Living in a work of art

From Jan. 14 through March 29, 2014, the Gallery at Penn College will exhibit “Frank Lloyd Wright’s Samara: A Mid-Century Dream Home.” According to the gallery website, the exhibition will “[explore] the relationship between an architect and his clients, Dr. John and Kay Christian, as they worked together to create one family’s definition of an American dream home.”

The travelling exhibition was selected for its relevance to Pennsylvania College of Technology programs, and “to kick off the college’s centennial year. Architecture is one of the oldest programs on our campus,” said Penny Lutz, gallery manager, via email.

The multimedia show will include historic photographs, video footage, rare archival materials, architectural fragments and original objects and furniture from the home.

“It begins with the initial contact the Christian family had with FLW, and includes a wide variety of material,” Lutz said.

Born in 1867, Frank Lloyd Wright is undoubtedly America’s best-known architect. In 1991, 32 years after his death, he was in fact recognized by the American Institute of Architects as the “the greatest American architect of all time.” Interior decorator, artist, art dealer, writer and educator, Wright was as diverse and prolific as he was innovative.

Of his more than 1,000 architectural designs, 532 would become completed works in the forms of homes, schools, offices, skyscrapers, hotels, bridges, museums, churches, a synagogue, a gas station and a golf course.

His most famous designs include the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City and Fallingwater, located about 200 miles southwest of Williamsport in Mill Run.

Like Zelda Fitzgerald, the subject and artist featured in the Gallery at Penn College’s last exhibition, Frank Lloyd Wright’s legacy continues to expand into pop culture. In his lifetime (he died in 1959), Wright was the inspiration for Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead.”

More recently, he was featured as a character in Nancy Horan’s novel “Loving Frank,” and T.C. Boyle’s “Women.” Paul Simon famously wrote the song “So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright” as a tribute to the architecture-loving Art Garfunkel at his (Garfunkel’s) death.

Lutz put it quite succinctly: “He has such a wide appeal to people in all fields, not only architecture.”

Samara (the name of the Christians’ home) was constructed between 1954 and 1956 in West Lafayette, Ind. The home was “based on Wright’s Usonian houses,” which were characterized as being “modest-sized, affordable, environmentally sensitive dwellings,” according to the Gallery’s website. Wright created more than 100 Usonian designs.

The exhibition’s opening lecture, titled “Frank Lloyd Wright’s Exploration of Geometry: the Usonians,” will be delivered by historian Jack Quinan.

Quinan specializes in the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright, the Arts and Crafts Movement, American Architecture of the Nineteenth Century, Utopian Communities and the relationship of architecture and phenomenology.

He is a founder of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, an organization dedicated to the preservation of Wright’s extant work, and he is the senior curator and a member of the board of directors of Wright’s Darwin D. Martin House in Buffalo. He has written five books on Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture and numerous articles. Quinan is a State University of New York distinguished service professor.

“We have been working with [Quinan] since last year when he developed the topic for his lecture,” Lutz explained.

The focus of Quinan’s lecture is summarized in a brief synopsis on the Gallery’s website: “Following the Prairie period of the early 1900s and the concrete textile block structures of the 1920s in Los Angeles, Frank Lloyd Wright began to explore the possibilities of non-rectangular geometries in his Usonian houses from 1937 to 1959.

In this presentation, Wright’s house, Samara, will be seen in the context of a representative selection of Usonian houses of differing typologies and often eccentric geometries.”

The opening talk for “Frank Lloyd Wright’s Samara: A Mid-Century Dream-Home” will beheld at 3:30 p.m. Jan. 16 in the Auditorium of the George S. Klump Academic Center.

The exhibition, which will display until March 29, will be in the Gallery at Penn College, located on the third floor of Penn College’s Madigan Library.

Visit or call 570-320-2445 for more information.

“Frank Lloyd Wright’s Samara: A Mid-Century Dream-Home” will be free and open to the public.