I noticed the sign to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West as we were heading to the Rollin’ On TV Shoot in Mesa, AZ. I had never heard of Taliesin but most of us have heard the famous architect’s name. Later I learned that The Taliesin West was Frank Lloyd Wright’s desert laboratory. I knew Laurie was very intrigued by this man and his creations.
Laurie loves gardening and years ago, she had the opportunity to maintain the grounds for a couple who own an original Frank Lloyd Wright house in Webster, MA. She became friendly with the couple and got to know the house well. Thus started her interest in this architectural artist. Knowing this, I made a mental note of the sign as we passed it.
On the way home from the Mesa shoot, I took the exit. Laurie asked where we were going and was delighted when I suggested we visit this ‘museum’ of FLW. Wright gave this land the Welsh name Taliesin, meaning “shining brow.” He placed Taliesin on the brow of a hill, leaving the crown, or top, open.
We arrived at a spacious parking lot that will accommodate even large RVs and headed to the gift shop for tour tickets. We hit it just right and within minutes another tour started. Our tour guide was an amazingly gifted story-teller and for the next hour we enjoyed hearing details about Frank and his much younger third wife, Olgivanna, and their lives here in West Phoenix (Scottsdale), their winter laboratory.
According to the foundation’s website, “At this same time (1911), Wright decided he wanted a more permanent winter residence in Arizona, and he acquired some acreage of raw, rugged desert in the foothills of the McDowell Mountains in Scottsdale. Here he and the Taliesin Fellowship began the construction of Taliesin West as a winter camp, a bold new endeavor for desert living where he tested design innovations, structural ideas, and building details that responded to the dramatic desert setting. Wright and the fellowship established migration patterns between Wisconsin and Arizona, which the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture continues to this day.”
Apprentices who came with Frank were called students and they learned how to take the environment and craft buildings that blended into the area rather than standing out from it. They lived primitively with their first task being to create their own shelters/tents, some which still remain today. Today, Taliesin West is an accredited college for architects of his methods. There were 20 students in the classroom lab as we toured, some who live in the same shelters created by their predecessors.
It was fun sitting in the various buildings on original furniture that also blended into nature while being brought back in time to when the Wright’s entertained, or the ‘disagreements’ they had that finally produced glass windows over open air structures which invited insects and critters in. Frank didn’t want anything to be in the way of nature. Ceilings were created with canvas to subdue the light but not block it.
Many many ideas used today started with Frank and his laboratory. Lighting inserted into floors, lighting pathways from walls, and much more.
His musical theater impressed us so much. It is acoustically designed in such a way that a mere whisper from the stage can be heard way in the back with no artificial amplification. The multi-tiered theater seating created a comfortable setting for their guests to enjoy performances choreographed by Mrs. Wright. Students were used as the actors and then as the waitstaff and then as hosts and hostesses for their guests. The Wrights strived to teach students many aspects of life from being entertainers to staff to conversationalists.
During these theatrical performances, the Wrights would seat their guests on the lower tiers, closer to the stage. They would sit in the back of the room and could hear all the conversations going on! Isn’t that fascinating?
Another bit of history that stuck with me is that Frank had two sons from his first wife who grew up without him. Fascinatingly, both also became architects and, in fact, John Lloyd Wright, second son, invented the famous ‘Lincoln Logs’.
This tour was a wonderful way to spend an afternoon. Gorgeous desert mountain scenery, fascinating history and right in Scottsdale just outside of Phoenix, AZ! We were still in April, yet it was too hot to stand in the sun unprotected so we highly suggest that you have an ample sun hat, or a shade umbrella and water to take on the tour. About 50% is walking the beautiful grounds outside and 50% inside his unique buildings. The tour does have a basket of shade umbrellas for the visitor’s use.
Mrs. Wright was an artist and encouraged liberal arts with the students and the focus on art continues. There are wonderful pieces of art around the area and available in the gift shop. If money were no object, we would certainly have one or two of these in our home!
One last tantalizing memory from our visit. Our tour guide told us many people claim the water from the wells on the property contain minerals that increase longevity, and, in fact, there are still a handful of people who studied with Frank who live and work on the campus! We were encouraged to fill our water bottles with the water from the bubblers.
So, we highly recommend this Hangout and Stop for you RVer’s in the Phoenix area!