Looking (plan) northeast at the Entry Foyer at Taliesin.

Found Floor

I took this photo looking (plan) northeast towards Taliesin Entry Foyer after we found a floor during a project. Read about it below.

I have written that I need to be careful about what I think happened at Taliesin, because I’ve been wrong on things.

This post shows an example of something I got wrong.

It’s related to a floor. It’s the floor at the top of this post, but not one you usually see.

To start with, in 2003, right after I became the Taliesin historian, I was asked to write a history of all of the rooms in the living quarters of Taliesin. It was during the drainage project at Taliesin in 2003-04 funded in part by Save America’s Treasures.1

I wrote here before about how we found a window at Taliesin during that project.

Specifically, I had to start with one room that was going to be impacted by Save America’s Treasures work.

That room is Taliesin’s Entry Foyer

It, or its area, has existed in Taliesin’s floor plan since Wright started Taliesin in 1911 and the “SAT”s project was going to be putting drainage in, or just outside of, that room.

So, yeah: might as well figure out the history of the space.

Just to be clear: it’s not that Wright didn’t draw anything for Taliesin. He just didn’t always follow his own drawings.

Anyway, studying this room had its own issues. In part because there aren’t a lot of photographs inside the space. In part, also, because for years there was a low stucco wall hiding the outside of the room.

You can see the wall in my post “When did Taliesin get it front door?

Regardless, to figure the room’s history in the summer of 2003, I looked at Taliesin drawings that I could more-or-less trust.

One of them,

is a Taliesin II drawing (Taliesin II is c. 1914-1925). It shows the Entry Foyer with a stone floor. I put a cropped version of it below with the Entry Foyer outlined in red:

Taliesin's Entry Foyer seen in drawing #1403.015
The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York).

The drawing shows the room with the stucco wall outside. I think he put the wall there to help keep the gravel dust from the drive getting into the house.

If you walked behind the stucco wall to the door into Taliesin, you walked down two steps, walk a few steps north (toward the kitchen), then took a right and walked up two steps to get into that door inside.

Then in 1925, Taliesin’s second fire happens. That fire (like the fire of 1914) destroyed Taliesin’s living quarters down to the stone.

So, Wright built again.

And because he made this into a private courtyard, he took the stucco wall away.

(I wrote about this in my post, “Wall at Taliesin’s Garden Court”)

After that, you came from the Garden Court, right up to the main level of the Living Quarters. There aren’t a lot of photos around from this time. But looking at what I could find, and whatever drawings there were, I figured that those stone steps in the Taliesin II drawing (if they’d ever existed), were destroyed by Wright when he was rebuilding.

So, I dutifully wrote my conclusion in my history on the Entry Foyer.

Be Careful What You Write

So, it’s September of 2003, and Taliesin’s Save America’s Treasures project is going on. Its plans called for taking out half the stone floor out in the Entry Foyer.

The plan was: put concrete footings under where that floor goes, and insert drainage to get the water down the hill.

They took out the stone floor, and removed the bedding sand under it. That day, the Taliesin Estate manager came in around noon and said to me,

“Um, Keiran… they found something”

“What – they found a bike?”

There was a rumor we might find a bicycle (or car) that had been thrown down the hill.2

“No…” and he started telling me it was something big.

I hopped in my car, went over to Taliesin and saw what they found:

a flagstone floor.

The floor that appears in the photograph at the top of this page.

I remember walking around on it and at one point jumping up and down. The floor that I had only ever seen in a drawing, which I didn’t think existed anymore, was right under my feet!

I probably also thought, “never – NEVER – say ANYTHING at Taliesin existed, or not, before you have absolute proof!”

Here’s a photo from that time, looking north on the floor:

Photograph looking north in Taliesin's Entry Foyer with the newly found floor.

The photo above is looking north in the space. The wall in the background is the same wall that’s in my post, “I Looked at Stone“.

The newly found floor in the photograph above is dark gray. The newly found floor is dark gray because the stone was wet.

I did say this Save America’s Treasures project at Taliesin was a drainage project, right?

Evidently, the stone was wet because water was coming from Taliesin’s Hill Crown. Made me surprised that the floor didn’t suffer more from frost heaving in Wisconsin winters.

Another photo I took at that time is below. It shows some of the Taliesin II stone steps:

Looking (plan) north at the steps and found floor at Taliesin's Entry Foyer

I probably crawled all over the floor looking for red stones—those are stones affected by fire, like I wrote in “I Looked at Stone”. Here’s another closeup showing the stones. You can see pink/red and what looks like soot:

Looking (plan) east at the newly found floor in the Entry Foyer of Taliesin.

Looking (plan) east. My handheld camera bag gives a sense of scale.

I talked to the stonemason from the project’s contractor about the floor. He said the mortar between the flagstones was concrete. He thought that if the original mortar had been lime, it would have been burned off. Then Wright’s would have replaced it with the concrete. I guess he was right because Wright covered this floor soon afterward during Taliesin’s reconstruction.

Two months after the floor,

we found the window just outside of Wright’s drafting studio. There’s more, but for the rest of that year into the next spring, the Preservation Crew and the contractor slowly rebuilt things, put in new stone and put back the gardens.3 A Preservation Crew member had taken out the doors from the Entry Foyer, completely restored them, and put them back, too. A ribbon cutting marking the end of the project took place in May. I took a photograph a couple of days before the ribbon cutting. That photo is below:

Looking (plan) east at the Entry Foyer of Taliesin near the end of the project

You’re seeing Taliesin’s Entry Foyer, with the flagstone floor put back in (the found floor is underneath).

First published June 4, 2022.


Notes:

1. It’s a bit more complicated, but in essence this is the gist.

2. By the way: no, we didn’t find anything like that in Taliesin’s Garden Court or on the hill. Nor any bicycle, car, unicycle, or radio.

3. The Preservation Crew at that time was at Taliesin Preservation. Now they’re at the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation.

Winter photograph looking at the Hex Room and spire at the Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor Center.

How I became the historian for Taliesin

Looking west at the Hex Room in the Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor Center. I took this photo in February of 2005. You can see through the Hex Room, which is the room with the red roof and spire straight ahead of you. The clear view through the room is two vertical rectangles. If I had been in the room you’d see me sitting at my desk at the bottom of them.

While I studied Art History in Graduate School, being the Taliesin historian was a career I “fell” into. And that’s what I’m going to concentrate on in this post.

As I’ve written a couple of times, I started at Taliesin in 1994 as a tour guide during the summer. Guiding was all I wanted at that time, since I was in school and hoped to get a Ph.D. eventually. I wanted to teach Art History to other people.

However, I had no teaching experience.

I thought doing tours would help me figure out if I could even speak in front of people. Let alone if I could talk to, eek, strangers.

It turns out

The skills I’d learned in Graduate School were suited to the tapestry of information laid out everywhere at Taliesin. I swallowed it all in huge gulps.

Working exposed me to info on:

And other things I don’t want to bore you with.

Then

There was that winter of 1997-98 that I worked in the Preservation Office on the photographs (I wrote about it in “Raymond Trowbridge Photographs“).

At that time,

the Preservation Office stood in an old horse stable at Taliesin. Apprentice Lois Davidson Gottlieb took a photograph of it in 1948:

Looking (plan) southwest at Taliesin's horse stable in 1948.
By Lois Davidson Gottlieb. Published in her book, A Way of Life: An Apprenticeship with Frank Lloyd Wright, 41.

A link to her book is in my post, “Books by Apprentices“.

The office changed when, in June 1998, a tree hit Taliesin during a storm (photos on Taliesin Preservation‘s facebook page, here). So the Preservation Office moved out and the staff of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation (which owns Taliesin and the estate) moved in. This way they had an office in Wisconsin.

Eventually, the Preservation Office transferred everything to a room on the third floor of the Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor Center. That room was/is known as the “Hex Room” (because it’s literally a hexagonal). A photo showing the Hex Room underneath the spire is at the top of this page.

That office got me closer to being the historian:

When the Preservation Office moved in, they brought all of the historic photographs and other historic information. Yet, they realized that they’d lost the staff person who looked after it, and they needed someone who could sort through it. And, since I had worked with the information before, they brought me in to organize it.

Actually,

they didn’t “bring” me “in”. I was already there. I worked a floor or two below them, in the Taliesin tour program.

So, I spent 2001-02 re-organizing the files, adding more historic photographs, and began writing historic information.

Followed in 2002 by Tours

In that year, people in the Taliesin tour program “tapped” my brain to answer weekly questions from tour guides and staff during the season. My answers were on one page that was included with the weekly schedule. They named this feature “Hey Keiran!”.

Hey Keiran title

This gave me a different cache of historic knowledge.

Like, why I explored whether or not Wright designed outhouses at Taliesin.

Et al.

Then, in 2002-03

They were planning the Save America’s Treasures‘s project at Taliesin.

I wrote about a window found during the SAT’s project in this post.

One day, while all of the infrastructure was being put together for the upcoming project, I was in the Hex Room. The Executive Director and Taliesin Estate Manager1 were talking on things involving the history of Taliesin. One part of the building was going to touch on the area the project.

The history of Taliesin’s Porte-Cochere came up. The Porte-Cochere became the “Garden Room”, which is in this photo. While we all talked, I told them them information about the space that I knew from books that I had read.

(like Curtis Besinger’s Working With Mr. Wright, which is in my “Books By Apprentices” post).

They realized

it was smart to have someone who knew that much sitting there in the office. They asked me to write chronologies on a few rooms at Taliesin that were going to be impacted by the upcoming project.

Eventually

that Executive Director asked me to write histories of every room at Taliesin from c. 1950-2005. Architectural historians told me my work was fantastic, so I kept going. That gave me the freedom to pursue things when I saw something, or came across something, that made me think,

“Huh. I wonder what’s going on there?”

It’s why I figured out that room was in that photograph that “one time before Christmas“.

I mean, Frank Lloyd Wright’s way of teaching his architectural apprentices was to have them “learn by doing”. And I learned the history by studying the spaces. The questions I asked were “what happened there”, and “when”. I often found the answers to the questions in the buildings themselves. This full-sensory experience of learning the history inserted information into my mind.

Around that time, I worked on color-coding the stone in drawings of Taliesin to figure out when he was laying out certain stone sections.  I guiltily made changes to the drawing, but after awhile, it looked pretty cool. The drawing was included in the article I wrote for the Frank Lloyd Wright Quarterly, “An Autobiography in Wood and Stone“. You can see that illustration on that page, but I also placed it below:

Color-coded drawing of Taliesin stone changes by Keiran Murphy

I still don’t believe that I

“know more about Frank Lloyd Wright than anyone.”

as told to me by my oldest sister. She never believed me when I said that’s not true.

I mean,

there are “Frankophiles” out there who know every window that Wright ever designed.

They know the layout of every commission he did and his relationship with the clients.

They know all about the furniture designers he worked with (here’s one I know, anyway).

And more things I can’t begin to wonder about.

But the history of Taliesin? Yes: I think I know that very well.

First published April 28, 2022.


1. I mentioned in Jim in the post, “A Slice of Taliesin“. I wrote about Carol (the ED) in my post about “The Album“.

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.