Touring Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin in Wisconsin

Taliesin in Spring Green, Wis. ©Melanie Radzicki McManus

Taliesin in Spring Green, Wis. ©Melanie Radzicki McManus

When you live in Frank Lloyd Wright’s former backyard, you hear lots of stories. The famous architect was a skinflint who never paid his taxes. He was a scoundrel who bullied people and thought he was all that. He had expensive tastes and carelessly blew through his money (hence his tax evasion tendencies). He left his wife and six kids to shack up with a lover.

Then you take one of the tours offered at Taliesin, Wright’s long-time home and studio in Spring Green, Wis., and learn all of those stories are … true. And that there’s a whole lot more where they came from. Like the stories behind some of Wright’s early home-building contracts. In addition to specifying the materials to be used and their prices – standard contract fare – Wright threw in a clause stipulating he also got to design all of the home’s furnishings, accessories, carpets and draperies, plus the exterior landscaping.

Taliesin Visitor Center, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. ©Melanie Radzicki McManus

Taliesin Visitor Center, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. ©Melanie Radzicki McManus

If you think that’s a bit controlling, the contracts further demanded that the home’s new owners ditch all of their personal belongings, moving in solely with the clothes on their backs and a toothbrush. As long as they owned the home, they could never change a single thing unless Wright agreed. Oh, and the architect could drop in unannounced at any time to make sure they were complying. The only thing crazier than drawing up such a contract is signing one. But loads of people did.

In Your Bucket Because …

  • You’re a Frank Lloyd Wright fan.
  • You’re an architecture buff.
  • Good for those who enjoy history, architecture, the outdoors.

Taliesin turned 100 years old in 2011, and was recently named “Top Wisconsin Landmark” by the Travel Channel. Although it’s hidden in a rural divet of land in southwestern Wisconsin and only open six months of the year, 25,000 people still head over annually for a tour — thanks, in part, to the enduring allure of Mr. Wright himself. Wright is widely considered the greatest architect of the 20th century, and the greatest American architect of all time. The Prairie Style he popularized is a form of “organic architecture,” which focuses on creating structures that appear to be part of their surroundings, frame landscapes and/or are crafted from materials native to the site, among other criteria. Two of his most notable projects are the Guggenheim Museum in New York and Fallingwater, a Pennsylvania home built over a waterfall.

Choosing a Tour

Nearly a dozen tours are offered at Taliesin, ranging from a one-hour tour of Wright’s studio and theater to a half-day tour of the entire estate to a specialty landscape tour. The tours can be pricey — up to about $80 for the four-hour Estate Tour — but the guides are well-versed in all things Wright, and the architect was such a colorful character that you’ll likely find much of the tour quite interesting, even if you’re not an architecture buff.

Taliesin windmill. ©Melanie Radzicki McManus

Taliesin windmill. ©Melanie Radzicki McManus

How can you not be fascinated to learn, for example, that Wright built Taliesin for his lover and her two kids, only to learn one day that they were savagely hacked to death with an ax by a disgruntled employee? (The deranged dude killed several other employees during his rampage, then torched the place.) Or that he was obsessed with designing chairs, and often insisted home-buyers purchase them — yet he knew they were uncomfortable, so he secretly bought his own personal chair from Marshall Field’s?

If you’re a rabid Wright fan, consider booking a stay at the Seth Peterson Cottage while you’re in the area. The cottage was one of Wright’s last commissions, which he took on in 1958, when he was 90. (FYI: the cottage is generally booked out 1-2 years.)

Before you leave, make sure to really drink in the landscape. Taliesin sits in gorgeous, hilly pocket of land, and its beauty deeply touched Wright. For a man with his keen sense of aesthetics, that really says something.

Practicalities

  • Taliesin can only be seen by guided tour. The regular season is May 1 – Oct. 31.
  • Tours often sell out in advance, so make reservations as early as you can.
  • Wear sturdy shoes during your tour, as you’ll likely be walking on a variety of surfaces, plus up and down hills.
  • Build in time to dine at the Riverview Terrace Café, located in the Wright-designed Visitor Center. Brunch, lunch and dinner are served; reservations are strongly recommended for dinner. The building also houses the Taliesin Bookstore, which has a lot of unique, quality items for sale.
  • For more information, see Taliesin Preservation, Inc.

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