Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin Home & Studio was his longest ongoing project, begun in 1911, Wright constantly made alterations and additions until his death in 1959. 2011 is the centennial year for Taliesin, and what we see now is completely different than what would have been there 100 years ago.
The land where Taliesin is located is in the rolling hills of Spring Green, Wisconsin, an area that had been in the possession of Frank Lloyd Wright’s maternal side of the family –the Lloyd-Jones’- for generations before Wright. As a young boy, Wright’s mother would send him to the farmlands of Spring Green to work the land with his uncles. And in 1911, at perhaps the climax of Wright’s personal drama in Chicago, Anna Wright, his mother, gifted him several hundred acres to build on.
Wright, having been originally from Richland Center, Wisconsin, moved to Chicago in 1887 to be an architect after dropping out of engineering school at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Two years later, he moved to suburb of Oak Park with his first wife, Catherine (Tobin) Wright, where he built his first home and studio. The Wright’s would live in their shingled Oak Park home with their six children until 1909.
Aside from being a controversial architect, Frank Lloyd Wright was very scandalous in his personal life. In 1903, he designed a house for Mr. and Mrs. Edwin and Mamah Cheney. Wright was always the type of architect that got to know the personality of his clients, to then match to the personality of their house. Frank Lloyd Wright got to know the personality of Mrs. Cheney a little too well, and the two of them began what started off as an emotional relationship. The relationship eventually became physical, and culminated in 1909 with the two of them both leaving their respective families in Oak Park and moving to Europe for a year. It was during this year in Europe that Frank Lloyd Wright published the Wasmuth Portfolio in Berlin, a portfolio of his entire collection of work up until that point. Upon their return to Oak Park, Mamah divorced her husband Edwin, and Wright unsuccessfully tried to divorce Catherine, and the two illegitimately moved to Spring Green, Wisconsin where Wright then built Taliesin.
Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Borthwick (by then, Mamah had reverted back to her maiden name) lived at Taliesin very happily for a few years. Wright made constant trips back and forth between Chicago and Spring Green for work, and in August of 1914, a terrible tragedy ended the relationship between Frank and Mamah. A deranged servant by the name of Julian Carlton boarded up the windows and doors of the wing at Taliesin where Mamah and her two children from her first marriage, Martha and John, were eating lunch. Julian Carlton then poured gasoline around the perimeter of the wing and lit it on fire. As if that wasn’t enough, Julian then went in with a shingling axe and brutally murdered Mamah, her two children, and four other household workers.
By the time Frank Lloyd Wright was able to return to Taliesin later that evening after receiving word of a fire, Taliesin was in ruins, and the love of his life gone.
The tragedy would have easily broken many people, but Frank Lloyd Wright began to rebuild Taliesin shortly after the event. In 1925, Taliesin was struck by lightning, and nearly burned to the ground again. Wright rebuilt Taliesin, and what remains today is the third reality of Taliesin.
People are often curious about the origins of the name Taliesin, and even the pronunciation –pronounced “tally-eh-sin”. The word is a Welsh word meaning shining brow, and is named after a poet of the same name. Taliesin is built like a brow on the edge of the hill, and not on top of the hill. Wright felt that you should never built on top of anything directly, saying, if you build on top of the hill you lose the hill, but if you build one on the side of the top, you have the hill and the eminence that you desire.
While Taliesin technically refers to the cluster of buildings that comprise the main home and studio, it has come also to refer to the whole valley that also contains the Hillside Home School (1902), the Romeo and Juliet windmill (1896), Tan-Y-Deri (1907), Unity Chapel (1886), the Midway Barns (1938), the Wyoming Valley Grammar School (1957), and the Visitor’s Center (formerly the Riverview Terrace Restaurant) (1956).