Taliesin

Taliesin building
Photograph by TS Long

Taliesin is a nonprofit laboratory for living in the Driftless region of southwest Wisconsin conceived over a century ago by Frank Lloyd Wright as a destination for collaboration, innovation, and experimentation in culture, nature, and architecture. Rich in history, Taliesin, Wright’s personal home and studio for almost 50 years, is often referred to as his autobiography in wood and stone.

As a working laboratory, Wright made changes to Taliesin from 1911 until the end of his life, in 1959. It was an experiment and sketchbook, constantly evolving to include new ideas, and stands in a valley with perhaps a closer connection to Wright than any other place in the world. At Taliesin Preservation, we believe that Taliesin is an ongoing vision for the betterment of a shared future—we are about sharing the place and idea, building a laboratory for living and convening a community.

The valley in which Taliesin sits was originally settled in the 1860s by Wright’s progressive Welsh family, the Lloyd Joneses. The year Wright turned 11, he was sent by his mother, Anna, to his Uncle James’ farm in “The Valley,” where Taliesin is now located. He spent each of his summers on this farm until he was 18. The Valley and his ancestors became the inspiration for how Wright saw the world.

Wright eventually left Wisconsin for Oak Park, Illinois, to start a family and build his architecture practice. In 1909, after earning recognition for his Prairie style of architecture, Wright left Oak Park and his family to go to Europe and publish a portfolio. He took with him his mistress, Mamah Borthwick Cheney, a client and wife of Edwin Cheney. In 1910, he returned to Oak Park to settle his affairs while Mamah waited in Europe until she could divorce her husband. In 1911, nearly 32 acres in The Valley were acquired in Anna's name, and Wright designed his home on the brow of the hill, which Wright said was “one of my favorite places when I was a boy.”

Wright named this home Taliesin, which is Welsh for “shining brow.” However, to Wright, the name Taliesin signified more than solely the placement of the house. He wrote, “Taliesin! Name of a Welsh poet, druid-bard who sang to Wales the glories of fine art. Many legends cling to that beloved reverend name in Wales.”

Taliesin saw two major fires, in 1914 and 1925. In the first, for unknown reasons, a servant set fire to Taliesin's living quarters and murdered seven people, including Wright’s mistress. The architect, determined to move forward, decided to rebuild Taliesin because it “should live to show something more for its mortal sacrifice than a charred and terrible ruin on a lonely hillside in the beloved Valley.” And so, “Taliesin II began to rise from Taliesin the first.”

On a personal note, Wright spent almost nine years with Miriam Noel, his second wife. In 1924, Wright met the woman with whom he spent the rest of his life, Olga Lazovich “Olgivanna” Milanoff Hinzenberg. Wright and Olgivanna married in 1928.

Taliesin II stood for roughly a decade. During that time, Wright expanded the building, adding more agricultural structures to it. In 1925, a powerful oncoming storm caused a devastating electrical fire at Taliesin II, also destroying the home's living quarters. Precious works of art were destroyed, but Wright pushed onward once again. He wrote, “Was I the key to a Taliesin nobler than the first if I could make it? I had faith that I could build another Taliesin! Taliesin III.”

In all practicality, there are three Taliesins, the eras designated by those two fires. However, there are truly multitudes of Taliesins spanning from its creation to Wright's death. Wright changed the structure as his life and economics changed, constantly adapting, constantly evolving. Taliesin became a laboratory for testing innovative products and innovative designs which he ultimately used for his clients at Fallingwater, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, and many others.

In 1932, during the Great Depression, commissions were in decline. A strong believer of education, Wright purchased his progressive aunts’ Hillside Home School, which they founded in the 1880s as one of the first co-educational day and boarding schools in the country, and used it when he began the Taliesin Fellowship. In the Fellowship, men and women worked under Wright as apprentices and took a learn-by-doing approach to education. In order to sustain their community, Wright built the Midway Barn complex on the property to integrate living, farming, land management, food preserving, cooking, and animal husbandry.

In the 1940s, Taliesin changed to a dedicated summer home under Wright’s direction due to the creation of his winter home, Taliesin West, in Arizona. The home’s transformation included changes that could be made without insulation, as Wright was no longer in Wisconsin during the winter.

Since the inception of the Taliesin Fellowship, now known as the School of Architecture at Taliesin, hundreds of individuals from around the world have studied here. Taliesin became an integrated place of learning, built on the dialogue of architecture conversing with art, food, farm, nature, music, education, and community. After all, Wright believed that it is the integration of the parts that make the whole, whether talking about architectural structures or people.

The importance of the 800-acre estate (600 of which Wright owned) with Wright's home and four other buildings designed by him, has resulted in it being named as a National Historic Landmark. In July 2019, Wright’s home, along with seven other Frank Lloyd Wright buildings, was added to the list of World Heritage Sites by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), alongside the Grand Canyon and the Egyptian Pyramids. These buildings by Wright exemplify his contribution to 20th century Modern architecture around the world.

Today, Taliesin Preservation believes in sharing the whole story of Taliesin, offering adult workshops, microapprenticeships, retreats, and volunteering opportunities that inspire individuals like Wright toward a better shared future. To learn more, visit taliesinpreservation.org .

Keiran Murphy is the cultural historian of Taliesin Preservation.

Taliesin Preservation Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor Center
5607 County Rd C
Spring Green, WI 53588
taliesinpreservation.org

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