Daylight photograph in the Arizona desert with a waxing moon.

Reading Correspondence, 2021

A desert landscape outside of Scottsdale, Arizona.
Taken December 2021.

Beating the wave of the Omicron variant of Covid-19, we went to Arizona the second week of December. We went there for the Open House at the Organic Architecture + Design Archives. The OA+D Archives was founded by people who have wanted to secure the future of information on those who practice “Organic Architecture“. So, they have assembled objects—drawings, photographs, models, etc.—particularly by those architects who worked with, or apprenticed under, Frank Lloyd Wright.

The OA+D recently acquired the Taliesin Architects collection. “TA” were members of the Taliesin Fellowship and Frank Lloyd Wright’s former apprentices. After his death in 1959, they completed his ongoing projects. This naturally led to people coming to these former Wright apprentices to design their own homes and buildings. These former apprentices incorporated the firm in 1960 and ran it until 2003. The collection has many things from the firm; basically thousands of objects.

By the way, former apprentices constructed buildings all around Spring Green, Wisconsin. This was on the Spring Green Traveler’s Guide (which has been folded into the website for the Spring Green Chamber of Commerce). Although I went to the Chamber of Commerce site through the Wayback Machine to show you the web page with the

Architectural Driving Tour

Tour guides had to learn about the Traveler’s Guide since it was the easiest handout when helping visitors figure out the area. I think I learned about it the first weekend I ever gave tours. I’ve seen guides flip automatically to the page with the Architectural Driving Tour if someone came looking for a tour after the last one had left for the day.

But the trip last week brought us close to Wright’s winter home, Taliesin West.

So I made an appointment

Not to go on a tour (I’ve taken Taliesin West tours about 10 times). I went to transcribe some of “the correspondence”. This is the correspondence from Frank Lloyd Wright’s archives. It’s over 200,000 pieces (so a postcard is one piece, and a 10-page letter is another piece). It’s to/from Wright, his family, his business associates, et al.

Over 30 years ago, all of the correspondence was photographed and put on Microfiche. Then it was indexed in a five-volume set of books. You can look for the names of people who wrote to Wright, who he wrote to, when they wrote, what building they were writing about, etc. Every piece has an index number. You want to check out that piece of writing, you write down the identification number and look for it on the piece of Microfiche.

I think even if you were the President of all Historians, you wouldn’t get a lot of chances to physically pick up the “real stuff”.

The Avery Fine Arts & Architectural Library, along with many things, has a copy of the Mircofiche. As does Taliesin West.

As well as the Getty Research Center in Los Angeles.

I first looked at the correspondence (and other things in Wright’s archive) almost 15 years ago (I wrote about it in my post about photographer, Raymond Trowbridge). And yet, looking at letters and telegrams from all these people associated with Wright / Taliesin—to discover his activities on his whole estate—is like seeing the streamers shooting out from the sun’s corona. You can’t closely see what’s going on at the sun itself; you see its outer edge and its effects.

In other words,

relatively few of the letters and telegrams deal with the actual buildings on the Taliesin estate. There just aren’t that many letters of him acquiring stone or writing down a formula for a plaster color. When he wanted something anywhere at Taliesin, he could just tell people what he wanted because he was often there.

Yet, I have dug around in ways over the years to find answers.

That’s how I found the letter where Herb Fritz offered Wright some stone “In Return for the Use of the Tractor“.

While I didn’t know what I’d find this time around, I looked for stuff related to Wright’s “Midway Barn” on the Taliesin estate.

The greatest find:

Happily, I found the only piece of correspondence that specifically related to Midway Barn! In May 1938, the Gillen Woodwork Corp shipped material for roofing, they said, on “your Midway Barn.” That 1938 date explained why the director of the Archives, the late Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer, had said for years that the building was begun in 1938. But in the Frank Lloyd Wright: Complete Works, vol. 2, 1917-42 (2009), Pfeiffer wrote that Midway’s date is c. 1920.

I always hoped it was because Pfeiffer had seen my writing somewhere about Midway, in which I gave evidence that the building existed by 1920. And, thus, was persuaded by my genius. (Or perhaps something else. I don’t know, but I prefer “genius”.)

Or possibly,

Because “Bruce” took a look at a drawing they have in the Archives. It’s drawing Number 3420.005,  first executed in 1920 by draftsman, Rudolph Schindler. Schindler left this at Taliesin, and, like many drawings of the estate, Wright continuously drew on it. Still, when you look at the copy at the link from ARTSTOR, you see a building right in the middle of the drawing, under the scribbles. It looks suspiciously like Midway.

Now, I don’t trust Wright’s drawings of Taliesin, because he often drew what he wanted to exist at Taliesin along with what was actually there.

I wrote about that (of course I did) in my post, “Exhibiting Patience“.

But Schindler’s original drawing appears to show what stood there in reality.

Here’s a crop from the drawing, below:

Drawing 3420.005 from The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York)

Crop of drawing 3420.005. The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York).

Schindler’s drawing is the darkest part in the middle. Now this makes me wonder who originally wanted that structure built.

Wright, maybe, but his brother-in-law, Andrew Porter, had owned that piece of land until about a month before Shindler made the drawing.1 And as I said, Schindler seemed to draw what actually existed. Not all of those scribbles that Wright added later.

Well, as I’ve said for years: if Wright had made it easy, I wouldn’t have a career.

Originally posted December 19, 2021.
I took the photograph at the top of the post on December 12, 2021.


1 November 8, 1920.

A photograph I took of a stone wall inside Taliesin.

I looked at stone

A stone wall on the north side of Taliesin’s entry foyer. Based on the red wash across most of the stones, the bottom of the wall survived Taliesin’s 1925 fire.

Sometimes, while working at Taliesin (as I wrote once before), my answer to the question, “What did you do at work today?” was, “I looked at stone.” I’ll explain that here, because it engendered some interesting conclusions.

In order to understand that, you’ve got to know Frank Lloyd Wright’s stone at Taliesin.

(what? You didn’t think I’d say that?).

It should be no surprise that Wright employed local stone when building his home; the stone came from about a mile down the road to the north. And, as he built his home in Southwestern Wisconsin, he had plenty of dolomite limestone indicative of the surrounding Driftless Area. He used it in Taliesin’s foundations, chimneys, walls (when he didn’t use plaster or glass), and flagstone floors.

He also wanted it laid a certain way

The stone had to be in the same orientation that was in the quarry (it was kept horizontal; not orientation like facing east or south, etc.). And, on walls, he told the masons to vary its depth. This way, it would echo the look of stone outcroppings (and is gorgeous with snow on it). You see the snow on the stone in the photo below from my entry about newly seen photos:

A photograph of Taliesin in winter, published in the Chicago Tribune

Posted in a “Flashback” article from December 4 by Ron Grossman at The Chicago Tribune: “Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin was a refuge for illicit romance. But tragedy tore apart the love he built.”

Hey, at least he took notice:

Wright later wrote that the stonemasons –

[L]earned to lay the walls in the long, thin, flat ledges natural to it, natural edges out. As often as they laid a stone they would stand back to judge the effect. They were soon as interested as sculptors fashioning a statue. One might imagine they were, as they stepped back, head cocked to one side, to get the effect.

An Autobiography, published in Frank Lloyd Wright Collected Writings, volume 2: 1930-32. Edited by Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer, introduction by Kenneth Frampton (Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., New York City, 1992), 227.

This wonderfully unique stonemasonry allows you to see crags and details of individual stones from a dozen or so feet away. As a result, I learned to “read” the walls, quickly finding their stone configurations to follow through time. I mean: pick a stone (or several) in a wall, and see how the building changed around it/them—walls getting longer or taller; things appearing and disappearing.

Although, honestly, it’s easier to figure out when the walls got longer. You can see the vertical lines in the masonry when Wright had stonemasons (and, later, his apprentices) expand the walls. While it seems that Wright wanted things done quickly, both I and others have thought that Wright also wanted people to know the changes that were done.

How I figured this out

I first studied the individual stones when I began writing the history of one room at Taliesin, the Garden Room.1

Its chimney has been in the same location since Wright started his home in 1911. But a former coworker, looking at the chimney in archival photographs, concluded Wright must have completely rebuilt the chimney after the first fire of 1914. That’s because the stone didn’t match what was under its capstone.

Originally, I was set to put what she wrote into my historic doc.2 But then I asked myself: did Wright completely dismantle the 1911-14 chimney? I had the archival photos, and the time, so I started to study them (probably with a magnifying glass and/or a loupe).

I discovered that the chimney today, while changed, is the same chimney that existed in 1911. After Taliesin’s 1914 fire, Wright made it taller and that’s what confused Kelly. I’ll show the images below with the stones pointed out (with “circles and arrows on the back of each one explaining what each one was…”).

Someone took this photo of the chimney below in the Taliesin I era:

Looking east at the chimney for what became the Garden Room (in the foreground) with stones pointed out. Photo owned by Wisconsin Historical Society.

Then, look at the photo below from the Taliesin II era, with the stones, again, circled and numbered:

This photograph was originally published in 1915. It can be found in multiple places, included at the Wisconsin Historical Society, here.

You can see in the photo why Kelly got confused: there are two capstones (two horizontal lines) in the photo taken in 1915. She tried to match the stones under the lower capstone with what existed in 1911-14. But no. They must have heightened the chimney while constructing Taliesin II, and then Wright decided, “it needs to be a little higher”, so they added a few stone courses. Fortunately, I figured this out because I looked until I found the correct stones.

Finding stones that way was probably the first time I did that (and the first time I spent that much time staring at stone).

This work, and more like it, eventually trained my eye to catch things. And, not just with individual stones: it trained my eyes to find specific stone groupings/configurations. Now I can look at an old photo of a wall, see one squarish stone and two little ones to the right, quickly find that place on the wall IRL, and know where I am. It’s like one of those tricks I talked about last time that makes me sound like a magician.  

On the Other Hand

One of the easiest things to find at Taliesin are its wall sections that went through one of the fires (most likely the second fire). See, the limestone at Taliesin has iron, which turns red when it goes through fire. It can be quite lovely.

Taliesin walls that survived the second fire are all red (those built after the fire have select, red, stones built into them). A photo of one of the walls that went through the second fire at the top of this post.

First published July 29, 2021.
I took the photograph at the top of this page on September 1, 2003.


Notes:

1 There’s a “Garden Room” at Taliesin West, but that Garden Room is Wright’s living room at his winter home in Arizona (here’s a link to a photo of it). This Garden Room (the one in WI) is not his living room. It’s the former porte-cochere that Wright turned into an informal sitting room in the 1940s. I believe Wright called it the Garden Room because it looks out onto the Garden Court.

2 As I wrote on July 23, this is done in the hope that I did this work so, say, in 20 or 50 years someone else won’t have to.

Floor plan of Taliesin. Drawing #1104.003. The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art|Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York).

“This will be a nice addition…”

A drawing of Taliesin, executed in June 1911. This drawing is accessible from
https://library.artstor.org/#/asset/28509365;prevRouteTS=1621879846896

110 years ago, on May 25, 1911, the Weekly Home News (the newspaper of Spring Green, Wisconsin), noted on page 4 that:

“Mrs. Hannah Wright is building her home in Hillside valley, adjoining the old homestead, a little north and west of the old millsite. This will be a nice addition to the neat home in the valley.”

“Hannah” was her legal name, but she was known as Anna, and she was Frank Lloyd Wright’s mother.

“Hillside” was the name of the small town south across the Wisconsin river. The valley was lived in by Frank Lloyd Wright’s mother’s side of the family, the Lloyd Joneses (which is why, when Wright’s sister, Maginel, wrote about the family, she named her book, The Valley of the God-Almighty Joneses).

Why did Wright build this home?

The public perception was that Wright was building this home for his mother. He was actually building it for himself and his partner, Mamah Borthwick (she was still in Europe awaiting a divorce from Edwin Cheney, which she would do on August 5). By August1 he referred to the home as Taliesin.

Did Anna ever live there?

I have never figured out if, when, or where, Anna lived at Taliesin.

In December 2021,

I went to Taliesin West in Arizona looked at the text of some of Anna’s letters.

I wrote about looking at some of them it in my post “Anna to her son“.

She was definitely staying at Taliesin while she wrote them. Wright was in Japan working on the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. But there still no hard proof that she was there for the long-term. That she had also spent time with her other children, Jane Porter and Maginel Wright Enright.

Regardless of whether she ever lived at Taliesin, Anna did originally purchase the land where her son would start his home (or possibly she bought the land because her son persuaded client, Darwin Martin, to purchase her home so that she had the money to buy the land).

The purchase of the land:

She had purchased 31.561 acres of land on April 10, 1911 from Joseph Reider, a Lloyd-Jones neighbor.2 Frank Lloyd Wright would move to the “Hillside valley” (the Lloyd Jones valley) with Borthwick once she divorced. Thus, she’d be free to live with him.

Obviously, construction had started by late May 1911, thanks to the note in the Weekly Home News. When Wright first drew the building in April, it was labelled Cottage for Anna Lloyd Wright. It had three bedrooms (including one for a servant), a kitchen, a living room, and a “work room” across an open “loggia”.

Taliesin as constructed

By June 1911 (when someone executed the drawing above), Anna’s name no longer appeared on the drawing’s title block. However, the building was still being labelled as a cottage. Nice cottage: its living quarters had three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen and a living room. At a right angle, it had a workroom and office space. Beyond that were spaces for carriages and animals. Whether or not you’d call it a cottage, the drawing in June is fairly close to what was built.

Wright about Taliesin in his 1932 autobiography:

I wished to be part of my beloved southern Wisconsin and not put my small part of it out of countenance. Architecture, after all, I have learned, or before all, I should say, is no less a weaving a fabric than the trees….

The world had appropriate buildings before–why not more appropriate buildings now than ever before. There must be some kind of house that would belong to that hill, as trees and the ledges of rock did; as Grandfather and Mother had belonged to it, in their sense of it all.

Yes, there must be a natural house, not natural as caves and log-cabins were natural but native in spirit and making, with all that architecture had meant whenever it was alive in times past. Nothing at all that I had ever seen would do…. But there was a house that hill might marry and live happily ever after. I fully intended to find it. I even saw, for myself, what it might be like and begin to build it as the “brow” of the hill.

Frank Lloyd Wright, An Autobiography, in Frank Lloyd Wright Collected Writings: 1930-32, volume 2. Edited by Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer, introduction by Kenneth Frampton (1992; Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., New York City, 1992), 224-225

About the “brow” of the hill:

Frankophiles know this, but the word “Taliesin”, in the Welsh language, translates as “Shining Brow”. Wright’s family on his mother’s side, the Lloyd Joneses, came from Wales.

Construction photograph of Taliesin

Draftsman Taylor Woolley, who worked at Taliesin in 1911-12, took photographs all around the building. Those photos are now at the Utah Historical Society. I showed one of the photos months ago in my first blog post. Woolley printed some of these photos out. Someone put them into an album now owned by the Wisconsin Historical Society. The link to those photos is here.

So the Weekly Home News said the building was being built for “Mrs. Hannah Wright” in late May. Woolley took the photograph over three months later:

The photo above is taken from the “Hill Tower” at Taliesin, with Wright’s living quarters in the background.

Woolley’s construction photographs

The Ebay auction of an album of Woolley’s photographs (which I wrote about in The Album) were one of the most interesting things in Spring Green, Wisconsin during the winter of 2004-2005. But after that hullabaloo, writer/journalist Ron McCrea found negatives of more at the Utah Historical Society. He sent me chapters of the book he was working on, Building Taliesin: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Home of Love and Loss. If you read the book you can find out how McCrea found them, and where more photos by Woolley can be located.3

Woolley took the photograph above shortly after he came to work for Wright. Personally, I have never found photographs of Taliesin dating before that, or of construction earlier in the summer of 1911.

Also, I checked the issues of Weekly Home News newspaper published during the summer of 1911. But unfortunately, I haven’t found anything yet in the “Home News” about “Mrs. Hanna Wright” building in the “Hillside valley”.

Finally, and since I was asked this while working at Taliesin Preservation, there is no photograph of Frank Lloyd Wright “breaking ground” for his home.

Wright didn’t want people to know what he was up to in Wisconsin—so there’s no photo of Wright smiling happily while holding a gold shovel.

Regardless, that small note in the Weekly Home News touched on something that altered Spring Green, and southwestern Wisconsin, permanently.

Originally published, May 24, 2021.

The drawing above is drawing #1104.003, from The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art |Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York).


Notes

1  On August 26, 1911, architect John Moore sent Wright a telegram, wanting to visit his home. Wright scrawled at the bottom of the telegram (in preparation for the reply), that Moore and his friends “Will be welcome to Taliesin.” As I was transcribing it, I thought that this might have been the first time that Wright referred in writing to his house by that name.
The telegram is identification #K017E01, The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (Museum of Modern Art|Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York). 

2 People often think that the Lloyd Jones family owned the land where Wright built Taliesin. I think that’s what Wright wanted people to believe. The land title shows that it had not been owned at any time by a Lloyd Jones family member before Wright bought it. Until 1911, neighbor Joseph Reider owned it. There’s no bad reason why Wright didn’t tell people the truth; maybe he felt it made a better story.

3 I wrote the captions for many of Woolley’s photos in McCrea’s book, in part because I knew the photographs well (and, as I noted in another blog post: this stuff is fun for me). Unfortunately I lost most of the the emails between McCrea and myself due to something that happened with email at work (most were fubarred←if you don’t know the definition of “fubar”, look it up). Doesn’t matter so much, but it bums me out a bit.