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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2014

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In Travel & Visitors Guide

Frank Lloyd Wright wrote his autobiography in wood and stone


Before Frank Lloyd Wright ever thought of building Taliesin West in the desert, which was featured in OnMilwaukee.com in April, he designed and built what today is often called "his autobiography in wood and stone."

Taliesin, located near Spring Green, has long served as a popular tourist attraction in Wisconsin and stands as a symbol of the genius of state native Wright.

Tours, which started in May and run into October, are popular at Taliesin. The facility was built in 1911, but the land it stands on was in Wright's maternal family -- the Lloyd Jones family -- as early as 1865.

The Jones migrated to the United States from Wales. By the 1870s, they had eight family-owned farms in the area.

Taliesin is named after a poet and bard from Welsh mythology. It means "brow."

"The hill on which Taliesin now stands as 'brow' was one of my favorite places when I was a boy," Wright once wrote. "For pasque flowers grew there in March sun while snow still streaked the hillsides."

Wright built Taliesin as a home, work place, school and cultural center. Taliesin has twice been ravaged by fire -- in 1914 and 1925 -- but Wright and his loyal followers rebuilt it. In fact, Wright continually tinkered with it until his death in 1959.

Taliesin measures 37,000 sq. ft., on 600 acres of beautiful rolling Wisconsin countryside. It includes the residence, the Romeo and Juliet Windmill, which goes back to before 1900, the Hillside Home School, built in 1903 and remodeled in 1932-33, Tan-y-deri (1907) and Midway Farm (1938).

The Hillside Home School is a large structure, housing classrooms, a 40-by-40 foot assembly hall and a gym with a theater stage.

The Romeo and Juliet Windmill reportedly was one of Wright's favorite structures and perhaps one of his first experiments in form and function. It cost a mere $950 when built.

Tan-y-deri was the home for Wright's sister, Jane Porter. Its name means "Under the Oaks" in Welsh. Some say Wright modified a plan he designed for Ladies Home Journal for "The Fireproof House for $5,000" to build his sister's home.

Taliesin was first build of limestone, glass, wood and plaster. Concrete and other materials were used in subsequent remodeling.

Also part of the complex on adjoining properties are Unity Chapel and the former Riverview Restaurant, which serves now as a visitors' center.

Wright actually started work on the Riverview Restaurant but died before he could complete it. Taliesin Architects completed the structure in 1967, in conjunction with the Wisconsin River Development Corp.

The restaurant was one of this writer's personal favorites in the state. It closed in 1992. The Wright association bought it and converted it to the visitors' center.

Taliesin was named a National Historic Landmark in 1976 and was nominated to the World Heritage List.

When you take a tour, it is easy to see how the grounds and Wright's buildings could stimulate creativity. Students not only received inspiration at Taliesin, they also had to create some perspiration.

Students at the school also often pitched in with farm chores and other outdoor work. Wright believed such work fostered creativity, although some say he avoided it himself.

Classes continue to be held at Taliesin. On June 3-5 this year, seminars called "Where the Past and Future Meet" will be held at the facility. Programs range from a review of progressive education to theories on urban development for the 21st century. Persons interested in the seminars can call (877) 588-7900 for more information.

Because of the harsh Wisconsin winters and Wright's unconventional use of materials, Taliesin has required frequent, rather expensive updating and upkeep. A non-profit organization has engaged in several fund-raising efforts over the years.

Current updating has sparked some controversy, since Wright loyalists say it is changing the integrity of the architecture. But, those doing the updating say the work is needed to keep the place standing.

Taliesin is just one example of many of Wright's works in Wisconsin and the Midwest. One relatively obscure example, which happens to be one of this writer's favorites, is the "warehouse project" in Richland Center, near Wright's birthplace. It was one of his early works.

A rather complete list can be found through franklloydwright.org.

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