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Learn About Wright


Frank Lloyd Wright the person:

About Taliesin:

Frank Lloyd Wright the architect:

For further study:

Frank Lloyd Wright the person:

When/where was Frank Lloyd Wright born?
Wright was born on June 8, 1867, in Richland Center, Wisconsin, 20 miles west of Spring Green.

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When/where did Frank Lloyd Wright die?
Wright died on April 9, 1959 in Phoenix, Arizona.

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How old was Frank Lloyd Wright when he died?
He was 91 years old.

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How tall was Frank Lloyd Wright?
On his passport (obtained for his first trip to Japan in 1905), Wright’s height was stated at 5'8½" (or approximately 1.75 meters).

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How many wives/children did Frank Lloyd Wright have?
Wright was married three times and had a total of eight children.

His wives were:

  • Catherine "Kitty" (Tobin) Wright (1871-1959). Socialite and social worker. Married June, 1889; divorced November, 1922.
  • Maude "Miriam" (Noel) Wright (1869-1930). Artist. Married November, 1923; divorced August, 1927.
  • Olga Ivanovna "Olgivanna" (Lazovich Milanoff) Lloyd Wright (1897-1985). Dancer and writer. Married August, 1928.

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His children were:

With Catherine Wright:
  • Frank Lloyd Wright, Jr. (1890-1978; known as Lloyd Wright)–architect, landscape architect. Lloyd worked with his father on the elder Wright's 1920s California homes. The younger Wright established a practice in California, where he remained until he died. Among his more famous projects is the Wayfarers Chapel, which overlooks the Pacific Ocean in Palos Verdes, California. He also designed a version of the Hollywood Bowl (destroyed).
  • John Lloyd Wright (1892-1972)–architect, toy designer (designed Lincoln Logs and Timber Toys). John also worked with his father, most notably on the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo and Midway Gardens in Chicago. He wrote a book about his father describing his childhood memories and their relationship.
  • Catherine Wright Baxter (1894-1979)–homemaker, interior designer. Mother of Anne Baxter, the Hollywood actress.
  • David Wright (1895-1997)–building products representative. His father designed him a house in Phoenix, Arizona.
  • Frances Wright Caroe (1898-1959)–arts administrator of America House, New York City.
  • Robert Llewellyn Wright (1903-1986; known as Llewellyn)–attorney. His father designed him a house in Bethesda, Maryland.
With Olgivanna Lloyd Wright:
  • Svetlana Peters (1917-1946)–musician (Olgivanna Lloyd Wright's daughter from her first marriage, whom Frank Lloyd Wright adopted). Married apprentice and longtime Fellowship member William Wesley "Wes" Peters.
  • Iovanna Lloyd Wright (1925-2015 )–musician, artist.

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About Taliesin:

Why did Frank Lloyd Wright name his house Taliesin and where does the word Taliesin come from?
Taliesin is located in the valley settled by Wright’s Welsh maternal family, the Lloyd-Joneses. When Wright designed his own home in the valley in 1911, he gave it the Welsh name Taliesin, meaning “shining brow.” Wright placed Taliesin on the brow of a hill, leaving the crown, or top, open.

The family gave several features of the valley around them names, and Wright continued the tradition in 1907 when he named the house he designed for his sister, Jane Porter, and her husband Andrew. This house is named "Tan-y-Deri," which is a Welsh word that means “under the oaks.”

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How is the word Taliesin pronounced?

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How big is Taliesin?

"Taliesin" refers to two things:  Wright's residence begun in 1911; and his 800-acre estate, which includes the Taliesin residence, the Hillside School & Theater, Midway Barn, and Tan-y-Deri.

The residence: The residence itself is 37,000 square feet (about 3,400 m2), including the terraces and courtyards (also designed by the architect). Interior square footage is roughly 21,000 square feet (about 1,590 m2), including everything from closets and boiler room spaces to the magnificent living room.

The estate: The Taliesin estate includes a total of 7 Wright-designed structures. Square footage of the interiors of these buildings has been estimated at 75,000 square feet (close to 7,000 m2). That's almost 2 acres, just of building space.

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Who were some famous people who visited Wright at Taliesin?

Writers, artists, performing artists:

  • Maginel Wright Barney
  • Anne Baxter
  • Sophie Braslau
  • Gutzon Borglum
  • Henri Cartier-Bresson
  • Elizabeth Enright
  • Marcel Grandjany
  • Ken Hedrich
  • Charles Laughton
  • Arch Obeler
  • Ayn Rand
  • Paul Robeson
  • Carl Sandburg
  • Ezra Stoller
  • Edmund Teske
  • Mike Todd
  • Alexander Woollcott

Architects and landscape architects:

  • Buckminster Fuller
  • Jens Jensen
  • Philip Johnson
  • Erich Mendelsohn
  • Auguste Perret
  • Rudolph Schindler
  • Mies van der Rohe

Other notables:

  • William Evjue
  • G.I. Gurdjieff
  • George Parker

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 How many fires happened at Taliesin?

There were two major fires at Taliesin that almost completed destroyed its living quarters:

  • The first fire happened on August 15, 1914 and was caused by an act of arson (read more below).
  • The second major fire at Taliesin occurred on April 20, 1925 and Wright's account in his autobiography suggests that it was caused by an electrical problem. Wright was at the home to witness the fire, forming a fire brigade. However, the living quarters of Taliesin were once again burned to the ground within several hours. While no lives were lost in this fire, Wright lost hundreds of Asian art objects that he had collected while building the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, Japan.

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Didn't someone die at Taliesin?
On August 15, 1914, while Wright was in Chicago completing a project, a servant set fire to the living quarters of Taliesin and murdered seven people: Wright's mistress, Mamah Borthwick (for whom he started Taliesin); her children, John and Martha Cheney; the foreman, Thomas Brunker; a draftsman, Emil Brodelle; landscape designer, David Lindblom; and the son of Taliesin's carpenter (William "Will" Weston), Ernest Weston.

Two people survived: Will Weston and draftsman Herbert Fritz, Sr. The elder Weston worked to put out the fire that almost completely consumed the residential wing of the house. The fire did not consume Taliesin's drafting studio or the agricultural wing.  

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Frank Lloyd Wright the architect:

Where did Frank Lloyd Wright receive his training?
Wright left high school shortly before graduation and attended three semesters at the University of Wisconsin-Madison while working under William Conover. He then moved to Chicago and apprenticed himself to the architect Joseph L. Silsbee.

Wright joined the office of Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan in 1889 while they were completing work on the Auditorium building in Chicago and stayed with them for 4 ½ years. In 1893, Wright left Sullivan’s office and opened his own practice.

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What does the term Organic Architecture mean?

Wright stressed that “Organic Architecture” should be viewed as a philosophy rather than as a style. As a philosophy, Wright’s designs could change in appearance yet be governed by uniform organizing principles.

Thus, the designs of a monolithic concrete structure such as Unity Temple in Oak Park, Illinois (1905), the warm stucco and stone dominating Taliesin in Spring Green, Wisconsin (1911, 1914, 1925-59), the dramatic concrete, glass and stone Fallingwater over a waterfall in Mill Run, Pennsylvania (1935), and the concrete spiral of the Guggenheim Museum in New York City (1943) can all be said to operate under the same philosophy even though the structures look strikingly different from one another.

There are three basic tenets of the philosophy of Organic Architecture as Wright practiced it:

  1. Nature of the Site (or, respect and response to landscape).
  2. Needs of the Clients (or, respect for the needs of the client).
  3. Nature of Materials (or, respect for the nature of materials).

The "Nature of the Site" may translate as respecting local traditions and designing a building that uses local materials. It may also mean a structure that frames landscape views or takes advantage of unusual site elements.

One example of the response to landscape is Wright’s design of Taliesin West. The building incorporates locally collected free-standing rocks and boulders into the cement that forms the main building material. In addition, Wright specified the use of rocks found on his property that contained petroglyphs carved into them by indigenous peoples. These rocks were placed in specific areas and situated in their original compass orientations. The building also framed distant views of the valley and surrounding mountains.

The “Needs of the Clients” can be interpreted in the most practical terms: how much room does the family need, or where do they like to gather. However, Wright also considered how the structure could enhance the family’s activities and hopefully elevate their daily living into art.

A good example of this is the Zimmerman house in Manchester, New Hampshire. The Zimmermans were fans of music, so Wright designed their living room to produce superb acoustics.

Fallingwater is famously placed over a waterfall that was loved by the clients (the Kauffmanns). Once the home was built, the Kauffmanns could no longer see the waterfall unless they left their home; however the sound of the waterfall became a part of their daily experience with the building.

The “Nature of Materials” extends beyond the use of local materials to include the respect for the materials themselves. As the Wright wrote in 1908, in an article entitled “In the Cause of Architecture”:

“Bring out the nature of materials, always let their nature intimately into your scheme. Strip the wood of varnish and greasy paint, let it alone or stain it. Develop the natural texture of the plastering and stain it. Reveal the nature of the wood, plaster, brick or stone in your designs; they are all by nature friendly and beautiful....” Reprinted in Frank Lloyd Wright, Collected Writings, Vol. 1, ed. Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer (1992; Rizzoli Publications, New York), p. 88.

At its greatest extent, Wright’s definition of Organic Architecture informed his entire life, including his work and pastimes, his spirituality, and his philosophy of design. He felt that beautiful structures could elevate the lives of the clients, leading each person to fulfill his or her potential.

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Did Frank Lloyd Wright do the engineering on any of his buildings?
It is said that Wright was an intuitive engineer. He would envision how the load in his buildings was to be supported and formulate a clear concept of how to explain this to his engineers, but he very seldom did the actual calculations himself.

Wright’s most innovative engineer, whom he worked with later in his life, was longtime Fellowship member and son-in-law, the late William Wesley “Wes” Peters (1912-1991). Peters assisted in the structural engineering of Fallingwater, the Johnson Wax Administration Building, and the Guggenheim Museum, among others. Peters graduated from M.I.T. and came to Taliesin the summer before the Fellowship formally began in 1932. Peters was in the Fellowship almost continuously until his death in 1991.

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Did anyone famous study under Frank Lloyd Wright?
When Wright lived in Oak Park, Illinois, he worked with a variety of architects who would go on to have successful careers themselves. Some of the most famous were:

  • William Eugene Drummond
  • Walter Burley Griffin, who joined Wright at the beginning of the Prairie style, created many landscape designs for him in his Oak Park period. Griffin’s most noteworthy achievement is his design for the Canberra, the capital city of Australia. Griffin married a draughtswoman in Wright’s Oak Park Studio, Marion Lucy Mahony.
  • Marion Mahony Griffin, graduated with a degree in architecture from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, only the second woman to do so. While in Wright's office, she supervised the construction of many of his structures and was responsible for some of the most recognizable drawings to come out of the office during his Oak Park years.
  • Francis Sullivan, a draughtsman for Wright at the end of the Oak Park period, Sullivan worked in Canada and the Chicago area. He also lived at Taliesin during Wright’s work on the Imperial Hotel.

After Wright moved to Taliesin, he continued to employ draughtsmen:

  • Richard Neutra, an Austrian who studied under the famous European Modernist architect Adolf Loos, worked in California after his time at Taliesin with another Austrian architect,
  • Rudolph Schindler, whose most well known building in California is probably the Lovell Beach House. Schindler designed over 300 buildings in his 4-decade career.
  • Kameki and Nobu Tsuchiura were a Japanese husband and wife team who worked as draftsmen for Wright around the time of the second fire at Taliesin. After leaving Wright, they returned to Tokyo, Japan, and continued work for the next five decades.
  • Vladimir Karfik lived at Taliesin for a year in the late 1920s before returning to the Czech Republic where he became an active architect and lecturer

In 1932, Mr. and Mrs. Wright began the Taliesin Fellowship. It has been estimated that about 1,200 people have been in the Fellowship in the years since. Some of the best known architects and artists to have been in the Fellowship are:

  • Heloise Christa, world-famous sculptor.
  • Alden B. Dow, Michigan architect, for which he was named Architect Laureate.
  • Arthur Dyson, gold-medal winning architect from the Society of American Registered Architects and former Dean of the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture.
  • Pedro Guerrero, world-famous photographer. Guerrero began as Wright's personal photographer and went on to become the photographer of the sculptors Alexander Calder and Louise Nevelson.
  • While his granddaughter, Elizabeth Wright Ingraham, was not an apprentice, she did visit her grandfather and was influenced by him to become an architect (her father was John Lloyd Wright).
  • E. Fay Jones, gold-medal winning architect from the American Institute of Architects. Designer of renowned Thorncrown Chapel.
  • John Lautner, unique designer of many structures, including the Malin, or “Chemosphere” Residence.
  • Yen (Ssu-Ch’eng) Liang, Chinese architect and one of a team who worked on the United Nations Building in New York City.
  • Eric Lloyd Wright, a practicing architect and son of Lloyd Wright, as well as a restoration architect on several of his grandfather’s houses, including Wright’s Oak Park Home and Studio.
  • Tony Puttnam, a member of the Taliesin Fellowship and supervising architect on Wright's Monona Terrace in Madison, Wisconsin and Wright's boat house in Buffalo, New York.
  • John Rattenbury, a member of the Taliesin Fellowship who designed the Life Magazine’s Dream House in 1997.
  • Tony Smith, world-renowned Minimalist sculptor, was an apprentice for seven months in 1939-40.
  • Architect of Arcosanti, Paolo Soleri.

More information on the Taliesin Fellowship is located below.

For further study:

How can I find out if there is a Frank Lloyd Wright building in my town?
William Allin Storrer’s The Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright: a Complete Catalog lists all known buildings by Wright in chronological order, with information on where the buildings are located. 

In addition, Thomas Heinz has published a comprehensive guidebook to the nearly 500 Wright buildings in the United States and around the world. Arranged geographically, each entry gives a brief history of the building/client, information on accessibility and viewing, GPS coordinates, photo and map..

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I believe I own a house designed by an apprentice of Frank Lloyd Wright. How can I find out more information?
Because so many apprentices studied under Wright, and many other architects were influenced by him, it is possible to own a house that looks very much like his work by a relatively unknown architect.

A good overview of some of Wright’s Taliesin Fellowship apprentices is A Taliesin Legacy: the Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Apprentices, by Tobias Guggenheimer.

You can also find historical information about your house through the county records of building permits. Or visit your local library and ask them for information on newspaper sources or books on local history.

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What is the best biography on Frank Lloyd Wright?
There are four biographies o fWright currently in print and each has its own focus. The biographies are:

  1. Many Masks: A Life of Frank Lloyd Wright, by Brendan Gill (1987; Da Capo Press, New York, 1998). Gill was a writer for The New Yorker. Gill maintained that Wright had “many masks” and was as much a showman as he was an architect. Humorously written, the book does cause consternation for “Wrightophiles” because of Gill’s assertion that Wright was not only a showman, but a charlatan.
  2. Frank Lloyd Wright (Penguin Lives Series), by Ada Huxtable (Penguin Group, New York City, 2004). Huxtable is a Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic. This biography on Frank Lloyd Wright provides an overview of his life, influences and work.
  3. Frank Lloyd Wright: A Biography, by Merlye Secrest (1992; Harper Perennial, New York). Secrest is a professional biographer and had unprecedented access to Frank Lloyd Wright's archives (owned and maintained by the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation). The book also goes into detail about the mother’s side of Wright’s family, the Lloyd-Joneses, and their history in Wales.

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What is the Taliesin Fellowship?
Wright and his third wife, Olgivanna Lloyd Wright, founded an architectural and artistic community on the Taliesin estate in 1932, which they named the Taliesin Fellowship.

Wright felt that his philosophy of Organic Architecture could be fully appreciated and understood only by having architectural apprentices live with him and participate in almost every aspect of his life. Mostly under the Wrights’ direction, or the direction of senior apprentices, those in the Fellowship worked on updating and changing the buildings on the Taliesin estate to suit their needs or to help Wright perform visual enhancements and structural changes. They also worked as farmhands in the fields, cooked and cleaned in the kitchens, were draftsmen and women on drawings and projects, and took part in social events.

In 1937, Wright purchased land outside of Scottsdale, Arizona, where he began a winter home, which became known as Taliesin West. Thereafter, the Wrights and the Fellowship would leave Wisconsin in the fall and spend the winter in Arizona. The apprentices were also the laborers at Taliesin West, building most of the complex using concrete forms and locally-gathered stone. Also ideally suited to its environment, Taliesin West is constructed of bold concrete forms holding rocks that apprentices took from the desert floor. The Wrights usually began the trek back to Wisconsin the week after Easter.

The Fellowship is still in existence, and still spends its summers at Taliesin in Wisconsin and winters at Taliesin West. Before her death, Mrs. Wright began the process of accrediting the Taliesin Fellowship as its own architecture school. Accreditation was given to the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture in both the Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees during the 1990s.

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Where can I find out more information about the Taliesin Fellowship?
The Taliesin Fellowship is run under the auspices of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, which maintains its own website.

In addition, there are many books in print that give an excellent overview of the Fellowship as a group:

  • About Wright: an Album of Recollections by Those Who Knew Frank Lloyd Wright, ed. Edgar Tafel (1993; John Wiley & Sons, New York).
  • At Taliesin: Newspaper Columns by Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Fellowship, compiled and with commentary by Randolph C. Henning (1992; Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale & Edwardsville).
  • Frank Lloyd Wright and Taliesin, by Frances Nemtin (2000; Pomegranate Press).
  • Frank Lloyd Wright Remembered, ed. Patrick J. Meehan, AIA (1991; The Preservation Press, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Washington, D.C.).
  • Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin Fellowship, by Myron A. Marty and Shirley L. Marty (1999; Truman State University Press, Kirksville, Missouri).
  • Tales of Taliesin, by Cornelia Brierly (1999; Herberger Center for Design Excellence, Arizona State University, Tempe).
  • Taliesin Legacy, A: the Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Apprentices, by Tobias Guggenheimer (1995; van Nostrand Reinhold, Hong Kong).
  • Taliesin Reflections: My Years Before, During and After Living With Frank Lloyd Wright, by Earl Nisbet (2006, Meridian Press).*
  • Working with Mr. Wright: What it was Like, by Curtis Besinger (1995; Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts).
  • Years with Frank Lloyd Wright: Apprentice to Genius, by Edgar Tafel (1979; Dover Publications, New York).

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Where can I find out more information about the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture?
The Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture maintains its own website

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* All proceeds from the sale of this book have been donated to Taliesin Preservation