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Archie and Patricia Teater had a dream. They wanted to build "a spot of interest to humanity" in Idaho’s Hagerman Valley, where Archie had spent much of his early life. Archie Teater was a landscape painter who had achieved a regional reputation for his portrayals of Wyoming’s Teton Mountains. Though they had been living and working in Jackson, Wyoming, Archie and Pat sought a place of refuge and inspiration. To help them realize their dream, the Teaters approached Frank Lloyd Wright. Though Wright had designed several artists' studios, most notably for writer/philosopher Ayn Rand and for Philadelphia artist Franklin C. Watkins, none, other than his own studios in Oak Park, Spring Green and Scottsdale, were ever built. Coming at a time when he was well into his eighties, Wright was at the peak of his powers, and of his fame. The construction of the Guggenheim Museum in New York was occupying much of his attention. The Taliesin Fellowship, his school of architecture established in 1932, was running at full capacity. Aided by apprentices of varying levels of experience and skill, Wright was able to accept more commissions than at any other point in his career. Along with the Guggenheim, he designed more than 250 residences between the end of the Second World War and his death in 1959. Indeed, referring to this period, Wright said that he was at a point where he could, “shake them out of my sleeve.” The Archie Teater studio is one of the designs he shook from his sleeve. Though not as complex as his masterpieces- Fallingwater, the Robie House or Taliesin- it perhaps, even better, in its simple humbleness, illustrates Wright’s total mastery of his craft. Together, often in extremely trying circumstances, Frank Lloyd Wright and the Teaters would realize their dream in the southern Idaho desert.

The Teater Studio's distinctive "prow" soars over the Hagerman Valley. The knee brace strengthens the prow; its cladding was designed as part of the house's restoration by Taliesin Fellow Tom Casey. Photo Credit: © 2003 Henry Whiting II. Used by permission.

In 1949, Archie and Pat Teater bought a two-acre site on a basalt cliff above the Snake River for $125 and began to plan a studio. With his painter’s eye, Archie Teater was well aware of the power and attraction of this site. Its 180-degree view of the vast Owyhee Desert with the Snake River running through the foreground looked out as far at the Trinity Mountains, sixty miles to the north. To most people, however, it looked achingly desolate, a rocky, sandy knoll, mostly devoid of vegetation. Neighboring ranchers saw that it would be useless for livestock or crops. But to the Teaters it would be a retreat, a place of solace where they could come in the spring and the fall to recharge their creative batteries. Summers were spent in Jackson, where Archie painted while Pat sold the vast majority of his paintings. Winters were spent traveling; Archie eventually painted in over 100 countries.

Looking out from the house yields this view to the west of the Snake River and the Owyhee Desert. Photo Credit: © 2003 Henry Whiting II. Used by permission.

The idea to approach Frank Lloyd Wright to design their studio came from Pat Teater, who was raised by her grandmother in Oak Park. Pat had been a student at the Abraham Lincoln Center, founded by Wright’s famous Unitarian minister uncle, Jenkin Lloyd Jones. Indeed, she claimed to have been in Uncle Jenkin’s last class, before he died in 1918. Pat mentioned this connection when she wrote to Wright in October of 1951, asking him to design their studio. Though it is hard today to imagine an architect of Wright’s stature accepting a commission as small as the Teater studio (he was paid $1,500), it was common practice for Wright. Indeed, it could be argued that designing small, inexpensive, dwellings was more important to him than creating larger, more elaborate projects like the Guggenheim Museum. The Teaters were clearly delighted when Wright agreed to design their studio, and were thrilled when they saw his design. “Such excitement we have never had!”, wrote Pat.

Wright’s studio for the Teaters is a simple, one room building created from stone, wood and glass. It is one of the simplest of all his designs, the only interior walls are those enclosing the kitchen (‘workspace’, to use Wright’s term) and bathroom. Radiating out from a great fireplace at the center, the main studio also contains a dining space, and a partitioned area for sleeping. Large window areas open out to the view of the river to the west, and to the north, providing the consistent north light that painters require. The flat-planed roof of the studio slopes gently up from a low point at the carport to the high point above the studio terrace. The window sills echo the roof plane; when contrasted with the solidity of the stone masonry, this creates a dynamic tension which accounts for much of the building’s appeal. It looks like a giant golden eagle about to take flight. Characteristically, Wright’s front door is not immediately apparent when entering the property. One has to walk around to the back side of the studio and experience Nature and her sublime vistas of the canyon and the mighty roar of the river, before entering the interior. Here a generous outdoor patio area opens to the river and the cliffs beyond. Three steps lead up to an entry loggia, where the front door, protected by a broadly overhanging roof, welcomes the visitor. The massive stone walls and gently sloping roof create a sense of shelter that is palpable, even primal. Once inside, the ceiling soars up and away with a breathtaking display of architectural virtuosity. The sloping window sills affirm and accentuate the drama.

Another view of the prow shows its intricate system of rafters. Much of the wood was sadly deteriorated when Henry Whiting purchased Teater's Knoll; Whiting personally did much of the refinishing, hanging from scaffolding to accomplish the work. Photo Credit: © 2003 Henry Whiting II. Used by permission.

This is an artist’s studio, and as such, Wright provided only the basic necessities, mainly the great studio space. One of his largest domestic volumes, the studio is roughly 30 feet by 40 feet, reaching a height of 16 feet at the prow. The roof is supported by a 12 X 18 inch solid fir beam at its center, and by 4 X 12 inch structural members which rest on the central beam. All are rough sawn, and when combined with the 9 foot wide by 5 foot high rock fireplace, create the singularly rustic quality of the studio. With a roaring fire in the huge fireplace on a winter’s day, the feeling is intentionally similar to that in the grand National Park Lodges of the West.

Beginning in the late fall of 1953, it took four long years to construct the studio. Difficulties, inherent in the undertaking itself, or created by the Teaters themselves, seemed to plague the construction at every turn. A good case in point is the studio’s masonry. Kent Hale, a young mason from nearby Oakley, had opened a quarry to provide the quartzite rock for the studio, and completed about half of the project. His work is some of the finest, most skillfully composed and executed masonry in any Frank Lloyd Wright building. Unfortunately, the Teaters, for whatever reason, did not pay Hale, so he took other jobs in the area to support his growing family. Pat Teater accused him of deserting their job and fired him. Eventually it took more than twenty masons to complete the masonry, and most of it suffers greatly in comparison with Kent Hale’s work, both in terms of craftsmanship and quality of rock. This pattern was to repeat itself with distressing frequency throughout the construction. The Teaters were often short of money and frequently tried to trade paintings for materials and labor. Most construction people refused to work under these conditions, but the few who did made out quite handily as Archie’s paintings increased in value in later years. A construction project that should have taken a year to complete consumed four years before the Teaters were able to move in.

In the end, though, the Teaters had the audacity to dream a great dream, to see a farsighted vision, and had the courage and tenacity to see the dream through to conclusion when no one else dared. It is a heroic story.

The Teaters used the studio from the late 1950's until the mid 1970's for two months in the spring and two months in the fall. It was at Teater’s Knoll where Archie produced his most creative work. Free of the more commercial environment of Jackson, he allowed his mind to roam, creating some of his most imaginative paintings. The Teaters developed the landscape around the studio, and what was once a dry, desolate knoll, is now a lush, verdant garden, a tribute to their vision.

A view of the Teater Studio property from the Snake River shows the house's close relationship to the knoll where Wright sited it. Photo Credit: © 2003 Henry Whiting II. Used by permission.

As Archie’s health began to fail, the Teaters were unable to return to the studio, and retired to the more tranquil environment of Carmel, California. Archie died in 1978 and Pat in 1981. And for many years the studio sat vacant.

When I first saw Teater’s Knoll in July of 1977 it was obviously uninhabited. A chain link fence topped with three strands of barbed wire surrounded the property. The landscape looked overgrown and unkempt. Curtains covered the window bays, not allowing a view inside. All of this served to pique my imagination. Though I had been a landscape architecture student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, it was Frank Lloyd Wright who really captured my imagination. His home, Taliesin, was only thirty miles from campus, and his integration of buildings with nature endeared him to all landscape architects. Now in Idaho, I wondered how he had integrated the Teater studio into its site. It obviously benefited from an outstanding site, but most of the building, though it sat only thirty feet back from the road, was obscured by vegetation. I came back many times to peer over the fence at the studio, but would have to wait almost five years to solve the mystery. In 1982 the house was placed on the market for sale, and by a lucky chance, that can only be called destiny, I found out five days later. I immediately made an appointment with the listing real estate agent. I had no interest in buying the studio, I only wanted to satisfy my curiosity about the interior and its siting. After seeing its run-down condition, however, I began to conceive of a restoration project. What better way to learn about Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture than a hands-on project to restore the studio to its former glory!

Originally a carport that was never finished by the Teaters in accordance with Wright's intent, this new addition to the house stays entirely within the structure's original footprint, and its interior space conforms to Wright's original module. Photo Credit: © 2003 Henry Whiting II. Used by permission.

Many problems needed my immediate attention. The roof was sagging in several locations, and makeshift supports had been added by the Teaters. All of the exterior wood was in dire need of refinishing. In many locations the original finish had worn off completely, exposing the bare wood to the elements. Inside, the single pane windows had suffered from condensation over the years, creating unsightly water stains on the trim. A six inch diameter steel post had been placed at the apex of the fireplace, ostensibly to support its cantilever and the 12 X 18 inch roof beam above. The kitchen and bathroom designs needed to be rethought. Originally they were designed as tiny cubicles, owing to the rustic nature of the building, and to Wright’s design propensity at the time.

Another view of the addition shows new stonework executed by Kent Hale, the first stonemason to work on the house when it was built by the Teaters. Henry and Lynn have brought Hale back to Teater's Knoll on several occasions, feeling that his stonework is some of the best in all of Wright's houses. Photo Credit: © 2003 Henry Whiting II. Used by permission.

I considered all of the restoration issues in a holistic, integrated way. Refinishing the exterior wood interrelated with replacing more than 100 windows, just as did restructuring the sagging roof. My design for enlarging the kitchen and bathroom by moving them back into the former workshop space, was perhaps more controversial. I integrated these spaces with the existing architecture, by first identifying Wright’s architectural vocabulary (the 60, 120 degree diamond grid) and then adapting the rooms into that vocabulary. The result is that most visitors don’t realize they aren’t original.

The Teater studio functioned again as a part-time residence in the years following the restoration and after a fire in the bathroom in the early 1990's, I put the studio up for sale. No interest could be generated over a period of more than two years, and Teater’s Knoll sat vacant. Languishing.

In 1994 another artist, Lynn Fawcett, a sculptor, came to live in the studio. Lynn had grown up in a house Frank Lloyd Wright designed for her parents*. She moved into the empty studio with no plans for long term occupancy, only with a compelling urge, pulled by the thread of her own destiny, to learn what it was like to create art in the one space Frank Lloyd Wright had designed for that purpose. Lynn and I were married two years later.

Inside the Studio, bronze sculpture by Lynn Fawcett has room to soar within the space. Behind the sculpture can be seen Wright-designed dining furniture, original to the house. Photo Credit: © 2003 Henry Whiting II. Used by permission.

Together, we had the thrill of restoring Teater’s Knoll and bringing it back to life once again. The studio had been designed for spring and fall residency, and we would be its first full time inhabitants. We needed additional space for storage; especially for food, art supplies and clothing. There was no insulation in the roof, and winters can be 20 degrees below zero. These practical concerns would receive our attention; but of more fundamental importance to us was that the studio had been intended to grow out of the earth into infinity. In its details, however, the idea seemed incomplete. The carport roof rested on the spindly legs of its posts, tentatively; seeming to hover above the ground, instead of emerging from it. The interior of the house ended at the kitchen wall, cutting off the low point entirely. We sought to integrate these separated elements by opening the kitchen wall, and enclosing the carport. Stonemason Kent Hale returned for the third time in 45 years to build the south facing end wall. We added windows between the posts on the west wall, including two pairs of casements, which bring the sound of the river into the room, and a pleasing cadence to the rhythm of the facade. Viewed from the outside, the studio is now firmly anchored into the basalt cliff. It truly grows out of the earth and soars into the infinite sky; a perfect manifestation of the artist’s creative impulse. Poised. Refuge and prospect. United and one.

A close view of stonework by Kent Hale shows his artistry. Since the Teaters did not permit Hale to complete all the original stonework at Teater's Knoll, there are other areas where the stone is not laid in precisely the same manner. Photo Credit: © 2003 Henry Whiting II. Used by permission.

Equally dynamic change was brought to the interior of the building. The newly enclosed space, with its stone walls and rough sawn roof beams in close proximity to our heads (rising from 5 feet), is small, quiet, and almost cavelike; a harmonious counterpoint to the dramatic volume of the main studio room. Walking from the intimacy of the new room to the spectacular volume of the main studio room is a richly complex continuum of spatial experience. The additional windows create breathtaking views of the Snake River canyon and the whitewater rapids. Each change was executed in a carefully integrated manner to not disturb the great studio space, which was again functioning as an artist’s studio; and as our living, dining and sleeping space. All changes were simply the natural outgrowth and refinement of Frank Lloyd Wright’s original seed germ ideas.

Outside, we removed gravel from the driveway and forecourt areas and added grass to soften the landscape. Though we live in the desert, we are blessed with continuously flowing spring water, which nourishes not only our lawn, but the Rocky Mountain Juniper trees planted by the Teaters some forty years ago. From inside, the studio and yard are an oasis in this harsh desert, lush and shaded. From a distance, the studio appears like another spring emerging from the cliffs with its attendant vegetation, so naturally does it blend with the native landscape.

Today, Teater's Knoll is a far cry from the rocky, dusty promontory it was before the Teaters built there. A spring near the property furnishes the water for landscaping. Photo Credit: © 2003 Henry Whiting II. Used by permission.

The Teater studio is one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s simplest and most basic creations, a one room structure conceived and built for the purpose of making art. Yet, in its simplicity it is a highly complex manifestation. Each hour of each day brings fresh surprises with the changing light and seasons. Such was Wright’s total mastery of his craft that he could see the whole of this before ever drawing a line. In the manner of a Zen calligraphy artist, using only a few simple, well chosen brushstrokes, he created his great lyric painting on the cliff high above the Snake River, and shook Archie and Patricia Teater’s dream out of his sleeve.

Henry Whiting II

Henry Whiting II

Henry Whiting II

Henry Whiting II

Henry Whiting II

Henry Whiting II

Henry Whiting II

* The concrete-block Fawcett House (S.385) of 1955, in Los Banos, California.

Henry Whiting II

Henry Whiting II

Henry Whiting II (teatersknoll@cs.com) is a writer and a sculptor. He is author of the book: Teater's Knoll: Frank Lloyd Wright's Idaho Legacy, and contributes architectural criticism to several publications, including GA Houses, where he has published an influential article on the work of John Lautner. He lives in Bliss, Idaho with his wife, sculptor Lynn Fawcett Whiting. He is the great-nephew of architect Alden B. Dow, and is currently writing a second book about the Archie Teater studio, from which this article is adapted.

Creation Continues In the Teater Studio

Since both Henry Whiting II and Lynn Fawcett are sculptors, their work has returned the Teater Studio to its original function- a place of creation. A Lynn Fawcett sculpture, "The Enfolded Universe: A Tribute to David Bohm," is seen here. Conceived in homage to the late physicist and philosopher, the three monumental bronze vessels measure 9' x 7" x 2"; 8' 6" x 7" x 2"; and 8' 2" x 6" x 2". Fawcett has long-standing interests in architecture, art, philosophy, religion, shamanism, dreamwork, and healing. She is a writer; and holds a MS degree in psychology. She has done extensive hospital work with dying children and adults, and private practice work.

From The Artist:

The rock studio and the continuous presence of the river offer me refuge, and the unceasing solace of nature; a direct experience of the eternal, and an acute awareness of life's impermanence. Nature at this raw cliffside edge, shows me the way into the Silence, reveals what is essential, and bespeaks my union with the whole of existence. My work is a result of this continuous dialogue; and is at once an offering and a receiving; an opening and a return to this supreme source.

These bronze vessels, in homage to the Eternal Feminine, are ceremonial/ritual vessels to be used in meditation, prayer, or silence. They are peace pipes. Subtle and powerful. Silent and dynamic. They speak to the vertical axis and the abilities inherent in each of us to be conduits for the supreme creative energy of the universe. I created these vessels to be in service to the Silence from which all comes into being, and all ultimately returns. I created them for healing. They are a manifestation of the question: how do we remain in the world and hold all life sacred? and accept what is; and let the inner silence inform and guide our outer expression in the world?

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Copyright © 2003 D.A. "Sandy" McLendon and Joe Kunkel, www.jetsetmodern.com Jetset - Designs for Modern Living. All rights reserved worldwide. This article may not be reproduced, reprinted, reposted or rewritten without express permission in writing from the author and publisher. First posted to the Web on December 18, 2003.