Category Archives: Wisconsin

Four Favorite Frank Lloyd Wright Destinations

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Allen House, Taliesin, Taliesin West and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum are just a few of the places to see Wright’s all-American architecture.

Frank Lloyd Wright has been having a big year. Sixty years after his death in 1959, both his life and his architecture continue to fascinate, influence and inspire.  So much so that the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recently named a group of his great works World Heritage Sites.* Spanning 50 years of Frank Lloyd Wright’s career, these buildings represent the first modern architecture designation in the U.S. on the prestigious list.  

Here, I cover one of my favorite Wright sites, the Allen House in Wichita, Kansas, and three of the Frank Lloyd Wright buildings in the UNESCO list —Taliesin in Wisconsin, Taliesin West in Arizona, and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City.   The prolific architect built more than 400 buildings so you can find examples of his work all across the country.  There’s even a fantastic Wright-designed gas station in Cloquet, Minnesota. But to really enjoy the experience, I recommend a little reading to”find Mr. Wright” before you visit his buildings.

Reading the Wright Stuff

Even if you’re not an architecture buff or a design maven, you should add a Frank Lloyd Wright site to your itinerary when you’e traveling—for two reasons.  First, Wright’s Prairie Style is considered the first uniquely American style of architecture.  Before Wright, prominent American architects followed the more ornate style of European designers, like the Beaux-Arts style that dominated the “White City” buildings and monuments at the Chicago World’s Fair.  Wright hated that. Instead of piling on the classical embellishments, he sought to make buildings blend with the landscape. 

Interior of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Allen House in Wichita, Kansas

If your house has an open floor plan, wide expanses of windows or an attached garage, you can thank Frank.  These are his among many ideas that were considered radical at the time but are common now.  Wright embraced new technologies, designs and materials ,to push the boundaries of architecture, sometimes resulting in failure or really expensive repairs for those trying to maintain his buildings. If you talk to people who live in Frank Lloyd Wright houses, you’ll seldom hear stories of cozy comfort.  They’re drafty.  And take a look some of the angular furniture and you’ll see why form doesn’t always follow function.  Nonetheless, he had a huge impact that continues today. and most of the currently trendy mid-century modern style bears a remarkable resemblance to Wright’s designs. To better understand his design philosophy see, The Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright by Neil Levine.

The second reason to visit Wright buildings isn’t quite so intellectual.  He was simply a fascinating character.  Not exactly a paragon of virtue, he left his first wife and six children for Mamah Borthwick, the spouse of a client.  That tragic story is the subject of Nancy Horan’s fictionalized work, Loving Frank.  Even his fans admit he was an arrogant self-promoter and a flawed genius.  I suggest Meryle Secrest’s book, Frank Lloyd Wright: A Biography by Meryle Secrest for the whole story.   for the whole story.  

Now for some exploration:

Allen House, Wichita, Kansas

exterior of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Allen House in Wichita Kansas

At the Allen House, located in Wichita’s historic College Hill neighborhood, you’ll find all the traits of Wright’s Prairie Style residential architecture in one lovely home . Named after its first owners, newspaper publisher Henry Allen and his wife, Elsie, it was the last of Wright’s famous Prairie Houses.  Outside you’ll see Wright’s distinctive long, low horizontal lines with low-pitched roofs, deep overhangs, and long rows of casement windows.  Explore a bit of the area around Wichita and you that see how that horizontal theme and earth tones of the house match the landscape.

Said Wright, “In organic architecture then, it is quite impossible to consider the building as one thing, its furnishings another and its setting and environment still another,”…“The spirit in which these buildings are conceived sees all these together at work as one thing.” The Allen house is one of the best examples I’ve seen in which spaces open to the outdoors.  And it retains.more than 30 pieces of Wright-designed furniture, all of its original art glass and several new-for-their-time innovations, such as wall-hung toilets and an attached garage.

Taliesin—Spring Green Wisconsin

Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and studio, Taliesin, in Spring Green, Wisconsin

As a child Wright spent summers on his uncle’s farm in the rolling farmland of southwest Wisconsin’s Driftless Region.  There he witnessed the patterns and rhythms of nature that came to influence his work.  He returned to this valley to build his home and studio called Taliesin (Welsh for “shining brow”) on an 800-acre estate outside Spring Green.  Wright said of the area, “I meant to live, if I could, an unconventional life. I turned to this hill in the Valley as my grandfather before me had turned to America – as a hope and haven.” 

A view of the valley from Taliesin, Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and studio in Spring Green, Wisconsin

Strolling outside Wright’s home, with its dramatic horizontal lines and limestone construction that seems to rise straight from the land, it’s easy to understand how his architectural philosophy developed.  A house, he said, should be “of the hill. Belonging to it. Hill and house should live together each the happier for the other.”  Inside, Wright’s starkly simple interior spaces offer commanding views of the valley.  The tours downplay it, but many stories from Wright’s own life add to the drama of Taliesin as described in Loving Frank.  For example, 1914, while Wright was away, a worker at the estate murdered seven people including Borthwick and her children, and set the house on fire. 

Taliesin West—Scottsdale, Arizona

Angles on the exterior of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Arizona

The rugged desert foothills of the McDowell Mountains in Scottsdale, Arizona, are a stark to the lush rolling hills of Wisconsin.   Yet, after several bouts of illness, Wright built Taliesin West for greater winter comfort.  He called it his desert laboratory with buildings that were largely experimental and always changing and expanding.  Taliesin West grew to include a drafting studio, dining facilities, two theaters, a workshop, Wright’s office and private living quarters, and residences for apprentices and staff.   Each building is connected through a series of walkways, terraces, pools and gardens that meld with the surroundings. 

Still experimenting with geometric shapes and volumes, Wright designed much of the interior furniture and decorations.  He convinced young architecture students to not only pay for a Taliesin apprenticeship but also to build some of the furniture and appear in plays in the Taliesin West theater.  Taliesin West is now the home of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation and the School of Architecture at Taliesin where you can see students at their drafting tables..

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum—New York City

exterior of Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York city designed by Frank Lloyd Wright
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, New York by Architect Frank Lloyd Wright (Photo by David Heald, courtesy of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation)

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Wright’s last building celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2019.  It opened in 1959, the year he died.  It’s a complete departure from his Prairie Style days  of the Allen House and shows the evolution his thinking over a long career.  With the Guggenheim, the low-slung buildings with sharp angles and earth tones are gone, replaced by soaring circular white spaces. At the time, critical opinions varied from “the most beautiful building in America . . . never for a minute dominating the pictures being shown,” to “less a museum than it is a monument to Frank Lloyd Wright.”

After a three-year restoration of its interior, the Guggenheim reopened to great acclaim. Now  the entire Wright building is open to the public for the first time with spaces that had been used for storage and offices converted into galleries. As a capper to his long career, it seems just fine that the Guggenheim is a monument to Frank Lloyd Wright and his “unconventional life.”

The circular interior of the Guggenheim Museum stands in stark contrast to Frank Lloyd Wright’s early work at the Allen House. (Photo by David Heald, courtesy of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation)

* The Frank Lloyd Wright buildings listed as UNESCO World Heritiage Sites are Unity Temple (Oak Park, IL), Frederick C. Robie House (Chicago, IL), Hollyhock House (Los Angeles, CA), Fallingwater (Mill Run, PA), Herbert and Katherine Jacobs House (Madison, WI), Taliesin West (Scottsdale, AZ), and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (New York, NY).

Milwaukee Travel — Beyond the Beer

Milwaukee, Wisconsin is best known for its German beer culture, its waterfront festivals, and for those of a certain age, TV’s Laverne and Shirley.  Yet, scratch the surface and you’ll find a host of interesting and personal ways to interact with MKE.  Here are a few of my Milwaukee travel favorites.

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Browsing at Bozwell Books

Bozwell Books, of Course

Book lovers in particular should put Bozwell Books, Milwaukee’s famous independent bookseller, at the top of their list. Bozwell, named after James Boswell, the eighteenth-century British biographer, offers friendly and extremely knowledgeable staff and sponsors scads of author readings, signings and events.  It’s the kind of bookstore where you want to wander, browse and then settle in for a while.  You can’t leave without chatting about books and buying several.

Pfister Hotel Literature and Art

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Join the Pfister Hotel’s literary activities.

Speaking of literature, I discovered that the gorgeous Pfister Hotel, which celebrates its 125th anniversary this year, offers art experiences that showcase Milwaukee’s own talent. The Pfister Narrator, a literary artist in residence, hosts seasonal mini-events with book themes, a modern take on a book club, and story prompts for guests and the entire community.   There’s a new narrator every year.  The current narrator, Nicole Mattke, shares her experiences on the narrator blog.

The Pfister exhibits its extensive Victorian art collection – the largest of its kind of any

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Fashion designer Stephanie Schultz is the Pfister’s current artist in residence.

hotel in the world – throughout the hotel.  And, they host a popular Artist-in-Residence program currently featuring fashion designer Stephanie Schultz.  She specializes in historically-inspired couture, a natural fit amidst the hotel’s Victorian art.  Watch and interact with her in a working studio and gallery that is open to hotel guests and the public.  

 

Radio Milwaukee 88.9

Radio Milwaukee, an on-air, online, onsite public radio station, uses music as a bridge to bring together the city’s diverse citizens.  Jordan Lee, describes the station as “a town square.”  For visitors to Milwaukee, Thursday is the big day at Radio Milwaukee because they offer building tours at 4:30 and live concerts from local and visiting musicians. The tour starts in the performance space and include the building’s Green Roof which offers views of the Hoan Bridge, Marcus Amphitheater, Walker’s Point and downtown Milwaukee.  After the tour you’ll enjoy live performances at 6:00 and hit the Stone Creek Coffee’s Radio Milwaukee Cafe for coffee, wine and beer and food.

Museums and Motorcycles

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Art in Bloom at the Milwaukee Art Museum

Two more well-known Milwaukee destinations are must-dos. Located on the shore of Lake Michigan, the fabulous Milwaukee Art Museum is my favorite place in the city.  Burke Brise Soleil (the “wings”) opens at 10 a.m., flap at noon, and close when the Museum closes, as weather permits.  The museum is known for modern art, and outstanding collections of folk  and Haitian art.  I was recently there for that museum’s Art in Bloom, which made the snow- in spring weather bearable.  

Finally, tour the Harley-Davidson Museum, with its rows of historic motorcycles for a full throttle experience.  Even if you’re not a “hog” afficianado, it’s a fascinating view of Harley history and motorcycle culture in the U.S.   Look for special events and activities this year as Harley-Davidson celebrates its 115th anniversary Labor Day weekend.

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The Harley-Davidson Museum is paradise of motorcycle fan and history buffs alike.  Above, an early Harley and a red one that Elvis owned.

A Frozen Trek to Lake Superior’s Icy Sea Caves

Sea caves in winter.  Apostle Islands National Lakeshore
Sea caves in winter. Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

Okay, all you friends of mine who keep posting your tan beach vacation pix on Facebook…..

The sea caves on the western shore of Lake Superior near Bayfield, Wisconsin, have

Duffy came along on our ice adventure to the sea caves, Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.
Duffy came along on our ice adventure to the sea caves, Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.

been forming over thousands of years as the action of the water carved out vast caverns in the sandstone cliffs. They’re typically reachable only in summer by boat or kayak. The caves are remarkable enough in the summer, but in winter they’re frosted with thick icicles, hoar frost and fanciful ice formations.  Problem is, you can’t usually see them.  Right now, for the first time five years, due to the consistently frigid weather, the ice is sufficiently thick for frozen nature lovers to make the trek out to the caves.  The Great Lakes in the last week reached its broadest ice coverage in 20 years at 88 percent, with Lake Superior at about 95 percent.

Thousands of hearty souls are making the three-mile round-trip hike to the caves.
Thousands of hearty souls are making the three-mile round-trip hike to the caves.

To some people, going to ice covered sea caves on Lake Superior must seem like a trip to Siberia.  But this year, the caves have received huge media attention. So despite the fact that the trip isn’t for the underdressed or infirm, thousands of people are making the hike. At times the bundled up figures silently trudging in the same direction through the vast expanse of white looked like they stepped from that Dennis Quaid movie, The Day After Tomorrow. You expect to find a frozen-over New York City just around the bend, but the destination is far more like the place you’d Santa’s workshop in the movie Elf, or maybe a scene from Frozen.

You can’t just hop out of your car to see the caves. The round-trip trek takes about three

Ice coats the sandstone cliffs on Lake Superior that are usually only accessible by boat.
Ice coats the sandstone cliffs on Lake Superior that are usually only accessible by boat.

hours or more over a well-packed and slippery path with little cover to break the sometimes fierce winds. The caves are part of the Apostle Islands National Seashore and their web site offers an Ice Line to check on current conditions. (Or, you may want to just enjoy these photos from the warmth of your computer.)

The popularity of the caves has been a huge bonus for the area’s winter tourist business. If you want to avoid the crowds, go on a weekday.  And if you’re looking for a cozy place to stay, check out the Rittenhouse Inn B&B in Bayfield. The little shops in Bayfield are happy to welcome visitors to the area and sell you any extra warm weather gear you may need and the Apostle Islands Booksellers offers terrific books to hunker down with when you return from your trip.

Literary Adventures: The Five Best Lit Trips for Fall in the U.S.

Fall is the best time for literary travel just about anywhere, including Newport, Rhode island.
Fall is the best time for literary travel just about anywhere, including Newport, Rhode island.

If you’re a traveler, fall, not Christmas, is the “most wonderful time of the year.” Same sites but fewer crowds, cooler temps, and often, lower prices. It’s the perfect time to go so many places, you may find it hard to choose a destination. The answer lies on your bookshelf. Whether they’re classics or “beach reads,” your favorite books can offer guidance and inspiration for a “lit trip” to see the sites of the stories, absorb the environment that inspired the authors, and even walk the paths of fictional characters.  Literary travel allows you to extend the experience of a great book and expand your understanding of your destination. Reading and travel enhance each other, and one taste will leave you yearning to go back for more. Best of all, you don’t need to head for Hemingway’s favorite Paris haunts or Jane Austen’s English countryside to take a lit trip. Opportunities for book-based travel abound in the U.S., too, and many are at their best in fall.

California Wine Country – Vintage Reading

Harvest time in California’s wine regions, typically from mid-August through October, Unknown-13overflows with vibrant golden yellow and crimson colors and the trucks rumbling by overflow with grapes ready for the crush.  M.F.K. Fisher captured the delights of Napa and Sonoma where she lived and wrote her classic essays on food, wine, and life. Jack London also loved the Sonoma area where he lived and wrote in his later years. And, for fans of another type of grape, The Grapes of Wrath (which has absolutely nothing to do with wine), the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, is a short jaunt from wine country, making literature and wine the perfect blend for fall travel.

Read: M.F.K. Fisher, Musings on Wine and Other Libations, (Anne Zimmerman, ed.)

Jack London, Valley of the Moon (another name for Sonoma),

For more contemporary reading, try James Conaway, Nose, and Rex Picket, Sideways.

Explore: the vineyards of Napa and Sonoma counties, and take a side trip to the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas (www.steinbeck.org)

Stay: L’Auberge Du Soleil, Rutherford (www.aubergedusoleil.com)

Eat: pack a picnic and enjoy it on the grounds of your favorite winery or in Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen www.jacklondonpark.com

Events: Fall in wine country means special celebrations of wine and food such as Flavor! Napa Valley in November (flavornapavalley.com), vintner dinners such as those at Grgich winery (grgich.com). Schramsberg winery in Calistoga offers special camps in fall and spring for wine and food lovers (www.schramsberg.com/news/campschramsberg)

Santa Fe – Willa Cather’s Archbishop Comes to LifeUnknown-14

Santa Fe is a sensory fiesta year-round but in fall the aroma of roasting chili peppers adds to the mix. New Mexico’s beauty, dramatic history, and architecture have lured for artists and writers for decades.  Among them, D.H. Lawrence (to Taos) and Willa Cather, who captured the drama of the New Mexico environment as she wrote a fictional version of the real-life story of Bishop Jean-Baptiste Lamy, in Death Comes for the Archbishop.  Shoppers and art lovers will find equally dramatic adventures in Santa Fe.

Read: Willa Cather, Death Comes for the Archbishop

Explore: Bishop’s Lodge which offers a spa, horseback riding, and a chance to see Bishop Lamy’s chapel and home. (www.bishopslodge.com)

Stay: Inn on the Alameda (www.innonthealameda.com)

Eat: The Shed (www.sfshed.com)

Events: Santa Fe Wine and Chili Fiesta (www.santafewineandchile.org)

Newport, RI – America’s “Downton Abbey”1492312

Since the 1800s, America’s wealthiest families have flocked to Newport, Rhode Island, and built summer “cottages” that most of us would call “palaces.” Among them was Edith Wharton, who wrote of her experiences in Gilded Age Newport in books such as The Buccaneers, which is about wealthy heiresses who married into the British aristocracy, much like “Downton Abbey’s” Cora Crawley. You can explore Newport’s Gilded Age mansions as well as its gorgeous seaside sites. The more “off season” you go, the more you can afford live like a Vanderbilt.

Read: Gail McColl and Carol Wallace, To Marry and English Lord 

Edith Wharton, The Buccaneers

Explore: Newport Mansions (newportmansions.org)

Stay: Vanderbilt Grace (www.gracehotels.com/vanderbilt)  Ask about packages that include admission to the Newport Mansions.

Eat: The Mooring (www.mooringrestaurant.com)

Events:

Polo matches, sailing regattas, or just a hike along Cliff Walk.  In Newport you can sample “upper crust activities” or just enjoy the view. (www.gonewport.com)

Nantucket – A Whale of a Trip

You can’t find a more concentrated dose of New England charm than in Nantucket. And, if you’re a fan of Herman Melville’s whale tale, Moby Dick, you know that Nantucket is the place where Captain Ahab’s ship, the Peaquod, set sail.

Read: Herman Melville, Moby Dick,

Nathaniel Philbrick, Why Read Moby-Dick? and In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex

Sena Jeter Nasland, Ahabs Wife

Or for more contemporary tales, read Summerland and other books by Nantucket resident Elin Hilderbrand.

Stay: White Elephant (www.whiteelephanthotel.com)

Eat: Millie’s. Enjoy the sunset and sample a Whale Tale Pale Ale. (www.milliesnantucket.com)

Explore: Nantucket Whaling Museum (www.nha.org)

Events: The Nantucket Maritime Festival. You’ll hear sea shanties sung, see harpoons thrown, and boats raced. (www.nantucketmaritimefestival.org)

Driftless in WisconsinUnknown-15

Because of its geology, the Driftless Area of southwest Wisconsin is a place tailor-made for meandering. And the fall colors are reaching their peak in Wisconsin right now. As David Rhodes explains it in his beautiful book Driftless, “The last of the Pleistocene glaciers did not trample through this area, and the glacial deposits of rock, clay, sand, and silt–called drift–are missing.  Hence its name, the Driftless Region.  Singularly unrefined, it endured in its hilly, primitive form untouched by the shaping hands of those cold giants.” In this area, you’ll meet friendly folks who may remind you of the characters in Rhodes’s book—organic farmers, artists, shopkeepers, and the nice Norwegian lady at the dairy coop.  Amish folks sell produce and hand-made wares at roadside stands, making the entire area a giant farmers market through fall. By the end of your trip, you’ll be reluctant to leave.  But you can return by reading Rhodes’s newest book, Jewel Weed.

Read: David Rhodes, Driftless and its sequel, Jewel Weed

Stay: Charming B&Bs abound in the Driftless Area. Check out The Roth House(therothhouse.com) and the sister property The Old Oak Inn (theoldoakinn.net) in Soldier’s Grove or Westby House Inn in Westby (www.westbyhouse.com)

Eat: Driftless Cafe, Viroqua (www.driftlesscafe.com)

Explore: Amish farms and shops (www.downacountryroad.com) and Wildcat Mountain State Park (www.dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/name/wildcat/)  For more Driftless information see driftlesswisconsin.com

Events: Gays Mills Apple Festival (www.gaysmills.org/Apple_Festival)

Beer and Books in Wisconsin

The Bookmobile headed for Wisconsin.

Mark Twain said, “I have found out that there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.”  One of my book clubs travels fairly often, usually on short jaunts to members’ cabins, and we’ve found out that we like each other a lot, even with the extra large dose of “togetherness” that comes with group travel.

Last week ten of us piled into a 33-foot R.V. and drove to Three Lakes, Wisconsin. That’s about five hours from Minneapolis, and not far from Rhinelander, home of a mythical creature called a Hodag.  We stayed at a member’s cabin there, using the R.V. as an extra bedroom.  We used the opportunity to plan our reading list for the coming year (check it out below) and to discuss a book that takes place, in part, in Wisconsin, Wallace Stegner’s classic, Crossing to Safety.

Though we try to retain a bookish façade, I have to admit that much of our time was

Jake's provides most of the things one needs on vacation.

spent on the activities for which Wisconsin is famous, with Jake’s Bar at the center of intellectual pursuits such as darts and pool, beer and cheese curds.  We just call it “promoting literacy.”

The List

Driftless — David Rhodes

In Caddis Wood — Mary Rockcastle

Breakfast at Tiffany’s —Truman Capote

Cutting for Stone
— Abraham Verghese

The Postmistress
—Sarah Blake

The Paris Wife —Paula McLain

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks —Rebecca Skloot

The Irresistible Henry House —Lisa Grunwald

Unbroken
—Laura Hillenbrand.

The Language of Flowers —Vanessa Diffenbaugh

My Nest
Isn’t Empty, It Just Has More Closet Space —Lisa Scottoline