While a months-long public closure last year was obviously neither ideal nor planned for, the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation seized this pandemic-prompted downtime at Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Arizona, to kick off the first phase of several related research and restoration projects. Collectively, the effort aims to “resurrect the essence of the site” so that key areas of Wright’s National Historic Landmark-listed winter home and studio more closely resemble their original late-1950s selves.
The Foundation wasn’t alone in its decision to “pragmatically utilize”—to quote a press release—the shutdown period. Numerous museums and cultural institutions have embarked on major renovations, curatorial switch-ups, and other overhauls, some much needed, that would have been more difficult to execute while open to the public and likely required a full or partial closure of some sort anyway. (Taliesin West reopened for public tours in mid-October with enhanced safety precautions in place.)
In the case of the Foundation’s Preservations and Collections departments, the goal was to create a more aesthetically authentic experience when visitors returned to Taliesin West, with a focus on the site’s Garden Room, Living Quarters, Dining Cove, and Sunset Terrace. While all fastidiously cared for in the present day, these core historic areas have been altered over the decades since Wright’s death in 1959 to accommodate tours and other needs. Furniture and upholstery have been swapped out, layouts have changed, and the “overall ambiance” has shifted over the decades, per the Foundation.
Phase one kicked off with the project teams studying photography and other archival materials to get a firm sense of what these spaces looked like decades ago and how they could be faithfully reinterpreted in the present day. As explained by the Foundation: “… Detailed reports were created tracking the changes made over time and identifying what authentic art, furnishings and other textures still lived in the collections onsite and could be reintroduced to the spaces to return them to their earlier states, and what would need to be recreated.”
“The reinterpretation work completed at Taliesin West in recent weeks was largely centered around what could be done to give visitors a better understanding of Wright’s philosophies, and to demonstrate how those principles are still relevant and important today,” added Emily Butler, director of preservation with the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, in a statement. “The research that was done allowed us to reconstruct and reinstall the elements necessary to make the already compelling architectural wonder even more expressive and beautiful.”
A major project undertaken during the pandemic now available to view at the reopened site is the restoration of the iconic Chinese screen in Taliesin West’s Dining Cove. The piece was reinstalled in a new frame and treated with an anti-reflective, museum-grade acrylic to help preserve it for future generations. Art was rearranged and furniture was removed or reoriented in the Dining Cove and Garden Room, “to transition the rooms from the feeling of being staged to accommodate tours into a more accurate representation of how they functioned as multi-use, indoor/outdoor areas where the Wrights both lived and worked.” Meanwhile, on the Sunset Terrace, a portable canvas shading structure—a heavily used item by the Wright family considering Taliesin West’s often unrelentingly hot desert locale—was reconstructed.
Phase two of the project will involve reupholstering furniture pieces—orange-colored since the 1970s—back to their original hues and “reintroducing architectural features that divide the larger room with visually compelling components that provide an intimate gathering space with views to the garden,” according to the Foundation.
“The Foundation is committed to continuously evolving Taliesin West as Wright did himself when he lived there, which presents a really unique opportunity for guests to see something new and exciting with every visit,” said Butler.
As mentioned, Taliesin West—one of eight Wright-designed buildings inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list and no longer home to the institution formerly known as the School of Architecture at Taliesin—is currently open for public tours Thursdays through Sundays with advanced online reservations required. Virtual tours are also available.