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The Battle For Taliesin

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There was a great battle Saturday morning
From when the sun rose until it grew dark.
The fourfold hosts of Fflamddwyn invaded,
Goddau and Rheged gathered in arms,
Summoned from Argoed as far as Arfynydd
They might not delay by as much as a day

(The Battle of Argoed Llwyfain from Llyfr Taliesin)


A view of Taliesin I

Frank Lloyd Wright’s enduring creations are a testament to creative excellence and architectural skill. His personal creations like “Falling Water” and “Taliesin” are well known, with many visitors and students. Taliesin was his sprawling home and studio in Spring Green, WI. Wright contributed the “Prairie” and “Usonian” styles home design to American residential architecture. Elements of his designs can be found in a large proportion of homes built today.

A rare collection of photographs detailing the design and construction of the house, circa 1911-’12, was put up for auction on eBay recently by Helen Conwell, who had lived next to Taliesin for many years.

A frenetic bidding battle ensued, but a vigilant retired employee of the Wisconsin Historical Society energized a campaign to preserve the rare material in the hands of the Society. He collected pledges right up to the end of the auction. Many other dealers grappled with the Society. The Society won in the end. The final sale price: $22,100. More details at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel


Taliesin (Wisconsin Historical Society)

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.

Recently, the Conan Doyle collection was on auction — a treasure trove of material from the creator of Sherlock Holmes. This involved a macabre twist — the garroting of a noted Sherlockian scholar with a shoelace. They were finally sold to an unknown buyer for a million pounds.

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