Disheveled and unshaven, Frank Lloyd Wright called Virginia Lovness into his Taliesin estate.
“I was so afraid,” she later recalled about delivering her pitch for him to design her a studio. “Why was I bothering this great man?”
But she had nothing to fear. The fashionable, flamboyant woman captivated the famous architect that day in 1955 and he agreed to design her house — one of 12 buildings he did in Minnesota — that she then built by hand.
“My mother had an energy that was actually contagious,” said daughter Lonnie Lovness of Stillwater, who’s writing a book, “Growing Up Wright,” about her parents. “Everything in her life had to reflect art and beauty.”
Virginia Lovness, 93, of Stillwater, died Feb. 16.
Born Virginia Mae Prall in 1925 in Coldwater, Mich., she was a child of the Great Depression, owning only two dresses. Her mother sent her to be raised by an aunt in St. Paul, where, thanks to a scholarship, she studied art and graphic design at Hamline University. She landed a secretarial job at 3M, where she met Don Lovness, an engineer.
The two married in 1948, getting a St. Paul apartment before moving to White Bear Lake to raise their family.
Virginia Lovness dreamed up plans for a painting studio. With help from a relative who knew Wright, the couple drove to Spring Green, Wis., sleeping in their station wagon. Wright agreed to design the studio and gave the couple one request: buy land to “own their view.”
They picked 22 acres on Woodpile Lake, and he designed a “Usonian” home, honoring the surrounding hills and native grasses. For two years, the couple lived with their two toddlers in a trailer as they built the house.
Swatting mosquitoes, they mixed cement with a box and hoe, pounded nails, laid wrought-iron pipes, added more than 100 tons of stone for a fireplace and installed electrical, plumbing and in-floor heat. By 1957, the 1,800-square-foot house was done, built for $18,000. The wood-and-limestone house had a great room, children’s wing and master suite; only the bathrooms had doors.
Inside, the couple built their own furniture and accessories, prompting Wright to dub them “our do-it-yourself couple.” With his permission, Lovness even added her trademark shocking pink colors to the velvet upholstery.
“Mr. Wright made it perfect,” Lovness told the Star Tribune in 2007. “I believe it has a soul.”
While he never visited before his death in 1959, the couple often traveled to Taliesin, where a suite was named after them. He also designed plans for five cottages, and they built one in 1973 at 870 square feet to store her eccentric clothes.
Lovness’ dream house was a hit, and she hosted many of Wright’s architects, artists, celebrities and strangers who stopped to take photos of the house. But she was just as dynamic. A little over 5 feet, Lovness had a larger-than-life personality.
“When she walked into a room, people would turn around and look,” daughter Tracy “Ty” Lovness of Stillwater said. “It was that artistic flair she had.”
After a childhood spent dreaming of owning beautiful things, she treasured outlandish clothes, hats and furs and had exotic pets such as a squirrel, a skunk, a goat and a screech owl aptly named Hoot. She spent winters in Bangkok and Hong Kong, collected ancient Chinese and pre-Columbian art and pottery and painted watercolors. After her husband died in 2001, she put the houses on the market for $3.75 million. Even in the days before her death, she dressed in high style, entertaining at happy hour.
“She may have been petite,” Lonnie Lovness said, “but she had a powerful, driving personality.”
Her daughters will hold a private service this spring.