Finding Mr. Wright in rural Wisconsin
There is a lot of respect for Falling Water, located in Mill Run, which is in the western part of the state of Pennsylvania. It’s about 865 miles from Rochester to Mill Run, though, so a weekend road trip really is not reasonable.
For insight into Frank Lloyd Wright’s talents, I shaved a few hundred miles off a Wright weekend, crossed the state line into Wisconsin and followed the Frank Lloyd Wright Trail developed by Travel Wisconsin.
A forerunner in organic architecture, Frank Lloyd Wright often married his designs with the surrounding environment, embracing nature and creating a bridge with technology. Early in his storied career, 1900 to 1917, his ideas flourished in the midwestern United States, especially in Wisconsin.
Frank Lloyd Wright Trail
Many of Wright’s designs, like the structures in Wisconsin, are open for tours. I followed a slice of the trail that led from Racine through Madison to his beloved Taliesin in Spring Green.
While in Racine, I stumbled upon a lecture about Wright, one of the many special events that the state or local officials sponsor along the Trail. This one was given by Frank Lloyd Wright author and an authority on the architect, Mark Herzberg.
In his address, Herzberg referenced Wright’s “uncanny sense of what light would do during the day. (How) sunlight streaming through one of his houses projects patterns on the walls.”
He teased his audience, too, suggesting that once anyone tours a Wright structure, they often experience an “attachment” to the architect and his architectural style. After three days along the Frank Lloyd Wright Trail, I could not disagree.
Wright’s influence on architecture was felt worldwide. It was he who established the Prairie Style of design, resulting in low-pitched roofs and overhanging eaves on the outside with a central chimney anchoring the open floor plans inside. It is believed he embraced openness as an antidote to the confined construction of the Victorian era. Maybe. The environments I experienced certainly were wide open and freeing in spirit and construction.
Taliesin Preservation welcomes visitors to Taliesin Estate, one of Wright’s masterpieces. Escorted tours are scheduled and step off from the Riverview Terrace Cafe, which also houses a terrific gift shop and an information desk. Plan ahead to have lunch after a tour. There is so much information presented, it may be time well spent recounting the tour before leaving the estate.
The Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor Center is referred to as the “Riverview Terrace,” as it spans two hills beside the Wisconsin River; it is the gateway to visit his home, Taliesin.
Wright was born in Wisconsin, attended UW-Madison and spent many years of his life in Spring Green. His Wisconsin roots helped define him as an architect and heavily influenced his work.
Wright’s Taliesin Estate is an 800-acre National Historic Landmark and home to six Wright-designed structures. Highlights include his home; Hillside Theater, a school that Wright designed; the windmill tower and Tan-y-Deri, the home he built for his sister, Jane Porter. It is also home to his collection of Oriental art.
His interest in Asian art is evidenced in and outside the home. There are Oriental statuary in the gardens, inside the buildings and especially noticeable in the Hillside Theater. The stage curtain at the theater is an abstract representation of the hill at Taliesin including the Wisconsin River, the sky and cranes in flight. Wright was famous for designing every part of a building, from a dog house to this theater curtain.
The Taliesin Preservation group received the 2018 (Wisconsin) Governor’s Tourism award for Arts, Culture, and Heritage. Nearby, we toured the Wyoming School, now the Wyoming Valley School Cultural Arts Center; the building has been preserved for use by the community.
Taliesin Preservation tours can be as short as two hours and as long as four hours for the full Estate Tour. Garden tours are new this year. The over-21 years of age tour is two hours and includes the gardens and courtyard with drinks and hors d’oeuvres.
Taliesin was Wright’s home and studio for 48 years. The Welsh word Taliesin translates to “shining brow,” a name given in tribute to his ancestry and perhaps in recognition of the intellect of the man himself.