I admit, Taliesin is a wonderful house, an artistic marvel with groundbreaking innovations that are a template for the way homes are designed today.
Still, I’m a little perturbed with Frank Lloyd Wright. Because of his designs, my future looks to include long periods of furniture heavy lifting, indoor painting, outdoor landscaping, and perhaps even long-term structural renovations of our home here in the woods.
All because he had to go and build a masterpiece.
I guess you could say all that work in my future is my fault for suggesting we visit. With her school’s new balanced calendar, my wife had a few vacation days she could use for a much-needed getaway. I looked for places to go that weren’t too far away and saw that Spring Green, Wis., was within the driving parameters we had set.
I knew how much we had enjoyed visiting Falling Waters in Pennsylvania, another Wright-designed house, so I made the arrangements and Monday morning, we headed north.
We first drove west from Indianapolis to Champaign, Ill., and then north. The drive was a little longer than I had figured, just under eight hours, but I highly recommend this pleasant route because it allows you to avoid the Chicago traffic. We checked in at a charming bed and breakfast and then drove into Spring Green to explore.
We found an excellent restaurant in a stately old converted bank and an independent bookstore that beckoned us as independent bookstores always do.
On Tuesday morning, Becky and I joined the tour, climbed into a mini-bus and headed to a small chapel that Wright had worked on as an apprentice architect.
I am so grateful when on a tour to have a guide who not only is knowledgeable but enthusiastic about her or his subject. Our guide, Cyndi, was both and regaled us with facts and trivia about the architect.
As a lifelong lover of language, I was happy to learn that in Welsh, the language of Frank Lloyd Wright’s ancestors, the two L’s in his name are considered one letter, so the proper way to write Wright’s initials would be FLLW.
We visited a school he designed for his aunts, who were teachers, and which operates today as the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture. We saw the 100-year-old wooden Romeo and Juliet windmill his brothers-in-law both insisted would never last in the continuous southwest winds. We saw other houses, barns, outbuildings and even chicken coops on the 600-acre property that were functional and yet artistically elegant.
After that, we walked to Taliesin, the house FLLW began in 1911 as his own living quarters. Taliesin, which means “bright brow” in Welsh, was intended to be wrapped around the brow of the hillside on which it sits rather than on its peak. He used local materials to add to the vision of a house that was “not on the land but of the land,” an organic part of the environment.
As we walked through the home, all 21,000 square feet of it, we delighted in the way the designs and details worked together to form a unified whole. We marveled at the breathtaking view of the valley through the glass walls — a startling innovation in 1911 — as the roofs appeared to float over our heads.
Interestingly, FLLW never conceived Taliesin as a permanent structure but considered it an experiment and built it using inexperienced students on foundations not meant to endure. Knowing his interest in Eastern philosophy, I wonder if he was trying to incorporate in Taliesin the fundamental concept of “impermanence” found in so much of Eastern thought.
He continued to work on it, adding and subtracting, expanding and contracting, until he died in 1959 at age 91.
For the rest of our vacation and since we have been home, Becky and I have been talking about the house and the man who built it — egotistical, selfish, morally dubious and, yes, a creative genius. Somehow, though, the conversations seem to come around to what modifications, changes, additions and alterations we can apply to our own home here in the woods.
Thanks a lot, FLLW.
Norman Knight, a retired Clark-Pleasant Middle School teacher, writes this weekly column for the Daily Journal. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.