Wright Tourism is Back: Bits of Burnham

© Mark Hertzberg (2022)

LR Burnham 2022 010.jpgSybil Knop talks to Road Scholar guests touring the Burnham Block May 19

The pandemic is far from over, but Wright tourism is ramping up again. I have helped lead the Wisconsin portion of Road Scholar’s week-long tour that starts in Chicago and ends in Spring Green since 2017 (a link to the itinerary is below). This week is our first of three tours for this year since 2019.. We have 16 guests from 10 states on this tour. Our first stop was the Burnham Block in Milwaukee which has six American System-Built homes, most owned by Frank Lloyd Wright’s Burnham Block, Inc.

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I always challenge myself to see if I can find fresh photographs at Wright sites, no matter how often I have visited them. Here is what I saw on the Burnham Block after two years away from my Wright photo quests. I have two establishing shots showing signs of spring:

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I concentrated more on patterns or design elements that I saw, mostly at the duplexes (dupli?) at 2032 – 2034 W. Burnham Street, left, and 2028 – 2030 next door.

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LR Burnham 2022 018.jpgThis is not a version of the Frank Lloyd Wright signature tile…it is one of the faded red squares that have been used as social distancing markers on Burnham Street.

LR Burnham 2022 017.jpgI thought Frank Lloyd Wright hated basements.” They were not his favorite spaces, but he did not eschew them entirely. This is one of the vents from the basement at 2032 – 2034.

I told our guests that one of the great benefits of touring 2032 – 2034 is that while they generally see fully restored or rehabilitated Wright structures, this was an opportunity to see one in raw shape, as money from a Save America’s Treasures grants is used to bring it to house museum status like the Model B-1 down the block at 2714 W. Burnham St.

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LR Burnham 2022 066.jpgThis period stove is in a closet until the restoration is done.

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We then toured the Model B-1, one of the two single-family homes on the block. It was the first Burnham property acquired by what became the Burnham Block organization, in 2004. It has been fully restored with a Save America’s Treasures grant. It is a tribute to Mike Lilek and the organizations that have been the stewards of Burnham received not one, but two SAT grants.

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There are still two duplexes that will need restoration, including the world’s only Frank Lloyd Wright building clad in aluminum siding:

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I close this blog entry with a nod to my friend Cathy Spyres, docent extraordinaire at Wright’s Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church – her church – in Wauwatosa. The church is our second Wright stop on our Milwaukee itinerary:

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Tomorrow’s itinerary is another full day: We are overnighting in Madison tonight, after also seeing the Milwaukee Art Museum (Saarinen / Calatrava) and Monona Terrace. Tomorrow we start at Jacobs 1 and then go to the Unitarian Meeting House, Wyoming Valley School and have lunch at Riverview Terrace before our in-depth tours of Taliesin and Hillside. I can attest from our own trips with Road Scholar that you see so much and learn so much (education is a major component of their programming) that you need a vacation after your RS vacation! Wright tourism is, indeed back in full swing!

Links:

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Burnham Block:

http://wrightinmilwaukee.com

This Road Scholar Trip Itinerary (we also have a full tour of the Hardy House in Racine and an exterior guided tour of Jacobs 1, although they are not listed in the advance itinerary):

https://www.roadscholar.org/find-an-adventure/22976/architectural-masterworks-of-frank-lloyd-wright

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Winter Day at Taliesin

All photos © Mark Hertzberg (2022)

I have been to Taliesin countless times, but never in winter, until Sunday when we had a lunch date with our friend, Minerva Montooth. It had snowed overnight. We would not be able to get to Spring Green until Noon, so there would be no photos in the morning’s “golden light.” I fared better in that respect in the late afternoon. But in between, at Noon, there was a rich, rich blue sky.

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Except for this first photo, I am taking you on a tour of Taliesin in the order I photographed the estate. Get comfortable, there are lots of photos. and you will see how my day’s take evolved. The first stop was a drive through the Visitor’s Center or Riverview Terrace. First, this establishing shot, and then a few details that caught my eye:

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Then onto Hillside, to enter the estate from that end…but I found that the driveway is closed for winter. No matter. I saw these views of Midway Barn and Romeo and Juliet windmill on the road to Hillside. The towers are vertical punctuation marks to the horizontal composition of Midway:

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I played with different ways to photograph Romeo and Juliet and Tan-y-Deri as we approached the driveway to Taliesin:

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The house as seen from the approach did not photograph well at midday, but I took record shots. I wish there was more snow on the hill below the birdwalk:

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I was happier with what I saw from below the house, starting with the lead photo in this piece.

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I am a photojournalist. As we say in our circles, after you find a photo, you “work it.” I have to thank John Clouse again for offering to sell me his 200-500mm lens at a good price last summer. While a newspaper colleague of mine in the early 1980s – before today’s fine zoom lenses – once said that “The best telephoto lens is your feet,” (i.e., walk toward and away from your subject rather than rely on the lens), this lens was especially welcome on a cold day after a fresh snowfall. I thought of the countless treks through the estate that the incomparable Pedro Guerrero made when he took his many memorable black and white winter photographs of Taliesin. What would he have done in color, or would he have stayed with black and white, which he printed so beautifully?

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The bird walk is an extraordinary cantilever:

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Caroline Hamblen was returning from feeding her chickens in the apple orchard as I crested the hill:

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Then it was time to park and explore on foot:

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The next photo is at Minerva’s front door:

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I saw this on my way in:

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I saw this on my way out after lunch and lively conversation:

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Then, one more swing through the estate with magic light at the “golden hour”:

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Farewell, Taliesin, until next time!

 

 

 

Where Famous Feet Did Tread

Photo and text © Mark Hertzberg (2021)

Procrastination sometimes pays off.

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I took this photograph August 29, on a photo exploration of the Hillside Drafting Room. It’s a single frame, in a folder of 18 photos. While I was concentrating on other aspects of the drafting room, I glanced at the floor and wondered what famous people have walked on it since it was installed in late 1938. Frank Lloyd Wright was obviously one of them, but who else?

I posted other photos of the drafting room soon after (they are toward the end of the link below), but I sat on this one, intending to one day write a “who walked here” post:

https://wrightinracine.wordpress.com/2021/09/06/wright-through-the-lens/

It is fortunate that I held off because last week I read a new post from Keiran Murphy which tells the story of the floor, a backstory I never would have guessed. The floor is like a wafer cookie, and it has a relationship to the floor at Wingspread. That’s all I will tell you. Here is a link to Keiran’s post:

https://www.keiranmurphy.com/hillside-drafting-studio-flooring/?fbclid=IwAR3SSC_CAVWs7yuVtk-ah51JlWW535FWEgOXCJAwTfLX8NOxzLri9ggJ1rk

Julian Carlton in Black and White

© Mark Hertzberg (2021)

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Some Black guy from Barbados went berserk, setting fire to a house before slaying seven people with a roofing hatchet as they tried to flee the blaze. He never came to trial because he died from having ingested muriatic acid while hiding from authorities. That’s the story we have accepted for 107 years about what happened at Taliesin on August 15, 1914 when Wright’s partner, Mamah Borthwick, her two children, and four of Wright’s workers died a horrific death. 

Although Julian Carlton was the slayer, he was not legally guilty of the murders because he was never tried. There is only one known photo of him. It was taken in court and appeared in  a local newspaper six days later. I wrote about the photograph almost two years ago:

https://wrightinracine.wordpress.com/2020/01/19/reading-the-only-known-photograph-of-julian-carlton/

A comment about this article was posted on the website a few weeks ago by “whatever74,” an on-line email pseudonym. The comment gave me pause:

The account of this murder to me is very suspicious. So many things just dont add up. I dont think we have anywhere near the truth. Life for black people back then was so unfair, so hidden, so corrupted, we really have no clue what transpired. He sure doesnt look insane in this photo. He looks resigned to a fate determined by people in power that couldnt care less about anything except maintaining that power. Who dies of starvation while in prison? How does that even happen? And look at him in this courtroom shot. Does he look like someone that cant consume food? He looks perfectly healthy, hardly someone that is wasting away from lack of food.

It just shows you how dangerous it is when one group gets a lot of power. And it happens all over the world. We fear what we could lose and tend to do irrational things to protect against that loss.

I thought that the commenter is likely African-American, suspicious of a white narrative of the crime. It would be easy to dismiss the comment but we should not, especially with the awakening many people who are not of color have had since the murder of George Floyd. Why not believe the initial explanation of the Minneapolis Police Department that Floyd died after some sort of medical incident. Isnt law enforcement trustworthy?

Man Dies After Medical Incident During Police Interaction:…Two officers arrived and located the suspect, a male believed to be in his 40s, in his car. He was ordered to step from his car. After he got out, he physically resisted officers. Officers were able to get the suspect into handcuffs and noted he appeared to be suffering medical distress. Officers called for an ambulance. He was transported to Hennepin County Medical Center by ambulance where he died a short time later…”

The phone video that Darnella Frazier showed us otherwise. That kind of gulf between fact and fiction is not limited to George Floyd’s murder at the hand of police in Minneapolis.

I believe that what we generally know about the massacre at Taliesin is true, but we need to be careful about some of the nuances. It took more than 100 years, until Paul Hendrickson wore out the soles of his shoes with his gumshoe detective work and wrote Plagued by Fire in 2019 in which he established conclusively that Carlton was a native of Alabama, not Barbados. That undid a century-old “fact” about the killings.

Did it matter for some people that this crazed Negro (I am purposely using pejoratives) was, you know, from down there, from the West Indies? Wright described Carlton as “a thin-lipped Barbados negro.” The lead of the next day’s Chicago Sunday Tribune story was “A Barbados negro with a handax yesterday…” Maybe as a West Indian Carlton didn’t understand how “house Negroes” should do things in America. Conversely, Hendrickson wonders if Carlton wanted people to think that he was from Barbados and thus think that he wasn’t just a plain-old American Negro or N-word, with every connotation that came with such a description.

Hendrickson writes that race was an important identifier in describing Carlton: “The black butcher.” “The black beast.” “The Negro fiend.” “And,” writes Hendrickson, “in a few places worse than that.” Indeed, one of the witnesses to the massacre quotes the father of one the victims as saying, “That [N-word] up there. He killed my boy.” The late Ron McCrea makes a similar point in his 2012 book Building Taliesin.  He quotes Ernest Wittwer who was just four years old when his father took him to the jail in Dodgeville to look at Carlton. “He held me up so I could see him through the window. I had never seen a black man before. I never felt the same about black people after that.”

Hendrickson posits that Carlton’s race may have influenced how Richard Lloyd Jones, Wright’s cousin, may have skewed editorial coverage in his newspaper, the Tulsa Tribune, in 1921 and helped fuel the Tulsa Race Massacre.

I shared “whatever 74’s” comments with a handful of Wright scholars. One wrote:

“whatever74” brings an interesting and plausible perspective (albeit clearly unsubstantiated by any evidence or proof) to the final days of JC placed in the larger context of American culture and society in 1914…PS:  it certainly makes you think . . .

I emailed “whatever 74” and asked what prompted his comment. He replied: I was just reading about FLW.  As I reread my comment now I wish there was an edit option.  If he had swallowed that acid that made it impossible for him to eat he could have looked just fine and healthy for weeks depending on his condition when he swallowed it.  I’ve water fasted for weeks and its surprising how healthy you look when you don’t eat…I suppose is pointless to even discuss an event where we have no idea what really happened.  I’ve seen so much prejudice in my life I guess I’m hypersensitive to it.  Videos today just showcase how often people in authority misuse that authority to maintain their position of power.  I can’t imagine what transpired back then when so many people got away with so much behind closed doors.

Then came another email from “whatever 74”: Just a white guy that has spent quite a bit of time in black culture.

Just what I’ve seen and experienced.

But as we really don’t know what happened and can’t possibly ascertain

what really happened, its probably better to focus on what is happening

today.

Keiran Murphy, the esteemed Taliesin historian, has an unpublished nine page manuscript entitled “The human toll taken by madness:  Truth and Myth Surrounding the 1914 Murders at Frank Lloyd Wrights Taliesin.” It cites numerous inaccurate contemporary accounts, including in The New York Times, which many people consider “the paper of record.” The Times wrote that Carlton was arrested 16 miles away from Taliesin after being tracked down by bloodhounds. In fact, he was hiding in a boiler at Taliesin. 

Since 2007 many people have asked on social media what kind of soup was being served for lunch that day. The first mention of any soup (on an August day!) is in William Drennan’s woefully inaccurate 2007 book Death in a Prairie House. There is no documentation for his assertion that soup was on the luncheon menu that August day. And so the myths are created even the century after the events of that summer day at Taliesin.

There has been much speculation about whether Borthwick was the intended victim, or was it Emil Brodelle, a draftsman who had allegedly racially insulted Carlton, or was it indirectly Wright himself by killing his lover?  Was Carlton upset at being fired by Wright? Murphy sets the record straight that Carlton’s departure from Taliesin was quite possibly voluntary, and that he had told Wright some time before that he would be returning to Chicago.

I talked to a friend who is the steward of a Wright home, and who was recently asked to review an unpublished, but thoroughly documented Wright manuscript. One of the things that struck him was the description of Borthwick as a person of privilege, who, he thought, seemed to not be above using that privilege when addressing servants. Wright, according to the manuscript, was not above using the N-word. Last night, as I finish this article, a Wright scholar told me of a second-hand account from the son of one of the workers at Taliesin that another worker may have been sexually harassing Carlton’s wife. 

I appreciate whatever74 giving us something to ponder, although he undid much of the good in his questions with some things he later wrote that I think are gross negative generalizations about African-Americans who, he feels, have not reached their potential.

I do not doubt the general outline of what we have read and believed to be true about the events of August 15, 1914 at Taliesin. But whatever74’s initial comments and Daniella Frazier’s video are stark reminders for us to think twice before accepting a narrative involving race, even from “authorities,” as the unvarnished truth. Carltons motive is secondary to my point.

There have been discussions about whether or not Frank Lloyd Wright was racist. Some people dismiss his use of the N-word as a norm 100 years ago, and not perceived by whites as racially insensitive as it would be today. 

This is 2021, not 1914 and I daresay that your initial reaction about the veracity of “Some Black guy from Barbados went berserk, setting fire to a house before slaying seven people with a roofing hatchet as they tried to flee the blaze. He never came to trial because he died from having ingested muriatic acid while hiding from authorities.” would reasonably be different depending on whether you are white or Black. I welcome your comments.

–30–

The Marvelous Minerva Montooth

© Mark Hertzberg (2021) except as noted

2015 Wright Birthday Taliesin 017.JPGMinerva Montooth at the 2015 Wright birthday celebration at Taliesin.

Frank Lloyd Wright not only upended the world of architecture, he also untied Minerva Jane Houston’s tongue and eventually convinced her to marry a “Greek god.” If you know Minerva, now Minerva Montooth, you would be gobsmacked that she describes herself as having once been “pathologically shy.” Let her explain, “We (she and her twin sister, Sarah) didn’t speak to anyone in grade school, high school, college who was one day older. We’d have a fight when we went to the restaurant for lunch who would speak to the waitress.” Then she met Olgivanna and Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin in 1949. They had driven up in their just-delivered diminutive red Crosley Hotshot roadster. Mrs. Wright was at the wheel. “The minute I met them it was like a thunderbolt, I lost my shyness at that moment. If I can talk to Frank Lloyd Wright, I can talk to anybody!” 

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The Wrights in their Crosley Hotshot Courtesy of  Wisconsin Historical Society

Not only did Minerva talk to Frank Lloyd Wright, but Wright then invited her and her future husband, Charles Montooth, to dinner with them at the dining table at Taliesin. What was for dinner? Wright had ordered ham and eggs. As students of the Wright know, ham and eggs or not, dinner with the couple was not always just dinner. It would often be followed by entertainment. “Afterwards we watched television, which was pretty new, in the loggia. Helen Hayes. They knew her. Mr. Wright said, ‘She is not made for that screen. She is bigger than that!’”

1952 Honeymoon.jpgMinerva and Charles celebrate Mardi Gras on their honeymoon in Mexico. Courtesy of Minerva Montooth

But we have gotten ahead of ourselves. The story of Minerva’s journey to Taliesin is as interesting as her first meeting with the Wrights. Minerva graduated from Northwestern University in 1945 with a degree in English, “everybody’s copout degree.” A native of tiny Rushville, Illinois (population 2,682 in 1950), she moved to New York City to work as a specialized librarian for an advertising agency. Their offices were on 44th Street, overlooking Fifth Avenue. Minerva was hospitalized with pneumonia in 1947, so her sister Sarah, who was dating Charles, invited her to accompany her to “recuperate in the sun” for two weeks at Taliesin West. The Wrights were not there at the time. 

The change in scenery would lead to a change in life. “The beauty of the desert, the ambience of Taliesin West. I had never seen anything like it. It was quite a shock to go from that ambience (midtown Manhattan) to the desert and the fantastic architecture. After I got to Taliesin, I completely forgot about Northwestern!”

1947 Easter 002.jpgEaster at Taliesin West, 1947. Photographer unknown. Courtesy of The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York). All rights reserved.

She knew Charles from childhood (he also grew up in Rushville). Their grandparents and their parents were friends. “I knew him in kindergarten. He was in fourth grade, one of those untouchable Greek gods! That’s my first memory of him.”

1632336947615blob.jpgMinerva and Charles strolling in Phoenix during State Fair time, shortly after their honeymoon. Courtesy of Minerva Montooth

Charles and Minerva did not start dating until the next year after Sarah fell in love with another man when she enrolled at the University of Chicago to do post-graduate work. “Charles started going with me. I guess I was second choice!” And so began the trips to Arizona to see Charles. By this time Minerva had answered a plea from Rushville to help alleviate a post-war teacher shortage (even though she had no teaching experience or training) and moved home, so she had traditional school vacation periods to see Charles. “He was always inviting me.” Mrs. Wright added her to the roster of Fellows so they would not forget to invite her to social functions, such as the famed “beautiful” Easter celebrations.

1947 Easter 001.jpgEaster at Taliesin West, 1947. Photo by Lois Davidson. Courtesy of The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York). All rights reserved.

1632336912488blob.jpgThe Montooths at a party hosted by Mrs. Price at the Price House. Courtesy of Minerva Montooth

By Christmas 1951 the Wrights wondered why Minerva kept spurning Charles’s offers of marriage. She had no answer. Then they said, “‘Well, you can always get divorced.’ I was always astounded by that.” But Charles didn’t ask her again for awhile. She was back in Rushville when he finally proposed. Mr. Wright offered to host their wedding. He said it should be in the cabaret or theater at Taliesin West because Charles and she had helped build it. Her parents were “horrified” because “in those days you didn’t have a destination wedding, You were always married in a church.” The setting may have been unusual, but otherwise they had a “pretty conventional” wedding with a Presbyterian minister. The wedding reception was a bit less conventional than it would have been in Rushville. “I sat next to Mr. Wright at the dinner reception and a movie.”

Charles built them a small house in Scottsdale in which they lived for 10 years and raised three children. They were not formally in the Fellowship, but no matter. “We spent every single day going out to Taliesin West. The roads were terrible. We were lucky we had two cars because one was always getting a flat tire. Charles had his office in Scottsdale. I would spend the day at Taliesin West. I just joined in whatever activities were going on. We were in the chorus during chorus rehearsal at 7 a.m. every day. The children….they grew up in the back seat of the Plymouth station wagon. We practically lived at Taliesin.” I asked Minerva what color their car was. Need I have asked? It was red.

1962 Tent.jpgThe Montooths in the desert tent Charles preferred to an apartment. Courtesy of Minerva Montooth: “Taken in 1962 at Taliesin West by Dorothy Liebes, a famous fabric artist visiting Mrs. Wright.”

The commute came to an end when Charles got restless and wanted to move to Taliesin West in 1962. Mrs. Wright gave them a three bedroom apartment. “Charles hated it. ‘This isn’t desert living. I want a tent.’” And so they moved into a desert tent and Minerva went to work “right away” as an assistant to Mrs. Wright. “Probably for the first I was really responsible for Mrs. Wright’s well being.”

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Minerva’s feet were not to be planted in the desert sands or Wisconsin hills. Her responsibility for Mrs. Wright’s well being included trips to Japan, South Africa and “so many trips to Europe.” Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer and Tom Casey were along on some of those voyages. Some of the trips were Wright-related, others were leisure.

1632404278196blob.jpgRome, 1972…Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer is seated left foreground; Mrs. Wright left rear, David Dodge, Minerva, and Joseph “Dr. Joe” Rorke. Courtesy of Minerva Montooth.

“The trip to Japan was in response to a request from Wright enthusiasts who sent a ticket hoping she would be able to stop plans to destroy the Imperial Hotel. The trip to South Africa was inspried by an invitation to speak to the University of Durban students who wanted her to speak on the Imperial Hotel. The title of her speech was ‘The Tragedy of Progress.’” (The hotel was demolished in 1968).

Minerva became known as an unofficial photo historian of life at Taliesin. She “loved” photography, “Charles wasn’t interested in photography.” The one photo he took on their honeymoon in Mexico and it was double-exposed. They took their honeymoon in Charles’s pickup truck, planning to travel on a newly completed highway from Texas into Mexico. But the highway was far from finished. “We went through farmers’ fields. One time we went on the railroad tracks! It was pretty primitive.” Many of Minerva’s photographs, including their wedding photos, were lost in the 1980s in one of the floods following “desert downpours” that tore through Taliesin West.

Halfway through our hour-long conversation it was time to ask a touchy question. Many people are of the opinion that the Fellowship was divided into two camps in the 1950s: Mr. Wright’s, with an emphasis on organic architecture, and Mrs. Wright’s, with her devotion to Gurdjieff, the Russian philosopher and mystic. I asked Minerva about such a schism. 

6106.0165.jpgMrs. Wright at Taliesin in an undated photograph. Courtesy of The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York). All rights reserved.

She answered quickly. “I never thought of it that way. I always thought of Mr. Wright in the terms of the fable about the blind men and the elephant. Each believed what he had felt. Mrs. Wright was kind and generous, and sweet and charismatic and oh, my gosh, the Fellowship could not have existed without her. I never had any trouble getting along with her. She was very careful of Mr. Wright’s health at restaurants, and she would get a reputation that way!” Was there a schism? “I don’t think it’s true. She worshipped the ground that Frank Lloyd Wright walked on. His main failure in personality was that he was extremely jealous of her activities. He thought it was terrible she had published a book with her name. Did he think she was trying to ride his coattails? He apparently thought she should not have written a book on her own.”

One of Minerva’s regrets is not having gone from their home in Scottsdale to Taliesin for Mr. Wright’s funeral in 1959. She says that Mrs. Wright was “frail, not herself,” before her death in 1985. “I was grateful they got to escape their mortal realm.” 

Controversy followed Mrs. Wright’s death because of her wishes to have Mr. Wright’s remains disinterred from their resting place at Unity Chapel near Taliesin, and brought to Taliesin West to be co-mingled with hers. Some people have passed judgment on Mrs. Wright, assuming she did so out of jealousy about Wright’s relationship with Mamah Borthwick, and their graves being near each other at Unity Chapel. Minerva disputes that assertion, “OH, NO!” She says that Mrs. Wright told Minerva “many times” that the Wrights “were so poorly treated in Wisconsin that he should be in Arizona,” and that was her sole motivation. “Mrs. Wright never mentioned any jealousy about Mamah. She had promised a real headstone for her grave.”

1972 John Hey T West.jpgJohn Hey took this photograph of the Montooths in 1972 at Taliesin West. Courtesy of Minerva Montooth

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Minerva and Charles at The Prairie School in Wind Point in 2005. The occasion was the dedication of the addition to the Johnson Athletic Center, designed by Charles with Floyd Hamblen. Charles designed the entire campus, except for the building at the bottom of this 2021 aerial photograph, beginning with a semi-circular classroom building in 1965. The semi-circular building, which was finished into a circular one later, is the second building from bottom.

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Hundreds of people have gotten to know Minerva as their gracious host at the annual black tie celebrations of Frank Lloyd Wright’s birthday held at Taliesin until just a few years ago.

2019 Wright Birthday 003.jpgDixie Legler Guerrero and Minerva at the 2019 birthday celebration.

A reception at Taliesin – often also featuring numerous gate-crashing mosquitoes – was followed by dinner at Hillside, served by the students, and then by a musical program in the Hillside theater. Dessert was Mr. Wright’s favorite birthday cake, a delicious one from from Mrs Wright’s recipe for a yellow sponge cake, iced with fresh strawberry sauce and cream, covered with a drizzle of dark chocolate and nuts, decorated with edible flowers. A presentation cake, exhibited to the guests, was surrounded by an abundance of fresh flowers.

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“John Hill, Cornelia (Brierly) and I all went together after they (the Wrights) died. There wasn’t anybody else to do it. It was quite a job.” I was surprised to hear Minerva then tell me, “I’ve never been a planner. Nor is it my nature to be organized. Cornelia was organized.” 

Balderdash, Minerva. You deserve lots of credit for these celebrations, as well as for the invitations to events when students would unveil their box projects in the Hillside drafting room. You have made myriad contributions to life at the two Taliesins, to the Fellowship, to the Wrights’ legacy, and you brought untold numbers of outsiders, like me, into the Taliesin circle. You are richly deserving of your title as a Taliesin “Legacy Fellow.” Thank you for your grace, your hard work, and your friendship!

2021 Taliesin UNESCO World Heritage Site 067.JPGWisconsin Gov. Tony Evers meets Minerva at the UNESCO World Heritage Site plaque unveiling at Taliesin September 15, 2021.

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I asked Minerva to check this profile for accuracy. She asked me why I wanted to “take space to write about a nobody.” I replied that she is far from “a nobody.” Indeed. Renee LaFleur, Minerva’s assistant interjected that her daughter, Olivia, tells everybody, “MY MOM WORKS FOR MINERVA MONTOOTH!” I also asked Keiran Murphy, historian extraordinaire of Taliesin, to weigh in. She wrote me, “I would say that she embodies the best of the social dynamics of the Taliesin Fellowship. She has this skill at remembering the details about everyone and remembering their particulars. In addition, she’s very good at putting people together at a table in order to engender conversations.”

Case closed, Minerva!

2019 Minerva Montooth Fifi 9.25.19 009.JPGMinerva and Fifi, May 19, 2019

–30–

UNESCO Plaque Celebration

© Mark Hertzberg (2021)

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The early morning fog burned off in time for two ceremonies at Taliesin Wednesday September 15, one to cut a ribbon for the restored Tea Circle, the other to unveil two plaques marking Taliesin’s place in architectural history. One plaque notes Taliesin’s designation as a National Historic Landmark in 1976, the other notes it as one of eight Wright sites collectively named UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2019. The latter marked years of effort by many people with the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation and the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy in particular. Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers and Anne Sayers, Wisconsin’s Secretary of Tourism headlined the event.

First, I will show you two photos I took wandering through Taliesin before the event, showing the view of Tan-y-deri from Mr. Wright’s bedroom and studio and one I took in the Blue Loggia:

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Kimberley Valentine, left, Carrie Rodamaker and Stuart Graff, center, greet guests before the ceremony:

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Gov. Evers was introduced to Minerva Montooth shortly after his arrival (look for a profile story about Minerva and my history of photographs of her on this website soon):

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Carrie Rodamaker, CEO of Taliesin Preservation, led the ceremonies in front of the Belvedere:

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There was a break in the middle of the speeches for Phillis Schippers, left, Gail Fox, and Sid Robinson to cut a red ribbon at the Tea Circle:

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Then the two plaques on the crest of the hill were unveiled:

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Gov. Evers and Secretary Sayers then toured Taliesin:

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Sid Robinson and Minerva greeted each other:

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— 30 —

 

 

Wright Through My Lens

All photos © Mark Hertzberg (2021)

I had not been to many Frank Lloyd Wright sites outside of Racine in more than two years until a week ago. I had a gracious lunch invitation from Minerva Montooth for Sunday, and a last-minute photo assignment in Sparta, Wisconsin (west of Spring Green) Saturday, so I overnighted in Spring Green. I have always enjoyed challenging myself to see new things at familiar Wright sites on return visits. These are some of the many fruits of last week’s visit.

I photographed at the famous cantilevered Birdwalk terrace from below:

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I noticed visitors taking pictures above me while photographing the Birdwalk:

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I do not plan my photo visits for a particular time of day / lighting…I shoot what is there when I am there. I explored Taliesin and the grounds of the newly-restored Wyoming Valley School Cultural Arts Center in wonderful evening light Saturday, before dinner with Keiran Murphy and “Mr. Keiran.” I visited both again in Sunday’s morning light. I saw the familiar sign for Taliesin in a different way, thanks to the sharp angle of the morning light:

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The first thing I saw at Taliesin Saturday as I drove onto the grounds was the corn crib, dramatically lit by evening light:

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Sunday morning I saw something different with a long lens as I drove up:

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I used a powerful zoom lens to photograph Romeo and Juliet and Tan-y-deri from a distance both days:

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I continued to explore with the long lens:

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I sat on the floor to photograph through one of the fireplaces inside Taliesin:

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I explored Wright’s office – with its own cantilevered balcony – and the original drafting room:

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I photographed Taliesin itself with long and short lenses:

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Going to Taliesin means also exploring Hillside Theatre and the drafting room. The theatre is currently being restored.

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After photographing the ghost-like seats with the sheets covering them I looked for photos under the seats:

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I also looked up:

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Outside is a view of the theatre and nearby farm:

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Then I went to explore the silent drafting room, first reflected in the theatre’s windows:

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And, Hillside itself:

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I photographed Midway Barn from the road, on my trips between Taliesin and Wyoming Valley School and once from Hillside:

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The last set of photos is of the Wyoming Valley School, now known as the Wyoming Valley School Cultural Arts Center. One of the only upsides of the pandemic is that the restoration of the school was able to proceed without having to work around visitors. Many of the changes are structural and not visible. Perhaps the most visible change is that the bricks inside now approximate their original natural color…the yellow of recent years was painted over with a grayish tone.

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The desks in the classroom today are not original, but I enjoyed photographing them through the mitered glass in the evening light nonetheless. This historic black and white photo shows the original desks.

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Robert Hartmann’s wonderful 1960s black and white photos of Taliesin and the school still hang on the walls. His photos documenting the construction of Riverview Terrace are in the rear of the dining room at the Visitors Center.

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I leave you with a photo of the Marvelous Minerva Montooth and my Taliesin selfie. Technical notes: I do no “post processing” on my photos…I do not sharpen them or increase the color saturation. What I shoot is what I get. I sometimes open the midtones a bit and do a bit of dodging and burning in…nothing that could not be done in a traditional chemical darkroom. I use two camera bodies, one has a DX or crop frame sensor, the other is FX or full frame (equivalent to what would be recorded on a 35mm piece of film). The lenses used are: 14-24mm (used on the FX body); 17-35mm (on the DX body);  a 70-200mm on the FX body, and a 200-500mm, used on both bodies. When the 200-500 is on the DX body, it is approximately the equivalent in 35mm terms of a 350-750mm lens. I thank John Clouse for selling me that lens recently…I had a wonderful time exploring Taliesin and Wyoming Valley School with it!

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30-

 

 

Happy Birthday, Mr. Wright

Photos © Mark Hertzberg

There is a small gathering to mark Frank Lloyd Wright’s birthday (June 8)  at Taliesin this evening, in lieu of the big celebrations of pre-pandemic years. My wife and I have been privileged to have been invited by Minerva Montooth to those lively evenings. We stopped to see Minerva Friday on our way to Minnesota. I honor Wright’s birthday this year with a photo taken yesterday of Minerva’s smile and the seemingly ever-present gleam in her eyes.

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Thank you, Minerva, for yours and Charles’s friendship, and for all you do to keep Wright’s legacy – Mr. Wright to you and the Taliesin family – alive for the World of Wright. You are always stylish when we see you, with a lovely scarf! We love you!

Revisiting Drennan’s “Death in a Prairie House”

Contemporary photos of Taliesin and text © Mark Hertzberg (2021)

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The late Prof. William R. Drennan’s 2007 Death in a Prairie House: Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Murders (Madison: Terrace Books) is again a topic of discussion on Facebook’s “The Wright Attitude” group. The book has many fans, as evinced by its continuing sales in Frank Lloyd Wright gift shops, 14 years later. 

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A group member recently posted about excitement about having bought the book. Other group members wrote how much they liked the book. I was sent a review copy of the book when it was published. I read it eagerly, and did, indeed review it on my website, but, likely to the consternation of the author and publisher, I panned it. I was taken to task about my review by one of Prof. Drennan’s acquaintances, but I stand by my critique now, 14 years later. After I commented on the Facebook thread that the book is replete with inaccuracies, I was asked to elaborate on my assertion. That is the genesis of this article.

I sent my 2007 review to a Wright scholar before posting this update. I wanted to get a sense whether it was a fair review, considering that Prof. Drennan has died and cannot defend his work. I was told it is an accurate review. In fact, it was pointed out that I missed a significant shortcoming in the book, Prof. Drennan relying on inaccurate floor plans of Taliesin I, rather than Wright’s own, so that his positioning of the victims at the time of the massacre is inaccurate.

The scholar wrote me of having summarized inaccuracies in a 14-page memo between the printing of the hard and soft cover editions. Evidently some changes were made, but not many. The scholar wrote me last night about one of the points raised:

“The biggest and most notable was that Prof. Drennan didn’t understand Taliesin I. He had the book, Wright Studies, V. 1, in the bibliography but it was obvious the guy hadn’t actually read that book, particularly Anthony Alofsin’s essay on Taliesin I, in which Alofsin identified what he thought was the most accurate Taliesin I floor plan. Prof. Drennan relied on the plan that Storrer created, and the drawing created for In the Nature of Materials. Neither of them showed a garden (with a parapet – just to the south of the living quarters.”

Because the book keeps on selling and presumably is taken as fact by many readers, I am reprinting my review below. 

I was taken aback that a manuscript from a university professor, with many supporting end notes, had so many shortcomings. I am still taken aback by its popularity given its shortcomings. I have one new observation. Sloppy writing and sloppy editing, which should have addressed the sloppy writing, weaken the book significantly. As a journalist it drives me batty that Prof. Drennan did not follow common style of using a person’s full name on first reference and last name only on subsequent references. Wright is referred to alternately as Frank Lloyd Wright, Frank (!), Frank Wright (!), and Wright. Julian Carlton is referred to as both Carlton and Julian. Wright’s partner at Taliesin is Mamah Borthwick Cheney, and then Mamah Cheney and Mamah. One of the victims of the attack is alternately Herbert Fritz and Herb Fritz. In 2007 I did not catch that Prof. Drennan also misspelled Alfonso Iannelli’s name (as Ianelli).

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***

The 2007 review, with slight revisions:

Death in a Prairie House tells a riveting crime story, although the certain motive for the crime still remains a mystery. Prof. Drennan’s account of the brutal attacks weaves together conflicting eyewitness accounts and contemporary newspaper stories. Julian Carlton massacred Mamah Borthwick, Frank Lloyd Wright’s lover; her two children; and four others at Taliesin on August 15, 1914.  Carlton, who was a servant at Taliesin, drank muriatic acid as searchers closed in on his hiding place after the murders. He died in jail several weeks later, before he could be tried, so there has never been a definitive record of what happened, and why. There still is not.

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Literally the first half of the book (84 pages) takes the reader through Wright’s parents’ unhappy marriage, and divorce; and then through Wright’s escape from his work and his own marriage, when he and Borthwick went to Europe in 1909. These chapters of Wright’s life set the stage for the building of Taliesin for readers who know little about Wright; they are familiar for readers who have pored through any number of other books about the him. 

Prof. Drennan writes in the Prologue about the “outrage” in Spring Green that Wright’s paramour was living in his “love cottage.”  He ends the Prologue asking, “What could Frank Lloyd Wright have been thinking?”  I expect that kind of question from a television news anchor, but not from a scholar at the beginning of a book. Readers can form such questions on their own, rather than have them spelled out for them. The book is extensively footnoted (168 pages of narrative are followed by 35 pages of end notes), but it is weakened by conjecture and by errors. 

Prof. Drennan asserts that Wright designed the Charnley House in Chicago. That is subject to speculation, with many scholars of the opinion that Wright was executing Louis Sullivan’s ideas, rather than his own. Prof. Drennan incorrectly writes in a photo caption that Richard Bok’s “Flower in the Crannied Wall” sculpture at Taliesin was executed by Alphonso Iannelli at Midway Gardens. On the last page, he writes that Wright’s daughter, Iovanna, had his body disinterred from its grave at Taliesin, cremated, and his ashes mixed in with those of Olgivanna Wright, his third wife, at Taliesin West, in Arizona. That did happen, but it was done as one of the dying Olgivanna’s last wishes, according to her physician, not on Iovanna’s whim, as the author implies. Prof. Drennan relies heavily on Brendan Gill’s biography of Wright (Many Masks: A Life of Frank Lloyd Wright, New York: De Capo Press: 1998), a book that some Wright scholars say is based on too much speculation. 

Although Ed Gein (said to be the inspiration for the character of Norman Bates in Psycho) and Jeffrey Dahmer are better known and notorious mass murders in Wisconsin, Prof. Drennan opines that Carlton’s killings were more significant in the annals of Wisconsin crime. When he finally begins his account of the murders, it is with the admonition that “so much remains a mystery; there are no definitive answers to motive, logistics, time.”  He writes, on page 101, regarding a suggested timeline of the murders [and inaccurately perpetuates the myth that Carlton was serving soup], “And yet it must be true.” However, he hedges in the next sentence, “Or at least something like it must be true…” 

Not only are the three dozen pages of endnotes are cumbersome to read but there are no indicators in the text that send you to the end notes. Prof. Drennan writes in one on page 189 that since writing the narrative, he has reason to believe that he may not be correct in his description of some of the layout of the house. Why didn’t he correct the manuscript rather than cast doubt on his writing in an endnote that takes up more than a full page?

Prof. Drennan sometimes introduces facts and ideas without explaining their context. For example, on page 35 we are introduced to William Winslow. The reader does not learn for another page that Wright’s first realized independent commission, the spectacular Winslow House, was built for his “neighbor” Winslow [and were they really “neighbors?”]. The reader is never told what an important house the Winslow House is. Prof. Drennan does not explain Wright’s ideas about the Prairie style until page 38, several pages after we have been told about his new style of architecture. He gives us the pronunciation of “Mamah” and “Cheney” only on page 41, 34 pages after we first read her name. He does not acknowledge that she dropped her married name in favor of her maiden name (Borthwick) except in a single photo caption. We are told that Wright learned of the murders in a phone call from “Frank Roth in Madison.” We never learn who Frank Roth was, or why he was charged with calling Wright with the news.

There is a paucity of illustrations. The book, most notably, does not include floor plans of the house which would help the reader visualize where the murders took place, as Carlton laid his hatchet into his victim’s skulls. A photograph of the living room at Taliesin refers to the “Wrightian” hearth. That implies that it is in the style of “Wright.” Who, but Wright, would have designed it? There are hard-to-read reproductions of newspaper accounts of the massacre and fire, but no photographs of the ruins of the house.

Prof. Drennan’s thesis is that Wright’s work became “markedly (and understandably) more insular, more labyrinthine, even more fortress-like” after the fire and murders at Taliesin. Therefore, he continues, “the slaughter at Taliesin may well have exerted a significant influence on American residential design throughout the remainder of the twentieth century.”  It is a dramatic theory, but it is not accurate. 

Wright did not abandon the Prairie-style because of the murders. He wrote in his Autobiography that he was frustrated by both his work and marriage, when he closed a chapter in his career in 1909 and left for Europe. Wright had published a short article, “A Fireproof [my emphasis] House for $5000” in the Ladies Home Journal in 1907, seven years before Carlton burned Taliesin down. Many of the homes he designed after the murders did not have prominent front doors, as Prof. Drennan points out, but neither did many of the ones he designed before the murders. 

Prof. Drennan describes the Freeman House, a concrete block home designed in Los Angeles in 1924 as “aggressively vertical, thumbing its nose at Emerson’s old hunger for the horizontal line.” The site for the Freeman House allows for nothing but an “aggressively vertical” design. The concrete used in the five Los Angeles homes represented an evolution in Wright’s design work, not a reaction to the crimes. He designed his landmark concrete Unity Temple and the brick Larkin Administration Building a decade before the fire and murders at Taliesin. They are as fortress-like from the outside, and fireproof, as Prof. Drennan asserts Wright’s post-1914 designs became. Finally, the Usonian homes designed after the 1930s, as well as Fallingwater and Wingspread, are no less organic and inviting than Wright’s Prairie-style work.

Should there still be any doubt about whether or not Wright significantly changed his designs after August 15, 1914, consider that when he rebuilt the smoldering Taliesin, he again used stucco and wood. In fact, the studio at Taliesin II (as Wright’s rebuilt home was referred to), burned down again, in 1925.

Death in a Prairie House succeeds in giving the reader probably every possible scenario of the massacre to consider. It falls short of its promise in other respects.

***

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***

Looking over the book in 2021 I credit Prof. Drennan for giving readers the possibility that Julian Carlton was from Alabama, not Barbados as was often written, until Paul Hendrickson painstakingly documented that Carlton was from Alabama in his 2019 book Plagued by Fire. 

The original poster on The Wright Attitude wrote: “…even though I’m sure it’s puffery, it was in the biography/architecture/true crime category so who could resist?” And then, “Is it lurid? I kinda hope so.” Yes, Prof. Drennan’s book is wildly popular. I know how hard it is to write and research a book about historic events. As an author I do not like to denigrate another author’s work, but my advice is still to spend your money on any number of other books about August 15, 1914, that awful summer day at Taliesin.

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Meet “The God-Almighty-Joneses”

© Mark Hertzberg, Simon Evans, and Georgia Lloyd Jones Snoke (2021)

It is understandable, perhaps, that they were sometimes referred to by ‘the others’ in the Valley as ‘the God-Almighty Joneses.” Maginel Wright (Frank Lloyd Wright’s younger sister), in The Valley of the God-Almighty-Joneses, written with Tom Burke (1965).

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Frank Lloyd Wright’s Welsh heritage has been well documented, but we now have the opportunity to eavesdrop on new correspondence between two living descendants of those “God-Almighty-Joneses.” They are Georgia Lloyd Jones Snoke of Tulsa, Wright’s first cousin, twice-removed, and her distant cousin Simon Evans, who lives in Wales. Nan, who is referred to on some of these slides, is Mrs. Evans.

The Joneses set foot in America when when Mary Thomas Jones (Mallie) and Richard Jones sailed into New York on December 8, 1844, according to a family history written by Jane Lloyd Jones in October 1870. Mallie and Richard settled in Spring Green in 1856 and then across the river at Hillside in 1863. Family members did not add their mother’s surname of “Lloyd” to their names until they got to America. They were “Jones” in Wales. They left Wales from New Quay for Liverpool, where they sailed for New York.

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I have cogitated for weeks how to present this fascinating history. Rather than edit and paraphrase as I originally intended to do, I have decided it best to copy the whole of the current email correspondence between Evans and Snoke, and many of the illustrations in the slide presentation that Evans has painstakingly put together. He lives near the family homesteads in Wales, so his presentation is geared to research he did for his family there. This is a lengthy post, but stick with it…there is a special nugget for fans of PBS television shows, near the end.

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This Wright genealogical adventure started when I was researching my book about Penwern, the Fred B. Jones summer estate on Delavan Lake, Wisconsin. Wright designed four buildings for the estate, the main house, the boat house, the gate lodge, and the stable, between 1900 – 1903. One of the important questions I sought to answer was the origin of the name of the estate because there is no definitive documentation about that. It had been written in at least one previous book that “Penwern” is Gaelic for “great house” but that assertion is inaccurate. In fact, “Penwern” is a Cornish or Welsh, not Gaelic, and can mean “near the swamp” or “at the head of the alder tree.” A local botanist has told me that alder trees are native to Delavan Lake. 

Jack Holzhueter, a specialist in Wisconsin history, whose areas of interest include Wright’s life and work in the state, was of inestimable help when I worked on the book between 2013 and 2019 when it was published. He introduced me to Snoke. She and I corresponded many times, and she reinforced the idea that the name is seemingly an Anglicization of Pen-y-Wern, the name of Wright’s maternal ancestral home. That notion was also suggested to me by architects and Wright scholars Brian A. Spencer and Tom Heinz.

Snoke and her husband, Ken, traveled to Wales in 2004 and photographed the Pen-y-Wern cottage where Wright’s grandmother Mallie grew up. Holzhueter suggests that perhaps Wright got his American client Jones – not related to Wright’s Jones family – to honor Wright’s maternal family by naming his estate “Penwern.”

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Family accounts differ whether another cottage named Pantstreimon was Richard Jones’s home, or Richard and Mallie’s home before they emigrated. The photo is from cousin Chester Lloyd Jones’s 1938 book “Youngest Son.”

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I put my research into the Jones / Wright family history aside when my Penwern book was published in June 2019, but I have posted many articles about Penwern and Pen-y-Wern to this website. A welcome surprise landed in my email Inbox on November 25, 2020, asking me to approve a comment on one of those Penwern blog posts. That email brings us to this blog post:

Hi guy’s,

I’m Simon Evans, a distant Cousin of Georgia’s; still living in Wales; and I absolutely loved your article about ‘Penwern’. My great great grandfather on my father’s side was John Thomas, Mary Thomas’ little brother; he set up farm a mile down the valley called Plasllwyd, and survived the destitution and impoverishment of that period; he died a few years after Mallie.

I’m double linked to Georgia since, on my mother’s side my great great gran was Hannah Jones, Richard Jones’ sister. Pantsreimon, the farm next to Penwern, was one of the original strongholds of the Lloyd dynasty; they were the ruling Cast of West Wales for Centuries; Anna was obviously proud of this heritage, hence her use of the Lloyd name.

I put Simon and Georgia in touch with one another, and so, here we are. You may need more than one cup of coffee or tea to follow these threads! The boldfaced portions of these emails are as written by the correspondents.

Georgia Snoke to Simon Evans, November 30, 2020

Back atcha!  To properly introduce myself, I am the great granddaughter of the Reverend Jenkin Lloyd Jones.  He and his wife Susan were BIG in Unitarian circles and for all I have read about him, he was a ancestor to revere.  He had two children, a daughter Mary who never married, and my grandfather Richard who married the Georgia for whom I am named.  She was an absolute GEM!  I am so proud to bear her name.  They, in turn, had three children, Richard Jr., Jenkin (my dad) and Bisser (a “Florence”—my grandmother’s mother’s name—who became “Bisser” when two year old Jenkin couldn’t say “Baby Sister”.  She was “Bisser” all her life.)

While Rev. Jenk preached from the pulpit, my grandfather and his progeny preached through a newspaper (CAREFULLY distinguishing between editorial opinion and newspaper fact!  They’d have been appalled by today’s press.)  They left Wisconsin for the new, raw state of Oklahoma in the late 19 teens when the children were between 9 (Aunt Bis) and 13 (Uncle Dick).   All three returned to Wisconsin for college and were great friends with their dad’s cousin Frank, visiting Taliesin frequently on weekends.

My Uncle Dick went into the business side of newspapering and was also president of the American Newspaper Publishers Association; my dad was editor and publisher of the Tulsa Tribune (and syndicated in 140 newspapers), as well as national president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the ASNE (American Society of Newspaper Editors.  Upon Uncle Dick’s death, Aunt Bis stepped into his shoes as president of the Tulsa Tribune Company.  My two brothers, Jenkin and David, worked full time for the Tribune—Jenkin ending as editor and David as a longtime columnist—and I became a weekly columnist after a few years as a television newscaster. 

I go into all this detail to reiterate the difference between newspaper writers and historians… And much of the secondary research I have done comes from “amateurs” who wrote down what they had been told as children.  There may be gaffs, but the core is there… Blessings, (distant) cousin Georgia

Simon Evans, On Nov 29, 2020

… I’m not a historian; however, it’s been my hobby since I retired nine years ago; having spent forty years at the forefront of driveline technology in the automotive industry; I retired back to the family farm in Ceredigion; it’s been the family home since 1860; but you’ll see from the family tree; my family’s been in these parts for ever.

I remembered my grandparents telling stories about our extended family; and being the only remaining link to the past; I owed it to my grandkids to research its’ voracity, and get it written down for posterity. Well, word got out, and I was asked to give a talk to the community group. 

It ended up being a two-hour Power-Point presentation; and it went down a storm!! 

Other Historical Societies heard about it; so, I’ve been busy for the past two years, giving the talk here there and everywhere it seemed; my favourite venue had to be the Great Hall at Lampeter University; the third oldest University in the UK; that really had atmosphere. 

The Power-Point file is nearly 300MB; not exactly email size; but what I’ve been doing is to break it up into smaller segments in PDF format and to get under the email Limbo limit. 

The two files I’ve attached here are: A fun file I created for the Grandkids showing them that their timid little Nan was a distant cousin of our queen; it gets across quite succinctly, the huge influence the Lloyd family had in these parts. 

The other one is a file I prepared for our Parish Council for their annual Walk for Life initiative; they were going to walk the Aber Loop and wanted me to highlight places of interest along the way; the walk goes quite close to Blaenralltddu; but it’ll give you a taste of the amazing history that lurks in the shadows of a non-descript little backwater of West Wales. 

I’ll have to do a bit of massaging on the other elements to make them attachment size; please bear with me. 

However; the attached is a taster; enjoy. 

Georgia Snoke 29 November 2020:

I am absolutely cock-a-hoop with your information, and I embrace you and yours as cousins. 

 I was very fortunate to have had two splendid Welshmen, one a descendant of Mallie’s family, provide an enormous amount of research to our branch.   One was John Jenkins (sadly deceased) and one was Ifan James, a Mallie descendant.  Ifan gave three days of his life to Ken and me in 2004 and took us all over “our” part of Wales.  I am enclosing an excerpt of those days in the “Black Spot” for your amusement.

Again, so MANY thanks for your extraordinary offerings.  What a joy to “meet” you, Cousin!

Georgia Snoke 29 November 2020:

Dear “Cousin” Simon:

What a wonderful Thanksgiving gift to receive your email.  I am very excited about “meeting” you and look forward to all you may share about the Lloyds.  Our family has always known that Richard and Mallie were “Jones” in Wales, but the family story is when they reached Wisconsin there were so many Welsh Joneses they took their mother’s maiden name as a prefix.  For certain sure, I, for one, claim the Lloyd name with pride and sign my passport Georgia Lloyd Jones Snoke.  Some in that second generation (my great grandfather’s–the Reverend Jenkin Lloyd Jones—) wrote the two names with a hyphen; some used periods, some (the eldest) merely used Jones.  But most of us in communication now use the Lloyd as well as the Jones.

A wonderful cousin named Jix (Richard) Lloyd Jones did considerable research on the Lloyds.  I have created a gigantic book filled with various essays—his included—but, like my own essays, I can’t always be sure his facts are accurate.  None of us speak Welsh these days.  He died about three years ago.  What a wonderful, wonderful man!

We Ll-J’s would treasure any information you wish to share.  In fact, I am the “editor” of the annual Unity Chapel newsletter and I would love to include anything you wish to impart.  With full credit to you, of course.

And if you are interested, I would be more than happy to send you a little booklet that I have put together for the next generations.  All I need is your address.

My husband and I have visited Wales several times, always with a stop at Alt-y-roden (sorry about the spelling.  I don’t have my notebooks in front of me.) Pant-y-Dafaid, Blaen-yr-allt-ddu, etc.

In fact, one of the funniest coincidences of my life occurred far from Wales.  My husband and I were getting ready to take a ship to the Mediterranean.  It was disembarking from Cadiz.  We had come a day early, so husband Ken took the rental car to its home and I started unpacking in our cabin.  Over the intercom came an invitation to passengers already on board to join in a luncheon buffet—which sound much more fun than unpacking.  So there was this little lady from Tulsa, Oklahoma standing in line when the two gentlemen behind me introduced themselves to one another.

“Hello.  My name is David…”  “Hello, MY name is David…”  So I, who had a brother named David, quipped over my shoulder, “David is a great name.  Dewi Sant would be proud.”

There was a pause, and then the “David” with the British accent said, “Dewi Sant?  What you you know of Dewi Sant?”  Blush!  So I turned to them, introduced myself, and explained that I didn’t really know much about Dewi Sant—just that he was the patron saint of Wales and I only knew that because some of my ancestors came from Wales.

From the fellow with the British accent.  “Oh. That’s interesting.  Where did they settle?”  “Wisconsin.”  “Where in Wisconsin?”  “Ummm…south central Wisconsin.”  Then came the coup de grace:

“Have you ever heard of the Valley of the God-Almighty Joneses?”  By this time I was gaping.  “That’s my FAMILY!  My great-grandfather was the Reverend Jenkin Lloyd-Jones!”  “Oh yes, yes, yes.  He was the uncle of Frank Lloyd Wright.”  And it turned out that this particular David (Barnes) was one of the Lindblad expert guides to the Mediterranean, but he was Welsh and had written his doctoral thesis about religious dissenters in Wales. A whole chapter was devoted to my Lloyd ancestors.  Later, I asked David if I could get a copy of his thesis to read.  Someone else asked him its title and he said, People of Seion.   I gulped and said, “David, it’s already in my library.”

(Re:  The Valley of the God-Almighty Joneses:  That is a book written by Frank Lloyd Wright’s little sister, Maginel Wright Barney, in which she chronicles the stories passed down through the family of Wales and Wisconsin.  The title has become affixed to the Valley where the Lloyd-Jones’ Unity Chapel is and the whole family inhabited.)

Long story short, David has remained a friend and about three years ago we hired him to take Ken and me, my niece and nephew, and our daughter for a week’s trip to Wales.  What a glorious time!

As I say, that was a truly amazing exchange.  Just as it is wonderful that you’ve contacted Mark and I will have a chance to learn yet more from you.  I hope you are willing.

On November 29 I wrote Georgia, asking her to summarize the family tree for me:

Richard Lloyd Jones, my grandfather, was named for his grandfather Richard who, with his wife Mallie (Mary Thomas) and their seven children, made the voyage to America.  One of their sons, my great grandfather, the Reverend Jenkin Lloyd Jones was the brother of one of their daughters, Anna Lloyd Wright.   Their sons (Richard and Frank) were therefore first cousins.  Frank built my grandparents’ home, Westhope, in Tulsa.  I knew it well as I stayed there whenever my parents went out of town.

I call Richard and Mallie the first (American) generation.

Reverend Jenkin, Anna Lloyd Wright, and 9 siblings were born.  One, Nany, died as a child) — They made up the second generation.

The third included my grandfather, Richard, and his cousin Frank.

The 4th—my dad, aunt and uncle of the “Jenkin line”

My dad’s kids—me, my two brothers, sundry cousins—5th generation

Our kids and grandkids — 6th and 7th.  Time flies when you’re having fun.

Does that give you the family “tree”?  Of course, the 2nd generation farm families had a passel of kids—which is why the “Aunts” (Nell and Jennie) used their skills as teacher to begin Hillside Home School.  They never married and Margaret survived her two sons and two husbands, but the rest of the family was ore or less awash in kids.  The third generations focussed on education.  They spread far out from Spring Green.  It wasn’t until the death of actress Ann Baxter’s mother (a daughter of Frank) that the family began to coalesce around the abandoned Unity Chapel.  Branch by branch we made re- connection.  Now every five years (except this year) a reunion draws us together.

Hope this helps sort us out, Mark.  Blessings to you!  G…

I have, indeed, made connection with Simon Evans and he is, indeed, a (distant) relative.  Furthermore, he has a gazillion stories to tell about the Lloyds (from whence the “Lloyd” of Lloyd-Jones and Lloyd Wright comes.)  He is a delight, and I’d have utterly missed out had you not given me that nudge.  Thank you, thank you my friend!  Georgia

Georgia to Mark, December 3:

Dear Mark:

I absolutely loved Westhope [the house that Wright designed for her grandfather, Wright’s cousin Richard Lloyd Jones, in Tulsa].  More or less growing up in a Frank Lloyd Wright house spoiled me.  There is a family story that Frank was supposed to design its furniture, too, but the man he sent to oversee its construction spent that money on his family.  It was the Depression.  No one sued, but the only furniture my grandparents’ got was a fabulous desk with crawl through space beneath for us young children.  (It now resides, as I recall, at the Metropolitan Museum in New York.)   When my great grandmother in Eau Claire died, her plush Victorian furniture was brought to Oklahoma.  Aunt Bis always said that the Victorian furniture “softened” the angularity of the architecture.  She saw the house through several different owners and never liked any of their furniture in comparison.

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It was my beloved Aunt Bis who really introduced the Lloyd Jones family to me.  As I said to Simon, the Jenkin line in Tulsa, Oklahoma was pretty isolated from other branches.  Aunt Bis saw an article on Elizabeth Wright (FLlW granddaughter), and dropped a note to her.  That introduced us to the Anna line.  But when the mother of Liz’ cousin, actress Ann Baxter, died, the idea of checking on “the dear old chapel” in Spring Green, WI was raised.  There was a 1979 picnic at Tan-y-deri that my dad took Ken, our girls and me to.  From that came the formation of Unity Chapel, Inc.  I’ve twice served as its president as well as multiple times as board member.  Both my girls are on the board today.

Meanwhile, I became hooked on Lloyd Jones history.  I would come to board meetings a couple of days early and spend them in the newspaper archives at the Wisconsin State Historical Society.  That led me to all sorts of other research.  It has been a wonderfully fulfilling episode in my life, and I probably know more about the second generation (my great grandfather’s) than anyone now living.  I came to admire them hugely.  For the most part, they were farm folks, but their drive and curiosity and creativity were astounding.  And even in that second generation you had two extraordinary female educators and an internationally known minister.

Georgia to Mark December 7

Mark:  the first cottage is  Blaen-yr-allt-ddu (my spelling is suspect) where my great grandfather (the Rev.) Jenkin was born.  The family landed in New York a year later.  The plaque on the wall commemorates his birth there, put up by Chicago parishioners following Jenkin’s death.  The cottage has been much expanded since then.

 

The white cottage continues to puzzle me.  It is charming…and far different from the Pen-y-wern stone (and forbidding-looking) structure whose picture Ken took. The white cottage is identified as Pen-y-Wern in Chester Lloyd Jones’ book, Youngest Son (about his father Enos, last of the 1st generation flock.)  And yet when Ifan James took Ken and me around family structures in 2004, it was the dark and dour tall stone building  he identified as Pen-y-Wern.  And that’s what the sign says!   

Wait!  It was Ifan James who took Ken and me to dark and dreary Pen-y-Wern.  It was his dear friend, colleague, and terrific researcher into Ll-J materials John Jenkins who made corrections for other photos in Chester’s book, but slid right over the i.d. of the white cottage.   John had died by our 2004 visit—a great loss.  As a surmise, he knew Pen-y-Wern as Mallie’s birthplace but never actually saw it.  If Chester identified the white cottage as such, John may have accepted his i.d..  Who knows?  I am so sorry to have totally lost contact with Ifan James.  I don’t even know if he is still alive.

Simon:  When Ken and I, in the company of Ifan, met the couple who owned Pen-y-Wern they were cordial…Their children were not interested in farming.  They didn’t know what the future would bring.  I don’t know if they are still there.  But I wonder if there is a historical society in the area that could identify the white cottage?  Could be worth a try?  As I said, I’ve been puzzled by that photo in Chester’s book for years.

Onward!  G

Much of Simon’s presentation touches on the family’s strong ties to the Unitarian religion. Economic hardship and the quest for religious freedom spurred Mallie and Richard to emigrate to America.

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The Rebecca Riots were Welsh resistance to the imposition of tolls on roads in Wales. According to Wikipedia, the ringleaders of the resistance were sent to Australia as convicts, but the toll gates were dismantled in time when it was determined that they were an obstacle to free trade.

There is one more tantalizing discovery…the Royal Family is related to the Lloyds. LR Nan's Ancestral Surprise-4.jpg

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So, now we have a link between Frank Lloyd Wright’s family and the House of Windsor, the Royal Family of Great Britain (something that the producers of Masterpiece Theater and “The Crown” have overlooked)! What think you, should the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy and Other Things Wright send a post to Buckingham Palace, inviting them to join their ranks or at least send a few pounds and shillings their way? After all, Prince of Charles, you know, the Prince of WALES (!) is keenly interested in architecture!

A commemorative plaque was unveiled in 1922 at Jenkin Lloyd Jones’s birthplace:

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Georgia and Simon have taken us on a remarkable journey. It begins with a couple seeking better fortunes and religious tolerance and ends with their grandson, an architect who spent his summers in the valley of “the God-Almighty Joneses,” whose work is revered to this day. I leave you with photographs I have taken at Unity Chapel, the family chapel across the road from Wright’s beloved Taliesin. I also thank Keiran Murphy for her assistance with this blog post (and countless other projects of mine!). I joke, but am not far off the mark, when I tell people that she likely knows more about Taliesin and Frank Lloyd Wright than he did.

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This is where the family gathers every five years for a reunion (when there is no pandemic…2020 was canceled). Perhaps Simon and Nan can join them in the future!