Thursday, October 2, 2014


Taliesin, the word is Welsh for "shining brow". Frank Lloyd Wright thrust his Wisconsin home into the brow of a hillside and then named it Taliesin. The area just south of Spring Green is geologically known as the "Driftless" area, an area carved by nature's sculptural tools with deep river valleys and rolling hills. The majesty of the area rolls over the landscape like a royal robe lined with sugar maples instead of ermine.
This is the third iteration of Taliesin. The first building was a commission from Wright's mother to build her a home at a time following Wright's departure from his apprenticeship under Louis Sullivan. Wright was ready to hang out his own shingle but initial commissions were slim.
It was Wright's idea to have his mother donate the property to him after a scandalizing affair with the wife of a former client made it impossible for Wright to continue work from his Chicago studio. He felt compelled to take his paramour out of the Chicago spotlight and set up housekeeping closer to his family home.
The landscape of the Driftless area in Southwestern Wisconsin is breathless and to Wright's credit the perfect place to move a mistress who otherwise would be set drifting and untethered in an unfriendly world.
We received an invitation from one of the Wright Foundation board members to attend a fund-raiser on the estate.
It was held in the early evening on the cusp of autumn. It was a warm evening without a breeze. We were told to be at the Wright visitor center just prior to the event where shuttle buses would be provided to take us up to the grounds and the estate. Rick and I had talked for years about going to Taliesin but the limited visiting times and the length of the tours were a deterrent to edging the trip up higher on our bucket list. The benefit turned out to be the ideal opportunity to make the journey and cross Taliensin East off our list.
Once we stepped off the shuttle bus we had complete access to the estate roaming through room after room and taking our time to walk the grounds and observe the glorious vistas that I'm sure inspired Wright's work.
Guarding the entrance to the estate is a pair of Chinese Foo Dogs. At the beginning of the Taliesin history Wright spent much of his time on site with his projects leaving the estate to function primarily as a repository for his growing collection of Asian art and sculpture.
Whether in the gardens
or inside the estate elements of the Far East grace ledges and stand sentry at the entrances to the home and studios.
Culture seems to ooze out Taliesin like molten chocolate out of a soufflé. Art is in evidence at every turn and the anticipation of live music is carved into every piece of furniture. Nightly concerts were a ritual that followed Wright, his family and his students everywhere he laid down his hat.
The unique vision of Wright can be seen in this music stand and chairs we found in the main living room, perfect for a quartet of violins or winds with lighting that wouldn't disturb Mr. Wright as he lounged in repose to their sonata.
The availability of music to pour out of every room was evident in the artifacts that remain, a piano here, a harp there waiting for the evening musicians to pick them up and entertain a man who needed constant stimulation.
The house itself is in need of constant maintenance. The structure was built primarily by students, not craftsman.
Kids for the most part having their first experience with the construction end of architecture. It was never intended as a permanent structure but as a learning tool.
The third and now final building is built of indigenous limestone, a series of wings spread out around lush courtyards and water features. Wright placed himself in the company of a handful of additional artists who are credited with developing a new genre in their field, people who have reached outside the box and brought something new and previously unseen to the table. For Wright it was the Prairie Style and Taliesin was its spark igniting a movement.
Wright was not a very tall man. This might have led to his creating ceiling heights that would make taller men have to bend as if in reverence when entering his buildings.
The low entries are actually an Asian design principle where one is supposed to enter a small space prior to being allowed the privilege of experiencing the large space at the end of the entry.
As the sky began to paint a pastel background and as the mosquitoes began to turn us into their buffet
we took cover in to the interior trying out some of the furniture that was only possible due to our invitation to an intimate affair.
The evening ended on a speech by Wright's grandson, Tom Wright. He never candy-coated his appraisal of his grandfather. He presented him as both a distant demanding man obsessed with work and his mission and a creative genius pushing excellence out of everyone he came in contact with. Genius still lives in a tiny "driftless" slice of Southwestern Wisconsin.

Frank Lloyd Wright in His Workroom at Taliesin, 1956
Ed Obma, photographer
From the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, Scottsdale, AZ

1 comment:

  1. Just looking across the cornfields in the autumn at Taliesin on the hill is breathtaking. How wonderful to be able to wander freely inside!