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Architecture, Bread Baking, and Enrichment: An Interview with Bill Russell

Elizabeth Maske February 23rd, 2024
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Riverview Terrace

The sentiment that architecture can enrich the quality of our lives is one that has resurfaced in several defining chapters of Bill Russell’s life, and most recently echoed on his summer escape to Taliesin. Taliesin Preservation’s weekend immersion dove into the world of sourdough bread baking amidst Frank Lloyd Wright’s most renowned creations, with lessons at Riverview Terrace, Wright’s sole remaining restaurant.

Transitioning from Sergeant Major in the US Army to a two-decade stint in cyber security, Bill’s career path culminated in six years of leading cyber security at the Cummins Engine Company in Columbus, Indiana. The move to Columbus would be the unexpected catalyst for his interest in architecture, sparking his desire to visit Wright’s iconic spaces.

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Architectural Digest article

For Bill, Columbus is remarkable because Indiana isn’t typically linked with exceptional architecture. He states, “As it turns out, Columbus is one of the best cities in the world, according to Architectural Digest, for architecture, and the reason goes back to the long-time chairman of the board, J. Irwin Miller, who believed that the physical structures that people live in make a difference in the quality of their life.”  

After World War II, the Cummins Foundation collaborated with the county and city, offering to cover the architect’s fees for new schools and churches if selected from a curated list, while construction costs were borne separately. As a result, the town boasts seemingly endless midcentury marvels.

“Unfortunately, we didn’t get any Frank Lloyd Wright, but that spirit [impacted] the town,” says Bill. “Anyway, my wife and I are very attuned and interested in architecture, not only because of our house,” a midcentury modern just outside of the city, “but because of the place we live and the character of the neighborhood.” 

This appreciation led him to explore various Frank Lloyd Wright sites over the years, including Taliesin West, and is largely what brought him to Wisconsin last summer. When Bill came across the New York Times article suggesting that a baking class was a unique way to experience Taliesin, his wife Karla encouraged him to enroll. A newfound interest in bread baking, sparked during the pandemic, aligned with the offering, and the prospect of combining baking with architectural immersion proved irresistible.

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Farmer Gary Zimmer (right) presents to the group about rye

The workshop would ignite a new awareness of the agricultural landscape. Following a presentation by local farmer Gary Zimmer, Bill was struck by the vital role of rye in the regeneration of farmland, leaving a lasting impression that has prompted him to seek out rye bread on trips to the grocery store.

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Bread baking at home

Bill shares photos of the post-seminar loaves he and Karla baked, mentioning that Karla prepared another batch recently. “She’s still experimenting with it, but it was a tasty loaf. So far, we’ve only done sourdough, we haven’t done rye yet. It will take us a little while to work through getting the sourdough right.” 

Eager to spend more time delving deeper into the Driftless Region, he and his wife, both passionate motorcyclists, entertain the idea of joining a Spring Green motorcycle club for campouts. Despite missing out on the neighboring Spring Green attractions due to scheduling constraints, Bill mentions their keen interest in exploring more on a return trip to Taliesin.

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Bread dough proofs under Wright-inspired tea towels

In closing, Bill emphasizes that as he grows older, he “values experiences over material possessions,” and regards, “the weekend at Taliesin as one of the most enjoyable weekends me and my wife have had.” To Bill, the workshop serves as a unique blend of architecture, bread baking, and exploration—essential ingredients for a uniquely enriching experience.