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Sunset on the Prow of Taliesin West

Home to Taliesin West

Rachel Minier | Mar 4, 2021

For nearly a decade, the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation has invited a graphic designer to work full time on the Marketing and Communication team, which includes living and working at Taliesin West. Rachel Minier, 2019–2021 Graphic Design fellow, asks the age-old question: Can one return home? Here she details life at Taliesin West pre-pandemic, her departure, and subsequent return in a changed world.

In September 2019, I wrote to Jeff Goodman, Vice President of Communication and Partnerships at the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, about my declaration of 2019 being my year of Frank Lloyd Wright. The previous January, now two years ago, my husband, Andrew, and I visited his parents, newly snowbirds in Phoenix, and our itinerary included a tour at Taliesin West. I instantly fell in love with Wright’s winter home and studio, as so many do. A combination of Wright’s use of materials, the location, and the seamless integration of building into landscape have an intense ability to draw in the visitor. As the tour wrapped up, we made the decision to become Foundation members, knowing that while we may not be back in Arizona anytime soon, we could make the most of the reciprocal benefits at other Wright sites across the country, hence the “year of Frank Lloyd Wright.” This began with visiting the Biltmore Hotel in Phoenix, and later wandering the Oak Park neighborhood, touring Wright’s Home and Studio and Unity Temple, exploring the Guggenheim the following summer, and finally a weekend trip to Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob, staying at both the Duncan and Mäntylä Houses in Polymath Park.

It was around that last excursion that I saw the post about looking for the next Graphic Design Fellow at Taliesin West. At first, I just looked at what all the position entailed and that was it, but, as time passed, I found I couldn’t get it out of my head. I began scrolling through the Foundation’s social media to get a sense of the day-to-day life at Taliesin West and searching the blog for posts written by former fellows. I knew it was crazy—the position would mean leaving my job and an entire year living away from my husband and the life we’d been building in Baltimore—but with the deadline looming I, at last, submitted my application.

Taliesin West from the Prow, taken during our January 2019 tour

My husband, Andrew, and me in the Garden Room at Taliesin West

I spent four months living at Taliesin West before the COVID-19 pandemic swept me back to Baltimore. At the time, the possibility of returning was very much up in the air. I kept vacillating between thinking I’d be back in a month and that I wouldn’t be returning at all. I spent a few harried days packing up my little apartment and was dropped off at an eerily empty airport with three suitcases on the verge of explosion. I don’t know that any of us then, save some epidemiologists, expected COVID to drag on for as long or have as devastating an impact as it has.

Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, my time at Taliesin West was, in some ways, tumultuous. I arrived the weekend prior to Thanksgiving, a time when most offices tend to be empty off and on until the end of the year, and architecture students were overwhelmed with finals before most disappeared for winter break. The holidays were a quiet time and those of us still on campus could fit at a single table in the dining room, which eased me into living amongst a group of people again. Everything picked back up in January and I began to find my place in the community. Toward the end of the month Andrew and a few friends of mine visited for my impending birthday and we all attended a formal together. It was such a silly and fun night, everyone in wigs and costumes, dancing until we were exhausted. Shortly after that weekend, though, the school announced that it would be closing come the end of the semester. In addition, in my department we saw the departure first of one colleague and then another, as their careers moved them in new directions.

On top of the world in a lift above Taliesin West in January 2020

Dressed up and donning wigs for the Formal

I spent four months living at Taliesin West before the COVID-19 pandemic swept me back to Baltimore.

Early explorations of the grounds at Taliesin West in December 2019 and January 2020

The months that followed were difficult for everyone, and as the information of a new virus spread, so did the uncertainty and confusion about the future. At times in life there are those days that go so poorly, or the news is so bad, that it seems like the world may, in fact, end, right then and there … and yet, by some miracle, in the morning the sun still rises. In some ways that’s what this period of time felt like to me. It felt as though everything that could be going wrong was, but within that it seemed that our community was coming together and caring for each other on an entirely new level. We cooked and baked for each other, enjoyed meals on the Sun Deck, and took in the glorious March weather. As socially distancing became the norm, we spread ourselves out in the Pavilion in order to attend newly virtual presentations. We joked and laughed and carried on with life, even as life was rapidly changing around us. Despite everything that was happening, there was often still so much joy to be found.

Former Industrial Design fellow Seyla Muise often served as dessert coordinator, as she did with this carrot cake

Chocolate chip cookies cooling in the Taliesin West kitchen

I have a distinct memory of the day I left Taliesin West: it’s a beautiful day and I’m walking a path I’ve walked so many times before, passing the breezeway and dining room, heading through the triangular shadows cast by the pergola outside the drafting studio and toward the car that will take me to the airport; as I reach Wright’s office, I turn to take a last look at the mountain and breathe in the delicious scent of the blooming citrus grove, feeling a peaceful solemnity. I was devastated, of course, to be leaving before I thought I would be. At the same time, though, I felt that even if all I had were those four months, it was all still worth it. On that January tour that now feels so long ago, I felt such a connection to this place, but never could’ve imagined myself actually living here. Even as I was applying and interviewing for the Graphic Design Fellowship, I never truly believed I’d be here. To be a small piece in the long history of Taliesin West, even for a short while, still took me by surprise.

The cactus were on the verge of blooming in the days before I left

My final look at Taliesin West in March 2020

To be a small piece in the long history of Taliesin West, even for a short while, still took me by surprise.

Shadows of the pergola outside the doors to the drafting studio

The cholla that always tricks me for a moment at night—perhaps more of an alpaca than deer

Thomas Wolfe once wrote “You can’t go home again,” and it’s true that this is not the Taliesin West, nor, indeed, the world, I left behind in March. Gone are many of the hallmarks of my previous time here: visiting lecturers in the Pavilion, movies in the Cabaret, lengthy dinners over flickering candles, crisp nights in the desert crowded around fires … life at Taliesin West now is a much more solitary experience, which is not to say that it isn’t fulfilling in its own way. When I have the opportunity, I spend long stretches of time out in the desert and the shelters, simply wandering, discovering, drawing, reading, and reflecting on the year we’ve all had. This solitary time in nature has felt like an opportunity to heal.

I arrived at the Phoenix airport the morning of October 19th, nearly seven months from the day I’d left. On the drive, with the wind whipping my hair and saguaros whizzing past, I drank in the desert landscape from which I’d been separated. And as I made that familiar turn off of Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard and began to climb the slope up to Taliesin West, past the gate, past that specific cholla that transforms into a deer at dusk, with the sharp roofline of the drafting studio in sight, I knew I was home once more.

Taliesin West at sunsetNext to the drafting studio looking out toward the Prow at sunset


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