Frank Lloyd Wright is a name that almost everyone has heard. Some may hold more interest in his work than others, but I think just about everyone would enjoy a chance to visit his home, Taliesin, in Spring Green, Wis. I had the opportunity a few months ago and I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed Taliesin. We also visited The House on the Rock and the American Players Theatre history, art and entertainment, all in close proximity near beautiful Madison, Wis.
Our trip began in Madison, the capital of Wisconsin. Sitting between two lakes, Lake Monona and Lake Mendota, Madison is a lovely city with much to see and do. We cruised the two lakes aboard the Betty Lou, which offers a variety of dining options. We tied off at Captain Bills for dinner with a waterfront view. This restaurant was voted in a Best of Madison poll as the Best Seafood Restaurant. They serve delicious clam chowder, crab cakes and coconut shrimp yum! While on the Betty Lou, we enjoyed views of the skyline, capitol, governors mansion and more.
Near Madison is Spring Green, Wis., the summer home of renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Wrights unique and innovative designs led to his being one of the most sought-after and well-known American architects in history. His work includes numerous homes, cottages and churches in Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, New York and more.
Touring Taliesin was truly a magical experience. I immediately felt a strange sense of peace and tranquility while there. His works, both exterior and interior, are remarkable. The geometric shapes, lines and curves appear as though they were originally part of the landscape, in keeping with his philosophy for how architecture should be done.
Wright was born Frank Lincoln Wright in Richland Center, Wis., June 8, 1867. His parents divorced when Wright was 14 and he said he never saw his father, William Carey Wright, again. Shortly after that, Wright changed his name to Frank Lloyd Wright, in honor of his mother, Anna Lloyd Jones. His mother had bought a set of building blocks for Wright to play with as a child. He claimed that the geometric shapes never left his hands and greatly influenced his work. He built his Taliesin home three times, as it was twice destroyed by fire.
He founded Taliesin Fellowship in 1932, where interns worked under his tutelage at his home and workshop, and students still reside and study today.
The Hillside Studio & Theatre Tour ($16 per person; $14 seniors, students, military) takes visitors through the studio and theater Wright built for his two aunts in 1902. The maternal aunts ran a boarding school there. Wright expanded and reopened Hillside after they retired, and created a community for interns to live and study. This was an awesome tour, and you can still see the architect and design students there today. In the theater, youll see the quilted stage curtain designed by Wright. He had drawn the design in the 50s and his students surprised him with the curtain for his birthday. They sewed felt and yarn onto muslin with the design and colors Wright had drawn. It is truly amazing and has appeared in the Guggenheim in New York City, which was Wrights last work. The Guggenheim opened six months after Wrights death in 1959. The theater is used for classes and performances.
The House Tour ($47 per person; $42 seniors, students, military) was wonderful. The windows, angles, stained glass and furnishings are remarkable. Wrights descendents still gather there from time to time, living in the home and sleeping in the bedrooms. Wright used some of the stones salvaged from the fires and youll see those red stones scattered throughout; limestone turns red when exposed to fire. Theres something peaceful and eye-catching at every turn, right down to the blue shag carpet in the living room.
The Highlights Tour ($52 per person; $47 seniors, students, military) is a quick-paced tour through Hillside and Taliesin. Youll see Hillside expansive Assembly Hall, the Fellowship Dining Room, the abstract forest Drafting Studio and the theater, then drive across the estate to Taliesin and enjoy Wright personal Studio, the Living Room, his Guest Bedroom, the Blue Loggia, Mrs. Wrights recently restored bedroom, as well as Wrights bedroom.
The Estate Tour ($80 per person; $75 seniors, students, military) begins at the Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor Center, the only free-standing restaurant designed by Wright. Youll also see the incredible Unity Chapel, built for Wrights maternal family, where Wrights gravesite is located; Hillside; Romeo and Juliet Windmill Tower, the oldest design on the estate; Tan-y-deri, the home Wright built for his sister, Jane Porter, and Midway Barns; and the home. Youll want to wear comfortable shoes for this one, as it includes a mile-and-a-half hike from one end of the estate to the other.
The Shuttle and Walking Tour ($20 per person and $10 for children under 12) is limited to April and November. This is a primarily exterior tour with an overview of the valley where Wright spent his childhood. The first hour of the tour takes visitors for a ride by the exteriors of Unity Chapel, Hillside Home School, Romeo and Juliet Windmill, Tan-y-deri House, Midway Farm, and the home. Next is a walk through Taliesins Upper and Lower Courtyards and Orchard, concluding with a special walk-through of Wrights personal studio. Reservations are highly recommended for all tours. Taliesin is open to visitors from May 1 through Oct. 31. Call 877-588-7900, for reservations or more information.
Other area attractions:
House on the Rock
If you have time in your schedule, be sure to visit this tourist magnet in Dodgeville, Wis. They boast the attraction, inn and resort. The House on the Rock was created by Alex Jordan and is one of the oddest things I have ever seen. Picture room after room after room filled with collection after strange collection, from dolls to carousels and gorgeous place settings to a red barn. The original Japanese-style house was built by Jordan after what is said to have been a meeting with Wright. Jordan admired Wright tremendously and it is said that after Jordan shared his architectural intentions with Wright, Wright said, I wouldnt hire you to design a cheese crate or a chicken coop. Youre not capable. Jordan was so angry that he immediately began building the original house atop Deer Shelter Rock and later opened it to the public. He added to the structure continually, and it stretches from rooms to streets to gardens and shops, encompassing 200 acres. In 1985, the Infinity Room was added. It has walls of glass, 3,264 windows, and projects 218 feet out over the Wyoming Valley. The House on the Rock was first opened to the public in 1959, and was sold by Jordan in 1988. He died in 1989. Today there is also an adjacent inn and resort. This eclectic attraction is said to draw even more tourists then Taliesin.
The American Players Theatre
This jewel is the third in what the region boasts as the areas tourism trifecta. The American Players Theatre has both indoor and outdoor theaters and they sell 110,000 seats each year. APT is dedicated to the classics. Its amphitheater, simply called the Up-the-Hill Theatre, is APTs pride and joy. They even have stands along the trek up the hill where you can grab a can of bug spray and apply if needed. They say to allow up to 15 minutes for the walk, but its lovely and worth it. Up-the-Hill offers 1,147 seats beneath the sun, moon and stars. Touchstone Theatre offers a more intimate experience with 200 seats. They have eight plays that run concurrently each season and this season, still ongoing, includes: Hamlet, Too Many Husbands, Dickens in America, and Les Liaisons Dangereuses.
Planning a Visit
The weather does play a role, so I would suggest a late spring to early fall vacation. To plan the perfect trip, call 800-432-8747, or visit www.travelwisconsin.com.