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Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin Celebrates 100 Years

April 22, 2011

By Jenna M. McKnight

Taliesin
Photo courtesy Taliesin Preservation, Inc.

Taliesin's tour season begins on April 28. Click to view images of the famous Wisconsin estate. slide show

 

Taliesin
Image courtesy Architectural Record

Click to view RECORD’s coverage of Taliesin in 1913. The photos are by Henry Fuermann. slide show

Residence by Louis Sullivan
Photo courtesy Architectural Record

Notable Houses in 1911: We combed through back issues of RECORD to see what types of houses were appearing in 1911, the year construction of Taliesin began. Here, a few examples. slide show

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Most architects are well acquainted with Taliesin, one of the most storied dwellings in America. Situated in the rolling countryside near Spring Green, Wisconsin, the 600-acre estate was Frank Lloyd Wright’s primary residence and studio for more than four decades. It also was the original campus for Wright’s architecture school.

This year marks Taliesin’s centennial — a remarkable birthday for a work of architecture that wouldn’t look out of place among today’s modern homes. “Like his Oak Park house, Wright used Taliesin as an opportunity to experiment,” says Anthony Alofsin, a noted Wright scholar. “He was constantly testing new ideas.”

Wright set out to build Taliesin in 1911 after many years in Chicago, bringing with him Mamah Borthwick Cheney, his mistress and former client. The architect, then 43 years old, was deeply connected to the bucolic site, as his Welsh relatives had settled in the area in the 1800s.

The house began as a wood-and-stone bungalow tucked into the brow of a hill (“Taliesin” is Welsh for “shining brow”); over the years, it grew into a 37,000-square-foot complex. Wright experts emphasize that Taliesin was intentionally never finished. “It’s a perfect demonstration of what organic architecture might mean: It’s constantly adapting to life,” says Sidney Robinson, a faculty member at the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture.

Some adaptations followed misfortune. In August 1914, on a day when Wright was away, a crazed servant set the house ablaze and killed, with an ax, six fleeing inhabitants, including Cheney. Years later, in 1925, Taliesin caught fire again, this time due to lighting or an electrical fault. In both cases, the house was salvaged. By 1927, Wright was in financial straits. He lost the house to the bank, but his supporters came to the rescue, raising money and buying the property at auction.

Succeeding years were happier ones for Wright: he remarried; he founded his school (in 1932); his practice thrived. In 1937, he built Taliesin West, a winter campus in Scottsdale, Arizona. He split his time between both sites until his death in 1959.

Today, Wright disciples carefully manage Taliesin. Various elements added after the architect’s death have been removed, including a swimming pool and blue shag carpet. Remarkably, several of the school’s early fellows, now in their eighties and up, still live at the site, as does a couple with young children. “It’s nice to see kids playing in the sprinklers,” says Robinson. “Nobody wants Taliesin to become an empty museum.”

Taliesin’s tour season begins on April 28. In honor of the estate’s centennial, a series of special events will be held at the Wisconsin estate this year. For information, view the Taliesin Preservation website.

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