Cover of Taliesin album. Image sent to Keiran Murphy in 2005.

The Album

This is a photograph of the cover of “The Album”. The image was sent to me by the person selling it through the online auction site, Ebay, in January 2005.

Since we’re in January, I’ll take the time to expand my story of “The Album” that I mentioned months ago in my entry, “Post-it Notes on Taliesin Drawings“.

The Album was how I knew that Wright had designed bunkbeds for his draftsmen. Two photographs in The Album showed the bunkbeds and later, I found a drawing of them in Wright’s archives. I marked it with a post-it note.

WHAT?! You’re putting Post-It notes on archival drawings?!
Calm down – read the post to get the story.

Finding out about The Album:

In January 2005, Carol Johnson (Taliesin Preservation’s then-Executive Director), met me after I’d just gotten out of my car for work and said,

“Tony told me there are photos of Taliesin on Ebay.”

“Tony” was Tony Puttnam (1934-2017), who became Wright’s apprentice in 1953.

The director knew they were really old and rare and sent me the website address for the Ebay auction so I could try to see them. Once I looked online, I recognized 2 of the 3 photographs shown by the seller.

Yes: these were really rare images in a handmade album (the cover of which is at the top of this page). Building details dated them to 1911-12.

I wrote to the seller, Helen Conwell, as someone who “might” buy them. I asked her to send me some of them.

Sounds sneaky, but I didn’t say anything fraudulent. My supervisor and I thought we might be able to get money for them, depending on what they were. We had dreams, you see.

Conwell sent me 28 scans (out of 33 images). I had seen 10 of them before this.

Where had I seen them?

See, in the early 1990s, when the Taliesin Preservation Commission—as the .org was known then—began the restoration of Taliesin, others tried to get this new organization up to speed. Architects, architectural historians,1 former Wright apprentices, and those in Wright’s archives at the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation gave “TPC” copies of photographs to enhance the knowledge of Taliesin’s history.

In particular, the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation gave copies of Taliesin I photographs from the “Clifford Evans collection” at the University of Utah.

Why Clifford Evans?

Here’s a rundown on Evans (1889-1973), an architect who donated his materials to the U of UT:

  • Evans was the architectural partner of a man named Taylor Woolley.
  • Taylor Woolley was a draftsman for Frank Lloyd Wright in Oak Park, Italy, and Taliesin.
  • Taylor Woolley gave some of his items to the Clifford Evans collection. Included were his photos taken during the first year of Taliesin, some of which are also in The Album.

I’ve already posted Woolley’s photographs on this blog. Here are some entries including them

  • The Woolley photos in Utah include 9 that The Album didn’t have.

I told people what I knew

The week The Album was up for auction and the whole Wright world was freaking (which I wrote in “Post-it Notes…”), I told people a version of what I just wrote above. It really didn’t do anything, but I felt the story had to get out there. Besides, I wasn’t the only person who knew these images were repeated elsewhere. There were those at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Archives; and a professor in Utah, named Peter Goss.2

Why were these important?

Previous to this album’s discovery, most Frankophiles knew the existence of about 60 photos of Taliesin I (1911-14). This album had 33 more images, 32 of which had never been published.

One had been published in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin and Taliesin West, by Wright scholar, Kathryn Smith.

Photos from The Album included several of Taliesin’s east façade, its carriage path in its first autumn, and almost 10 interiors, including Wright’s Drafting Studio.

One in the studio has workmen in front of its fireplace. The Wisconsin Historical Society says that they’re “maybe at Taliesin”. No: they’re actually at Taliesin. Trust me.

Nancy Horan wrote in her novel, Loving Frank, that these men were in the Living Room, but that’s wrong: the photo shows them in the Drafting Studio. I don’t blame her that she didn’t realize this was at the Drafting Studio fireplace. It took us a while to figure it out, too.

Note: when I write “us”, I usually mean “me”.

That’s not even mentioning the two photos with the bunkbeds.

Moreover,

The Album shows landscape photos all over what is now the Taliesin estate. There’s one of them, below, taken just south of Taliesin:

Looking south on the Taliesin estate with snow. Taliesin is behind the photographer.
Property Wisconsin Historical Society. Whi-29048

I went out later, trying to match the views. My attempt to do that is in color, below:

Looking south on the Taliesin estate in winter.

Photograph by me, March of 2005.

But, more importantly,

This album, showing the newly completed building, had a history that could be traced. In other words, it had a “provenance“. Someone from the Spring Green, Wisconsin area owned the album, then sold it to Conwell in the 1970s.

End of the auction:

Helen Conwell thought she would get about $200 for an album that sold for $22,100.

I wrote about it in “Post-it Notes…”, but you can also read here how Conwell got the album and how the Wisconsin Historical Society acquired it.

While the photographer was unknown in 2005, I knew it was likely Taylor Woolley. This was proven in 2010, when author Ron McCrea found Woolley’s collection at the Utah State Historical Society. He’s included in my post, “This Will Be a Nice Addition“.

So, that week was exciting.

And you can see all of the images online at the Wisconsin Historical Society website, here.

That said,

It’s been much too long since a big, unknown haul of Taliesin photographs has come to light. Seriously: we need new, old photos of Taliesin.

Now, there are photographs taken in the early 1940s by David or Priscilla Henken that were published in A Taliesin Diary: A Year With Frank Lloyd Wright.

But that was published almost a decade ago. Yet, I still have hopes that children of those who were in the Taliesin Fellowship in the 1950s will discover photographs their moms or dads took while apprentices at Taliesin.

What do I want to see?

Off the top of my head, I’d like detailed photographs of Olgivanna Lloyd Wright‘s bedroom taken in 1957-58. That’s a pipe dream, but what you see in her bedroom today was restored and worked on with as much information as possible. But it’s probably not the room as it stood. We do what we can.

“If we knew what we were doing, we wouldn’t call it research, would we?”

A quote often ascribed to Albert Einstein that he apparently never said/wrote. Read someone writing on how it doesn’t appear to have come from Einstein.

First published, January 20, 2022.
The scans of The Album’s cover, and the exterior photograph taken in the winter were sent to me by Conwell in 2005.
They are the property of the Wisconsin Historical Society, and can be found here and here.


Notes:

1. Like Sidney K. Robinson, who owns the Ford House by architect, Bruce Goff.

2. Goss wrote about Woolley in the article, “Taylor A. Woolley, Utah Architect and Draftsman to Frank Lloyd Wright,” Utah Historical Quarterly (2013) 81 (2): 149–158.
https://doi.org/10.2307/45063406

Looking west in Taliesin's Garden Room. Photograph by Keiran Murphy.

Physical Taliesin history

Looking (plan) west in Taliesin’s Garden Room. Everything you see in the room (except for the plant and thermometer) was designed or owned by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Wright, re-use

I thought about this yesterday when seeing a link to a video through Taliesin Preservation’s Facebook page. Their link went to a video put up by the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation (the Taliesin Estate owner) a couple of years ago. The video was about Frank Lloyd Wright and recycling. In the piece, two staff members from the Foundation sit in Taliesin’s living room talking about Wright’s reuse of materials at his home.

My post today will be about another time I noticed that Wright reused materials at Taliesin.

Now, one of the things staff from the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation points out is a music chair of Wright’s design in Taliesin’s living room. The sign was plywood, and Wright used this and other signs in his buildings to go along with his models.

And, if you take a tour at Taliesin (tours start on the weekends in April), you see there’s this chair with a cushion tipped up, showing that the seat of the music chair is made from scrap from an old sign. I put a photograph below of a sign, that I took from one of my old magazines.

At the time the magazine was published (Architectural Forum in 1938), people took tours given by Wright’s architectural apprentices. The photograph below shows one of the rooms people went through, with signs and some models.

By the way: you still go through this room on Taliesin tours. It’s in the Hillside building and you see it on Taliesin’s Estate tour and the Highlights tour.

The font on the sign in the background above, that says “A New Freedom”, is the same font as that on the chair:

Photograph by Roy Peterson from p. 18 of the January 1938 Architectural Forum magazine issue devoted to Wright.Photographer: Roy Peterson.
1938 Architectural Forum magazine, January 1938, volume 68, number 1, 18.

Getting back to what I thought of:

That talk (between Ryan and Jeff) from the Foundation reminded me about something else that was reused inside Taliesin. I found it while cleaning the furniture before tours.

Prepping for tours:

See, back in the olden days, before the start of every tour season, staff from Taliesin tours would clean and arrange everything at Hillside and Taliesin. In addition to the buildings not being used on tours for 6 months, the tour space of both buildings (except for Wright’s drafting studio at Taliesin) were not heated.

It’s not that Wright didn’t know enough not to heat his Wisconsin buildings —

I wrote about that in the post, “Did Wright Ever Live in Wisconsin in the winter?

no: these tour spaces weren’t heated because the mechanical systems had broken down after decades of use.

As a result of no building heat,

after the end of the tour season (on Halloween at that time), everything had to be broken down (or rolled up), stored, or moved. Then, before the beginning of the tour season (May 1 at that time) everything was cleaned and moved back. “Opening” took place in April.

Since the Taliesin tour space is now heated, tours go through the Taliesin residence on the weekends in November and April before completely shutting down (Wisconsin winters, you know).

“Closing” took 3 days or so. Opening the buildings took longer. That’s because everything (furniture, floors, doors, windows, and all horizontal surfaces) had to be washed by hand.

Oh yes: I killed a lot of spiders during my years of Opening the House. I apologized to them while squishing them and hope I don’t have to pay for that in my next life.

This work was done in spaces that, in April, were in the low 50sF (about 10-16C). Sounds pleasant, but not when the air, windows, and walls have soaked up the winter cold, and you’re sitting on stone floors that are colder than 50F.

Sometimes on nice days in mid-April, we’d open up the windows and doors to bring in warmer air.

Back to cleaning:

One April day, I was cleaning in a room known as the Garden Room. The Garden Room is in the photograph at the top of this post.

The Garden Room was initially added in 1943 and expanded 1950-52. A drawing of the room shows which part I’m talking about. It’s drawing #2501.051 (the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives; Museum of Modern Art | the Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York).

A drawing:

I’ve taken a crop of the drawing and wrote where in the room I was cleaning:

Drawing 2501.051 cropped. The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (the Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architecturel & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York).

The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives #2501.051. Note that this drawing has been cropped.

I was lying on the stone floor cleaning the underside of the bookshelves, which I pointed to in the drawing above. The photograph at the top of this page shows the shelf that I was lying under.

While was working, I saw this dark mark on the underside of the shelf.

What I saw:

I don’t have a photograph, but my illustration below is basically a drawing of the shape I saw:

It took me a moment or two to realize what it was. I was seeing a burn mark from an iron. Someone had been ironing, put the iron down, got distracted and left this mark. Later on, the piece of wood was turned over and re-used as the bookshelf.

The “sad” iron

Writing this post made me look up information on irons.1 It appears that, given the solid dark color, that this was from a “sad” iron. The “sad” iron was the solid metal iron that wasn’t plugged in (“sad” is Old English for “solid”).

According to what I read online, irons have been around for millennia and they started to become electrified in the 19th century. And, while the “first electric iron was invented in 1882”, for decades,

… most regions of the United States didn’t have electricity, and those that did, only had it only at night for lighting. Earl Richardson in Ontario, Canada, was the first to convince the local electric company to run electricity on Tuesday, ironing day. However, a good number of women, particularly in rural areas that were late getting electricity, held onto their sad irons well into the 1950s.

https://www.collectorsweekly.com/tools-and-hardware/sad-and-flat-irons

Given how Taliesin, by the early 1950s, was no longer getting electricity from the Taliesin dam,2 electricity still might have been spotty. So it’s possible that members of the Taliesin Fellowship had the older type of iron on hand for consistent use in ironing. Or maybe the burn mark happened decades earlier, and this was a piece of wood that had been saved for any future need.

As a note:

I hope you enjoy yourself if you ever take a tour at Taliesin. However, please do NOT get on the floor on your hands and knees looking for the burn mark from the iron. It’s on the underside of the shelf and, aside from alarming everyone around you, you’ll have to get back up off the ground, without leaning on any of the original Frank Lloyd Wright-designed furniture in the room.

Originally posted, December 4, 2021.
I took this photograph at the top of the post on May 26, 2006.


1 I should try to remember all the things I’ve learned while working around Taliesin. The “sad” iron is one of them. I’ve also learned what the Wisconsin state bird is (the Robin, natch); about the flooding of the Seine River in Paris in 1910 (written about by Wright in his autobiography); the history of Unitarian Universalism (the religion of Wright’s Welsh family); and what “Sloyd” is (his aunts used it in their Hillside Home School).

And that’s just off the top of my head.

2 Not that electricity from Taliesin’s hydroelectric plant at the dam was good or consistent. Lights went out a lot, and apparently if someone ran the saw on the western end of the building, the lights would flicker in Taliesin’s living quarters on the opposite end of the building, over 300 feet away.