Rare Taliesin I and II Photographic Proofs | Wisconsin Historical Society

Historical Essay

Rare Photographs of Taliesin I and II - Image Gallery Essay

Frank Lloyd Wright's Wisconsin Home

Rare Taliesin I and II Photographic Proofs | Wisconsin Historical Society
Taliesin I Hayloft, 1912, Spring Green. WHI 83020.

Taliesin I Hayloft, 1912

Wyoming, Wisconsin. View the original source document: WHI 83020

An exceptional collection of early photographic proofs of Taliesin, architect Frank Lloyd Wright's Wisconsin home and studio in Wyoming, Wisconsin, just outside of Spring Green. The images provide a rare glimpse of the structure in its earliest incarnations. Wright redesigned and rebuilt Taliesin numerous times during his lifetime.

A Rare Glimpse on the Structure of Taliesin

The structural changes to Taliesin, whether a result of fire or an outgrowth of Wright's ever-evolving philosophy about domestic architecture, often went undocumented photographically — especially the earliest iterations of the building, Taliesin I (1911-1914) and Taliesin II (1915-1925). These photographs document the celebrated structure from late 1911 to circa 1924.

EnlargeSoutheast elevation of Taliesin in winter. Construction debris is scattered around the building base.

Taliesin I Southwest Elevation, 1911

Wyoming, Wisconsin. The earliest proof from the set. It depicts Taliesin I during construction. View the original source document: WHI 83133

Documenting Wright's First Designs for Taliesin

These 25 rare vintage photographic proofs document Wright's first design for his residence and studio, Taliesin I, as well as how he redesigned a portion of the structure after the residence was destroyed in a fire in 1914. The earliest image is a view of Taliesin I in winter, probably late 1911, while the building was still under construction with later images showing how the building, known as Taliesin II, looked between 1915 and 1924 prior to a second fire that again destroyed the living room portion of the residence. These images not only document the building itself, but also show Taliesin's relationship to the surrounding landscape, something Wright often spoke and wrote about when discussing architecture.

Henry Fuermann and Sons Photographic Proofs

EnlargeDining room in Taliesin II. Several pieces of Asian art decorate the space.

Taliesin II Dining Room, 1920

Wyoming, Wisconsin. Rare interior photograph of Taliesin II near Spring Green, Wisconsin taken by the Henry Fuermann and Sons photography studio. View the original source document: WHI 83015

In addition to illustrating the evolution of Taliesin, these photographs also provide insight into Wright's use of photography to publicize his work. The Chicago photography firm of Henry Fuermann and Sons, whom Wright frequently used to photograph his buildings, took most, if not all of these proofs. Clarence Fuermann, Henry Fuermann's son, was probably the photographer. These images of Taliesin I and Taliesin II, and how the building relates to the surrounding landscape, illustrate how Wright wanted his architecture portrayed in contemporary publications. Several of these images were published in "Architectural Record" in 1912 and 1915, "Western Architecture" in 1913 and in "Wendingen," a magazine published in the Netherlands from 1918-1932.

A number of these photographs, however, have never been published and were unknown to experts in the field. Neil Levine, professor of architectural history at Harvard University, notes:

One of the reasons these photographic proofs are so important is that they reveal for the first time what may well be the entire set of photos commissioned by Wright of Taliesin shortly after it was completed and with the intention of being used for publication. Another equally important reason is that they are the proofs for these photos, and thus show what was captured by the camera before cropping. They therefore differ from the final photographs that have been published and preserved in various archival collections. They are unique.

How the Collection Came to the Society

News began to circulate about the photographic proofs when Judy Eggleston, owner of Judy's Antiques, put them up for sale as individual items on the online auction service eBay in February 2011. Almost immediately a significant buzz arose among a network of Wright scholars, aficionados and collectors around the country — a buzz that drew the attention of members of several Wright-related organizations as well.

After an urgent appeal by members of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy and the Frank Lloyd Wright Wisconsin Tourism Program, Eggleston decided to remove the photographic proofs from eBay and to sell them as a group to the Wisconsin Historical Foundation, the Society's private support organization. I decided it would be nice to keep them together in a public institution, she said.

The first and foremost concern was to avoid having the collection split up among multiple private collectors. A total of 28 donors from coast to coast contributed to the effort. The proofs now take their place in the Society's Archives, which already holds thousands of Wright-related photographs, drawings and documents. They complement another set of Taliesin images contained in an album from about the same time period, purchased on eBay in 2005.

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