32 Chapters
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19 May Day Dedication of the Roofless Church and Barrett-Gate House

Jane Blaffer Owen Indiana University Press ePub

Who had persuaded me that God preferred four walls and a roof to wide-open spaces?

—Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith

 

On the northeast corner of Main and North Streets, across from the freshly blessed cornerstone, stood a dilapidated barn and a rusty, retired gas pump. Luckily, the lot and barn belonged to close friends Mildred and Dorothy Donald, who once lived nearby. I never see their former home without remembering their story of the days preceding the birth of their brother. “Our parents never told us how babies came into the world,” they half whispered to me. “So by way of explanation, they placed stork feathers on every windowsill the day that our brother was born.”

These delicious spinster sisters, retired teachers, quickly understood my reasons for wishing to acquire their property and wanted me to have it for a token sum. I now would have a strategic location for conjoined houses that Carl and Laura Barrett had offered me: an early Harmonist two-story log house with a mid-nineteenth-century addition attached to its entire east wall. The relocation was in line with a plan Tom Mumford and I had conceived in the late 1940s. Aware that we lacked resources to restore every vintage house in the village, we decided to concentrate our efforts on North and Granary Streets, saving donated houses through relocation there when we could. Tish and Tom Mumford had already given their Church Street Harmonist house to the Colonial Dames.

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23 The Undying Dead

Jane Blaffer Owen Indiana University Press ePub

Where are the souls that quickened us
and brought us here—pilgrims
seeking more than an arrangement of bones?
Yet the air
does sing with their signature
Sometimes everywhere.

—Murray Bodo, OFM, “Holy Relics,” in Wounded Angels

 

Paul Tillich would not be the first intellectual of great stature to be laid to rest in New Harmony.

Thomas Say’s tomb stands under a grove of dogwood trees behind the Rapp-Maclure-Owen House (40 on town map). He was not only this country’s first published entomologist and conchologist but also an intrepid explorer and surveyor, having helped define our northwest boundary with Canada. Recent proof of his immortality was demonstrated in the March 2006 issue of Smithsonian magazine. The writer’s essay on coyotes gives credit to Say for conferring the Latin name Canis latrans (barking dog), upon that otherwise colorless animal.

Thomas Say’s pink conch shell—still in the Laboratory when the artist-architect Frederick Kiesler discovered it during his New Harmony visit in October 1962—was an impetus for the original design of the unrealized Cave of the New Being for Tillich Park, which Kiesler preferred to call the Grotto for Meditation. Philip Johnson had declared it “unbuildable” in the mid-1960s as architecture, even as he acknowledged the talent of the visionary Kiesler. Time and technology, however, would make the impossible possible through the efforts of students and faculty associated with the Grotto Project—Ben Nicholson, Joe Meppelink, and Andrew Vrana—at the Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture, University of Houston. On January 26, 2010, a digitally fabricated interpretation, New Harmony Grotto, was unveiled. I was both astounded and thrilled, my spine tingling, as I walked through what had once been considered only fantasy. It took nearly fifty years before we caught up with Kiesler’s genius. I am pleased that the peace of New Harmony will extend into Houston, offering weary students on campus a place of spiritual renewal not far from the Blaffer Gallery, which honors my mother.

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Historical Note

Jane Blaffer Owen Indiana University Press ePub

Connie A. Weinzapfel

JANE BLAFFER OWEN’s memoir begins with her 1941 entry into New Harmony, Indiana, a town with a substantial and significant history. A brief overview of its history and development will provide a helpful orientation to her many references to its past.

New Harmony is the site of two of America’s important early communal experiments. The first utopians—the Harmonie Society of Iptingen, Germany, from within the area of Württemberg—were led by Georg Johann Rapp (1757–1847) from their first settlement to the Northwest Territory in 1814. (Members of the Harmonie Society have been referred to as Rappites or Harmonists.) “Father Rapp,” the title given him by his Pietist flock, and his adopted son Frederick hired engineers from Vincennes, Indiana, to design their new town, Harmonie. Streets were laid out in a perfect grid and were named for their utilitarian purposes—Church, Granary, Steammill, and Brewery, as well as East, West, North, and South streets (see the town map). The Harmonists efficiently constructed their single-family houses in a process we would today call prefabrication, as pieces were cut and numbered off-site at their mill and assembled on each town lot. Gardens for vegetables, herbs, and flowers were incorporated into the plan, and two thousand acres immediately surrounding the town were used for the Harmonists’ agricultural endeavors and formed the basis for their substantial commercial success. In keeping with their providential path as God’s chosen people, the Harmonie Society placed New Harmony for sale in 1824 in order to relocate to western Pennsylvania. Considering New Harmony’s remote location on the frontier, the Harmonists’ dwellings and public buildings were quite remarkable. The American Planning Association recognized their exemplary community design in 1998 when it designated New Harmony as a National Planning Landmark.

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30 Rapp-Maclure-Owen House Restoration

Jane Blaffer Owen Indiana University Press ePub

The village of New Harmony was peculiar in that it was not founded for livelihood nor gain, but for and upon an Ideal. An Ideal society was to be instituted here, a generous way of life never known before. New Harmony was founded for no other reason than that a Certain Dream might become visible in the world.

—Caroline Dale Snedeker, The Town of the Fearless

 

After Kenneth Owen sold his Pennsylvania horse farm, he turned his attention to New Harmony. Forty years had passed since he had purchased the Granary and Corbin home from Miss Laura’s heirs.1 In 1989, he finally began restoration of the Rapp-Maclure-Owen House. Kenneth was actively involved in the process and oversaw all the workmen, particularly those who were removing paint from the well-crafted poplar moldings and baseboards.

Together we asked Loren Dunlap, a native Indiana artist, to create the murals for the front entrance hall. Loren met this formidable challenge with sensitivity and skill. There was no instant, digital mural. He devoted a month to research in the archives of the Working Men’s Institute, photographing trees, and making small-scale models. Two months were needed for the hard labor of applying his concept to four separate fourteen-foot-high walls. Brilliantly, he linked them with the rippling shores of the Wabash River, bordered with native flora and fauna.

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21 MacLeod’s Dedication of the Lipchitz Gate

Jane Blaffer Owen Indiana University Press ePub

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take,
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessings on your head.

—William Cowper, Olney Hymns, “Light Shining Out of Darkness”

 

On my arrival at the Stanhope in New York to visit Janie in mid-1958, Lipchitz telephoned with exciting news; he had completed the model for the gate.1

“When will you and Philip come to my studio?”

“Immediately, that is, when Philip is available and can drive me over.”

By the late 1950s, Philip Johnson’s architectural reputation had grown considerably, and his new offices on top of the Seagram Building teemed with activity. Philip rescheduled appointments, so he and I were soon en route to Hastings-on-Hudson like unleashed hounds on the scent of fresh game. Art lovers are an insatiable breed.

Lipchitz opened the door of his light-filled, high-ceilinged new studio, smiling more broadly than I had ever seen him do, grateful for the realization of his costly dream. Placing the small sculpture in our hands, he broke into French as a more immediate outlet for his enthusiasm: “Voilà votre porte de cérémonie. Ça va?” (“Here is your ceremonial gate. It’s okay?”)

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