The last few days have been pretty nice here in Gold Canyon. Mid 70’s F (mid 20’s C) and not too breezy has made it pretty easy to do whatever we want to do. That’s suddenly changed, as it’s 45 and pouring rain today. The hike for today was cancelled due to the forecast and the hope that we’d all attend the Quilters, Crafters and Carvers fair scheduled for today. It will be interesting to see if they get much traffic there today, as it’s downright miserable outside. We’re waiting for the deluge to stop or at least slow down before we head over to the fair.
Our recent activities have included softball (don’t ask, but we got blitzed again), pickleball and lots of time to walk around the park. As I think I’ve mentioned it takes about 20 minutes to walk all the way around the perimeter of Canyon Vistas, but it usually takes us from 30 minutes to an hour to do a lap, as we end up talking to somebody and stopping in for a visit. On Monday we got back from some shopping after 4 o’clock and decided to do a lap before dinner. By the time we reached Bruce and Sonya’s Park model at the front of the park we found them sitting on their deck waiting for the sun to set, and the Superstition Mountains to turn pink (the pink thing is something that has to be seen to be believed, but seems to be a trigger for local residents to start drinking – not that anybody here needs much of a reason). We ended up sitting on their deck for a couple of hours swapping lies and making plans to meet up this summer in Kelowna when they will be in the area attending their son’s wedding. By the time we were done, it was dark, and I had to stumble home wearing my sunglasses.
On Tuesday morning we left with friends to make the trek to Scottsdale to see Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West Estate. On the way we drove to Fountain Hills for lunch in hopes of seeing the world famous fountain, which runs every hour on the hour for 15 minutes and shoots 320 feet in the air. We’ve been there a couple of times, and I wrote about it last year here. You’ll have to believe last year’s pictures about there being a fountain as we didn’t see it in operation today. It turns out that they don’t run the fountain when the winds are more than 10 mph so we were out of luck as it was quite a windy day. It was still a nice place to go for a walk, look at the bronze sculptures and eat a pretty good pizza with our friends on a patio overlooking the little lake, where the fountain was suppose to entertain us.
Bronze pieces like this are prominently displayed all over the town. This coming weekend is their annual Art Fair, and they’re expecting almost 500 Artists and artisans to be showing their work. Hopefully we’ll be able to get back there to see the sights.
Sylvia got a chance to sit down with Abe Lincoln for a brief one sided discussion, and shortly after this she mentioned that despite her best efforts her hairspray did not hold against the wind. So, you can maybe see why they weren’t running the fountain today.
After lunch we headed to Taliesin West, the Arizona home and architectural college site founded by famous American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. For those of you who don’t know much about his life and work, you can check out his bio on Wikipedia. He had an ‘interesting’ personal life, as well as designing some of the most amazing buildings and homes in the US and around the world. He designed everything from chicken koops to museums, and from grand houses to Synagogues. He was also involved in almost every design aspect of his buildings, from structural components to window and tapestry designs.
In the early 1930’s he started up an architectural school in his home in Wisconsin, and by 1937 moved the school to Scottsdale for the winter months to continue the education process in a different climate. He moved the students to Arizona just after he’d purchased the property and there was absolutely nothing here, not even an access road. So, the very first thing the students had to design and build themselves was several miles of road from Scottsdale. They lived in tents for many years on the site, and one of their projects each year was to design and build a place to live in the desert. Some of these were and are quite elaborate, but they are usually torn down every year to make way for new students and their new ideas. The first students also had to figure out how to use the abundant local materials (okay, rocks) and incorporate them in the design and construction of the buildings. In the original designs, there is no structural steel in any of the walls, those steel beams have been added to the roofs over the years as the original redwood rotted away.
Wright had a holistic approach to education, and his students were involved in every aspect of their education; from building their studios and structures, farming preparing and serving their meals, to entertaining each other with their musical and artistic talents. Frank’s philosophy was “You can’t learn without doing”. The original teaching areas built in the 30’s are still in use, but it was years before they actually put canvas roofs and glass windows in the buildings. It was also years later that they retrofitted electricity to any of the buildings. The original drafting tables built by students are still in use in the Garden Room teaching area, but are now covered with Laptops rather than paper.
To say that Wright was a bit eccentric might be an understatement, but you can’t deny his talent or success. He worked right up until his death at 92 in 1959, and still had dozens of projects on the drawing board when he died. The last big projects he was working on when he died was the Guggenheim Museum in New York. The architectural school and firm are still in business, and still alternates seasons between Arizona and Wisconsin. The students don’t have to camp in tents anymore (if they don’t want to) but they still have to design and build a shelter that they could live in out on the desert.
The buildings are quite striking, and though they’ve been modified a bit over the years for structural and convenience requirements such as replacing the redwood beams with structural steel, they retain the look of their original design. One signature feature of Wright’s home designs is that they were built low and ‘into’ rather than ‘on top of’ the local terrain. Taliesin West is on 600+ acres of desert, and most of the area is relatively untouched, off limits and segregated from the surrounding newer subdivisions. From the air, the colours and layout of the entire complex complements rather than intrudes on the landscape.
One thing that Wright firmly believed was that architecture was art, and that exposing his students to all forms of art and culture would assist them in their creative process. He was an avid collector of Japanese art and sculpture. Unfortunately most of it had to be sold after his death to provide funds to keep the foundation, school and architecture firm operating. It seems that Wright, like a lot of creative people was not much of a businessman. Fortunately his widow was quite astute, and quickly got control of the business and sold off some of the land and most of the artwork to provide a legacy fund that continues to support the foundation to this day. They’ve been churning out graduates for more than 75 years now.
They have an extensive Sculpture Garden and the artist ,Heloise Crista, who’s now in her 90’s, still lives on the site. We also met up with Wright’s doctor who’s now in his late 90’s and also lives on the site. According to the lady who gave us our tour, their longevity is due to the great well water that’s available on the property. She could be right.
The tour we took was over 90 minutes, and was very professional and complete. There is no way we could have understood the importance of the buildings or the lasting legacy left by Taliesin without our guide’s assistance. She also give us some insight into some of the lasting design features left to us by Wright:
-in floor lighting like that found in airplanes was first used at Taliesin West.
-the lift up seats now used in theaters and sports arenas were designed by Wright
-the layout seating in stadiums that was directed towards what people were watching (old style ballparks all had parallel bleacher seating, so that if you were sitting near home plate you faced the plate. If you were sitting in deep right field you faced the outfield and had to crane your neck to see home plate)
-Rancher style homes built on one level were a Wright design.
-the carport instead of a garage
-in floor radiant heating
None of these features were ever patented by Wright, he just hoped that people would use and improve on his original designs. It was a great experience to see his work and catch a glimpse of how he thought. We’re glad we went.