Roberta Price,

Pasatiempo - - On­stage This Week -

ex­per­i­men­ta­tion gone wrong. Among the most crit­i­cal is T.C. Boyle’s damn­ing ac­count in his 2004 novel Drop City. As Price has writ­ten else­where, pop­u­lar writ­ers and many aca­demics still de­scribe the pe­riod as “some­where be­tween a per­ni­cious so­cial virus and an amus­ing Hal­loween cos­tume.”

Price’s pho­tos re­veal how thor­oughly im­mersed in the Amer­i­can home­stead tra­di­tion this sup­pos­edly sub­ver­sive coun­ter­cul­ture re­ally was. “Fur­ther Con­struc­tion,” her chap­ter on the com­munes’ ar­chi­tec­ture, shows the di­verse abodes these young ide­al­ists built. They range from the Bessie’s Gypsy Wagon, a wooden mobile home in Red­wing, Colorado, that looks like a cov­ered wagon from the Old West, to the “Zome” at Li­bre, a poly­he­dral won­der of co­zi­ness and 1960s fu­tur­ism.

In the pic­tures, young men set vi­gas in the first homes they have ever built. Lo­cal ranch­ers in cow­boy hats, be­mused by the neo­phyte set­tlers, help them train horses and work the land. Other pho­tos show chil­dren eat­ing break­fast un­der domed ceil­ings along­side sun­set im­ages of im­pos­si­bly happy first-time farm­ers re­lax­ing on the bed of a flatbed truck. There’s an ap­pear­ance by writer Ken Ke­sey and his “Fur­ther” bus, which an­i­mated the pages of The Elec­tric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Poets Allen Ginb­serg and Peter Orlovsky dropped by Li­bre in 1977, their sun­tanned vis­ages cap­tured in a pair of snap­shots by Price.

The book’s most mem­o­rable photo might be of Price her­self. Nude, blond, bathed in fad­ing sunlight and clutch­ing stalks of mar­i­juana as tall as she is, she looks poised for any­thing. The photo al­most speaks to a dif­fer­ent place and time.

Yes, the Day-Glo paint, the long, un­washed hair, and the ge­o­desic dome houses are dated, to say the least. But it’s hard not to be taken by the youthful op­ti­mism of the peo­ple who picked up tools they had never used be­fore to build houses from scrap lum­ber and re­cy­cled steel, con­struct­ing au­then­tic lives out­side main­stream so­ci­ety. “We were com­ing out of the time in the 1950s, the most af­flu­ent and suc­cess­ful time,” Price said. “Most of the peo­ple were mid­dle class. We were a gen­er­a­tion raised to be­lieve we could do every­thing.”

Li­bre is still around. The com­mu­nity cel­e­brated its 40th an­niver­sary in 2008, though it is not as rad­i­cally self-suf­fi­cient as it once was. Price said that one of the young girls raised at Li­bre re­cently re­turned to the com­mune to marry her boyfriend “just down the hill from the house in which she was born.”

In 1977, Price left Li­bre af­ter nearly seven years in the val­ley. “Have you ever been in a re­la­tion­ship and bro­ken up with some­one?” she asked. “I was very in­vested in build­ing a house and a com­mu­nity of peo­ple. I was in love with the land­scape too. But at a cer­tain point, I re­al­ized it was the end of our mar­riage. I wanted to move on. The Viet­nam War was over; Carter was pres­i­dent. I was in­ter­ested in com­ing down off the mountain. It was a won­der­ful ex­pe­ri­ence, and it has formed my life ever since.”

Minka and Lit­tle Jeff in front of the Re­al­ity Con­struc­tion Com­pany main build­ing

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