For information about Frank Lloyd Wright, please visit our sister organization, The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation.
The large Welsh family of farmers, teachers and ministers that settled part of the Wisconsin River valley near Spring Green in the middle of the nineteenth century included a young woman named Anna Lloyd Jones. This teacher, caught the eye of William Carey Wright, a preacher and musician. William soon won her affections and they married. On June 8, 1867 in Richland Center, a small town 20 miles west of Spring Green, Anna gave birth to a son named Frank Lloyd Wright.
Wright spent many summers in his teen years on the farm his uncle James worked in the valley. Wright considered the valley to be his home … much more so than the house in Madison, Wisconsin, where he spent the rest of the year. During his summers in the valley, he learned to pay particular attention to the patterns and rhythms of nature. The lessons he gleaned from nature would find their way into his later work again and again.
1886 UNITY CHAPEL
Unity Chapel is a shingle-style chapel designed by architect Joseph Lyman Silsbee of Chicago, IL. Wright’s uncle and Unitarian minister, Jenkin Lloyd Jones commissioned the chapel and Frank Lloyd Wright designed the interior at the age of 18. This makes Unity Chapel Wright’s earliest work. A family cemetery outside includes the grave sites of the Lloyd Jones family, including Wright’s original plot. Unity Chapel today remains operated by the Lloyd Jones family. The exterior is open to the public, and tours of the interiors are available by request.
1897 ROMEO AND JULIET WINDMILL
Romeo and Juliet Windmill was commissioned by Wright’s aunts to pump water for their co-educational boarding school, and Wright offered them a striking observatory tower of wood. The design features two intersecting towers, with Romeo as a triangular storm prow, supported by the octagonal Juliet. The aerodynamic structure allows storm winds to pass around the structure without causing harm. In 1992 Taliesin Preservation fully restored the windmill as its first project on the Taliesin estate, in partnership with the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation.
Wright designed Tan-y-Deri as a residence for his sister, Jane Porter, and her family. The Porters worked for the Hillside Home School, just downhill. Welsh for “under the oaks,” Tan-y-Deri sits on a hill adjacent to Taliesin and next to the Romeo and Juliet Windmill. The design was based on “A Fireproof House for $5000” by Wright featured in the Ladies Home Journal article. Tan-y-Deri underwent a comprehensive interior and exterior restoration completed in 2017.
Wright’s home, studio, and garden sanctuary was a laboratory for architecture and design. In its three iterations, Taliesin embodies Wright’s ideas of organic architecture, expanded and refined from his earlier Prairie School works. From the courtyards and gardens to the Living Room, Loggia, and Birdwalk, Taliesin offers a commanding view of the valley, settled by Wright’s Welsh ancestors. Using natural local limestone and Wisconsin River sand, Taliesin stands as “shining brow” on Wright’s favorite boyhood hill.
1911 TALIESIN I
Wright moved to this valley two years after leaving his 20-year-architect practice in Oak Park, IL. He wanted to live, work, and farm in the valley with his companion, Mamah Borthwick. He later wrote,
“This hill on which Taliesin now stands as “brow” was one of my favorite places when I was a boy, for pasque flowers grew there in March sun while snow still streaked the hillsides.…”
In 1914, arson destroyed the living quarters of Taliesin – one-third of the house – and seven were murdered.
1914 TALIESIN II
Wright immediately declared that he would rebuild the destroyed portion of Taliesin. In his autobiography, Wright later wrote: “Taliesin should live to show something more for its mortal sacrifice than a charred and terrible ruin on a lonely hillside in the beloved Valley.” In Taliesin II, he added a stone-floored room called The Loggia from which he could see the family chapel.
1925 TALIESIN III
In April 1925, an electrical fire in Wright’s bedroom destroyed Taliesin’s living quarters again. Wright — by then with the future Mrs. Wright (Olgivanna) — wrote, “Taliesin lived wherever I stood! A figure crept forward from out the shadows to say this to me. And I believed what Olgivanna said.” As he wrote,
[T]aught by the building of Taliesin I and II, I made forty sheets of pencil studies for the building of Taliesin III…. Taliesin’s radiant brow … should come forth and shine again with a serenity unknown before.
1932 TALIESIN FELLOWSHIP
The Great Depression saw few commissions come Wright’s way. Never idle, however, Wright turned to writing, producing An Autobiography and The Disappearing City, both of which continue to influence generations of architects. During this time, Wright received numerous letters from individuals interested in studying with him.
In 1932, Frank and Olgivanna Lloyd Wright founded the Taliesin Fellowship, a community that provided architectural training with a holistic, “learn by doing” approach that stressed appreciation of all the arts, and which often allowed students to design and work on structures on the Taliesin property. The community survives today as the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture whose members, both faculty, and apprentices, are still known informally as the Taliesin Fellowship and who reside at Taliesin during the summer months.
Hillside Home School, the building Wright designed in 1902 for his aunts’ boarding school in the valley, became the Fellowship’s central campus. With the inspiration and help of a young and eager group of apprentices, Wright remodeled and expanded the school, adding a 5,000-square-foot drafting studio, converting the gymnasium into a theater and adding housing for the new apprentices.
1952 MIDWAY BARN
Midway Barn is located between Taliesin and Hillside School. Stepping down the hill, it served as the center of agriculture for the estate beginning in the 1940s. Midway grew as operations expanded through the decades with the spired Milking Tower is Wright’s “ode to the Guernsey teat.”
1955 HILLSIDE STUDIO & THEATER
The complex of buildings at Hillside includes spaces from across Wright’s career as a designer: the “abstract forest” drafting studio (1939), the Hillside Assembly Hall (1903), the Hillside Theater (1955), and the Fellowship dining hall (1955). Hillside is home to the School of Architecture at Taliesin, and students in residence here from mid-May through mid-October may be seen at work in the studio. The Assembly Hall is an example of Wright’s strides to “destroy the box” of traditional architectural design. The Hillside Theater includes a theater curtain, that was adapted from a Wright-designed geometric abstraction of the Taliesin landscape.
1967 THE FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT VISITOR CENTER
Wright designed the Riverview Terrace as a “gateway to Taliesin” that would house a restaurant, as well as offices and meeting space for the architects at Taliesin. Construction began under Wright’s supervision and stalled upon Wright’s death in 1959. In 1967 the Riverview Terrace opened as The Spring Green restaurant as part of an investment in developing an arts community in Spring Green along the Wisconsin River. Taliesin Preservation purchased the building in 1993 and adapted it to serve as the Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor Center.
1990 TALIESIN PRESERVATION
A non-profit organization founded upon the recommendation of a Blue Ribbon Commission authorized by Governor Tommy Thompson in 1988, Taliesin Preservation restores and preserves Frank Lloyd Wright’s home, Taliesin, and the additional Wright-designed buildings on the 800 acre Taliesin estate. The work includes physical preservation, repair, and restoration of furniture and materials, updating HVAC systems while returning the buildings and estate to the last decade of Wright’s life.
Photo Credit: The Chicago History Museum, ICHi89169, Raymond W. Trowbridge, photographer.