|Avery Drawings & Archives Collections|
Table of Contents
Container ListView All
Series I: Personal Papers
Series III: Writings
Series IV: Professional Papers
Series VII: Photographs and Slides
Series VIII: Audio-Visual Material
Series IX: Printed Material
At a Glance
The collection consists of nine series: Personal Papers, Correspondence, Writings, Professional Papers, Office Records, Project Records, Photographs and Slides, Audio-Visual Material, and Printed Material.
Scope and Content
This collection documents the life and career of Edgar Allen Tafel: New York architect, Frank Lloyd Wright historian, and one of the original apprentices of the Taliesin Fellowship from 1932. The collection primarily documents Tafel's professional activities and his later independent architectural career which was most prominent from 1965-1985. The collection is made up of nine series: Personal Papers, Correspondence, Writings, Professional Papers, Office Records, Project Records, Photographs and Slides, Audio-Visual Material, and Printed Material.
Using the Collection
Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library
Restrictions on Access
This collection is available for use by appointment in the Department of Drawings & Archives, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University. For further information and to make an appointment, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Edgar Tafel architectural records and papers, 1919-2005, Department of Drawings & Archives, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University.
About the Finding Aid / Processing Information
Columbia University Libraries, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library
This collection was processed by Tania Franco, Edgar Tafel Project Archivist, 2012-2013.
2013-04-10 File created.
2019-05-20 EAD was imported spring 2019 as part of the ArchivesSpace Phase II migration.
History / Biographical Note
Edgar Allen Tafel was born on March 4, 1912, in New York, NY, the second child of Samuel and Rose Tafel. Tafel's parents were both born in Russia and immigrated to New York in the early 1900s.
When Tafel was around 8 years old, the Tafel family moved briefly from New York to Stelton, New Jersey where they joined the Ferrer Association Modern School colony. The Ferrer Association was first established in New York City in 1911 and was named after the Spanish educator, Francisco Ferrer, who was killed in 1909 for his beliefs in anarchy and liberal education. The Modern School moved to Stelton, New Jersey in 1915 and remained a community until 1958, centering its beliefs on the school which promoted the development and creativity of the children. Tafel was a part of this progressive education that taught individualism and here his daily lessons revolved around carpentry, gardening, printing and setting type, weaving, and pottery. He also willfully enlisted the help of his peers to build an architectural model-sized village outdoors.
The Tafel family moved back to Manhattan where their high fashion clothing business, Tafel Gowns, was located at 15 East 56th Street. Tafel's mother designed gowns for many actresses, instilling in Tafel an appreciation for theater. In high school, Tafel joined a puppet group in the Village and worked in theaters. It was in his last year of high school also when Tafel was influenced to become an architect from discovering Lewis Mumford's Sticks and Stones and Louis Sullivan's Autobiography of an Idea.
Tafel enrolled in New York University's five-year architecture program and was accepted. During his first year at college, Tafel saw Frank Lloyd Wright's House on the Mesa exhibited in New York City at the Museum of Modern Art's Modern Architecture: International Exhibition from February to March 1932, the same year that Wright's Autobiography was published. Tafel was profoundly inspired by Wright's book, "The first chapters of the Autobiography echoed my entire childhood," he wrote in his book Apprentice to Genius.
In the summer of 1932 Tafel was taking summer courses at Rutgers and living with his aunt in New Jersey. She saved for Tafel a clipping from the Herald Tribune, Frank Lloyd Wright's announcement that he would start his own school of architecture and was seeking apprentices and teachers. Tafel sent his interest and received the application for the Taliesin Fellowship. Entrance into the Taliesin Fellowship required a tuition fee of $675, but Tafel could only afford $450, the same amount as his NYU tuition. He wrote to Wright and was accepted. Tafel left for Spring Green, Wisconsin, and arrived at Taliesin in September 1932. He would remain there for nine years as Wright's protégé.
Tafel's first years at Taliesin were spent drawing in the drafting room, assisting with maintaining and repairing Taliesin, and harvesting the land. Life at Taliesin also revolved around social gatherings, visitors, mass, and film and music evenings. Tafel was often asked by Wright to play the piano. Although there were many apprentices living at Taliesin, Tafel became one of Wright's most trusted apprentices. Tafel saw the construction of the Malcolm Willey house which was completed in 1934. He worked on the drawings of Fallingwater and supervised construction of the home in Mill Run, Pennsylvania, in the summer of 1936. He also prepared sketches and supervised construction of the Johnson Wax Building. Tafel also worked on the Lloyd Lewis House, the Bernard Schwartz House, and Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Arizona.
While Tafel was still an apprentice at Taliesin, he was approached by many clients looking for an architect to design their houses. He designed his first house on Lake Michigan while at Taliesin. Shortly after, Tafel was married to Jean. They would divorce in 1946.
Tafel's new independence as an architect caused him to leave Taliesin in the summer of 1941. He worked briefly in architectural firms in Chicago before enlisting in the army in August 1943, where he spent two years in the Army Photo Intelligence in India. Upon returning to New York, Tafel worked briefly for Walter Blum. He continued designing houses for several other clients in New York and Wisconsin, including a house for his parents in Westchester County, NY. He began his own practice from his home at 14 East 11th Street in New York City, later moving his office briefly to 74 Fifth Avenue. Tafel married Lucille Allman (1914-1972) in 1947.
During the course of Tafel's career from 1941 to the 1990s, he designed over 80 residences, including religious buildings, colleges, offices, and community buildings mostly in New York, but also in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Florida, and other surrounding states. Tafel's design for the First Presbyterian Church House addition on Fifth Avenue and 12th Street in Greenwich Village won an award from the Fifth Avenue Association in 1960 for its modern adaptation of the Gothic style of the Church. Tafel planned and designed for colleges such as the State University of New York at Geneseo, Touro College, York College of the City University of New York, and the New School.
In addition to practicing architecture, Tafel was also the architect member of the New York City Interfaith Commission for the Study of Landmarking of Religious Buildings. Tafel was at the forefront in preserving the memory of Frank Lloyd Wright as well as his architecture: he was a part of the Fallingwater Advisory Committee and the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy; he played a fundamental role in preserving the Francis W. Little House library at the Allentown Art Museum in Pennsylvania and the living room at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York ; and he proposed exhibits, programs, and produced films about Wright. Tafel authored two books: Apprentice to Genius: Years With Frank Lloyd Wright (published 1979) and About Wright: An Album of Recollections by Those Who Knew Frank Lloyd Wright (published 1993). Tafel toured internationally from the 1970s to the 2000s giving talks and slide lectures on Frank Lloyd Wright.
Edgar Tafel, FAIA, received an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts from the University of New York at Geneseo in 2001, and established the Edgar Tafel Endowment in the School of Architecture at the University of Illinois in 2006.
Edgar Tafel died at the age of 98 on January 18, 2011.