These Artisan Candle Blocks Have a Special Story Behind Them
Taliesin West preserves a legacy of inclusivity with its latest collaboration with a local nonprofit.
By Rebecca L. Rhoades
When Frank Lloyd Wright and his Taliesin Fellowship began construction on the famed architect’s winter home, Taliesin West in Scottsdale, they used rocks and sand culled from the surrounding area to ensure the structures looked as though they were an extension of the desert floor. Mixed with concrete, the stone composite became known as desert masonry. It is used on the exteriors of virtually every building at Taliesin West, and it’s become a characteristic element of Wright’s Southwest designs.
“Desert masonry really does hold different stories within it,” says Gabrielle Abbott, senior marketing manager for the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, which oversees the preservation of Wright’s Arizona home as well as Taliesin, his summer residence in Spring Green, Wisconsin. Now the earthen material is being used to tell new tales but on a smaller scale, thanks to members of The Opportunity Tree, a Phoenix-based nonprofit that supports and cultivates skills in youth and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Recently, the two organizations teamed up to create one-of-a-kind handcrafted candle blocks using desert masonry. Inspired by Wright’s techniques, the blocks were designed by a former student of the School of Architecture at Taliesin’s Immersion Program. He came up with the concept as a way to decorate the campus’s dining room.
During his eight-month tenure at the school, the student introduced the blocks into the gift shop, and they immediately sold out. Their popularity caused Stuart Graff, president and CEO of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, to question how they could be made on a larger scale, how the community could be involved and how such a project could build on Wright’s legacy. A chance meeting with Taylor Buttrey, creative arts program manager for The Opportunity Tree, provided the perfect answer.
“Frank Lloyd Wright’s studio has always been a place of inclusion—a setting where people could explore their talents and creativity regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, faith or otherwise,” said Graff in a press release announcing the collaboration. “Through this partnership, we’re able to advance our mission of enabling everyone to contribute to our community by realizing their potential.”
To create the candle blocks, members from The Opportunity Tree’s Phoenix and Casa Grande locales collect rocks from the grounds of Taliesin West. The stones are then placed, along with a concoction of cement and sand, into wax molds supplied by the Foundation.
The small blocks are battered on all four sides, tapering at the same 15 degrees as so many of the walls at Taliesin West, and even feature horizontal grooves similar to those Wright liked to press into his buildings. The artistic element comes in the positioning of the stones, as each brings a unique pattern and color to the finished piece.
“Our members have control of the entire process,” says Buttrey. He proceeds to read some comments from participants: “My favorite part is placing the rocks in the mold in a way that I think they’ll look good. I feel happy when making them,” says one. Another notes, “I like making the candle blocks because it forces me to concentrate and focus. I like to do a good job.”
Buttrey adds that the members were invited to Taliesin West to celebrate their creations being sold in the gift shop. “They were so proud to have what they’ve been doing made available to the public, and to have people appreciating them and buying them,” he recalls.
“The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation has been an amazing partner,” Buttrey adds. “They’ve made it well-known how important it is for them that our members understand Wright’s vision and mission—and they make sure that we’re a part of their community.”
Each candle block measures 4 inches high by 4 inches square and holds a tea light candle. Available only in person at the Taliesin West gift shop, they retail for $80 each; proceeds benefit the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation and The Opportunity Tree’s efforts to provide developmentally disabled adults with vocational opportunities. For more information, visit franklloydwright.org and azafh.org.