A Life That's Wright

A century old, Taliesin remains a fascinating legacy of Frank Lloyd Wright

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Meet the Fellows

Effi Casey is a German-born artist and musician who teaches architectural hand rendering, serves as Talieson’s director of music, plays the violin and leads the Taliesin Chorus. She met Olgivanna and the Taliesin Fellowship in 1966 on a summer study trip to Montagnola, Switzerland. Invited to play with the Taliesin Chamber Ensemble, Casey became intrigued by the Fellowship’s openness to embracing anyone in the arts and returned with them for one year. In 1971 she married Senior Fellow Tom Casey. At the time he was supervising the construction of the Pearl Palace in Iran for Princess Shams Pahlavi, sister of the last Shah. Their daughter Golnar was born in Tehran in 1973. They returned to Taliesin in 1978 during the Iranian revolution and Effi has never left. She has witnessed the many layers of transition and says that without charismatic leaders like Frank and Olgivanna, Taliesin has become a new setting, but is always evolving from its roots.

“We always had ongoing musical activities, a chamber ensemble, even festivals led by Mrs. Wright’s daughter Iovanna Lloyd Wright,” says Casey. “When there was a big push in the studio everyone was called in to help. If you couldn’t draw you were maybe asked to provide a late-night snack or something, but to be part of the bigger effort, you were part of more than yourself. It’s very powerful when you feel together as an entity behind a greater vision.”

Taliesin Hillside houses not only the drafting studio, but also the Assembly Hall, the daily dining room for Fellowship members and entertaining area for guests on special Taliesin evenings. It’s also the site of the Hillside Theater, where countless plays and concerts have been held over generations. It’s where the Hamblen boys go to interact with the apprentices and where Golnar Casey remembers heading after school every day.

“One of the blessings of having grown up at Taliesin is having that older generation whom I regard as my aunts and uncles,” says Golnar, who migrated with her parents between Spring Green and Scottsdale until she left for college in the 1990s. “They were always so kind and loving and nurturing; I have a very positive view of growing up there. I would come home from school on the bus and I would just go to the studio and find my dad or my mom. It was a time when students could break for the day so we’d have tea at 4:30, someone would be on that job for the week and they would set it up. Sometimes there were thirty of us. I always had a sense of being watched over.”

I also met Floyd Hamblen in Pomplun’s workshop. He’s a guy with a presence, a welcoming face and a gentle voice who’s lived at Taliesin on and off since 1987. Effi Casey’s neice Caroline has a soft German accent and is gentle and smart like her aunt. She came to Taliesin as a German foreign exchange student a year after Floyd signed on as an apprentice. They married and are now Senior Fellows who have lived at Taliesin as a family since 1999. Floyd teaches and runs a private architectural business here while Caroline works as coordinator for the Taliesin Arts and Culture Program and homeschooled the boys until 2010. Caroline plays second violin in the Taliesin Quartet (along with fellow violinist Casey, a cellist and violist). The Hamblens’ life and work represent the continuation of Wright’s original vision.

Floyd recalls his deep curiosity and initial apprehension about Taliesin and its mission. “I was interested in becoming a student, but of course the idea that you come here and you’re part of a fellowship, that you’re living and working here, I wasn’t quite sure what that was all about. Was it a cult? I just really fell in love with it, it’s what I’d been searching for, these natural buildings blending in with their environment, the beauty and the sense of space and how things flowed together. Wright’s contact with nature was huge.”

“When I first came in 1988 I was fascinated by the communal life that happened here and how architecture is the umbrella,” adds Caroline. “The arts and culture and legacy and heritage all deepen that umbrella. That’s my level of involvement.”

And like Casey, the Hamblens have met and worked with original members of Taliesin, many of whom have since passed away.

“Many of them were so immersed with Frank Lloyd Wright himself, and as young students we got to meet them and talk to them and learn from them, and now it is our opportunity to pass along what we learned and inherited, the tradition of this communal life,” says Caroline. “Now we bridge it and bring it into a new generation.”

The bridging opportunity is multi-faceted. It includes four generations of players and a legacy of activities—from the master apprentices who worked at Wright’s side to the cross-cultural art experiences to the ongoing cultivation of a sustainable lifestyle. With no exception, the stories I heard about legacy and tradition were consistent. How lives were affected by it varied.

For the Hamblen boys, it’s about being embedded in every aspect of community life—harvesting the gardens and orchards on Wednesday mornings, the daily chores of communal dining and the regular formal dinners, a tradition started by Wright.

“We try to keep the same traditions, but Mr. and Mrs. Wright were always the hosts of the house,” says Montooth. “In those days we had dinner frequently in the theater. Serving there was a tremendous job but we did it. Mrs. Wright had one big table because everyone wanted to sit with them; everyone else had smaller tables.”

The Wrights often held dinner on Sunday nights in their living room, where Mr. Wright, said to be a tremendous storyteller, would hold court, read a book or summon a piano player to perform.

“It was a very rich life,” says Montooth, who remembers when Wright’s granddaughter, actress Anne Baxter, brought Charlton Heston to dinner. 

“The idea of that evening is to have a change from the hard work you do during the week, to a festive environment that would give us an opportunity to dress up, which we do to this day,” says Casey. “What you need to bring here is a tuxedo, a hammer and some drafting materials.”

Indeed, each guest has an individual—and often memorable—experience at Taliesin. For me, tea with the Fellowship moved me a smidgen closer to Frank Lloyd Wright and left me enormously humbled by his people and the legacy they are leaving on this rambling prairie landscape that I will come back to again and paint with pleasure.

Pat Dillon is a frequent contributor to Madison Magazine.

Want more Frank? Read some of Madison Magazine's past coverage of Frank Lloyd Wright:

August 2010: Downtown: The Madison Story

June 2010: A Great Escape

January 2010: Seize the City

Online: First Unitarian Society of Madison, Wisconsin

August 209: Great Neighborhoods

August 2010: You Can Lead a City to Water

April 2009: Mirror, Mirror

March 2009: Wright with Nature

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