Conservancy helps Wisconsin Historical Society Obtain Rare Photographic Proofs of Taliesin

The Wisconsin Historical Society has acquired a set of 25 rare historic photographic proofs of Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin home and studio near Spring Green, following a whirlwind fundraising effort that raised the money needed to buy the photos from a Portage, Wis., antiques dealer. A total of 28 donors from coast to coast contributed to the effort.

News began to circulate about the photographic proofs when Judy Eggleston, owner of Judy's Antiques, put them up for sale as individual items on the online auction service eBay in February. Almost immediately a significant buzz arose among a network of Wright scholars, aficionados and collectors around the country a buzz that drew the attention of members of several Wright-related organizations as well.

The Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy took the lead in organizing an effort to acquire the proofs for a single institution, the Wisconsin Historical Society. The Frank Lloyd Wright Wisconsin Heritage Tourism Program assisted in the effort. The first and foremost concern was to avoid having the collection split up among multiple private collectors.

Upon the urgent appeal of members of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy and the Frank Lloyd Wright Wisconsin Tourism Program, Eggleston decided to remove the photographic proofs from eBay and to sell them as a group to the Wisconsin Historical Foundation, the private support arm of the Historical Society. "I decided it would be nice to keep them together in a public institution," she said.

The photos, most of which were taken by architectural photographer Clarence Fuermann of Chicago, picture Taliesin in 1912, just after its construction. Some show the estate after a fire in 1914 that destroyed most of the living quarters. They show the dwelling and its surroundings the way Wright wished to have them portrayed in contemporary publications. A number of the photographs have never been published and were unknown to experts in the field.

The proofs will now take their place in the Society's archives, which already holds thousands of Wright-related photographs, drawings and documents.

"We're thrilled to have acquired such a fine and rare collection, adding further to our already strong Frank Lloyd
Wright holdings," said Ellsworth Brown, The Ruth and Hartley Barker Director of the Society. "We're also extremely grateful to the donors and our partnering organizations for leading the private fundraising effort that made it all possible and to Judy Eggleston, who worked with us to keep the collection whole."

Neil Levine, a professor of architectural history at Harvard University and one of the members of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy instrumental in this effort, outlines the rarity of this purchase and his enthusiasm for taking an active role: "One of the reasons these photographic proofs are so important is that they reveal for the first time what may well be the entire set of photos commissioned by Wright of Taliesin shortly after it was completed and with the intention of being used for publication.

"Another equally important reason is that they are the proofs for these photos, and thus show what was captured by the camera before cropping. They therefore differ from the final photographs that have been published and preserved in various archival collections. They are unique," said Levine.

The photographic proofs constitute a research collection of images that scholars and the public alike can now examine for a better understanding of the historic appearance of Taliesin as well as a richer appreciation of Wright's use of photography to publicize his work. The Historical Society's digital photography lab will scan all the images and
make them available for use by researchers online..

>> close window