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Thursday, May 29, 2014

Taliesin--Spring Green, Wisconsin

Copyright, Jim Lane
Taliesin, Spring Green, Wisconsin, grew from the brow of Wright's favorite boyhood knoll.
Freezing, thawing, tree roots, aging
limestone, and simply poor
construction demand a constant 
emphasis on preservation.
A week or so ago I visited Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin West both here and in real life. Taliesin West, located near Scottsdale, Arizona, was Wright's winter home, also the winter campus of his Taliesin Fellowship. Just a few days ago, I visited the original Taliesin, located outside Spring Green, Wisconsin. This was Wright's original home from about 1911 until his death in 1959 at the age of 91. The two places are comparable, but not very. The original Taliesin shows the wear and tear derived from nearly one-hundred years of harsh Wisconsin winters and Wright's constant "fiddling" with it (not to mention the ravages of fire on two separate occasions). The weather in Scottsdale is also rather harsh, but on the whole, the dry summer heat tends to be preservative in nature rather than degenerative. Like its Wisconsin namesake, Taliesin West bears the marks of Wright's penchant for experimentation, but by the 1930s, Wright was more sure of himself. There was sprawl, but not without the unity of design so lacking in Wisconsin.
Copyright, Jim Lane
The current entrance to the Taliesin living quarters, the last of several over the years
(Wright kept moving them).
The entrance to the fellowship
living space.
The name, Taliesin, is Welsh meaning "shining brow." Whereas other architects, now and then, would have been tempted to build atop their favorite boyhood retreat, Wright, instead, built along the gentle slop of a hill (its brow) on three sides of the central knoll creating a sort of "courtyard" effect which, with its dark wood and stone appears to have grown naturally from the hill itself. The house itself (despite the two fires) has always occupied the north wing (facing west on the outward side) while the other two sides of the "U" evolved from stables and livestock areas into garages, service quarters, and guest accommodations. Later, and still today, these areas became living quarters for Taliesin Fellowship members and their families.

The Taliesin Fellowship popular
image--the master promulgates.
The Taliesin Fellowship, much
closer to reality during the 1930s.

Under Wright's nearly constant habitation, Taliesin took on the qualities of a living being, a laboratory for architectural experimentation, and, as money permitted and circumstances demanded, the center of the commune-like architectural school Wright and his third wife, Olga, developed, as a vital means of survival during the lean days of the early 1930s. Apprentices sought out Wright and Taliesin solely on the basis of the man's reputation which, even so, was at something of a low ebb at that point. Times were tough. Would-be architects often found themselves hoeing corn, cooking, cleaning, and repairing roofs with barely a glimpse, much less instruction from their architect idol.

Wright's office and the Taliesin "work room" during the 1930s. 
Here is where Fallingwater first took shape on paper.
Then came Fallingwater. The Kauffman hunting lodge in southwestern Pennsylvania took form first in Wright's mind, where it remained for almost a year until a visit to Taliesin by his client in 1936 propelled Wright and his hard-pressed apprentices into a 24-hour drawing frenzy. The final elevations were completed by them as Wright and his wealthy client had lunch. Fallingwater took final form on paper at Taliesin and propelled Wright to the top of his profession. The success of the Taliesin Fellowship was never again in doubt as Wright and his futuristic concrete, stone, and glass masterpiece landed on the cover of Time magazine even before the house was finished.

Despite the popular image of clean, lines and simple textures often associated
with Wright's interiors, as the living room at Taliesin demonstrates,
his personal space was far from simple or uncluttered
Today Taliesin is a mixture of refined hominess and historic symbolism. Here, Wright freed domestic architecture from "the box," yet it never ceases to amaze me how long it took him to finally embrace the curve (as seen in New York's Guggenheim Museum, his final work completed only after his death). Long, low, lean, and horizontal with the occasional accenting vertical or diagonal line, Wright perfected his organic architecture and demonstrated its versatility at Taliesin. At the same time, he and his wife perfected a means of guaranteeing his theories, style, and vision of the future would survive through his writings and teachings for perhaps hundreds of years after his death.

The Taliesin Fellowship studio today, having taken over the remodeled
turn-of-the-century boarding school Wright designed for two of his aunts around 1901.

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