by sarah leavitt, curator
In FY13, the National Building Museum made a unique contribution to the scholarship on America’s most beloved architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. Taliesin Diary is the first published, contemporary diary—written at the time, not as a memoir—of a member of the Taliesin Fellowship, the group of live-in architects Wright hosted at his homes in Wisconsin and Arizona for more than half a century.
Patricia Henken, the diarist, lived at Taliesin as part of the infamous Fellowship from 1942–1943 and wrote every day about her experiences. Her diary is sophisticated and smart, while also poignant and at times quite funny. She wrote about the food the Fellows prepared each day; about the films they saw and the music they played and listened to. She wrote about hiking in the Wisconsin countryside and about editing Wright’s vast, multi-volume autobiography. Hers is a delightful tale of arguing and eating; exploring, reading, and thinking; dressing up as a famous painting for Halloween and learning how to drive a tractor.
Producing this unprecedented publication was a truly collaborative effort for the Museum’s curatorial team. I had the privilege of editing and annotating the volume and wrote several brief introductory essays for the book. Associate curator Deborah Sorensen wrote an in-depth essay about the film program at Taliesin in the 1940s and former curatorial assistant Stephanie Hess wrote about the Fellows who registered as conscientious objectors during World War II—her research included obtaining Wright’s FBI file through the Freedom of Information Act. Curators Martin Moeller, Susan Piedmont-Palladino, and Chrysanthe Broikos also joined the project in research and editing, making this truly a full team effort.
As part of the roll-out of the book, Museum staff participated in several events, including a book party hosted by Jim Kimsey at the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Marden House in McLean, Virginia. Sarah Leavitt also participated in several lectures and book signings, including the Wisconsin Book Festival in Madison and the 92nd Street Y-Tribeca in New York City. Taliesin Diary was awarded the 2013 Book Award of Merit by the Wisconsin Historical Society in recognition of its valuable contribution to the public understanding of the history of the state of Wisconsin.