Architect and Apprentice

James Dresser died late last week at 85. When I saw his obituary, I couldn’t quite place the name until a friend helped me remember “the Del-Bar.”

Dresser was an apprentice of Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin starting in 1945 and established his practice in Wisconsin, working in Lake Delton. That is also the site of The Del-Bar, a well-established restaurant that owes its present-day appearance to several remodels and expansions that Dresser undertook starting 60 years ago.

The Del-Bar is “Wrightian” in the general sense, not aping Wright’s style, but using his ideas as a starting point. The influence of Wright and organic architecture probably shows itself best in the interior with stone walls knitting interior and exterior, extensive use of wood, varied ceiling heights , custom lighting and other deft touches.

The lake side of the library in Lake Geneva

The other building of Dresser’s that is familiar to me is the Lake Geneva Public Library which was dedicated in 1954.It has the long, low lines and materials—Roman brick, wood and glass—that typify the work of Wright and his protégés.

Edgar Tafel, another apprentice, died earlier in January at 98. He was better known than most of those who studied at Taliesin, thanks in part to several books he wrote about Wright.  Tafel did some work in Wisconsin and I have visited a house he designed in Racine. Perhaps because Dresser is more “local,” his work has a more solid place in my architectural experiences.

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