Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Taliesin, Spring Green, WI

By Claire

Our abode for the night was the Spring Valley Inn, located 2.7 miles from our target site, Taliesin, architect Frank Lloyd Wright's home and studio.  There were only six cars in the parking lot last night and we had the giant pool and enormous hot tub all to ourselves.  Breakfast was really nice, too, and again, we had the place to ourselves. We're very happy and comfortable here. In fact, either we're slowing down or we've gotten into a groove.  The pace seems far more leisurely to me now.  Spring Valley Inn was designed by a Taliesin architect.

Spring Valley Inn

Our 4 hour Estate Tour began at the visitor center at 9:30 am with our knowledgeable guide, Cyndi, who owns a dairy farm in the area with her husband.  We were driven a mile and a half to the family cemetery, where we were given some history and shown the pertinent grave sites.  

We then moved on to the Taliesin estate--this name is that of a Welsh bard whose name means 'shining brow'; this is how FLW honored his ancestry and it explains his use of FLLW as his initials: 'll' is a separate letter in the Welsh alphabet. For those who don't know or who haven't read the wonderful book, Loving Frank, a terrible event happened here.  Frank Lloyd Wright was married to his wife Kitty for 20 years and had 6 children when he fell in love with the wife of one of his clients.  Mamah Borthwick Cheney was a modern woman and early feminist with interests outside the home.  She and Frank each left their spouses and children and fled the scandal by moving to Europe.  Mamah was able to obtain a divorce but Frank's wife told him to give it a year and if he still felt the same way, she would give him a divorce.  He asked her again after a year but it would be several years before she would concede.

Frank and Mamah returned to the United States and he began work on what would become Taliesin in 1911.  They lived together in spite of the scandal of not being married; however, they did not care.  On August 15, 1914, while Frank was working in Chicago, a disgruntled male servant poured gasoline around the house, set it on fire then proceeded to kill seven people with an axe, including Mamah and her two children, who were visiting their mother.  The entire residential wing of the house was destroyed.  Frank would rebuild, endure another fire, and rebuild again.

This tree was planted on top of Mamah's grave by Frank and was the only marker at that time.

Frank's first wife, Kitty, finally gave him a divorce and he married his second wife, Miriam, a year later--he couldn't stand to be alone.  Due to her morphine addiction, that marriage lasted only a year. His third wife, Olga, eventually placed a marker on Mamah's grave site using her married name in all caps--even though Mamah had returned to her maiden name of Borthwick.

FLW died in 1959 at 91. Olga didn't want to be buried in the family cemetery so she had his remains exhumed one night and removed to Taliesin West in Arizona.  She then had his remains cremated so they could be mixed with her own ashes after her death.  For years, Wisconsonites had bumper stickers saying 'FLW GET YOUR ASH BACK HERE!'

The FLW memorial site at Taliesin

The surrounding vistas of this 600 acre estate are gorgeous.  There are views everywhere.  This farm belonged to Frank's uncle, Tom.

This is The Hillside School, where Frank's two maiden aunts gave their lives to teaching.  He designed the building and eventually turned it into an architectural school, with dormitory.   Our van dropped us here and we walked the rest of the tour.

This windmill was designed by Frank in 1896 for his two aunts, who needed it to pump water to the Hillside School.  Both his uncles told him it would never last, being made out of wood (cypress) rather than metal.  It lasted through 97 years of storms before the preservation society decided to reconstruct it due to some damage. After both uncles died, Frank noted that his structure was still vertical while its critics were horizontal.

This house was designed for his sister, Jane, but Frank never liked it.  She made it very clear that she didn't want one of those low ceiling prairie houses--this was to be her home.  When he took clients on a tour of the estate, he never showed them this house, and at one point threatened to burn it down.

Another beautiful vista

House on the property, converted from a farm utility building to house architectural students

Barn with classic FLW spire. Students sometimes live in the tower structure.

FLW designed all the roads on the property.


View showing Taliesin built into the hillside--the slope of the hills determined the slope of the roofs.

Frank selected his livestock based on aesthetic criteria.  He didn't care for the common white chickens which reminded him of crumpled newspapers flying around--so he brought in Rhode Island Reds because they were a better fit with the landscape.  The same went for the cows:  He did not like the typical black and white Holsteins, so he went with the brown Guernsey cows because they were more pleasing in the green landscape.  He was known for making many, many changes--one roof line was changed 20 times; he would often use his cane to draw a new idea in the dirt or a nail to scratch something on a shingle.  His contractors were so good they could determine dimensions from these rough sketches.

Courtyard where we were given hot drinks, muffins and scones on the terrace

A rear view of the property.  It is 37,000 sq. ft., according to FLW--this includes the gardens and terraces, as they are an integral part of the space.

Frank subscribed to the Unitarian emphasis on harmony and respect of nature. He was also influenced by Japanese and Chinese art.

Note the use of water pipes as a trellis.  He was known for recycling materials and rarely discarded anything. To obtain the desired color and texture for the stucco, he mixed Wisconsin River beach sand with some pigment for the effect you see here.

Waterfall, designed to bring "music" into nature--all the main rooms of the house have pianos.

Photography was not allowed in any of the buildings.  The interiors are beautiful, fascinating, inovative and inspiring.  I recommend you make a trip to Spring Green, Wisconsin and see for yourself.  The tour was $150 for the two of us and worth every penny.

We drove 3 miles to the town of Spring Green in search of lunch.  I had read about the Arcadia Bookstore and café.  As soon as I saw the menu, I knew this was the place.  I ordered the black bean soup with fire-roasted tomatoes, carrots, onions and garlic (Greenspirit Farm), vegetable stock, lemon drop peppers (Bulldog Gardens), canola oil and cumin.  Chuck ordered a cup of the soup and half an avacado vegetarian sandwich.  Organic farming is prominent in this part of the State. We both had a latté. 

What a nice bookstore, with very friendly people and fantastic food.  

That's the bookstore on the corner.  I don't know how they survive in such a tiny, quiet town.

Notice the wide, lovely streets.

We walked around the entire downtown, which involved a 4 block stroll.  This visitor center was interesting; it seems to mimic FLW's style and color scheme.

This is The Country Store Café, recommended to us by the guy at the organic food store back in Hillsboro.  They also offered great food, and we thought about coming back later for dinner; but they close at 6.  We never ate dinner last night and probably won't tonight.  Good food seems to stick with us longer. And, the chocolate covered coffee beans help sustain us.

Interesting bank, probably influenced by FLW. He might be rolling in his grave, except he isn't there, is he?

Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you. ~ Frank Lloyd Wright