Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959): The Sixth Decade

The House Beautiful by William C. Gannet

In August 1922, Wright returned to the United States from Japan, where for several years he had been supervising construction of his design for the Imperial Hotel. Then in his mid fifties, he found himself with little work and few clients. At first he sought to reestablish practice in Los Angeles, drawn by that city's meteoric development. His ambitious schemes failed to materialize, however, and by October 1923 he had retreated to Taliesin, the ever-expanding home and studio that he began to establish in 1911, on farmland that his family had settled near Spring Green, Wisconsin.

His lifelong fascination with this site and with the structure and character of its landscape is rendered on the cover and in the first words of his An Autobiography, (1932), as it had been in the photographic studies of the area's native weeds that he prepared to accompany The House Beautiful of 1893. It is powerfully evoked, also, in a series of collotypes recording Taliesin in winter that Wright made about 1898. Taliesin served as a laboratory for Wright and for his experiments in restructuring landscape through building.

During this time Wright resumed a wide-ranging correspondence with leading architectural thinkers in Europe, while through his studio passed such leading figures of the new generation as Rudolf Schindler, Richard Neutra, Werner Moser, Heinrich Klumb, and Vladimir Karfik. At the same time, through such publications as the Wendingen series "Life-Work" (1925), undertaken with H.T. Wijdeveld, and Frank Lloyd Wright (1926), with H. de Fries, Wright's work and ideas were widely circulated in Europe, while a long series of articles on "The Meaning of Materials" in the Architectural Record presented his new thinking to an American audience.

The decade was marked by personal upheavals, including the deaths of his mother and of his mentor, Louis Sullivan. He suffered through two divorces, one complicated by a mentally unbalanced woman whose delirious persecutions created much unfavorable publicity and led to his arrest on charges of violating the Mann Act, which prohibits interstate transport of women for immoral purposes.

Taliesin was twice seriously damaged by fire, but mercifully without the loss of life that had marked its savage destruction in 1914. Bankruptcy forced Wright to sell his collection of Japanese prints, yet monetary problems remained severe. Taliesin was seized by his creditors, and Wright was unceremoniously evicted from his home.

Frank Lloyd Wright on his farm

Near the end of the decade, Wright's domestic tranquility began to be restored. In August 1928 he married Olgivanna Milanoff, who was to provide extraordinary support for the remainder of his life. Later that year he regained Taliesin. Beginning in 1930, a series of distinguished exhibitions, together with lectures at Princeton (published as Modern Architecture) and Chicago (published in 1931) signaled a resurgence of interest in his work and thought. He began to write his autobiography in 1928, and a first version was published in 1932. These writings revealed a clear and increasingly complex theory of architecture.

In October 1932 Wright founded at Taliesin a fellowship for young architects, an ideal community emphasizing work and study that furthered his architectural endeavors. Designs for new commissions showed his creative powers to be undiminished, and he entered the most productive phase of his career. Ideas conceived between 1922 and 1932 formed the basis for much of this late work, for whatever the toll of professional inactivity and personal crises, Wright emerged with renewed visions of a living architecture.

Christmas Eve at Taliesin, near Spring Green, Wisconsin

From left to right: Frank Lloyd Wright, Richard Neutra, Silva Moser, Kameki Tsuchiura, Nobu Tsuchiura, Werner Moser, and Dione Neutra.

Christmas Eve at Taliesin, near Spring Green, Wisconsin. Unknown photographer. Gelatin silver print. 1924 (negative exposed), modern print from copy negative. The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, Scottsdale, Arizona (168)

Plot plan of Taliesin, near Spring Green, Wisconsin

In accord with recommendations of the time, Wright built his house on the less fertile area of the site - rough, stony land just below the hilltop. He retained woods on steep slopes below and utilized the more fertile land on the valley floor and lowest slopes for cultivation or pasture. Site plans that Wright reviewed and revised periodically record his ongoing efforts.

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    Plot plan of Taliesin, near Spring Green, Wisconsin. Graphite, colored pencil, and ink on linen, 1923. The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, Scottsdale, Arizona (128)

  • This image is currently unavailable

    Plot plan of Taliesin, near Spring Green, Wisconsin. Graphite, colored pencil, and ink on linen, 1920. The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, Scottsdale, Arizona (127)

Plan for Taliesin III, near Spring Green, Wisconsin

Describing Taliesin in An Autobiography (1932), Wright wrote "This modest human program in terms of rural Wisconsin arranged itself around the hilltop in a series of four varied courts leading into one another, courts together forming a sort of drive along the hillside flanked by low buildings on one side and flower gardens against the stone walls that retained the hill-crown on the other."

Plan for Taliesin III, near Spring Green, Wisconsin. Office of Frank Lloyd Wright Ink, graphite, and colored pencil on tracing paper, ca. 1925 The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, Scottsdale, Arizona (3)

Aerial perspective for Taliesin II, near Spring Green, Wisconsin

Drawings done in conjunction with the first major rebuilding of Taliesin in 1914 show an extended composition of elements that terrace and shape the site. In this perspective, lines between rough and cultivated plantings are clearly delineated as part of that composition, anticipating an approach Wright would further explore in the1920s.

Aerial perspective for Taliesin II, near Spring Green, Wisconsin. Office of Frank Lloyd Wright. Ink on paper, 1914. The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, Scottsdale, Arizona (1)

Elevations for Taliesin ll, near Spring Green, Wisconsin

Elevations for Taliesin ll, near Spring Green, Wisconsin. Office of Frank Lloyd Wright. Ink on linen, 1914. The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, Scottsdale, Arizona (2)

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