Trip number four Arizona to Wisconsin.
Roy and I together again in the Henry J. Our plan was to visit as many Wright buildings as we could. We got to and into most and I will probably leave out some we saw. It was a major tour and not direct in any way.
My first job.
My first job as an apprentice was to dust in Mr. Wright’s private office and bedroom in the main house at Taliesin in Spring Green, Wisconsin. Mr. Wright had passed in April and there I was in his private space in September, five months after his death. Nothing in this space had been moved. I was left alone and task with dusting the whole room but to make sure that I put everything back exactly as it was and as Mr. Wright had last left these personal items. What a great opportunity to see how Mr. Wright lived and what items were important to him.
Hillside Dining Room
More small jobs in Wisconsin.
I had learned of Bruce Goff, Architect by now. The old guard at the Fellowship said that Goff was to be avoided. So, our first stop was Bartlesville, Oklahoma and a visit to the Price tower with Bruce Goff and Arthur Dyson who was apprenticing with Goff. Mr. Goff welcomed Roy and I. We slept under the drafting boards in Goff’s office. Art gave us a tour of all the Wright and Goff houses in town. We got into the Joe Price Studio. My eyes were opened to the new possibilities of Organic expression.
Mr. Wright passed away in April of 1959. I was in my first year of college at Northwestern Michigan College, in Traverse City, Michigan. I had planned on going to Architecture School the next year. I was aware of Mr. Wright and his work because of a friendship with my neighbor Will Willsey. Will had been an apprentice with Mr. Wright for two years in 1945-46. I ask Will which school I should attend? He answered that the best place even after the death of Mr. Wright would be Taliesin. He said write to Gene Masselink and see if the Fellowship was going to continue offering apprenticeships. I did write and went for an interview with Mrs. Wright in July 1959. I was accepted and started my apprenticeship in September of 1959
Ken put me on re-shingling the roof over the small kitchen located just at the entry of the Taliesin main house. It was leaking. My job was to strip off the old wood shingles and replace with new wood shingles. Like most jobs in construction, I had never done this before. Ken showed me how and then stopped by during the day to see how I was doing. I always felt that working on Taliesin was a great opportunity to understand the architecture up close and in detail. Always stories from the senior in charge about why and how the construction was done in just this way or that. Often the Taliesin way was experimental.
Driving trips between the two Taliesin’s:
The monotony of the driving trips over the same routs twice a year, got to be too much for two seniors. To make them more interesting Wes Peters and Davy Davidson tried ways to make the trip more interesting. The two ways were a challenge to see how fast they could make the trip and who could make the trip in the shortest distance.
Wes had a Mercedes 300 SLR gull wing and Davy another very high-powered car. Well as the story goes Wes won the fastest time. He got several speeding tickets. There was no Interstate so the driving was all on two lane highways through all the small towns and cities.
The other shortest distance was a different challenge. Some of the trip was across open fields and short cuts to reduce the total distance. I don’t recall the winner.
Construction and maintenance work.
I was assigned construction and building maintenance jobs during the week for most the time I was in the Fellowship. I will tell of the many such jobs over the rest of this account. These jobs were led by a senior apprentice and we junior apprentices were learning helpers.
TEA HOUSE for TALIESIN FELLOWSHIP, Spring Green, Wisconsin 5 OCT. 1959
JAMES WALTER SCHILDROTH, DESIGNER
It was not bad for my first design but as I looked around at what others had designed, I realized that I had a long way to go. How did the others come up with their form and idea? How did they get the idea?
I had a copy of the book, "A Testament", by Mr. Wright, given to me by my mother a few years before. I had read every word and memorized every photo and drawing. The secret to original design was in that book but I did not understand it yet. I continued to design other projects, one after the other.
I was not assigned to work in the drafting room during the regular work day until over a year later; however, I did have my drafting board in the Great Draughting Space and used all my spare time to work on my designs. I turned out about one a month while I was an apprentice, which amounted to over two dozen designs, mostly houses. Designing was what I lived for and why I was at Taliesin.
We drove north to The Rosenbaum House, a single-family house designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright and built for Stanley and Mildred Rosenbaum in Florence, Alabama. The Rosenbaum’s again welcomed us in and we had a good visit. The living room walls were lined with book shelves and filled with books. I asked Stanley if he had read all these books and he replied that he had. These books shelves had two functions. The shelving stiffened the walls of the house as well held books.
Hillside from car court
An account of my experience as an apprentice during the years of 1959 to 1961
To be continued. There is much more.
By James Walter Schildroth, Architect
A typical day in the Fellowship.
Breakfast was served from 6:30 AM to 7:30 AM. We all washed our own dishes after each meal. From 7:30 AM until 9 AM was time to do my own design work. This was time for choir’s rehearsal. Often there would be a call from Ling Po for garden period during our Wisconsin stay. Taliesin had very large vegetable and flower gardens. We would all drive to the garden that need weeding and work for an hour. The car radio was tuned to Wisconsin Public Radio morning classical music. At 9 AM was the start of the work day. A break for lunch and back to work until 4 PM when tea was served marking the end of required work. We had time after tea to work until dinner at 7:30 PM and time after that until 10:30 PM which was lights out.
The tent was a place to sleep and get some private time way from the center of activity. I often would pull up one corner of the tent so I could look up at the stars before falling asleep.
Arizona tours started at the office (B). We walked the group out to the point and back and into the Garden Room (D). This took them through the compression and release experience. The entry ceiling of the entry of the garden room was 6’-2” and this always generated lots of questions. At that time the low beams in the dining room and pergola were also 6’-2”. Mr. Wright was experimenting with scale.
The tour continued into the breezeway (I) and into the dining room and on into the Kiva (M) and into the apprentice court. Then continued down the pergola along the outside of the drafting room (A) and into the Cabrera theater and up into the pavilion. This was 1959-1961 and there was no gift shop or book store.
Arizona got more visitors than Wisconsin but there was a steady flow and we tour guides were very busy. I learned to manage large groups. I learned that I needed to keep them together and moving or they would go in all directions.
I mostly tried to give a truthful explanation of life at Taliesin and just why the architecture was as it was. Depending on the interest of the group I would make the tour fast or slow. I would also adjust the story to fit the situation. One did not need to embellish the truth very much at Taliesin. The reality was so different than normal that was usually enough for people. The Taliesin Fellowship, where we paid to work. A school, where there were no classes. No outside paid help, we did all the jobs necessary to operate and maintain the buildings.
The question may be, what did we get out of all this and was it of value? The answer is, Taliesin Fellowship, was the greatest learning experience of my life. I will go into this in more detail later.
Saturday lunch was borscht and kasha. Russian kasha refers to various dishes which are created with cereals, most commonly rice, wheat, or millet, and pseudo cereals like buckwheat and quinoa. The dish is usually boiled in water and milk, and ranges from sweet to savory in flavor. It was good but we called the meal Borscht and Bird seed.
Week long jobs continue.
There were two apprentice meal servers assigned for each week. This job like many others would be rotated and come around about every six weeks. The server’s job was to come for each meal and server the meals to the rest of the Fellows seated in the dining room. Not very complicated but necessary to operate the place. Everyone cleared their own dishes and washed them after eating.
After diner, the meal servers job included cleaning up the kitchen, dining room, kitchen and washing the cooking pots and pans.
Joe Price Studio, Bruce Goff, Architect. Interior and exterior
How did we learn?
Any job as an apprentice was an opportunity to learn about Mr. Wright and how he made Organic Architecture. No formal classes or teaching at Taliesin. All necessary jobs to operate the two Taliesin properties were done by the 90 or so apprentices. No outside paid people were used. This meant that every job was assigned to an apprentice. The day-to-day jobs were put on the work list published every week and rotated through the apprentices. Kitchen help, family server, tea cook, breakfast cook and regular cook. There was a shopper for everything needed.
James at 19 years old.
Wisconsin tours were only through the Hillside building from drafting room, Roberts room, living room, dining room, kitchen to theater. The main house and other building were not included.
Taliesin West Living, Scottsdale, Arizona.
There were some apartments in the main building. A few separate small cottages and shelters at Taliesin West. Most of the junior apprentices were assigned a tent site that was a 9 x 9 concrete slab with low walls and a white canvas four-sided pyramid tent on the top. Our clothing was kept in large lockers in the shower room. Drafting and books were kept at the drafting table located in the great drafting room. I enjoyed tent living close to the natural desert. My first year I was not familiar with the desert and concerned about the animals, snakes and such. I bought a large flash light and some high leather boots to walk out to my tent site on the desert path. My second year I had no flash light and wore only flip-flops sandals. I added a small fireplace to my tent the second year for a little warmth as temperature in the desert could get down to freezing. I had a sleeping bag on a thin mattress on a sheet of plywood balanced on three concrete blocks. Some pack rats lived under my bed. You had to be careful not to leave small things out or they would trade a cactus ball for the item.
I have more stories and will add them later.
If you have any question contact me via e-mail; firstname.lastname@example.org
I am pleased to reply. James Schildroth
We had Monday afternoon off. A group of us would go into town to shop and eat out. Our favorite in Wisconsin was the Brat Haus in Madison and Mag’s in Scottsdale. Lunch at Taliesin was left overs from the week.
Jobs at Taliesin West.
Sunday breakfast was at 10 AM and was also formal dress. Mrs. Wright would attend and after the meal we would listen to a recording of Mr. Wright’s breakfast talks. Mrs. Wright would talk with the group after that on whatever she wished. A time for some discussion with members of the fellowship. After breakfast we had the day to ourselves. A time to do our own design projects. In the evening there was another formal dinner with a social cocktail in the living room. An opportunity for the guests to talk with the apprentices.
Plan of Taliesin West.
My first year at Taliesin West I was made Camp Plumber under the supervision of Ken Lockhart. I did not know much about plumbing but after two winters in Arizona I became experienced. Any plumbing problem and I was called. I replaced a lot of sink faucet gaskets. Every sink and faucet in the place were of a different manufacture. I think that Mr. Wright would get a free sink from every client job to use at the two Taliesin. We did some major plumbing projects. One to increase the water pressure in the east end of Taliesin West. We installed a pump in the main line and turned it on, no change in pressure. We found that there was actually a loop in the supply system and we found a valve that when closed allowed the pressure to increase. There were no record plans of where the pipes were located. I don’t believe there are any as built plans to this day.
Trip number three Wisconsin to Arizona.
I had become good friends with Roy Guderian by this time. The two of us had remained late at Taliesin as kitchen help support for several seniors finishing a major architectural project. We all had Thanksgiving dinner together in the upper room next to the tower at the main house. We had both Duck and Turkey at a formal meal. Got out all the best tableware and crystal. It was great to be part of this small group of senior Fellows. I showed Wes how to make the crystal glass sing by rubbing the top edge. He enjoyed doing this. Cornella was concerned and said “do you know how much these glasses cost.”
Towards the end of November Roy and I started driving to Arizona in his Henry J. We first drove to Minneapolis. We visited the Malcolm Willey house, and the Donald and Virginia Lovness estate in Stillwater, Minnesota. We were welcomed into these houses by the original owners. They wanted to learn all the news from Taliesin. The outside temperature was nearly zero degrees and when we entered the Lovness house I experience floor heat for the first time. It just warmed me from the feet up. I was cold as the Henry J did not have a very good heater.
We also got into the Little House and the great living space. This room is now in the New York Metropolitan as the house was demolished sometime after 1960.
Our trip continued to Iowa. We got into the Grant House and the Walter house. Again, the original owners welcomed us. On west to Aspen, Colorado to visit Charles Patterson. Charles outfitted Roy and I with skis and his father took us up to ski for the afternoon.
The trip continued across monument valley and some of it on dirt roads. We made a two week tour out it the trip.
This week-long job was basically trash collector. It was a bit of freedom and in Wisconsin we had a jeep pickup truck to drive. Each day the task was to drive to all parts of the estate and collect the trash and take it to the disposal area several miles way. The other task was to pick up the food waste separated just to feed the hogs and take to Midway where the hogs were outside in a large field. I had some experience with hogs as I had spent most of my summer working on my uncle’s farm in southern Michigan. The hogs were feed by dumping the contents of the large garbage cans into long metal troughs on the ground. The trick was to drive quickly and back the truck up to the fence. Get that first can off the truck and into the trough before the hogs could get up from the field. If I was too slow the hogs would be milling around and they were very large and it was very dangerous to get in with them. So get that first of two cans into the trough and that would keep the hogs occupied while I got the second can off the truck. We called the hogs ‘The Girls’. We had a hose at the fence and rinsed out the cans. The hogs enjoyed a good hosing down after they ate.
About a year after I was an apprentice a new fellow joined from Long Island New York. He got assigned to sanitation and feeding the hogs. He had never had anything to do with farm work. He came and got me and I showed him the way to feed the hogs.
Sanitation in Arizona was about the same as Wisconsin but we had no hogs in Arizona. The collection of the trash around Taliesin West and load it into the VW combi and take it to a location in the desert under the power lines and dousing it with kerosene and burning it. Tal Davison was 16 years old and the son of senior architect Davy Davison. I was just 19 years old so about the nearest to my age. Tal was on sanitation the week before me and suggested that instead of kerosiene he used gasoline. We tried the gasoline and found that it was more fun. The explosion could be seen from the drafting room as trash was blown into the air. Well, this did not last very long. The word came that Mrs. Wright wanted to see both of us. Mrs. Wright was rightly concerned and told us to stop doing it which we did.
Mrs. Wright’s kept all the Fellowship members living and working in harmony. It was very necessary for a successful functioning of the 90 people at the Taliesin Fellowship.
On full time tour guide:
An apprentice Roy told me about was Kamal Amin’s brother Mosen (sp). Mosen was a very colorful fellow according to Roy. He stayed with a few others at Taliesin West during the summer when the rest of the Fellowship was in Wisconsin. One story Roy told about Mosen giving a tour to several people. Summer temperatures could reach well over 100 degrees. Mosen dress was a straw hat, shorts and cowboy boots with a loaded six shooter strapped at his waist. As the tour moved toward the point a rattle snake let them know they were to close. Mosen dew his gun and shot the snake through the head and calmly went on with the tour. The visitors were stunned. Apparently, it is not difficult to hit a rattle snake in the head as the snake will strike at the bullet.
Mosen was on the lookout for beautiful women visitors. He would jump into action and offer to give them a personal tour. At the end of the tour, he would say “would like to come to my tent for a drink?” Some did. Some declined the invitation and Mosen would just say “stupid girl”.
Two apprentices were assigned each week to give tours. Each day there were people coming to see the Taliesin’s. I enjoyed the job. It was an opportunity to teach the public about Frank Lloyd Wright and our life at Taliesin. The money from the tours helped support the expenses of the Fellowship.
Most people were very interested. They had lots of preconceptions of what was going on at Taliesin and who Mr. Wright was as a man and architect. Our job as tour guides was to tell them the truth.
The week-long kitchen duty was staffed by the cooks and two kitchen helpers. There was an opportunity as a Fellowship member to learn how to cook. You would be trained by the experienced cooks and when they felt you could do the job you stated as tea cook and moved on to breakfast cook and finally general cook.
I did not want to learn to cook as I thought it would take my mind off my design focus and so I was just kitchen help for my entire time in the Fellowship.
Kitchen help was seven long days in the kitchen doing whatever the cooks ask us to do. We were preparing three meals a day for 60 or more. The days started very early at about 6 AM to help the breakfast cook. There were two kitchen helpers. One that stayed in the main kitchen and a family server helper that also worked in the main kitchen but took meals to be served to Mrs. Wright, Iovanna, Wes Peters, and other guests at the main house.
After breakfast the regular cook came on duty and we started to prepare for lunch and later dinner. Between lunch and dinner, the tea cook came in and prepared some cake and cookies to serve at 4 PM tea.
As kitchen help, I washed all the pots and pans for all the cooks and as I said did whatever, I was asked to do in preparation of the meals. The kitchen help day ended after serving dinner. The two meal servers for the day had to wash the dinner cooking pots and pans. As kitchen help, we got a few short breaks during the day but it was still a long work day and no time for anything else.
I did find that my mind was working in the back ground as I did kitchen and other work assignments. I often got my best ideas for my design projects while I was working at some other task.
Kitchen help tasks went beyond the kitchen. We would go out and harvest from the large vegetable garden. Pick enough Brussels sprots or tomatoes to feed 60 plus people. Go to the Taliesin dairy farm and pick-up large cans of milk for the meals. On one such trip I got to the farm just as a calf was being born. Taliesin had a fully operational farm during my time.
First trip: Wisconsin to Arizona.
I had no car during my two year stay in the Fellowship. I was given the job to drive a pickup truck with Fellow apprentice Willie Leroy Miller as my companion. The truck was a Fellowship vehicle painted Taliesin Red with TALIESIN lettered on the doors. I was to do all the driving which I did. Most of the cargo was Mrs. Wright’s things. We were charged with taking the most direct route and to get to Arizona as soon as possible without breaking any laws.
It was my first trip west of Wisconsin. Both Willy and I remarked about the changing natural landscape as we drove west. Willy kept quoting the line from big country: “Big country-yes dam big”. We were stopped by the state police in Grants, New Mexico. Had to unload the contents of the truck so they could check for suspicious cargo. None was found and we continued. Arizona was like arriving on another planet.
After Bartlesville we went to Dallas, Texas and got into the John Gillin Residence and The Kalitia Humphreys Theater.
We visited the Sterling Kinney house - Amarillo, Texas. Mr. Kinney told us many stories about working with Mr. Wright. One story Mr. Kinney told goes like this: Mr. Kinney questioned the length of the roof overhang. Mr. Wright answered: “The overhang as I have designed it is just right but if you want it all the way down to the creek, we will change it.” Mr. Kinney was satisfied and the overhang remained as designed.
Repairing and refinishing the barrel chairs.
Ken Lockhart selected Dick Miller and I for a special job. The chairs at the dining table in the main house at Taliesin were the classic barrel chairs. These six chairs needed to be stripped of the finish and refinished. They also had a crack in the back just above the point where the arms met the back. Ken had decided to add reinforcing at this point. A thin half circle wood piece was to be glued to each side of the back. This was done in the summer of 1960. We worked at this job for a few weeks. I see in recent photos that the job we did is still working to this day.
I learned later that I was the first person to want to come to the Fellowship since Mr. Wright had passed away. There were about 90 members in the Fellowship at the date of Mr. Wright’s death. About 30 apprentices had left the Fellowship since April. Mrs. Wright was concerned that this exodus would continue and she would be abandoned at Taliesin. My showing up and coming was a sign that new people would still want to join the Fellowship.
The truth of the situation was that the architectural practice had about 75 active jobs in the studio. The senior architects and apprentices were very busy doing these projects.
Taliesin Apprenticeship was the most important experience of my life. I was nineteen in September of 1959 when my father dropped me off at Tanyderi and drove off down the hill. The room assigned to me was on the top floor with an eastern view toward Taliesin in the distance. Each morning at sunrise I would awake and look over toward the sun rising over Taliesin. I was in paradise. I had come to Taliesin with one intention, to see if in my own mind I could be an architect. I wanted to design buildings the way Frank Lloyd Wright designed his architecture. I had decided I would stay at Taliesin until I learned how to do this.
The weekend was different.
Saturday was the day everyone was assigned a job to maintain the site or buildings.
Saturday maintenance job.
My job in Wisconsin was to cut the grass around Hillside. There was a lot of grass. I had two power mowers. One was a push mower and the other was self-propelled. One Saturday I got the idea to attach the push mower to the self-propelled. I then got a length of rope and a wooden stake. I attached one end to the stake and the other to the front of the self-propelled which pulled the second mower. I then set them to going at the outer limit of the circle and let it wind itself up around the stake. I went over to site under a nearby tree and relax. This was soon noticed and everyone came out of the drafting room to see my invention.
Left to right Jim Schildroth, Thomas Casey, Lu Howe, Louis Weihle and Roy Guderian seated. Many years later, Lew Howe sent me this, with the note below the photo “do you remember”.
I felt very included after that and the Fellowship population stabilized and began to increase with new applicant’s arriving.
Roy Guderian was an apprentice for the last two years of Mr. Wright’s life and for three years after. We became good friends during my time as an apprentice. Roy had many stories of Mr. Wight and the Fellowship that he related to me.
One of my jobs in Wisconsin was patching the black top paving on the inside road between Taliesin and Hillside. Some potholes would happen from time to time. My job was to fill the holes. Ken Lockhart showed me how this was done the first time and then it was my solo job for the next two summers.
We had a trunk load of cold patch nearby. I would hand shovel some of the cold patch into the back of the truck. Drive the truck to each pothole and hand fill the holes then to compress the patch I would drive the truck over the patch.
Saturday dinner was formal and Mrs. Wright and her guest would join the fellowship. We had the dinner in Wisconsin in the theater foyer area. The meal in Arizona was in the theater. After the meal there was always a movie shown. Taliesin had movie theater quality projectors. Mrs. Wright love Russian movies and would interpret as the movie was playing.
Hanging the concrete doors.
One of the major construction projects in 1960 was the addition to the Sun Cottage called the Atrium. This was used to have parties and other large events. During a month-long visit to Taliesin West in 1995 this space was a second drafting room. I worked in this room with Tom Casey to design an addition to the Wisconsin Visitor Center that was never built. Gene Masselink had designed the doors. I was on the 1960 construction crew working on the Atrium job and helped to hang these very heavy doors. As with all construction projects done at Taliesin, Mrs. Wright would schedule a party or event to be held in the place. She knew that it would get the work done if she had a dead line. We always seemed to manage to meet the dead line. The event at the Atrium was a waltz party with many outside guests invited. We all got to be part of the event and I remember dancing with Clare Booth Luce. Taliesin was this great mix of hard physical labor and formal dinners and parties with many important guests. We as apprentices were included and learned how to conduct ourselves.
Construction in Wisconsin at Taliesin 1960
A major refinishing and rebuilding were done in the living room and entry at the main house.
The stone work next to the dining table was furred and plastered floor to ceiling. Mrs. Wright said she wanted to modernize the room.
She also thought that the stone columns in the entry and along the hall leading from the living room to the Blue Loggia looked old and shabby. So, they were removed and replace. I was on this crew. We removed the stone columns at the end near the blue Loggia and the beam above dropped about three feet along with the ceiling. We jacked it up and everything went back in place. All of the stone columns were rebuilt new in just the same location. My part was mixing the plaster and mortar for the people doing the work.
So far, the materials for the desert masonry were free. We apprentices were paying to do the work. The cement was costly. The 1x12 rough form boards and 2x4’s cost but were reused many times.
Desert masonry was the mother of invention as Taliesin West was built with very little money and a lot of free labor. Mr. Wright used what was available at the site. These conditions of little money and lots of labor were the thing that caused the creation of this new construction method. It is the Organic way.
Here is how we built the Desert Masonry wall. Roughly level the ground. No frost in Arizona so a deep footing is not required. Start with one horizontal 1x12 rough sawn board on each side about 18 inches apart, facing the future wall. Vertical 2x4’s Whalers nailed two feet on center to the outside of the 1x12 and long enough to reach over the top of the future finish wall height. Place stone with flat faces toward the form boards and arrange artistically. To keep concrete from covering the future stone face place wadded up newspaper above each stone. Put lots of stone in the middle so as to minimize the need for concrete. The concrete mix is very dry so that the cement does not run down the face of the exposed stone.
The horizontal boards are added as the wall is built and they provide a texture and horizontal line to the wall. It also provides ease of access to placing the stone as the wall goes higher. Wirer ties between the forms at the whalers keep the forms from spreading.
Early on as Mr. Wright started the first Taliesin West desert masonry, he felt that the walls were too plain and added horizontal 2x4’cut on a 45-degree angle and placed on the inside of the forms at heights that can be seen. Mr. Wright always emphasized the horizontal calling it the earth line.
Building desert masonry was hot work and required large quantities of cold beer. The cans were disposed of in the wall.
The work assignment list.
Each Monday the work assignment list was posted on the central bulletin board. All things necessary to operate and maintain the buildings were done by the Fellowship members. There was no outside paid help during this period. The necessary everyday jobs were assigned to an individual for a week and these tasks were rotated through the members about every six weeks. The jobs were assigned by the senior staff in consultation with Mrs. Wright.
Some of the jobs that I can remember were Kitchen help, Sanitation, Dining room decoration, meal servers, Theater decoration, tour guide, tea cook, breakfast cook, general cook, and shopper. Everyone had a regular job assignment but when your name came up on the work list you had to stop you regular job of that week. My regular job for the first sixteen months of my stay was construction and maintenance. I will go into more detail later as to what kinds on construction and repair work I did.
Construction in Arizona at Taliesin West 1960
I have written about the Atrium addition at the sun cottage. There was also a major remodeling of the area of Mr. and Mrs. Wrights living space east of the garden room. This area was taken down and rebuilt mostly with new steel. Much of the redwood beams and exposed lapboard parapets were rebuilt with steel to look as much like the original wood as possible. The question was; is this in the nature of materials? Steel tube was used for the beams. The lap board parapet was made with steel channels 2”x 12” and welded in place and stepped to look like lap boards. The justification story told by the seniors was that Mr. Wright planned to replace all the red wood at Taliesin West with steel.
What you see at Taliesin West today is the use of a lot of steel. It has the look of redwood in scale and form and is painted Cherokee red.
A long steel wide flange beams was used in the work. The steel company wanted to know if we had a crane to get it off the delivery truck. They told him we could get it off by man power. When the truck arrived with a 40-foot-long beam weighing 50 per foot the fellow said how are you going to get it off the truck? This was not a problem. Someone rang the bell and this summoned everyone to the kitchen. About 30 apprentices picked up the 2000-pound beam and moved it. We had lots of man and woman power at Taliesin.
The same thing happened when loading and unloading the operettic grand piano each year. A dozen or more got around the side of the piano and lifted it up. I was the guy that got under and removed the leges, then the others caried it to and placed it in the moving van.
About two weeks after I joined the Fellowship Mrs. Wright called the whole Fellowship into the living room at Hillside. She asked how people were feeling and what we should do to continue. I was the new boy and she ask me how I was doing? I said that I was glad to be in the Fellowship but there were a lot click. Mrs. Wright said to the gather group “now you all invite Jim to your activities”. I was invited that next weekend to a before Sunday diner drink in the senior fellow’s apartment.
This letter is my most important document dated May 24h, 1961.
Plastered corner in the living room 1960. Note the plaster finish was gold leaf.
Mrs. Wright had a new carpet made for the living room and the runner down the hall. This was the same design done for the Max Hoffman House. To set a dead line Mrs. Wright scheduled a party in the living room with many outside guests invited. Everyone worked to get the work done on time and we did. We apprentices were all at the party and could mix with the outside guests. Formal diner in the Hillside Theater after the cocktail party in the living room.
Replacing the stone step at the entrance to the hillside drafting room.
One days Ken Lockhart rounded up three of us young apprentices. The job was to replace a stone that was crumbling. We needed a rather large stone that fit into the space that the existing stone would leave. The first step was to go to the quarry near-by Hillside. We had to quarry the stone from the natural ledge. Ken showed the three of us what had to be done and we did the work. I had never quarried stone before and neither had the other two fellows. We used a long pry bar and stone chisel to remove the stone from the natural ledge and rough trimmed it to size. It took the three of us to lift the stone into the bed of the truck. We all drove down the hill back to Hillside. After removing the existing crumbling step stone, we did finial sizing and placed the new stepping stone. We grouted around the stone and our job was done for that day.
We all learned a lot about stone quarrying and stone work that day. We also heard many stories about the past history of Taliesin life and Mr. Wright.
Dining room metal chairs.
I was on the crew that built the chairs you see in the Taliesin West dining room. These are the same design as the chairs for Midway Gardens. Ken Lockhart was in charge. We made templates for the circular and other parts. I learned how to use a welder and did a fair amount of welding on this task. Other apprentices made the upholstered seats and backs. We must have made at least 60 of these chairs.
TALIESIN LIFE AND TIMES
The meal operation assignments last for a full week and came around about every six weeks. I could have learned to cook but choose to just be kitchen help for two years. I wanted to keep my mind on design as I worked and not be planning a meal.
I learned a lot about how to design a kitchen. I learned a lot about how to work with the different cooks. Some cooks were very efficient and some were not so much. The kitchen help rotation came on the last day of the former weeks regular cook’s term. We would know from the work list which person we would be helping for the next week. There was one particular cook that was very inefficient. She would start with a small mixing bowl and then move up to a larger and larger bowl. This meant that the helper got a lot of extra bowls to wash. The solution was to hid most of the small and medium size bowls the day before she arrived. This minimized the dish washing work.
The large baking pan were another problem for the helper. I was scrubbing away at one such pan one evening when senior apprentice Ken Lockhart came into the kitchen. He said Jim, if the pan is too baked on it is a ‘soaker’, leave it full of soapy water for the kitchen help in the morning to finish. All tricks of the trade for a young apprentice architect.
Theater decoration was much like Dining room. Fresh flowers for the weekend movie and dinners held in the theater foyer. The Hillside theater space had large desk shelves above. It was common to cut pine boughs and in season fall colored maples branches and place them so they would project out into the space. I was on this job with Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer and he took me to cut a pine bough. The bough he wanted was high up in a pine tree and I had to climb the tree and saw it off. It was all good clean fun for me as a 20-year-old.
My first impressions after arriving at Taliesin in Wisconsin.
I was 19 years old when I joined the Taliesin Fellowship. I had built up a very idealistic vision of what life would be in that beautiful place. During the first week I learned the reality. The people at Taliesin were just the same as people in the outside world and not perfect. I was so concerned that I considered leaving. I did not leave and decided that the opportunity to learn about how to become an architect vastly outweighed the social life that bothered me. I decided to do what I had come to learn and ignore all the other personal relation stuff. I came to learn to be an architect and how to design buildings as Mr. Wright had done. I was going to stay until I thought I had learned to design or found that I did not have what it took. I am not going to go into the specifics of what I mean by personal relations stuff. The really of it was, just human beings being human. It was my idealism that required adjustment. These people were all very good people committed to the cause of Taliesin.
There was so much to learn by just being in the Fellowship and working around the people and the buildings that Mr. Wright had designed and built. Every job and activity were an opportunity to learn.
I got my own drafting board in the great drafting room, so I was in the middle of real architectural work completing nearly 75 active projects that Mr. Wright had personally designed. I did not have enough experience to work directly on the drawings but I could see the daily progress. The work was left out on the drawing boards after the days’ work and I could go around and see what had been done. I was having three meals a day with the people doing the work. I made it a point of siting near people and asking questions about what they were doing. Everyone gave me good explanations.
Mr. Wright had most of his design drawings photo copied and available in large books in the drafting room. I could look through these books anytime. If I had questions, I could ask any of the senior apprentices. It did not take long to learn who had the talent and understanding.
I was encouraged to get a set of original working drawings and copy the drawings, not by tracing but start with a blank sheet and redraw the plans. I did some of this. I still have the drawings I made.
I was not assigned to work in the drafting room during the day but could walk through and see what was going on. About a year and a half after I joined the Fellowship, I was asked by Jack Howe to be his assistant. He said that he wanted me to be in the drafting room every day. What a great honor for me and it demonstrates how much I had learned in the past 16 months. I remember telling Jack that I had planned to leave the Fellowship in May. I did have the pleasure of working with Mr. Howe every day for two months.
I also started to do my own designs as soon as I got my drafting board. Most of the young apprentices where always working on their own designs. I did about 24 different designs during my stay in the Fellowship.
The orange grove irrigation job
Myself and two other apprentices were task with installing an irrigation system for the newly planted orange grove just north of the drafting room at Taliesin West. We were digging shallow trenches to burry the plastic pipe and it was picks and shovels. Very hard work but we were having fun. Bill Owens senior apprentices told us that work was not to be fun. We told him to buzz off and continued the job and had fun doing it. We must have done a good job because many years later I could see the orange trees were very large.
I remember another citrus fruit job. Several of us took a truck over to the David Wright house near Phoenix. They had a large grapefruit orchard and we pick enough to fill the truck bed and brought them back to Taliesin West. We also got inside the Wright house for a cold drink before we left.
On east to Jackson, Mississippi and Fountainhead (J. Willis Hughes House) located in Jackson, Mississippi. Herbert Hughes, son of owner Willis Hughes, had been in the Fellowship and friends with Roy. We were welcomed in and got to stay in the guest room overnight. We got dinner and breakfast and were able to really experience the house and client stories. All important to understanding the architecture and how client and Mr. Wright related.
A story Roy told me about Mr. Wright and his humorous side. Herbert Hughes was in the Fellowship but left before I joined. Roy related this account: Hughes parents had just moved into their Wright house and Herbert was at the hillside theater showing slides of his family’s new home. As he showed the various views of the house Mr. Wright would say to the assembled group, “That can’t be one of mine” Herbert said but Mr. Wright you know you designed this for my parents. Mr. Wright kept on “I would never do it like that”. A bit of good fun by Mr. Wright.
Some of the small construction jobs at Taliesin in Wisconsin.
My first several months as an apprentice at Taliesin was doing construction and repair work. All of these jobs were supervised by senior apprentices. Each of these seniors had many years of working with Mr. Wright building Taliesin and Taliesin West. These seniors were also a great source of stories about the history of Taliesin and what kind of man Mr. Wright was.
To whom it may concern: This is to certify that James
Schildroth was a student of Architecture and member in good
standing of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation from September 15th
1959 to May 29th 1961. He gave a good account of himself in
all work assigned to him. A more complete record of his training
with the Foundation will be furnished upon request.
Would the Fellowship continue after the death of Mr. Wright?
At the time of Mr. Wright’s death, the Fellowship had reached nearly 90 apprentices. Between April and September when I joined nearly 30 people left. Roy was at Taliesin in the main house kitchen working as family server. Mrs. Wright came in and said “Roy what am I going to do if everyone leaves?”
The architectural studio had about 75 active jobs at this time. Most of the senior architects and apprentices were very busy completing this work. The fees from all this architectural work made the office and Foundation well-funded.
Stone corner in 1960 project furred and plastered over. Gold leaf finish. The stone corner has been restored now as I remember it.
Trip number two Arizona to Wisconsin.
I made this trip with senior apprentice Donald Brown. It was not memorable except for Denver. Donald took me the see the interior of the Brown Palace Hotel. What a space, open up many floors to the central sky light at the top.
One of my last designs done as an apprentice March 1960. I had learned a lot in the 18 months being at Taliesin.
On north to visit both Wright designed cooperative communities Parkwyn Village and The Acres with the several houses built. We did not get into all the houses but just seeing them and how they were made part of the landscape was a great lesson.
We went on the visit my parents in Traverse City, Michigan and then on back the Taliesin in Wisconsin. A great trip of seeing the many examples of Wright houses and buildings.
I was assigned my own drafting table in the great drafting room at Taliesin in Wisconsin. My first project was to design a small structure for the use of the fellowship members as a place to have afternoon tea. Several apprentices worked on their design for this tea house, under the guidance of Jack Howe. I soon had a design plan and section design influenced by the style of the buildings at Taliesin. Then I plotted a perspective using the two-point construction method and made my first color pencil rendering.
My interview with Mrs. Wright.
July of 1959 my parents and I drove to Taliesin in Spring Green, Wisconsin for my interview to be accepted as an apprentice at the Taliesin Fellowship. I had never been to Taliesin before and was very excited just to see the place. We drove up the hill and into the upper car court and parked. Walked back into the series of court yards to the office and met Gene Masselink. After several minutes he took us into the main house and into the Blue Loggia where Mrs. Wright greeted the three of us. All seated in the loggia my father had several questions for Mrs. Wright. How long would I need to stay at Taliesin before I could go out and get a job? Mrs. Wright was very kind and gave an answer that satisfied my Father. He also said to Mrs. Wright that Taliesin was a very interesting place and could he and my mother come for a stay? Mrs. Wright replied that Taliesin could always use a good carpenter. I was so overwhelmed by being in this wonderful house that I don’t remember much of just what was discussed. Mrs. Wright had a few questions for me but whatever they were I must have been acceptable because I was to join the Fellowship in September 1959. The yearly cost was $1500.00.
Dining room decoration:
This week-long job was assigned to two people. It entailed arranging the dining room tables and chairs and creating flower arrangements for the room and each table. Cornelia thought my flower arrangements were too small and encourage me to making them bigger. Learning to be an architect also included learning flower arranging.
Tree clean up.
Just after breakfast one summer morning Kamal got one other apprentice and I, and said I have a job to do, come with me. We drove to the middle dam and found a large tree branch had blown down. Kamal had a chain saw and begin cutting up the branch in a great rush. The two of us were working hard to keep up with him. It was a hot humid summer day and I was thinking that if we keep up this pace I am not going to last until lunch. Well, we got most of the tree cut up and loaded into the truck and just as I was reaching exhaustion, Kamal said “come on boys, let’s take a break and drive into Spring Green and get an ice cream cone” and we did. We came back after lunch and finished the job.
Traveling between Taliesin in Wisconsin and Taliesin West in Arizona.
Fellowship life was lived in Wisconsin in the summer and Arizona in the winter. During my time in the Fellowship, I made four trips between these two locations.
September 1959 I was invited to my first before dinner group with the seniors.
This certificate was
present in 1992 to all members of the Taliesin Fellowship.
After Roy and I left the Hughes house we drove to New Orleans and stayed at Roy parents’ house for several days. This included an evening on Bourbon Street guided by Roy and his brother. We took a side trip to visit the Wright house in Pass Christian, Mississippi. Despite being built up ten feet to the living level, the Fuller House along with much of Henderson Point (the area where the Fuller House was located) was destroyed by Hurricane Camille in 1969. Our visit was in 1961 and the Fullers gave us the tour.
Building the link between the Cabaret theater and the Pavilion.
Several of us worked on this project. Nari Gandhi was on the crew of about five. We built a section of Desert Masonry retaining wall along one side of the ramp connection. First, we took a dump truck and went out into the desert and collected the stones to be used in the wall. Next, we needed sand for the concrete mix. This was to be found east of Taliesin West at the end of Shay Road that at that date 1960 ended in a large wash filled with sand. We backed the dump truck into the wash and using shovels, hand loaded it. It took a lot of work. When we tried to drive the truck out of the wash, it was hopelessly stuck. Only one thing to do and that was dump some of the load which we did. We then hand shoveled the sand back into the truck. Good lesson learned. All these jobs were fun as we worked together and talked about architecture.
I had come to Taliesin with one intention, to see if in my own mind I could be an architect. I wanted to design buildings the way Frank Lloyd Wright designed his architecture. I had decided I would stay at Taliesin until I learned how to do this.
My second summer in Wisconsin I was assigned one of the rooms alongside the drafting room at Hillside.
My third summer Roy Guderian and I lived in the dormitory at Midway for a week until an apartment on the second floor at Aldebaran became available. This was Wes Peter House and Wes’s mother lived on the lower floor. We did not need an alarm clock because Wes had Peacocks and they did the wake up every morning.
The area of the estate in Wisconsin was spread out over several miles and much different than Taliesin West where we were all closer together.
Housing at Taliesin.
There were about 90 members in the Taliesin Fellowship when I arrived in September of 1959. Each member had at the very minimum a private room and the more senior members had apartments. Let me start with the estate in Wisconsin.
Taliesin living Spring Green, Wisconsin.
The main house at Taliesin was very large at about 50,000 square feet. Mrs. Wright had the main house on the upper floor which was what she had during Mr. Wright’s life. The floor below had many rooms and small apartments. The rest of the house also had many rooms and apartments in most of the building.
Hillside had 16 rooms, 8 down each side of the drafting room. A wash room at the end of each corridor.
Several remote houses on the main estate and nearby.
Tanyderi, Meadow House, Forest House, River house, Aldebaran, Midway, as well as several small cottages.
I lived in a room at Tanyderi my first year. I was nineteen in September of 1959 when my father dropped me off at Tanyderi and drove off down the hill. The room assigned to me was on the top floor with an eastern view toward Taliesin in the distance. Each morning at sunrise I would awake and look over toward the sun rising over Taliesin. I was in paradise.
J A M E S W A L T E R
S C H I L D R O T H
On north to Indiana. Dr. Richard Davis House "Woodside". 1955. Marion Indiana. Got a tour inside.