March 27, 2007


So I've been trying to apply some of my new knowledge about feng shui to Taliesen West, the Frank Lloyd Wright compound that we toured. Dr. Hsu, my feng shui teacher, was dismissive of Fallingwater, saying it was a house that had too much qi. In my imagination, I've been walking around Taliesen West and seeing it through the filter of Dr. Hsu's knowledge of feng shui.

In the big picture, philosophically, feng shui is about living in accordance with the patterns of nature that are present in a place. Among many other things, these patterns include wind (feng) or water (shui), and cycles of day and night, and the seasons. The school of feng shui that Dr. Hsu teaches is the Form School; while I have only the most rudimentary knowledge of this, what it means is that the form of a thing determines the kind of qi-energy you'll find there. Wholesome forms are desirable: circles and squares are desirable; rectangles are okay just so long as they remain in a pleasing proportion, but if a rectangle gets too narrow or too wide, its energy becomes negative. Triangles are not wholesome. (Dr. Hsu went so far as to make us, his students, a bet: If you seat two people who are the best of best friends at a triangular table that's placed against a mirrored wall, he would guarantee that these two best friends would argue. None of us took him up on his bet.) Avoid triangles at all costs -- don't live in a triangular house, and don't have triangular furnishings.

At Taliesen West, Frank Lloyd Wright's goal was to create a building complex that would fit into the desert hillside. As I mentioned before, the rooflines echo the shape of the hills. The masonry could not be more in accordance with the immediate environment, being made up of rocks from the hillside mixed with cement. The wooden parts (beams, doors, etcetera) were painted terra cotta colors, again an echo of the red desert hills. The compound is sited at an angle so that it has no true north or true south sides, because Frank Lloyd Wright knew that a north-south orientation would create a building that had one hot side and one cold side. The wind coming up from the valley was used to best advantage by having it flow over a pool as a form of primitive air conditioning. All of these factors show that Frank Lloyd Wright studied the patterns of this desert place and built Taliesen West in harmony with those patterns. He should earn an A+, don't you think? And there was not a room that Scott and I went into, during our tour, that didn't feel comfortable to us.

But on the negative side, the rooms were long and narrow, becoming disproportionate rectangles. The drafting studio and the Garden Room were particularly long and narrow. Recall that the ceiling-walls-floor shape of some of the rooms and some of the doorways were distorted hexagons -- are you with me in thinking that Dr Hsu would say that these stretched, lopsided hexagons are not wholesome forms? And those ubiquitous triangles! Most obviously seen in the shape of the reflecting pond at the front of the main building, triangle shapes also made up some of the windows, some of the light fixtures, and so on. For these reasons, I think Frank Lloyd Wright would earn a D-.

These mixed reviews just show me that I have more to learn about feng shui. I don't know whether the big-picture factors, like siting the buildings correctly, outweigh other factors, like using unwholesome shapes.

* * *

In Two Swans Yarns news: New colors of Kidsilk Haze are in, and listed on the website:

AnthraciteThumb.jpg Anthracite (a dark bluish gray)

GlacierThumb.jpg Glacier (a soft grayish-bluish green, which does, in fact, look like the color of a glacier stream)

IceCreamThumb.jpg Ice Cream (a peach) A name that again begs the question: Where does Rowan come up with these color names?

MistThumb.jpg Mist (pale lavender)

I took my own photos of these yarns. Judging from what I could see on my computer monitor, I did not think the colors on the Rowan website were very accurate. I hope my own photos are more true-to-life!

I know it feels like it's been on backorder for forever, but finally, Grouse is back in stock! (Okay, not forever, only since December 15 -- three months!) Grouse is used as one of the background stripes for Sally Melville's Knitting Bag Jacket, and for the perenially popular Jacobean Floral Felted Bag. The Jacobean bag is one of the Top 5 Projects at Two Swans. This color in the Jamieson's DK weight is one that always sells out right away, so if you are at all interested in either of these projects -- or some other, DK-Grouse project -- don't wait to order.

Posted by Karen at 10:15 AM

March 20, 2007


While in Arizona, we stayed at the Camelback Inn, a resort whose tagline is: "Where Time Stands Still:"
This tagline amused me greatly. Can't tell you how many times I looked at that clock, perpetually at 1:25, and thought it really was 1:25.

On our last full day in Arizona, Scott's business meetings concluded at noon. Afterward, a small group was going to view the Frank Lloyd Wright house just north of Scottsdale. Scott claimed to have little interest ("I've read The Natural House, I know all I need to know about Frank Lloyd Wright," said he) but I begged to go along.

Frank Lloyd Wright had been mentioned in the feng shui classes I recently took -- and his architecture pointed out as a bad example. This was just the briefest of brief mentions, but it had stuck in my mind. The feng shui instructor, Dr. Hsu, had been talking about how the qi moves through a house -- you don't want to live in a house where the qi moves too quickly, and you don't want to live in a house where the qi moves too slowly. And he had said that the Frank Lloyd Wright house in Pennsylvania, Fallingwater, has entirely too much qi, built as it is around a waterfall. (Ponds and lakes are desirable to live by, but moving water has energy, and waterfalls have tremendous energy.) Fallingwater might be an interesting place to visit, but you couldn't live there comfortably, according to Dr. Hsu.

So these ideas of house, home, architecture, and decorating all currently stewing in my mind, when this offer to go to the Frank Lloyd Wright house in Arizona came up, I really didn't want to pass it up. (I had missed my opportunity to tour Fallingwater when we were in Pittsburgh in 2004, and wished I would have gone.) And even if one of us had read The Natural House, we really had no idea what we were going to tour.

Taliesen West was built by Frank Lloyd Wright in the late 1930s to be his winter home, drafting studio and office where he could meet with clients, and also to house the school of architecture that he ran. (Today Taliesen West is home to the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, houses Wright's archives, and is still an active school of architecture, with an enrollment of 19 students per year; students can earn either a Bachelor's or a Master's in Architecture.) It is a series of low, sprawling buildings that are built in the "brow" of the desert mountains. The buildings are low and mesa-like, and triangular shapes in the rooflines are supposed to mimic the shape of the mountains -- as though the buildings sprang up organically out of the hillside. And in terms of materials, in a way, they did: The masonry is all made from local rock, cemented together. The beams are redwood, painted rusty color, and the doors are all painted a rusty-red -- these colors echo the desert terrain.

The first building our tour entered was the one Wright used as an office to meet with clients. Wright's signature style is to have low doorways and entryways that sort of "squeeze" you into the main space, and this door was no exception. It had a clearance of, at most, six feet -- no problem for me, but many of the taller men on the tour had to duck to get through. The shape of the door was a distorted, stretched hexagon -- Wright was trying to "think out of the box" and avoided box shapes as much as possible at Taliesen West.

When you're taking a tour accompanied by others in the fabric business, this is what it's like -- we stepped into this office, and instantly, Faith, who has a marine fabrics business, said, "Oooh, that's canvas." It would have taken me longer to notice. But, indeed, the roof was made of a series of overlapping panels -- wooden frames with canvas stretched over them. (And, unfortunately, the canvas was not looking that great -- you could see streaks where rainwater had trickled and pooled. Our tour guide said that there were channels in the roof beams to make the water flow out. Nevertheless, I am sure that, since 1937 when the place was built, the canvas roof panels have been continually re-covered. Our little group tried to speculate who was getting the business to supply the canvas to Taliesen West.)

Wright's office/studio.

The point of the canvas roofs was this: Wright called his Arizona home his "camp." He wanted it to be tentlike -- and simulataneously, boat-like (a "ship on the desert"). The canvas filters the sunlight in a very pleasant way, and provides a nice, even lighting if you are trying to do architectural drawings. The canvas panels could be removed and re-arranged at will.

Next, our group walked to the front of the compound, to look back at the buildings set against the hillside:

Obligatory touristy shot.

I recognized from theatre history class (of all places!) that this reflecting pond in front of the main building serves as primitive air conditioning: as the wind moves up from the valley and over the pond, it becomes cooled and carries some of that cooling effect into the room beyond which is the large drafting studio. We were allowed to walk through the drafting studio, where several people (presumably the architecture students) were at work, but not allowed to take any photographs while in there. (Our guide emphasized that the reflecting pond was a source of water in case of fire, and said that Wright would keep a set of buckets near the door so that he and his students could form a bucket brigade if the need arose. Scott and I did not know during the tour that Wright's original Taliesen in Wisconsin had burned down in a very tragic case of arson. Our guide didn't mention this, but in retrospect I realize that this was why our guide emphasized that Wright was prepared for fire. In fact, our guide didn't mention much of anything about Wright's scandalous past.)

Another obligatory touristy shot.

The rooms behind Scott are the dining rooms and some private living quarters. These rooms were not included in our tour. We could peek in the windows and see that the dining tables were already set for dinner -- presumably as the dining hall for the architecture students.

Our next stop was the Garden Room, the primary living room where Wright and his wife would entertain their guests. We had to go through this maze-like entryway:

First, coming in through the red door --

like all good entryways, this one has a bench and a mirror (and I assume the wooden part at the left is the door to the coat closet), but the space is so small you wouldn't pause for long, but instead turn immediately clockwise to the next segment of the entryway --


a low partitioning wall that you have to walk around to get further into the room -- (I was impressed by the mosaic of little rocks. The guide told me it was by Claire Booth Luce, and he told me the name of it, which I promptly forgot, but it was something like "Moonlight on the Desert.") -- another 90-degree turn, this time counterclockwise, to really enter the Garden Room.

Scott relaxes in front of the big stone fiireplace in one of the "origami chairs" that Wright designed.

A smaller, more intimate living room off of the Garden Room.

We toured other parts of the complex, too, but I'll leave you with just this last shot, of the Cabaret theatre:


Wright loved the movies and this is the second of three movie screens at Taliesen West. There is a very small stage where our guide is standing, and usually a piano. You'll see some triangular-shaped floor lighting at the left of the photo -- a Frank Lloyd Wright invention. That wall at left has an angle in it, as does the masonry wall on the right -- instead of being made up of four sides (floor, ceiling, walls) the entire room is a distorted hexagon and yet another example of Wright avoiding the box shape.

There is a larger stage in the third theatre at Taliesen West. The architecture students put on plays there! They design their own sets (of course!) and costumes, and act in them. As a former drama teacher, my heart just thrilled when I saw the display of the photos of the students' productions. In fact, all of the arts are practiced as part of the curriculum. Wright used to tell his students: "Bring a sleeping bag and a tuxedo." They'd be sleeping in the desert in tents, for their first year of study, and they'd need the tuxedo for formal nights of music and theatre.

Even though Scott had dragged his heels about going to Taliesen West, he was very much drawn into the atmosphere of the place -- so much so that he even bought a membership in the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. Visiting Taliesen West was very much the highlight of our Arizona trip, and I recommend it.

For a Wikipedia article on Frank Lloyd Wright, click here.

Posted by Karen at 12:39 PM | Comments (2)

March 13, 2007


We interrupt the regularly-scheduled programming of feng shui class review and recap of my recent get-togethers with other knitters with an emergency Sun Drill!* (Picture-heavy post, and because I am traveling and just winging this blog entry without my usual computer and Photoshop to edit photos, the editing is somewhat haphazard.)

Scott has a business trip to Phoenix, and I got to tag along on the trip. But it hasn't been all business -- here we are in Peoria last Sunday, catching the Mariners at a spring training game:

Phoenix 010.jpg

Adrian Beltre at bat --

Ichiro at bat -- my favorite! And he was the favorite of the Japanese family sitting next to me, too. The father sat down next to me with a big shopping bag and proceeded to pull out, one by one, the various souvenirs he'd bought. They had a photo of the whole team, and damn if the little boy (probably 7 or 8 years old) hadn't collected about half of the autographs of various Mariner players. The dad pulled out three different autographed baseballs in those cube cases. He had signed and framed photos of Ichiro Suzuki, Matsui Sasaki, and Kenji Johjima. Scott and I felt very inadequate with our one Sony camera -- the father had a rotation of three different cameras -- telephoto, video, and one of those credit-card sized digital ones, and recorded much of the game.

And the first six innings were really fun and worth recording. The Mariners were ahead of the White Sox, 3 to 0. But in the seventh inning, the White Sox brought a total of 14 batters to the plate. (Our pitching sucks, what can I say?) The Mariners managed a grand slam home run of their own, but still lost, 12 to 7. Interestingly enough, the Japanese father sitting next to me was rooting not only for the Mariners but also for Konerko of the White Sox. I hope the Japanese boy got Ichiro's autograph in person, when the game was over.

Yesterday, while Scott was in a business meeting all day, the other wives and I had a tour of the Desert Botanical Gardens in Phoenix.

Our docents, Larry and Sandy, originally from Ohio but now retired to Arizona and volunteering at the DBG. (Seems everyone in Arizona has moved here after retirement.)

We learned to identify various flora. Docent Larry sprayed water on this creosote bush so that we could experience "the smell of the desert."


Obligatory photo of a Saguaro cactus. My photo doesn't begin to convey the scale of this guy -- he was probably 20 feet tall. Saguaros grow slowly, and have to be 50 years old before they will sprout an "arm."

*Some years ago I worked as a teacher's aide in an elementary school; I was assigned to a classroom of 2nd and 3rd graders. That spring, after a couple of nonstop rainy weeks with nothing but indoor recess day after day, the sun finally broke through one afternoon and the teacher and I took the kids out to field for a Sun Drill. Like a fire drill, only for sunshine. We just let the kids run for a half an hour. It made quite an impression on them, this Sun Drill. And it must've made an impression on me, too, as I still remember it fondly.

Posted by Karen at 09:21 AM | Comments (2)