Taliesin II: the forgotten middle child of Taliesin

Taliesin II living quarters, approximately 1922

The photo at the top of this page shows the living quarters of Taliesin: the portion of the building rebuilt after the fire of 1914 and destroyed in the fire of 1925. The photo was taken around 1922.

Frank Lloyd Wright and Taliesin II:1

Frank Lloyd Wright named his home Taliesin, but later wrote that the building after the 1914 fire was Taliesin II, and that the building after the second fire (of 1925) was Taliesin III.

I think Taliesin II gets lost because Wright built it after the 1914 fire (caused by a terrible act of violence), and it was destroyed in 1925 (apparently an electrical fire). The home that exists today was where he lived when:

    • He recovered his architectural career
    • Started the Taliesin Fellowship in 1932 with his third wife, Olgivanna (the only person referred to at Taliesin as Mrs. Wright)
    • Designed some of his most well-known buildings (including Fallingwater), and
    • Became, apparently, the first “starchitect”

I want to note that, in terms of drafting, as of 1939—after the commissions for Fallingwater house and the Johnson Wax Administration Building—his main studio in Wisconsin was his newly designed and built drafting studio at Hillside2 on the southern part of his Taliesin estate (which I wrote about in an earlier blog post).

So Taliesin II gets overshadowed.

On top of those things, Wright was out of the country a lot from 1915-1922 , working on the Imperial Hotel commission in Tokyo.

By the time he was done with the Imperial Hotel he had added two more rooms to Taliesin’s living quarters (on the ground floor and one above that). Then heightened that part of the building. There’s a photo of that part of the building, below:

Taliesin II from the

From the Eric Milton Nicholls Collection at the National Library of Australia

The photograph was taken by the Griffins on their trip to America in 1924-25. It shows the southern part of Taliesin II’s living quarters. Compare this photo to the one at the top of the page: the chimney you see here on the right on the photo at the top of the page is the same chimney that you see on the left in the photo above.

The photographer took this photo while standing on Taliesin’s Hill Crown. The carriage drive that brought you to the house came between the hill and the building (so it’s beyond the grasses you see in the foreground, but before the stone of the building you see in the mid-ground). On the right hand side of the photograph was a room. It was a guest room. Today if you stood on the Hill Crown and looked in this direction, Frank Lloyd Wright’s bedroom would be in the same area.

The photo comes from the National Library of Australia. Take a look at this page, where you can get more information on the photo. It comes from the collection of Eric Milton Nicholls, architectural partner to husband and wife architects Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin.

Down on this page, you’ll see that I put hyperlinks to all of the photographs that the Griffins took of Taliesin.

In addition to the changes Wright did at his living quarters, he extended Taliesin to the west, adding a root cellar and ice house in 1916, and, by 1924, another horse stable, and also chicken coops, a granary and a pigsty.3

Had Taliesin II existed for a longer period of time, more photographs of it would have been taken.

But the reason for less photographs is that Wright was in Japan for large chunks of time in the ‘teens and twenties. He didn’t return to live full time in the United States until 1922, after he had finished his major work in Japan on the Imperial Hotel. Things were looking up when the commissions in Japan (and California) came to an end, then things went sideways with longtime partner, Miriam Noel.

Wright and Noel married in November 1923.

Noel lived with him about 5 or 6 months as his wife. She left by April or early May the next year.

My personal opinion is that those two seemed to bring out the worst in each other. You can read about her in Meryle Secrest’s Wright biography (don’t be afraid of its number of pages—I only picked it up after someone someone advised me to skip the first 100), and Frank Lloyd Wright: A Biography, by Finis Farr. Farr devoted a lot of space to Wright and Noel’s relationship, noting that when they married, “A more unfortunately wedded couple could not have been found in the length and breadth of the United States.” [Finis Farr, 173]

Or you can read The Women, by T.C. Boyle for the fictionalized Miriam.

Wright met Olgivanna Milanoff about six months after Miriam left. Olgivanna, who married him in 1928, moved into Taliesin by January 1925.  On April 20 of that year another devastating fire (probably the result of bad wiring) struck Taliesin, destroying its living quarters. No lives were lost but he lost thousands of dollars worth of art he had collected in Japan. While Wright worked on rebuilding Taliesin, Noel found out about Olgivanna (now pregnant with her and Wright’s child), which resulted in more bad press and the start of career problems for Frank Lloyd Wright (even before the stock market crash in 1929).

            That’s the easy version of that story.  

Regardless, it’s possible to get photographs of Taliesin II if you know where to look.

I’d love to plaster this page with Taliesin II photos, but I think I’d get into trouble (copyrights and all that). So the rest of my post will be about where you can find the images.

Photographs of Taliesin II

There are a couple of places where can you find Taliesin II photographs in print. I’ll give you the easiest ones:

By the way: if you get the “Global Architecture” book, or “Selected Houses v. 2”, trust me when I tell you that, while the cover of the books has a Wright-designed rug on the floor of the Taliesin living room, that rug was never there while he was alive.

Here are links to images on-line:

Eric Milton Nicholls Collection, National Library of Australia:

Nicholls worked in the architecture office in Australia of Walter Burley Griffin and his wife, Marion Mahony Griffin. There are seven photos that were taken on the Taliesin Estate: five show Taliesin II, one shows the dam and waterfall, and one shows the Hillside structure. Of the seven photographs, some were taken when the Griffins visited the U.S. in 1924-25 (like the photo I showed above), but at least one shows Taliesin II a little earlier: https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-150233395/view. It looks like it was taken around 1917, before the Griffins went to Australia.

Links to the five other photos are below:

If for some reason these URLs don’t work, go to the Library of Australia in the Nicholls Collection: https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-150140881

Go to Search and the Taliesin photographs are on Pages 821-840.

Here are other photographs, most from the Wisconsin Historical Society:

Exteriors

Interiors:

  • Taliesin II Dining Room:https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Image/IM83015
    • The configuration of the ceiling shows this to be Taliesin II, not Taliesin I. A Taliesin tour guide told me this years ago (hi, Bryan). Aside from the ceiling another thing that indicates this is Taliesin II is the design of the chair in the foreground. This “room” is not surrounded by four walls; the way it’s delineated is a change in the ceiling height. The living room “starts” when the ceiling drops down.
  • Another Taliesin II Dining Room photo (published at the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation website), https://franklloydwright.org/an-autobiography-in-wood-and-stone/1403-0038-dining-s/
    • It’s showing the same space as the first one above. Go back and forth between the two to see the differences. See, I told you I did that stuff.
  • Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin, sitting at a table near the window: https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Image/IM23788
    • He’s sitting in Taliesin’s living room, along the east wall, north of the photos of the dining “room” above. So if you were sitting where he was and looked to your left you would see the dining area.
  • Frank Lloyd Wright at the Taliesin Drafting Studio, 1924: https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Image/IM27896
    • We know where he is because of the fireplace on the left hand side of the photograph. The photographer who took this photograph was probably standing in the space where all the drafting was done (which you see in the next photo).
    • One of the things I find silly about this photo is that Wright looks to me like he’s 4 feet tall.
  • Drafting Studio. https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Image/IM66179
    • The person closest to the photographer was Nobuko Tsuchiura, she was a draftsperson4 at Taliesin with her husband, Kameki, from the beginning of 1924 to the end of 1925.
  • Taliesin II Living Room:https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Image/IM83334
    • The TII living room is noted by the rectangular lintel at the fireplace.

First published on March 2, 2021

I don’t know who took the photograph of the Taliesin II living quarters that is at the top of this entry. I got a copy of it from someone who convinced someone else not to throw this out.


1Some say the words Taliesin I, Taliesin II, and Taliesin III shouldn’t be used. That using these numbers imply the building was completely destroyed twice with a new one built on top. The fires at Taliesin destroyed 1/3 of the building, but not its drafting studio or farm wings. While I don’t commonly call the house that stands “Taliesin III”, I use those terms because Wright wrote them in his autobiography. Even if someone says he’s wrong, I’m not going to disagree with his choices because Taliesin was his house, and he was a lot smarter than I am or ever will be.

2And, in an occurrence of Ouroboros, snake-eating-its-own-tail thing, I initially wrote the Wikipedia page about Hillside that I linked to and am using it here to back up my (completely justified) assertion. I’ll try not to link back to this blog post if I update the Wikipedia page on how much work Wright did at the Hillside drafting studio.

3He labelled it as a pigsty in a floor plan, but I was told it was always used as a goat pen. Probably because even randy goats can smell better than pigs.

4I asked people who’ve worked in architecture what term I should use to describe Nobuko Tsuchiura. I didn’t know if “draftsman” was proper, and “draftswoman” seemed odd. Someone suggested “draftshuman”, but I thought I should go with something that is more commonly used nowadays. “Draftsperson” was the most suggested so that’s why I put that here.