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.

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

Taliesin West inspiration

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

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

Expanded?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not until that recent night.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See? Pool—Steps—Hills

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

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

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

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

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

You see Tan-y-deri,

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

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

Photo by Janet Caligiuri Brach. Used with permission.

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

Oh, and before I go:

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

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

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

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

Taken by Keiran Murphy on May 17, 2005.

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

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


Notes:

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

Reading Correspondence, 2021

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

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

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

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

Architectural Driving Tour

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

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

So I made an appointment

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

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

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

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

As well as the Getty Research Center in Los Angeles.

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

In other words,

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

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

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

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

The greatest find:

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

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

Or possibly,

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

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

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

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

Here’s a crop from the drawing, below:

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

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

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

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

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

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


1 November 8, 1920.

Top photograph: Taliesin in Wisconsin, with snow. Bottom photograph: Taliesin West board room.

Taliesin is in Wisconsin

The photograph with snow was taken in one of the courtyards of Taliesin, in Wisconsin.
The photograph below it shows a portion of Taliesin West in Arizona.

In my post last week I wrote about how sometimes people think that Taliesin is not Frank Lloyd Wright’s home, but is actually the House on the Rock, a house which is a Wisconsin attraction that sits seven miles away.

Well, and other things can get confused in relation to Taliesin. Why is that?

That’s because there’s another Taliesin.

Well, when I say “another Taliesin”, it’s not like there’s another building that looks just like Taliesin sitting out in a temperate, hilly landscape (like Taliesin in Wisconsin). I mean that there’s a structure with the name “Taliesin”. That’s Wright’s winter home, Taliesin West, in Arizona.

In fact I wrote about Taliesin West a while ago, in my piece, “Did Wright Ever Live in Wisconsin in the Winter?”

Now, those of you who are Wright fans are completely, comfortably aware of the differences between the two sites. But those of you who are here just because of me

First of all: Thanks!

might not know this.

So, the two Taliesins:

One is in the Midwest, Wisconsin; and one is in Arizona (Scottsdale, actually). Wright called the one in the Midwest “Taliesin”, “Taliesin North:, or “Taliesin of the North”. On the other hand, the structure in Arizona, during its early years (in the 1930s and ’40s), was sometimes called “the Camp”. However, ultimately, Wright named it Taliesin West.

Now, you look at the photographs at the top of this post (showing parts of the two Taliesins), you can see they look very different from each other.

That’s because Taliesin West was made to be lived in during the winter in the desert. And, while it has his living quarters, and a drafting studio, kitchen, etc., it has thick concrete walls (to soak in the heat during the day). You can see part of it in the photo below:

Portion of the concrete and "desert masonry" vault at Taliesin West.

The grey is all concrete, with the flat part of the local stones placed against the outside so that they face out. This way of working with the concrete, invented by Wright for Taliesin West, is called “desert masonry”.
I took this photograph in 2007.

Wright’s apprentices in the Taliesin Fellowship (most of them unskilled) could build the structure fairly easily. And, since it was usually sunny and warm in the desert, the building had a lot of canvas roofs. So, despite the dust (which happens a lot) or rain (which happens a lot at times of the year), Wright didn’t put windows onto the building until the mid-1940s.1

As a result of these things (thick concrete walls, canvas roofs, no window glass), Taliesin West was originally like a desert camp.

Yet, the two Taliesins can still cause confusion:

Taliesin West, in ways, has become more well known than Wright’s Wisconsin home. I think that’s because it is close to the larger population of California. Besides, Wright started it when he was reaching the busiest part of his career. By the late 1930s, he had built Fallingwater in Pennsylvania, and made the cover of Time Magazine.

So, as a result of the confusion, there were times (when I worked at Taliesin) in which staff at Taliesin in Wisconsin would receive phone calls—from staff at Taliesin West—in which someone bought a tour ticket online or over the phone, for Taliesin. But thought they were taking a tour at Taliesin West.

Therefore, while they would show up in Arizona. Simultaneously, tour staff in Wisconsin waited for the person to show up for their reserved tour.

Reminds me of one time when I went to the Grand Canyon. I had my book and kept telling my driving partner that we’d be able to get there, no problem; that (even in January) that the roads were open. Well, they are: to the south rim of the Grand Canyon. Not to the north rim of the Grand Canyon. I didn’t realize this until we stopped at the chain link fence on the road that said that NO: the road to the north rim is closed for the winter.

I looked down at the book and—right there—it said the same thing.

Obviously, I had seen what I wanted to see.

Regardless, to help stop the confusion at Taliesin, the staff taking tour reservations in Wisconsin came up with a plan. They answered the phones with

“Taliesin tours in Wisconsin…”

This really cut down on those calls from Arizona.

However, it still didn’t always work, as it turned out in something that happened with me.

Now, I sometimes spoke to members of the press as the historian, and had done presentations. Sometimes I spoke about our tours, or gave presentations on Taliesin’s history, or talked about how we reacted to the book Loving Frank being released, or to the events on Taliesin’s 100th anniversary.

The bread and butter stuff.

But, there was this one time:

I was scheduled for an interview in September 2012. The interview would be put on audio tape and broadcast later. The interviewer called a few days ahead of time to confirm the basic information, etc.

She and I were closing up this prep phone call, and she mentioned how glad she was that we could schedule this. Because, “Well, I’m going to be out in Scottsdale for a wedding anyway, so scheduling this seemed perfect….”

I said,

“I’m sorry – did you say Scottsdale?”

….

Once we established that she expected to do the interview in Arizona, I had to tell her that, no, we were in Wisconsin. I believe I asked her if she had heard the tour staff answer the phone with “Taliesin tours in Wisconsin…” She kept hearing us say that, but apparently didn’t take that in. Therefore, for the entire time, she thought she was arranging to come to Taliesin West, in Scottsdale, Arizona.

I gave her what information I could. Hopefully she did ok, because I didn’t have the media person at Taliesin West on speed dial.

In Conclusion:

While writing this post, I looked for what I remembered about the Taliesin Preservation website at that time on the Wayback Machine (remember I wrote about that a few weeks ago). With this handy tool, I searched for an archived version of Taliesin Preservation‘s website.  When I compared the archived website pages from August 2012, to October, 2012, I saw that, by October, the words “Spring Green, WI” have been added to the header of every page of the site.

Here’s the page from then:

Screengrab of Taliesin Preservation home page in October 2012, saying "Taliesin Spring Green, WI"

I don’t know if this eliminated the problem, but there comes the point where you do everything you can.

Posted November 8, 2021.

I took the two images at the top of this post. The top photograph shows part of Taliesin in Wisconsin. I took the photograph in January.
The photograph below it is a part of Taliesin West in Arizona. I took that photograph in February.

I took the photograph of Taliesin West in the middle of this post in 2007. That was the trip I took when I realized that going to Arizona in July isn’t really worth what you save.


1 “mid-1940s”: a transcribed letter shows the glass came in 1945. On March 1 of that year, Frank Lloyd Wright’s wife, Olgivanna Lloyd Wright, sent a letter to “Jack” Howe’s mother (Jack was John H. Howe, in the Taliesin Fellowship). In the letter, she writes that “today or tomorrow, the glass is coming!”

Thanks to the Administrator of Historic Studies at the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation for this information.

The Home Page of The Wayback Machine Home Page from Archive.org

Behold: The Wayback Machine

The image above is a screenshot from the home page of “The Wayback Machine“, which is explained below.

Here’s part of the explanation of The Wayback machine in Wikipedia:

The Wayback Machine is a digital archive of the World Wide Web. It was founded by the Internet Archive, a nonprofit library based in San Francisco, California. Created in 1996 and launched to the public in 2001, it allows the user to go “back in time” and see how websites looked in the past. Its founders, Brewster Kahle and Bruce Gilliat, developed the Wayback Machine to provide “universal access to all knowledge” by preserving archived copies of defunct web pages.

Since its creation in 1996, over 603 billion pages have been added to the archive….

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wayback_Machine

If you’ve never heard of the Wayback Machine on the Internet, you may have come across the phrase from the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show on television, starting in the 1960s (I watched it on Saturday-morning-cartoons). The Rocky and Bullwinkle show had a short cartoon, “Mr. Peabody’s Improbable History”, which featured a Time Machine known as The Wayback Machine.

Mr. Peabody, a talking, genius dog, is the grownup, taking care of a young boy named Sherman. They use the Wayback Machine to go back in time to correct history. Here’s the intro on Youtube:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6V7M4AfTOrw

Luckily I only wasted about 20 minutes finding, then watching, the intro and an episode of “Mr. Peabody’s Improbable History”.

Nice. You gonna tell us why you’re talking about this today, Keiran?

Yes. Glad you asked.

The Wayback Machine popped into my head because I was thinking about what to post today and remembered a photo I had previously seen on the Internet.

When I post, I look for photos that copyright rules let me show you all. I thought of this great Taliesin exterior that I got off the internet almost 15 years ago. I got the URL, but couldn’t find the image today.

So I went to The Wayback Machine. I put the URL into their archive, and the photo below came up:

Taken from the Hill Crown of Taliesin, looking (true) east at Taliesin’s living quarters. The unknown photographer apparently took this in the spring, based on the green leaves seen on the oak tree on the left hand side of the photograph. Architectural details indicate they took the photo in the 1950s, before Frank Lloyd Wright’s death.

When I found it, I said, “Behold: The Wayback Machine”

Said, most likely, in stentorian tones and accompanied (again, most likely), by a sweep of my arm.

Immediately after this, I thought I should write about this site as well as this on-line image.

Here’s the image through the Wayback Machine:

https://web.archive.org/web/20060127201224/http://studentwebs.coloradocollege.edu/~j_buscaglia/Images/897072.jpg

You see the name “j_buscaglia” in the location information for the image. I have attempted to locate “Buscaglia”, the person who had uploaded this image when they were, perhaps, learning HTML coding, etc. as a student. Years ago I found an email address for them at Colorado College and wrote them, but they never replied. Moreover, I never found information about the web page or anything else. So this is perhaps an “orphaned” image.

Things I find interesting in the photo:

You can see details to the right of the pine tree (detail, below).

A cropped view of the Garden Room

These are the west and south walls of “the Garden Room” in Taliesin’s living quarters. The south wall of the Garden Room has beige/yellow stucco, to the right of the French doors. Next to it is a tree trunk, followed by a limestone pier. The pier supports the edge of the balcony. The beige stucco attracted my eye, because there aren’t many photographs of that wall with stucco.

Before 1959, that wall often had tar paper (as waterproofing)

Look here for another photo of that wall with tar paper. This photo comes from the website of Pedro E. Guerrero, Wright’s photographer.

I don’t know why it took so long before Wright covered the tar paper. Although, in truth, the Guerrero photographs of Taliesin come from 1952-53. While Guerrero took many photographs of Wright and the two Taliesins, he worked on retainer. Wright would send the photographer all over the United States to photograph the architect’s newly constructed buildings. As a result, he could rarely visit just to photograph Taliesin.

If you were to go to Taliesin on a tour today, you would see that this wall has, not tar paper, but a stone veneer (here’s a photo of it). That veneer was applied by a member of the Taliesin Fellowship, Stephen Nemtin. He joined the Fellowship as an apprentice after Wright’s death and was asked to do this by Olgivanna Lloyd Wright, the architect’s widow.

I don’t know why the Fellowship veneered the stucco with stone. Maybe the stucco got too wet in the rain, ice, and snow.

Here’s the detail from that color photo again:

A cropped view of the Garden Room

The photo has a white, almost-vertical line underneath the balcony. That line is the trunk from a birch tree that used to grow there. That tree was originally one of a pair. The photograph below shows those two trees. I took this photo from my copy of the book, Wisconsin: A Guide to the Badger State, printed in 1941 as part of The American Guide Series:

Looking from Taliesin's Hill Crown to its living quarters, 1937-1943.

Photograph looking (true) east from Taliesin’s Hill Crown towards its Living Quarters. The birch trees are in the center of the photograph. The roof on the left was later over the Garden Room.

Finding my version of the image:

This book was part of the Federal Writers’ Project. It was a project of the Work Projects Administration in the state of Wisconsin and was sponsored by the Wisconsin Library Association. I took this image from the book, in its photographs between pages 310-311.

The Wisconsin Historical Society has the original image, on-line here.

I found this image, and the book, during another on-line photo-searching project of mine one Friday.1 After finding out about this photograph, and the book in which it was published, I bought the book via abebooks.com.

The book has, among other things, descriptions of driving tours one could take at that time around Wisconsin. The “Madison to Richland Center” drive is “Tour 20”. The book’s write-up gives a brief history of Taliesin, as well as telling you that you can take a tour at Taliesin (really, the Hillside Home School) for $1. In addition it tells you that you could take in a “moving picture, Sun. 3 p.m., included in tour fee; otherwise 50¢ per person.

The birch trees grew there over 15 years, but Wright’s expansion of the room above killed them: the new construction meant that the trees now grew through an interior room. Perhaps he did this just because he wanted to see the effect (and not worry about killing them). In fact, this was not the first time Wright’s expansion of his home killed a tree: his expansion at his first home and studio in Oak Park, Illinois, resulted in the death of a Willow tree.

I hadn’t planned it, but it seems that we stepped into an example of what Bertrand Goldberg characterized as “romantic kitsch” at Taliesin (relayed in my post of May 17, 2021).

Originally published on September 9, 2021.


Notes:

1 I wrote in early December, 2020 about some of my photo searching.

Some ouroboros for you:

Shortly after I posted this, the Internet Archive recently sent me a link to a 2:04 min. video from 1996, in which the Internet Archive staff explained the newly-created Wayback Machine.

Photograph by Kevin Dodda of Taliesin in snow.

How did Frank Lloyd Wright feel about Christmas?

Someone asked me that question in early December. Yet, I’ve tried to answer it, with no clear success, for years. After all, Wisconsin can be charmingly Christmas-Themed, with a dusting of snow and a chill in the air.* In addition, in his autobiography, Wright described Taliesin in winter as being a “frosted palace roofed and walled with snow”. But, he didn’t seem especially fond of Christmas, particularly in the first years after he built his Wisconsin home in 1911.

Wright talking about Christmas

In 1924, when Wright had a new love in his life, his future wife, Olgivanna, he wrote her a letter saying that Christmas reminded him of his children he had left in Oak Park, IL in 1909. His letter to her is in The Life of Olgivanna Lloyd Wright, 234.

However, less than a decade after they met, the Wrights began the Taliesin Fellowship, and eventually Wright would leave Wisconsin in the winter, spending that time with his family and apprentices at Taliesin West in Arizona. Thus, Christmas became an activity enjoyed by the group in the desert. To read about their Christmases, read The Life of Olgivanna Lloyd Wright.

Wright’s Christmas-card moments

He did have plenty of these in the 1890s/early 1900s with the family in Oak Park. They were described aplenty in the book written by Wright’s second son, John. In John’s the book, My Father, Frank Lloyd Wright (first published in 1946 under the amusing title, My Father, Who is on Earth), he wrote about growing up in Oak Park, and later working with his father. These memories also include how he felt about his dad as a father; the day of Taliesin’s 1914 fire; and the day his dad fired him! It’s unique and you should pick it up.

John wrote memories involving Christmas while growing up. One of these is of a Christmas Eve night when he was perhaps 5 or 6.

I’ll leave you with John’s description of watching his father put the presents out, then his father “caught” him and carried him back to bed:

…. He unboxed toys on a big white sheet under the tree, sat on the floor and played with each one before placing it. When he played with the mechanical donkey that jumped up and down I almost dashed in. When he pulled out a monkey that climbed a string, I giggled so loud the jig was up! Out rushed Papa, swooped me up in his arms, whisked me backed to bed, told me I had been dreaming. I still like to think it was a dream—and good old St. Nick, a reality. And not too long ago, Dad said, “I still believe in Santa Claus.”
John Lloyd Wright, My Father, Frank Lloyd Wright (Dover Publications, Inc., New York; 1992), 40.

First published, 12/23/2020
The winter photograph taken at Taliesin at the top of this post is by Kevin Dodds and was reproduced with permission.


* overlooking the fact that, one time after 1992 (the year I came to live in this state), it reached -25F (-32C) degrees on Christmas day.

Did Wright ever live in Wisconsin in the winter?

The simple answer is yes.

But today anyone walking into his living quarters at Taliesin sees flagstone floors and floor-to-ceiling French doors with single-pane glass (as you see in this interior photo at the Wisconsin Historical Society). So, it’s a natural thing to wonder, if you know Wisconsin at all (or have heard of the IceBowl), how the hell someone could have lived in this house in a Wisconsin winter.

In 1911, when Frank Lloyd Wright first designed Taliesin, he did intend it to be a year-round home. And he knew the state gets cold in the winter, so it was more airtight at that time (as you see here) and had radiators as well as fireplaces. His Wisconsin home worked with Wisconsin winter weather up until the 1930s. After that, Wright left for Arizona practically every fall/winter. He was going there with his family and apprentices in the Taliesin Fellowship to live and work. After a few years of searching for a site, he found land in Scottsdale in 1937, signed the papers on it the following February, and began building his winter home (Taliesin West).

Wright started Taliesin West, including, very importantly to the architect, a drafting studio, so he could work in the winter. After he began Taliesin West, Wright, his family, and the Taliesin Fellowship, moved between Wisconsin and Arizona each year. They would leave Wisconsin in the fall, and arrive back the next spring. Leaving and coming back allowed Wright to see his homes “fresh” eyes and ideas. So the two Taliesins (Wisconsin and Arizona) changed constantly under his direction.

Taliesin reflected Wright’s winters in Arizona

By 1959 (the year that Wright died), Taliesin in Wisconsin reflected his time in Arizona. By the end of his life, Wright hadn’t worried about Wisconsin winters for over 20 years. He returned every spring, moved out or eliminated walls, and added more glass and stone.

Of course, when I write that “he” did this or that at the buildings, the physical work was really done by his apprentices—young men and women—in the Taliesin Fellowship.

Click on the links below for photos from the Wisconsin Historical Society that show the inside of the house in these later years during the summer. You’ll see all of the stone and glass:

https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Image/IM64955

https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Image/IM64906

The man writing about winter weather

Of course, all of this didn’t stop the man from having, sometimes, overly romantic views of the winter. Among what he wrote in his 1932 autobiography about his home in the winter is that Taliesin

“was a frosted palace roofed and walled with snow, hung with iridescent fringes, the plate-glass of the windows delicately fantastic with frosted arabesques.”

Frank Lloyd Wright Collected Writings: 1930-32, volume 2. Edited by Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer, introduction by Kenneth Frampton (Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., New York City, 1992), 228.

Took me awhile to realize that when he lovingly described “frosted arabesques”, he meant frost. When he was writing in 1932, Taliesin was still where he would live in the winter, and he described frost growing on the inside of the windows in his house. I’ve lived with frost inside the windows in Wisconsin. It’s, um… unpleasant, to say the least.

First published 9/8/2020.
I took the photograph at the top of this post in 2016.


Here’s a link to a post I did about a book by a member of the Taliesin Fellowship.