Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Vacation With Frank, Maud and Claes

Hello! A four-day weekend was spent traveling through parts of the Midwest, with Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin being the main places of interest. Visited towns both small (Oxford, IA, Stillwater, MN, Mankato, MN and Stevens Point, WI) and large (Minneapolis, Milwaukee, and the Chicago area), saw a sculpture garden and historic towns, and ate a wide variety of foods. 

And we visited sites connected to Frank Lloyd Wright, Maud Hart Lovelace and Claes Oldenburg. At my request, we had set out to see Lovelace's childhood home, but coming across works by Wright and Oldenburg was a surprise to us. 

Driving through northern Iowa, my husband suggested stopping in Mason City for lunch. While in the downtown area, looking for a particular sandwich shop, we saw a sign for a nearby Frank Lloyd Wright house. After lunch we walked a few blocks to view the house:

We didn't have time to tour it, so settled for taking photos from across the street. And from our side of the street, it was plain to see that several Prairie School houses (a style of architecture popularized by Wright)were very nice as well - in fact, we liked them better than the FLW house. The two photos below are of the house I liked the best, with the second photo showing a closeup of some windows set in a corner of the dwelling.

We didn't realize it at the time, but we had come across the Rock Glen and Rock Crest National Historic district, which is home to many fine examples of Prairie School architecture. There were plaques imbedded in the sidewalks in front of the houses we walked by, stating when these residences had been built and which architects had designed them. 

Not bad - a little architectural history because of a lunch stop! But we had more houses connected to Americana ahead of us, when we arrived in Mankato, MN. 

The Betsy-Tacy book series was beloved by some of my sisters and me
in our childhoods - beloved enough, in fact, that both one older sister and I now own copies of most of the books in the series. (Hers came from a library used book sale, whereas mine are paperback re-issues.) Naturally I introduced my daughter to the series and she enjoyed them as well.

The books, which take place from around the turn of the 20th C to WWI, follow the adventures of main character Betsy, her family and friends. Author Maud Hart Lovelace based the books on her childhood in Mankato, MN. She's Betsy in the books and her real-life best friend Bick is Tacy. 

Especially in the later books, in which Betsy is first in high school and then a young married woman, there is a wealth of detail about life 100 years ago. Fashions, party entertainment, the first car in town, holidays - all are described in a lively, informative way. Maud did occasionally diverge from her actual life story (for example, she didn't meet her future husband until she was in her 20s, but he's an important figure in the books set in Betsy's high school years) - but the books ring true nonetheless.

They are so beloved to this day that there's a Betsy-Tacy Society, which bought and restored the childhood homes of Maud and Bick. The organization runs both houses as museums; Bick's is a free interpretive center with gift shop, while Maud's is a paid tour. Unfortunately, by the time we arrived in Mankato, the houses had already closed for the day (our lateness was due in part to faulty directions on the Betsy-Tacy Society website). But I still enjoyed seeing the houses, which are across the street from each other:

Bick's house (of course, the sign in front says "Tacy's House), and  Maud's:

A little boy on a bike saw me taking pictures of "Betsy's House" and I could tell he was puzzled by my interest in it. But it was a thrill for me to walk up the steps to the porch, peer in the windows, and know that Maud Hart Lovelace had been on that same porch and had once lived in that house. 

If you've read the books, you may be asking "But what about Tib?" Midge (Tib) was a close friend of Maud and Bick, but she lived a couple of blocks away (when her family wasn't living in Milwaukee). Her house is currently a private residence, but has a plaque on the front door identifying it as "Tib's House":

Besides this house, there were many lovely older homes on the same street and on some of the nearby blocks (alas, the block with the Betsy-Tacy houses looked a bit more rundown). As I'd said, it was a thrill to walk up and down these blocks and know that one of my favorite childhood authors had walked past these same houses!

Our last brush with fame came the next day, when we toured the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. For a very reasonable $3.50 parking fee, which covered the entire time we were there, we saw many intriguing outdoor sculptures, the most famous of which is:

This is Claes Oldenburg's Spoonbridge and Cherry. To give you an idea of its size, the combined weight of the two shapes is 7,000 pounds! According to the sculpture garden's website, Spoonbridge and Cherry "...has become a beloved icon in the Garden". I could see why this is so - it's pretty cool!

I'm not really that knowledgeable about sculptors, but both my husband and myself have heard of Claes Oldenburg. He's done many large outdoor sculptures, found in cities all over the world. 

We liked many of the other outdoor sculptures as well:

A conservatory and a beautifully-designed floral border are located in the Sculpture Garden as well, giving visitors even more of a visual experience. I would recommend a trip if you're ever in the Twin Cities area. 

But then again, I'd recommend visits to Mankato and Mason City as well - especially if you're a fan of Prairie School architecture and the Betsy-Tacy books!

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