Dr. John E. and Catherine (“Kay”) Christian, a Purdue University professor and his wife had followed and admired Wright’s work and they were sure they wanted him to design their dream home. But with a limited budget, was their project too small for such a renowned figure? It took some convincing, but following a series of memorable meetings between 1950 and 1952 and after a flurry of correspondence, Wright accepted the commission. He suggested that one of his Usonian designs would fit the Christian’s needs. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Samara: A Mid-Century Dream Home is the story of how a young couple from Indiana and a world-famous architect worked together to build what was, for the Christian family, truly their dream home. It is also the story of how the family continued to honor the architect’s vision long after his death.
Told through the juxtaposition of original objects and furniture, architectural fragments, rare archival materials, historic photographs, and video footage, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Samara explores the creation of a Wright house through the eyes a client who spent more than fifty years fulfilling the architect’s Usonian vision. First conceived by Wright in the 1920s, the Usonian house (an abbreviation for “United States of North America”) was meant to be a modest-sized, environmentally sensitive dwelling affordable to middle class families. For John and Kay Christian, this meant creating a basic home that they could complete and furnish to Wright’s specifications over time as their finances allowed. Samara, which derives its name from a winged, or whirligig, seed, is still a work in progress today.
The exhibition traces how Frank Lloyd Wright and the Christians worked together to design the house, and illuminates how both sides compromised to bring the project to completion. (Yes, Frank Lloyd Wright did compromise.) Historic floorplans, client correspondence, and home movies show how the construction process moved forward even though Frank Lloyd Wright never visited the site in Indiana. Banner-scale graphics, original furnishings, and historic textile and scrapbook samples show how the Christians balanced custom-designed Wright pieces with commercially licensed models in the 1950s, then completed many of the architect’s additional custom elements over the next thirty years. The exhibit also looks at how the home and its furnishings exemplified Wright’s philosophies about the relationship between architecture and nature, ranging from the extensive use of windows and terraces to the origins of design motifs such as the “samara” concept.
Made possible by support from the National Endowment for the Arts American Masterpieces initiative, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Samara offers visitors a unique behind-the-scenes look at how a client’s priorities and values worked in tandem with a great architect’s vision to create one family’s definition of an American dream home.
Curator Scott W. Perkins is Curator of Collections and Exhibitions at Price Tower Arts Center, Bartlesville, Oklahoma. Perkins’ exhibitions include Wright Restored: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Price Tower Interiors (2006) and Bruce Goff: A Creative Mind (2011). Among his recent publications are Building Bartlesville, 1945-2000 (2008); and an essay co-authored with Pat Kirkham on the interiors and furnishings of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum for its 50th anniversary publication, The Guggenheim: Frank Lloyd Wright and the making of the Modern Museum (2009).