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Mountain Home Magazine

Building the Wright Dream

Apr 17, 2014 02:15PM

Imagine cold-calling a world-famous architect to ask if he’ll build your family’s small dream home. To complicate matters, you don’t have enough money to fully complete the project.

That is the story of a young Indiana couple when they reached out to Frank Lloyd Wright in 1950. The great architect was in the last decade of his prolific career, working on large projects like the Guggenheim Museum in New York and the Price Tower in Oklahoma. Wright had a reputation for being abrasive and inflexible, but proved to be otherwise when he graciously welcomed John and Catherine “Kay” Christian to his Wisconsin studio, beginning a working relationship that has endured beyond the architect’s death.

Why did Wright consider the Christians’ proposal? What was their experience of creating a home with one of America’s greatest architects? What is it like to live in a work of art?

The answers to all of these questions will be revealed in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Samara: A Mid-Century Dream Home, an exhibition making its East Coast premiere at Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport on Thursday, January 16, in The Gallery at Penn College.

Via an impressive compilation of original furniture, architectural fragments, home décor ephemera, and reproductions of photographs, documents, and architectural drawings, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Samara explores the design process for the West Lafayette, Indiana, home that the architect named “Samara” for the winged seeds from pinecones on the Christians’ property.

The immersive exhibition gives visitors a unique, behind-the-scenes view of the communications between Wright and his clients as they worked out the details for the Usonian design, Wright’s term for an affordable, middle class residence. The showcase also reveals how Wright scaled Samara to his clients’ limited budget by designing elements that he knew they might want to add, years later, when money allowed.

Wright never actually stepped foot on the Christians’ land and never saw Samara. He died three years after the home was completed, at the age of ninety-one, in 1959. Until his death, though, he continued to provide drawings and finishing details for Samara.

Via vintage movie footage, family scrapbook photos, and oral-history memories, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Samaraoffers a glimpse into how the Christians and their daughter, Linda, lived in their dream house. The exhibition also demonstrates how the family has continued to fulfill Wright’s vision by completing numerous design details.

During his career, the architect created more than 100 Usonian designs. Samara is one of only about five still owned and inhabited by an original client.

John Christian, now over ninety years of age, still resides in his home; his wife died in 1986. Along with his daughter, Christian founded the John E. Christian Family Memorial Trust to preserve the home as a living example of Wright’s Usonian architecture. Samara is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

An opening reception for Frank Lloyd Wright’s Samara is scheduled for 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday, January 16, with the exhibition running through March 29. Also on January 16, Jack Quinan, founder of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy and a renowned architectural historian, will present a lecture on Usonian homes at 3:30 p.m. in the college’s Klump Academic Center Auditorium. Admission to the exhibition and lecture are free and open to the public.

The Gallery at Penn College, located on the third floor of the Madigan Library, is open Sundays, 1 to 4 p.m.; Tuesdays and Thursdays, 2 to 7 p.m.; and Wednesdays and Fridays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. (closed Saturdays and Mondays).

For more about the Samara exhibition—a program of ExhibitsUSA and The National Endowment for the Arts—visit www.pct.edu/gallery, e-mail [email protected], or call 570-320-2445.

The exhibition is among events launching Penn College’s Centennial celebration, taking place throughout 2014.