A Little Prairie in the Desert

February 27, 2014 § 3 Comments

On one of my visits to Taliesen West while I’ve been here in Scottsdale, I had the opportunity to see several of the shelters in the desert surrounding Taliesen.  When Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fellowship began spending the winters in the desert in the 1940’s, the apprentices (students) were required to live in  Shepherd’s tents their first year and to design a shelter (or renovate an existing one) as their permanent residence.  In the late 1980’s the school became accredited, and the requirement to build a shelter became optional.  Today, living in a shelter is still voluntary. Continuing the tradition, over half of the students usually elect to sleep in a shelter and  to make improvements on the structure they select.                                                                                                                                                                      fireplace

To my surprise, I found elements of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie houses in these contemporary constructions in the middle of the desert.  For example, in several shelters the fireplace was the central core of the house just as it is in the Dana-Thomas House.  

windowI found a stained glass window without the glass,

and a barrel vaulted ceiling without the ceiling.

barrel vaulted ceiling

Like the rest of Taliesen West, the shelter tour was a dramatic illustration of the strong connections between the old and the new in the on-going Frank Lloyd Wright story. The clever innovations of the young architectural students provided for me a look into the future while their subtle homage to Frank Lloyd Wright’s early works created a thread with the past.

Westward for Sunshine

February 11, 2014 § 1 Comment

The winter blasts have not receded, so this week I am going to follow Frank Lloyd Wright’s escape path westward to Scottsdale, Arizona.  Beginning in 1938, the Taliesin Fellowship has annually moved for the winter months from Spring Green, Wisconsin, to what is now known as Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Arizona.  The community remains active today, and sometime during my stay in Scottsdale I will make my annual pilgrimage to Taliesin to soak up the Wright environment.

Susan wanted to visit Taliesin in Spring Green in 1933 when the Fellowship was less than a year old.  She had read an article in a magazine about Wright’s new experiment in communal living and learning that he was establishing in Wisconsin.  In a letter dated August 17, 1933, she asked him if she could travel to Taliesin and “give it a look over.”  Wright immediately replied that she was welcome to visit.  Furthermore, he invited her to invest some money in the Fellowship or to buy some land on the property.  He suggested that she could build a house there and watch firsthand the progress of the enterprise.  There is no record of a visit to Taliesin by Susan, and since she was struggling financially in 1933, it is highly unlikely that she put money into Wright’s fledgling venture.

Written from the Arizona desert, my next post will include some of my observations about today’s Taliesin West.  According to my friend Mary Ann Langston who volunteers at Taliesin West, someone once asked Frank Lloyd Wright, “Why do you like Arizona?”  His reply was, “It is because of the eternal and everlasting smile of the sun.”  I plan to smile back.

photo by Marty Duling

Photo by Marty Duling

Winter Blues

February 2, 2014 § 1 Comment

Winter HouseJanuary and February are usually depressing months around the Dana-Thomas House, but this year is particularly bleak. Traditionally, the large crowds who visit the House to enjoy the holiday decorations in November and December disappear abruptly at the first of the year. The situation is magnified this year by the severe winter weather the Midwest is experiencing. Understandably, tourists are not traveling.  Consequently, we have anywhere from three to a dozen guests visiting the House daily.  Additionally, many of the volunteer interpreters spend these months in warmer climates, so the camaraderie which we enjoy is limited to a smaller group.

Susan undoubtedly experienced the winter blahs too. Like my fellow interpreters and other women of means in her day, she frequently escaped to warmer climate during the dark months.  Among her destinations were California and New Orleans where some of her cousins resided.  The most memorable and tragic of her winter getaways occurred shortly after the festive opening of the Lawrence House in December, 1904. I describe the trip in Chapter 8 of Susan Lawrence: The Enigma in the Wright House:

[On January 26, 1905, Susan and her mother Mary] left Springfield for New York to embark on a cruise to the Caribbean.  After stops in Cuba and Nassau, the two women began a tour of the southern United States.  They visited Palm Beach and Jacksonville, Florida.  There they boarded a train of March 12 to Thomasville, Georgia, where they planned to stop for a few days. While en route, Mary became ill…She died of cardial asthma within 20 minutes after she was stricken.  

As I re-read this, I realize what a downer this post turned into.  I need to get to a warm climate!  

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