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.
Cover of the Wisconsin magazine of History, Volume 50, Number 2, Winter, 1967

“Keiran: don’t try to correct the Internet”

That’s what a former boyfriend once told me. I believe that came after I’d spent feverish, anxious hours trying to change every incorrect utterance online to Frank Lloyd Wright’s birth date: June 8, 1867. What was wrong? People wrote (and still sometimes write) incorrectly that he was born on June 8, 1869.

What can I say? It was the 1990s and the World Wide Web was this new, awesome wonder. I thought I could send out the correct information, leading to an avalanche of facts, truth, and scintillating, heartfelt dialog.

Or something like that.

Regardless—what’s this deal about 1869?

While Frank Lloyd Wright is responsible for a number of things in the world—

like, did you know he invented the wall-hung toilet? Ok, that knowledge isn’t up there in trivia contests like, “Who was the father of the man who invented Lincoln Logs?”, but knowledge about who invented the wall-hung-toilet might be good for something one day.

—he’s also responsible for people believing he was two years younger than he actually was. He wrote about it and mentioned it in interviews so that, by the time he died in 1959, everyone thought he’d been born in 1869. Wright’s obituary from The New York Times (linked to in the last sentence), stated the architect died on April 10, 1959 at age 89; in reality, he was 91. That’s some deep stuff when the Paper of Record has it wrong.

This got in the paper even though his sister, Jane Porter (he designed her and her husband’s home), was born—when?—1869. She was born in late April. Catholic twins aren’t even born that closely together.1

Wright’s lie/falsehood/untruth was not dispensed with until 1967, 8 years after his death.

That’s why his birth year is incorrect if you see his original grave site at Unity Chapel in Wisconsin. The marker was made before they figured out the truth.

One scholar and finding the truth:

In honor of Wright’s birthday, I’ll relate the info from an article by scholar Thomas Hines, who uncovered the truth. Hines wrote the article on his findings in the Wisconsin Magazine of History, in Volume 50, number 2, Winter 1967, 109-119. 

The article is “Frank Lloyd Wright—The Madison Years: Records versus Recollections”. In it, Hines detailed how we all got things wrong about Wright’s education, age, and his parents’ divorce. And that’s because,

[t]he chief source of such misinformation has been Frank Lloyd Wright, himself.
Thomas Hines. “Frank Lloyd Wright—The Madison Years: Records versus Recollections,” 109.

Hines gave three pieces of evidence for Wright’s birth year being 1867:

1. The 1880 United States Census, which,

lists the names and ages of the family of William C. Wright and his wife Anna, giving the age of a son, Frank, as being thirteen. If Frank was thirteen in 1880, he would, therefore, have been born in 1867, not 1869.
Hines, 110.

2. One of the schools that Wright attended (the “old” Madison High School, now Central High School):

Wright’s name appears… once in the surviving records of his high school. In the oldest volume… in the school’s collection… Wright’s name appears near the end of the book, with his father’s name, his address, 804 E. Gorham and his birth date, ‘June 8, 1867.’
Hines, 110.

3. His parents divorce records. The records record that:

the parties hereto have three children… whose names and ages are as followed: Frank L. Wright, 17 years old, June 8, 1884; Mary Jane Wright [Jane Porter], 15 years old, April 26, 1884; Margaret Ellen Wright [Maginel Wright Enright Barney], 7 years old, June 19, 1884.” Listed by his father, under oath, as being seventeen on June 8, 1884, Frank Lloyd Wright would, therefore, have been born on June 8, 1867.
Hines, 111.

Why did the architect lie?

We don’t know.

Biographer Meryle Secrest posited that,

the new birth year of 1869 did not come into use until November 1925.2  Conceivably, the immanent arrival of his seventh child3 and the fact that Olgivanna was so much younger were the precipitating factors. However, a year later, when the idea of incorporating himself came to him, it would have occurred to the prudent side of his nature that it was far easier to sell shares on the future of a man still in his fifties than on one who is almost sixty.
Meryl Secrest. Frank Lloyd Wright: A Biography (1992; HarperPerennial, HarperCollins, New York City, 1993), 334.

Hines on Wright’s “embellishments”:

The piece by Hines addresses not just Wright’s lie about his age, but also the architect’s lies about his education, and his parents’ divorce. In sum: Wright’s recollections did not match the factual records.

In the end, Hines speculated on why Wright altered the facts:

[S]lowly over the years, Wright’s unique creative nature demanded and conceived for himself a persona, a mythic personality surrounded by a partially mythic world; that indeed he had no conception of objective “truth” as most people define it, but that he determined the truth of all things by the degree to which such things supported or contradicted the “truths” of his own world. A family situation and an education as he described them seemed, therefore, more appropriate and acceptable as an introduction to his life than the real situations had been.
Hines, 119.

So, 8 years after his death, people began to realize what Wright meant when saying, “The truth is more important than the facts.”

Addendum: Update on the date:

After publishing this blog, one of my subscribers, who is the Administrator for Historic Studies at the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, gave me information on their understanding of Wright’s change of his birth year. She wrote that:

Mrs. Wright told people that Mr. Wright had always given that date as the date HIS mother gave him, and she took it as truth.
On June 21,1967 Mrs. Wright responded to a letter from Catherine Baxter4 who was annoyed by the false birth day given for Mr. Wright:

“Dear Catherine, I fulfilled my promise to you and spoke of your father’s mixed dates as you will find in these articles…”

Originally published on June 1, 2021.
Updated June 4, 2021.


Notes:

1 I knew two brothers in my class in grade school who were born 10 months apart. Until I heard about their birthdays, I’d assumed they were fraternal twins. I hadn’t learned the term “Catholic twins” until much later, but it was Catholic school. Hence, I also had two classmates with at least 7 siblings a piece.

2 In an article in the Madison newspaper, The Capital Times, on November 17, 1925.

3 Iovanna Lloyd Wright, December 2, 1925-September 7, 2015.

4 Catherine Baxter (1894-1979) was third child and first girl born in the marriage of Frank and Catherine Lloyd Wright (Wright’s first wife).