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Writing Flows from Taliesin

Geoff Herbach December 1st, 2023
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Writing Camp Presentations

First there’s nature. And then, flowing from it, comes the mother art, architecture. From architecture, all other art is born.

This is a bit of a simple summation of Frank Lloyd Wright’s notion of nature and architecture’s relationship to the other forms of human expression, but it isn’t too far off. 

I’m a writer. I have found the sentiment a bit disordered. For me, there was nature, God, some primordial state, and what comes next is the word, an expression of an idea, and from the word the world becomes, as in the word was made flesh. Ideas require language. Through language, ideas, including architecture, take form.  

But having now spent many days leading writing workshops at Taliesin, both for kids and adults, I’m moved in the direction of Mr. Wright’s thinking.  

In June, a group of twelve-year-old writers and I happened up the hill between Hillside School and the Romeo and Juliet Windmill. We paused to take in the grandeur of the blowing rye fields and the continual turn of Romeo and Juliet’s blades. Then we crossed over to Tan-y-Deri for a view of the residence. “Do you see the Shining Brow?” I asked. The kids did. Then we gathered by the cozy fireplace on the lowest level of Tan-y-Deri, this house Mr. Wright designed for his sister, Jane. We wrote for an hour. The kids erupted. Their work was imaginative, hilarious, beautiful.  

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Blossom of the Soul

There was nature, then came the built environment, and then all of these amazing words.  

The next day we learned about the Blossoms of the Soul, the pieces of sculpture and statuary and burnt stone Mr. Wright salvaged from the famous fires and built into the third iteration of the Taliesin residence. The kids considered the meanings of these pieces. They wrote poetry, often from the perspective of the Blossoms. I thought, not only is there language in the shapes Mr. Wright applies from nature, but he’s planted inspiration, memory, and comfort in the walls. The poems the kids made were lovely.  

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Workshop Participants Writing at Hillside Drafting Studio

In September, standing in the drafting studio at Hillside, I watched members of the adult writing workshop sit in pure concentration. I saw the echoes of the Driftless-area forest in the triangles lifting the roof. The light from the high windows fell like sun through branches. There is cover, safety above and an open, airy workspace underneath. The drafting room is a perfect space to pull yourself up to a table to make something. The adult writers group blew me away with the work they produced in Hillside. They blew each other away. There were practically standing ovations after members of the group read their drafts aloud.  

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Workshop Participants Exploring Taliesin

I don’t use “perfect” in my description of the drafting room lightly. I am cranky in most spaces. Here, in the drafting room, I am made to feel free, to feel inspired, to desire to work. Experiencing how directly Mr. Wright’s architecture understands and speaks to human needs is to understand why he considered architecture the mother of all arts. There is not an ideology guiding the design. Ideologies require words to be explained. Nature, which includes human nature, guides this work directly – which is probably why it’s so difficult to find a consistent definition organic architecture. This is an architecture that changes based on the building site and the particular people who are to use the building. 

Okay, so, first there is nature and flowing from it comes mother architecture. All the other arts are born of the mother. Because the discussions with my Taliesin students were so fantastic, because they did such incredible writing while at Taliesin, because I was inspired to make art while I visited Taliesin (usually when I teach a session, all I do is prep and teach), I have become something of a believer in Wright’s conception. 

Heck, consider the hundreds (thousands?) of books and articles produced by Mr. Wright, Olgivanna Wright, by members of the fellowship, by researchers, journalists and novelists, all originally inspired by Mr. Wright’s work. Taliesin creates the conditions for an entire literary movement, apparently.  

And, so, I can’t wait to return. I hope to work with students there for years to come. What a joy to be in the middle of these spaces, what a joy to watch writers light up and make work that surprises their colleagues and themselves. Taliesin was made for writers, no doubt. Writing, then, flows from the mother.