Once an archive has been cataloged, the finding aid is released online (and/or in paper) and is an organized guide to helping you find what information you are searching for. The work behind the scenes is lost: questioning the original order (or disorder!) of documents, the process of organization, and identifying the unidentifiable or unique objects.
To some extent I feel the same way about blogs. I enjoy reading other blogs about archives because they shed light on the same archival problems I might be having and at the same time they highlight specific points about their archive that may be lost later on. Archival blogs give that extra amount of information, sometimes unusual, or mundane, but always curious. Archival finding aids are supposed to be unbiased so that they do not deter from the research process. But having a blog lets the archivist test out their detective skills and share any other information found that illuminates the archive.
So I thought I might share some related information about Edgar Tafel and Frank Lloyd Wright that I stumbled upon on the Internet, and share this blog about them. I also want to make sure that the unique information found by other historians and archivists is not lost!
When I was working on Tafel’s biography, I wondered why I couldn’t find information on his first wife, Lucille Allman Blair. After searching the Internet, I found the blog “Looking for Franklin Lincoln Wright,” which documents the story of Edgar Tafel, Lucille Allman Blair, and Frank Lloyd Wright. The blog unfolds the story of how Lucille Allman Blair played a role in getting Frank Lloyd Wright to speak at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas in 1952, and at the same time reveals some details about Tafel’s life around that time.
Looking for Franklin Lincoln Wright
Edgar Tafel was a man of many interests and not just an architect, a writer, a public speaker, and a community activist. And even though the archive is cohesive as whole, bringing together what one would normally expect of an architectural archive (project records, office files), Tafel’s archive also reflects his many interests, especially in the Writings section and the Reference files section.
Alexandrina Buchanan in “Cardiff and Miller’s Road Trip” says that the material fragments of archives are “crying out for human interpretation, which represent creative starting points rather than the closed records of completed actions” (Archivaria 73, pg. 21). If we apply this to Tafel’s archive, one can see the records of his completed actions –his architectural projects, his books- but also interesting are the incomplete fragments of projects or research that demand attention.
We can see in Tafel’s archive which architects he was interested in: Tafel collected research on Louis Sullivan and Stanford White. He also collected architectural postcards from places he visited and lectured at, including India, England, and Italy. One curious fragment of Tafel’s research is pictured in today’s post: a list of 7 architects’ unusual deaths. Perhaps Tafel was interested in the uncommon because he had been surrounded by exciting and sometimes controversial events at Taliesin and those connected to Frank Lloyd Wright’s life.
This letterhead of Tafel's with a cartoon by Gary Zamchick reads "Edgar can't come to the phone right now... He's busy making our home our castle"
Archivists tend to swerve away from creating the dreaded ‘Miscellaneous’ folder, but there are usually odds and ends that one finds in an archive that just do not seem to fit. Even more feared is the folder labeled “Miscellaneous” by its own creator!
Such was the case in Tafel’s archive, where I found dispersed throughout his files humorous and satirical writings or drawings done by Tafel poking fun at architecture, such as letterhead with custom, cut-and-pasted designs by Tafel, chain emails, comics, and mocking phrases (“The flogging will continue until morale improves” was used on one version of Tafel’s letterhead!).
Gradually, however, while gaining knowledge of an architect through their archive, an archivist can sense an overall theme to seemingly ‘miscellaneous’ files. In Tafel’s case, his satirical writings and drawings are proof of his engaging, charming personality. As if the countless letters of praise for Tafel’s lectures also found in the archive were not proof enough! Once the Tafel archive finding aid is published online, examples of his letterhead and other humorous files can be found under his Personal Papers.
In 1978, June 2-9 was proclaimed as Frank Lloyd Wright Week in Los Angeles! Clearly his influence spreads all over North America. This document was found among Tafel’s papers, although there are no surrounding documents (so far!) to suggest who influenced the creation of Frank Lloyd Wright Week. Have a great one and do, as the proclamation states, ‘re-acquaint’ yourselves with Wright’s many contributions to modern day lifestyle.
1934 Feb 24 letter from Edgar Tafel to Bob Goodall reads “Movies movies all the time – FLW’s new fad. The theatre is now being heated by steam for the first time.”
During the time when Edgar Tafel was an apprentice to Frank Lloyd Wright, Taliesin was a hub of creativity that accepted students and apprentices with a wide variety of talent in other arts besides architecture. Included in the archive is Tafel’s correspondence around this time to his family and friends, including Robert (Bob) Goodall, a draftsman from Chicago who stayed at Taliesin in 1932. Reading this correspondence really gives an insider impression of what Taliesin was like in the 1930s. You can watch an original film taken at Taliesin by Alden Dow at Taliesin in 1933 here on Youtube: Part I and Part II.
Frank Lloyd Wright was not unknown to the arts. He designed a house for Arthur Miller, prominent playwright, at the request of his wife at the time, Marilyn Monroe (more anecdotes of this story can be found in Tafel’s book, About Wright: An Album of Recollections by Those Who Knew Frank Lloyd Wright). Taliesin had a theatre as well, the Taliesin Playhouse, where films chosen by Wright were screened every Sunday. The public was also invited to the Playhouse; Tafel and other apprentices frequently wrote short pieces for Madison, Wisconsin newspapers announcing the Playhouse repertoire and other happenings at Taliesin.
Joining Tafel and the other apprentices in 1933 was Nicholas Ray, the director who would later become famous for his film Rebel Without A Cause which was released in 1955. Ray is mentioned numerous times in Tafel’s letters to Goodall; Tafel refers to Ray as the “fellow who came out with ‘No More Utopias’ last summer .” Further perusal of the letters did not give any more hints as to what ‘No More Utopias’ was, whether it be a film or otherwise, but a biography of Ray does state that he “spent a few months with Wright, participating in the Playhouse’s activities.”ⁱ Therefore, it’s possible that the Taliesin Fellowship could have seen a special Sunday screening of an early Nicholas Ray film!
ⁱ Susan Ray (editor), I was interrupted: Nicholas Ray on making movies, ( Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995, c1993) xli.