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Finding Tranquility at Taliesin: An Interview with Julie Fry

Elizabeth Maske December 8th, 2023
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Julie (first row right) and the participants pose with their calligraphy in the Hillside Drafting Studio

The evening sun filters through the windows of a cozy Parisian apartment, casting a gentle glow as Julie Fry joins me for a virtual interview. Across the Atlantic, Julie’s connection with Frank Lloyd Wright’s Wisconsin estate still lingers. Through her candid words, she paints a portrait of Taliesin Preservation’s Kokoro Workshop, an experience blending introspection, cultural exploration, and a profound sense of connection. Led by Professor Kimiko Gunji and Anderson Gardens’ curator Tim Gruner, the weekend sought to provide spiritual enrichment with the breathtaking backdrop that is Taliesin.

Julie, originally from Wisconsin, found herself drawn back to her roots by the allure of staying overnight at Taliesin. “Like everyone else there, I read about the workshop in The New York Times.” She chuckles, “I remember being jet lagged, up really early in the morning. I booked it then and there at 5 a.m.” It’s a feeling many of us can relate to–the desire to grasp onto something that resonates in the stillness of early dawn.

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Tea Ceremony in the Taliesin Living Room

In the chaos of transitioning from California to Paris, the workshop promised of a pause for self-reflection:

“This year was a year of a major transition…. I was pretty busy the first couple of months with just getting settled in, and [the workshop] spoke to me in terms of kind of a pause…. There was also, for me, the awareness that there will be a time when I am fully living my new life and will need a chance to breathe, and thought this would be a good time to think about this link between my life—between body, nature, spirit, and mind, so it also appealed to me on that level.”

Inspired by the Japanese concept of Kokoro (meaning “heart,” “mind,” and “spirit”), the workshop wove together various activities, from tai chi and calligraphy to tea ceremonies, lectures, and moments of introspection. Julie was particularly enamored by the Kokoro workshop’s connection to Taliesin, a place entwined with the artistic legacy of Frank Lloyd Wright and his affinity for Japanese aesthetics:

“The Kokoro workshop really embraced the spirit of Taliesin. I love the link to Japan, Wright’s link to Japan, and the artwork in the house…. Though the initial excitement and expectation was just to be there…that piece of it was pretty extraordinary. I don’t want to forget about the place, not only the beauty of it but the history behind it, not only the difficult history but the creative history. That meant a lot to me to have access to place.”

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Detail from the Tea Ceremony

Julie reflects on the magnetism of the landscape when enjoying morning coffee and birdwatching on Tan-y-Deri’s terrace, with a newfound understanding of how Frank Lloyd Wright’s family was drawn to this corner of Wisconsin. Her connection to this land stirs a sense of nostalgia as she acknowledges the resonance with her own history. “It reminded me of my roots,” she said, “so there are lots of layers.”

Julie’s experience through the tea ceremony shows the profound beauty that unfolds when we release ourselves into the embrace of the present, even if just for a while:

“There was something about the tea ceremony where I let my mind just disengage. It was so peaceful, almost like having a massage, watching the very slow movements. I move quickly, I think quickly, I do quickly, and it was like a physical relaxation of just winding down…. That idea of just handing myself over to this ancient cultural tradition and not trying to over-intellectualize it, not trying to commit it to memory, not trying to think, ‘Oh, I would do it that way.’ Just understanding that it is slow and deliberate, and it takes years and years of learning how to do this properly, and I just let myself relax into the appreciation of it.”

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Tour of Wright's Asian Art Collection

It wasn’t just the activities or the landscape that struck a chord. It was the bonds formed with fellow participants and the staff that shaped Julie’s experience. “There was a really wonderful spirit, not only with the leaders and all of you at Taliesin but also with my fellow travelers,” Julie shared. “We were all there in the moment, from all of our various places, because we read this article, but also because we wanted to have this interesting experience. We all bonded in a special way, and I had not anticipated that. The connections that we made…that was unexpected and fun.” In a world that often whirls by in a blur, the Kokoro workshop offered a rare chance to pause, appreciate, and discover the harmonious interplay between heart, mind, and spirit.

Julie described how, during a session known as “Reflections in the Round,” unexpected emotions surfaced:

“Kimiko [one of the instructors] quickly tried to find the center of each of us and reflect that back to us…. She found some way to connect with each of us, which was one of the nice things about not having a very large group. In one of those discussions, there was a poem Kimiko had shared that made me think about my mother, who is about to turn 96 and is living her best life, but I know that her time living her best life is limited… and I got quite emotional. But I think again, that underlines the spirit of the weekend, which was just about connecting with ourselves, maybe in ways that were surprising…. And I took that with me when I went to spend time with my mother, and it was really beautiful to see her after that…. I think the whole weekend was leading towards those moments of self-reflection and community reflection.”

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Professor Kimiko Gunji, her Assistant Sachio Koester, and Curator Tim Gruner

The conversation led to words of insight for future participants: “I think I would encourage people… to come with their spirit wide open. To be ready to receive.” Julie’s recommendation encapsulates the spirit of the Kokoro workshop—a willingness to embrace the unknown, to surrender to introspection, and to forge new connections. Her time at Taliesin is a reminder of the importance of slowing down, being present, and allowing ourselves to be touched by the magic of a place steeped in history and beauty. As we navigate the complexities of our modern lives, perhaps we can all take a page from Julie’s book and embark on a journey of self-discovery, seeking our own moments of tranquility amidst chaos.