Postcard of crowd at Taliesin. Caption on card: "WEST WING. WRIGHT'S BUNGALOW". Property: Patrick Mahoney

What is the oldest part of Taliesin? Part II

A postcard looking (plan) northeast at the western façade of Taliesin’s hayloft, summer (the hayloft is under the roof). Because the collection of people are unexpected at a farmhouse, Randolph C. Henning (who collected this postcard), thinks this was taken the day after Taliesin’s 1914 fire and murders.

I wrote The Oldest Thing at Taliesin (stuff that goes back to 1911-12), and was going to leave it at that. But before I posted, I realized there were too many things to point out. I needed to divide it into two posts. So, that was part I.

Here’s part II.

Like last time, I’m going back to stone because it’s the easiest material to trace at Taliesin. That’s because Taliesin’s shingles, wood, and plaster has to be replaced. And I’m not sure how much of the window glass at Taliesin goes back to 1911-12.1

Therefore, in 2010,

Taliesin Preservation‘s Executive Director taped a printout of the picture at the top of this post onto my computer monitor.

In 2005, she (Carol) also told me about “The Album” on auction at the online site, Ebay.

Architect and writer, Randolph C. Henning, had sent her the scan of the image. Although he knew what you see in this image (the courtyard on the other side of Taliesin’s Hayloft), he wrote asking for help on any research on the rest of the images in his upcoming book, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin: Illustrated by Vintage Postcards (this image is on p. 39).

I’d never seen anything like that image because

you can’t really see this view today.

Why?

Because that nutter changed his house all the time, of course.

A similar angle of view is in the photo below:

Exterior photograph looking at the roofs Taliesin. Photograph taken in 2005 by Keiran Murphy.

I took this photograph from the roof of Taliesin’s former icehouse. The photograph is looking northeast according to Taliesin’s plan direction. Taliesin’s “Work Court” is one floor below.
I was up on this part of the roof with a member of the Preservation Crew. He was showing me details on the re-roofing. And, NO, you cannot stand on this roof while you’re on a tour.2

Almost nothing in this photograph matches what you see in the c. 1914 postcard at the top of this post.

But,

even though everything’s different here’s what got my attention: the stone pier under the hayloft.

THAT is still there! Here’s a comparison of the 1914 photo and the photo from 2004:

Looking (plan) southeast in Taliesin's "Work Court". In view: stone, roofing, plaster and windows in the courtyard.

In the Work Court, looking southeast according to Taliesin’s plan direction. This photograph has the stone pier that I saw in the 1914 postcard. The image below has both the old and new photos, with the stones in the pier compared.

Photographic comparison between 1914 Taliesin photograph, and digital photograph from 2004.

Here’s the stone pier in a close-up of the two photographs:

 

Close-up of stones in 1914 photograph and photograph from 2004.

TA-DA!


More Taliesin 1911-12:

The next photo appeared in 1911. I first saw it two years ago when the Chicago Tribune treated us all to was in a published article:

Looking east at Taliesin's agricultural wing.
In view behind trees: hayloft of Taliesin. Car [?] garage on the right. First published 12/29/11. Unknown photographer. (Chicago Tribune historical photo)

This photograph was taken December 25, 1911. The photographer was looking east/southeast (according to Taliesin’s plan direction) at Taliesin’s agricultural wing in 1911. The photo was taken on that day when Wright gave the disastrous press conference at Taliesin.

This, and the article that included it,

made me so happy that I wrote a post about it: “This is FUN for me…“.

Props go to Stan Ecklund on Facebook who, in 2020, first alerted me (and other Frankophiles) to this article. Stan created and curates two Wright-based groups on Facebook, The Wright Attitude, and Wright Nation. The “WA” is a private group, but Wright Nation on Facebook is public, here. If you are in the WA group, Stan posted the link to the article in the Tribune on Dec. 4, 2020.

Again, you can’t see the same view today because of Wright’s changes at Taliesin.

But I found a photo on Wikimedia Commons that’s shot from a similar angle. That’s below:

Photograph of Taliesin roofs taken on July 4, 2018.
By Stilfehler. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International License.

Looking (plan) southeast to the chimney that’s in the photograph from 1911 in the Tribune.
Taken by Stilhefler while on a tour. Click the photo to see it on-line.

I am not publishing the second photo from the Chicago Tribune. Most of what you see in the second photo cannot be seen on a tour and if you read “This is FUN for me…”, I explain it some more.


Then there’s the Hill Crown:

And its retaining wall:

Looking (plan) south at the stone retaining wall at Taliesin's Hill Crown. Photo by Keiran Murphy.

I took this photograph in April, 2005.

Most likely, there are other parts of the retaining wall that go back to 1911. However, I do not think you’ll be able to look at those places for any length while on a tour at Taliesin.


Lastly, I’ll show something else you can see on tours:

Wisconsin Historical Society, Fuermann Collection, ID# 83113

This was also published in Architectural Record magazine in 1913. Here’s where I wrote about it.

Look at the pier on the right, with the pool. The open windows on the right are at the kitchen (today it’s called the Little Kitchen). Every tour you take at Taliesin walks near that pool.

I put a present-day photo of it, below. The person who took this photo in 2018 also took the one above.

Photograph of pool next to the "Little Kitchen" at Taliesin. Taken on July 4, 2018.
By Stilfehler. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International License.

Taken in the Breezeway at Taliesin. Looking (plan) southeast at the stone veneer on the west wall of the Little Kitchen.
Photo from July 4, 1918, by Stilhelfer. Click the photo above to see it on-line. You’ll see that this photo has been cropped.

I love this area.

Wright changed things so much at Taliesin that I’m intrigued when he didn’t.

That’s all I’ve got the time to show you right now.

So, thanks again for coming along!

 

Published November 26, 2022
Randolph C. Henning acquired this and sent this to the Executive Director of Taliesin Preservation while he was working on Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin: Illustrated By Vintage Postcards. You can see the photo on page 39. Henning sold his collection to Patrick Mahoney, AIA.


Notes

1 I could go and point out windows that seem like they were at Taliesin in 1911-12, but I dunno.

2 “WHAT – do you think we’d just walk onto the roof?”
No, I do not think you would.
However: one time a person arrived at the Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor Center in January or February and wanted to know if they could go into the buildings on the Taliesin estate. I asked, “Did you see the notice on our website that there are no tours at Taliesin until May 1?” The person replied nicely that, “Yes, we saw that. But you didn’t say the estate was closed.” So I’m double checking.

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

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.

ARTSTOR 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


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 of Taliesin's Entry Foyer taken by Keiran Murphy in May 2004.

When did Taliesin get its front door?

My May 2004 photograph looking at Taliesin’s entry and entry foyer.

I find humor regarding Wright’s placement of his own home’s front door, so my post today is going to be about that.

I say “humor” because of how Wright is praised on his placement of the front doors of his homes. That he placed the entrances in ways that create a journey of surprise to visitors as they seek them out.

Therefore, his houses do not usually have the front doors smack dab in front of you.

Photograph taken from the street looking at Wright's Windlow House in summer

Ok, well there was that one time.

And he was young! The house (the Winslow) was his first independent commission in 1893. He was 25 or 26. Haven’t we all done things as we’re learning the ins and outs of our own lives?

Edward C. Waller apartment building by Frank Lloyd Wright, summer.

Well, THAT’S an apartment building. You gotta make the entry really large to help people to go in —

Chancey L. Williams House by Frank Lloyd Wright

STOP THAT!!

Those are all photographs of Wright buildings, but I’m trying to make a point.

. . . . Against my fictional self.

But, seriously: I find the history of Taliesin’s “front door” funny because, when he first designed his home in 1911, when you arrived at Taliesin’s first courtyard, a door was one of the first things you saw, but it wasn’t the front door.

Let me back up and show you:

So, in 1911, you would drive past Taliesin’s waterfall, and along the carriage path up the hill, and stop under the roof of the Porte-Cochere, in the photo below.1

Photograph of Taliesin's porte-cochere seen in late fall/early spring

This photograph was taken by Wright’s draftsman, Taylor Woolley, in the late fall or early spring, 1911-12.

And once you stopped under the roof, you could get out of your vehicle and walk into the “forecourt”. And here, you saw this door, behind the vertical wood strips there at the low wall near the middle of the photo:

Wisconsin Historical Society, Lynn Anderson Collection
Postcard property of Patrick Mahoney. Published in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin: Illustrated by Vintage Postcards, by Randolph C. Henning, p. 17. It’s a great book of images to get you started on your Frankophile feast.

And yes, behind the vertical pieces of wood are bug screens. Even though Wright supposedly hated them. I think it took only one summer in Wisconsin, with the Taliesin pond, for Wright to understand that the mosquitoes in Wisconsin can be pretty nasty.

Knowing me, if I were invited to Taliesin in 1912 I probably would have walked right up to that door, figuring that was the main house entry. But that’s not where Wright designated the front door. No; apparently Wright’s planned trip for visitors to the main, formal, Taliesin entry was that they would walk straight from the Porte-Cochere, through the forecourt, and up three steps and under the roof on the left that you see in the photo above.

The photo below I think shows you the straight shot he wanted you to take.

The continued walk to the door:

You go up those steps and under that roof. And on your left was another door. Which was not the front door.

Wisconsin Historical Society, Fuermann Collection, ID# 83113

Here’s why I think this is funny: in many of his designs, I get the impression that there is just one door that he intentionally leads you to. But at his home, he’s got these other doors and I think I’d get frustrated after awhile.

Although under the roof, you could see the river

I think he hoped to draw you to the view in the distance to see the Wisconsin River.

Photograph in summer taken by Taylor Woolley at Taliesin.

And, then you’d see the front door. It would be on your right.

The best view of the door is actually in a drawing:

I’ve never seen a photo of that door on the outside during Taliesin I or II.

Elevation of Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin I.
The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York).2

You can only see the door at that time from the inside, at Taliesin’s living room. You can see one view on the other side of the inglenook which I wrote about in my last post, 1940s Change in Taliesin’s Living Room.

But the other thing that is really interesting was that when you walked through Taliesin’s “front door” at that time, you walked right into the Living/Dining room of Taliesin.

And before that, you walked passed the kitchen.

This caught my eye starting about three months ago:

That’s because I was writing an article on Wright’s kitchens at Taliesin. This will appear in the Spring 2022 edition of the magazine, SaveWright . SaveWright is the magazine put out by The Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy.

Here’s one thing Wright wrote about kitchens in 1907:

… Access to the stairs from the kitchen is sufficiently private at all times, and the front door may be easily reached from the kitchen without passing through the living room.

“The Fireproof House for $5,000”,  in Frank Lloyd Wright Collected Writings: 1894-1930, volume 1. Edited by Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer, introduction by Kenneth Frampton (Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., New York City, 1992), 81-2.

So, he’s not paying attention to this, in his own home. At that time at Taliesin, the only way to get to the front door would be by walking past the kitchen. And, if you were inside the kitchen, the only way to get to that front door would be by going through the living room/dining area.

You’ll see this if you look at the Taliesin drawing in my post, “Did Taliesin Have Outhouses?

And he’s working out these ideas at Taliesin: like I wrote, “The Fireproof House for $5,000” was published in 1907.

In addition,

He does the same thing in Taliesin II 

That is, 1914-1925

Although I think by that time, he tried to hide that first door when you stopped at the Porte-Cochere.

Here are a couple of Taliesin II photos:

Looking east at Taliesin II forecourt. Photograph by Clarence Fuermann.
Wisconsin Historical Society.
Collection Name: Henry Fuermann and Sons Taliesin I and II photographs, 1911-1913, 1915
Looking north in Taliesin II forecourt. Photograph by Clarence Fuermann.
Wisconsin Historical Society,
Collection Name: Henry Fuermann and Sons Taliesin I and II photographs, 1911-1913, 1915

Taliesin’s front door is past the ceramic vase you see in the shadows. The kitchen is through the open windows that you can see above the low, stucco.

Then the 1925 fire happens

So, Wright keeps the door in the same place, but changes how you get there. And, for almost 15 years, he had you drive east of the living quarters to get arrive at the front door. An aerial photograph showing the road is below:

Aerial of Taliesin taken Feb. 7, 1934
From the William “Beye” Fyfe collection at The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives

From the book, The Fellowship: The Unknown Story of Frank Lloyd Wright & the Taliesin Fellowship, by Roger Friedland and Harold Zellman (Harper Collins Publishers, New York, 2006). This image was published in the page opposite page 1.

That road in the aerial brought you to the steps on the way to the front door that you see below in this 1929 photograph.

Photograph of Taliesin's entry steps taken in 1929 by Vladimir Karfik
The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York).

These steps took (and take) you to Taliesin’s entry. When this photograph was taken you, would walk up the three sets of steps and the door into Taliesin was to the right of the chimney.

Here’s what former apprentice Edgar Tafel wrote about his first experience walking into the house:

At Taliesin, we went through a Dutch door, its top half swinging open. Below, flagstone, and all around us natural stone. The ceiling was low, sandy plaster just above our heads. Wright led the way into his living room. What an impression that room made! It was my first total Frank Lloyd Wright atmosphere. How I was struck by those forms, shapes, materials! It was heartbreaking – I had never imagined such beauty and harmony.

This comes from page 20 in Apprentice to Genius: Years With Frank Lloyd Wright, the book I recommended last year.

In 1943, Wright changed the entrance to where it is now:

Another former apprentice, Curtis Besinger, wrote about his in the book, Working With Mr. Wright: What It was Like.

I mentioned this book when I wrote about books by apprentices. 

He described in in the chapter, “Spring and Summer, 1943”:

It seemed that some students from Harvard had complained to Mr. Wright when visiting Taliesin that they had had difficulty finding the entrance. He was going to correct this.

… These new doors were visually on the center of the garden court, and made a stronger connection between the interior of the entry area and the court.

Curtis Besinger. Working with Mr. Wright: What it was Like (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, England, 1995), 147.

Re: “students from Harvard”:

When I gave tours, if I had time after bringing people to the front door, I’d tell them about the Harvard students. I often added that “Wright said Harvard took good plums and turned them into prunes.”3

Here’s a photograph taken in 1945 (I included it in my post, “In Return for the Use of the Tractor“):

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

The formal entry was to the right of the two tall birch trees in the center of the photo. Although people usually went inside through the door to the left of the two tall birch trees.

Although the students from Harvard possibly influenced Wright to take away some of the FIVE DOORS that he had on that side of the house. Seriously: take a look at drawing 2501.048. It shows Taliesin’s living quarters, 1937-43.

First published March 26, 2022.


Notes:

  1. Another word I’ve learned while working at Taliesin. Porte-Cochere: a “carriage porch” and “a covered carriage or automobile entryway leading to a courtyard.”
    The Dictionary of Architecture and Construction, 4th ed. (2006, Cyril J. Harris, ed., McGraw Hill, New York, 1975).
  2. If you click on the drawing, you’ll see it’s characterized as “Taliesin II”. That’s wrong. Architectural details in the drawing show that this was actually 1911-14, Taliesin I. It just hasn’t been corrected. If you know anyone close to the Avery library who wants to contract with me as a consultant to correct these dates on Taliesin drawings, I’m all up for it; please give them my contact information. Thx.
  3. As always, I learned the “gist” of that quote, but I can’t find the actual quote itself.

Wright wrote something about the same in his book about mentor Louis Sullivan, Genius and the Mobocracy. Wright while writing about university education, says that the “creeping paralysis” in ” higher learning” takes “Perfectly good fresh young lives—like perfectly good plums… destined to be perfectly good prunes.”

That’s in the Frank Lloyd Wright: Collected Writings 1939-49, volume 4, 343-344.
I like the way I first heard it, rather than how Wright wrote it. Maybe he said it someplace else.

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.

Taliesin II living quarters, approximately 1922

Taliesin II: the forgotten middle child of Taliesin

The photo at the top of this page shows the living quarters of Taliesin: the portion of the building rebuilt after the fire of 1914 and destroyed in the fire of 1925. Someone took is around 1922.

Frank Lloyd Wright and Taliesin II:1

Frank Lloyd Wright named his home Taliesin, but later wrote that the building after the 1914 fire was Taliesin II, and that the building after the second fire (of 1925) was Taliesin III.

Taliesin II gets lost because Wright built it after the 1914 fire (caused by an act of violence). Then, in 1925, an electrical fire again destroyed it. Wright began rebuilding that summer.

The home that exists today was where Wright lived when:

    • He recovered his career in architecture
    • Started the Taliesin Fellowship
    • Designed some of his most well-known buildings (including Fallingwater), and
    • Became, apparently, the first “starchitect”

Although, as of 1939 his main studio in Wisconsin was his newly designed and built drafting studio at Hillside2 on the southern part of his Taliesin estate (which I wrote about in an earlier blog post).

So Taliesin II gets overshadowed

Also, Wright was out of the country a lot from 1915-1922 , working in Tokyo on the Imperial Hotel.

Still, by the time he finished with the Imperial Hotel, he had added two more rooms to Taliesin’s living quarters (on the ground floor and one above that). Then made that part of the building taller.

Here’s that part of the building in the early 1920s:

Taliesin II from the

From the Eric Milton Nicholls Collection at the National Library of Australia

The Griffins took the photograph above on their trip to the United States in 1924-25. Compare this photo to the one at the top of the page: the chimney you see here on the right on the photo at the top of the page is the same chimney that you see on the left in the photo above. The photographer took this photo from the Hill Crown at Taliesin. On the right hand side of the photograph was a guest room. Today, that’s part of Frank Lloyd Wright’s bedroom.

The photo comes from the National Library of Australia

Take a look at this page, where you can get more information on the photo. It comes from the collection of Eric Milton Nicholls, architectural partner to husband and wife architects Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin.

Down on this page, you’ll see that I put hyperlinks to all of the photographs that the Griffins took of Taliesin.

In addition to the changes Wright did at his living quarters, he extended Taliesin to the west, adding a root cellar and ice house in 1916, and, by 1924, another horse stable, and also chicken coops, a granary and a pigsty.3

If Taliesin II had stood longer, more photographs would exist of it.

Plus, the reason for less photographs is that Wright was out of the country for large chunks of time from the late 1910s to the early 1920s. He didn’t return to live full time in the United States until 1922, after he had finished most of his work on Japan’s Imperial Hotel. Then things went sort of “sideways” with his longtime partner, Miriam Noel.

Wright and Noel married in November 1923.

Noel lived with him about 5 or 6 months as his wife. She left by April or early May the next year.

My personal opinion is that those two seemed to bring out the worst in each other. You can read about her in Meryle Secrest’s Wright biography (don’t be afraid of its number of pages—someone told me to skip the first 100). Another book is Frank Lloyd Wright: A Biography, by Finis Farr.

Or you can read the fictionalized Miriam in The Women, by T.C. Boyle.

Wright met Olgivanna Milanoff about six months after Miriam left. Olgivanna, who married him in 1928, moved into Taliesin by January 1925.  On April 20 of that year another fire (probably because of bad wiring) struck Taliesin. It destroyed Taliesin’s living quarters. No one died, but Wright lost thousands of dollars worth of Japanese art bought. While he worked on rebuilding Taliesin, Noel found out about Olgivanna (now pregnant with her and Wright’s child). Miriam’s discovery resulted in more bad press and career problems (even before the stock market crashed in 1929).

            That’s the easy version of that story.  

Although, when you know where to look, you can find photographs online of Taliesin II.

I’d love to plaster this page with Taliesin II photos, but I think I’d get into trouble (copyrights and all that). So, I will show where you can find these images for the rest of my post.

Photographs of Taliesin II

There are a couple of places where can you find Taliesin II photographs in print:

By the way: if you get the “Global Architecture” book, or “Selected Houses v. 2”, trust me when I tell you that, while the cover of the books has a Wright-designed rug on the floor of the Taliesin living room, that rug was never there while he was alive.

Here are links to images on-line:

Eric Milton Nicholls Collection, National Library of Australia:

Nicholls worked in the office in Australia of architects Walter Burley Griffin and his wife, Marion Mahony Griffin.

The site shows seven photos taken on the Taliesin Estate: five show Taliesin II, one shows the dam and waterfall, and one shows the Hillside structure. Of these seven, the Griffins took some when they visited the U.S. in 1924-25 (like the photo I showed above). But one shows Taliesin II a little earlier: https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-150233395/view. It looks like it was taken around 1917, before the Griffins went to Australia.

Links to the five other photos:

If for some reason these URLs don’t work, go to the Library of Australia in the Nicholls Collection: https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-150140881

Go to Search and the Taliesin photographs are on Pages 821-840.

Here are other photographs, most at the Wisconsin Historical Society:

Exteriors

Interiors:

  • Taliesin II Dining Room:https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Image/IM83015
    • The design of the ceiling shows this to be Taliesin II, not Taliesin I. A Taliesin tour guide told me this years ago (hi, Bryan).
    • Aside from the ceiling another thing that shows this is Taliesin II is the design of the chair in the foreground. This “room” is not surrounded by four walls; so, the living room “starts” when the ceiling drops down.
  • Another Taliesin II Dining Room photo (from the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation website), https://franklloydwright.org/an-autobiography-in-wood-and-stone/1403-0038-dining-s/
    • It’s showing the same space as the first one above. Go back and forth between the two to see the differences.
  • Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin, sitting at a table near the window: https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Image/IM23788
    • He’s sitting in Taliesin’s living room, along the east wall, north of the photos of the dining “room” above. So if you were sitting where he was, and looked to your left you would see the dining area.
  • Frank Lloyd Wright at the Taliesin Drafting Studio, 1924: https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Image/IM27896
    • We know where he is because of the fireplace on the left hand side of the photograph. The photographer who took this photograph was probably standing in the space where all the drafting was done (which you see in the next photo).
    • One of the things I find silly about this photo is that Wright looks to me like he’s 4 feet tall.
  • Drafting Studio. https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Image/IM66179
    • The person closest to the photographer was Nobuko Tsuchiura, she was a draftsperson4 at Taliesin with her husband, Kameki, from the beginning of 1924 to the end of 1925.
  • Taliesin II Living Room:https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Image/IM83334
    • The TII living room is noted by the long rectangle at the fireplace.

First published on March 2, 2021

I don’t know who took the photograph of the Taliesin II living quarters that is at the top of this entry. I got a copy of it from someone who convinced someone else not to throw this out.


Notes:

1 Some say the words Taliesin I, Taliesin II, and Taliesin III shouldn’t be used. That using these numbers imply the building was completely destroyed twice with a new one built on top of the ruins. But the Taliesin fires only destroyed 1/3 of the building (but not its drafting studio or farm wings).

While I don’t commonly call the house that stands “Taliesin III”, I use those terms because Wright wrote them in his autobiography. Even if someone says he’s wrong, I’m not going to disagree with his choices because Taliesin was his house, and he was a lot smarter than I am or ever will be.

2 And, in a a moment of a snake-eating-its-own-tail thing, I first wrote the Wikipedia page about Hillside that I linked to. I’m using it here to back up my  assertion. I’ll try not to link back to this blog post if I update the Wikipedia page on how much work Wright did at the Hillside drafting studio.

3 He labelled it as a pigsty in a floor plan, but someone told me that Wright used it as a goat pen. Probably because even randy goats can smell better than pigs.

4 I asked people who’ve worked in architecture what term I should use to describe Nobuko Tsuchiura. I didn’t know if “draftsman” was proper, and “draftswoman” seemed odd. Someone suggested “draftshuman”, but I thought I should go with something that is more commonly used nowadays. “Draftsperson” was the most suggested so that’s why I put that here.

East facade, Taliesin I

What was on the menu the day they were murdered?

Looking (plan) northwest at Taliesin’s living quarters (the part of the building where the architect lived). On August 15, 1914, fire destroyed every part of the building you see in the photograph that’s not stone. 

On August 15, 1914, while Frank Lloyd Wright was working in Chicago, a servant named Julian Carlton – for reasons that will probably never be known – murdered seven of nine people at Wright’s Wisconsin home, Taliesin, while they were eating lunch. Six out of the seven were murdered with an axe. Before/ after/ or while he was doing that (we don’t know), Carlton set fire to Taliesin’s living quarters, pretty much destroying that part of the building down to the stone (that’s why one of the victims, David Lindblom, died from his burns). Among those murdered was Wright’s partner, Martha “Mamah” Borthwick (formerly Mrs. Edwin H. Cheney).

The 1914 fire was a historic detail until the book, Loving Frank

Aside from Frankophiles (fans of Wright’s), this horrible act was mostly unknown to people for decades. In part because it happened before the existence of radio and television. In addition, it’s unbelievable (“Wait – you’re telling me that there was a MASS MURDER at the house of the guy who designed Fallingwater?”). 

The murders were a strange, sad, fact until the August 2007 publication of Loving Frank, a novel of historical fiction by Nancy Horan. The book’s main character is Mamah Borthwick.

It was a huge hit: Loving Frank stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for 54 weeks.1

Curiosity about that day’s lunch came unexpectedly

One thing I didn’t anticipate with the book’s release was people calling us2 wanting to know what the victims were eating for lunch that day. Sometimes people called just wanting to know that day’s “menu”. And some wanted to know what soup was being served.

Soup? Could you explain that?

That question is because of the book, Death in a Prairie House: Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Murders, by William Drennan. It so happens that  Drennan’s book was published 5 months before Loving Frank. I think it would have faded into obscurity otherwise.

Drennan chose to write that Carlton served the victims soup before attacking them.

So – how to you know they didn’t eat soup?

I’ve read lots of newspaper accounts about the murders (over 75), but I’ve not found any proof that they were eating soup for lunch. And, aside from the fact that the victims were attacked at lunchtime, no one wrote what they were eating. And I doubt the reporters would have asked the two survivors (Herbert Fritz or William Weston).

Furthermore, let me tell you: southern Wisconsin can get very warm in the summer. Soup is kind of improbable. Drennan’s choice therefore led some of us at Taliesin Preservation to wonder if Carlton, or his wife, Gertrude (the cook), had perhaps served vichyssoise or gazpacho that afternoon.

Additionally, Taliesin wasn’t an upscale abode with a chef and butler. It was a house in the country:  Gertrude would not have had planned, printed menus.

Regardless:

Fritz (who escaped by jumping out a window), and Weston (who survived, but lost his son, Ernest) probably didn’t think or care about what was on the table since that day. It ended with horrific murders that were mostly done with an axe. If I sound intense, it happens when you think about seven people murdered, only one of whom died as the result of his burns, and three of whom were under the age of 14.

First published 8/9/2020.
Photograph at the top of this page was taken by Taylor Woolley, 1911-12. It shows the east facade of Taliesin. ID 695917. A larger version of this photograph is located through here at the Utah Historical Society.
The entire Taylor Woolley photograph collection is here. See this and other Woolley photographs in Ron McCrea’s book, Building Taliesin: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Home of Love and Loss.


1 By the way: people have asked me how “true” Loving Frank is. It’s remarkably accurate. The author definitely did her research. Obviously, the conversations that took place between Mamah and Frank are fiction, but many more things are backed up by research.

2 “us” being employees of Taliesin Preservation, in Wisconsin. Where I worked for half of my life before Covid.