Writing Wright with Light, Part Two

Photos © Mark Hertzberg

This is the last day of the Road Scholar Frank Lloyd Wright trip which I am accompanying. Today I found myself looking at shapes in the six Wright sites we visited. I relied on memory to try to not repeat photos I have taken in the past. I was challenged to turn this post into a “Where Was I When I Took This Photo?” game rather than caption photos as I normally would. The photos are presented in the order in which we visited the sites. The answers are at the bottom.

Site A:

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Site B:

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Site C:

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Site D:

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Site E:

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Site F:

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Answers:

A: Jacobs 1 House – The odd shaped bricks are attributed to Wright reportedly having his apprentices use bricks taken from the SC Johnson Administration Building. There are 200 shapes of bricks in the Administration Building. B: Unitarian Meeting House C: Wyoming Valley School D: Hillside School E: Hillside Drafting Room F: Taliesin

Thank you to Taliesin Preservation for greeting us at the Visitors Center with this sign:

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Scroll down to see yesterday’s “Writing Wright with Light” post, and previous blog articles.

These Insects are Welcome

© Mark Hertzberg (2022)

If you thought that Taliesin wraps up your Frank Lloyd Wright and Spring Green experience, then you are missing a gem, just four miles on State Highway 23 from Taliesin.

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One of Wright’s last commissions, the Wyoming Valley School (1957) has vibrant new life under the leadership of David Zaleski, its new Executive Director. Rebranded as the Wyoming Valley Cultural Arts Center, there is just one more week to view “A is for Apple, B is for Bug, and C is for Cicada,” an art installation by Jennifer Angus.

Peter Rott, the principal at Isthmus Architects of Madison, shepherded an extensive restoration of the two-room schoolhouse. Significant work was done, most of it not visible. The obvious change is that the concrete blocks inside are no longer yellow, but, rather, a more natural color.

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Now, onto the fun…Angus’ art installation:

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In the Assembly Room, dollhouses covered in beeswax are elevated to simulate how an insect might view them:

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LR Wyoming Valley School 5.20.22 012.jpgRott found an old card catalogue cabinet.

The exhibit ends June 12, 2022, but it is a sign of the fun things that Zaleski will be doing in the school building. I am not a fan of people speculating what Wright might have thought, said, or done in a given situation, but I will take the liberty of thinking he would have been pleased with the school’s incarnation as a cultural center.

LR Wright Spirit Awards 2013 040.jpgRott has been honored in a number of Wright-related projects. He was honored with a Wright Spirit Award from the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy at its 2013 conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

http://www.wyomingvalleyschool.org

Rott and his Wright-related projects:

http://www.is-arch.com/projects/

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Go to www.wrightinracine.com and keep scrolling down to see previous posts on this website…

 

Hillside Geometry (& new Minerva Photo)

Photos © Mark Hertzberg

My cameras and I have been to Taliesin many times. My challenge at any Wright site is to photograph it with a fresh eye each visit. I was able to interpret the geometry of Wright’s “forest” in the drafting room at Hillside from a new perspective recently. I welcome your comments, unless they reopen the debate about the Foundation and the School. The treat at the end of this blog entry is my latest portrait of our dear friend Minerva, also taken Friday May 20.

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As we look at the drafting tables below, the unknowns, of course, are what renderings and plans were drawn at which table, and by whom. Among countless others, one of the architects (and students) who counted this as their office was Charles Montooth, Minerva’s late husband.

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Links:

https://www.taliesinpreservation.org

https://wrightinracine.wordpress.com/2021/09/29/the-marvelous-minerva-montooth/

Keep scrolling down to see earlier blog entries…

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.”

1632405469769blob.jpgMinerva and Mrs. Wright in an undated photograph. Courtesy of Minerva Montooth

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.

Wright 150th Taliesin 052.jpgThe 2017 birthday cake at Hillside.

2019 Wright Birthday 006.jpgThe 2019 birthday cake at Taliesin.

“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.

2016 Minerva Montooth 6.11.16 005.JPGMinerva at the 2016 birthday celebration.

2021 Minerva Montooth 8.29.21 002.JPGAugust 29, 2021

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

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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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