Visitors to Taliesin West over the next couple of months will get much more than a look at Frank Lloyd Wright’s famed winter home and studio in Scottsdale: They’ll also be able to admire artistic photographs of his other works from Arizona and around the nation.
Professional photographer Andrew Pielage of Phoenix is on a mission to chronicle all 430 of Wright’s remaining structures, and he’s up to 115. The “Sacred Spaces” exhibit, which opened at Taliesin West in October and is on display daily through January 29, 2023, captures 13 of those sites in 32 photos placed throughout the property.
Pielage, who has lived in Arizona since age 2, set foot at Taliesin West for the first time at age 34 in 2011, and was moved by how Wright married his structures with the natural environment. In fact, the title of the show refers not just to the churches, synagogues, and chapels that Wright designed. There's also the architect's philosophy that the Earth itself is a sacred space, and people should honor it with structures that complement its beauty, rather than desecrate it.
“The big takeaway for me was not the architecture, it was the blending of the two,” Pielage says. “I thought it was very cool that someone would respect nature so much they wouldn’t try to dominate it. He was trying to blur the line of where architecture and nature meet, and I had never seen that before.”
In fact, he recalls a famous Wright quote that says, “I believe in God, only I spell it Nature.”
Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. He started by photographing local sites such as ASU Gammage, First Christian Church, and the David and Gladys Wright House, which Wright built for his son.
In 2016, KJZZ radio host and producer Lauren Gilger interviewed Pielage about his photography of Wright structures. “The project didn’t exist until her last question,” he recalls. “And she asked, ‘How many Frank Lloyd Wright sites do you want to photograph?’ And there’s only one answer to that question, and I said, ‘All of them.’ And that was the birth of the project.”
However, he adds, “When I agreed to do this project, I didn’t know how many Frank Lloyd Wright sites there were.”
Bruce Orendorf, the director of public engagement for the foundation, says other photographers have chronicled Wright’s works, but not with the permission and access to both interior and exterior shots — particularly in residences. “To our knowledge, no one has taken on what Andrew has taken on,” he says.
Pielage notes, “I knew early on this project was much bigger than sticking my cellphone over a fence.”
The foundation hopes the photos will broaden visitors’ experience and knowledge of Wright, Orendorf says. The prints, which are copies of Pielage's originals because of lack of temperature and humidity controls at Taliesin West, are incorporated into the audio and guided tours. During the experience, guests are asked, “What is sacred to you?”
They've received all sorts of responses to that question, from how mountains are sacred to even an ordinary gym where a woman works. “The definition is vast," Orendorf says. "Personal space is sacred. It’s getting us in conversation with our guests. The ability to be relevant to them on a topic that you wouldn’t expect to talk about when you came to see a historic home, I think that’s rich and diverse, and we’re looking forward to doing more like that for them.”
A major inspiration for Pielage was growing up outdoors: His dad was a geologist and his mom was an “adventurer,” he says. “We were out every weekend hiking, camping.”
The first time he drove up the meandering road to Taliesin West, “it immediately put me back traveling around the deserts with my family,” Pielage notes. And he was struck by how you don’t just see Wright’s architecture, you also feel it, with his “compress and release” techniques and how he draws the eye in certain directions.
When he began the project, Pielage carefully researched each site before going, but he soon figured out that Wright’s eye for design and light provided an “instant inspiration” that was more authentic for capturing the experience.
For example, in a shot of Beth Sholom Synagogue in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, he noticed the floor was sloped to resemble a pair of open hands. In other buildings, triangles recall the form of prayer.
The way a Wright structure captures and plays with light, too, was deliberate, and Pielage takes that into account. He has an app that shows him the angles of the sun throughout the day so he knows when to shoot, especially since he only uses natural light.
“Frank Lloyd Wright does such a great job of collecting light in his buildings, showing you light, bouncing it around,” Pielage says. He quotes Wright saying, “More and more, it seems to me that light is the beautifier of the building.”
“Sacred Spaces” at Taliesin West
Where: 12621 North Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard, Scottsdale
Information: Audio and guided tours are available at Taliesin West, and advance tickets are recommended. For admission, hours, and details, visit franklloydwright.org.