Photograph taken at Taliesin in late summer. The structure has been built, although not all of the windows are in. One man is bending working on teh ground.

What is the oldest part of Taliesin? Part I

Looking (plan) east at Taliesin from the balcony of its hayloft, fall 1911. Taken by Taylor Woolley, who worked as a draftsman for Wright at Taliesin. I showed this image in the post, “This will be a nice addition“.

While people don’t ask that question at other Frank Lloyd Wright buildings, it’s part and parcel of his personal home in Wisconsin.1 After all, he was already changing things after 1912, and he probably would have made changes at his home even if it never suffered two major fires.

And, remarkably, there are things at Taliesin that go back to 1911-12. Even where there wasn’t any fire.

Why am I bringing this up?

I thought I would share what people asked me sometimes while I gave tours. Hopefully I didn’t overwhelm them with info. But while “don’t talk about what you can’t see” is one of the tour-guiding rules, change was a part of Taliesin.

In fact, that’s true even in the photo at the top of this post. Wright changed almost all of the stone piers and chimneys that you see there.

Now, while Wright didn’t sit down in April of 1911 and say, “I want to change my home with Mamah all the time!”, he liked the flexibility of changing things as he had new ideas. He refined his ideas all the time, and his home was the best place see these new things.

After all, I’ve heard people say that –

Taliesin is like a life-sized model.

Even Taliesin’s most consistent feature, the Tea Circle, would change.

The Tea Circle

It’s a semi-circular stone bench where Wright and the Taliesin Fellowship used to have tea.

In the photo at the top of this post, the Tea Circle will be eventually built on the right, where you can see the man working under the two oak trees. They wouldn’t finish it until 1912.

So, the photo shows that they had removed all of the dirt around those oak trees, and built the retaining walls. Then they gave the roots of the oaks a chance to settle before making more disruptions.

But Wright’s plans included the Tea Circle at Taliesin almost from the beginning.

However, you can see that unfinished Tea Circle in another photo by Taylor Woolley, below. He took this in the spring of 1912. Taliesin’s basically been built, but the Tea Circle steps, and its stone seat, don’t yet exist:

Photograph at Taliesin in early spring. In view: pool on left, Flower in the Crannied Wall statue at Tea Circle.
By Taylor Woolley. Courtesy of Utah State History, Taylor Woolley Collection, ID 695904.

Looking west toward the Tea Circle. The chimney at Taliesin’s Drafting Studio is on the right. The Hayloft is under the horizontal roof in the background.

I used to look for the Tea Circle on plans to orient myself when I was first learning about Taliesin. I put one of Taliesin’s early drawing below, with an arrow pointing at the stone bench. Western Architect magazine published this drawing in February 1913:

Drawing of Taliesin complex. Published in February 1913.
Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York), 1403.011.

In fact, here are links to Taliesin plans that have the Tea Circle seat.

ARTSTOR says the drawings are from Taliesin II, but that’s wrong. I noted before that the former director of the Frank Lloyd Wright Archives, the late Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer, was wrong on the structural details of the building. But I never got the chance to talk to him about how he came up with the dates for the drawings.2

The Preservation Crew at the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation carried out restoration, preservation, and reconstruction on the Tea Circle in 2019.3 They had to replace a lot of the degraded/missing stone work there. Its form (and as much stone as possible) now matches what was there in when it was originally finished.

Anyway, here I was,

trying to figure out the date of Woolley’s photo showing the forecourt and unfinished Tea Circle.

that’s the problem with black & white photos: they make late fall and early spring look the same!

And, HOORAY! Wright’s scandals gave me the info.

See, on December 23, 1911, the Chicago Tribune sent a telegram to Wright asking to confirm or deny that he was living in Wisconsin with Mamah Borthwick.

(by then, she and Edwin had divorced, and she legally took back her maiden name)

The Tribune published his reply on Dec. 24,

Let there be no misunderstanding, a Mrs. E. H. Cheney never existed for me and now is no more in fact. But Mamah Borthwick is here and I intend to take care of her.

Since Wright’s telegram made things even worse, the next day, Wright and Borthwick invited the reporters inside Taliesin so he could give a public statement. He hoped doing this would explain things and take pressure off himself and his family.

It didn’t go well.

In part because Wright said, “In a way my buildings are my children”. The guy needed a publicist. But it was 1911; whatcha gonna do?

This disaster with the press answered my question:

As Wright escorted the reporters to the forecourt (now the Garden Court), he talked about upcoming work on the building and grounds. He said:

There is to be a fountain in the courtyard, and flowers. To the south, on a sun bathed slope, there is to be a vineyard. At the foot of the steep slope in front there is a dam in process of construction that will back up several acres of water as a pond for wild fowl.

Chicago Daily Tribune, December 26, 1911, “Spend Christmas Making ‘Defense’ of ‘Spiritual Hegira.'”

AHA!

There it is: at Christmas 1911, they hadn’t yet finished Taliesin’s dam! So the hydraulic ram wasn’t yet working to bring water to the reservoir behind the house, giving Taliesin running water and water for the pools!4

In contrast, Woolley’s photo has the fountain (on the left in the photo above). That means the water system was working.

More Taliesin photos

In January 1913, Architectural Record published photos taken in the previous summer. Click on the photo below for the link to a .pdf of that magazine. The link is the whole magazine for the first half 1913, so you’ll have to go through it.

Image from opening pages of "The Studio-Home of Frank Lloyd Wright". Includes a photograph looking West at Taliesin in the summer of 1912.

You go to the link (which has 6 months of the issues). You can find page 44 of the January issue, and that’s the start of 10 pages of Taliesin photos, like the screenshot above.

These Fuermann photos are what a lot of people envision when they think of Taliesin I.

You can also find them at the Wisconsin Historical Society in the Fuermann and Sons Collection.

And if you love them and want All The Fuermann Photos, you can buy the special issue on them that was published in the Journal of the Organic Architecture + Design Archives. They’ve got the photos Fuermann took in three photographic sessions. Architectural Historian, Kathryn Smith, explains their history.

More to come

I was ready to post this when I realized there are a few more things that you can see on tours that go back to 1911-12. So I’ll publish another post with more.

 

Taylor Woolley (then Wright’s draftsman), took the photograph at the top of this post. It’s at the Utah Historical Society, here

Published November 16, 2022


Notes

1 I don’t think they’ll be offering tours underground any time soon, in part because the openings into some places are only accessible by crawling on your hands and knees. Like what I wrote on in “A slice of Taliesin“.

2 I didn’t want to come off as a snotnosed smarty pants. Although maybe we could have talked about it. He seemed to trust my opinion by the end. He respected my opinions on one drawing I asked about.

3 The restoration work is due to a donation by educator and Architectural Historian, Sidney K. Robinson.

Watch Ryan Hewson, of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation talking about the restoration of the Tea Circle the “Frank Lloyd Wright x Pecha Kucha Live 2020” event. Pecha Kucha is a fast-paced slide show, and Hewson’s presentation is just over 6 minutes. It explains the work really well.

4 I wrote about my study of the dam in the post, “My dam history“.

Looking west in the Taliesin Drafting Studio toward Wright's vault, with his desk at the lower right.

DON’T TOUCH THAT STONE

Looking west in the Drafting Studio that Wright used at Taliesin until World War II (after that he used it as an office). His desk is on the right-hand side. If you look at the ascending stairs, you see two lines: one that is horizontal, and another that’s vertical. These are remnants from a change that occurred at the stone.

As I wrote in “I looked at stone“, the masonry used in Taliesin’s piers, walls, and floors often holds evidence of the building changes. So this post is going to be about two changes at Taliesin that are also visible in its stone. In this case, both of these can be seen in Taliesin’s Drafting Studio.

So, what are these changes?

Evidence of one change is on the west side of the room, and evidence of one is by the room’s doorway. I’ll write about the evidence seen in the stone because I hope they will stay there.1 Particularly because one of the changes is the only sign that something was there when Wright was alive. So I really hope no one touches it. That change is by the door on the east wall of the Drafting Studio.

First, though

There’s a sign of a change that stands on the outside of Taliesin’s vault that I want to talk about. That change can be seen in the photo at the top of this post, which shows the vault on the room’s west side. It’s by the steps that go up to the top of the vault.

Vault? wth are you talking about: I don’t see a metal door on this “vault” you’re talking about. You’re hallucinating.

Oh, sorry [she says to her cranky-alter-ego]: the stone you see is around a bank vault that is on the edge of the room. In Taliesin’s studio you’re looking at the back of the vault. You get into the vault through a bank door on the other side. btw: The steps don’t bring you into the vault.

Wright didn’t plan on using the top of the vault, because most of the vault was originally outside.

Ok, I’m getting ahead of myself

Let’s go back to the lines on the stone.

The change on the stone is the two lines to the right of the steps: a horizontal line and a vertical line. There aren’t any known photos or drawings that show the room’s configuration in the area to show exactly what wall caused those lines. But the lines would have been created in the ‘teens to the early ’20s. Looking at the lines though, I think they were made because a plaster wall/walls terminated at that spot on the vault.

Hold on – I’ll take you back in Taliesin’s history:

Here’s a photo when Wright first built the studio in 1911. So the vault wasn’t there. But you get a sense of how the west side of the room ended and that might help to visualize what terminated in the vault that was added later.

At the time the photo was taken, the studio was a rectangular room with a gable roof. The side of the room where the vault will eventually show up is on the right hand side in this one photo from the Taliesin I era. That photo was taken by Wright’s draftsman, Taylor Woolley:

Taken by Taylor Woolley in Wright's Taliesin drafting studio, 1911. Looking west.

Woolley took this 1911 photo looking west in the Taliesin drafting studio. When the room was finished, Wright put the drafting tables to Wooley’s left, as well as where he was standing, and behind him (you can see the other view of the studio in this photo). The two men in the background of this photo are unidentified.

Can you tell us what we’re seeing?

From what I can figure, Taylor Woolley was standing about where the lamp is in the photograph at the top of this post. You can see the building is close to being finished, because of the trim on the ceiling, but there’s still more that’s laid on the table in the foreground.

Wright scholar, Sidney Robinson, pointed out that the vault was probably built by 1913.2 That’s because there’s a drawing that was published that year that shows it. It’s drawing number 1403.011. If you click the link go to see the drawing online, they tell you it’s a 1914 drawing. But they’re wrong. The drawing was published in Western Architect 1913.2

And, oh sh*t – that means I’ve got to use a fricking drawing to try to prove something, and I’m always like, “don’t trust the drawings“…. OK: Let’s say we CAN’T prove that the damned vault was there in 1913, but it showed up in a PHOTO at least.

Black and white photograph looking (plan) west at roofs at Taliesin.

Standing on the top of Taliesin’s Living Room roof by its chimney, looking west. Taliesin’s Drafting Studio is to the left of the arrow, the vault under the arrow, and Wright’s private office to the right of the arrow. I know this was published in Frank Lloyd Wright: Man In Possession of His Earth, which was put out by the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation in 1962, so that’s who I think owns the photo, but I’m not sure.

Based on details, this photo was taken between 1918-1921. Wright expanded the studio before Taliesin’s second fire, and so the vault was then inside.

ANYHOW,

The marks on the stone outside of the Vault come from its changes. Luckily the marks have stayed there, unmolested.

Additionally,

on the opposite side of this room, there’s another mark on the stone. This is on the stone column you walk by when you enter the studio. Here’s the room today. I put an arrow pointing at the column:

Photograph by Stilfehler and published under the Creative Commons License: Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International. Looking northeast in the Taliesin drafting studio.

Looking east in Taliesin’s Drafting Studio. The column is where the Preservation Crew found a window during Taliesin’s Save America’s Treasures project in 2003-04.
Photograph by “Stilfehler”, on Wikimedia.org.

That column has a red and white vertical line you can see. It shows up in the photo I took below:

Photograph in Wright's studio looking at east wall, with a double door, a stone pier, and the red plaster wall.

Looking east in the Taliesin Drafting Studio.

That red and white line is there because there a built-in radiator cover terminated at the column for decades. You can see that radiator in the studio back in to the Taliesin II era. Here’s a photo from 1917-18 that shows it:

Photograph ahosing Taliesin drafting studio with drafting tables, Asian art, and models. An arrow points at a radiator cover in the studio.

This photograph is a postcard that Wright’s sister Maginel gave to Edgar Tafel. The photo is published in the book, About Wright: An Album of Recollections by Those Who Knew Frank Lloyd Wright, ed. Edgar Tafel. Looking east in the Taliesin Drafting Studio. The black arrow is pointing at the radiator cover.

The radiator cover shows up in photographs throughout Wright’s life.

Yet

the photos also show he changed it. Originally, the radiator was perpendicular to the stone column. Then he moved the radiator from perpendicular to, to parallel to, the east wall.

But he kept what looks like the first cover. Maybe he made it into a little cabinet. Because a little door, with a handle, appears on the old radiator cover in several photos from the mid-1950s. These are at the Wisconsin Historical Society, like this one below:

Photograph looking (plan) southeast at the Monona Terrace model. Taken in 1955.
Photograph by George H. Stein (1913-2004). At the Wisconsin Historical Society, Image ID #29226.

Photograph by George Stein. Stein took the photo in December 1955. Looking southeast in Taliesin’s Drafting Studio.

You can see the part of the old cover with the door and door handle next to the Monona Terrace model. And to the right of the cover, you see the top of the radiator, against the east wall. The photo taken in the ’50s. So, maybe the radiator cover that’s in the 1917-18 photo from Tafel’s book has been turned into a cabinet, maybe? As near as I can figure out, the former radiator cover (that became a cabinet?) was there when Wright died.

Or I think it was there.

That’s because I came across a photo of it years ago that showed the radiator cover, and the cabinet. The Chicago Tribune published that photo in 1962 [that’s (W)right, after his death], I bought it on Ebay3 and it’s below:

Photograph from the Chicago Tribune of the Taliesin drafting studio. A cello, harpsichord and world globe on the right.

Looking east in the Taliesin Drafting Studio in 1962. The photo shows the radiator and Wright’s Asian art works.

There’s a note on the back of the photo saying “September 20, 1962”.

At some point that entire built-in was removed, along with that radiator. And the floor in this area, where the radiator had been, must have been removed/replaced, so you can’t see a sign that the piping was there. So the physical evidence on the floor is gone. And the only thing that remains (as far as I know and can remember from my time at Taliesin) is what’s on the stone column.

So, before I end this post, I’ll put in this request to those who might work on or restore the Taliesin Drafting Studio: don’t touch that stone!

First published, September 25, 2022.
I took the photograph at the top of this post in 2005…. And, despite what some might think, YES, he used that lamp on the desk!

 


Notes:

1 Not that I think people will chuck things out at Taliesin willy nilly, but sometimes stuff happens.

2 I don’t know where Wright got the vault itself. It’s fireproofed and must be heavy, but I never got the chance to do the research on where Wright acquired it.

3 Although I should say that Bruce Pfeiffer was wrong, since he’s the one who dated the drawings. Anyway, the drawing appears in the article was “Taliesin, the home of Frank Lloyd Wright, and a study of the owner,” by Charles Robert Ashbee, Western Architect, 19 (February 1913), 16-19.

4 There’s got to be some joke about historians prowling Ebay for things related to their obsessions.

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

The Album

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

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

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

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

Finding out about The Album:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where had I seen them?

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

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

Why Clifford Evans?

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

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

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

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

I told people what I knew

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

Why were these important?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moreover,

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

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

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

Looking south on the Taliesin estate in winter.

Photograph by me, March of 2005.

But, more importantly,

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

End of the auction:

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

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

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

So, that week was exciting.

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

That said,

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

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

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

What do I want to see?

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

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

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

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


Notes:

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

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

The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York), 1104.003

Did Taliesin have outhouses?

A 1911 Taliesin floor plan showing Wright’s living room, kitchen, and his bedroom. The kitchen has a sink and his bedroom had a bathroom with a toilet, sink, and bathtub.
This Taliesin I floor plan, 1104.003, is at the Avery Library in New York City and can be seen online at ARTSTOR.

People want to know: over 110 years ago when Frank Lloyd Wright was building his home out in the country (and public utilities were so not a thing), did Taliesin have an outhouse at any time? Even early on?

I was asked this question many times while giving tours, and asked again last week while giving a presentation, so that’s why I decided to address it.

Taliesin probably didn’t have an outhouse

The floor plan you see above (and shown, completely, online here) shows a large section of Wright’s living quarters as he was designing it in 1911. I showed it because you see that he planned for a home that had a sink in its kitchen, as well as running water in the bathrooms.1

although he didn’t design faucets or hardware for his home

Wright’s approach to getting water to Taliesin was quite ingenious. You see, Taliesin stands about 3 miles (just under 5 kilometers) from the village of Spring Green in Southwestern Wisconsin. So there was no help there even if Spring Green had had a water tower. In 1911, then, if he wanted running water he had to do some tricks.

His aunts’ school (the Hillside Home School, less than a mile away) got its water by using watermills (including Wright’s Romeo and Juliet windmill). Wright did not do that at Taliesin. There was, however, a creek in the valley in which Taliesin sits. He used a hydraulic ram to pump water from the creek up to a reservoir on the hill behind it. The hydraulic ram worked when a drop in the water happened, which took place via a waterfall. He created a waterfall by damming up the creek running through the valley. He completed damming up the creek in early 1912.

The press hearing about Taliesin’s dam

We know his timetable for getting the water going because on December 26, 1911, Wright told visiting reporters about the dam. That’s when they bombarded came to Taliesin upon finding out he was living there with Mamah Borthwick. This is written at the end of that Chicago Tribune story:

Then Mr. Wright called to a worker to bring the visitor’s horses. As he stood waiting in the courtyard he talked a little of his bungalow. . . .

There is to be a fountain in the courtyard, and flowers. To the south, on a sun bathed slope, there is to be a vineyard. At the foot of the steep slope in front there is a dam in process of construction that will back up several acres of water as a pond for wild fowl.

Note that the newspaper story says that the dam is “in process of construction”.

Taylor Woolley (draftsman for Wright in 1911-12) took a photograph around that time. It shows the state of the dam’s construction:

Taliesin photograph by Taylor Woolley.
© 2011 Utah State History. All Rights Reserved.

This is a cropped photograph by then-draftsman Taylor Woolley. The internet address of this at the Utah Historical Society is here. The photograph looks (true) southwest at the dam being constructed (at the bottom of the photo), with Taliesin seen against the hill above. This photograph is one of over 40 photographic negatives by Woolley that show Taliesin and the Taliesin grounds. Those negatives are available here.

Another photograph by Woolley shows the new waterfall:

Photograph by Taylor Woolley of dam and pond at Taliesin
© 2011 Utah State History. All Rights Reserved.

Looking (true) east over the Taliesin dam and waterfall. Photograph taken in early 1912 by then-draftsman, Taylor Woolley. This photograph is online here. All of these photographs can be seen in the book, Building Taliesin: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Home of Love and Loss, by Ron McCrea.

Looking at the weather, it looks like the photo was taken in later winter (maybe February?). The hydraulic ram (getting water to the house) was powered by the waterfall.

Wright, about the dam

Wright wrote about the dam, and getting water to Taliesin, in his autobiography (first published in 1932):

Each court had its fountain and the winding stream below had a great dam. A thick stone wall was thrown across it, to make a pond at the very foot of the hill, and raise the water in the Valley to within sight from Taliesin. The water below the falls thus made, was sent, by hydraulic ram, up to a big stone reservoir built into the higher hill, just behind and above the hilltop garden, to come down again into the fountains and go on down to the vegetable gardens on the slopes below the house.

Frank Lloyd Wright, An Autobiography, in Frank Lloyd Wright Collected Writings: 1930-32, volume 2. Edited by Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer, introduction by Kenneth Frampton (1992; Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., New York City, 1992), 226.

The Chicago Tribune (on December 26, 1911) tells us he was working on the dam. Woolley’s photograph show the waterfall, which means the hydraulic ram was working. So, it appears that Wright had running water at Taliesin by midwinter.

And, while it no longer works, Taliesin’s dam educated me about hydraulic rams.

Thus, the short answer to the question, “Did Taliesin have outhouses”? appears to be NO.

Plus, he (and then Mamah) were only living there for months before he got water running. Where the heck could they go to the bathroom? Well, his sister lived across the way in the house that he designed for her and her husband. In fact, the two homes: Taliesin and Tan-y-deri, are in view of each other (the word Tan-y-deri, like the word, Taliesin, is Welsh; see the Tan-y-deri link for the definition of the word).

Originally published August 5, 2021


1 There were two bathrooms on the main floor of Taliesin’s living quarters.

Floor plan of Taliesin. Drawing #1104.003. The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art|Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York).

“This will be a nice addition…”

A drawing of Taliesin, executed in June 1911. This drawing is accessible from
https://library.artstor.org/#/asset/28509365;prevRouteTS=1621879846896

110 years ago, on May 25, 1911, the Weekly Home News (the newspaper of Spring Green, Wisconsin), noted on page 4 that:

“Mrs. Hannah Wright is building her home in Hillside valley, adjoining the old homestead, a little north and west of the old millsite. This will be a nice addition to the neat home in the valley.”

“Hannah” was her legal name, but she was known as Anna, and she was Frank Lloyd Wright’s mother.

“Hillside” was the name of the small town south across the Wisconsin river. The valley was lived in by Frank Lloyd Wright’s mother’s side of the family, the Lloyd Joneses (which is why, when Wright’s sister, Maginel, wrote about the family, she named her book, The Valley of the God-Almighty Joneses).

Why did Wright build this home?

The public perception was that Wright was building this home for his mother. He was actually building it for himself and his partner, Mamah Borthwick (she was still in Europe awaiting a divorce from Edwin Cheney, which she would do on August 5). By August1 he referred to the home as Taliesin.

Did Anna ever live there?

I have never figured out if, when, or where, Anna lived at Taliesin.

In December 2021,

I went to Taliesin West in Arizona looked at the text of some of Anna’s letters.

I wrote about looking at some of them it in my post “Anna to her son“.

She was definitely staying at Taliesin while she wrote them. Wright was in Japan working on the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. But there still no hard proof that she was there for the long-term. That she had also spent time with her other children, Jane Porter and Maginel Wright Enright.

Regardless of whether she ever lived at Taliesin, Anna did originally purchase the land where her son would start his home (or possibly she bought the land because her son persuaded client, Darwin Martin, to purchase her home so that she had the money to buy the land).

The purchase of the land:

She had purchased 31.561 acres of land on April 10, 1911 from Joseph Reider, a Lloyd-Jones neighbor.2 Frank Lloyd Wright would move to the “Hillside valley” (the Lloyd Jones valley) with Borthwick once she divorced. Thus, she’d be free to live with him.

Obviously, construction had started by late May 1911, thanks to the note in the Weekly Home News. When Wright first drew the building in April, it was labelled Cottage for Anna Lloyd Wright. It had three bedrooms (including one for a servant), a kitchen, a living room, and a “work room” across an open “loggia”.

Taliesin as constructed

By June 1911 (when someone executed the drawing above), Anna’s name no longer appeared on the drawing’s title block. However, the building was still being labelled as a cottage. Nice cottage: its living quarters had three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen and a living room. At a right angle, it had a workroom and office space. Beyond that were spaces for carriages and animals. Whether or not you’d call it a cottage, the drawing in June is fairly close to what was built.

Wright about Taliesin in his 1932 autobiography:

I wished to be part of my beloved southern Wisconsin and not put my small part of it out of countenance. Architecture, after all, I have learned, or before all, I should say, is no less a weaving a fabric than the trees….

The world had appropriate buildings before–why not more appropriate buildings now than ever before. There must be some kind of house that would belong to that hill, as trees and the ledges of rock did; as Grandfather and Mother had belonged to it, in their sense of it all.

Yes, there must be a natural house, not natural as caves and log-cabins were natural but native in spirit and making, with all that architecture had meant whenever it was alive in times past. Nothing at all that I had ever seen would do…. But there was a house that hill might marry and live happily ever after. I fully intended to find it. I even saw, for myself, what it might be like and begin to build it as the “brow” of the hill.

Frank Lloyd Wright, An Autobiography, in Frank Lloyd Wright Collected Writings: 1930-32, volume 2. Edited by Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer, introduction by Kenneth Frampton (1992; Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., New York City, 1992), 224-225

About the “brow” of the hill:

Frankophiles know this, but the word “Taliesin”, in the Welsh language, translates as “Shining Brow”. Wright’s family on his mother’s side, the Lloyd Joneses, came from Wales.

Construction photograph of Taliesin

Draftsman Taylor Woolley, who worked at Taliesin in 1911-12, took photographs all around the building. Those photos are now at the Utah Historical Society. I showed one of the photos months ago in my first blog post. Woolley printed some of these photos out. Someone put them into an album now owned by the Wisconsin Historical Society. The link to those photos is here.

So the Weekly Home News said the building was being built for “Mrs. Hannah Wright” in late May. Woolley took the photograph over three months later:

The photo above is taken from the “Hill Tower” at Taliesin, with Wright’s living quarters in the background.

Woolley’s construction photographs

The Ebay auction of an album of Woolley’s photographs (which I wrote about in The Album) were one of the most interesting things in Spring Green, Wisconsin during the winter of 2004-2005. But after that hullabaloo, writer/journalist Ron McCrea found negatives of more at the Utah Historical Society. He sent me chapters of the book he was working on, Building Taliesin: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Home of Love and Loss. If you read the book you can find out how McCrea found them, and where more photos by Woolley can be located.3

Woolley took the photograph above shortly after he came to work for Wright. Personally, I have never found photographs of Taliesin dating before that, or of construction earlier in the summer of 1911.

Also, I checked the issues of Weekly Home News newspaper published during the summer of 1911. But unfortunately, I haven’t found anything yet in the “Home News” about “Mrs. Hanna Wright” building in the “Hillside valley”.

Finally, and since I was asked this while working at Taliesin Preservation, there is no photograph of Frank Lloyd Wright “breaking ground” for his home.

Wright didn’t want people to know what he was up to in Wisconsin—so there’s no photo of Wright smiling happily while holding a gold shovel.

Regardless, that small note in the Weekly Home News touched on something that altered Spring Green, and southwestern Wisconsin, permanently.

Originally published, May 24, 2021.

The drawing above is drawing #1104.003, from The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art |Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York).


Notes

1  On August 26, 1911, architect John Moore sent Wright a telegram, wanting to visit his home. Wright scrawled at the bottom of the telegram (in preparation for the reply), that Moore and his friends “Will be welcome to Taliesin.” As I was transcribing it, I thought that this might have been the first time that Wright referred in writing to his house by that name.
The telegram is identification #K017E01, The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (Museum of Modern Art|Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York). 

2 People often think that the Lloyd Jones family owned the land where Wright built Taliesin. I think that’s what Wright wanted people to believe. The land title shows that it had not been owned at any time by a Lloyd Jones family member before Wright bought it. Until 1911, neighbor Joseph Reider owned it. There’s no bad reason why Wright didn’t tell people the truth; maybe he felt it made a better story.

3 I wrote the captions for many of Woolley’s photos in McCrea’s book, in part because I knew the photographs well (and, as I noted in another blog post: this stuff is fun for me). Unfortunately I lost most of the the emails between McCrea and myself due to something that happened with email at work (most were fubarred←if you don’t know the definition of “fubar”, look it up). Doesn’t matter so much, but it bums me out a bit.