Frank Lloyd Wright’s History in Southwest Wisconsin


Morgan Fuerstenberg graphic

Kieran Murphy gave a lecture about Frank Lloyd Wright at the Platteville Public Library on Saturday, April 29. Murphy, is a nationally recognized historian on Frank Lloyd Wright and his home, Taliesin.

Wright was born in Richland Center in 1867. His mother’s family owned land in Spring Green, where Wright would spend many of his days growing up. The land, nicknamed “The Valley,” would be influential to his future builds.

Wright began architecture school in Chicago shortly after dropping out of high school. He built his first home in Oak Park, IL.

He spent 20 years in Chicago, and it was there that he developed his famous Prairie Style houses.

These houses are known for their single levels with an open floor plan as well as low roofs.

After building what’s known as the Edwin Cheney house for a client of the same name, Wright would begin an affair with Cheney’s wife, Mamah.

The pair traveled together for some time before Wright made the decision to buy land back in The Valley and return to Wisconsin.

In 1911, Wright began construction on what would become Taliesin. Taliesin is a Welsh word meaning “Shining Brow,” and was chosen as an ode to his mother’s Welsh heritage. The living quarters of Taliesin were built into the brow of a hill rather than on top.

Taliesin was Wright’s first “natural home,” meaning that he used local resources in order to build it, such as stone and other building material. He also built a workshop where he drafted his buildings and worked with several apprentices.

Unfortunately, Wright would experience many debilitating hardships beginning in August of 1914 when a servant burned down the living quarters of Taliesin and murdered seven people, including Mamah.

Murphy said, “Wright was emotionally devastated by this,” and quoted his autobiography where Wright wrote, “Taliesin should live to show something more for its mortal sacrifice than a charred and terrible ruin on a lonely hillside in the beloved Valley.”

Murphy also noted that Wright was an extremely well spoken and eloquent man. Despite the trying times, Wright immediately began reconstruction on the home, which he renamed Taliesin II.

In the 1920s, Wright began a large commission to work on the Imperial Hotel in Japan.

While in Japan, he collected copious amounts of art, which inspired his later interior designs in Taliesin II.

However, in 1925 Taliesin II would experience a second fire, brought on by faulty electrical wiring.

Murphy said that “once again, everything got destroyed down to the stone.”

All the art he had collected in Japan was unfortunately destroyed. One news article from the time read, “Wonder Bungalow Burns to Ground.”

Again, Wright was knocked down. He struggled to rebuild, and then when the Great Depression hit, he lost Taliesin to the bank. Commissions were absent, so money was tight for him and his family.

At this time, he would be with his third wife, Olgivanna, who he would be with until the end of his life.

“His life falling apart made it difficult for him to get clients,” Murphy said. However, “Olgivanna was a strong woman and very optimistic.” She helped Wright to attract clients and used her connections to find apprentices to help rebuild Taliesin.

In 1932, Wright and  Olgivanna would begin the Taliesin Fellowship. Wright’s apprentices lived at the home, worked there and could be dispatched to work on commissions as well.

It was not until Edgar Kauffman commissioned Wright to build his home that Wright’s life began to improve.

The Kauffman house would become Fallingwater, one of Wright’s most famous builds.

“This dramatically changed everything,” Murphy said. Until this point, everyone thought that Wright was a victim of tragedy, washed up and old news, until this build.

The fellowship continued to thrive, with apprentices coming and going. Wright would build Taliesin West in Arizona, where he would travel to and from in the winter months, taking his work with him. By the 1950s, people were saying that Wright was the greatest architect of the twentieth century.

He worked until his death in 1959, where he encouraged his apprentices to keep creating, and many would become successful architects. The Fellowship would become an accredited architecture school.

UNESCO recognized several Frank Lloyd Wright builds as World Heritage Sites in 2018, including Fallingwater. Information about Kieran Murphy can be found online at her website: