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Living the Legacy: A Day in the Life of the Graphic Design Fellow

Meagan Vanderhill | Mar 12, 2019

For nearly a decade, the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation has invited a graphic designer to work full time on the Marketing and Communication team. The graphic design fellow is responsible for the visual identity of the Foundation, including designing the Frank Lloyd Wright Quarterly magazine. 2018-2019 graphic design fellow, Meagan Vanderhill, is sharing her experiences and inspiration in a day of her life at Taliesin West.

“Individual initiative must awaken in the apprentice or he will lose himself in unaccustomed freedom and become a nuisance or a betrayal.” -Frank Lloyd Wright

As the graphic design fellow at the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, I am part of a continued legacy of apprenticeship that began with Frank Lloyd Wright in 1932. The Taliesin Fellowship is a fundamental part of life at Taliesin and Taliesin West. It continues to thrive at the School of Architecture at Taliesin and the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. Though I am an employee and not a student, the traditions of the fellowship have guided my experience as a resident and designer at Taliesin West. Wright believed in “learning by doing”. He shared, rather than taught, his philosophy of architecture to his apprentices by allowing them to take part in all aspects of his design process. Wright was a holistic designer. He saw architecture as an essential part of how we live and encouraged his apprentices to explore life through design, art, technology, music, and community. My year as the graphic design fellow is about embracing and upholding Wright’s philosophies about life and design. In the spirit of the fellowship, my experience at Taliesin West is led by my own initiative and curiosity.

8:45 a.m. – The Morning Walk

I live at Taliesin West, just beyond the parking lot, with a beautiful view of the Valley in my backyard. I love my morning walks to work – the best commute I’ve ever had. I walk through the historic core of Taliesin West passing Wright’s office, the Drafting Studio, the Sun Deck, and the Kiva, until I arrive at the communications office. Our office was once the apartment of Dr. Joseph Rorke, Wright’s personal physician. Every morning I see something new and walking through campus is the best way to start my day. The sky changes every day and reveals new details that were hidden. This morning the sun was breaking through the clouds in beautiful rays, highlighting a Heloise Crista sculpture I often overlook.

9:00 a.m. –  Work Day

I work for the Marketing and Communication department at the Foundation. I am responsible for the design of any collateral that is associated with the Foundation. Day to day I am working on several projects that span every department. I design signs for the store. I design brochures for event offerings. I help promote our messaging across social media platforms. My biggest project is the Quarterly magazine. Our winter issue was just released, and we are starting to work on the content for the spring issue. I also have the opportunity to work on projects motivated by my own curiosity. I am currently working on a series of aerial abstractions, inspired by Wright’s process of abstraction and the architecture perspective of a building.

Every day at Taliesin West I see something new: shapes revealed by the movement of the sun, hidden spaces, beautiful details and in everything a constant reference to geometry. The architect knows what a building looks like from all angles, but as a dweller of the space I only see it on the human scale. Looking at Taliesin West from above allows me to discover a new perspective of a space I experience every day. I’m working on a series of designs that explore several different Wright sites from a bird’s eye view.

12:30 p.m. – The Lunch Bell

Every day lunch is announced via a bell that is heard across campus. Students, residents, and employees head to the kitchen to enjoy amazing meals together, just as Wright and his apprentices once did years ago. We sit around the table and talk about topics ranging from the Bachelor to the desert shelters the students are building. The conversation is always stimulating. It’s interesting to talk to people who have lived at Taliesin West for years, students who have recently arrived, and employees who serve different functions at the Foundation. We come together as a community at meal times and I love seeing people from all walks of life living Wright’s vision of the Fellowship by taking part in these daily traditions.

 

2:00 p.m. – The World Through Wright’s Eyes

Working in a Frank Lloyd Wright designed space is inspiring. The repetition within Wright’s building makes you notice the repetition without. The desert in and of itself is an inspiration to me. The desert is a contradiction. It’s a hostile environment with hostile plants interlaced with natural beauty. From afar there is a lot of green and beautiful plants, but don’t touch anything. The desert invites you to look, but tells you not to get too close. The longer I have been here, the more attuned I have become to Wright’s perspective and view of life. Wright saw architecture as a part of nature and he saw geometry in everything. As I work on my projects, I try to emulate these ideas. The most interesting part of what I do, is trying to see the world through Wright’s eyes. He saw the beauty in nature and in living. I want the work I do at the Foundation to reflect, uplift, and continue his vision.

6:30 p.m. – Dinner at Sunset

On my way to dinner, I find a different location to watch the sunset every evening (You can see photos I take of the sunset on Instagram @sunset_at_taliesinwest). The view from Taliesin West is one of the best in the Valley, being able to catch the sunset every night reminds me how incredibly unique this location is and how beautiful the desert can be. Dinner is served at 6:30 every evening. The atmosphere at dinner is different from lunch. The majority of people dining in the evening are people who live at Taliesin West. The conversation feels more personal in nature. We are like a family because we are connected by the traditions Wright began.

One of the traditions I take part in is what the students call joylist. The initial idea behind joylist was to expose apprentices to a more well-rounded perspective of life. Through this idea of collaborative living and working, apprentices would be placed in situations that could help them understand different aspects of life. If you’ve never cooked in one, how can you design a kitchen? Today, the idea of joylist is not only about being exposed to different perspectives, it’s also about establishing a community among the students and residents. Everyone who lives here pitches in. While chores aren’t always something to look forward to, I love that joylist allows me to contribute to and become engrained in the Taliesin community.

The graphic design fellowship is a unique opportunity to live Wright’s legacy and immerse myself in a supportive community of designers and people. For the next year, I will be learning by doing and growing in my knowledge of Frank Lloyd Wright and all that he stood for.

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