Looking outside in the summer the dissected boiler from Taliesin's Living Quarters.

Blue smoke at Taliesin

A photograph I took in 2007 while the Preservation Crew removed the boiler from Taliesin’s living quarters. Taliesin’s living room is one floor up and to the right.

Didn’t I write in here about the time there was blue smoke inside Taliesin’s Living Quarters one fall day in 1995?

[searches this blog for the words “blue” and “smoke”, but to no avail.]

I don’t mean blue smoke like decorative smoke that’s supposed to go along with cartoon Taliesin smurfs.1 No: this blue smoke filled the living quarters one day after the heat was turned on.

So, while I don’t know the details, this post is going to be about the new heating system that was installed at Taliesin. Because it’s the first weekend of September and I remember the fact that it’s going to get cold again.  

As I recall,

it happened one day in the autumn of 1995. I arrived at Taliesin’s front door with my House Tour guests and was greeted by the House Steward. She told us it might be a little chilly because they’d turned off the heat. That was because blue smoke filled the house after they turned it on that morning.

I checked online to find out what “blue smoke” coming from a heating system means. “Just Answer” told me the smoke was from an “accumulation of dust that can cause fumes.” I read that and went, “Well, sh*t – if that’s all it was, we should have just kept using the heater.”and right there is why it’s best for Taliesin that I stayed in research and writing instead of MAKING MATERIAL DECISIONS ON FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT’S HOME.

Following the blue smoke

the Preservation Crew investigated the system. While there wasn’t a sign of imminent catastrophe, they concluded that the presence of smoke and fumes was not a matter of just getting a new “panel” and fixing things easily.

I don’t know the age of the former radiators that comprised the heating system at Taliesin’s Living Quarters, but they were old.2 Maybe they didn’t date to Frank Lloyd Wright’s lifetime (he died in 1959), but, since I’m talking about Taliesin in the mid-1990s? Possibly.

Therefore,

Preservation turned off the heat inside Taliesin’s living quarters. They understood that the heat could not be turned on again until many problems were solved,

like, what I wrote about in “A Slice of Taliesin” is only a small part

and an appropriate system was researched, prepared, and acquired.

In fact, they didn’t even remove the old boiler until things veered closer to getting heat in the building.

That happened in 2007.

That’s when I took the photograph of the dismantled boiler at the top of this post.

Just so you know: NO, the boiler that was removed was not “the boiler” where Julian Carlton hid in 1914 – what the hell are you thinking?

Following this,

the only way the Taliesin Living Quarters were heated was through little space heaters placed in the rooms.

Hence, part of the reason that I’m still attuned to the question, “Did Wright ever live in Wisconsin the winter?
Wright had radiators from the beginning. Yet, people didn’t usually see them because the little heaters drew their attention.

Obviously, the space heaters were only plugged in/turned on when tours were going on. Which saved money and ensured that Taliesin House Stewards could monitor the devices.

Man,

I felt for the House Stewards and the tour guides when the weather was cold. I didn’t have to go to the house every day, since I hadn’t worked full-time in the tour program since 2002. But it was hard to talk about Wright’s genius in his house with little electric heaters. Although, while they didn’t make the space nice and toasty, they gave the “aura” of heat. The sense that, “Well, we’re doing the best we can.”

And so,

since Taliesin’s living quarters didn’t have heat until 2014, the building was shut down after October 31.3 In order to prepare for the winter, the tour staff moved the artifacts, rugs, and furniture into separate areas. The work by the tour staff took several days in November, and two weeks in the spring.

I mentioned “House opening” in my post, “Physical Taliesin history“.

Here’s a hint on what Taliesin’s Living Room looked like when it was almost set:

Looking (plan) northwest in Taliesin’s Living Room. Taken by me on the first day of House opening in 2006.

I confess that seeing this photograph squeezes my heart. Not in a good way. Man, I hated House opening.

Honestly,

I sometimes doubted that I’d ever see heat in Taliesin again. Not that the folks in Preservation weren’t making lists and slowly going through improvements, but I had worked there so long while things changed incrementally, and tour guides/staff still gave tours when outside temps were 40F (4.45C) the night before.

I felt like, “You don’t care about us!!!”

A panel from Calvin and Hobbes of Calvin laughing and pointing at his friend/rival, Susie

My alteration of a panel in a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon detailing how I felt while opening Taliesin in the spring following the removal of the boiler in Taliesin’s living quarters.

so.

I just realized

that the managers in the Preservation Crew were speaking like the pilot on your airplane while you’re waiting to take off. You get into your seat and they tell you you’ll be leaving shortly. Then sometimes you seem to sit there interminably on the “apron” before moving. But the pilot always has a positive attitude, telling you that you will be on your way in just a moment. Even when you aren’t. I guess with the Preservation at Taliesin, the crew did enough work (over 20 years) to remove the airplane chocks, then get onto the taxiway for takeoff.

You can get some more understanding by looking at a Preservation Report first loaded onto Taliesin Preservation‘s website in 2011.

Altho,

I just looked at the Wayback machine,4 and they don’t have the Preservation Report. Here, you can have my copy of the issue I’m thinking of.

p.s.: these were written by Ryan Hewson. He works for the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation as the Preservation Director of Taliesin (Wisconsin). He had me proofread these, which I why I had an electronic copy.

The installation of the geo-thermal system at Taliesin was summarized here. And here’s an “after” photograph from the boiler room:

If that geothermal system seems familiar, it’s because I mentioned it in, “Why Did You Have to do That, Mr. Wright?!

To reiterate:

  • As I remember it, the heat was turned off in 1995,
  • The radiator was removed in 2007,
  • The geo-thermal heating system was fully installed and switched on in 2014.5

First published September 4, 2022.

 


Notes:

1 Yes, I did just spend time imagining Taliesin Blue Smurfs: Smurfs with canes, porkpie hats and capes. Did you?

2 Here’s information for those working in Preservation on the Taliesin estate: the large hole in the Hillside Theatre foyer is NOT a drain for water.

Since almost no guides were around when hot air used to come out of the vent, I’ve heard many “newer” guides (I mean, those who came after 1997) wonder out loud if that was for water.

That hole used to be a hot air vent. It worked when I first gave tours. You would walk in on a chilly day in September or October, and hot air came out of that hole. I think it helped people emotionally to know that Wright tried to make the space warm. I mean, it’s all stone and has no insulation.

3 While the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation is working on Wright’s Hillside Theater, there’s still no heat inside most of the rest of the Hillside School building.

4 Here’s my post about the Wayback Machine.

5 It wouldn’t have made sense to move things ahead of time, since Preservation was just going to have to do a bunch of work later.

Screen grab of actress, Bonnie Hunt as a tour guide walking with a group through the White House.

“Well, the guide told me….”

Screen-grab of actress Bonnie Hunt in the 1993 movie, Dave. The scene shows Hunt as a White House tour guide with a group going through the “People’s House” [the White House]. I guarantee most of you, tour guide or not, have this going through your head right now: “We’re walking… we’re walking….

In this post, I’ll write some of what people on tours told me, or other guide staff, during the almost-25 years that I worked at Taliesin Preservation.

In addition to being the Taliesin historian, I gave tours every season from 1994-2019 (except for the 2004 season and most of the 2014 season).

Giving tours exposes you to many things. In this case, visitors on tours told me things about architect Frank Lloyd Wright, his buildings, his personality, the murders at his house, etc.

In a way, that’s the beauty of it: you come into contact with so many different people and you’re all on a journey that lasts 1 to 4 hours. You’re all experiencing the same space at the same time and are interacting with each other. Even if they aren’t looking at—or listening to—each other.

Fortunately, though, I never expected people on tours to listen to me like I was a drill sergeant. So I didn’t take it personally if people on tour weren’t looking at me. I usually only asked them to keep their voices down if they were interrupting others on the tour.

That’s because I knew people were coming with their own backgrounds. Some loved Frank Lloyd Wright since they were 7 years old, and were now in their 70s.

On the other hand,

others might not know anything. Maybe they were on tour because their partners, children, or friends brought them. Maybe they were driving to The House on the Rock and thought they’d stop in….

Although, honestly, I really felt for the husbands who came on the Loving Frank Tour.

The book, Loving Frank, really appealed to women, and – at least from my perspective – the men on those tours mostly seemed to be the husbands/partners/boyfriends/friends of those women who had read, and loved, the book.

My job on those tours was walking the group around and describing what was there in 1911. Then I brought them to Taliesin’s Living Room and another guide (Margaret) did a book reading.

There were moments I had with the husbands/male partners at the end of those tours. I usually asked if they were there because their wives wanted the tour.

They all answered yes.

I’d often give a small nod and said that I hoped they were having a good time.

Yet,

sometimes the guests had preconceptions. Hopefully, if those preconceptions were, well, on the wrong side, the guests didn’t argue on the facts. And I think I tried to be nice when there were some real zingers out there, but I honestly can’t be sure.

That’s because guides, for the most part, are on their own with guests.

And while I thought I was pretty nice, those are only my memories and interpretations. Perhaps someone on the tours thought I answered things like a b****y a-hole.

As an example,

This one time I thought that I made a joke with a group. They were being slow and I said that,

Boy you folks are harder to move than 2nd grade school teachers.

yeah, that wasn’t a great line, but this is live, folks!

I said that because a week or two before this I was trying to move a group of women and one said,

Oh, I know it’s hard to move us. We’re all 2nd grade school teachers!

Apparently, this other group took what I said as an insult. Fortunately I didn’t have to handwrite an apology to them.

No: I never heard of any tour guide having to handwrite apologies to tour guests.

But on the other hand,

no one complained the year I was going through a really painful time when I know I was bitchy for at least half of that season.

I’d ended a relationship before the season started and was not in the best of moods.
I liked giving tours b/c they got me away from the pain for a while, but I was constantly on the verge of bursting into tears.

There were sometimes, though….

When things like this happened:

“My guide told me at [another Wright site]

“The back of Wright’s chairs were so tall because he didn’t want people to look at the back of his head.”

“He had a room at Taliesin for both his wife and his mistress.” 

“He designed uncomfortable furniture because he didn’t want people sitting too long.”

Or:

“It’s basically accepted that Wright was responsible for Mamah’s death, right?”

“Did Frank Lloyd Wright do a painting for Guggenheim or something?”

“Oh, I know that you guides all have some ‘script’ that you have to follow, but…?”

“No – he killed them all.”

“I heard that Joseph Stalin’s daughter is a bag lady living in London.”

OK: I’ve got to unpack that last one there:

Joseph Stalin’s daughter—Svetlana Alliluyeva—lived at Taliesin for a few years in the early 1970s.

She came into the Taliesin universe in 19701 when she was invited to Taliesin West by Wright’s widow, Olgivanna Lloyd Wright.

Svetlana married William Wesley Peters soon afterward. Peters was the former son-in-law of Olgivanna and Frank Lloyd Wright. He had married their daughter, Svetlana (who died in a car accident in 1946).

Now, while marrying two women named Svetlana is probably not wildly unusual for people living in the former Soviet Union, it’s rather odd for people in the United States. 

Which is why

some people conflate all of the facts about Svetlana, and hear about Taliesin, and think that Frank Lloyd Wright married Stalin’s daughter.

After all,

some people think that Frank Lloyd Wright killed his second wife.

Back to the bag lady comment:

We were at the end of our tour and driving up to the Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor Center. I asked those on the bus if they had any other questions. And one woman said,

“I heard that Joseph Stalin’s daughter is a bag lady living in London.”

As it so happens

At that time, I was renting my apartment from Svetlana’s daughter. She lived on the ground floor with her mother, and I lived on the second floor.

So, my I answer to “I heard Joseph Stalin’s daughter…” was

“No. Joseph Stalin’s daughter is not a bag lady living in London.”

The woman on the bus replied, “Well, I read it in the newspaper.”

And I believe I replied, more or less that,

“No. Believe me: she lives nearby, I’ve seen her, and had tea with her in her apartment last week.”

And, happily, this happened to be true!2

Originally published August 5, 2022.
The screenshot at the top of this post if from the movie, Dave, from Warner Brothers. I am not posting this to make money off of the movie, or any of its stars.


Note:

1 Thanks, again, to the Administrator of Historic Studies at the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, who gave me the correct year on Alliluyeva’s first visit. She has also helped me here, here, and I’m sure elsewhere if you search this blog.

2 I know this is true because I don’t usually drink tea and and I felt pretty good about having tea with her. 

Updated:

In the theme of “well, the guide told me…,” after I posted this, I read on a Wright page on Facebook that someone heard a Taliesin tour guide tell people that the Guest Bedroom of Taliesin housed Eleanor Roosevelt and Elizabeth Taylor (on separate occasions, of course). I posted as calmly as I could that, um, NO.

Those two women never stayed there.

That this was a case of

“the telephone game of tour guiding”

[I should copyright that term]

I’ll show you why I call it that:

Lady Bird Johnson, then First Lady of the United States, was invited to Taliesin. It was during her whirlwind “Crossroads USA tour“. Olgivanna Lloyd Wright invited her, but the Crossroads USA tour went so quickly (7 states in 4 days), that she didn’t stay at Taliesin overnight. So, one First Lady got confused with another First Lady.

In addition,

movie producer Mike Todd and then-girlfriend (later wife), actress Joan Blondell stayed at Taliesin in the late 1940s.

Todd later married Elizabeth Taylor. SO: Todd coming to Taliesin + (later-)wife = Todd’s later wife, Elizabeth Taylor, actually coming to Taliesin.

whew. Now everything will be fine and no one will ever get anything wrong on tours again.

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.