Taliesin's drafting studio (left) and living quarters (right) as seen from the crown of its hill
|Location||south of Spring Green, in Iowa County, Wisconsin|
|Governing body||Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation|
|NRHP Reference #||73000081|
|Added to NRHP||January 7, 1976|
|Designated NHLD||January 7, 1976|
Taliesin //, sometimes known as Taliesin East after 1937, was the estate of American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Located 2.5 miles (4.0 km) south of the village of Spring Green, Wisconsin, United States, the 600-acre (240 ha) property was developed on land that originally belonged to Wright's maternal family.
The design of the original house, Taliesin I, was consistent with the design principles of the Prairie School, emulating the flatness of the plains and the natural limestone outcroppings of the Driftless Area. Wright designed the estate after his affair with Mamah Borthwick made headlines and forced Wright out of his original home of Oak Park, Illinois. The house was completed in 1911. In 1914, a disgruntled employee murdered Borthwick and several others and set fire to the house.
After a few months of emotional recovery, Wright set out to rebuild the Taliesin estate. This second version, dubbed Taliesin II, was used only sparingly by Wright as he worked on his projects abroad. He only returned to the house in 1924, shortly before a fire destroyed the living quarters the next April. A third building was constructed after Wright reacquired the foreclosed property from a bank. This home, Taliesin III, was the home to Wright for the rest of his life, although he began to winter at Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Arizona upon its completion in 1937. Frank Lloyd Wright designed many of his acclaimed buildings here, including Fallingwater, the Imperial Hotel, Johnson Wax Headquarters, and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. Wright was also an avid collector of Asian art and used Taliesin as a storehouse and private museum.
Taliesin was donated to the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation upon Wright's death in 1959. This organization oversaw renovations to the estate and now operates it as a museum. The property was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976 and is being considered as part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Jones Valley, the Wisconsin River valley in which Taliesin sits, was formed during Pre-Illinoian glaciation. This region of North America, known as the Driftless Area, was totally surrounded by ice during Wisconsin glaciation, but the area itself was not glaciated. The result is an unusually hilly landscape with deeply carved river valleys. The valley is approximately 2.5 miles (4.0 km) south of the village of Spring Green, Wisconsin.
The valley was originally settled by Frank Lloyd Wright's maternal family, the Lloyd Joneses. Wright's grandfather, Richard Lloyd Jones, came from Ixonia, Wisconsin with his family in 1858 to start a farm. By the 1870s, Richard's sons had taken over operations of the farm. They would invite Wright to come work during summers as a farmhand.
Wright's aunts Jennie and Nell began a co-educational school in the family valley in 1887 and let Wright design the building; this was Wright's first independent commission. In 1896, Wright's aunts again commissioned Wright, this time to build a windmill. The resulting Romeo and Juliet Windmill was unorthodox but stable. In the winter of 1900, Wright compiled a portfolio of photographs he took of the surrounding area for a promotional brochure for the Hillside School. Unsatisfied with his original design for the Hillside School, Wright would replace the school in 1902 with a Prairie School design. Wright would later send several of his children to receive an education at the Hillside School. Wright's final commission on the farm was a house for his sister Jane Porter in 1907. Tan-Y-Deri, Welsh for "Under the Oaks", was a design based on his recent Ladies Home Journal article "A Fireproof House for $5000." The family, their ideas, religion, and ideals, greatly influenced the young Wright, who later changed his middle name from Lincoln (in honor of Abraham Lincoln) to Lloyd in deference to this side of the family.
When Wright decided to construct a home in this valley, he chose the name of the Welsh bard Taliesin, whose name means "shining brow" or "radiant brow". Wright learned of the poet through Richard Hovey's "Taliesin: A Masque", a story about an artist's struggle for identity. The Welsh name also suited Wright's roots, as the Lloyd Joneses gave Welsh names to their properties. The hill upon which Taliesin was built was a favorite from Wright's youth; he saw the house as a "shining brow" on the hill. Although the name was originally only applied to the house, Wright later used the term to refer to the entire property.
From 1898 to 1909, architect Frank Lloyd Wright lived and worked out of his home and studio in Oak Park, Illinois. In Oak Park, Wright had developed his concept of Prairie School architecture, designing houses primarily for local clients. In 1903, Wright began designing a home for Edwin Cheney, but quickly took a liking for Cheney's wife. Wright and Mamah Borthwick Cheney began an affair and separated from their spouses in 1909. They met up in Florence, Italy in February 1910. Wright worked on the Wasmuth Portfolio, a collection of his drawings and plans, while Borthwick translated feminist works into German. Wright also made sketches of his future studio during the winter. He was particularly inspired by Michelozzo's Palazzo Medici Riccardi because it was built into a hill, had commanding views of its surroundings, and featured gardens on two levels.
In 1911, the pair sought to return to the United States, but knew they could not escape scandal if they returned to Oak Park. Wright saw an alternative—his family's ancestral farm near Spring Green, Wisconsin. On April 3, Wright wrote to a friend requesting money to purchase "a small house" for his mother. By the 10th, Wright's mother Anne had a signed deed for the property. By using Anne's name, Wright was able to secure the 31.5-acre (12.7 ha) property without attracting any attention to the affair. Late in the summer, Mamah quietly moved into the property, staying with Wright's sister at Tan-Y-Deri. However, Wright and Borthwick's new property was discovered by a Chicago Examiner reporter that fall, and the affair made headlines in the Chicago Tribune on Christmas Eve.
The Taliesin house had three sections: two broad portions on either end and a narrow connecting loggia. Typical of a Prairie School design, the house was, as Wright described, "low, wide, and snug." As with most of his houses, Wright designed the furniture. One of these broad sections was used as Wright's studio and workroom. A small apartment wing juts out of this wing; the apartment may have originally been intended for Wright's mother, but was used by Wright's head draftsman. Wright and Borthwick lived in the other broad portion. The one-story complex was accessed by a road that traveled up the hill to the rear of the building. The estate gateway was on County Road C, just west of Wisconsin Road 23. Iron entry gates sat between limestone piers capped with planter urns.
Stone for the house came from a quarry on a nearby hill. Wright chose this yellow limestone because it came naturally from outcropping ledges. Local farmers helped Wright move the stone up the Taliesin hill. Stones were laid in long, thin ledges, evoking the natural way that they were found in the quarry and across the Driftless Area. Plaster for the interior walls was mixed with sienna, giving the finished product a golden hue. This caused the plaster to resemble the sand on the banks of the nearby Wisconsin River. The outside plaster walls were similar, but mixed with cement, resulting in a grayer color. Windows were placed so that sun could come through openings in every room at every point of the day. Wright chose not to install gutters so that icicles would form in winter. Shingles on the gradually-pitched roof were designed to weather to a silver-grey color, matching the branches of nearby trees. A porte-cochère was built over the main entrance of the living quarters to provide shelter for visiting automobiles. The finished house measured approximately 12,000 square feet (1,100 m2) of enclosed space.
Life at Taliesin
Upon moving in with Borthwick in winter 1911, Wright resumed work on his architectural projections. During the three years that Taliesin I stood, Wright struggled to secure commissions because of the ongoing negative publicity over his affair with Borthwick. However, Wright did produce some of his most acclaimed works during this time period, including the Midway Gardens in Chicago and the Avery Coonley Playhouse in Riverside. He also indulged his hobby for collecting Japanese art, and quickly became a renowned authority. Borthwick translated four works from Swedish difference feminist Ellen Key.
In his spare time, Wright developed a fruit farm on the property. He ordered over a thousand fruit trees and bushes from Jens Jensen in 1912. Wright requested hundred and eighty-five apple trees planted, including one hundred McIntosh, fifty Wealthy, fifty Golden Russet, and fifty Fameuse. Among the bushes were three hundred gooseberry, two hundred blackberry, and two hundred raspberry. The property was also farmed for pears, asparagus, rhubarb, and plums. It is unknown exactly how many were planted, because part of the order was destroyed during a railroad strike. The surviving fruits and vegetables were planted along the contour of the estate. This may have been done to mimic the farms he saw while in Italy. Wright also dammed a creek on the property to create an artificial lake, which was stocked with fish and aquatic fowl. This water garden, probably inspired by the ones he saw in Japan, created a natural gateway to the property.
In 1912, Wright designed what he called a "tea circle" in the middle of the courtyard, adjacent to the crown of the hill. This circle was heavily inspired by Jens Jensens' council circles, but also took influence from Japanese wabi-sabi landscape architecture. Unlike Jensens' circles, the rough-cut limestone tea circle was much larger and featured a pool in the center. The circle featured a curved stone bench flanked with Chinese jars built during the Ming Dynasty. A large oak tree stood at the center until it blew down in a storm in 1998. The tea garden also included a large plaster replica of Flower in the Crannied Wall, a statue originally designed by Richard Bock for the Susan Lawrence Dana House; the namesake poem is inscribed on its rear.
Attack and fire
Julian Carlton was a 31-year-old man who came to work as a chef and servant at Taliesin for the summer. Carlton was of African American descent, ostensibly from Barbados. He was recommended to Wright by John Vogelsong, Jr., the caterer for the Midway Gardens project. Carlton and his wife Gertrude had previously served in the house of Vogelsong's parents in Chicago. Originally a genial presence on the estate, Carlton grew increasingly paranoid. He would stay up late at night with a butcher knife, looking out the window. This behavior had been noticed by Wright and Borthwick, who issued an ad in a local paper for a replacement cook. Carlton was given notice that August 15, 1914 would be his last day in their employ.
Before he left, Carlton plotted to kill the residents of Taliesin. His primary target was draftsman Emil Brodelle, who had called Carlton a "black son-of-a-bitch" on August 12 for not following an order. Brodelle and Carlton also engaged in a minor physical confrontation two days later. He delicately planned the assault, targeting the noon hour, when the residents (the Borthwicks and the studio personnel) would be on opposite sides of the property awaiting lunch. Wright was away in Chicago completing Midway Gardens while Borthwick stayed at home with her two children, John and Martha. On August 15, Carlton grabbed a shingling hatchet and began an attack. He started with the Borthwick family, who were waiting on the porch off the living room. Mamah Borthwick was killed by a single blow to the head, and her son John was promptly killed as he sat in his chair. Martha Borthwick managed to flee, but was promptly hunted down and slain in the courtyard. He then coated the bodies in gasoline and lit them on fire, setting the house ablaze.
Carlton then turned his attention to the other six residents, pouring gasoline underneath the door of the far end of the residence and setting it on fire. Draftsman Herbert Fritz managed to break open a window and escape, though he broke his arm in the process. Carlton then entered the other dining roof and killed Brodelle. He then hid, waiting for the other residents to try to escape. As foreman William Weston and his 13-year-old son Ernest ran through the door, Carlton attacked with the hatchet. The Westons escaped, but Ernest died from his wounds hours later. Carlton turned his attention to the final two residents, laborer Thomas Brunker and gardener David Lindblom. Brunker and Lindblom managed to fight off Carlton and escape, but died days later from their burns and injuries. With the house empty, Carlton ran to the basement and into a fireproof furnace chamber. He brought a small vial of hydrochloric acid with him as a fallback plan in case the heat became too much for him to handle. Indeed, Carlton attempted suicide by swallowing the acid, but it failed to kill him.
Lindblom and Weston alerted a neighboring farm of the attack. Weston then returned to the studio and used a garden hose to help extinguish the flames. His efforts saved the studio portion of the building and the many Wright manuscripts inside. Eventually, neighbors arrived to put out the rest of the fire and search for survivors. Iowa County Sheriff John Williams located Carlton and arrested him. Carlton was transferred to the county jail in Dodgeville. Gertrude was found in a nearby field, apparently unaware of her husband's intentions. She was dressed in travel clothes, expecting to catch a train to Chicago with Julian to seek a new job.
Gertrude was released from police custody shortly after the incident. She was sent to Chicago with $7 and was never heard from again. The hydrochloric acid that Julian had ingested failed to kill him, but did badly burn his esophagus. As a result, Carlton struggled to ingest food. Carlton was indicted on August 16 and was charged with the murder of Mamah Borthwick, the only death that was directly witnessed by a survivor. Carlton entered a non-guilty plea. Forty-seven days after the fire, before the case could be heard, Julian Carlton died of starvation in his cell.
Bodies of the dead and injured were brought to Tan-Y-Deri. Wright returned to Taliesin that night with his son John and Edwin Cheney. Cheney brought the remains of his children back to Chicago while Wright buried Mamah Borthwick on the property. Heartbroken over the loss of his lover, Wright did not mark the grave because he could not bear to be reminded of the tragedy. He also did not hold a funerary service for Borthwick, although he did fund and attend services for his employees. Wright struggled with the loss of Borthwick, experiencing symptoms of conversion disorder: insomnia, weight loss, and temporary blindness. After a few months of recovery, aided by his sister Jane Porter, Wright moved to an apartment he rented in Chicago at 25 Cedar Street. The attack also had a profound effect on Wright's design principles; biographer Robert Twombly writes that his Prairie School period ended after the loss of Borthwick.
Within a few months of his recovery, Wright began work on rebuilding Taliesin. The new complex, which Wright dubbed "Taliesin II", was mostly identical to the original building. An additional wing was added to the house and a second loggia looked out over the valley. The dam was also rebuilt; Wright added an observation platform, perhaps inspired by the platform he designed in Baraboo. Later, he built a hydroelectric generator in an unsuccessful effort to make Taliesin completely self-sufficient. The generator was built in the style of a Japanese temple. Within only a few years, parts of the structure eroded away. It was demolished in the 1940s.
While designing the new residence, Wright received a sympathetic letter from Miriam Noel, a fan of his architecture. Wright exchanged correspondence with the wealthy divorcee and met with her at his Chicago office. Wright was quickly infatuated, and the two began a relationship. Once Wright's first wife Catherine finally granted him a divorce, Wright and Miriam married. By Spring 1915, Taliesin II was completed and Noel moved there with Wright. Although Wright admired Noel's erratic personality at first, her behavior (later identified as schizophrenia) led to a miserable life together at Taliesin.
In the new Taliesin, Wright worked to repair his tarnished reputation. He secured a commission to design the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, Japan; when the building was undamaged following the 1923 earthquake, Wright's reputation was restored. Wright spent little time in Taliesin II, often living near his construction sites abroad. Instead of serving as a full-time residence, Wright treated Taliesin II like an art museum for his collection Asian works. Wright only truly lived at Taliesin II starting in 1924, after the Imperial Hotel was completed.
On April 20, 1925, Wright was returning after eating dinner in the detached dining room when he noticed smoke billowing from his bedroom. By that time of night, most of the employees had returned home; only a driver and one apprentice were left in the complex. Unlike the first Taliesin fire, Wright was able to get help immediately. However, the fire quickly spread due to high winds. Despite the efforts of Wright and his neighbors to extinguish the flame, the living quarters of the second Taliesin estate were quickly destroyed. However, the workrooms where Wright kept his architectural drafts were spared. According to Wright's autobiography, the fire appeared to have begun near a telephone in his bedroom. Wright also mentioned a lightning storm approaching immediately before noticing the fire. Wright scholars speculate that the storm may have caused an electrical surge through the telephone system, sparking the fire.
Wright was deeply in debt following the destruction of Taliesin II. Aside from debts owed on the property, his divorce from Noel forced Wright to sell much of his farm machinery and livestock. Wright was even forced to sell his prized Japanese prints at half value to pay his debts. The Bank of Wisconsin foreclosed on Taliesin in 1927 and Wright was forced to move to La Jolla, California. Shortly before the bank was to begin an auction on the property, Wright's former client Darwin Martin conceived a scheme to save the property. He formed a company called Frank Lloyd Wright Incorporated to issue stock on Wright's future earnings. Many of Wright's former clients and students purchased stock in Wright to raise $70,000. The company successfully bid on Taliesin for $40,000, returning it to Wright. Wright returned to Taliesin in the winter of 1928.
Wright began the rebuilding of Taliesin, which he now named Taliesin III, shortly afterward. Wright's interaction with Taliesin lasted for the rest of his life, and eventually, he purchased the surrounding land, creating an estate of 593 acres (2.4 km²). Over the following decades, Wright used the house as an experiment, continually changing it, often using his apprentices in the Taliesin Fellowship (founded in 1932) as the workforce. This was particularly true once he began a winter home, Taliesin West, in Scottsdale, Arizona (1937–1959), in 1937. After this, Wright and the Taliesin Fellowship "migrated" between the two homes each year. This allowed Wright the ability to return to each home with a new perspective. To Wright, Taliesin was perfected with each change, yet subject to continual evolution. In its final form, Taliesin III measured 37,000 square feet (3,400 m2). All Wright buildings on the property combine for 75,000 square feet (7,000 m2), just short of 2 acres (0.81 ha).
In 1940, Frank Lloyd Wright and his third wife, Olgivanna, formed the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. Upon Wright's death in 1959, ownership of the Taliesin estate in Spring Green, as well as Taliesin West, passed into the hands of the foundation. The foundation also owns Frank Lloyd Wright's archives and runs a school, the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture. The architectural restoration of the Taliesin estate in Wisconsin is under the supervision of another non-profit organization established in 1991, Taliesin Preservation, Inc (TPI). TPI provides tours from May 1 through October 31. In April and November, the association provides only an exterior shuttle and walking tour. Because the organization owns the property, it is inaccessible outside the confines of a tour. Roughly 25,000 people visit Taliesin each year.
On January 7, 1976, Taliesin was recognized as a National Historic Landmark (NHL) District by the National Park Service. The nine properties contributing to the district are the landscape, Taliesin III, Hillside Home School, the Hillside Playhouse, the dam, Romeo and Juliet Windmill, Midway Farms, the pool and gardens in the courtyard, and Tan-Y-Deri. This designation also automatically listed the property in the National Register of Historic Places. A National Historic Landmark is a site deemed to have "exceptional value to the nation." In the late 1980s, Taliesin and Taliesin West were together nominated as a World Heritage Site, a UNESCO designation for properties with special worldwide significance. The nomination was rejected because the organization wanted to see a larger nomination with more Wright properties. In 2008, the National Park Service submitted the Taliesin estate along with nine other Frank Lloyd Wright properties to a tentative list for World Heritage Status. The January 22, 2008, press release from the National Park Service website announcing the nominations states, "The preparation of a Tentative List is a necessary first step in the process of nominating a site to the World Heritage List."
In 1987, the NPS evaluated the 1,811 NHLs nationwide for historical integrity and threat of damage. Taliesin was declared a "Priority 1" NHL, a site that is "seriously damaged or imminently with such damage." Furthermore, the site was listed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as one of America's Most Endangered Places in 1994, citing its "water damage, erosion, foundation settlement and wood decay." TPI has led efforts to rehabilitate the structure since 1979. A 1999 grant from Save America’s Treasures helped defray costs to re-roof Taliesin III, to stabilize its foundation, and to connect it to a local sewage treatment plant. Over $11 million has been spent on the rehabilitation of Taliesin during the past two decades. Unfortunately, its preservation is "fraught with epic difficulties", because Wright never thought of it as a series of buildings with a long-term future. It was built by inexperienced students, and solid foundations for the buildings were not used.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Taliesin (building).|
- The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Information on the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, his archives, the Taliesin Fellowship, and tours
- The Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, the official website of the school
- Taliesin Preservation, Inc. Restoration and tours of Taliesin
- The Taliesin Fellowship Publication (Vol. 1, No. 2, February 1941) Historical Document
- Wisconsin Historical Society, Taliesin, Town of Wyoming, Iowa County, Wisconsin
- 360° Virtual Tour Guided virtual tour of Taliesin's buildings and estate led by the staff historian
- Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) No. WI-339, "Taliesin, 5841 County Highway C , Spring Green, Sauk County, WI", 1 color transparency, 1 photo caption page