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Taliesin: Forever Relevant

November 16th, 2020

Taliesin: Forever Relevant
By: Aron Meudt-Thering, Communication Manager, Taliesin Preservation

The endless relevance of Frank Lloyd Wright is obvious. He’s the greatest American architect, who transformed 20th-century design, but the relevance of Taliesin, his personal home, might not be so clear.

In 1911, Taliesin was born out of love, a love that Wright shared with Mamah Borthwick, and it endured because of Wright’s resilience. Not just resilience as we assume it to be – the idea of getting through something difficult and coming out on the other side as a stronger person. It’s the concept more in line with Brené Brown’s thinking in her book, Dare to Lead, that stockpiled joy over time gives us the fuel for resilience. It may have ended abruptly and tragically in 1914, but that stockpile of happiness is what helped Wright create Taliesin in three different iterations in his lifetime (1911, 1914, 1925). The connection to this place was struck so deeply in him that he couldn’t turn away. That grip of this valley is what keeps many of us here for generations.

Broadacre City at the Hillside Drafting Studio Taliesin: Forever Relevant
Broadacre City in the Hillside Drafting Studio, [Image property of The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York).]

Wright’s joy fueled the rebuilding of Taliesin to what it is today – a place where rebels and radicals go to stretch their thinking, their truths, and their conclusions. That same rebel spirit inspires us here at Taliesin Preservation to create a living laboratory – a living museum, if you will – that is pumping out ideas from the greatest thinkers in all fields of study and realms of creativity. 

Thus, Taliesin becomes an epicenter, a model for how a place can transform the soul, the whole person. That transformative nature is what keeps bringing people back time and time again. Just like Wright-inspired generations of architects – he also taught students how to become free thinkers and took on a model of interdisciplinary training. Weeding the garden was just as important as drafting the Guggenheim Museum. No work was too menial. This is the place where Wright learned his work ethic from his family of Wisconsin farmers, preachers and teachers. It becomes the bar for standards to which Taliesin Preservation holds its tours, programs, staff, volunteers, and vision.

Taliesin Plein Air, 2018.

“Radical is a fine word, meaning ‘roots.’ Being radical I must strike root somewhere. Wisconsin is my somewhere. I feel my roots in these hillsides as I know those of the oaks that have struck in here beside me. That oak and I understand each other. Wisconsin soil has put sap into my veins, why, I  should love her as I loved my mother, my old grandmother, and as I love my work.” 

-Frank Lloyd Wright “Why I love Wisconsin”

Hillside Art Installation. Taliesin: Forever Relevant
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Birthday, Installation by Saskia Jorda

Using the Past to Guide Our Future

The future holds great responsibility to uphold Wright’s legacy at Taliesin. The Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture is moving on to its new campus at Arcosanti, the Taliesin Fellowship still exists but is quickly shrinking. Pieces of the original culture are fading away. Taliesin Preservation doesn’t just fund building preservation on the estate. That is a very narrow view of what preservation is. Without life and culture the buildings have no soul, and without a soul they are reduced to the materials in which they are built. Taliesin Preservation embodies the Fellowship and all that Wright intended – even the unrealized ideas he had, like his concept for the Hillside School of the Allied arts that pre-dates the Fellowship and the School of Architecture. Wright even approached the University of Wisconsin to create a satellite campus where his philosophies on integrated education would be taught. These are the things that inspire our programming today and keep us striving for more intentional and authentic partnerships. 

Garry Zimmer of Otter Creek Organic Farms and Midwestern BioAg teaching the FAIP students about soil composition. 2020.

In 1931 Wright wrote a concept for his Hillside School of the Allied Arts to take place on the Taliesin estate that reads, “The soul must be wooed if it is to be won. It cannot be taught. Nor can it ever be forced. To be more specific this means that the nature of our livelihood, commercial industry, both by machine and process, must be put into experimental stations where its many operations may come into the hands…”

Today, we draw on Wright’s resilience to inspire us as we navigate this difficult situation caused by the pandemic. We draw on our own joys and accomplishments to get us through this time in history. We can only pick up the pieces and continue working to come out stronger on the other side of this. Just as Wright picked up the pieces of Taliesin after it burned down (twice), to rebuild it- using the same foundation over and over, but making changes to design elements. Wright was always building, always experimenting, always creating, and always rebelling against society’s ideas of how things should be. As our dear friend Chef Luke Zahm says, “We’re warming them up – we’re turning structure into sentiment.”

Photo of Luke Zahm. Taliesin: Forever Relevant
Chef Luke Zahm in the Taliesin kitchen garden during the filming of the Wisconsin Foodie episode featuring a 2019 Farm Dinner.

The experimental nature of ideas and rebel spirit continues to guide us into the 21st century – a legacy that will always live on and continue to inspire others. You’ll find this woven into any shared experience you have at Taliesin like a micro-apprenticeship, farm dinner, or summer camp, and we hope it inspires you to ask the question “How might we live now?”


About the Author:

Aron Meudt-Thering is a Spring Green native who was drawn back to this place after college at the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design where she studied photography and graphic design. Aron is building her Taliesin-inspired forever home in Wyoming Valley with her husband and two children.