Natural Inspiration: Bennett, Wright, & Muir

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Photo by Green Concierge Travel

Wisconsin can inspire! Rolling hills, streams, bluffs of sandstone, white pines, and deciduous forests have been a source of inspiration for many over the years. The landscape has been reflected in art, architecture, literature, and photography.

I invite you to explore Wisconsin’s outdoors through the life, work, and cherished landscapes of three special people: H.H. Bennett, Frank Lloyd Wright, and John Muir; a photographer, architect, and author. Inspired by Wisconsin’s landscape, these individuals have reflected nature, particularly Wisconsin’s natural features, in their work. They share great powers of observation, creativity and, interestingly, a propensity for invention.

Photo by Green Concierge Travel

HH. Bennett, photographer

Henry Hamilton Bennett photographed areas of Wisconsin, particularly the Wisconsin Dells area. Here the Wisconsin River cuts through sandstone, leaving stunning cliffs, pinnacles, white pines, and riverscapes. His photographs capture features that drew people to the Dells. Some of these are gone, with development in the area and dams along the Wisconsin River, but you can still find the beauty that H.H. Bennett found here.

The H.H. Bennett studio in downtown Wisconsin Dells is the oldest operating photographic studio. He brought his keen eye and interest in technology to his work. You can see plates, prints, and stereographs (three-dimensional photographs) that capture the life and landscape of the Dells. H.H. Bennett was on the cutting edge of photography, inventing a stop-action shutter enabling pictures of moving subjects, and he was one of the first to use photo journalism to tell the story of raftsmen taking lumber down river.

Photo by Green Concierge Travel

Frank Llyod Wright, architect

“Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you.” -Frank Lloyd Wright

Frank Lloyd Wright absorbs the natural characteristics and features of a site, and then through the design process, reveals structures that complement and embrace the natural setting and use locally sourced materials.

Frank Lloyd Wright lived in Wisconsin and left a rich legacy. In Madison, visit the First Unitarian Society Meeting House, now a National Landmark, where the use of local sandstone, copper, glass, and geometric design bring the sky and surrounding grounds inside to the congregants. Two later additions were designed by Taliesin Associated Architects in 1964 and 1990, adding modern additions while honoring the original building.

At Monona Terrace, Frank Lloyd Wright’s original designs from 1938 were used as the starting point for the convention center. The building embraces the lake-edge location with rounded shapes, walls of windows, and access to and views of the lake. At Taliesin in Spring Green, he built a home and an architectural school on a 600-acre estate. Taliesin evolved over his career, with his thinking and vision impacting the external structures and internal furnishings, and other basic needs of living.

There have been many books and experts on Frank Lloyd Wright so take time to explore in pictures or in writing his now signature style of architecture and then explore the Wisconsin landscape and sites that he designed.

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John muir, author & activist

“In every walk with nature, one receives far more than one seeks.” -John Muir

John Muir’s roots lie in Wisconsin. He arrived from Scotland as a boy, his family settling on a farm north of Portage. Fountain Lake Farm, now a National Historic Landmark, became John’s outdoor classroom, where he honed his keen observation skills. In The Story of My Boyhood and Youth, he describes the land that his family farmed, but also the surrounding prairies, kettle ponds, and glacial features, and birds and animals that cohabitated the landscape with him.

After years of studying his backyard, John Muir took his first botany class at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Ultimately, his keen observation skills and ability to translate these into words anchored his legacy, both as a naturalist author and as an activist. His words found traction in the hearts and minds of Americans, and led to some of the most stunning landscapes in America to be set aside for all to enjoy, and the creation of the Sierra Club.

John Muir Memorial Park is in Montello. Walk around Ennis Lake (what used to be Fountain Lake), a spring-fed kettle lake. Observe the variety of natural areas, plants, and animals, including wetlands, tamarack, and oak trees, and prairie open spaces. Visit the University of Wisconsin campus to view C.S. Pietro’s bust, John Muir, in Birge Hall; John Muir’s former dorm room located on the 1st floor of North Hall; or his clockwork study desk at the Wisconsin Historical Society on Library Mall. Or stroll to the John Muir Park and Muir Knoll near Bascom Hall.

Liz Wessel is the owner of Green Concierge Travel, which has information for honeymoons and other ecotravel at greenconciergetravel.com. Photographs provided by Green Concierge Travel.

Explore H.H. Bennett

  • The Wisconsin Dells studio . Studio opens for the season May 2. You can also visit during the spring speaker series on Thursday evenings.
  • View the photographic/image collection online at the Wisconsin Historical Society archives .
  • Visit one or more of the park or natural areas set aside in the Dells, which highlight the beautiful, wild landscape H.H. Bennett found in the 1800s. Mirror Lake State Park and Rocky Arbor State Park with sandstone ledges , or canoe the Wisconsin River above Wisconsin Dells.

Explore Frank Lloyd Wright

  • Visit Monona Terrace , One John Nolen Drive, Madison, to view standing exhibits on Frank Lloyd Wright, including photos, or take a tour.
  • Tour the First Unitarian Society Meeting House , 900 University Bay Drive, Madison.
  • Visit and tour Taliesin in Spring Green. All tours begin at the Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor Center at 5607 County Road C. Guided interior and exterior tours run daily May 1–October 31. House Tours are available Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays in April and November . Reservations recommended.
  • Take a special tour on Saturday, June 6 from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. to explore “Wright and Like TM .

Explore John Muir

  • Read one of John Muir’s books
  • Visit the Wisconsin Friends of John Muir website .
  • Visit the John Muir Memorial Park, which is the site of John’s beloved Fountain Lake Park. Experience the rich diversity of plants and animals walking the trails.
  • Visit the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus to see several sites and artifacts from John Muir’s life, including one of his inventions.