SPRING GREEN, Wis. - To his acolytes, he was always "Mr. Wright."
But to Brandoch Peters, the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright and his third wife, Olgivanna, were "gra" and "ganna," the doting grandparents who raised him after his mother died in one of Taliesin's many tragedies.
Peters, who turns 62 on Wednesday, is one of the last living links to the great architect. He grew up at Taliesin at his adopted grandfather's side, during the golden years of Wright's final two decades. This was when Wright built the Guggenheim Museum, Oklahoma's Price Tower and the First Unitarian Meeting House in Madison, and designed other projects that weren't built at the time of his death, including Monona Terrace and a mile-high skyscraper.
Peters has been working on a memoir, tentatively called "Frank Lloyd Wright and Others: A Grandson's Point of View." Peters, a quiet man who's spent most of his adult life raising sheep, said he's written "what I know, what I saw" in irritation at Wright's biographers and at those followers who were never close to his grandfather but now claim to know him well.
"The good guys aren't alive anymore," Peters said. "They've all died."
Peters is also giving up his low profile because he's displeased about recent renovations at Taliesin that he believes violate his grandfather's work.
"It's being done by people who don't know the place," he said. "It's a fallacy that anyone can make changes in Frank Lloyd Wright's architecture."
Brandoch Peters passes the scene of the tragedy that shaped his life every day, as he crosses the Wisconsin River to have lunch at the General Store in Spring Green. On a summer day in 1946, his pregnant mother, Svetlana Wright Peters, reached over to grab his little brother and their jeep plunged over the approach to the old steel bridge. Svetlana and Daniel Peters were killed, and 4-year-old Brandoch had to scramble up the embankment to seek help.
Because his father, architect Wes Peters, was often gone, supervising projects as Wright's chief lieutenant, Brandoch Peters was mostly raised by his grandparents at Taliesin and the winter home he calls
"T-West" in Scottsdale, Arizona.
His was an unusual childhood. Peters remembers playing with Tinker Toys on Taliesin's stone floors and roasting chestnuts on the hearth as he listened to his grandparents talk over the day's events.
Peters is not an architect. He was raised as a cello prodigy. Once a week as a teenager, he drove himself to the Phoenix airport to catch the 6:30 a.m. flight to
Los Angeles, where he took lessons from Los Angeles Philharmonic principal cellist Kurt Reher. At age 16, he auditioned for Leonard Rose and was accepted at Juilliard, where he studied for six years under Rose.
"I was just a terrible student," said Peters. "For six years I was at the bottom of his class."
But Peters grew close to Rose, who hired him to work as classroom scheduler and page turner. And Rose took him on a tour of Europe, where Peters met Isaac Stern, Pablo Casals and Marc Chagall. After graduating Julliard, he won a Fullbright Scholarship, studied cello in Paris and played for a year in a Munich symphony under Henry Mancini.
Peters returned home to Spring Green in 1968 to find the hippie movement in full bloom - something he says he totally missed out on. Since then, he's spent most of the past 30 years as an Iowa County sheep farmer.
For about a decade beginning in the mid-1980s, he traded grain futures on the Chicago Board of Trade.
"I lost a lot of money and learned a great deal about life," he said, ruefully.
He had to sell his own farm after his trading losses and now runs his herd of sheep on a neighboring farm owned by Taliesin. He lives in a wing of his boyhood home and says he's unconcerned about being evicted for criticizing Taliesin Preservation Inc.'s plan for stabilizing the crumbling Taliesin with concrete foundations.
"I'm bull-headed, like my father," Peters said.
But Spring Green artist Peg Miller, who considers herself Peters' best friend, said it's typical of him to elaborate on what he sees as his failures - the cello career his grandmother pushed him into, his ill-fated attempt to earn big money - instead of his successes.
"He grew up in the environment of Taliesin, which is elitist," she said. "He's got to get it out of his head that he needs to be famous and make a lot of money."
Miller sees Peters as a success as a farmer and as a man who "has lots of friends, who like him because of who he is, not because he's from Taliesin."
But Miller said his link to Wright should make Peters an invaluable resource to those guiding the process to preserve Taliesin.
"He's the only one who walked at Mr. Wright's knee his whole life - even his (Wright's) own children
didn't do that," Miller said. "Brandoch knows every piece of grass on the place."
To walk the Taliesin grounds with Peters is to unleash a lifetime of memories.
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"This is where we'd follow the Guernseys into the barn," he said, as he crunched along the snowy path to the Midway Farm. Peters said his grandfather always had an interest in farming and liked to check on the cows, which also fit into his color scheme for the farm. Many of Wright's innovations for the barn - including his double silo and the raised floor of the barn - caused problems for cows and farmhands alike, but Wright was loathe to admit he was wrong.
Peters said his grandfather went along with the dictum of his former boss, Chicago architect Louis Sullivan, that "form follows function."
"Unless, of course, function intrudes on form," Peters said, with a hearty laugh. "Then to hell with function!"
One of young Peters' duties was to run to the barn each day to gather eggs, which would be eaten raw at high tea - one of Wright's many health crazes. Peters also recalls the story of how Wright was cured of a gallbladder attack by Georgi Gurdjieff, a Russian philosopher admired by Olgivanna Wright. When Gurdjieff cooked up a fiery stew and ordered Wright to eat it, rather than the bland foods doctors had described, Wright, always enthusiastic to try new things, went along.
Later that night, back in their New York hotel room, Wright moaned to Olgivanna: "Your man has killed me."
But, said Peters, his grandfather awoke the next morning feeling cured.
Peters also grew up hearing other stories, including how his grandparents were pursued to a Minnesota cottage by police sent by Wright's estranged second wife, Miriam Noel, with the cooperation of Olgivanna's ex-husband, Vlademar Hinzenderg. Wright, Olgivanna, their infant daughter Iovanna, and Svetlana, then 8, were hauled off to jail for violating "The Mann Act" - crossing state borders for immoral purposes.
Peters said his mother, Svetlana, was put into a solitary cell where she couldn't see her mother or baby sister.
"She was hysterical, and my grandmother kept calling out to her, "Svet, Svet, it's all right,' " Peters said. Peters said his mother always blamed her father, Vlademar Hinzenderg, for the trauma.
"After that, she refused to have anything to do with him," said Peters, who met his maternal grandfather years after his mother died. "That's why she always signed her name Svetlana Wright Peters."
A few years later, Wright was furious with Svetlana when, at age 15, she eloped with apprentice architect Wes Peters, who was then 20. Letters flew between Taliesin and Winnetka, Ill. But Svetlana gave as good as she got.
"She was the only one who could tell my grandfather off and get away with it," Peter said.
He often wonders how things at Taliesin would have turned out if his mother had lived. Certainly his father wouldn't have been swept into a disastrous second marriage with Svetlana Alliluyeva, the daughter of dictator Josef Stalin.
"I remember having dinner with her and my father at the Spring Green restaurant and having her say, 'You are Stalin's grandson,' " Peters said. "No, I'm NOT!"
Peters said he's not in contact with his father's second wife who, after returning to Russia, is again living in the Spring Green area, nor with his half-sister, Olga, now on the West Coast.
Peters is also troubled that his father, who is acknowledged as a brilliant engineer, never achieved the individual fame he deserved for seeing such creations as the S.C. Johnson and Son building in Racine and Fallingwater in Pennsylvania to completion.
"I always thought my grandfather was a little jealous of my father," Peters said.
Peters urged his father to leave Taliesin to set up his own practice in California, he said, but Wes Peters felt loyal to helping Olgivanna Wright maintain her husband's legacy and the Taliesin fellowship.
"I never understood why he stayed," Peters said of his father, who died of a stroke in 1991. "I tried to get him out."
Peters said his grandmother was "the sole ruler of the place" before her death in 1985.
"I know absolutely that my grandfather wanted to be buried here," he said, gazing across at the little chapel where Wright was buried from 1959 until 1985. But he doesn't criticize his grandmother's deathbed decision to have Frank's body exhumed so his ashes could be mingled with hers in Arizona.
"I just thank God she
didn't charge me to do it," he said. Peters said he isn't bothered by his grandmother's final action, quoting Wright's granddaughter from his first marriage, the actress Anne Baxter:
"He is greater than his bones."
Susan Lampert Smith writes about the people and places that make Wisconsin unique. Send her story ideas at ssmith@
madison.com or to Wisconsin State Journal, P.O. Box 8058, Madison, WI 53708.