Monday, August 13, 2007

Come to Wisconsin, See the Site of an Ax Murder in 1914

What more to write about Frank Lloyd Wright and Taliesin? Someone needs to make a movie about his affair with Martha Borthwick. (Well, maybe there will be one soon.) It has everything: period costumes (pre-World War I), infidelity, a name architect, the building of Taliesin, and a mass ax murder at the end. (Her messy end was not mentioned in the above-linked book review.) Probably, however, a filmmaker whose script didn't show proper reverence for The Genius wouldn't get to first base in using Taliesin as a setting, though if my guide was correct, the foundation that owns the place sure could use a Hollywood-sized check to do some structural work on it, since it sounds like an astonishingly deep money pit.

We visited Taliesin on August 4. Both Yuriko and I had been thinking about doing so for years, but had never gotten around to it. We pitched our tent at Blue Mound State Park, about 20 miles from the Wright property, the night before and intended to pretty much devote the next day to Taliesin. It was a logistical necessity. Children under 12 aren't allowed to take the tour, so we had to take the two-hour, house-only tour in turn: she went at noon, and I went at 3 p.m.

Wright certainly designed interesting places. Everywhere you look in Taliesin, there's one damned interesting detail after another. Just how did he think of that? And that? And that over there? Other details make you think, how in God's name did he think that was a good idea? In particular, I took a good look at Taliesin's roofline, and noticed no lightning rods. Taliesin, you see, is built near the top of a large hill in rural Wisconsin, with nothing between it and the sky. Of course, the house has been there since 1911, and its two fires haven't been because of a direct hit -- once through arson, the other time by an electric surge caused by lightning (maybe). Still, I looked at the rainy sky the day I visited and thought, one of these days... and they'll be no Wright around to rebuild it.

I'm glad I went. I'll make an effort to see Taliesin West and Fallingwater and even the Johnson Wax Headquarters if I live long enough. I'll go anywhere I think is interesting. But enough already with genius. Maybe he was. He definitely had considerable talent. I'm not competent to judge architectural genius. Still, anything repeated that often makes me suspicious that it's more parrots talking than useful opinion.


At 5:42 PM, Anonymous e said...

Taliesin West is a house for dwarves. By that point, apparently, Wright had decided everyone should be as short as he was, and he saw no reason to design any other way. I don't know when in his career he came up with this lightning stroke of genius, but touring TW just gave me a sore back from crouching.

At 8:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

No movies that I'm aware of, but there is an opera about Frank Lloyd Wright and Mrs. Cheney. See


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