A Tale — Wart and All

Howard Ten Brink


In the summer of 1940 Congress passed the Draft Act. At first I refused to register with the thought that I would contest the Constitutionality of a peace time draft. Several students from Union Theological Seminary also refused to register and were arrested. Their case was rushed through the judicial process and the Supreme Court ruled that a peace time draft was legal.

I did register after being assured by the draft board that I would be classified as a Conscientious Objector. Instead, I was given the non-combatant status of 1AO. My coworkers at the creamery did not agree with my anti-war stand. On one occasion, I was working under a large concrete beam when someone threw a quart milk bottle (glass) so as to hit the beam over my head. Hundred of pieces of glass rained down on me. There were other incidents of open hostility. Also, about that time the U.S. Government revamped the income tax schedule forcing middle class people to help pay for the huge military build-up. I found this difficult to accept. Deeming it prudent to make a change, I decided to go to work for Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesen in June, 1942.

There I became a member of "Cooperative Homesteads", an organization that encouraged auto workers to built their own homes out of clay and sand. Most members of the co-op were auto workers. It was customary in those days for auto production workers to work a maximum of 6 or 7 months of the year (that was before unemployment insurance). They would exist as best they could the rest of the year. There was a good deal of alcoholism and family break-up during this lay-off period. Dr. David Sonquest got the idea of organizing the auto workers into a co-op to build their own home during the lay-off period. Professional guidance was given. Mr. Wright designed the community and houses. Due to several miscalculations as to the foundation (concrete was not used), the walls put up in the summer disintegrated into piles of mud the following Spring. That medium was never attempted again by Wright.

At Taliesen they assigned me the job of "tending hod" (carrying stone and mixing mortar) for two masons who worked at Taliesen, Hillside Home School or Cooperative Homestead the year round.

About this time someone asked me to drive the flat bed truck and pick up some chickens that a neighbor wanted to sell because they had ceased laying enough eggs to justify feeding them. We weighed them up and figured how much the bill would be. I asked the farmer if Wes (Mrs. Wright’s son-in-law) had made arrangements to pay for them. Not having the money to pay for the chickens, I suggested that I drive back to Taliesen to get the money. He told me he hated to have me drive that big truck all the way back over the wash board road and suggested instead that I return by car with the money so the chickens wouldn’t have to endure those small cages in the heat any longer than necessary. His wife was hanging clothes on the line and came on a half run and told me that if I didn’t have any money, I wasn’t getting the chickens until I did and if I didn’t have the money there in an hour or two, they would turn the chicks loose and find another buyer. She told me that when Wright started the fellowship program he had induced them to sell most of their dairy herd and plant a truck garden to feed Taliesen. She said they had money from the sale of the cows to live on ‘till fall when the taxes were due. They were owed several thousand dollars by this time and it never occurred to them that they might not be able to collect. She went on to say that they never collected a thin dime from him and would have been forced off the farm if they had any other place to go. She said that it took them ten years to recover financially from that set-back. I drove back to Taliesen and told Wes that the farmer wouldn’t let me have the chickens until he got the money. Wes said, "Oh, shit," and dug out the money. I then returned to pick up the chickens. It was obvious to me that he had no intention of paying if that had been possible.

I heard nothing from the draft board for another year, when they ordered me for induction as a 1AO after several physical examinations. I wrote to the Fellowship of Reconciliation(F.O.R.) informing them that I had been ordered up for induction and that I planned to refuse and expected to be arrested. A.J. Muste of the F.O.R. responded and suggested that I ask Mr. Wright to send a letter on my behalf, attesting to my sincerity, and also suggested that I ask Mr. Charles Boss of the Methodist Peace Commission to write, as well as Carl Soule’ and Owen Geer, Pastors at the Methodist Church in Dearborn, Michigan. The date of my order to appear for induction came and went. Two weeks later, I received a letter for Selective Service stating my induction was rescinded pending review of my claim as a C.O. About four months later I received a 4E classification (Conscientious Objector). Meantime, I continued working and studying at Taliesen.

I should mention that Mr. Wright was adamantly and publicly opposed to the war. He regarded it as the last gasp of a dying British Empire and couldn’t see our country sacrificing its young men in a vain attempt to save it. Not claming to be a pacifist, he reserved to himself the right to oppose one war at a time. He had enough influence on his apprentices so that one got a 4E classification and spent three years in government run camps. Three apprentices got three-year Federal sentences. One judge who sentenced one apprentice to Sandstone Penitentiary commented that he would like to sentence Mr. Wright for poisoning the minds of these young men.

Mr. Wright was somewhat of a dead-beat in the meeting of his financial obligations. As time went on I established a bit of a reputation around there of not taking crap off of anybody and also, being one who tried to keep from giving any to others. Mr. Wright used to introduce me as "the head of the loyal opposition" and then added sometimes, ("we are not too sure of his loyalty"). He had good reason to question my loyalty because I felt more kinship with those who were not given proper payment by my employer for goods or services rendered.

My sympathy and siding with those who had been ill treated, such as the weaver, Henning Waterstone resulted in a falling out with Mr. Wright. Henning had come to Taliesen a year or two before I did. His reputation as an artist of originality and skill already had been established but he wanted to sharpen his artistic skills by being associated with Wright for a few years. He had two expensive looms that he was using to weave a rug for Hillside School living room. Henning said (and it seemed reasonable) that he had an understanding with Wright that he would teach weaving and loan Taliesen the two looms in lieu of paying tuition. He was deathly afraid of being drafted into the army and equally afraid of being sentenced to federal penitentiary, so he induced his mother to buy an adjoining farm (to Taliesen) for him. He applied for and received a farm deferment from the draft board. Mr. Wright wanted Henning to donate the farm to Taliesen. When he wouldn’t, Wright had the woman who made up the kitchen schedule load more and more work on the weaver so there wouldn’t be time to take care of his farm. When Henning saw that he couldn’t keep up the pace, he resigned from Taliesen and moved to his farm. He told Wright that he would continue to help and direct the weaving of the rug and if asked, also would continue to contribute to the music program at Taliesen. A rather curt note was written by Wright informing him that if he was not going to be 100% in Taliesen, he would be 100% out. He was further advised not to move the looms until arrangements to pay what he owed for tuition had been made. Henning was stunned and not knowing what to do, did nothing. A few days later Henning received another letter from Wright, this time registered. He refused to accept it. All Taliesen was buzzing about it the next day because no one would have the guts to refuse a letter from Wright! I was dying of curiosity so I walked over the Henning farm one afternoon. When Henning saw me, he rushed out and told me to go back or I too would be kicked out of Taliesen. I told him that I wasn’t worried about that and suggested he not worry either. As we butchered one of his lambs he filled me in. I told him that if he wanted those looms I would look up my one wheel trailer and help him move them to his farm. That is exactly what we did the following night.

The next afternoon the looms were missed and after questioning a former apprentice Mr. Wright summoned me to the study.

"What do you know about the looms?" he asked.

"What looms?" I replied. Wright figured that I didn’t know anything.

"If you don’t know anything, I am not going to tell you." He then dismissed me.

Hearing later that he was grilling a former employee and driving him to tears I told my wife Ruth to load up her sewing machine and cello and ask friends of ours in the village of Spring Green to store them overnight. I then went down to Wright’s study and told him that I had helped Henning move the looms. As my wife Ruth and I prepared to leave Taliesen, Mr. Wright told us there was no hurry and we might as well stay until the draft board sent me orders to report to C.P.S. Camp. Feeling uncomfortable we left early the next morning and drove to Chicago and visited friends who taught at Armour Institute and then up to Michigan to visit my parents. By that time I received the letter informing me to report to C.P.S. Camp in Wellston, Michigan. On December 18, l943, one week before Christmas, I was drafted.

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from Roots and Fruits, a publication of the Stanislaus Peace-Life Center

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