Wisconsin December 2016
Helen Rose Diary
On a recent visit to the US, I travelled to Wisconsin and managed a visit to Milwaukee and Taliesen. Wisconsin is in the mid-west of the US and on the western shores of Lake Michigan with Chicago at the southern end of the Lake. They are less than two hours apart by bus. This area has notoriously cold winters but I was there before the cold set in and the weather was unusually mild.
Milwaukee is the largest city in Wisconsin although the capital is Madison. Germans came to Milwaukee in droves during the 1800’s and by 1880, 27% of Milwaukee’s population was German. So many Germans came to Milwaukee in those years that by 1990 almost half of the people who lived in the Milwaukee area were related to someone who was born in Germany. German sausages are very popular here. I was particularly keen to visit Usinger’s Sausage Shop as it is one of a kind, a nationally recognised family business devoted to the craft of sausage making. It is in downtown Milwaukee and the walls are decorated with large tiles of farming life. I had a look around and caught sight of the van leaving on deliveries. I went across the road to the Tavern and had some Usinger’s sausages for lunch and very nice they were too washed down with German beer.
Milwaukee has an architectural gem in the Art Museum looking on to the lake like a giant swan preparing for take-off. The Quadracci Pavilion is sculptural and postmodern in design, designed by the Spanish architect, Santiago Calatrava. It is like a cathedral inside with a 217 foot wingspan which folds and unfolds twice a day weather permitting. I was very impressed with the design and it is known internationally as an iconic building and used in movies. It was named By Time Magazine as the Best Design of 2001. Well worth a visit.
From Milwaukee, I took a road trip to Taliesen passing through the capital Madison on the way. Wisconsin is known as the Dairy State but I did not see many cows as there are vast vistas in the US and huge empty spaces unlike Scotland where the fields with the cows come right down to the roadside in our very small but beautiful country. Taliesen is the estate designed by Frank Lloyd Wright where his school of Architecture was founded. Taliesen is Welsh and means “shining brow”, derived from Welsh tal “brow” and iesin “shining”. This was the name of a 6th-century Welsh poet and bard. In later Welsh legends he is portrayed as a wizard and prophet, or as a companion of King Arthur. Frank Lloyd Wright’s mother was Welsh and he chose the estate name to reflect the countryside around.
There was an excellent guide on the two hour tour and the group were shown all the highlights on the estate. Firstly, we visited the school where Lloyd Wright’s aunts had set up an innovative boarding school to educate children in ‘learning by doing’ with a schoolroom, dormitories and a dining room. Much of the design was Arts and Crafts with carved wood and hearths as central to the rooms to create a homely atmosphere for the children. Wright’s building designed in 1902 is as innovative as the school it housed and is situated on land cleared by his pioneering grandparents. After his aunts retired, Wright re-opened their building and expanded it to accommodate a community of architects and designers, a community that continues to live and work at Hillside to this day and even has a Architectural Summer Camp for kids.
After visiting various other buildings on the estate including the Hillside Theatre, we arrived at the house he designed as his own home after he left Oak Park, near Chicago. The views are stunning from the windows and verandahs over the estate to the Wisconsin River. Wright always wanted to be at one with the nature in the environment. The interior of the house was beautifully furnished with the fireplaces as a central focal point. He had a holistic approach to architecture and also designed all furniture and fittings in the buildings. Some furniture design was reminiscent of the style of Charles Rennie Mackintosh. I particularly liked the use of plywood which could be shaped in to curves. There was a vertical lighting system made from angled shelves with bulbs below giving a lovely lighting effect.
Taliesen is another part of the Frank Lloyd Wright story and I would also like to visit Falling Water one day. Anyway, I never did have time to have a Wisconsin ice cream from the Dairy State.
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