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SHINING BROW:
Wright's Taliesin, Spring Green, Wisconsin

getaway-chicago logo The sequel to Oak Park is here. After he fled Illinois under less than flattering circumstances and traveled to Europe to escape scandal, Frank Lloyd Wright returned to his roots in Spring Green, Wisconsin in 1911. A place intimately familiar to him and important in his development as a cutting edge architect, Spring Green and his estate/school called Taliesin offered both sanctuary in his personal life and inspiration for his resurrected career. taliesin3

The Getaway Guys explored Taliesin in the fall of ’08. A number of required tours of varying duration are available at reasonable cost, despite Alan’s aversion to spending money. Unlike 20 years ago when the Guys visited independently, enraptured guides no longer make a visit into an involuntary religious experience. Down-to-earth, factual and absent the former irrational reverence for Mr. Wright, today’s tours are well organized and highly informative. Unlike the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio in Oak Park, Illinois, where tours are typically full and tightly scheduled in a much smaller space, Taliesin is a large complex, less susceptible to crowding and more relaxed.

4While touring Taliesin, a visitor must put aside popular falderal about the life and work of this charismatic and (perhaps) eccentric artist. Frank Lloyd Wright was a visionary and like most visionaries thrust into the public eye, he was often celebrated more for his well publicized personal style than his insights into innovative architecture. Unlike the legions of hard core devotees who flock to FLW sites like lemmings, Neil and Alan are not fanatics about the man or his work. Both think it is unique and interesting, and both agree that the more they see of it, the more interesting it becomes. Experienced home rehabbers, the Getaway Guys see problems with structural elements where others may not and therefore their enthusiasm for Mr. Wright’s architecture is somewhat tempered by personal thoughts about never ending repair jobs caused by construction oddities.

At Wright’s Wisconsin Taliesin (there is a Scottsdale, Arizona Taliesin, too) rehabilitation is ongoing and in full view, which the Guys found to be fascinating and informative. taliesin7Thought to be difficult to work with, Frank Lloyd Wright’s buildings had a reputation for leaky roofs and other defects. As is evident at Taliesin (and other Wright landmarks), his innovation and daring may have pushed some of his chosen materials beyond their limits, thereby causing some of the problems later associated with his work. On a crisp autumn day Neil and Alan took the two-hour Highlights Tour, which included an in-depth look at Hillside (the School/Studio) and Taliesin (the residence). Built by Wright in 1902 for his aunts who ran a girls boarding school called Hillside Home School (hence the name), Wright expanded Hillside to include an impressive drafting studio (1932) and a theater for musical and theatrical performances (1952), thereby converting the taliesin10former boarding school into a school of architecture and a base for his architectural practice. Shortly after his return to Wisconsin in 1911, he also began construction of Taliesin, an ongoing project that continued until his death in 1959. Heavily damaged by fire on two occasions, today the residence is a hybrid structure and a case study of Wright’s thinking over a number of decades. Both the Hillside complex and Taliesin are beginning to show the ravages of time, but despite this inescapable fact, both offer fascinating insights into the work of this often controversial icon of American architecture. taliesin8Despite their proclivity to disagree about most things, neither Guy could find anything to argue about except the food in the Riverview Terrace Café. Alan thought it was terrific and Neil thought it could be a little less healthy.

Administered by Taliesin Preservation, Inc. (www.taliesinpreservation.org), a non-profit established in 1991 to oversee and maintain this important piece of American history, this organization does an excellent job and deserves all the support it can get. The combination Visitors Center, Bookstore and Restaurant (1953 and where tours begin) is also a F.L. Wright creation. The Bookstore is filled with Wright related materials (reproduction furniture and decorative objects) and a good supply of books about other architects.talieisn9 The Riverview Terrace Cafe serves light fare and is very reasonable in price, despite its monopoly on eating anywhere near Taliesin. Situated among the rolling hills of western Wisconsin and definitely unspoiled by sprawl (urban or otherwise), Spring Green/Taliesin isn’t hard to get to and makes for a delightful day trip or weekender from Chicago.

If a weekend trip is possible between June and early October, the Getaway Guys suggest a performance at the American Players Theater (www.playinthewoods.org), near Spring Green. Pressed for time, the Guys regret not having done so themselves. If serious theater isn’t your cup of tea, blend in an excursion to not far away Baraboo and the fascinating Circus World Museum as the Guys did. For serious evening fare, check out the Del-Bar Restaurant between Baraboo and Wisconsin Dells. The ambiance is very congenial, the food great, the service very attentive and the prices are to Alan’s liking. The Guys give it 5 stars! August 2009

 

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