The History of the Taliesin Fellows
The Founding of the Taliesin Fellowship, the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, and the Organization of the Taliesin Fellows
The Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture was formally initiated in 1932 when twenty-three apprentices came to live and learn at Taliesin. The sources of this educational philosophy have roots that go back much further than the ’30s. The program of the School, while remaining remarkably true to its heritage, has evolved through experience and the need to address changing times.
In 1931 Frank and Olgivanna Lloyd Wright circulated a prospectus to an international group of distinguished scholars, artists, and friends, announcing their plan to form a school at Taliesin in Spring Green, Wisconsin to “Learn by Doing.”
“The fine arts, so called,” they asserted, “should stand at the center as inspiration grouped about architecture . . . . (of which landscape and the decorative arts would be a division).” Education at Taliesin would emphasize painting, sculpture, music, drama, and dance “in their places as divisions of architecture.”
Each of these elements of the fine arts, as the Wrights conceived them, would lead to broader learning: “Drama would be studied as the essential structure of all great literature;” while “Music would mean the fundamental study of sound and rhythm as an emotional reaction both as to original character and present nature.”
They anticipated a core faculty, “resident foremen,” at Taliesin supplemented by “a guest-system of visitation, consultation and criticism” and faculty from the “nearest university” who would make philosophy and psychology and other disciplines available “by extension work.” The “Wisconsin Idea” at the University of Wisconsin conceived of the entire State as a classroom, and the Wrights with close friends at the University proposed to make full use of it.
The students, or “apprentices,” would round out their education in the spirit of Tolstoy’s “What to Do.” “The entire work of feeding and caring for the student body so far as possible should be done by itself . . . work in the gardens, fields, animal husbandry, laundry, cooking, cleaning, serving should rotate among the students according to some plan that would make them all do their bit with each kind of work at some time.”
The ambitious plan for an endowed school exceeded the Wright’s capacity to attract funds in the second full year of the Great Depression. So the next year, 1932, they issued a more modest circular announcing the formation of the Taliesin Fellowship and inviting young people to venture to Taliesin. The Fellowship would organize around the principles they had articulated in 1931, and the program now called the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, has generally evolved along these lines. But the sources of these ideas go back much further than the early 1930s. They rested on the Wrights’ own experience.
In 1886, Jane and Nell Lloyd-Jones, Frank Lloyd Wright’s aunts, founded the Hillside Home School, a coeducational country boarding school dedicated to education of children, based on the principle of “Learning by Doing”, a radical departure from most educational practices in those times. This philosophy made a profound impact on Frank Lloyd Wright, himself an indifferent student impatient with formal academic requirements and the rigid educational settings of his youth.
After a brief stay at the University of Wisconsin, he left Madison to learn the profession of architecture in active Chicago offices. When he opened his own independent practice, Frank Lloyd Wright strongly supported the traditional training of architects in the apprentice system which he, himself, had experienced. Apprentice draftsmen and women always worked in his Oak Park Studio.
After the closing of the Hillside Home School in 1915, for which he had designed buildings and the Romeo & Juliet windmill, Frank Lloyd Wright continually pursued the idea of establishing a school for architects using the Hillside Home School buildings.
In 1928, Frank Lloyd Wright and his new, dynamic wife, Olgivanna, decided to repair the Hillside Home School buildings and reopen it as an institution devoted to architecture and the allied arts. Olgivanna Lloyd Wright encouraged and broadened her husband’s interest in education. The ninth and last child of an aristocratic Montenegran family, she grew up in a cultural and stimulating environment. Her mother, a crusading politician, served as a military leader, setting an example as a woman of accomplishment and serious purpose.
Trained first in a progressive private school where Olgivanna learned both French and Russian, she eventually came under the tutelage of George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff. This charismatic mystic created the Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man at Fontainebleau, outside of Paris. Based on his philosophy of spiritual development, Gurdjieff’s school stressed hard work, self-discipline, sacrifices and suffering, self-awareness, and conscious effort, often through performance. Olgivanna excelled in music and dance, and she came to the United States ready to put her learning into practice.
Frank Lloyd Wright readily accepted her ideas and adopted as his own her stress on the importance of the holistic development of mind, heart, and body as the essence of an educated person. The first twenty-three apprentices who formed the Taliesin Fellowship in 1932 and other pioneers who joined them in the early 1930′s included some remarkably talented men and women.
At first, Frank Lloyd Wright had few commissions through which to teach the apprentices, and he put them to work in the construction, operations and maintenance of the school. The apprentices quarried the stone and burned limestone and sifted sand from the adjacent Wisconsin River to make mortar. They cut trees and sawed them into dimensional lumber, and along with the masonry, built the large studio, now on the National Register of Historic Places, that still serves as the center of learning on the Spring Green campus and as an active architectural studio. The apprentices worked on all aspects of life at Taliesin, developing a largely self-sufficient school and community that operated successfully with a very low budget.
Surrounded by bright, committed and energetic apprentices, Frank Lloyd Wright’s career as an architect found new vigor, and soon the students could learn as they worked on some of the most innovative buildings in America. The celebrated master of the Prairie School had expanded his vocabulary, and apprentices under his direction created renderings, made models, did the engineering and produced construction drawings.
They supervised construction on projects like the Johnson Wax headquarters (Racine, WI), Fallingwater (Bear Run, PA) and the first Usonian houses. They did the first perspectives of the Guggenheim Museum (New York, NY) and Monona Terrace (Madison, WI). The Taliesin Fellowship had with astonishing speed developed into an exciting architectural laboratory which attracted some of the nation’s best work and hosted many of the world’s great artists and great minds. In 1940 the Museum of Modern Art exhibited some of the models made by the students.
In the winter of 1935 Frank and Olgivanna Lloyd Wright moved the entire Fellowship to Chandler, Arizona, where they constructed the model of Broadacre City, Frank Lloyd Wright’s concept of the integration of living and working in successfully planned communities. This first winter in Arizona inaugurated the tradition of moving the School between Wisconsin and Arizona that still continues. After the first two winters in temporary quarters, he purchased land in Scottsdale and, in 1937, with the apprentices, began the construction of a new kind of desert architecture at Taliesin West.
As the work of the architectural office expanded, some of the apprentices decided to stay at Taliesin, continue their professional development as practicing architects in Frank Lloyd Wright’s “firm,” marry and raise families. Others left Taliesin and began successful careers in architecture with other firms and on their own. New apprentices replaced those who left; the talented group who stayed became the Senior Fellowship. They also became the “resident foremen,” the faculty that the Wrights had envisioned.
Following a hiatus during World War II when new construction all but ceased and rationing precluded the cross country excursions between Arizona and Wisconsin, the demand for Frank Lloyd Wright’s services returned in force and accelerated until his death in 1959. The post-war influx of commissions reaffirmed the need for permanent members of the Fellowship to produce architectural work and to mentor the growing number of young men and women seeking to experience the concepts embodied in organic architecture.
During these exciting years, the fellows and the apprentices worked on more than 100 houses, including the Usonian Automatics and other experiments with concrete blocks. They also worked on the Guggenheim Museum, the Price Tower (Bartlesville, OK), the Florida Southern College campus (Lakeland, FL), the Grady Gammage Auditorium (Tempe, AZ), the Annunciation Green Orthodox Church (Wauwatosa, WI), several planned communities (Pleasantville, NY and Kalamazoo, MI) and the expansion of Taliesin West.
Young men and women could come to Taliesin and get first hand training working with outstanding architects on some of the nation’s most visible and important projects. With the growing life at Taliesin they would also participate in music, drama and other fine and performing arts. They interacted with the constant parade of the world’s best minds who came to visit the Wrights and the Fellowship. When their skills developed and they had sufficient experience, some would stay and join the Senior Fellowship, but most would leave, pass the boards and become registered, practicing architects. In recent years, these former apprentices have organized as the Taliesin Fellows. They hold reunions, conduct meetings, publish a journal, and, in 1996, became the official alumni organization of the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture.
After Frank Lloyd Wright’s death, the Senior Fellows incorporated an architectural firm to continue the practice and to mentor the apprentices. These activities now took place under the umbrella of The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation which Frank Lloyd Wright established in 1940 by deeding to it all of his personal and intellectual property. His will confirmed his gift to the Foundation, and after 1959 it became the governing entity for all of the activities at Taliesin with Olgivanna Lloyd Wright serving as its president until her death in 1985.
The Last Will and Testament of Frank Lloyd Wright contained provisions indicating his desire to perpetuate the Foundation bearing his name, via Fellowship, wisely into the future. Likewise, the Will of Olgivanna Lloyd Wright indicated the same, but in the aftermath of her death in 1985 there was concern by several, both inside and outside of the Fellowship, as to how the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation and Taliesin heritage could survive in the long term.
The firm of Taliesin Architects was hard at work, tours of both Taliesins continued to expand and a volunteer program and bookstore were under development. But soon after Mrs. Wright’s death, a number or the former apprentices began gathering in California to talk over their dissatisfaction with how they felt the Foundation and School programs were operating. When the concept of an apprentice reunion was announced, many former apprentices volunteered to assist Taliesin’s lead architect Wes Peters and Foundation CEO Dick Carney in the effort.
The Organization of the Taliesin Fellows
Camaraderie began to spread as committees were formed in order to plan for this big under-taking -first ever Taliesin reunion. It was significant to all concerned that Taliesin was opening the gates to welcome everyone back to share their common ideals and memories. This is what became the 1987 Taliesin Fellows Reunion at Taliesin West. This first reunion was a success and solidified the desire for a more formal organization of Taliesin Fellows.
Following the 1987 Reunion, seven former apprentices residing in southern California – Paul Bogart, Robert Clark, Don Fairweather, John Geiger, Bradley Storrer, Louis Wiehle and Eric Lloyd Wright formed the Taliesin Fellows as an international organization to further the principles of Frank Lloyd Wright and to augment and to encourage historically accurate scholarship of Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Fellowship. *
The founders organized as a non-profit, unincorporated association pursuant to Section 24003 of the Corporation Code of the State of California. They completed initial Articles of Corporation and Bylaws, opened a bank account and arranged to use the name Taliesin in license granted in November of 1989 through the generosity of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. The organization set out the following objectives:
- To serve as a medium of exchange among apprentices from all the years, Including the current years.
- To serve as a sounding board to Frank Lloyd Wright building owners, academia and the general public, to the extent appropriate to each.
- To expand the apprentice biographies started by Elizabeth Kassler, maintained and extended by the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation.
- To document the contribution of each apprentice to the work in the drafting room, the construction projects at the two Taliesins, supervision of construction of Frank Lloyd Wright buildings and, last but not least, the housekeeping work that was part of the daily life of the Fellowship.
- To accommodate personal remembrances that may be significant, amusing, or may simply illuminate the daily workings of the Fellowship.
- To record personal interactions or conversations with Mr. Wright that would testify to the true nature, or to a more historically accurate picture, of Frank Lloyd Wright, the man.
- To further understanding of those principals of architecture as being organic.
Per the letter dated April 1, 1990, from Louis Wiehle, Editor, the premiere issue of the Journal of the Taliesin Fellows was sent to those identified as having been affiliated with the work of Frank Lloyd Wright either as an apprentice, client or other interested person as the medium of exchange in pursuit of the above objectives. The Journal was issued in an 8 -1/2 inch square format similar to that of the original Taliesin Square papers. Issue One announced the selection of Fay Jones, a well known1953 Apprentice as the first Taliesin Fellow to receive the AIA Gold Medal, the highest hone awarded by the American Institute of Architects.
Initially, the Taliesin Fellows met in Los Angeles, southern California, the first Saturday of alternate months starting with February 1990. The April, August and December meetings were for the board members only and the February, June and October meetings open to all apprentices. Initial officers were John Geiger, President; Eric Lloyd Wright, Vice President; Paul Bogart, Treasurer and Bradley Storrer, Secretary. The next Officers and the Board of Directors were elected for a two year term by the voting membership at the February 1991 meeting and the voting membership was limited to former apprentices. These Officers remained for the second term and were joined on the Board by Virginia Kazor, John Benton and Arthur Dennis Storrer.
From their initiation, the Fellows endeavored to host events in venues significant to the purpose of the organization. In September of 1990, the Fellows gathered at Hollyhock House for their September meeting that was attended by 62 Fellows and Hollyhock House Associates. In June 1991, in celebration of the 124th Birthday of Frank Lloyd Wright, forty Fellows met on June 8th at “Silvertop” in Los Angeles, designed by John Lautner including Mr. Lautner, and those from California, Hawaii, Idaho, Washington D.C. and Chicago. Another special event was held on September 28th 1991 at the Malibu home of John Benton, designed by Wes Peters.
The 125th birthday was marked in June with a three-day celebration in Los Angeles attended by 100 people and included tours of Frank Lloyd Wright’s historic concrete block houses (the Millard, Storer, Ennis and Freeman houses) along with a fifth house designed by Lloyd Wright in 1926. The second day featured a picnic at Mary and Eric Lloyd Wright’s home and studios in the mountains of Malibu, and culminating with a visit to the office of John Lautner the following day.
The second major Taliesin reunion was spearheaded by Phoenix based Fellows LaDon Van Noy and Terry Sewell both of whom had been actively involved with the previous Fellows Reunion five years earlier. This time held September 10th through 13th at Taliesin near Spring Green, the 1992 reunion was attended by 220 people from 28 states, plus Washington D.C. and six foreign countries. **
This same year Aaron Green (TF ‘40-’43) donated $5,000.00 as a matching Grant to the Wes Peters Scholarship Fund in the name of the Taliesin Fellows. Marshall Erdman, Chairman of the Marshall Erdman Associates of Madison and along-time friend of Frank Lloyd Wright and the Fellowship, expressed his vision of establishing a “Broadacre-or some kind of Acres-City” of Fellows’ homesteads on a part of his 3,000 acres of land near the Taliesin estate. Erdman offered five acres of land to any Wright apprentice who would complete a house for him or herself within 18 months. He also offered to deed one five-acre parcel to the Foundation to build living quarters to house visitors. What ever happened to this initiative?
At the February 6th, 1993 meeting of the Taliesin Fellows, held at the Barnsdall Residence (Hollyhock House), the Fellows set up standing committees to include Chapter Formation, Education, Events, Membership, Finance, Fulfillment, Graphics, Publications and Research with additional ad-hoc committees to be assigned to consider special projects. The ballot count endorsed five new Board members – Nezam Amery of London, Dick Carney of the FLlW Foundation, Grattan Gill of Sandwich MA, Milton Stricker of Seattle WA and Kimbal Thompson of Kailua, Hawaii, each to join the incumbents for two-year terms.
The following week, a group of former apprentices formed the first regional chapter of the International Taliesin Fellows, in Bradenton Florida. Officially named the Association of Taliesin Fellows, Southeastern States Chapter, its membership territory included Florida, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina. The founding officers of this chapter included H. Patterson Fletcher (’60-’62), president, Edgar Tafel (’32-’41) vice-president and Gordon Barber (‘73 –‘76) secretary-treasurer). The Southeastern States Chapter of the Taliesin Fellows continued to meet in combination with architectural tours and accordingly planned to meet at Florida Southern College in Lakeland Florida the following year.
Over the weekend of April 3rd and 4th, the Fellows hosted a program and tour of the Arch Oboler Estate above Malibu. And on June 13th, some 200 people assembled at the Malibu mountain estate of Mary and Eric Lloyd Wright to participate in a thoughtful discussion “In the Cause of Architecture.”
The Arizona Chapter of the Taliesin Fellows was initiated on May 2nd; 1993 with Terry Sewell, president; Joe Hornsby, vice-president, LaDon Van Noy, treasurer, Jay Pace, corresponding secretary and Debra Benson as recording secretary.*** The outside world was beginning to recognize the contributions of former apprentices and the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) granted $25,000 to the Frank Lloyd Wright Archives to complete oral histories of Fellows William Beye Fyfe (’32-’34), John Lautner (’34-’40), John deKoven Hill (’37-’53) and Louis Wiehle (’50,’53-’64).
October 23rd1993 saw the organizational meeting of the Northern California Chapter of the Taliesin Fellows- (the fourth regional group of Fellows) with officers Bill Patrick (’48-’49) as chairman and Earl Nisbet (’51-’53) and Barbara Morrison Nisbet (’51-’53) jointly as secretary-treasurer. An exhibit showcasing the work of sixteen members of the Northern California Fellows was displayed in within the year at the Marin County Civic Center Art Gallery.
Fall of 1993 marked the 15th Issue of the Journal of the Taliesin Fellows and in it was announced the Fellows plans for a tour of the Auldbrass Plantation in Yemassee, South Carolina April 20-24th 1994. The combined contribution list for the Taliesin Fellows chapters now totaled over 150 individuals and couples and by 1995 this number will have doubled to over 300 different contributors.
At the Spring 1995 Board Meeting of the Southern California Chapter of Fellows, two new members, Angelo Caciola and Christopher Carr were welcomed to the Board and Virginia Kazor was elected to the new post of executive director, Paul Bogart was named President, Eric Lloyd Wright remained as Vice President, Wallace Cunningham was named 2nd Vice President, John Benton was named treasurer, and Bradley Storrer, resumed his previous post as secretary. The summer 1995 JTF Issue #18 introduced a new 8-1/2 x 11 inch format, and noted John Geiger as Publisher. In this issue was the announcement of a new advisory board that included Nezam Amery of London, H. Patterson Fletcher of Florida, Grattan Gill of Maine, Aaron Green of San Francisco, Fay Jones of Fayetteville Arkansas, William Arthur Patrick of Woodside CA, and Terry Sewell and Vernon Swaback, both of Phoenix, Arizona.
Issue 20 of the JTF included a change to James DeLong as Editorial Advisor and Michael Diehl as Design Director. The Fellows Advisory Board was expanded to include Wallace E. Cunningham of San Diego, Charles Patterson of Aspen Colorado and A. Kimbal Thompson of Kailua, Hawaii.
Although long considered such, the spring 1997 JTF Issue 21 announced the official designation of the Taliesin Fellows as the Alumni Association of the Taliesin Fellowship and the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture. At the March 1997 meeting, the Southern California Chapter added Roderick Grant, Earl Nisbet, Henry Herold, Robert Beharka, Terry Sewell, Gerald Morosco and Patterson Fletcher as Directors. Gerald Morosco became secretary and Robert Clark treasurer.
Robert Clark was elected president at the spring 1998 meeting, Eric Lloyd Wright remained as vice president, Gerald Morosco, vice president/secretary and Virginia Kazor as treasurer. Larry Brink succeeded Mr. Clark as president in 2000 with Paul Bogart as vice president, Robert Clark, secretary and Virginia Kazor as vice president. New Directors included James DeLong, David Dodge Michael Dougherty, Art Dyson and Dana Hutt.
The summer 2000 Issue No 26 of the JTF was produced in a new 9 x 10 ½” format by guest editors John Geiger and Dana Hutt and was the final issue of the original run of the Journal. Issue Number 1 of the Taliesin Fellows Newsletter was dated October 5, 2000 with Bill Patrick as editor.
Coming Soon: Part Two: 2000 to Present
* See related October 6, 1997 JTF Newsletter article “The Origin of the Fellows by Bradley Storrer
** See Fellowship’s 60th Birthday “Especially Designed…” JTF, Issue 8, Fall 1992
*** See “Forming an Arizona Fellows Chapter” JTF, Issue 10, Spring 1993