 195 of the diary, July 18, 1943, Henken wrote that the Wrights, who had been away for days from Taliesin, were back and that: “The contract is for a million dollar museum for non-objective art, sponsored by Solomon Guggenheim….” So: that changed things.

2. By the way: the photo shows the very end of the inglenook in the Living Room (it’s under the metal Asian statue). That’s got gold, too. Was that original? Yes it was. And I’ve been told it’s gold leaf.

Photograph taken in Taliesin's living room on Frank Lloyd Wright's birthday. Wright is with 5 others, including his wife, Olgivanna (standing), and daughter, Iovanna (seated closest to him).

Frank Lloyd Wright’s birthday

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Frank Lloyd Wright was born on June 8, 1867.

If you’re in the Wrightworld you know this.

Read my post, “Keiran don’t try to correct the internet“, about how people originally thought he was born in 1869.

In today’s post, I’m going to write about traditions within the Taliesin Fellowship connected to Wright’s birthday.

In addition to giving him a reason to have a party, Wright’s decision to celebrate his birthday with the Fellowship was cohesive.

The Fellowship was founded in 1932 in the midst of the Great Depression. So, Wright’s birthday gave the “boys” and the “girls” a celebratory purpose during the Fellowship’s hardscrabble years. After all, from 1932-35, the house for Malcolm and Nancy Willey in Minnesota was the only commission that Wright had.

In addition, Wright’s birth date, June 8, can be really nice in Wisconsin.

(and hopefully the mosquitoes aren’t in full force)

Here’s what an apprentice wrote about celebrating Wright’s birthday in 1934:

AT TALIESIN, June l4, l934

            Birthday celebrations would be really celebrations if we became one year younger instead of older each time – that is, if we didn’t start too soon.  We really celebrated last Friday when Mr. Wright became one year younger and said that next year he will be in his fifties.  Equipped with everything possible and impossible we drove through the country to a rocky pine-covered hill and had a magnificent picnic.  

From At Taliesin: Newspaper Columns by Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Fellowship, 1934-1937 (Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale and Edwardsville, Illinois, 1991), edited and with commentary by Randolph C. Henning. Page 51.

Then, in 1936, they held a scavenger hunt.

Here’s the beginning of its description:

AT TALIESIN, June 12, 1936

            That the apprentices, regardless of years, should have the spirit of youth is a cardinal qualification of membership in the Fellowship.  Nothing has brought that quality to the surface more than the “treasure-hunt” we held on the occasion of Mr. Wright’s birthday.  While the treasure hunt lasted we were all children very young in spirit.  Don’t laugh at us for being childish until you have tried the hunt yourself.  You will find that you will leave most of your dignity and all of your reserve at home or lose it on the road.
By Earl Friar

From “At Taliesinedited and with commentary by Randolph C. Henning. Page 207.

Check out the whole scavenger hunt on pages 207-210 in the “At Taliesin” book. It’s a blast that includes a live turkey gobbler!

But in 1937-38, Wright started the desert camp, Taliesin West, in Arizona.

Subsequently, celebrating his birthday became an even bigger deal.

The “birthday formal” would become the first big gathering with invited guests the group could have after they had returned from the desert. Check out this photo of men and women in Taliesin’s Garden Court during Wright’s birthday formal in the 1950s:

Exterior summer party at Taliesin in Wisconsin with men and women in formal dress.
By Richard Vesey. Courtesy, Wisconsin Historical Society. Richard Vesey photographs and negatives, 1955-1963

Plus, Wright and the Fellowship knew the party wouldn’t be sullied by chilly/damp rain

or snow

Seriously—Prince was not exaggerating:

sometimes it does snow in April:

btw: I embedded this song for a chuckle about its title; not to get you depressed about a lost friend. Prince was from Minnesota and knows that sometimes it snows in April. But, seriously: since the song starts with the words, “Tracy died…” do not listen to this song if you want to remain chipper. Just be amused by Prince’s half-shirt.

And by June it’s usually warm and dry.

Time for a party!

With time, Wright’s birthday became more formal

Check out my photo below of all the fancy people:

Photograph by Keiran Murphy of people at Taliesin's Garden Court during the 2019 Frank Lloyd Wright birthday formal.

I took this photograph in Taliesin’s Garden Court during Wright’s birthday formal in 2019. If I’d been thinking, you would see a photo of me in my fancy dress, too.

In addition, Wright’s birthday became the time for one of the year’s

Box Project presentations.

The Box Projects were really important for the Taliesin Fellowship as a learning institution.

Olgivanna Lloyd Wright, Wright’s wife, explained the Box Projects well:

The Box is a tradition in the Fellowship, occurring twice a year, at Christmas and at the birthday. It consists of designs by the young people, plans, abstractions, models, paintings, weaving and ceramics….

After giving Wright their projects as Olgivanna explained:

           Each one explains that he has done and Frank gives him the benefit of his criticism, indicating to him the direction he should take….

The Life of Olgivanna Lloyd Wright: From Crna Cora to Taliesin; from Black Mountain to Shining Brow, compiled and edited by Maxine Fawcett-Yeske, Ph.D. and Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer, D.H.L. (ORO Editions, 2017), 186.

Therefore, the Box Projects allowed Wright to check on the development of the work by apprentices.

Everyone did a project—

even the spouses of apprentices.

During Wright’s birthday Box in 1943, Priscilla Henken (the wife of apprentice/architect David Henken) gave a floor plan for a school (even though she wasn’t a draftsmen). I got a photo of the plan from her published diary:

Drawing by Priscilla Henken on page 176 of Taliesin Diary: A Year with Frank Lloyd Wright.

This drawing was published on page 176 of Taliesin Diary: A Year with Frank Lloyd Wright, by Priscilla Henken (W.W. Norton & Co., New York, London, 2012).

Moreover, Priscilla noted some very nice things that Wright said about her drawing:

About my plans, which FL looked at after tea, he said that I had a lot of common sense, that I took the school as it was made an extraordinarily good thing out of it; that I had a lot of brains under this hair of mine; that now he knew I was busy during a lot of the time he couldn’t account for me; that I was the surprise… package of the box.

Taliesin Diary: A Year with Frank Lloyd Wright, by Priscilla Henken, 175.

The Box Projects and Wright’s birthday celebration are an interesting way to mark how Frank and Olgivanna Lloyd Wright created the culture of the Taliesin Fellowship.

Culture:

The CliffNotes website gives a good definition of it under “Sociology“. Culture, it says:

consists of the beliefs, behaviors, objects, and other characteristics common to the members of a particular group or society. Through culture, people and groups define themselves, conform to society’s shared values, and contribute to society. Thus, culture includes many societal aspects: language, customs, values, norms, mores, rules, tools, technologies, products, organizations, and institutions.

In 1994 when I started in tours, the Fellowship still had the Box Project presentations around Wright’s birthday. But that was changed in the mid-late 1990s. The reason for that was the difficulty apprentices had with moving from Arizona in the midst of their preparation for “the Birthday Box”. Consequently, they switched the presentation to September. That way, they could spend all summer working on it. And didn’t have to drive all that way from Arizona on little sleep, or worry about smashing the models or losing the computer files in the migration.1

First published on June 3, 2023.
The photograph at the top of this page was taken for The Capital Times in Madison for Wright’s birthday in 1957.


Note:

1. They changed the Box Presentation in Arizona, I think, to March or April.

Photograph in 1998 of Keiran Murphy lecturing to staff in the Hillside Theatre.

Hey Keiran Q and A

Reading Time: 6 minutes

A photograph of me taken by the Executive Director at Taliesin Preservation in 1998. I was giving a lecture on Taliesin’s history.

I talked about “Hey Keiran” in my blog post on “How I became the historian for Taliesin.”

Back then, the only way people got their weekly schedules was to pick up the printed ones at work.
Craig, at that time the head guide, thought a weekly question/answer section would remind people to pick up them up. They called it “Hey Keiran!” and printed them on the back of the schedules.
I thought it was called “Hey Keiran!” because people would ask me things all the time while I was walking through the main floor. Yet someone recently reminded me that the name was inspired by what Dan Savage wanted to call his question-and-answer feature1 at The Onion satirical newspaper.

“Hey Keiran!” is the reason why I’ve contemplated what side of the bed Wright slept on,2 if he knew Feng Shui,3 and whether or not Taliesin had outhouses.

Here are two Hey Keiran Q-and-As that I think are pretty cool. They were too short to write a whole post about, but I thought they deserved to be enjoyed by the masses.

Note that I’ve edited the Hey Keirans for clarity, etc., etc.:


Title saying "Hey Keiran!"

Another geek adventure

until your questions bathe me in the sweat of hardworking researchment (or I figure out answers to questions you’ve already asked), I’ll give you this:

So,

we have a copy of a photograph that shows Frank Lloyd Wright and Olgivanna reading in his bedroom, in front of his bookshelves.

Melvin E. Diemer took it after FLLW moved to the room in 1936, but before he expanded the room in 1950

(I know this because the bookshelves show a slightly different configuration than what existed after he expanded the room).

So, the general date for the photo was 1936-1950.

But then

I had some time before Thanksgiving. And you know me when I have time to think about photos.

In this case, I was musing and thought,

Hey, Keiran! The photo shows books on the bookshelves – maybe you could look them up and get a better sense of the photograph’s date?

[btw, I talk to myself like this all the time. Oh, and there’s a bridge I want to sell you.]

Therefore, I took the time to look on-line for the titles of the books. I  found some of the books and, as a result, came to the conclusion that this photograph was taken sometime between 1940-1950. Yay!!!!

Here’s the gold, people:Photograph of Frank and Olgivanna Lloyd Wright in front of a bookshelf at Taliesin. Some of the books are named.

©Wisconsin Historical Society—Deimer Collection, #3976. Please don’t copy this on a large scale, but it is on their website.

What I could read is below:

The New Universe, Baker Brownell, pub. 1926,

A Storyteller’s Holiday (2 vols.), by George Moore, pub. 1928,

The People, Yes, by Carl Sandburg, pub. 1936,

After 1903—What?, by Robert Benchley, pub. 1938,

Panic, by Archibald MacLeish, pub. 1938, and

A Concise History of Gardening, by A.J. MacSelf, this ed. pub. by Garden City Pub. Co., 1940.

At the time that I wrote that Hey Keiran article, the book, After 1903—What? was in the room at Taliesin known as the Garden Room (someone took a photo of it, here).

I mentioned that in the Hey Keiran article:

I freaked out on a tour

(in a good way)

when I looked down and saw this book. Donna

(the House Steward working that day)

seemed to handle it ok. I think that is because she’s used to me coming into Taliesin and finding odd things that I get really excited about.

Ok.

Here’s another Hey Keiran!

This is the question:

Q: When was the portrait of Anna Lloyd Wright put above the fireplace in Wright’s studio? Originally, Wright had an Amida Buddha painted on a 3-part screen—if I’m interpreting an old photo correctly. What happened to that? Sold? What was up there when he died?

Here’s my response:

A: Anna’s portrait was up there when Wright died. Initially, we were told that Wright put his mother’s portrait up there when it was painted.
So we thought he put it there c. 1920.

However,

when I began looking at historic photographs, I couldn’t find evidence of that.

In fact, a couple of photographs clearly show the Amida Buddha, and those photos date from the late 20s-early 30s.

(so, before the Taliesin Fellowship started in 1932).

One of those photos is on the Wisconsin Historical Society website. That photo is below:

Photograph in Frank Lloyd Wright's studio of a model of a building design.

Photograph from the Wisconsin Historical Society.
Collection: Frank Lloyd Wright Projects Photographs.

You can see two panels of the Amida Buddha screen in the background.

So, when did Anna’s portrait get up there?4

Former apprentice, the late Kenn Lockhart, answered that question in an interview with Indira Berndtson

(she is the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Administrator of Historic Studies: Collections and Exhibitions)

Indira interviewed him at Taliesin on July 27, 1990, and he talked about the painting. Lockhart, who entered the Fellowship in 1939, said in his interview that:

“I have an idea that one of his relatives had it and it came. Because I remember when it arrived. We were living here [i.e., at Taliesin] during the [second World] war.”

Here’s a photograph of Lockhart sitting in Wright’s studio, on the built-in seat by the studio’s fireplace. Priscilla Henken likely took the photograph in 1942-43:

Photograph of Frank Lloyd Wright in the Taliesin studio with four architectural apprentices.

Photograph in Taliesin Diary: A Year with Frank Lloyd Wright, by Priscilla Henken. Page 107, bottom. Lockhart is in the middle of the photo, facing the viewer. Frank Lloyd Wright sits on the far left. The apprentices David Henken, Curtis Besinger and Ted Bower sit on the right.

Wright did not sell The Amida triptych. After he removed the triptych from that wall, he put it into storage. I know that because it doesn’t appear in other photos of Taliesin interiors while he was alive. At some point, the Taliesin Fellowship brought it down to storage at Taliesin West in Arizona.

The screen was restored in the 1990s. The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation sent it up here for viewing one summer in the late 1990s, but it didn’t go where Anna’s portrait is. After that summer, the screen went back down to T-West and has been occasionally shown at the Phoenix Art Museum.


So, that’s it.

Ultimately, I wrote hundreds of “Hey Keiran” pieces. Most were only one-page long. However I did mess with font sizes and such to get them to stay on one page.

I’ll add other things when they fit here and there.

First published August 23, 2022.
This photograph was taken when I was around 30 years old. As I recall, I was answering TPI’s Executive Director (Juli Aulik) on how I was going to uncover all of Taliesin’s history. . . . Still workin’ on it.


Notes

1 Savage wanted to call it “Hey Faggot!”

2 After analyzing a couple of photos, I concluded that Wright might have slept on the left side of the bed (like the photo below),

Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin bedroom, 1927-28
Published in Frank Lloyd Wright Selected Houses, v. 2: Taliesin. p. 56.

then switched to the right side of the bed (like in the photo here), which is just INSANE.

3 After rejecting the idea for years, I think he might have realized something about it. Although I still don’t think he “studied” it.

4 The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Administrator of Historic Studies reminded me that I do know the answer now on when Anna’s portrait came to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Drafting Studio at Taliesin. Kenn Lockhart was correct: this did have to do with Wright’s family. The painting is by John Young Hunter, and Indira looked up correspondence Hunter had with Taliesin. The painter knew Wright’s sister, Maginel, and asked her if she was interested in the painting. Wright ended up purchasing it, and it was sent to Taliesin in 1939. [confirmation of it was sent in correspondence H053E09.]

Exterior photograph looking south at Taliesin's Garden Court with Curtis Besinger working on stone

In Return for the Use of the Tractor

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Photograph taken in 1943. From Taliesin’s Breezeway looking (plan) south at Wright’s apprentice, Curtis Besinger. He’s in Taliesin’s Garden Court, sorting through flagstones that would later be put on the ground in the courtyard.

In my goal of researching Taliesin’s history, I examined Wright’s correspondence looking for anything that might give information about changes Wright made to the building. This research uncovered something about materials at Taliesin, and that is below.

Wright didn’t write out most changes he wanted at Taliesin:

If Wright built Taliesin for a client, he would have written things in detail. But he didn’t, since this was his own home. So, despite the fact that Wright lived at Taliesin for almost 48 years, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of correspondence between Wright and construction personnel, or between him and those in his office where he told them what he wanted done. I couldn’t even find things for when he was out of the country.

In contrast, when he was at Taliesin, things weren’t written down because he was there to give directions.

Some of what I did to figure things out:

Once I realized I couldn’t get information that way, I started poking around in any other direction I could. I read letters between Wright and visitors, workers, apprentices… basically, anyone I could think of who worked for Wright, or visited him at his home. Newspaper and magazine articles are good, and photographs are great, too.

For anything written, I hoped someone would mention something in a letter, like when they came this or that was being constructed or expanded. Ideally this would include a detailed description of everything in the room, along with measurements, please.

My find:

Through this method, I discovered a piece of correspondence written in April 1942, from Herbert Fritz, Jr. to Frank Lloyd Wright.

“Herb” Fritz (whose father was a former draftsman for Wright1) was born in 1915, became Wright’s apprentice for 3 years (1938-41), followed by a purchase of land near Wright’s home. Fritz became an architect and practiced almost until he died in 1998.2

Herb wrote to Wright several months after he bought that land (which he later named “Hilltop”). He was designing his home there, and the land had stone that he could work, but he needed to be able to move it.

So, Fritz offered a trade:

“In return for the use of the tractor,” Fritz wrote, “I would like to give you a cord or two of rock for each hour”3 that he needed the vehicle.

I was totally jazzed. First, this was exactly what I was hoping for. Secondly, this answered a question I’d had about Taliesin for years. I had noticed, in archival photographs, stonework changing at Taliesin in the early 1940s. So much work, that when I noticed a change I could almost count on it having occurred some time during World War II.

But I’d never come across anything that explained it.

Herb’s letter arrived when Wright was out of town, so there’s no written reply. But there must have been a verbal agreement between the two men. Nothing else explains that amount of stone and when all those changes were made.

Fritz offered a “cord”; that’s a lot

In volume, that is. It’s: 4 ft x 4 ft x 8 ft; or 128 cubic feet / 3.62 cubic meters (here’s a link showing a cord).

I don’t know exactly how much stone Wright acquired through this, but it must have been quite a bit. The photograph at the top of this page shows an apprentice while making a change: Wright added a level of stone in the Garden Court on top of the existing one.

The apprentice in the photograph above, Curtis Besinger, also wrote about changes in 1943 at Taliesin that were done in stone. He related these in his book, Working With Mr. Wright: What It Was Like.

And in 1945, photographer Ezra Stoller took photographs at Taliesin for a Fortune magazine article on the two Taliesins that came out the next year. The easiest way for me to figure out changes is by using dated photographs. One of those photographs Stoller took is below from a book I own4:

Exterior photograph looking northeast at Taliesin. Taken by Ezra Stoller
Photograph in the book, Masters of Modern Architecture, by John Peter (Bonanza Books, New York, 1958), 47.

The photograph shows one of the changes at Wright’s drafting studio. The south wall of the studio is to the right of the bell. It has the vertical, glass, doors. Wright had his apprentices build a new stone patio in front of those glass doors.

Why Fritz agreed to this:

While this find totally excited me, I couldn’t figure out why Fritz did it. He had to have known that Wright would take full advantage of such an offer in exchange for the use of Taliesin’s farming tractor. So, since I was at Taliesin West after this find, I asked “Bruce” Brooks Pfeiffer for ideas about it.

Bruce, former Wright apprentice who was born in 1930, noted that the request made sense because of World War II. The United States’ entry into the war began a period of gasoline and rubber rationing. Yet, because Wright’s tractor was a farm vehicle, it wouldn’t have been subject to it.

This stone from Fritz helped Wright transform Taliesin from a year-round Wisconsin residence into a home occupied mostly during the state’s warmer months. This way, Taliesin could fully convert into his summer home, while Taliesin West in Arizona could truly become his winter home (I wrote about this before, in “Did Wright Ever Live in Wisconsin in the Winter?”).

Originally published June 13, 2021.
The photograph at the top of the page was taken by Priscilla or David Henken and was published in Taliesin Diary: A Year with Frank Lloyd Wright, by Priscilla Henken (W.W. Norton & Company, New York City, London, 2012), 170.


1 Herb’s father was Herb Fritz, Sr., a draftsman and one of the two survivors of the 1914 fire/murders at Taliesin.

2 He shows up a few times in the Meryle Secrest biography on Frank Lloyd Wright. In fact, he described how he saw Wright in dreams sometimes, and it’s with his memory that Secrest ended the biography.

3 April 1942 Herbert Fritz letter to Frank Lloyd Wright. The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York), Microfiche ID #F055C01.

4 Masters of Modern Architecture, by John Peter (Bonanza Books, New York, 1958), 47.