Sunday, March 15, 2009

Taliesin West

Home, Studio and School of
Frank Lloyd Wright

It feels too early to be posting about a Frank Lloyd Wright designed home.I should be getting my pencil sharpened with posts on more obscure sites, the Gelb House, the Osborne Homestead Museum, the Elizabeth Cady Stanton home. I've got something to say about all those but you'll have to wait.

I take advantage of an opportunity when it comes my way and Bob had a conference in Scottsdale, AZ and asked me to join him. My travel preparations always start with a google search for house museums. When I turned up Taliesin West, I booked a plane fight without hesitation.

The second item on my prep list for travel is finding a good book. And this time the synergy between the first and second items on the list was obvious. T C Boyle has just written a new book of historical fiction about Wright and the women who loved him. Of course that would be a perfect companion piece for my visit to Taliesin and an enjoyable way to spend vacation time.

I've loved the book and learned so much about Wright, his life, his design philosophy and the operations of his architectural school. But you know the thing about historical fiction is you just can't be sure what is truth and what is fiction! And as much as you're enjoying yourself while reading,later that always seems to rub at you a little.

On my first morning in Scottsdale I hurried out to Taliesin. As I approached the estate, I was stunned to see a line of electrical power towers that ran for miles. I found myself thinking that it was a good thing the famous architect hadn't seen these. But I later learned that he had and in fact had fought to have them buried or moved but lost. In response to their construction Wright changed the orientation of Taliesin's living room stating there was no longer a reason to look out over the valley. In fact Wright, the perfectionist, had 3 easements on the property- the towers, a 4 lane highway and waterway.

I soon learned that my tour guide, Ben, was well informed and witty with a comedians sense of timing. He explained that Wright's philosophy of living with nature also meant that nature lives with you and then coolly listed 20-30 indigenous insects, spiders, scorpions, and rodents that I want nothing to do with. Perhaps the worst was the kangaroo rat that Ben himself encountered at close range.

Taliesin is so much more than a home, more than a house museum. It was designed to be used as Wright's home, studio, and architectural school. The school is still in operation with 10 undergraduate and 10 graduate students in residence. And it continues to follow some of the unusual practices that Wright instituted - students living in tent structures, rotating communal food preparation and service, winters in Arizona and summers back in Wisconsin at the original Taliesin.

An unusual aspect of the tour is that you're encouraged to sit down in the studio, in the living room,and in the music hall. All of the original furniture has been replaced with reproductions. Forgetting for a moment that we were prohibited from taking pictures inside the house I snapped a few. Here's a good view of the living room.

Wright was an interior designer as well as an architect. He not only perfected the design of the home/building but everything that went into it. The cushion topped stools in the living room at first glance are nice but check out the angle of the base and then the little ball feet. They're something spectacular. (Click on the picture above to see it enlarged.)

In a department store basement Wright found a shipment of oriental tile scenes that had broken into small pieces. He bought the lot, brought it back to Taliesin, and instructed an apprentice to piece them together. After 3 years, the assignment was complete. Wright used the sculptures throughout Taliesin to draw your attention to important aspects of his design.

We weren't permitted to enter the 200 foot drafting room but we could peek in through the window. Now take a look at the picture I took. Yes that's my reflection at the bottom but that's not what I wanted you to see. Look up just a little. Doesn't that look like Frank Lloyd Wright's head? Once I'd ruled out any possibility of a ghost sighting, I settled on the probable explaination of a grandson or such.

Taliesin is the third building designed by Wright that I've been in. The first and one of his most notable is Fallingwater outside of Pittsburgh. And then, of course, the Guggenheim Museum in NYC.

Now there's something to put in your appointment book. The Guggenheim is celebrating its 50th anniversary this spring. Part of the celebration is an exhibit of 200 original Wright drawings. The exhibit runs from May 15 to August 23.

Even more fun would be to rent a Wright designed home and live there for a few days, a week. Yes you can really do this! A NY Times article by Barbara Ireland entitled Overnight with Frank Lloyd Wright published on 3/2/08 describes the authors enchanted weekend in a Wright designed home moved to Western Pennsylvania. The conclusion of the article lists 6 homes and contact information for them. There's something to put on my to do list. I think I'll remove clean the garage, wash the deck furniture and buy a new hallway rug and replace them with an overnight visit to a Wright home.

No comments:

Post a Comment