Architecture Students Returning to River Valley — But Not to Taliesin

By Bring Back Our Students

The return of students from the architectural school founded by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1932 will be celebrated with a community event in Mazomanie on July 15. The city’s new Performing Arts Pavilion, designed as a project of the School of Architecture at Taliesin, will be dedicated at 7 p.m. It opened on Memorial Day.

One year ago it was uncertain if the students would ever return to Wisconsin. Five months before that, the school was declared dead. “Frank Lloyd Wright Turns in His Grave as the Architectural School He Founded Closes After 88 Years,” reported Forbes magazine.

The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation at Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Ariz., had parted company with the school, which traditionally split its year between Taliesin West and Taliesin, near Spring Green. This pattern was established by Wright and continued uninterrupted since the school’s inception. Two years ago the graduate program was forced to find new homes and even a new name. 

Today it is The School of Architecture. In Arizona it found safe harbor at Arcosanti, an experimental community near the state’s center. But where it would be quartered in Wisconsin, at least temporarily, was unknown. As the pandemic intensified it was clear that, for the first time in its history, in 2020 the school would not return to its birthplace and summer home.

In consultation with state arts leaders, area residents organized and launched a campaign, “Bring Back Our Students,” to make sure the lower Wisconsin River Valley continued to be — as the Wisconsin State Journal described Taliesin in 1954 — a place of “inspiration that will be turned toward making life more beautiful for generations to come.”

Bring Back Our Students assembled resources including local lodging and drafting space at the Wright-designed Wyoming Valley School Cultural Arts Center, near Taliesin. Students arrive July 11, with some faculty; other faculty reside in the area.

The lines of Mazomanie’s new Performing Arts Pavilion are in the tradition of Frank Lloyd Wright, mimicking roofs in the community’s historic central district. Design of the facility was a 2018 class project of The School of Architecture at Taliesin (since renamed The School of Architecture). The public is invited to celebrate with the school’s students at the July 15 dedication of the pavilion.

“It’s an immersion program, giving students the complete Wisconsin experience,” says Jay Rath, president of Bring Back Our Students. “Students have told me again and again that their education is incomplete without walking the same land as Wright, breathing the same air, viewing the same distant ridges.”

As a newspaper reporter, Rath began covering the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture for the State Journal in 2006, and later for ISTHMUS, Madison’s newsweekly, and The Wisconsin Examiner.

“I don’t think we appreciate how our sense of place is globally prized,” he says. “Taliesin is a United Nations World Heritage site. The school was expecting another 20 or so students from Taiwan, but they had difficulty with passports and proof of vaccination. But the point is that 15 Taiwanese architecture graduate students were eager to not only observe but collaborate with Wisconsin heritage.”

In 2018, students collaborated in just that way to create the pavilion for Mazomanie. After researching and meeting with the community, the final design selected was “Dancing Gables” by Frank Corridori from Columbia, Mo.

“The idea being expressed in this design brings together the colorful peaks and gables of the downtown architecture into one playful, dancing roofline,” he said. Mazomanie’s railroad history is also harkened. “The structure of a train platform is reflected in the design of the cantilevered roofline which overhangs a low, platform-like stage — much like the form of a railroad siding.”

Mazomanie resident Jeffery Wirth led the $30,000 fundraising effort to construct the design, with the generous support of local industry Wick Buildings Inc.

Dedication of Mazomanie’s Performing Arts Pavilion will begin at 7 p.m. July 15 in the Westland Promenade, 116 Brodhead St. School of Architecture faculty, staff and students look forward to meeting residents. A brief live music performance is planned, and Tim Wright, Frank Lloyd Wright’s grandson, will tell tales of his teenage years living at Taliesin in the summers and working for his grandfather. The event will last about an hour, and is free and open to the public. 

A reception and impromptu performance will be held the next evening at the Wyoming Valley School Cultural Arts Center on Hwy 23. For more information, see Bring Back Our Students on Facebook.

Bring Back Our Students is nonprofit community effort to return architecture students from the former Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture at Taliesin to their half-year home: the Wisconsin River Valley and Spring Green. For more information, contact bringbackourstudents@yahoo.com.