Road construction may lead to delays, so please plan your visit accordingly.

A Message from Usonia: An Interview with Julie Ellis

Elizabeth Maske April 10th, 2024

Discovering Taliesin’s workshops in in the New York Times felt like a “cosmic message” one March day on the beach, said Julie Ellis, a retired engineering professor-turned-artist with a longstanding interest in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonians. Calling in from Bowling Green, Kentucky, she recalled dreams of becoming a Taliesin resident, fueled by memories of the vibrant student community seen on previous visits to Taliesin West.

For Julie, the opportunity to immerse at Taliesin provided the once-in-a-lifetime chance to savor creative life at Wright’s famed enclave, and while several of this year’s overnight offerings were appealing, the Biophilia workshop made the final cut.  

Eager to explore the surrounding Driftless Region, Julie arrived a week early. On Thursday night, she attended an American Players Theatre production of “Our Town,” recalling one poignant line recited by the character Emily. “I want to go back for one ordinary day,” seemed to best encapsulate the play’s emphasis on “how infrequently people appreciate the magical aspects of their lives,” said Julie. This tone of embracing the present moment would permeate the weekend immersion.

Content Image

Design Duo Art + Sons teach students in Hillside Drafting Studio, Wright's 'Abstract Forest'

Friday marked the start of the workshop, and the welcome tour, guided by Taliesin Preservation’s Director of Programs, Caroline, stood out as a highlight. Julie stated, “I felt like we really connected with people who knew the place, who knew the work, who really loved the place.” Realizing Wright’s ‘Abstract Forest’ would be the center of their creative journeys, Julie says, “evoked chills.”

Despite adjustments prompted by inclement weather on Saturday, the workshop unfolded with an electrifying blend of excitement and experimentation. Julie recalls, “Our leaders were as excited to be in the space as we were. It just oozed out of them.”

Content Image

Prints from the Lego Press

Julie particularly delighted in utilizing the provisional press retrofitted with Lego-based plates, describing it as “an absolute blast.” She also highlighted the effectiveness of creating graphic editions in groups of 15, noting how it was “fantastic for bringing the group together.”

On the workshop’s curriculum, Julie felt that, “[The organizers] did a great job of limiting our choices while giving us room to explore. And I think that was very Wright-ish. We had plenty of room, and going towards abstraction with that work was great.”

Following the full day, the house at Taliesin was open to participants, providing an exclusive opportunity to unwind. “I sat in Wright’s chair and made my notes for the day. I just sat in different places, kind of strolled, and looked at the views. It was nice to spend time where nothing was happening. It was a nice tying-up time.“ Wandering through different spaces, soaking in tranquility of a moment where nothing was happening, became a peaceful conclusion to the day’s events.

Content Image

View from Frank Lloyd Wright's patio

The following morning, Julie rose early, brewed her coffee, and savored waking up at Taliesin. “I felt pretty lucky to be at the house. It was pretty heady to have my coffee on Wright’s patio.”

The workshop’s final day began with an exploration of cyanotypes, followed by a show, and then a box opening featuring collaborative editions from each participant. A box was also prepared for Taliesin, which created a sense of shared accomplishment reminiscent of the ‘box projects’ gifted to Wright for his birthday by apprentices.

Content Image

Participants and instructors inside Hillside Drafting Studio

Reflecting on her time in the Drafting Studio, our conversation touched on initial concerns about tour groups passing through the workshop space, but Julie says this harbored a sense of pride among this group of participants: “We felt so special knowing we have full access, [that] we live here this weekend.”

The overall experience of being in the space felt gratifying, and Julie particularly appreciated the absence of others questioning her legitimacy as an artist. The workshop embraced participants of varying abilities and comfort levels with materials, fostering an environment where each participant worked at their own pace. The focus remained on the straightforward nature of exercises and the authenticity of individuals actively creating.

In sum, Julie emphasized that her immersive experience wasn’t about prioritizing novel revelations but rather diving deeper into the interplay of themes already prevalent at Taliesin, including learning by doing and nature as model and muse.