If you know someone currently trying to make art in New York City, you’ve likely heard of Marfa, Texas. Marfa is a small town in the Chihuahua desert that has been gradually claimed by artist imports—New Yorkers flocking to the community for inspiration and a chance to be part of a modern art movement.
On a recent trip to Arizona, I endeavored to empathize with my creative peers. I visited Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West, home to another artist community, seeking the kind of fodder that Marfa’s barren landscape has promised to its new wave of settlers.
Music Pavilion under construction, 1956.
Wright made the property his winter home beginning in 1937 and remained there until he died in 1959. He invited talented students to serve as his apprentices, and the property still remains a campus for the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture. Taliesin West perches under a mountain range on Scottsdale’s Sonoran desert and was designed to blend with the landscape, in typical Wright fashion, using regional materials and form that capitalizes on local climate and terrain.
Rather than escaping the city, like the artists moving to Marfa, Wright relocated to escape the cold of the Midwest. But the famed architect found inspiration in the desert landscape that is still very appealing to the makers of today.
Perhaps it was the overcast skies on the day of my visit, or the unusual chill in the desert air, but I failed to find the inspiration that once drove Wright and his students to imagine some of America’s most celebrated buildings. New York City’s Guggenheim Museum was drafted under these very canvas roofs, but my experience walking amongst the cluster of low, horizontal buildings, peering out over the monotonous Paradise Valley, was a somber one.
The spirit of Taliesin West came alive to me only through stories of “Taliesin Nights.” On Friday evenings, Wright tasked his apprentices with providing entertainment for his distinguished guests. The Garden Room, filled with quirky and bright furniture and lighting fixtures (including the Origami Chair) created a warm, inviting atmosphere—a surprising but welcome oasis within a world of stone, concrete, and sharply angled rooflines.
I wish I could attend one of these Taliesin Nights to better understand the magic these architects derived from the desert, and to see the property in its original glory. The buildings showed noticeable wear—a disappointing legacy for an iconic man.