How do I write about a place I’ve waited four decades to see, with great anticipation? Only to say architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s Wisconsin home, Taliesin (near the town of Spring Green), was worth the wait, and I find myself ttruly inspired anew.
All of my life, I’ve been an admirer of Wright’s work. Long ago when I cataloged Stoxen Library’s copy of the coffee-table book on Fallingwater, the home he designed in Pennsylvania, I pored over the pages, and I’ve since read the book several times. I’ve not been to Fallingwater, but it remains on my list.
When we made plans to travel to Iowa for a wedding, it came to me pretty quickly that a side trip to Taliesin was possible. I did the research on their web page and we agreed to a 4½-hour tour, the full grounds and house tour, the full monty.
To backtrack, about 10 years ago, when in Phoenix for a winter trip, we visited Wright’s western home, Taliesin West, and took the tour. The architect who finished the Guggenheim Museum in New York after Wright’s death was strolling the grounds as we took our tour. We were thrilled and below are the photos I took on that day.
Fast-forward to 2017. In Wisconsin, we arrived at the Taliesin Visitors Center early, allowing us time to browse the gift store prior to boarding the van. The Center sits on the banks of the broad Wisconsin River, and the Taliesin estate is in the adjacent Wyoming Valley, which drains into the Wisconsin.
I indulged myself in a purchase of these coasters, something practical that would also serve as a memento of our visit, inscribed with what FLW called “The Organic Commandment.” The gift store has many lovely FLW inspired items. I spotted two of the many FLW-themed books I’ve read in the past, good reads I would recommend.
Wright was of Welsh ancestry, and Taleisin is the Welsh word for “shining brow” — the house is placed on the “brow” of a hill overlooking the wooded Wyoming Valley.
Our tour began at the building he designed to house his architectural school when he moved back home from Chicago. It is now called the School of Architecture at Taliesin. In the summer, the students and professors are in Wisconsin and in the winter in Arizona. The school was in residence in Arizona when we visited, but our exceptional tour guide went into great detail about what it is like when the students are there as well as telling us how FLW designed the building.
Cherokee Red was his signature color, and he even had his automobiles painted this color. It is evident everywhere at Taliesin.
Taliesin once encompassed 3,000 acres, but it is now 600 acres. It is still a working farm, with a huge organic food operation. Our guide said “he was a pretty good farmer, but his artistry won out.” On the top of one of the hills is a fascinating windmill that he designed as a very young man.
His extended family lived all along the Wyoming Valley. Near the architecture school is the house he designed for his sister, called Tanyderi, which means “under the oaks.”
Below are three photographs of his very unusual barn on the grounds.
As we walked along past the barn and approached his house, a bald eagle soared over us, and we all agreed that was a powerful sign.
Jim snapped this picture of me in front of the home and later told me how happy it made him to watch me on the tour, knowing that I was delighted in every single moment, every single step.
This is the third of the homes that FLW built at Taliesin. The first, built in 1911, burned as did the second. Each time, he built it larger, and there are 37,000 square feet under the same roofline.
The entrance is designed to be “a journey of discovery.”
FLW loved music. Pictured below, in the living room, is seating he designed (next to the grand piano) for a string quartet.
When the original house burned, FLW sifted through the ruins and recovered sculptures, some of which were then incorporated into the new house. One is shown in my photograph below.
FLW called this structure his “bird walk,” and I recognized it from famous photographs taken of him standing on the walk, in his coat and hat.
These two photographs below are of his bedroom. He would arise before dawn and walk over to start working before anyone else in the house was stirring.
He famously said, “Nothing is too big or too small for me to design.”
There is a wealth of wonderful resources about FLW, who lived from 1867-1959. I highly recommend the Ken Burns and Lynn Novick PBS film “Frank Lloyd Wright.” A few others of my favorite resources include:
“An Illustrated Guide to Frank Lloyd Wright”
“Frank Lloyd Wright Buildings Road Trip”
Our last stop before departing the Wyoming valley was the family cemetery. FLW was buried here, but his third wife had his body moved to the grounds of Taliesin West.
Here in Wisconsin, the Unity Chapel was one of FLW’s first commissions, designed when his family called him the “boy architect.”
He truly was “one of the greatest architects of the 20th century, his work heralding a new thinking, using innovation in design and engineering made possible by newly developed technology and materials. His creative ability extended far beyond the border of architecture to graphic design, furniture, art glass, textiles and decorative elements for the home.”
His amazing buildings can be seen all around the U.S., and I look forward to inspirational visits to more FLW places. For now, I will savor my visit to Taliesin every time I put my coffee mug down on my new coaster.