Building a Dream by hand with the World's Greatest Architect
9" x 9", hardbound
over 600 photos and drawings
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Minneapolis Star Tribune Review, Feb. 1, 2021
By Kevin Duchschere
By Lonnie Lovness. (River Place Media, 288 pages, $45.)
In the summer of 1955, a starry-eyed couple named Don and Virginia Lovness drove from White Bear Lake to Spring Green, Wis., to ask Frank Lloyd Wright how to expand their unfinished walkout home. His advice: Sell the "mess" and buy 10 acres to build new. Virginia said they couldn't afford one of his houses, but the 88-year-old Wright, taken with the petite young woman, pounded the table and said, "We'll do it! We'll build you a house for $10,000!"
And so the Lovnesses embarked on the adventure of a lifetime, combining their meager resources with an immeasurable amount of sweat equity (they couldn't afford a builder) to construct a classic Wright Usonian of 1,600 square feet, fashioned of Wisconsin limestone that they themselves chiseled and laid.
The do-it-yourself house, overlooking a small lake in the country west of Stillwater, is the focus of this handsome coffee table book that's loaded with personal photos and charmingly written by the couple's oldest daughter.
The book — "Growing Up Wright: Building a Dream by Hand With the World's Greatest Architect" — is also the story of that couple. He was a brilliant 3M chemist and jack-of-all-trades, she a Hamline-educated artist and graphic designer, and they forged a warm relationship with Wright, his wife and associates at Taliesin.
There are some intriguing sidebars, including the Lovnesses' friendship with Josef Stalin's daughter, who married a Wright protégé, and the difficulties involved in selling a Wright house — Max Weinberg, Bruce Springsteen's drummer, wanted to buy it but only if he could move it to New Jersey, and the deal fell through.
A dozen Wright-designed buildings stand in Minnesota today, including the Lovness home and a cottage they built later on the property, but likely none of them have the improbable back story that Lonnie Lovness tells here with such humor and devotion. This is the up-close-and-personal memoir that Wright fans, especially those in Minnesota, have been waiting for.
Don and Virginia Lovness went to see Frank Lloyd Wright in 1955 at Taliesin, where he agreed to design a home / art studio for the young couple. The following spring they began a two-year marathon of chiseling and laying stone, pouring cement and framing their Usonian gem on a small lake in Minnesota. They lived in a tiny camping trailer on site with their two daughters, a cat and a goat.
An update of the Seth Peterson cottage in Wisconsin, Don and Virginia built this second Wright design by themselves in 1972 to 1975.
Don and Virginia became very close to Mrs. Wright, Wes Peters and the entire Fellowship, and their home became a regular "R&R" stop for Taliesin apprentices. They were influenced by Wright in many ways and became avid collectors of Oriental art. Don re-created some of the "Sprite" designs from the long-gone Midway Gardens, sparking a resurgence of interest in these lovely figurines.
Growing Up Wright, Part 2:
Building the Studio - VIDEO
Don and Virginia Lovness, meeting Frank Lloyd Wright - VIDEO
Growing up Wright, by Lonnie Lovness, is a beautifully written, first-hand account by a daughter of two amazing Frank Lloyd Wright clients, Don and Virginia Lovness.
The book shows the tenacity and devotion of a couple and their two daughters who gave their all to build their Frank Lloyd Wright homes, mostly with their own hands.
In this book one sees Mr. and Mrs. Frank Lloyd Wright though the eyes of Don and Virginia who had a warm and continuing relationship with both Wrights. The book has many wonderful photos and gives a detailed account of the building process of the two houses, the life of the family, and anecdotes about their many distinguished friends.
As a Fellowship member I had the good fortune to know Don and Virginia from the 1960s until the 2000s. I saw how much Mrs. Wright and the Fellowship, including me, enjoyed their company. Don and Virginia were both forces of nature, multi-talented and full of life, which seemed to also inspire all around them to greater achievements.
The Lovnesses’ dedication, and that of the subsequent owners of the houses, Ted and Debi Muntz, is a testament to the creative impact of FLLW’s architecture, which inspires clients to go to extraordinary lengths of time and money to lovingly build and preserve their beautiful homes.
I highly recommend this fascinating and very readable book.
Indira Berndtson, Administrator: Historic Studies, The FLLW Foundation Collections and Exhibitions
I highly recommend this remarkable book. It is a fascinating tale of clients, architect and family told in a firsthand account by one of the Lovness daughters, with multiple photographs. It creates a new awareness of the planning, construction, and living in a work of art by Frank Lloyd Wright. I was captivated by the superb stories and photographs delineating the actions and interactions of the principals. As a member of the Taliesin Fellowship during the same years, I was a part time participant in many of the activities and can verify their amazing authenticity.
Taliesin Legacy Fellowship Member,
Taliesin Preservation Emeritus Board of Trustees
The new book by Lonnie Lovness is a must read for anyone who wants to understand the depth of Wright’s relationships to his clients and the extent of their devotion to his ideals.
This is the latest in a short list of books that delve deeply into the lives of Wright clients. It help us understand the dynamics involved and the enormous sacrifices made by clients in order to get their dream homes built, frequently, as in this case, against what would seem to be insurmountable odds.
These personal accounts, which tend to be the most ephemeral, are perhaps the most critical reminder that in the end architecture is about people. Wright’s houses, which can appear to be uncompromising, are conceived to be highly specific to his clients’ needs.
Steve Sikora, co-owner,
Willey House, Minneapolis
Certainly, it is the most encyclopedic study of a Wright house and its clients. I hope it is an example to future authors about their life in a Wright house. A wonderful book.
William Allin Storrer, author,
“The Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright”
Lonnie has written a beautiful memorial to her intrepid parents. While most people are “dreamers" of some sort, her parents took it to the next level by becoming “doers” in the pursuit of fully realizing their dreams.
Paul Ringstrom, former staff member of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy.
This is exactly the type of book I would like to see more often: a complete document of the creation of a Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece. The process goes far beyond the work in the studio. No one other than Don and Virginia could have made this wonderful place.
Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy member, Los Angeles
Don and Virginia Lovness' story--and stories--are truly amazing and the documentation remarkable. A delightful addition to Wright memorabilia.
Linda Mack, former Minneapolis Star Tribune Architecture Critic
With no building experience, in April, 1956 the young couple began by laying tons of stone for the central hearth. Over two years they completed the house.
My mother would lay stone during the day and rake the joints in the evening, working until dark. My sister and I spent the summers collecting pebbles for fill as the house rose around us.
When the house was finished in the late fall of 1957, my sister and I had a bedroom to share. My father - a chemist, aviator, boxer and consummate builder - was a renaissance man with a soft side.
Our parents made regular visits to Spring Green where we would take part in the elaborate pageants put on by the Fellowship and apprentices.
The Cottage took almost 3 years to build by hand, using salvaged lumber and stone. It became their main home and saw a constant stream of visitors over the years.
New owners did a complete and careful restoration of the studio, totally enclosing it over the winter. The cottage was also refurbished and a third Wright design was built on the property. The final chapter documents this Herculean task with many photos.
Here are two photos from about 1970. Don and Virginia went through the Peterson cottage while considering whether to build a copy of it, or one of the three cabin plans Wright had drawn for them in 1958. The Peterson was only ten years old but had been abandoned. The real damage had not yet been done by Mother Nature,
Lonnie's book has extensive information and many photos of both the Peterson and Lovness cottages. Lonnie and Virginia are shown on the cottage front steps in the 1990s.