Is greatness and genius bred in childhood or acquired with age? Does an unusual upbringing make for a creative person? Edgar Tafel had quite a colored past which seemed to lead him on a path of creativity and activism.
Tafel’s parents were born in Russia and immigrated to New York where they owned and operated Tafel Wholesale Gowns. They soon purchased a home on the Ferrer Colony in Stelton, New Jersey. The seeds of the Ferrer Colony began with Francisco Ferrer, a Spanish educator and radical thinker who was executed in Barcelona in 1909. Soon after, American anarchists began opening Ferrer Modern Schools in his honor across the United States. Tafel attended the Modern School in Stelton, the longest-running school which lasted 1915-1953.
The above article shows Tafel as conductor of the Modern School orchestra. The Modern School taught progressive education, where often the teachers were parents of children attending the school. The School’s mandate was to teach from example and experience and not from instruction and memorization. If a colony member had a particular talent, such as typesetting or carpentry, the children were taught that skill, as well as being free to study whatever interested them. It was at the Modern School where Tafel began constructing a model city; perhaps his first foray into architecture. Growing up in a progressive colony, and later attending high school in Manhattan, Tafel experienced both challenging big-city life and radical free-thinking, a foreshadowing of his future education as an apprentice at Taliesin and opening his own architectural practice in New York City.
*The picture is from an article in The New York Times, by Joseph Deitch, March 8 1981.
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.
Welcome to the About the Edgar A. Tafel Archive! This blog will document the processing of the archive until its eventual publication in an online finding aid. Being an apprentice at Taliesin from 1932-1941 and a lively, traveling lecturer as well as an architect led Tafel to meet interesting people and collect unique things. I also intend to highlight some of these fascinating findings and facts.
The Edgar A. Tafel Archive was acquired by the Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library in 2011 (see the whole story here). The archive contains textual records, audio-visual material, and architectural drawings. The textual records are now in the process of organization and description and contain files about Tafel’s personal and professional life.
I find that processing an architect’s archive always leads to many discoveries. It is intriguing how one can begin to understand how architects lived and worked through their archive. I hope that this blog can be a dialogue between other archivists and researchers.
Until next time!