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.
Summer photograph in Taliesin's Garden Court looking plan west.

Wall at Taliesin’s Garden Court

Taliesin’s Garden Court photo taken in August, 2002 by Doug Hadley, then the Landscape Coordinator.

In this post I’m going to write about when a stone wall was built at Taliesin’s Garden Court, changing it from an entryway into a private courtyard.

The Garden Court used to be the courtyard where people stopped when they arrived. I showed a couple of old photographs of that courtyard in my post, “When Did Taliesin Get Its Front Door?” The courtyard was the forecourt from the time that Taliesin was built in 1911, until after its second fire.

After that, Wright made it into the Garden Court.

Ok – got it. But why do you have to use capital letters in front of the words Garden and Court, like a snooty know-it-all?

I think it’s because Garden Court is its proper name. I didn’t name it that. Plus, when you’re at Taliesin (or talking about it), you say those words and everyone knows what space you’re talking about.

Like, when I went to Taliesin West (Wright’s home in Arizona) people said “Kiva“, “Cabaret” and “Pavilion“, while talking about those spaces. I didn’t really know what they were talking about, but tried to not look as confused as I felt. I knew they’d tell me on tour, so hopefully I’d learn. Although, I still have to check with myself on The Cabaret vs. The Pavilion.

Besides: it’s not “snooty know-it-all”. . . it’s “socially awkward…” I don’t think I’m snooty, anyway.

Besides,

Wright labelled the court in the drawing published in the book, In the Nature of Materials. And also in one other Taliesin drawing, below:

Taliesin drawing, circa 1943. #2501.060, cropped.
The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York).

If you click the link, you’ll see the whole drawing is larger. I made the label “Garden Court” a little bigger, and lighter.
The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York).

Back to the Garden Court

Like I said, Wright created it after Taliesin’s two fires. It might be because Wright didn’t like people driving right up to the living quarters.

This was even though he might have had reason for optimism about his career in 1925.

This is despite the 1925 fire that had destroyed so many of his art objects. And, oh yeah: his damned home. Again.

But there were probably some positive signs floating around. After all, he had done some interesting work in California, and was well known because of his Imperial Hotel. That building was one of the few that stood in Tokyo after Japan’s devastating Great Kanto earthquake two years before.

And, finally, on the personal side, Miriam Noel (his second, unstable, wife) had left him (the year before), and he was newly in love with Olgivanna (with whom he spent the rest of his life). 

Regardless, he no longer wanted people driving right to the forecourt when they came to Taliesin. So he added a few things to redirect people on their way up.

So he blocked the old drive in two ways:

From the south:

He built a stone court that ended with a parapet. You see the wall at the end of the terrace in this 1932-33 photo from the Wisconsin Historical Society:

Aerial of Taliesin, in the summer.
Published originally in 1933 in the original prospectus for the Taliesin Fellowship.
Wisconsin Historical Society, image ID: 38757

The arrow in the photo points to where the carriages used to drive when there was a road that continued way.

From the west:

This west here is the part of the building on the left in the photo; under “Image ID: 38757”.

It might have been easier to drive up that way because you didn’t even have to drive up a hill, to get right outside of his studio. So, men and women could be working in the studio, then look up and see people they didn’t know right outside of of the windows. Or those people might walk into the room.

In order for them to drive from the west to the studio

They would have driven through a couple of gates, then under the old hayloft and past the former horse stables.

I suppose it wouldn’t have been bad if Wright were waiting for a client. Plus, there was a door under the hayloft to keep random people (and cows) out. But if the draftsmen forgot to close the door, and people came in, it could really interrupt you.

Like, for a couple of years, when I worked more in the tour department at Taliesin Preservation. On the first floor of the visitor center, there’s a door that goes out to a loading dock. That’s because one summer, at least two groups of people walked in, thinking the door was the building’s entrance.1 We had to tape a little sign on the door telling them “This is not an entrance”. Seemed to work well.

You can imagine other draftsmen or -women,  working on a nice drawing in Wright’s studio, when a stranger comes walking in to the room, wanting to know if this was the “Crazy House” (like I mentioned in my post, “This Stuff Is Fun For Me“).

btw, at that time, they didn’t ask if Taliesin was the House on the Rock. Because that didn’t exist yet.

So, the wall might have been an effort to make a journey to the studio more onerous. The wall isolated the former Forecourt, and allowed an expansion of the gardens.

He took one of his drawings to figure out his plan

Here’s a Taliesin II drawing where he made changes in pencil. An arrow is pointing at the wall below

Taliesin drawing, c. 1917 with changes made 1925-1943.
The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York).

The drawing above links to the version online. If you click on it, you’ll see that the actual drawing is a lot bigger.
The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York)

One of the changes Wright wanted was to make the old CARRIAGE HOUSE into bedrooms. So, he took a pencil and drew in bay windows at the Carriage House.

One of those rooms with bay windows is where George Kastner lived when he started working for Wright. You saw two photographs inside Kastner’s room in my last post, “Oh My Frank, I Was Wrong!

Kastner also took a photo outside of his room. At that time, November or December, 1928, he was living at Taliesin. The photograph shows the Garden Court wall being built:

Exterior photograph taken at Taliesin in the fall of 1928.
Photograph by architect, George Kastner. Taken on November 28, 1928.
Courtesy of Brian A. Spencer, Architect

Taken in the Middle Court, looking (plan) northeast. The new bay windows are on the left, with the Taliesin III living quarters in the distance on the right. The chimney for the studio fireplace is the second chimney on the right.
The chimney on the left eventually became the fireplace for the living room used by Wes Peters, and his wife, Svetlana Hinzenberg Peters.

A photograph I took in this area is below. The stone wall is slightly taller than it was in Kastner’s photo. Stonemasons later heightened the wall by a stone course or two, probably in the year after Kastner took his photograph.

Looking plan east in Taliesin's Middle Court toward the Garden Court. 4-29-2004.

I took this photograph in April 2004.

First published, May 20, 2022
The photograph at the top of this post was taken by former Landscape Management Coordinator, Doug Hadley


Note:

  1. My theory on why people would walk in the door was is that the grounds people had cut down the yew bushes, so people saw the door more easily when driving by the building. But putting up the sign on the door stopped people from walking in unexpectedly.
Black and white photograph of dormitory room at Taliesin

Oh my Frank – I was wrong!

A bed in a room at Taliesin. I’ll explain why it’s here in the post below.

About what? About a photograph.

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

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

Let me explain:

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

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

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

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

That is:

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

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

I’d been mistaken for 18 years.

I got this wrong in 2004.

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

18 years!!

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

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

2 days ago,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next

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

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

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

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

Because

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And, fortunately,

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

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

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

What happened to this room?

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

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

Today, it’s still a bedroom.

 

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


Notes:

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

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

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

Winter photograph looking at the Hex Room and spire at the Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor Center.

How I became the historian for Taliesin

Looking west at the Hex Room in the Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor Center. I took this photo in February of 2005. You can see through the Hex Room, which is the room with the red roof and spire straight ahead of you. The clear view through the room is two vertical rectangles. If I had been in the room you’d see me sitting at my desk at the bottom of them.

While I studied Art History in Graduate School, being the Taliesin historian was a career I “fell” into. And that’s what I’m going to concentrate on in this post.

As I’ve written a couple of times, I started at Taliesin in 1994 as a tour guide during the summer. Guiding was all I wanted at that time, since I was in school and hoped to get a Ph.D. eventually. I wanted to teach Art History to other people.

However, I had no teaching experience.

I thought doing tours would help me figure out if I could even speak in front of people. Let alone if I could talk to, eek, strangers.

It turns out

The skills I’d learned in Graduate School were suited to the tapestry of information laid out everywhere at Taliesin. I swallowed it all in huge gulps.

Working exposed me to info on:

And other things I don’t want to bore you with.

Then

There was that winter of 1997-98 that I worked in the Preservation Office on the photographs (I wrote about it in “Raymond Trowbridge Photographs“).

At that time,

the Preservation Office stood in an old horse stable at Taliesin. Apprentice Lois Davidson Gottlieb took a photograph of it in 1948:

Looking (plan) southwest at Taliesin's horse stable in 1948.
By Lois Davidson Gottlieb. Published in her book, A Way of Life: An Apprenticeship with Frank Lloyd Wright, 41.

A link to her book is in my post, “Books by Apprentices“.

The office changed when, in June 1998, a tree hit Taliesin during a storm (photos on Taliesin Preservation‘s facebook page, here). So the Preservation Office moved out and the staff of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation (which owns Taliesin and the estate) moved in. This way they had an office in Wisconsin.

Eventually, the Preservation Office transferred everything to a room on the third floor of the Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor Center. That room was/is known as the “Hex Room” (because it’s literally a hexagonal). A photo showing the Hex Room underneath the spire is at the top of this page.

That office got me closer to being the historian:

When the Preservation Office moved in, they brought all of the historic photographs and other historic information. Yet, they realized that they’d lost the staff person who looked after it, and they needed someone who could sort through it. And, since I had worked with the information before, they brought me in to organize it.

Actually,

they didn’t “bring” me “in”. I was already there. I worked a floor or two below them, in the Taliesin tour program.

So, I spent 2001-02 re-organizing the files, adding more historic photographs, and began writing historic information.

Followed in 2002 by Tours

In that year, people in the Taliesin tour program “tapped” my brain to answer weekly questions from tour guides and staff during the season. My answers were on one page that was included with the weekly schedule. They named this feature “Hey Keiran!”.

Hey Keiran title

This gave me a different cache of historic knowledge.

Like, why I explored whether or not Wright designed outhouses at Taliesin.

Et al.

Then, in 2002-03

They were planning the Save America’s Treasures‘s project at Taliesin.

I wrote about a window found during the SAT’s project in this post.

One day, while all of the infrastructure was being put together for the upcoming project, I was in the Hex Room. The Executive Director and Taliesin Estate Manager1 were talking on things involving the history of Taliesin. One part of the building was going to touch on the area the project.

The history of Taliesin’s Porte-Cochere came up. The Porte-Cochere became the “Garden Room”, which is in this photo. While we all talked, I told them them information about the space that I knew from books that I had read.

(like Curtis Besinger’s Working With Mr. Wright, which is in my “Books By Apprentices” post).

They realized

it was smart to have someone who knew that much sitting there in the office. They asked me to write chronologies on a few rooms at Taliesin that were going to be impacted by the upcoming project.

Eventually

that Executive Director asked me to write histories of every room at Taliesin from c. 1950-2005. Architectural historians told me my work was fantastic, so I kept going. That gave me the freedom to pursue things when I saw something, or came across something, that made me think,

“Huh. I wonder what’s going on there?”

It’s why I figured out that room was in that photograph that “one time before Christmas“.

I mean, Frank Lloyd Wright’s way of teaching his architectural apprentices was to have them “learn by doing”. And I learned the history by studying the spaces. The questions I asked were “what happened there”, and “when”. I often found the answers to the questions in the buildings themselves. This full-sensory experience of learning the history inserted information into my mind.

Around that time, I worked on color-coding the stone in drawings of Taliesin to figure out when he was laying out certain stone sections.  I guiltily made changes to the drawing, but after awhile, it looked pretty cool. The drawing was included in the article I wrote for the Frank Lloyd Wright Quarterly, “An Autobiography in Wood and Stone“. You can see that illustration on that page, but I also placed it below:

Color-coded drawing of Taliesin stone changes by Keiran Murphy

I still don’t believe that I

“know more about Frank Lloyd Wright than anyone.”

as told to me by my oldest sister. She never believed me when I said that’s not true.

I mean,

there are “Frankophiles” out there who know every window that Wright ever designed.

They know the layout of every commission he did and his relationship with the clients.

They know all about the furniture designers he worked with (here’s one I know, anyway).

And more things I can’t begin to wonder about.

But the history of Taliesin? Yes: I think I know that very well.

First published April 28, 2022.


1. I mentioned in Jim in the post, “A Slice of Taliesin“. I wrote about Carol (the ED) in my post about “The Album“.

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.

Contemporary. Looking southwest in Taliesin's living room at the fireplace.

1940s Change in Taliesin’s Living Room

Photograph from the 2000s taken by me in Taliesin’s living room. Looking toward the fireplace with the inglenook (the built-in bench).

Today, I thought about photographs from the book, Apprentice to Genius, by Edgar Tafel that I recommended almost a year ago. Looking through the book reminded me of a change to the inglenook (the built-in bench) at the fireplace in Taliesin’s living room. I’m going to talk about that change in this post.

A moment about Wright’s living room

While I’ve written about his living room before, I haven’t really talked about it much. That’s in part because, while Wright obviously loved it and rebuilt it after his home’s two fires, he didn’t spend a lot of time changing it.

I mean, comparatively speaking.

Because he changed other rooms. A lot. Like the room I talked about in here; I mean, c’mon: it’s inside Taliesin and figuring out where the room stood (or stands. . . it’s still there) can be really difficult.

But, in contrast, there are things in Taliesin’s living room that he kept the same.

For example:

  1. The door from the main hallway was always in the same space.
  2. The room always had almost square windows.
  3. The dining area was always on the south wall.

And,

The fireplace always had an inglenook. In addition, for years (and after each fire), the inglenook ended a bookshelf on the end, farthest from the firebox. Maybe this bookshelf kept the space on the couch warmer when you had a fire.

Here’s the inglenook and bookshelf during the Taliesin I era:

Black and white photograph of inglenook in Taliesin I living room. By Taylor Woolley
Property of Utah Historical Society, Taylor Woolley collection, ID #695922.

Photograph taken 1911-1912 by Taylor Woolley, Wright’s draftsman at Taliesin at that time. Photograph located at the Utah Historical Society, ID #695922.

btw, I have tried to read the titles on the books on the shelf. Unfortunately, when I magnified it, the book titles just got blurry.

The bench was reconstructed for Taliesin II, after the 1914 fire.

Which can see in this Taliesin II photograph from the Wisconsin Historical Society.

And, again, after the fire of 1925.

You can see the inglenook here in an early Taliesin III photo, at Greatbuildings.com.1

And then we come to one of the photographs from “Apprentice to Genius”. The photograph from it below was taken in 1940 by Pedro Guerrero:

Photograph of Taliesin's living room and fireplace. By Pedro Guerrero.
Photograph taken in 1940.
Property: Pedro E. Guerrero Archives.

The bookshelf is the vertical section at the end of the bench.
This photograph is on page 112 of Apprentice to Genius.

In addition, this photograph shows that Wright had a small bookshelf on the opposite side of the bench. You can see the books where the bench terminates into the wall in the living room, to the left of the fireplace mantle.

btw: I’ve looked at the books on that little shelf and can’t read the titles there, either.

I suppose that could be a nice thing to have if you were at that fireplace in the winter, reading.

And then he made changes in the 1940s

Particularly the early 1940s. Why?

Because Wright, his family, and a few others were (more-or-less) confined to Wisconsin after the United States involvement in World War II. This involvement led to rationing, which resulted in his forced residence of Taliesin again year-around.

In addition,

Being forced to stay at his digs in the Midwest allowed Wright to think seriously on how he could change his home to make it more suitable to living in the summer.

Aside from all those stone changes he made in 1942-43 when he got an offer for “a cord or two of stone for every hour that I use the tractor.”

So, along with large changes at Taliesin, he made changes to this part of the living room. 

Here’s what I think happened:

That bookcase probably helped to preserve heat near the fireplace. So, he got rid of the bookcase, since he wouldn’t have to worry about conserving heat there any more, once they could all get back to Taliesin West in the winter. Besides, taking away that bookcase would make the bench more open to people walking around during hors d’oeuvres for Sunday formal evenings.2

He also eliminated the little bookshelf to the left of the fireplace, and put mortared stone in its place.

The removal of both book storage areas, were just two of five or six changes. You can see the cleaned up area in Apprentice to Genius, p. 113. Or in the photo below taken in the 1950s by Maynard Parker. Parker Taliesin took photographs at Taliesin in 1955 for House Beautiful.3

Color photograph taken of bench and fireplace in Taliesin living room, 1955.
Courtesy of the Huntington Library, San Marino, California.
Call Number: photCL MLP 1266

Now:

I do not know if Wright thought of the changes near the fireplace all at once, or if he made a change at the bookcase, followed by others over time.

Like when you go to wipe up a coffee spill on the counter and three hours later you’re mopping the entire kitchen floor after having wiped down all the cupboards while you rearranged (and threw out) the old spices (oh, you were so naive when you thought you’d use that much Cayenne).

But, maybe this came to him fully formed. From the bookcase, to the mantelpiece, or maybe the mantelpiece to the bookcase.

And, yes,

There’s a water stain on the ceiling. One time, a Taliesin Preservation employee (hey, Bob!) said to us that leaks in Wright buildings were like Alfred Hitchcock making a cameo appearance in his movies.4

I also like the plaster on the back of the built-in: sort of dark gold. I haven’t determined whether he made it lighter the last summer he lived in Wisconsin. Although, one of his former apprentices, David Dodge, said one time that Wright had apprentices redo colors on the walls every year. Although I don’t know if that was for every square inch of every wall in every space, but “David” said he could see why Wright redid the colors.

David said that just because the same flowers grow in the same place as the year before doesn’t mean the red or yellow of that rose will be the exact same shade in every way.

First published March 16, 2022.


Notes:

1. This photograph is published in the Volume 6 Number 1 issue of the Journal of the Organic Architecture + Design archives.

2. Formal evenings were held every Sunday when I started in 1994. Why they were held on Sundays, I don’t know. They were definitely Saturdays later and were held two times a month after I’d worked a season or two.

3. House Beautiful magazine, November 1955, v.97, number 11, p. 233-90 +. Parker gave his collection to the Huntington Library in California.

4. Although I can tell you that, this part of the ceiling has never leaked in my experience with Taliesin. And, while work has always been done to stop them, the roofs of Taliesin do/can leak. I recall one day maybe a dozen years ago, when TPI’s then-executive director told a reporter with excitement that, “Nothing leaked this spring!” [paywall] It’s not that Wright didn’t know what he was doing; he was just always changing things. So he was putting “creases” in the “envelope” of the building.

Taken under the oak tree at the Tea Circle looking toward Taliesin's Drafting Studio

First year of tours

I took this photograph in 1994 under the oak tree at the Taliesin Tea Circle. The room with the French doors near the center of the photograph is Taliesin’s drafting studio. Wright used it as an office after he moved drafting operations to Hillside.

“1867. . . . 1886. . . . 1896. . . Oh, shit – 1901? 1902?”

That’s basically a transcription of what came out of my mouth in 1994 while I drove with Alex1 from Madison, Wisconsin to Spring Green and the Taliesin estate. The dates were important in Frank Lloyd Wright’s life and on the Taliesin estate.

The rundown of all those dates

1867: the year Wright was born.

despite how much he lied about the year he was born, which can get you into a rabbit hole on the internet unless you’re judicious

1886: the year Unity Chapel was designed/built.2 It’s the family chapel and can be seen from Taliesin.

1896: the year the Romeo & Juliet Windmill was commissioned by Wright’s aunts.

1901: the year the aunts commissioned Wright for the Hillside Home School stone structure. We were taught 1902 for a while. But, the Weekly Home News (Spring Green’s newspaper) edition of October 1, 1901 said:

“Owing to the increased attendance, the principals [i.e., the Aunts] have decided to build a new school house.  The plans have been drawn and sent from the studio of Frank Ll. Wright, architect, Chicago, and work upon the construction will begin at once.”

I recited those dates to continue my obsessive-studying over the previous week. Alex and I were newly hired tour guides. He and I knew each other because we were students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (he studied Architectural History and I was pursuing my Master’s degree in Art History3).

On that day in the car, however, I had no idea that I would become an expert on Taliesin, and would eventually live in the village of Spring Green.

More about tours:

At that time, Hillside tours were the first ones that all guides learned. An hour long, they gave the basics on Wright’s life and work while going through Hillside’s 14,000+ square feet. Meanwhile, Taliesin House tours were new. They’d only been offered three days a week the season before this. In 1994, they went out 2 times a day, every day but Wednesday. The tours were twice as long as Hillsides, and cost more than four times as much ($35 vs. $8 / $4 for children under 12 4).

Hillside tours were also the most popular. Apparently, one year over 30,000 people took one. Also, there was an architecture firm in the Hillside building, where apprentices at the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture worked in the Hillside Drafting Studio.5

Those at the school were literally apprentices working under the licensed architects. Later, the firm closed and the curriculum changed so they became actual students.

Lastly, there was an exterior Walking Tour created in ’86 or so. Before the House tour existed, the Walking Tour was the closest a person could get to Wright’s residence. And that was only while standing at the bottom of the hill around which Taliesin sits.

That summer:

Here are a couple of my Taliesin-related memories from 1994:

The first time I got a laugh on tour. It was when we came up to the exterior roof of the Hillside Theater foyer. Its ceiling rises to just about 6 feet tall. As I brought the group to the foyer, I gave the story I’d been told: that, “Wright always said that ‘People over 6 feet tall are wasted space.'”

Running through a Taliesin courtyard as birds fluttered by me, and chuckling while I thought, “what I did on my summer vacation.”

An interesting group of people

I remember laughing hysterically that summer with those funny, smart people. In fact, most of the people that I’ve encountered at Taliesin through 25+ years were whip-smart and creative, along with being devoted to Wright and his architecture. Another reason to stick around. Here’s a photograph of some from an end-of-the-season party one year at Hillside:

Staff at a party at Hillside
Photograph by Keiran Murphy.

As the buildings were (or are) unheated, closing down the structures commenced in the days after the season’s end. So, having a party allowed the staff to let off steam and prepare for the upcoming work. Plus, most of the staff wouldn’t see each other again until the following spring. Wright’s living quarters are heated now, but not Hillside. That still has to be prepped for Wisconsin winters. Unlike earlier years, the people who now close the buildings are the Preservation Crew.

Plus, my movie-viewing experience expanded:6

Alex and I were invited that summer to watch movies at the home of a Senior guide (who officiated my wedding 23 years later). He showed us The Last Picture Show, The Magnificent Ambersons, and Evil Dead, Part 2, among others I’m sure I’ve missed.

Craig also figured out how to hook the History geek into the Wright world.

uh… that’s me.

So, when a “House Guard” went on vacation, he put me on the schedule with the other guard, Germaine. Germaine, whose father was Wright’s gardener, became friends with Iovanna (the daughter of Frank Lloyd Wright and Olgivanna). Germaine, this elegant older woman, who always wore dresses and her hair in a chignon, spent years in the Taliesin Fellowship and later married apprentice Rowan Maiden.

House Guards (now known as House Stewards) opened the House in the morning, by cleaning and vacuuming. They, then and now, greet people at Taliesin’s front door and, at that time, gave out booties for guests to put on their shoes.

Booties were used to protect the rugs. I guess they do, but maybe not when thousands of feet walk over the rugs every tour season. The booty fuzz—a light blue—gets all over the rugs. You almost have to use your fingernails to scrape it up.

Germaine and I had time to talk that week. She told stories of the life at Taliesin and invited me up to Iovanna’s5 bedroom (in the floor above Frank Lloyd Wright and Olgivanna’s quarters). That’s when she told me that she and Iovanna used to sunbathe outside on a little balcony.

I mentioned this in the on-line presentation I gave in 2020 through The Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center.

Another memory

Photograph of Taliesin Tea Circle in the summer of 1994.
Photograph by Keiran Murphy.

Photograph of the Taliesin Tea Circle with the oak tree. The Chinese bell is hanging off the limb veering to the left.

I remember sitting in the Entry Foyer at Taliesin’s “front” door, waiting for a House tour. A member of the Taliesin Fellowship, architect Charles Montooth, came bounding up the steps of Taliesin’s Tea Circle on break (he usually worked at the Hillside drafting studio). He ran up to the large Chinese bell that hung from the oak tree limb you see in the photo above, then stopped in front of it and drummed it several times with his knuckles. He paused for a moment to listen to its faint ring, then ran back down to where he came out.

Taliesin tours certainly struck me,

as someone who had measured my worth mostly through test scores, as a very nice way to come into adulthood. Plus, giving tours meant that I was judged for the words that came out of my mouth instead of numbers on a page.

You can read here how the tour program became integrated into my life.

First published March 7, 2022.
I took both of the photographs used in this blog post.


1. not his real name

2. We also thought 1886 was the year he designed the first Hillside Home School building for his aunts, a.k.a., the “Home Building“. That was, until being corrected by someone else. The year he designed the Home Building is actually 1887.

3. I received my degree that December with my thesis on David Wojnarowicz.

4. No kids under that age were allowed on tours going into Wright’s Living Quarters at the House. Now tours take kids as young as 10 years old.

5. Now The School of Architecture, no longer at Taliesin.

6. I’m not talking about the biweekly online series, “Welcome to the Basement“.

Frank Lloyd Wright's bedroom. Photo by Maynard Parker, Huntington Library-Parker Collection.

Anna to her son

Color photo taken in 1955 in Wright’s bedroom at Taliesin. There’s a framed photo on his desk, near the barrel chair.
It shows his aunts (Jennie and Nell Lloyd Jones) on the left, and his mother on the right.

Anna, as in Anna Lloyd Wright, Frank Lloyd Wright’s mother. This post is about Anna in general, but also whether or not she ever lived at Taliesin.

Although, I won’t give a deep analysis on how the architect felt about his mother, or vice versa.

Anna (first named Hannah) Lloyd Jones was born in Wales in 1838 and died in Oconomowoc in eastern Wisconsin in 1923. Wright wrote about her in his autobiography, saying that:

“…. Although she believed Education the direct manifestation of God…, Sister Anna loved—Beauty.

Soon she became a teacher in the countryside, riding a horse over the hills and through the woods to and from her school each day.”

Frank Lloyd Wright. An Autobiography in Frank Lloyd Wright Collected Writings, volume 2: 1930-32. Edited by Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer, introduction by Kenneth Frampton (1992; Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., New York City, 1992), 108.

Anna’s choices:

She made choices that had a strong effect on her son’s career. In 1876 she went to the Centennial Exposition and discovered the Froebel Gifts.

I wrote about them when I gave history of Hillside on the Taliesin estate.

The Froebel Gifts were an essential part of the new kindergarten method of teaching, and Anna took classes on how to teach her children to use them. They’ll affect Wright’s designs and, he wrote later that, “The smooth shapely maple blocks” of the Gifts, would “never afterward” leave his fingers. “[S]o form,” he wrote, “became feeling….” [Frank Lloyd Wright, 111.]

The first summer the family moved back in Wisconsin (1878, the year Wright turned 11) and lived in Madison. Anna sent her son 45 miles west, to “The Valley” outside of Spring Green where her family lived. Wright lived and worked at Uncle James Lloyd Jones’s farm. As I wrote in “Wright and Nature”, the architect vividly wrote about his memories in The Valley. He wrote that life in The Valley taught him “how to add tired to tired and add tired.” And that he was to learn,

“that the secret of all the human styles in architecture was the same that gave character to the trees.”
Frank Lloyd Wright. An Autobiography in Frank Lloyd Wright Collected Writings, 126.

Yet,

In spite of these good things, I’m ambivalent about Anna. Did she follow him around too much? Did she put him on too much of a pedestal that leaked into how he felt about himself? Was she abusive to her step-daughter Lizzie?

Why am I bringing this up now? I’m bringing her up because, when we went to Arizona last month,

I read some of her letters.

In December, I read transcriptions of some letters to I look for those things about Wright’s mother as she lived at Taliesin.

Here‘s I wrote about that trip.

I did this because, while I’ve been told over the years that she lived at his home, I wanted to check. That’s because being told things doesn’t always make them true. After all, when I gave tours I was told by a visitor that “my guide at [another Wright site] said that Wright had designed Taliesin with a room for both his wife and his mistress.”

In reply I [HOPE] I said: “His wife and his partner, Mamah Borthwick?” … coz you have to use that vocabulary in order to change the narrative … “No, I’m sorry I don’t remember seeing that in any of Taliesin’s drawings….”

Regardless,

In her biography on the architect, author Meryle Secrest mentioned Anna living at Taliesin. Secrest wrote that Wright contacted his sisters (Jane and Maginel) about the problems that caused. But Secrest didn’t quote from the letters. Given how people can misread and misunderstand, I wanted to check. 

So, in December,

At Taliesin West, I got a chance to look at some of the letters that Anna wrote to her son after he started Taliesin. I read some of what she wrote while he was in Japan working on the Imperial Hotel. And I made notes that do show that she was living at Taliesin while he was away from his home. Of course the problem with that is, when she and her son lived at the house, there was no reason for Anna to write him.

And unfortunately,

I’ve not found anything written by Anna where she described exactly in which room at Taliesin she lived, or what built-ins the room had, or what colors were plastered on which colors.

No, unfortunately, when she wrote to her son, Anna sounded like a normal human. She didn’t write like she was writing for some historian a century later. I mean, really: she wrote to her son and his companion, Miriam Noel, on March 16, 1917 that she was had been found on the floor “in the hall from my room”, but still didn’t mention which was “my” room.1

Grumble grumble….

Yet, in that letter on March 16, Anna did write something interesting. She told her son to allow a new draftsman at Taliesin to live, instead, “in the house on the hill….”

I know what that means

The “house on the hill” is the part of Taliesin that had a kitchen, storage rooms, and the larger dining room.2 The photo below shows this area at Taliesin. It’s a postcard that former apprentice Edgar Tafel owned. He said it was taken 1917-18:

Photograph of Taliesin Hill Wing, in snow.

The apartment that Anna mentioned was on the left in the photograph. The kitchen was at the base of the chimney on the right. Today, if you were to walk past this, you wouldn’t be able to see the room that held the kitchen.

(besides, you can’t walk there because it’s private property and people live there)

But you wouldn’t be able to easily see the room with the old kitchen because Wright added a dining room, blocking most of that view. Sometime after this photo was taken, Wright would add the dining room that he walked out of in 1925 to see the fire at his house (read my post about the fire, here).

First published January 8, 2022
Image screen-grab at the top of this post is by Maynard L. Parker, photographer. Courtesy of The Huntington Library, San Marino, California, from the webpage below:
https://hdl.huntington.org/digital/collection/p15150coll5/id/10269

This photograph on his desk is one of the only ones that Wright had in his home.


Notes:

1 The letter was written March 16, 1917, but I couldn’t find the microfiche number for it.

2 This is where knowing the building well helps out. I read this letter that Olgivanna wrote to Maginel in May 1932. It’s published in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Monona Terrace: The Enduring Power of a Civic Vision, by David V. Mollenhoff and Mary Jane Hamilton (University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, 1999), 82. In the letter Olgivanna wrote:

We are in desperate condition. The Sechrests have shut us out of the hill – nailed all the doors leading to their part, dining rooms, kitchens, storerooms, waiting for money we owe them (three months salary)…. We are cooking and eating in the kitchen below.

I instantly knew what being shut “out of the hill” and what “eating in the kitchen below” meant. The “hill” being the kitchen and dining room on the hill that I talked about above. Eating in “the kitchen below” meant the kitchen in the main living quarters. They weren’t the full-time kitchen any longer and they were “below” because the other kitchen was on the hill.

Photograph of room at Taliesin (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York).

What I did one time before Christmas

This is a photograph of a room that I spent part of an afternoon contemplating and figuring out.

Not this year (we were in Arizona!). No, this took place in the aughts.

Why are you talking now?

I thought I would bring this up because late December/New Years reminds me of something I did before I started my Christmas vacation one year. That is:

I identified a photograph

Seems kind of strange when I put it that way.

You identified a photo. What does that mean? Did you think it was a Polar Bear Cub before you realized you were looking at a photograph?

No. I’m talking about a photo taken inside Taliesin, but we didn’t know where. In this post I’m going to write about how I figured out which room the photo was showing.

That’s because, as I’ve noted before,

Wright made a lot of changes at Taliesin.

And while the photo (seen at the top of this post) showed furnishings that indicated it was taken somewhere inside Taliesin, the space no longer existed. At least not the way it was shown.

Earlier, someone else thought maybe it was a photograph of another room, and stuck it in the image binder.

But that also didn’t seem correct.

So, I took it out and put the image in a “to be determined” folder. And it stayed there for years, waiting for a home.

Additionally, this wasn’t the best photo you’ve ever seen. I mentioned before (when I wrote about the dam at Taliesin), how, when I first worked in the office, a lot of the photos were, like, seventh generation Xeroxes. This was close: a printout of a scan of a photo emailed to the Preservation Office in about 1996. It looked kind of like what you see below:

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

The desk lamp you see on the left is all over Taliesin, and the woodwork looks like Taliesin, too. But nothing else looked familiar. The room had light walls and a flat ceiling. But I didn’t recognize anything through its open door (the black rectangle you see). Also, the configuration—wall, door, and radiator, maybe, to the door’s right—didn’t fit anything that I knew.

So I kept this small printout in a pocket in one of the binders, for years. Then, one time I had a few hours before I took off for Christmas. So, I decided to look at it closely. Perhaps I could figure out what room the photograph showed.

So, I drew it

When I write that I “drew” it, I don’t mean like some super, well-trained person who can depict what they see.

You know, like when you go to someone’s apartment and they say, “It’s such a mess,” and it’s, like, immaculate?
Well, when I say my place is a mess it is, really, a mess.

That is, I wrote drew a straight line on the left (denoting the wall), a door that opened in, maybe a radiator, and what looked like a wall on the right that took up part of the room. Here’s an approximation:

Drawing of details in photograph

The line on the left is the wall. The pointy thing at the top of the wall is supposed to be the door, and the slight arc is the arc of the door that you see in good drawings. The distorted rectangle is the radiator. The bulge on the bottom right is supposed to be the wall corner.
I’m sorry it doesn’t have the brilliant MS Paint work of Allie Brosh in her “Hyperbole and a Half” website, but it will do.

I took that shape (and the knowledge of changes at Taliesin), and—after checking to see that it wasn’t showing Hillside (where people also lived on the Taliesin estate)—I walked through Taliesin in my head.

From basically c. 1925-1959.

So, from Taliesin’s second fire, until Wright’s death. While more people had color film by the 1950s, many did not, so I harbored the possibility that the photograph came from that decade. And, since the image might have been reversed, I had to flip it back and forth in my head.

Now, I think it’s best for all of us that I don’t remember exactly how I came to concluding that I was seeing, possibly, one particular room. But, OMG! I found it! In an old drawing. It’s drawing #2501.024, at the Avery, a cropped version of which I’ve put below:

The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives drawing 2501.024 (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York).

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

What does the drawing show?

This shows the floor beneath where the Wrights lived at Taliesin. The drawing was executed 1936-39. The room I was seeing in the photograph shows up in the drawing, as the last large room (with a closet) on the lower right. This room is known as the “Blue Room”.

(members of the Taliesin Fellowship were asked about the name, and they didn’t know or couldn’t remember why it was called that).

I can tell you that I checked out how long figuring out which room this was in the photograph. It took me about 2 hours and 45 minutes. I wrote an email to two members of the Preservation Crew, gave them the salient details, I asked them what they thought, then closed up the office and left for Christmas.

They agreed with me

One (Tom) thought that a closet built inside the room (even though there was already a closet) was built in 1943 to take the weight of the changes above. The changes in 1943 were made to a room two floors above.

The Preservation Crew, after getting done all of the work down here (as I wrote about in “A Slice of Taliesin“) finished restoration/preservation/reconstruction. The area where they worked is a zone of Secondary Significance; meaning they can change things if need be. So, the preservation of the room allowed the crew to take out the closet. It was no longer needed because they transferred the weight using added micro laminated beams.

When they finished their restoration work and removed the closet, they let some staff members in to see the space:

Taliesin Preservation staff in restored room at Taliesin.

I took this photograph in 2018. The four people stand in the background, to the right of the doorway and against the wall, stand where the Preservation Crew has removed the closet.

Success in doing this this (attending to those little things in the back of my mind) is one of the things that gave me the courage to explore and pursue what may have looked, from the outside, like a waste of time. 

First published December 31, 2021.

The photograph at the top of this post is the property of: The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York). The photographer is unknown.

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.