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Taliesin – Spring Green, Wisconsin

Building models, working the fields, making music: Life at Taliesin.

When Frank Lloyd Wright started the apprenticeship program in 1932, he housed it at the farm he owned in the Driftless Region, an area of rolling hills and fertile land an hour northwest of Madison, Wisconsin. Wright’s maternal family, the Lloyd Jones, had been in the area for over a century, and the valley where Taliesin is located is sometimes called “the valley of the almighty Jones.” Wright called his home and farm Taliesin after the Welsh bard in King Arthur’s court. Taliesin also means “shining brow,” and Wright prided himself on building not on top of the ridge of hills that bounded his holdings, but right below that, on the brow.

The property was the site not only of his own home and studio, which he expanded to make room for many of the new apprentices, but also of the Hillside School, a progressive high school he had designed for two of his aunts. This became the main site for the apprentices’ drafting room, dining room, assembly hall, and dormitory. Today, all of the property is managed by Taliesin Preservation, Inc., and the area of Spring Green is a lively site that hosts many restaurants, recreational facilities, and the world-renowned American Players Theater.

Life in the Wisconsin Hills

From mid-May until mid-October, the School conducts operations at Taliesin, located on the banks of the Wisconsin River, some 40 miles west of Madison, Wisconsin. The experience at Taliesin is a counterpoint to that at Taliesin West. Where Scottsdale, Arizona is part of the fourth largest metropolitan area in the United States, Spring Green, Wisconsin is in the rural heartland of America. The town of Spring Green is home to 1,700 residents. Nearby communities’ populations range from just 700 to 4000 people. Frank Lloyd Wright spent boyhood summers on his uncles’ farms surrounding Taliesin. He returned to the valley in 1911 to establish his own home and farm. The area is geologically significant because it escaped the transformative scouring of the last glacial age. The glacier stopped its descent from Canada at the Baraboo hills to the north. A corner of Southwestern Wisconsin and a bit of upper Iowa and Illinois were left untouched. The landscape in this unglaciated, driftless area, therefore, more mature, more weathered, and of a unique character. Wright said that nothing “picks you up in its arms and gently, almost lovingly, cradles you as do these southwestern Wisconsin hills.”

The National Landmark Taliesin estate comprises about 100,000 square feet of buildings on over 650 acres of rolling hills. The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation property includes the adjacent farm to the west of the historic estate. Accommodations at Taliesin are more traditional than at Taliesin West. Students sleep in fully enclosed rooms in several buildings. Included in these are two corridors of 8 rooms each, one corridor for men and one for women, on each side of the Drafting Room at Hillside. A common bath is found at the end of each corridor. The same number of student couples or families can be accommodated in Wisconsin as in Arizona. Recreational facilities are abundant in the area, with canoeing, golf, hiking, and fishing easily accessed within minutes from Taliesin.

The nationally known American player’s Theater (APT) offers outdoor Shakespeare and other classic playwrights, from June through October nearby, and the Rural Musicians Forum (RMF) presents concerts maternity Chapel and in the hillside theater at Taliesin during the months of July and August providing an opportunity to meet regional artists and local residents. The Taliesin chorus also participates in the RMF concerts each year. There is a wide array of artistic and cultural activities in and around Spring Green during the summer.

Tours and preservation programs are also offered at Taliesin, with opportunities for student interaction and involvement. Students are encouraged to spend time in the historic spaces for enjoyment, reflection, and study. This is a unique part of the experience of living and learning Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpieces.