Poking Around Taliesin With My Cameras

(c) Mark Hertzberg (2019)

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This is the third installment this spring in my photographic discoveries at Taliesin…based on the premise that one can indeed see new things even on one’s umpteenth visit to a building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. This visit was the weekend of June 8…when we were privileged to stay overnight in the Rose guest room after Minerva Montooth’s and Taliesin Preservation’s annual celebration of Wright’s birthday.

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Yes, as seen above, sometimes there is a reason I bring a camera into the bathroom!

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There are, indeed, gnats and mosquitoes on a warm spring evening.

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Happy 152nd Birthday, Frank Lloyd Wright

(c) Mark Hertzberg (2019)

It is always a joy to mark Frank Lloyd Wright’s birthday at Taliesin at a party hosted by the always-gracious Minerva Montooth and Taliesin Preservation. The celebration, which is always on a Saturday, was on June 8, his birth date.This year we had the privilege of staying overnight at Taliesin for the first time because I was giving a presentation the next day at Hillside about my new book about Penwern, the Fred B. Jones estate on Delavan Lake.

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Caroline Hamblen, left, Director of Programs, and Kyle Adams, Events Manager, show Minerva the traditional Frank Lloyd Wright birthday cake, made from his favorite cake recipe.


Dixie Legler Guerrero chats with Minerva.

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2019 Wright Birthday 011.jpgCarrie Rodamaker, Executive Director of Taliesin Preservation, speaks under a lovely evening sky. This year’s guests were not subjected to the heat and humidity that has beset past birthday celebrations.2019 Wright Birthday 023.jpg

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2019 Wright Birthday 017.jpgBenjamin Feiner played for the guests.

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2019 Wright Birthday 031.jpgMinerva holds Fifi as the celebration winds down at 9:30 p.m.


Photographing Familiar Wright Sites, Part 2

Photos (c) Mark Hertzberg (2019)

A few weeks ago I posted photos that showed new things I saw at Frank Lloyd Wright sites that I had visited “umpteen” times. I was helping lead a Road Scholar tour and had told the guests that one of the joys of Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture is the challenge of seeing his work in new ways on return visits. For me that means I have a personal challenge to see new things to photograph. On my visit to Taliesin last Friday – just two weeks after my last visit with a Road Scholar group – I saw many new things. One cannot help but be on the lookout for new things with Cate Boldt as docent (and that is not to diminish her colleagues’ skills, but, well, Cate is Cate!).

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I cannot count the number of times I have been in the living room at Taliesin and seen the piano. This was the first time I saw it this way and thought about Wright and his apprentices sitting next to the windows and gazing out at the “Valley of the Almighty Joneses” (the late Edgar Tafel, one of the first Taliesin Fellowship apprentices, often told of Wright directing him, “Edgarrrrr, play some Bach!”). Hats off to Cate for sending me into the small kitchen adjacent to the living room to look for our friend Minerva Montooth!

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How many times have I seen the old drafting tables in the original drafting room? This is the first time I have seen photographs in them:

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This is what Wright called “the belvidere,” framed by the wisteria plants outside his bedroom:

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I led my last post with a view of the farmland framed by a window near the bird walk. I saw more things framed by windows this visit. Two photos look abstract because I shot them as my camera’s autofocus was hunting for a focus spot:

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And, seen from the entrance to Hillside Theatre:

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Sometimes the architecture itself frames our view:

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Sometimes the red shuttle bus can add a point of interest, instead of being an element to crop out of the photo:

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The next two photos are from the Jacobs 1 House and the Unitarian Meeting House in Madison:

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While I have your attention, on June 14 Nick Hayes, steward of the Elizabeth Murphy American System-Built house in Shorewood (Milwaukee) will present a program about the house and the ASB homes in Milwaukee. I encourage you to hear his presentation:




Photographing Wright for the Umpteenth Time

Photos and Text (c) Mark Hertzberg (2019)

When I take guests on Frank Lloyd Wright tours for Road Scholar I tell them that one of the joys of Wright’s architecture is the possibility of seeing new things on every visit to places one has been to before. I always take my cameras with me on the Road Scholar tours for that reason and on my fifth tour for them, two weeks ago, I saw new things in buildings I have photographed many times. Alas, I did not find new things at every site we visited.

My first discoveries were at 2734 W. Burnham Street in Milwaukee, an American System-Built duplex being restored by Frank Lloyd Wright’s Burnham Block. The walls have now been stripped off and I saw these things, including the incinerator chute in the kitchen. The first photo is the view from the living room into the kitchen:

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I have photographed the Unitarian Meeting House in Madison many times. This visit I saw these views of the church. I hope to see the new copper roof by the time of my scheduled fall visits:

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I also saw a picture which spoke to the church’s statement of what Unitarianism is about, a collection of May poles amidst a “Black Lives Matter” sign. No matter what one’s beliefs, this is what the church believes, which is why the church exists, which is why there was a building for Frank Lloyd Wright to design:

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I have enjoyed photographing one of Wright’s smaller commissions, the Wyoming Valley School. This is what I saw differently this time:

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At Riverview Terrace (the Visitors Center at Taliesin), I was struck by the colors on a tree in the driveway:

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Then, of course, there was Taliesin. One of the guests asked why there are no art glass windows in the house. Cate Boldt (our superb docent) explained that Wright had no reason to shield the house for privacy and art glass windows would have blocked the views of his beloved land. What did Wright see?

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Windows looking out from the guest room were uncovered in December, 2017:

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The “Hoffman rug” in the living room has been taken out:

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The Romeo and Juliet Windmill and Tanyderi:

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And, then, finally, this was the first time I saw the drafting room at Hillside Home and School without students, which meant I could go into the room and take pictures:

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The tour I accompany for three days for Road Scholar is: https://www.roadscholar.org/find-an-adventure/22976/architectural-masterworks-of-frank-lloyd-wright



An Advance Peek at “Plagued by Fire”

© Mark Hertzberg 2019

Santa Claus brought Paul Hendrickson and Frank Lloyd Wright together in 1953 when he left a maroon J.C. Higgins 3-speed for nine-year-old Paul under the family Christmas tree in Kankakee, Illinois. The bike was not hidden under a blanket, Hendrickson recalls. It was uncovered, “dominating the spray of presents,” there for him to see as he came down the stairs in the morning.

It was chilly that day, with temperatures averaging 30-degrees, the wind gusting to almost 20 mph, hardly conducive to riding far (if at all) on his shiny new bike. When winter gave way to spring three months later, the boy hung his soft brown leather Spalding baseball mitt – he thinks maybe an Eddie Mathews model – on the handlebars of his bike and pedaled away, headed for the ball diamonds in nearby Riverview Park (now known as Cobb Park).

Five blocks south of Hendrickson’s boyhood home, just before he had to swing southeast to get to the park, well, there they were: Wright’s Bradley and Hickox houses. There were other nearby houses with Prairie-style elements (including his family’s rented house), but none as striking as the two Wright-designed homes. The boy often paused on his way to the park to take them in.

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This October, almost 66 years after Santa delivered that new bike, Hendrickson’s latest book, a ground-breaking biography of the architect whose work impressed a little boy in ways he did not yet understand, will be published. Plagued by Fire: The Dreams and Furies of Frank Lloyd Wright tells Wright’s story like no other book has. Its genesis was simple, Hendrickson wrote me in an email, “This book started in my imagination…when I was riding past it [the Bradley House] on my J.C. Higgins 3-speed.” 

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I have just finished reading a bound proof of the book (disclaimer: Hendrickson and I have become friends since he began researching certain aspects of Wright’s life and career). I will write about the book in this essay without telling you anything specific about its revelations and interpretations of Wright’s life because that was the condition of my being able to write about it. 

Hendrickson’s goal was to humanize the often-demonized Wright. The book will not be out for another six months but it has rattled the sensibilities of a few Wright devotees, judging from their comments in “The Wright Attitude” Facebook group. They were reacting to the publisher’s advance blurb at: 


Some commenters were upset by “And this, we see, is the Wright of many other neglected aspects of his story: his close, and perhaps romantic, relationship with friend and early mentor Cecil Corwin; the eerie, unmistakable role of fires in his life; the connection between the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 and the murder of his mistress, her two children, and four others at his beloved Wisconsin home by a black servant gone mad.”

Hendrickson does not stab wildly in the dark to reach his conclusions. His conclusions – and sometimes he writes that we will never know the answer to one particularly intriguing question or another – are not unsubstantiated. He meticulously outlines the facts he has uncovered (perhaps inconvenient facts for some people). His research is unimpeachable. I have already told you that I won’t spill the beans. You will have to wait until you are near the end of the book for some of the pieces of Hendrickson’s take on Wright’s life to fall in place for you, but they will. I smiled and nodded when I reached those points of understanding.

The colloquialism “gumshoe” refers to detectives, sometimes private eyes. Hendrickson does not wear a tan trench coat and fedora in the style of 1950s film noire detectives, but I thought of him as a gumshoe when I read how he left no stone unturned in his research. He outlines for his readers how he came to understand facts about Wright in his narrative, rather than forcing the reader constantly turn to cumbersome endnotes. Still, his 45-page “Essay on Sources” at the end of the book is as important as the narrative itself. Hendrickson drove untold hundreds (or even thousands) of miles, walked every inch of ground in places that were important to write Wright’s story, dug through voluminous archive files, often finding rare documents that no previous Wright scholar had seen. What was the weather like when Wright left Madison to announce himself to Chicago? Just ask Hendrickson. You get the idea.

Hendrickson was not content to parrot oft-repeated anecdotes about Wright’s life if  he was unable to verify them for himself. His research took him on multiple trips to Wisconsin, Illinois, Arizona, and New York. That was to be expected. It also took him to some unexpected places in those states, as well as to unexpected states that shall remain nameless in this essay.

Working in his third floor office at home, a baseball-style cap perched on his head, Hendrickson, a former writer for the Washington Post, has taken a clean sheet of drafting paper in his computer and redefined Wright as more layered and more human than many people have previously thought. Of course Hendrickson had to start from what Wright had written about himself and what others have written about him (Hendrickson’s bibliography is four pages of single-space type) just as Wright often drew from his work-to-date when he began a new commission. 

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Photo (c) Cecilia Hendrickson

Take any story you have heard about Frank Lloyd Wright and cast it aside if it does not stand up to Hendrickson’s painstaking primary research. His word images (poetry-in-complete sentences) tumbled from the keyboard for his silver desktop Mac the way designs are said to have tumbled out of Wright’s sleeve.

Hendrickson built his narrative from both the 1933 and 1942 editions of Wright’s An Autobiography (among dozens of other books and interviews). It is well known that Wright did not get it right in many parts of his self-telling about himself. Hendrickson explains those failings, including writing about “the Wright who was haunted by his father, about whom he told the greatest lie of his life.” (from Hendrickson’s publisher’s advance publicity). What was that “greatest lie?” You will have to read the book to find out.

After Hendrickson returned from research trips he hunkered down in his third floor loft writing atelier, between the English classes he teaches at the University of Pennsylvania. He keeps folder files in a bookcase and in piles on the floor. “I try to keep things fairly clean and ordered,” he wrote me when I asked him to describe how he writes. He kept various biographies, including the two editions of An Autobiography on his large green-glass writing desk with a spiral-ringed index nearby. Two Wright placemats which he considers “talismans” are on the desk, as well. 

His screen saver is a picture of Fallingwater. There is Wright artwork on the walls, “including a photograph of the B. Harley Bradley in Kankakee.” Why that house? Because that is where Hendrickson’s Wright adventures started forming in his imagination 66 years ago as he rode past it on his way to the park and yet another game of catch. 

Note added April 11: A commenter on Facebook squirms at the mention of Wright’s affection to Cecil Corwin (and I am not divulging what conclusion, if any, Hendrickson reaches about that). I have asked him why a man’s affection for another man, or a woman’s affection for another woman, no matter what form that affection takes, should make us uncomfortable. Does that person squirm about Wright’s physical affection for Mamah Borthwick or for Olgivanna before their marriage? I think not.

Many people have pre-ordered Hendrickson’s book on-line from the Seattle behemoth that is Amazon. I urge you to instead order the book from your closest local bookshop. We have to do all we can to keep our local booksellers in business. If you don’t have a bookshop near you, you can pre-order from the publisher. That will do more to help authors than ordering from the Big A.

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Graff on Wright

(c) Mark Hertzberg (2019)

Stuart Graff, President and CEO of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, speaks at the SC Johnson Golden Rondelle about “Organic Architecture and the Sustaining Ecosystem” Wednesday April 3 in Racine. Here is my visual interpretation of his engaging talk which he will present Thursday evening at Monona Terrace in Madison. When you see Stuart, ask him to tell you about the young man with intellectual challenges who said he found “peace” at Taliesin West!Stuart Graff SCJ 4.3.19 032.jpg

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In the World of Wright Books

(c) Mark Hertzberg (2019)

News about three books:

Penwern: I have finished the final edits on “Frank Lloyd Wright’s Penwern: A Summer Estate.” It will be published by the Wisconsin Historical Society Press in June. Kate Thompson has been a wonderful editor to work with. This was my “desk” at a coffee shop:



Research Tower:  The Chinese Architecture and Building Press in Beijing will be publishing an “omnibus edition” with my “Frank Lloyd Wright’s SC Johnson Research Tower” (Pomegranate: 2010) and Grant Hildebrand’s “Frank Lloyd Wright’s Palmer House” (University of Washington Press: 2005) translated into Mandarin. The target is for 2019 publication. The Mandarin edition is supposed to include a short text addendum and new photos reflecting the restoration of the Tower in 2013 and 2014 after the decision was made to open the Tower to public tours for the first time.

Wright’s life and career:

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Paul Hendrickson has a book coming out in October. I know Paul and have read three of his books. I recommend his work highly. He is a former writer (not reporter!) for the Washington Post. He teaches writing at the University of Pennsylvania. He has taken a unique approach to telling Wright’s story (I’m not spilling the beans here). He does meticulous research. He has done extensive research into Cecil Corwin and he was granted rare access to the SC Johnson archives. The book will be published in October. This is the publisher’s website link if you want to pre-order the book:





A Surviving Wright Tokyo Masterpiece

Photos and text (c) Mark Hertzberg (2018)

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The Imperial Hotel comes to mind for many people when they think of Frank Lloyd Wright’s work in Japan, particularly in Tokyo. But the hotel is no more. It was demolished in 1968. Only the lobby and entry way were saved, reconstructed closer to Kyoto than to Tokyo, in the Meiji Mura architectural theme park (see photos on the preceding post on this website). Although the hotel is gone, visitors to Tokyo still have a Wright masterpiece to see in a quiet residential neighborhood, just a short walk from the bustling Ikebukuro subway station.

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Wright designed the Jiyu Gakuen School of the Free Spirit in 1921. Now known as Jiyu Gakuen Myonichikan (Myonichikan means “Hall of Tomorrow,” Japanese Wright scholar Karen Severns explains) it fortunately still survives even though the school moved to a new campus in 1934, just 10 years after the school opened. While the school community still used the building for different functions, it deteriorated physically and was threatened with demolition. In 1997 it was deemed an “Important Cultural Property.” Restoration began in 1999 and was completed by early 2002.

Come in the gate with me, and explore this lovely building, whose interior details sometimes reminded me of details in Wright’s Thomas P. Hardy House in Racine (1904/1905).

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Two classroom wings flank the central part of the school. The leaded glass centerpiece of the school is in front of the two-story lounge hall and dining hall.

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One of the classrooms in the east wing:

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Then we approach the stairs to the dining room.

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I was particularly enchanted by the ceiling light fixtures in the dining room:

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Wright left Japan before the east classroom building was completed (the right-hand wing, as one faces the school). Arata Endo finished it, using Wright’s plan for the west wing. Endo also designed the two smaller dining areas which flank the main dining room:

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The lounge hall is on the main floor, just inside the wonderful two-story leaded-glass frontispiece of the school.

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Visitors can enjoy a cup of tea or coffee there:

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Students had painted a mural of The Exodus on one wall of the room:

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The lounge hall was used for many functions until Endo’s Assembly Hall was constructed across the street from the main building:

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We were leaving the school when I heard music coming from one of the classrooms. A sign on the classroom door admonished people not to enter during the class. No matter: a photo taken at a distance through a window shows that learning is still going on in Wright’s lovely little school building in busy Tokyo:

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I recommend Severns’ and Koichi Mori’s “Magnificent Obsession: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Buildings and Legacy in Japan” DVD for an in-depth study of Wright’s built and unbuilt work in Japan. “Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fifty Views of Japan: The 1905 Photo Album” was published by Pomegranate for the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio Foundation in 1996. Julia Meech’s 2001 book “Frank Lloyd Wright and the Art of Japan: The Architect’s Other Passion” (Harry S. Abrams, publisher) is about Wright as a collector of, and dealer in, Japanese woodblock prints.


Imperial Hotel

Photos (c) Mark Hertzberg (2018)

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Imperial Hotel in Japan, designed in 1917, famously survived the great Kanto earthquake which struck Tokyo the day the hotel opened in 1923. But it could not survive the will of developers who determined that the air rights above the complex were more valuable than the architecture, and demolished it in 1968. The lobby and entry way were saved, and reconstructed at Meiji Mura, an architectural theme park in Inuyama, Japan.

There was robust debate at the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy’s 2010 conference in Cincinnati about the realities of trying to preserve the context for which Wright designed his work. The setting at Meiji Mura is lovely, but it is not the urban context the hotel was designed for.

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The Shinkansen, or bullet train, whisks visitors coming from Tokyo to Nagoya, where they board a local train to Inuyama, and then a bus to the park. We visited the park  in November. Though it was overcast, Japan’s fall colors were magnificent.

Are you unsure of where to stand to photograph the hotel? That’s no problem, there is signage to guide you:

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I was photographing the exterior when a kimono-clad woman walked into the frame. At least it wasn’t my Wright friend in his orange parka (this light-hearted reference is for friends in the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy which had its own tour in Japan concurrent with our trip). Kimonos are associated with geisha, but many people – especially tourists – rent kimonos to wear.

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In the door, up two steps, and one Japan goal has been realized (others included seeing a baseball game in the Tokyo Dome and feasting on Japanese food including the best tuna I have ever eaten).

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But, what about the rear of the structure? I had to look, but it was a bit like peeking behind the Wizard of Oz’s curtain.

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“Arigato” for joining me on my visit to the hotel:

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