Talk and Slideshow given by Edgar Tafel: Buffalo, New York

On May 18, 2003, Edgar Tafel, architect, author and former Frank Lloyd Wright apprentice spoke at the University of Buffalo.  Mr. Tafel has been someone have admired since I read his first book, Apprentice to Genius. He worked with Wright from the early years of the Taliesin Fellowship (1932) through 1941 and worked on many of Wright’s most famous architectural works like Fallingwater and the Johnson Wax Building.  Hearing him speak was obviously a big deal for me… especially since he’s getting up there in years.  It was important enough for me that I drove most of the night from Chicago, Illinois to Buffalo, New York just to hear him speak.

 

Edgar Tafel: Taken by my friend Al Sabatini.  May, 2003

Mr. Tafel’s talk started with a movie made by Alden Dow (of Dow Chemical fame).  It would appear that Dow was an apprentice of Wright’s in the fellowship in some fashion for about 9 months.  He had his own apartment and both he and his wife drove their own “His and Hers” convertibles to and from Taliesin each day.  Though they didn’t share in the rustic lifestyle of the rest of the Taliesin apprentices, Alden did have a movie camera though and made a movie of life at Taliesin in 1933-4.  Mr. Tafel had made a video of this and he narrated the whole thing. 

 Mr. Tafel’s commentary was priceless!  Not only did he poke fun at himself every time his young face appeared on the screen, (“Oh there’s that camera-hog Tafel again…”) but he also had such wonderful comments like, “Behold the only known documentation of Frank Lloyd Wright in a bathing suit!”

 The movie was fantastic.  It really showed all the aspects of life at Taliesin during the early 1930s.  If you’ve seen the Ken Burns documentary on Frank Lloyd Wright, you may remember some black and white film clips in the first half of the show.  These are from Alden Dow’s home movies. 

 When the movie concluded, Mr. Tafel continued with his own slides of his time at Taliesin.  Not only did he narrate the slide show, but he also added in many of the stories he had told in his book.  The story of the time he was fired by Wright and then subsequently re-hired hours later at the request of Olgivanna was quite interesting.    He had overseen the construction of a home in Minnesota for Mr. Wright.  Knowing that the snow loads were particularly heavy in that part of the country, he added steel beams to the cantilevers to make them strong.  When another apprentice had sought his advice while overseeing the construction of a similar house down south, Tafel strongly urged the apprentice to add steel to the cantilevers’ structure and don’t tell anyone.  The apprentice didn’t follow this advice.  The cantilevers failed.  When asked about this by Wright, Tafel confessed to having put steel in the cantilevers in the home he’d overseen.  Wright fired him on the spot… making comments about how he’d been stabbed in the back by someone he had once trusted. 

 The funny part of the story came in his re-hiring.  He had been driving Mr. and Mrs. Wright to the store as his “last duty as an apprentice” and they had been arguing the whole way.  When they stopped for Mr. Wright to use the rest room, Mrs. Wright asked Edgar to tell the whole story of why he had used the steel in the construction of this home.  Mr. Tafel convinced her that he was honestly looking out for Mr. Wright’s best interests and reputation and not trying to deceive anyone.  She then convinced Mr. Wright to hire him back.  It was done.

 The best parts of this story were the numerous impressions of Mrs. Wright’s accent and voice by Edgar Tafel.  He had the WHOLE crowd in stitches. 

 The talk and slide show concluded with many slides and discussions of Edgar Tafel’s own work after leaving the Taliesin Fellowship.  His work is incredible.  It was wonderful to see his designs and know the roots from which they’d come.

 

Edgar Tafel: Taken by my friend Al Sabatini.  May, 2003

I was fortunate enough to get to talk briefly with Mr. Tafel and also get him to sign one of his books for me.  He is truly a person devoted to the cause of organic architecture as well as continuing the legacy of Frank Lloyd Wright.