Photograph of Frank Lloyd Wright by Edward Steichen, Bequest of Edward Steichen. Located in the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

Wright was not a shyster

Reading Time: 5 minutes

A trickster, possibly.

maybe an s.o.b.

But not a con man (not even on the order of Harold Hill).

However, I know why you think Frank Lloyd Wright was like that.

After all—

He borrowed lots of money from people and couldn’t give it back.

And pulled so much money out of former client Darwin Martin.

Check out this documentary on Wright, Martin, and Buffalo that came out in 2016. It’s great.

Then,

In 1932, Wright convinced a bunch of kids (the Taliesin Fellowship) to give him money to learn about architecture when he had no clients.

But while they paid him,

they fixed his buildings both before and after he had clients again,

Apprentices working at Hillside probably in 1933. Yeah, chiseling stone without a shirt on (like the man pictured above) isn’t up to OSHA standards, but then again, I found newspaper stories around that time in which people had to be reminded not to throw cans of used motor oil into their fireplaces to get the fire going (and usually suffered burns from the resultant explosions).

And farmed

his land,

Apprentice Bill Patrick hoes squash in a photograph on page 66 of the book: A Way of Life: An Apprenticeship with Frank Lloyd Wright, by architect Lois Davidson Gottlieb.

While working in the kitchen and serving meals.

As well as,

BUILDING

his furniture

like his drafting tables for the Hillside studio.

You know, drafting? Like, doing something people should get paid for?

Although I get the feeling that becoming an architect is like becoming a doctor: you get the degrees, then you go and work in an office.

… which you get paid for…. C’mon: stay focused!

And later,

Even when things were on the up again, they built the “camp” in the Arizona desert starting in the late 30s.

a.k.a., Taliesin West.

And that’s not counting

the whole, “leaving his wife and 6-kids” thing.

Yeah yeah yeah: it was a lot, ok?

My fingers are too tired to copy/paste all of the stories that will come up. You can read about it if you put “frank lloyd wright” and “scandal” into a search engine.

But as I told architectural historian Kathryn Smith one time:

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

Then,

I read The Lost Years by Anthony Alofsin. Alofsin identified Wright’s desire to create an educational community back in 1909-11. Wright thought this education would transform architecture:

Recalling the training of artists in Japan or the practice of apprenticeship in the Middle Ages, he concluded that a new education was necessary for youth, incorporating the spirit of great architecture, “the study of the nature of materials, the nature of the tools and processes at command….”

The Lost Years, 1910-1922: A Study of Influence, 90.

Not only that:

Wright seemed to honestly believe that he could build beautiful homes for less money.

Even thought the whole country didn’t take him up on that.

So, he wasn’t just full of it. I believe he actually did think it would all work out.

Moreover:

He honestly thought that, within a few years of its beginning, his apprentices wouldn’t have to pay tuition for being at the Taliesin Fellowship. He thought that the cost of their tuition would pay for itself while he created a self-sustaining community.

For example,

he wrote this in a brochure for the Taliesin Fellowship:

[T]he Fellowship has a two-hundred-acre farm, and as another there are yearly fees fixed at about what a medium-grade college education would cost plus work the apprentice can do. Eventually, paid services to Industry in architectural research will contribute substantially to put the tools needed into the hands of the workers and reduce or eventually abolish the fee so worthwhile young men and women may work for their living not as education but as culture.

The Taliesin Fellowship (brochure for the Fellowship), December 1933.

Frank Lloyd Wright Collected Writings, volume 3: 1931-39. Edited by Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer, introduction by Kenneth Frampton (Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., New York City, 1993), 163.

And the work

in the self-sustaining community of the Fellowship would teach apprentices to be better architects. He wrote this in the 1943 edition of an Autobiography:

The field work is as important a responsibility as the work in the draughting room, or in the garden, the kitchen or the dining rooms. This seems very difficult for young America to accept. One of our young men could not see the work in the kitchen as anything but menial work to be done by a servant. When he was told he didn’t have to do it his conscience troubled him because all the others were going that work…. After the work in the kitchen he would sit and make drawings for the new arrangements he felt we needed. He would suggest new systems of serving, which would eliminate waste motions. He was just as interested in work as in any other. His knowledge of the working of a kitchen and dining room on whatever scale is instilled into his very being—a knowledge earned and gained by him by way of actual experience—not by way of a superficial inadequate theory of designing.

Frank Lloyd Wright, An Autobiography, new and revised ed. (New York: Duell, Sloan, and Pearce, 1943), 425.

otoh:

There’s no denying what Priscilla Henken witnessed when she and her husband David were apprentices during World War II. She wrote on August 6, 1943 about the inefficiency she witnessed in the Fellowship:

“plows, rakes, hoes, wire rusting in weather of all sorts – and forgotten; berries neglected on the bushes; man power used to dress up a house instead of to repair it—all to show off for guests. Potemkin’s false front and shabby rear.”
Taliesin Diary: A Year with Frank Lloyd Wright, by Priscilla Henken (W.W. Norton & Co., New York, London, 2012), 206.

Like I said:

With Wright, there is a difference between the ideal and the reality.

 

December 31, 2023.
The portrait at the top of this post is available online here from the National Portrait Gallery.
I added Wright’s quote in the photo. It came from a letter he wrote the people of Spring Green that was published in the Weekly Home News on June 10, 1926 while Wright was having problems with his second wife, Miriam Noel. When I found the photograph by Edward Steichen, I thought of putting the quote in it because it’s like one of those inspirational posters that has taken a turn. I laughed so hard I cried.


Notes:

1. “Shyster” is apparently based on a German word from the 18th century. When I looked for “Shyster” on vocabulary.com, I found that:

A shyster is someone who might rip you off or do something unethical in order to get his way. A used car salesman might tell you a car is a thousand dollars, but when you read the fine print, it turns out you’ll pay a lot more. That salesman is a shyster — someone who lies and deceives for his own benefit.

Frank Lloyd Wright and Alexander Woollcott standing outside of Taliesin. Photograph in the Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Edgar Tafel collection.

A room at Taliesin

Reading Time: 9 minutes

Alexander Woollcott with Frank Lloyd Wright outside of Taliesin. 

a room that existed before we (or I) knew it existed.

I’m going to write about my discovery of that room’s appearance today. It’s the room with the windows that you see behind Wright, Woollcott, and the birch trees.

It was thought that the room was originally designed for Wright’s youngest daughter Iovanna (born to Olgivanna in December 1925).

Meryle Secrest wrote in her Wright biography that in March 1925, Wright and Olgivanna “made an impulse decision to start a family of their own.” [Frank Lloyd Wright: A Biography, 315]

Secrest gave no evidence for this “impulse decision”. Obviously something impulsive happened and Olgivanna was young and pretty, so I’m like, “Yeah… Sure.”

Here’s where it is:

The room is one floor above Olgivanna’s bathroom, so you walk by it as you go into her room on a tour through Taliesin.  

FYI: The bathroom was dismantled, so it’s not on tours.

You can see the outside of Iovanna’s sitting room when you’re on the Hill Crown at Taliesin. Wright added the parapet1 which you can see in this photo I took:

Looking at Taliesin living quarters on a sunny day in spring. Iovanna's sitting room is behind the parapet. Photograph by Keiran Murphy

Taliesin Fellowship apprentices did the construction of the rooms in 1933-34. Abe Dombar wrote about it in this February 9, 1934 article:

Two new rooms were 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.

Several new apprentices, with the aid of two carpenters, were working on the job continuously from the architect’s first sketch on a shingle to designing and building in of the furniture.  And the girls made the curtains.  In celebration of the completion of the room we had a “room-warming” in the form of a surprise party for Iovanna. 

Abe Dombar. “At Taliesin,” February 9, 1934. Reprinted in At Taliesin: Newspaper Columns by Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Fellowship, 1934-1937, ed. by Randolph C. Henning, (Southern Illinois University Press, 1991), p. 20-21.

It makes you think:

While kids may have been more hardy in the past, that is a lot of space for a little girl. Here’s one drawing that shows it:

The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York), #2501.008.

Although the rooms in the 1930s were smaller, there was still a bedroom, sitting room, and bathroom.

That makes sense

when you think of the playroom he scaled down for his kids in his first home in Oak Park, Illinois.  

I was told years ago that it was originally scaled down for Iovanna when she was 8, but I’ve never seen an interior photo taken at that time.

Not that this would matter anyway. Remember: Wright’s building scale already messes with your mind.

However,

The number of rooms is also due to things happening in the Wright family.

See,

when the Wrights started the Taliesin Fellowship in 1932, Olgivanna’s oldest daughter, Svetlana (“Svet”), was 15. So the next summer, Wright designed those bedrooms for both Svet and Iovanna (then 7 years old).

But things got complicated.

One of those complications was related to one of the first Taliesin Fellowship apprentices: Wes Peters.

No doubt

Olgivanna made sure to keep her pretty young daughter away from all of the architectural apprentices in 1932 and ’33. But it was all intense and, even if you had them working 15 hours-a-day, young is young and those two (Wes and Svet) fell in love.

They wanted to get married and Svet’s parents said absolutely not.

And, yes, Frank Lloyd Wright fell in love with Catherine Lee Tobin when he was, maybe 19-20 (Kitty was 16-17); and Olgivanna got married when she was 19, but the marriages for those two ended in divorce, so….

But, come on:

check out the screenshots from the film apprentice Alden Dow made in 1933, the first summer those two knew each other. They’re so cute:

Screenshots of William Wesley Peters and Svetlana Wright Peters in 1933 film by Alden B. Dow.

The movie is the property of the Dow Archives, but you can see it in sections through this link.

So, in September 1933,

Wes and Svet left the Fellowship, even though Svet couldn’t get married until she was 18. You can read about their history in this book, “William Wesley Peters: The Evolution of a Creative Force“.

Svet’s age (15 or 16), gets me scandalized, but then again: I’m no longer a teenager.

I mean: I was completely bummed when—in grade school in the spring of 1980—I found out that Sting was 28 years old and married. But then I realized that, “uhh… Keiran? Sting’s not waiting for you.” [I may remember this moment because I was surprised by that grown-up thought]. 

You can read my teenage thoughts about Sting in my post: “Dune, By Frank Herbert“. I wrote this about the second installment of the Dune movie by Denis Villeneuve coming out in March 2024.

To get back to Iovanna’s bedroom:

For years, we thought that before that area had rooms and a bathroom, there was just a mezzanine up there that ended above Taliesin’s Living Room.

You can see it at the top of this post.

And that it ended on the other end just over Wright’s bedroom.

To picture it, you can see part of the mezzanine in this post.

However, in 2004-5, I was asked to research the entire history of that floor up there.

So I did what I usually try do:

I try to wipe my mind of preconceptions2 and look at photos. And so, for the the first time, I saw something earlier photos at Taliesin that shouldn’t have existed at that time. I saw in these earlier photos a chimney flue for the fireplace that’s in Iovanna’s Bedroom. Among other photos,3 the flue appears in one taken in 1928:

Photograph by architect George Kastner of Taliesin. Taken on November 11, 1928.

This photo is published on p. 4 in the Journal of the Organic Architecture + Design archives, Vol. 7, no. 3, 2017 in the article for that issue, “Desert and Memoir: George Kastner and Frank Lloyd Wright,” by Randolph C. Henning.

That flue I pointed out goes to only one fireplace: the one for Iovanna’s Bedroom. Yet George Kastner took this photograph in 1928, 5 years before the apprentices even started working in that area. So it didn’t match what I thought I knew. I thought that, before 1933, this stone mass was simply… stone. That it was like the stone mass that’s on the south side of Taliesin’s living room. That this part was only stone.

Like what was in Hillside’s Dana Gallery on the Taliesin estate that I wrote about in “Truth Hiding in Plain Site“. That it was mostly stone before the Taliesin Fellowship.

But since I couldn’t deny what was in photographs,

I got in my car and drove to Taliesin to see what I could find.

I went upstairs, looking for evidence that things had changed. First thing I noticed was that the stone was executed at one time, as opposed to being changed later. See my photo of the fireplace below:

Interior photograph of fireplace in Iovanna Lloyd Wright's Bedroom. By Keiran Murphy on 9-24-2003.

Contrast this

With the fireplace in the adjacent room. In 1933-34, Apprentices built that fireplace out of the existing chimney. And it certainly looks like it.

I took the photo below where you see the side of the chimney. On the left hand side you see stone that used to be outside. The red stones were those that went through the Taliesin fires in 1914 and 1925. The lighter stone on the right is stone placed there by apprentices when they built the fireplace mantelpiece:

Side of the chimney in Iovanna Lloyd Wright's sitting room. Photo by Keiran Murphy in 2003.

 

After looking at the two fireplaces, I thought about that “At Taliesin” article. In the article, Abe Dombar says,

Two new rooms added to the pageant of Taliesin’s 40 rooms….

But there weren’t two rooms on that floor in 1934. There were three: Iovanna’s bedroom, the bathroom, and the sitting room (the room at the newer fireplace).

In fact, the drawing doesn’t label Iovanna’s bedroom. It only labels “Iovanna’s room”, which is the sitting room with the new mantelpiece.

And one more thing: the bathroom

You can see the bathroom in the plan above. When I started thinking maybe Iovanna’s Bedroom was there before 1933-4, I thought how it doesn’t make a lot of sense for Wright to build a bathroom out of line with the bathroom one floor below. Often bathrooms are in line with each other because this makes laying the plumbing lines easier.

yeah, yeah, yeah: we can talk about how impractical Wright could be as an architect, but at Taliesin he had to live with whatever he designed. And bathrooms are expensive, even if the labor was free….

Moreover,

in 2007, I looked at Taliesin’s drawings for real in Wright’s archives. Luckily for me, Taliesin’s estate manager suggested I take photocopies of Taliesin’s drawings so I could take notes on what I saw in them.

In drawing #2501.007, I saw the word “nook” in pencil with a line going about where Iovanna’s Bedroom was:

Elevation of Taliesin. The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York). #2501.007.

The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York), #2501.007.

I can’t tell you when 2501.007 was drawn, but the details say 1925-32. I think that in the early Taliesin III period, what became Iovanna’s Bedroom was originally a sitting room, a “nook”, that could be used as a bedroom if needed.

alas, we don’t have Wright’s design for the couch/bed simplicity of a futon frame

3 more things:

coz: in for a penny, in for a pound

One Taliesin drawing shows the “sash details” of the windows in Taliesin’s Living Quarters. This is drawing #2501.032. See the detail of it below:

The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York). 2501.032.

The three windows I pulled out from the drawing match the three windows currently on the east wall of Iovanna’s Bedroom. The drawing labels these windows as being for—not a clerestory or above the mezzanine, but—”Gallery Bed Room”.

Also, in 2006

The Taliesin Preservation crew worked in a closet in Iovanna’s Bedroom and found remnants of pipes going through the floor above Olgivanna’s bathroom. I asked what those pipes could be, and one crew member (I forget who) said they were small enough to be used for a sink, but not a toilet or tub.

Wright could have had this little room up there and if someone were just staying overnight, they could use the sink in the morning to brush their teeth.

One of those people might have been architect Philip Johnson

See, back in the 2000s someone emailed me at work. He was working on a book of interviews conducted by architect Robert A.M. Stern with Philip Johnson.

Stick with me here

At one point, Stern talked to Johnson about Wright:

Robert A.M. Stern: And in researching for the book [on the International Style] you also went to visit Wright?

Philip Johnson: …. We went to see Wright in 1930 in Taliesin East [sic].5 I stayed overnight in the part that’s now all closed in and ruined, in the upper terrace there, just above the big room. We visited and had a great time and we realized that he was a very, very great man.

The Philip Johnson Tapes: Interviews with Robert A.M. Stern (The Monacelli Press, printed in China, 2008), 41.
The book’s price tag is over $40, but I’m that crazy: I got the book on sale for $10.

He mentions “the big room”. In 1930, there wouldn’t have been any other “big room” on the Taliesin estate except for the Taliesin Living Room.6 He was wrong about the placement of the room on that floor, but there was nothing else up there in 1930 that matches it.

OK!

I hope I explained what I found/think.

That is:

When Wright rebuilt his living quarters after the 1925 fire, he built a mezzanine above the main floor that ended in a small room with its own fireplace, three windows on the east wall, and windows (or possibly French doors) on the other side.

The windows above and behind where Alexander Woollcott and Frank Lloyd Wright are standing in the photo at the top of this post might have looked into this “nook”.

 

The photo at the top of this post was taken 1937-41 and published in Apprentice to Genius: Years with Frank Lloyd Wright, by Edgar Tafel, p. 179.
First published October 22, 2023.


Notes

1. He expanded the space and added the parapet in 1943 for an anticipated visit by Solomon Guggenheim (of the Guggenheim Museum commission) and curator, Hilla Rebay.

2. Which I remember every damned time I think about the window found in Taliesin’s guest bedroom that was staring me in the face for years in photos. I’ll write about it another time to go over it in detail. It’ll be penance.

3. I think I first noticed it in a photo that I can’t show because I don’t think it’s ever been published. It’s Whi(x3)48218, an aerial photograph in the Howe Collection at the Wisconsin Historical Society.

4. Her personal spaces were featured in a Wright Virtual Visit in 2021, which is on Facebook, here.

5. Johnson was wrong on when he and Hitchcock visited Taliesin. According to Wright on Exhibit, the book by architectural historian, Kathryn Smith, they came in June 1932. Wright on Exhibit: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Architectural Exhibitions, by Kathryn Smith (Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 2017), 83.

 6. It wasn’t at Hillside because Johnson said they visited it and while it was a great building, he described Hillside in 1930 as “a total wreck”.  

Black and white graphic of the Hill Tower at Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin.

A recommended book: At Taliesin

Reading Time: 5 minutes

The graphic at the top of this page is one of the designs created by the Taliesin Fellowship for their weekly “At Taliesin” newspaper articles that ran from 1934 through late 1937. Architect Randolph C. Henning found these “At Taliesin” articles and put them into a book that I want to write about today.

The book is

At Taliesin: Newspaper Columns by Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Fellowship, 1934-1937, edited and with commentary by Henning (Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale and Edwardsville, Illinois, 1991). I included it in the list of books I wrote about awhile ago, but I’ll concentrate on it in this post.

In part because, this book  contains essential primary material about:

  • Frank Lloyd Wright
  • Taliesin, and
  • The Taliesin Fellowship.

Before this book, the “At Taliesin” articles were relatively unknown. Henning wrote in the preface that when he decided to search for them, he thought he would find several dozen.

Or 100 “at most”.

In the end, he tracked down 285 of them. He transcribed them, edited them, and also wrote commentary on and around them. 112 articles are in the book.

The book was only published once,

in hardcover. However, many copies are still available online and elsewhere for purchase. Online aggregate www.abebooks.com is somewhere I often look for books. I typed in the title found this  listing with over 30 copies.

And you could borrow it from your library.

I’m recommending it now because

once you get past its cover which looks like a college textbook

It’s actually a fun summer read.

Most of the articles fit on one to two pages. And many are just a trip. I mean that in a good way: many are a total blast.

As I wrote before:

“At Taliesin” “demonstrates why these kids in their early 20s would move out to rural Wisconsin to live and work with a man old enough to be their grandfather, and like it.

Their insanity reminded me that, yes, there was a time in my life in which I spent 4 to 5 hours on a Friday or Saturday night on a roof playing drums.

I was not a drummer. I was 21 years old.

Oh, that time passed quickly.

That’s just a year younger than architect Cornelia Brierly when she wrote this “At Taliesin” article in May, 1935:

Screen grab of an "At Taliesin" article published in the Wisconsin State Journal on May 22, 1935.

The whole article is on p. 125-127 of the “At Taliesin” book.

Secondly,

the book is a source about the life and culture of the Taliesin Fellowship. The authors wrote about things going on at Taliesin, but also, as Cornelia did, they relayed their thoughts on new ideas.

Most of the articles

end with a listing of movies that were to be shown at the Hillside Playhouse to the public on the coming Sunday afternoon. Because the “At Taliesin” articles weren’t just philosophical treatises: they were a bid by the Fellowship to entice an audience to come out and pay 50 cents for a movie and cup of coffee.1

The articles also gave weekly updates on building activities at Taliesin.

The July 4, 1935 article

tells you construction they did at Taliesin:

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.

Edgar Tafel. “At Taliesin”, p. 140.

I wrote about this change in my post, “Preservation by distribution“.

Thirdly:

The book has 38 fantastic photographs. Like the one below:

Black and white photograph looking southeast in the Hillside Dana Gallery

This is the fireplace in the Dana Gallery at Hillside. The photo is on page 201 of the “At Taliesin” book. I put this image in my post, “Truth Hiding in Plain Sight“.

and 20 drawings:

Black and white map of the Taliesin estate drawn from memory by John H. Howe.

The image above comes from 154 of Apprentice to Genius because I couldn’t get a good copy of the one on pages 6-7 from the “At Taliesin” book.

In addition, the “At Taliesin” book has 31 articles by Frank Lloyd Wright. In one, he

actually

compliments someone else’s architecture!2

Wright wrote in the August 9, 1935 article that:

…. In their jail and courthouse Pittsburghers own a masterpiece of architecture.  A great American architect H.H. Richardson of Boston built the building.  He was a big man in every way and his bigness was of a kind that not only marks a distinct epoch in American architecture but commands the respect of the civilized world. 

Frank Lloyd Wright. “At Taliesin”, p. 149.

In addition,

Henning wrote overviews for each year that the Fellowship wrote articles: 1934 to 1937. In the introductions to these chapters, he describes what was going on with the group, Frank Lloyd Wright, and the world at large.

Plus

Henning included articles about Taliesin written in the 1930s by professional writers. These writers came from the newspapers in Madison. They were invited out to Taliesin on the weekends. One writer, Betty Cass3 wrote about the “affair of the stringed instruments”. The article is a silly (true) story staring Wright and his wife, Olgivanna.

In it, Olgivanna watches as her husband keeps leaving the living room and coming back in with larger stringed instruments that have been delivered to Taliesin. They’ve obviously cost more and more money, but Olgivanna, helpless, watches as he comes back with them.

The last one is a bass viola. This was, Cass writes, “larger than he was, a regular Paul Bunyan of an instrument.” And Wright is mostly obscured behind it with “just twinkling eyes just peeking over the shiny brown side of the giant he was trying to strum.” “At Taliesin”, p. 308.

At that point, the humor of all of it got to Olgivanna, who started laughing so much that she cried.

 

 

First published July 11, 2023.
The graphic at the top of this post is used courtesy of The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York).


Notes:

1. I’m not going to reel off all the movies. Read the book if you want to see them! – you could binge them…

we’ll call it “Fringing”

(y’know: binging on movies seen by Frank Lloyd Wright).

Check out how Wright ended his penned article on August 9, 1935:

We are happy to announce the extraordinary program to be presented at the Playhouse this Sunday, Aug. 11.

Four films, of such importance and such different character, will form one of the most significant and delightful performances ever presented at the Playhouse.

Le Million, one of the best films by the greatest French director, Rene Clair,–no film made, unless it be another by this same director, has integrated sound and movement more beautifully;

A Dog’s Life, an early and rare film, one of the few remaining made by Charlie Chaplin;

Orphan’s Benefit, the funniest of all the 30 or more Disneys we have seen;

Czar Duranday, a wonderfully made Russian cartoon of a famous Russian fairy story.

Three of these films have been chosen from the finest we have seen during the past two years at the Playhouse.  Don’t miss this “picnic” next Sunday at three if you want to enjoy a hilariously entertaining afternoon.

“At Taliesin”, August 9, 1935. In the “At Taliesin” book, 150-151.

2. I know, I know: Wright insulting other people’s architecture. Most of us Frankophiles are aware of the man’s many traits, but some people really think he was an S.O.B.

3. Betty Cass is related to Bob Willoughby. He and I both worked at Taliesin Preservation and he read to us one winter at Taliesin.

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 taken by Edmund Teske. Taliesin in winter with snow and ice.

Snow at Taliesin

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Edmund Teske took this photograph in the winter of 1936-37. He was in the Breezeway at Taliesin, looking northeast towards the Living Room.

This week, a winter storm is crossing the United States. This storm reminded me of one of the “At Taliesin” newspaper articles written by apprentices in the Taliesin Fellowship.

This article is in At Taliesin: Newspaper Columns by Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Fellowship, 1934-1937, ed. by Randolph C. Henning. It’s on p. 241-42 of the “At Taliesin” book:

AT TALIESIN, February 20, 19371

In winter the sharp lines of the horizon along the ridges of our surrounding hills disappear and in the soft light of evening the valleys merge into the hills and the hills vanish into the sky.  Trees upon the hills are patterned tracery.  Pods of weeds, close by, are sharp edged black spots upon the white: staccato notes in the prevailing rhythm of quiet.

Snow: sharp, keen, icy, in billowing drifts or in long horizontal ledges, brings harmony to the landscape of our Wisconsin farmland: farmland that in summer is fenced in and fenced up and out by farm after farm of farmers who have worked out countless ingenious ways to characterize their acres of land.  The boxed-in boxes of farmhouses, styes, coops, pens scattered about, hit and miss, over the countryside mar the land’s native beauty.

          We view – in winter – Wisconsin’s hills as we saw the Arizona desert stretching off toward distant mountains: untouched, whole, clean.

          What man could not do to the Arizona desert because of nature’s protection, the winter snow has buried in Wisconsin.

As the hot desert sun decorates simplicity by sending color into the myriad lichens upon the patterned rock faces of the desert floor, so our winter sun flashes light and fire into the ice-jeweled thistles showing above the frosted earth in our own valleys.

And as the saguaro-cactus stands in heroic silhouette against the sunny southern sky, the ice clad Wisconsin trees crackle and shimmer: miraculous against the cobalt above.

What we went in search for to Arizona we have here around us: this harmonious union of natural things.  A union here made supreme and impervious to harm by ice and snow: white and blue – silver and black.  Again contrast and accentuation – in the distance a red spot – the Wisconsin barn.

            EUGENE MASSELINK

First published December 20, 2022
The photograph at the top of this post was published in Architectural Forum magazine, January 1938, volume 68, number 1, p. 3.


Notes:

1 You read Masselink talking about Arizona, but everyone is in Wisconsin. That’s because the land where Wright will build Taliesin West has not been found yet. That will happen in November of 1937.

Thanksgiving at Taliesin

Reading Time: 2 minutes

My next post, Oldest Part of Taliesin, II , is on the way (part I is here). First though, I’m going to add a portion of an “At Taliesin” article posted in 1936 that was about Thanksgiving. In 1936, the Taliesin Fellowship, with the Wrights, celebrated Thanksgiving in Wisconsin.

Here’s writer, Marya Lilien, on the Thanksgiving that had just passed. This “At Taliesin” article was published December 4, 1936:

Thanksgiving dinner

Visitors who have seen Taliesin probably noticed that there is something uncompromising about Taliesin people’s clothes.  We are seen either in overalls and working gloves or in evening dresses, respectfully dark suits: never the in-between morning clothes, afternoon clothes, etc.  So it is also with our activities.  Either at work, even in the studio – always prepared to jump in for some “dirty” job – or having beautiful parties and feasts.

Our Thanksgiving dinner was a real feast.  Mrs. Wright directing everything in the preparation, yet never tired to add some new surprising touches of her refined taste both to the menu and decoration, making the party true to Taliesin tradition and yet have some unusual atmosphere.

And in this beautiful atmosphere among pine branches and chrysanthemums as if growing out of the interior architecture – there came to us the romance of Japanese prints – told by our Master.  Mr. Wright has this wonderful manner of giving his most profound thoughts in a conversational tone.  They seem so natural – in fact, I think every great thought is natural only it takes a great mind and creative imagination to formulate it and show it to people.

….

And in the low beautiful Fellowship dining room with pine branches overhead and yellow chrysanthemums dramatic and picturesque scenes, past and present, passed before our eyes: each of them seeming to have itself the colors and design of a Japanese print, as Mr. Wright was telling how the hoarded cases and boxes in Japanese court circles finally got open after centuries to show their contents and to tell him and the world their illuminating story.  And find a final resting place in the great museums of the new world.

By MARYA LILIEN

 

In 1936, Thanksgiving took place on the last Thursday in November. That changed in 1941, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt changed Thanksgiving to the fourth Thursday in November.

Architect, writer, and Wright expert, Randolph C. Henning, went through most of the “At Taliesin” newspaper articles published in 1934-1937. He transcribed as many of these as possible and published them in a book: At Taliesin: Newspaper Columns by Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Fellowship, 1934-1937 – 

I mentioned this and other books in my post, “Books by apprentices“.

He gave me an electronic version of the articles. That’s how I acquired the article that Lilien wrote.

 

First published November 23, 2022.

The post, “What’s the Oldest Part of Taliesin, Part II” is here.

Photograph taken at Taliesin in late summer. The structure has been built, although not all of the windows are in. One man is bending working on teh ground.

What is the oldest part of Taliesin? Part I

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Looking (plan) east at Taliesin from the balcony of its hayloft, fall 1911. Taken by Taylor Woolley, who worked as a draftsman for Wright at Taliesin. I showed this image in the post, “This will be a nice addition“.

While people don’t ask that question at other Frank Lloyd Wright buildings, it’s part and parcel of his personal home in Wisconsin.1 After all, he was already changing things after 1912, and he probably would have made changes at his home even if it never suffered two major fires.

And, remarkably, there are things at Taliesin that go back to 1911-12. Even where there wasn’t any fire.

Why am I bringing this up?

I thought I would share what people asked me sometimes while I gave tours. Hopefully I didn’t overwhelm them with info. But while “don’t talk about what you can’t see” is one of the tour-guiding rules, change was a part of Taliesin.

In fact, that’s true even in the photo at the top of this post. Wright changed almost all of the stone piers and chimneys that you see there.

Now, while Wright didn’t sit down in April of 1911 and say, “I want to change my home with Mamah all the time!”, he liked the flexibility of changing things as he had new ideas. He refined his ideas all the time, and his home was the best place see these new things.

After all, I’ve heard people say that –

Taliesin is like a life-sized model.

Even Taliesin’s most consistent feature, the Tea Circle, would change.

The Tea Circle

It’s a semi-circular stone bench where Wright and the Taliesin Fellowship used to have tea.

In the photo at the top of this post, the Tea Circle will be eventually built on the right, where you can see the man working under the two oak trees. They wouldn’t finish it until 1912.

So, the photo shows that they had removed all of the dirt around those oak trees, and built the retaining walls. Then they gave the roots of the oaks a chance to settle before making more disruptions.

But Wright’s plans included the Tea Circle at Taliesin almost from the beginning.

However, you can see that unfinished Tea Circle in another photo by Taylor Woolley, below. He took this in the spring of 1912. Taliesin’s basically been built, but the Tea Circle steps, and its stone seat, don’t yet exist:

Photograph at Taliesin in early spring. In view: pool on left, Flower in the Crannied Wall statue at Tea Circle.
By Taylor Woolley. Courtesy of Utah State History, Taylor Woolley Collection, ID 695904.

Looking west toward the Tea Circle. The chimney at Taliesin’s Drafting Studio is on the right. The Hayloft is under the horizontal roof in the background.

I used to look for the Tea Circle on plans to orient myself when I was first learning about Taliesin. I put one of Taliesin’s early drawing below, with an arrow pointing at the stone bench. Western Architect magazine published this drawing in February 1913:

Drawing of Taliesin complex. Published in February 1913.
Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York), 1403.011.

In fact, here are links to Taliesin plans that have the Tea Circle seat.

JSTOR says the drawings are from Taliesin II, but that’s wrong. I noted before that the former director of the Frank Lloyd Wright Archives, the late Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer, was wrong on the structural details of the building. But I never got the chance to talk to him about how he came up with the dates for the drawings.2

The Preservation Crew at the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation carried out restoration, preservation, and reconstruction on the Tea Circle in 2019.3 They had to replace a lot of the degraded/missing stone work there. Its form (and as much stone as possible) now matches what was there in when it was originally finished.

Anyway, here I was,

trying to figure out the date of Woolley’s photo showing the forecourt and unfinished Tea Circle.

that’s the problem with black & white photos: they make late fall and early spring look the same!

And, HOORAY! Wright’s scandals gave me the info.

See, on December 23, 1911, the Chicago Tribune sent a telegram to Wright asking to confirm or deny that he was living in Wisconsin with Mamah Borthwick.

(by then, she and Edwin had divorced, and she legally took back her maiden name)

The Tribune published his reply on Dec. 24,

Let there be no misunderstanding, a Mrs. E. H. Cheney never existed for me and now is no more in fact. But Mamah Borthwick is here and I intend to take care of her.

Since Wright’s telegram made things even worse, the next day, Wright and Borthwick invited the reporters inside Taliesin so he could give a public statement. He hoped doing this would explain things and take pressure off himself and his family.

It didn’t go well.

In part because Wright said, “In a way my buildings are my children”. The guy needed a publicist. But it was 1911; whatcha gonna do?

This disaster with the press answered my question:

As Wright escorted the reporters to the forecourt (now the Garden Court), he talked about upcoming work on the building and grounds. He said:

There is to be a fountain in the courtyard, and flowers. To the south, on a sun bathed slope, there is to be a vineyard. At the foot of the steep slope in front there is a dam in process of construction that will back up several acres of water as a pond for wild fowl.

Chicago Daily Tribune, December 26, 1911, “Spend Christmas Making ‘Defense’ of ‘Spiritual Hegira.'”

AHA!

There it is: at Christmas 1911, they hadn’t yet finished Taliesin’s dam! So the hydraulic ram wasn’t yet working to bring water to the reservoir behind the house, giving Taliesin running water and water for the pools!4

In contrast, Woolley’s photo has the fountain (on the left in the photo above). That means the water system was working.

More Taliesin photos

In January 1913, Architectural Record published photos taken in the previous summer. Click on the photo below for the link to a .pdf of that magazine. The link is the whole magazine for the first half 1913, so you’ll have to go through it.

Image from opening pages of "The Studio-Home of Frank Lloyd Wright". Includes a photograph looking West at Taliesin in the summer of 1912.

You go to the link (which has 6 months of the issues). You can find page 44 of the January issue, and that’s the start of 10 pages of Taliesin photos, like the screenshot above.

These Fuermann photos are what a lot of people envision when they think of Taliesin I.

You can also find them at the Wisconsin Historical Society in the Fuermann and Sons Collection.

And if you love them and want All The Fuermann Photos, you can buy the special issue on them that was published in the Journal of the Organic Architecture + Design Archives. They’ve got the photos Fuermann took in three photographic sessions. Architectural Historian, Kathryn Smith, explains their history.

More to come

I was ready to post this when I realized there are a few more things that you can see on tours that go back to 1911-12. So I’ll publish another post with more.

 

Taylor Woolley (then Wright’s draftsman), took the photograph at the top of this post. It’s at the Utah Historical Society, here.
Published November 16, 2022

Here’s “What’s the oldest part of Taliesin, Part II“.


Notes

1 I don’t think they’ll be offering tours underground any time soon, in part because the openings into some places are only accessible by crawling on your hands and knees. Like what I wrote on in “A slice of Taliesin“.

2 I didn’t want to come off as a snotnosed smarty pants. Although maybe we could have talked about it. He seemed to trust my opinion by the end. He respected my opinions on one drawing I asked about.

3 The restoration work is due to a donation by educator and Architectural Historian, Sidney K. Robinson.

Watch Ryan Hewson, of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation talking about the restoration of the Tea Circle the “Frank Lloyd Wright x Pecha Kucha Live 2020” event. Pecha Kucha is a fast-paced slide show, and Hewson’s presentation is just over 6 minutes. It explains the work really well.

4 I wrote about my study of the dam in the post, “My dam history“.

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 Taliesin photograph by Richard Vesey from 1957. In the Wisconsin Historical Society - Vesey Collection.

Taliesin West inspiration

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Looking (plan) southeast from the Taliesin Hill Crown toward the Plunge Pool terrace, with Wright’s newly-expanded bedroom on the left. Most of the landscape you see in the distance is the Taliesin estate.

I think something that Wright did at Taliesin West (in Arizona) inspired him in a change he made at Taliesin (in Wisconsin). That change was within the work as he expanded his bedroom in 1950.

Expanded?

Yes: here’s a quick and dirty history of the room:

It was originally constructed in 1925, then became his bedroom in 1936.

(he probably did some more changes at that time, but I haven’t figured them out yet)

And, in 1950 he expanded his bedroom to its current configuration (that one sees on tours). That change was accomplished by further building out the room onto the existing stone terrace that he had initially constructed in 1936.1

While Wright himself didn’t specifically say this, the change was apparently made for a photograph. That’s because Architectural Forum magazine was doing a piece on Wright that included an insert on Taliesin.

I like to say that Wright was “sprucing up the house” for the photo.

The photo shows Wright sitting at his desk in the bedroom and was taken in the fall of 1950 by Ezra Stoller and published in the January 1951 issue.

(Since the firm that Stoller founded, ESTO, is specific about people using their images

[like, I wouldn’t be surprised if they came after my ass for showing the photo even if I linked to their org, and even if followed “fair use” ]

so I’m not gonna show it here. But you can find that issue of Architectural Forum online. That issue is scanned & reproduced here.
It’s a 190 MB pdf [Portable Document Format], to give you a sense of how long it would take to download.  

Anyway, that’s not what I’m here to talk about.

I’m here to talk about other changes he made at the same time around his bedroom.

That’s because I was lying in bed a couple of nights ago when it occurred to me that the changes that Wright made in 1950 right outside of his bedroom were influenced by the spatial arrangements he had used at his winter home, Taliesin West.

I do some of my best Taliesin thinking at night. Unfortunately, I often forget a lot of what I think about,2 but on this occasion, I got out of bed and wrote it down.

So on this post, I’m going to explain that.

Here’s part of what Wright wrote in his autobiography in 1943 about Taliesin West:

Taliesin West is a look over the rim of the world….
There was lots of room so we took it…. The plans were inspired by the character and beauty of that wonderful site. Just imagine what it would be like on top of the world looking over the universe at sunrise or at sunset with clear sky in between…. It was a new world to us and cleared the slate of the pastoral loveliness of our place in Southern Wisconsin. Instead came an esthetic, even ascetic, idealization of space, of breadth and height and of strange firm forms, a sweep that was a spiritual cathartic for Time if indeed Time continued to exist.

Frank Lloyd Wright, An Autobiography, new and revised ed. (New York: Duell, Sloan, and Pearce, 1943), 453.

In fact, Wright changed a lot of things at Taliesin based on his winters in the Arizona desert. Only some of those things took place in the 1940s, like what I wrote in the post, “In Return for the Use of the Tractor“, he took advantage of the fact that he didn’t have to deal with Wisconsin winters anymore.

However, I hadn’t thought about changes that he made to the vistas around Taliesin due to what he’d observed in Arizona.

Not until that recent night.

Part of what I’ve noticed at Taliesin West (and I’m not alone) that he was using the exteriors of the structures to point your eyes to certain places. I think that’s part of being on the “rim of the world.”

So, while I laid in bed I remembered how, when one is in Wisconsin, the terrace outside of his bedroom (changed when he did things in 1950) gives you views that frame the nature around it that kind of look like what he did at Taliesin West.

Summer photograph of Wright's bedroom and terrace taken in 1957. Property: Scott Architectural Library

Courtesy, Scott Architectural Archives. Taken during the Spring Green Centennial of 1957. On that summer day, Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Fellowship opened up the Taliesin estate to “locals” and let them walk around all over. The photograph shows Wright’s newly-expanded bedroom on the left, with the hills across the highway (HWY 23) in the distance. By the time this photograph was taken, Wright and the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation owned almost everything that can be seen.

Compare to the photograph below that I took at Taliesin West early one morning in February 2007. Wright’s office is to the left, with steps leading to an upper level, with the McDowell Mountains in the background.

Keiran Murphy's exterior photograph of Taliesin West taken on February 15, 2007.

Compare the photo above to the Taliesin photo at the top of this post.

See? Pool—Steps—Hills

Moreover, about the photo at the top of this post:

I was confused about the puddles on the terrace (around and behind the Buddha) until I saw the photo from the Wisconsin Historical Society, below:

Property: Wisconsin Historical Society - Vesey collection
Wisconsin Historical Society – Vesey Collection, WHi-64877.

You can see the stream of water, the white vertical line from the pool, and in front of the balcony. The puddle on the flagstones is in the foreground from that little fountain. It’s to the right of the metal Buddha in the middle of the photograph.

It you were standing at that spot then turned around, you’d see the landscape and fields just south of the Taliesin structure.

You see Tan-y-deri,

another building on the estate. That’s the house that Wright designed for his sister, Jane. The photograph below was taken toward Tan-y-deri by Janet Caligiuri Brach. She took it on Sunday, April 24, 2022 while on a tour:

Photograph taken April 24, 2022. Taken on Frank Lloyd Wright's Bedroom terrace at Taliesin.

Photo by Janet Caligiuri Brach. Used with permission.

Taken at the edge of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Bedroom Terrace, looking (plan) south. At the mid-point is the tower. This is the Romeo and Juliet Windmill. Tan-y-deri stands to the lower right of “R&J”.

Oh, and before I go:

Here’s something else from Taliesin West that Wright brought to Taliesin in 1950. That terrace with the pool (called “the Plunge Pool Terrace”) ends with the same kind of masonry that’s used at Taliesin West.

This was a dry concrete that the apprentices put into forms, with the limestone facing out. They put newspaper or other things over the stone, so when they took away the forms, you could still see the rock.

You can see this masonry in another Taliesin West photograph of mine, that I showed in, “Taliesin is in Wisconsin

I can show this type of masonry in a photo of the terrace that I took in 2005, below:

Taken by Keiran Murphy on May 17, 2005.

Looking (plan) northwest at the edge of the Plunge Pool Terrace with the that’s inspired by Taliesin West. This terrace was also apparently executed in 1950.

Published June 18, 2022.
The photograph at the top of this post is from the Wisconsin Historical Society – Vesey Collection, WHi-64841. Click here to get to their page with the image.


Notes:

  1. Since it’s been awhile since I wrote this, I’ll add it again: when I write, “he/Wright constructed this-or-that”, or “he/Wright expanded this-or-that”, what I mean is that he was designing or directing the work. His apprentices in the Taliesin Fellowship were doing the physical work. 
  2. That’s why my husband wants to get me something to write on at night.
Black and white photograph of dormitory room at Taliesin

Oh my Frank – I was wrong!

Reading Time: 6 minutes

A bed in a room at Taliesin. I’ll explain more in the post below.

About what? About a photograph.

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

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

Let me explain:

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

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

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

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

That is:

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

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

I’d been mistaken for 18 years.

I got this wrong in 2004.

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

18 years!!

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

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

2 days ago,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next

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

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

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

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

Because

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And, fortunately,

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

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

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

What happened to this room?

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

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

Today, it’s still a bedroom.

 

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


Notes:

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

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

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