Taliesin in Spring Green (as opposed to its
winter address, Taliesin West in Arizona) is a six-hundred acre, odd and well-attended mix
of preserved national resource and temporary home for apprentices.
Taliesen is a rustic constellation of Frank
Lloyd Wrights Wisconsin home, School of Architecture, theater, etc. (altogether
referred to as "the estate"), which is understandably hands-off (for security
and privacy reasons, visitors are not allowed to explore the premises on foot by
themselves) and carefully run.
A strange combination of public and private
exist here, and not always on the best terms. A very small group of students come to live
and study under the aging and thunderous shadow of Frank Lloyd Wright, sleeping in small
dorm rooms lining the central drawing room and quietly producing derivative architecture
for a public receptive too late to a great individuals work. Much of the complex is
in poor repair, and much to the consternation of the preservation committee, students
dont seem much interested in upkeep and maintenance. Lightning recently struck the
centuries-old oak tree around which Wright built his beloved home, crashing into the study
and necessitating a hardly believable $35.00 fee for a house tour. The house and some
areas in the school are laid with electric acid kool-aid blue pile carpet; and students
maintain some of Wrights rather egomaniacal and capricious decisions, such as
rearranging the dining room tables nightly.
Taliesin has a tragic history, being the site of
multiple murders committed by a disturbed servant who killed Wrights paramour and
her children. Wright re-built the home, and it has since suffered landslides, leaking,
foundation damage, fire (twice), endless tours, and most recently, lightning.
Poised on the hill, Taliesin seems desperately to want to slide into the earth and join
its creator in long-deserved peace. Wright was an extraordinary figure, and this site
proves how original, complex, and ravenous his vision was. Without a client to temper his
will, Wright built a sanctuary in the enclosing hills of Wisconsin that shuts out the rest
of the world and is possessed of an energy that is a disquieting cross between the bucolic
and the demonic.
That said, Wrights living room is so
beautiful you actually want to cry, and the tour guides are sweet, very well informed,
patient individuals who do their best to accommodate hoardes of ill-behaved public into
their private working and studying lives. Taliesin translates as "shining brow,"
and this refers to the hill around which the house was built, in a sort of big, huggy L.
Wright simply said, "if you build on top of the hill, you lose the hill."
Christy Rogers, 1998
How to visit
From Chicago, take 90 west out of the city to
Rockford, IL; at Rockford, pick up 90 north to Janesville, WI and eventually Madison, WI.
As you approach Madison, go west on highway 12/18 around the city until you hit highway 14
west to LaCrosse/Spring Green. Watch for 23. Go south on 23 a few miles, to the Frank
Lloyd Wright Visitors Center (just over the river). Allow four hours drive time from
Chicago (45 minutes from Madison).
For ticket or tour information, call +1 608 588
7900. There is a blinding array of tour combinations, times, tour guides, and modes of
transportation (some are walking; some by van...) The house tour is a whopping $35 - I
prefer to think I attended a fund-raiser, albeit rather scruffily attired. Off-season
tours are available but the regular "season" is May 1- October 31.
Books and other web
Click the book titles to view and to order
A practical visitors' guide to thirty six
publicly accessible Frank Lloyd Wright sites, with a straightforward one or two page
description of each, with black and white photographs.
"Frank Lloyd Wright: Designs for an American
Landscape, 1922-1932" is on the Library of Congress web site; it is a beautiful series of five
unrealized projects with extraordinary connections to the landscape, executed in
beautiful, hypothetical models constructed to Wrights sketches and photographs.