Proud for historic documentation and preservation

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Proud for historic documentation and preservation

Post by Victoria »

I was quite happy when a couple weeks ago the Wisconsin State Historical Society saved a rare album of photos of Taliesin I, which were offered for auction on eBay. A private collector could have gotten these, but instead an important historical archive will get the photogtraphs. Here is a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story with the details if you haven't heard about what $22,000 can buy...

A photo finish

Wright admirers buy historic photos on eBay


Posted: Feb. 1, 2005

Amid the titanium golf clubs, antique clocks, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

action figures and assorted other treasures and trinkets offered up for

sale on eBay, the Internet auction site, there was this entry last

week: a simple, gray album full of old sepia photographs showing the

construction of a house.

Not just any house. The 32 rare snapshots document the 1911-'12

emergence of Frank Lloyd Wright's original Taliesin, his sprawling home

and studio near Spring Green. Racing against time and other collectors,

45 Wright aficionados from around the country cobbled together the $22

,100 it would eventually take to buy the trove for the financially

strapped Wisconsin Historical Society.

They did it in only a few days - a sign of how fervently his admirers

feel about Wright and his place in Wisconsin history.

Jack Holzhueter, a retired society employee who orchestrated the

campaign, worked for almost two straight days collecting pledges, right

up until the bidding ended Friday evening. It was a neck and neck

scramble against a handful of other bidders, he said, including a

dealer from Michigan. Individual pledges, including some from Milwaukee

and many from Chicago, ranged from $50 to $2,500, with $3,000 from the

society itself.

"If a dealer gets these things, they are broken up. That's how people

make their money," Holzhueter said. "For people who care about Wright,

it would have been a disaster. We knew it was important to keep the

photographs together."

The seller was Helen Conwell, a retired physician from Fairhope, Ala.

She had acquired the album in 1988 from the estate of Dale O'Brien, who

with his wife, Helen, had been active in the arts community around

Spring Green in the 1960s and '70s. The couple owned land next to

Taliesin and later moved to Fairhope.

Conwell, now 82, said in a telephone interview that she decided to sell

the album when she began downsizing after the death of her husband last

year. She said she didn't expect to get more than "a few hundred


The $22,100 sale price, she said, "has me still sort of floating. And

it's really exciting to have been a part of this."

The 3-by-5 images offer a remarkable glimpse of Taliesin I, as it is

known, in its infancy: One shows its cantilevered roof, stuccoed walls

and jutting balcony, with workmen in the foreground. Another shows the

garden courtyard enclosed by the ground-hugging building. Still others

show the light-filled drafting room, with its pitched roof; the

spacious living room, with its big stone chimney and oak built-ins; and

the house on its hillside perch.

The pictures give no hint of the turbulent history the house would get

caught up in. Taliesin I was built after Wright had left his wife and

family in Oak Park, Ill., to take up residence in Spring Green, the

valley of his Lloyd-Jones forebears, with Mamah Borthwick, the wife of

a former client. In 1914, a servant set the house on fire, destroying

it and killing Borthwick, her two children and four employees.

Wright built a second Taliesin on the foundations of the first; much of

it was lost to another fire, in 1925, caused by faulty wiring. The

architect was continually rebuilding and modifying the house until his

death in 1959.

Very few photographs exist of the original building, which makes the

eBay find so exciting to historians.

"These photographs show Frank Lloyd Wright in a period of transition,

doing experimental work based partly on his experiences in Italy," said

Holzhueter, a Wright buff who is a former editor of the historical

society's Wisconsin Magazine of History and serves on its board of


Just who took the pictures is unknown. Holzhueter suspects that some

may have been shot by Taylor Wooley, one of Wright's draftsmen, and

that, based on the artful way they were composed, others might have

been taken or at least supervised by Wright himself.

"Whoever took them had a pretty sophisticated eye," says Andy

Kraushaar, the historical society's curator of visual materials.

Peter Gottfried, the society's archivist, said it's too soon to know

how the photographs will be used, since the agency doesn't yet have

possession of them. "But we want to make them as publicly available as

possible," he said.

Holzhueter, who cites the historical society's extensive collection of

Wright drawings and other materials, envisions the photos as part of a

major show on Wright in time for the centenary of Taliesin I, in 2011.

From the Feb. 2, 2005, editions of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel


Post by Victoria »

Oops, I should have noticed there was already a thread on the Taliesin album, but maybe the Milwaukee newspaper article will be of interest to someone. Next time I'll more carefully check the postings. :?

Spring Green

Post by Spring Green »

Well, the New York Times Sunday edition (for Feb. 13) has picked up the story, so you might want to check it out. That's all I know, so I have no idea if it's going to be more in-depth. I hope to see how Holzhueter pulled everyone together.

Posts: 264
Joined: Mon Jan 24, 2005 11:14 am
Location: Illinois

Rare Taliesin Images on Display at Governor's Office

Post by therman7g »

When fire gutted Taliesin on August 15, 1914, the entire living quarters of the residence were destroyed. Little documentation of the structure survived the fire, thus Taliesin became one of the most puzzling structures of Wright's career. A photograph album of 33 rare photographs of Taliesin recently acquired by the Wisconsin Historical Society will be unveiled to the public February 15th in the Governor's Conference Room at the State Capitol.

The 33 photographs are in an album once owned by the late Dale O'Brien and his wife Helen, who lived in Spring Green during the 1960s. They were put on the market by Helen Conwell, a retired physician from Fairhope, Alabama, who acquired them from the O'Brien estate 20 years later. Dating from 1911-1912, they show the construction of Wright's original Taliesin enclave before it was destroyed by fire in 1914.

Frank Lloyd Wright built Taliesin, his residence near Spring Green, Wisconsin, as a refuge for himself and for Mamah Borthwick Cheney, his mistress and wife of a former client. Wright designed Taliesin just after returning from Europe, and the building's design showed Wright in a period of architectural experimentation based on his experiences there. It was subsequently rebuilt, only to burn again, and was continually revised throughout the architect's life. These images therefore document Wright's original idea for a creative sanctuary as he first envisioned it.

The new photographs will be available to the public on Tuesday, February 15, in the Governor's Conference Room, Room 115 of the state Capitol between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. Admission is free.

Meanwhile, the Society has images of Wright buildings as well as images of the man himself in Wisconsin Historical Images. We also sell a number of Wright-inspired items within our museum store. ... 001076.asp

:: Posted February 11, 2005

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