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4 Harmonist House

Jane Blaffer Owen Indiana University Press ePub

We are creatures identified by what we do with our hands.

—Frank R. Wilson, The Hand: How Its Use Shapes the Brain, Language, and Human Culture

 

A Standard Oil of Indiana filling station stood across Church Street from the Lab and the Rapp-Maclure-Owen House, darkly foreshadowing the challenges of the journey on which I was embarking to reinvigorate New Harmony (11 on town map). Trucks roared noisily along Church Street, Highway 66, on their way to or from Illinois (see area map). This shining white station with its red, blue, and white torch, an ersatz imitation of the torch that ancient Greek athletes carried before their Olympic Games, bluntly proclaimed: “I am the only real thing in this town; I give gas and cold drinks to truckers all day and night, and they adore my Muzak.” There was no possibility of a full night’s sleep in the Lab.

Fantasy kept pace with my indignation: “Even with your imitation torch, you’re not the truth and reality of New Harmony but rather a servant that pretends to be more important than the geologists who once lived across the street. Were it not for their intellect and devotion to geology, you might not even be on this corner.” My anger was not directed at the attendants. The filling station itself represented, for me, Prospero’s servant Caliban, of Shakespeare’s Tempest, who stoked the fire and brought the water. All went well on the island until Prospero imprisoned Ariel (a spirit of imagination and of art), an act that elevated Caliban’s ambitions. Matters could not be righted until Caliban resumed his rightful place and Ariel could be set free and given liberty to create. I never doubted that the filling station would someday, somehow, disappear or that the aspirations of earlier generations would find contemporary expression.

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14 Kilbinger House

Jane Blaffer Owen Indiana University Press ePub

For it is a heart silence to which we must attain. . . . But, like those places fathoms deep in the sea which no storms reach, no turmoil disturbs, so the inner chamber of one’s being may be still whatever the outward conditions.

—Lida A. Churchill, The Magic Seven: 7 Steps to Perfect Spiritual Power

 

The first reborn of my adopted family of Harmonist houses was No. V on Steammill Street. Kilbinger House, on the southeast corner of Main and Granary, became my second child and, like its sister, a hungry orphan (25 on town map). An arm could reach through a wide crack in the brick of its west wall. If these bricks could be carefully reknit, the state might be shamed into doing necessary repairs to its building next door, Harmonist Community House No. 2, an approach I called “whitemail,” as it encourages positive action by example rather than coercing by extortion. Missing roof shingles from the Kilbinger house invited rainwater. The house, built in the 1820s, tottered on the brink of the same steep cliff that New Harmony has hovered upon since its inception and from which it has been, so far, consistently and mercifully rescued.

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9 Enter Paul Tillich

Jane Blaffer Owen Indiana University Press ePub

I must confess that I have not learned from any theological book as much as I learned from these pictures of the great modern artists who broke through into the realm out of which symbols are born. And you cannot understand theology without understanding symbols.

—Paul Tillich, “Existentialist Aspects of Modern Art”

 

Meanwhile, work on the sculptural front progressed: Lipchitz began the enlargement of the small plaster model.1 He permitted me to watch his progress, and I loved observing the sculptor cut away at malleable clay with sure, unhesitating strokes of his scalpel. I also relished the intervals of rest, when he would speak of the artists whom he had known when he lived as a young man in the Montparnasse section of Paris.

Lipchitz brought to life for me the period of artistic creativity between the two world wars. He might just have had an absinthe with Picasso or recently have received visits from Soutine and Modigliani, two of his closest friends, both less worldly than the more successful Spaniard. Lipchitz rarely laughed, but he chuckled when he remembered Soutine’s behavior after making his first sale to the eccentric but highly perceptive art collector Dr. Albert C. Barnes of Philadelphia.

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29 Orchard House

Jane Blaffer Owen Indiana University Press ePub

In Christ there is no east or west,
in Him no south or north;
but one great fellowship of love
throughout the whole wide earth.

—Music from an African American spiritual, text from Oxenham

 

Where would I look for the healing memories that had been uppermost in my brother’s mind during the dedication of the cornerstone of the Roofless Church in 1959? An unexpected opportunity came my way twelve years later in 1971: a two-story house on North Street in New Harmony was for sale between a corner lot that stored heavy equipment and a small structure that was more shed than house, an uninhabited shell (48 on town map). Heavy equipment was removed from the corner lot, and the shed on the west side was demolished, once again demonstrating that preservation is as much about subtraction as restoration. Although I had to buy three properties, arguments in favor of restoring the 1860 house to its former elegance were not lacking.

First of all, it resembled on a smaller scale Lincoln Home National Historic Site in Springfield, Illinois. Second, the faded corncob yellow of its exterior walls was a reminder of the original owner’s status as a “corn king” in town. His name was Levi Lafayette Lichtenberger, ecumenically correct and in sync with my respect for Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant faiths. The antebellum house would be an ideal repository for objects I had collected over the years because of their bearing on the paramount issues of all centuries—those of war, estrangement, and reunion.

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16 Violets Down the Lane

Jane Blaffer Owen Indiana University Press ePub

Laetare! Rejoice!

—The incipit of the introit for the Fourth Sunday of Lent, “Mothering Sunday”

 

My month with Janie almost over in March 1957, I booked a return flight to Houston. Taking leave of my daughters, particularly of Janie in New York, always tugged at my heart. The French proverb Partir c’est mourir un peu (to leave is to die a bit) spoke to my condition but did little to improve it. Solace, once again, came from Reverend Mother Ruth. Knowing that I faced another separation, she had asked Sister Élise, a teacher at St. Hilda’s and a tutor “on loan” for Janie, to give me a verse from an old English book of carols to read on the plane. It began: “She who goes amothering shall find violets down the lane.” I hummed this comforting line in the taxi to LaGuardia.

My spirits were lifted again on the plane when I recognized a friend seated across the aisle from me: Jean “John” de Menil, an enormously charming and cultivated Franco-American. He and his brilliant, trailblazing wife, Dominique, were both aware that the casting of the Lipchitz statue intended for New Harmony was still landless and homeless. Disregarding the Madonna’s present poverty, Jean foresaw a turn of her fortunes and suggested that Lipchitz’s Lady would one day require an architect and a dwelling worthy of her status.

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