Natural simplicity and eccentric collections create marked differences between Taliesin and The House On The Rock, both in Spring Green, Wisconsin.
By Anna Lee Braunstein, F351629
One hour west of Madison, Wisconsin, site of FMCA's 86th Family Reunion & Motorhome Showcase this August, two of the most fascinating homes in the entire United States await discovery. The little town of Spring Green is home to this mismatched pair, because two very different architects were drawn to the same lush, green foliage and rolling hills. The first artist was Frank Lloyd Wright, considered by some as the pre-eminent American architect in the country's history. The other was Alex Jordan Sr., a man who wished to follow in Wright’s path, but turned in a totally different direction.
Wright spent his childhood summers in Spring Green visiting with his grandparents. He chose to build his own home, Taliesin (pronounced Tally-Es'sin), on 600 acres in the valley. Jordan went to the area, called the Wyoming Valley, because Wright was there. He stayed because of the natural beauty. Both created homes worth hours of exploring and admiring.
Nature dominates Taliesin, which was Wright’s personal abode. He believed that "simplicity and repose are the qualities that measure the true value of any work of art," and it's reflected in the lines of the buildings, the choice of woods used in the interiors, and the color palette of the exterior. To view the home against the hills and to gaze at the hills from inside the home is to experience the peaceful pleasure of nature.
Taliesin, Welsh for “shining brow,” was constructed three times. The first home, built in 1911 on the brow of a hill, was destroyed by fire, as was the second. The third is now known as Taliesin East, for another home Wright built for himself and called Taliesin West is in Arizona.
Wright and his work garnered fame and honor as well as notoriety and tragedy. His professional life was filled with great acclaim and occasional criticism, while his personal life, including three marriages and a mistress, was one of controversy. It was in the creation of the first Taleisin that the professional and personal merged. The first home fire occurred in 1914 and was set by a servant who murdered Wright's mistress, her children, and four workmen. Wright vowed to rebuild, and did so with the support of his third wife, Olga Lazovich Hinzenberg. But the second home also burned to the ground because of faulty wiring. Again, he rebuilt the home, the current structure, continuing to expand and modify it until his death in 1959.
In designing Taliesin, Wright combined his love of nature and his philosophy of simplicity. To ensure that visitors saw the world as he did, the windows are set at eye level throughout the house, showcasing the landscape. The wood furnishings have the straight lines and restrained designs that became his trademark. Wright believed that people are happiest when living in harmony with nature rather than controlling it. This credo is evident both in the way the buildings blend with their surroundings and in the way the rooms and furniture are arrayed. He believed that wall decorations detracted from the beauty of his home and surroundings. To him, the art was outdoors in the countryside. Those inside are urged to look at this “art,” for Wright sloped the ceiling down to six feet near the large windows.
Next to the home is Hillside School, which Wright established for developing young architects. Under the direction of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, the school continues to educate students in his principles. Also on the grounds at Taliesin are Wright’s Romeo and Juliet Windmill; Midway Farm; Tan-y-deri House, built by Wright for his sister and her husband; and a lovely lake and waterfall.
The home is privately owned and managed by Taliesin Preservation Inc., which offers tours of the home and estate. Access is only by tour, but a variety of opportunities are available, lasting from one to four hours. The newest tour follows the plot of the bestselling book Loving Frank, Nancy Horan’s novel about the relationship between Wright and his mistress. Reading the book before going on this particular tour adds to the experience.
Reservations are strongly recommended for all tours, and if you have children with you, you will want to note that kids under 12 are permitted only on the Hillside Studio and Theater Tour. Taliesin's visitors center is two miles south of Spring Green and open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. from the end of April to the end of October. For more details, visit www.taliesinpreservation.org or call (877) 588-7900; (608) 588-7900. If seeing this house leads you to want to examine more of Wright’s work, there are more than 40 other buildings in Wisconsin designed by him. Visit www.franklloydwrightsites.com/wisconsin/.
The House On The Rock
As one story goes, Alex Jordan Sr. designed a dormitory for the University of Wisconsin in Madison and proudly showed his architectural plans to Frank Lloyd Wright at his Taliesin home in Spring Green. Wright so insulted Jordan's work that, in revenge, Jordan decided to get even by building a house on the rock he saw as he was headed home.
Visitors find great contrast between The House On The Rock and Taliesin. Wright accentuated the beauty of nature and Alex Jordan Sr. and his son, Alex Jr., showcased man-made creations. But there is one room in The House On The Rock in which Jordan did emphasize nature. The Infinity Room, which overlooks the hillside, can be seen as either an homage to Wright or an insult, depending upon who is telling the story. Its 218-foot-long walls are made of glass panes. Walking its length gives visitors the sensation of standing on the edge of the world. This is only one of the many and varied sensations that the Jordans' house induces.
Both father and son were penultimate collectors, amassing great quantities of the odd and ordinary, the large and small, the historic and mundane. But the real complex that is The House On The Rock is the work, mainly, of the younger Alex Jordan. He took on the House on The Rock project in the 1940s and eventually expanded the complex with more oddball assortments, giving visitors something to see in every room. Author Jane Smiley wrote, “The sheer abundance of objects is impressive, and the warmth most of the objects exude, the way that the toys ask to be played with, for example, makes the displays inherently inviting.” To view these collections is to remember childhood, marvel at the novel, and be charmed by the amazing.
From fraction-sized miniatures to the world’s largest carousel, it seems as though Alex never saw an item he couldn’t collect by the dozens or hundreds. Overhead, birds, model planes, and creatures of fantasy soar down from the ceiling. Along the walls, every nook and cranny, shelf and case, ramp and open area is crammed with objects intended to amuse and delight. Beyond enthralling the eyes, the ears are filled with the sounds of music, the chatter of animals, and the clanging of trains. By dropping a coin in a slot, visitors can delight in concerts performed by a multitude of machines, including one depicting a full orchestra. All this is in keeping with Jordan’s credo of using sights and sounds to create the dreams of those who visit.
Visitors can choose to tour just the home, or the collections found in two other areas. The Ultimate Experience Tour combines all three areas. The tours are self-guided and require quite a bit of walking, and even more standing and gawking. But many places are available to stop along the way, including an old-style ice cream parlor, a pizza parlor, and a restaurant. Even the bathrooms are works of art. Tours end at a gift shop where visitors can start their own collections.
For more information, visit www.thehouseontherock.com or call (608) 935-3639. The house is now part of a resort complex that includes an inn and a golf course.
From different perspectives, Wright and Jordan each chose Spring Green to bring their dreams to life. As Jordan wrote, “My house will stand on a rock on a hill, overlooking a valley deep and still.” Both Wright’s and Jordan’s homes in that valley are testaments to the accomplishments of dreamers and a pleasure to all who see the fulfillment of those dreams.
This may not be a complete list. Please check your campground directory or the RV Marketplace, published in the June and January issues of FMC and online at FMCA.com, for additional listings.
Wisconsin Riverside Resort
S13220 Shifflet Road
Spring Green, WI 53588
River Valley RV Park
E5028 U.S. 14 & 23
Spring Green, WI 53588
33533 Jay Lane
Lone Rock, WI 53556
2626 Spring Road
Dodgeville, WI 53533
Governor Dodge State Park
4175 State Route 23 N.
Dodgeville, WI 53533