A book speaks my name. Or, as in the case of Loving Frank by Nancy Horan, the cover art catches my eye. A lover of many things art deco, this cover grabbed my attention. It wasn’t until later, before I actually picked up the book to read it, that I realized the full import of the story held between its covers.
Mamah Borthwick Cheney piqued the attention of Nancy Horan as they coincidentally resided, at different times, in Oak Park, Illinos. Oak Park is also where Frank Lloyd Wright built his home and studio in the early 1900s.
Mamah (pronounced May-mah) and her husband, Edwin Cheney, were enchanted with Wright’s praire style homes he was building around Oak Park. Edwin suggested in 1903 that they talk with Wright about planning and constructing a smaller version of a rather large prairie home some friends were now living in. Mamah initially saw no need to move from their current home, an old Queen Anne.
However, after their initial meetings with Wright, Mamah was more than willing to supervise the construction of their new home. Now she had experienced the effect of light and space on Wright’s designs, and the freedom cast on the senses of sight and sound attracted Mamah. Many consultations between Mamah and Wright were, of course, required. Over time, Mamah, who is an avid diarist, writes struggling to justify her attraction to the famous architect.
During those many consultations, a powerful attraction developed between Mamah and Wright. What they do about their mutual affection for each other stuns their families, society and the architectural community. Their actions change Chicago society as well as the lives of many people, including their children.
Horan’s fascination with Mamah Cheney has its roots in the stunning fact that Mamah has been consistently relegated to mere mentions, almost footnote-like. Someone to be scooped under the rug, so to speak. Perhaps considered an embarassment and someone not to be mentioned in some circles, Horan has researched to the minutest detail the intricacies and intelligence in the persona of the woman who gave up so much for Frank Lloyd Wright.
Mamah might be said to have been an early activist in the search for women’s rights and freedoms. She was a woman who wanted to be involved and challenged. Mamah struggles as many women today struggle balance conflicting roles: wife, mother, intellectual, dreamer, and in Mamah’s case, lover. Faced with choices in her life, Mamah does what her heart leads to her do.
Wright certainly did his share of suffering as well, but in his professional life Mamah was an asset. She was willing to face his temperament and often shared her opinions of his work when he least wanted them. Eventally and often, Mamah’s advice was what a project needed to be successful. She was a most profound influence on Wright’s later work.
Nancy Horan has written a debut novel which required an enormous amount of research. In so doing, she has opened the door to us of the inner spirit of an amazing woman, Mamah Borthwick Cheney. Mamah could be called “Everywoman’s Woman,” and Horan leads to this understanding of Mamah’s choices.
Filled with romance, struggle, poignant scenes, and heartbreak, I offer you a book that provides everything a reader is looking for in a well-written, biographical novel.
A FAVORITE QUOTE ABOUT MAMAH FROM WRIGHT:
“… I love the woman who has cast in her lot with me here not wisely but too well. She too has her remunerative work — as I have. She is quite able to supply her own needs — and we work together …” Source: About Wright: An Album of Recollections by Those Who Knew Frank Lloyd Wright, page 73.
RECOMMENDATION: Readers who love history and biography, uncovering lesser known characters in our country’s history, architecture, Frank Lloyd Wright
Tagged: reviewing books