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7 May Day Fête

Jane Blaffer Owen Indiana University Press ePub

What is decisive for me, in all the arts, is not their outward appearance, not what is called “beautiful”; but rather their deepest, most inner origin, the buried reality that calls forth this appearance.

—From R. M. Rilke’s letter to Princess Marie von Thurn und Taxis-Hohenlohe, November 17, 1912

 

After Kenneth’s purchase of the Corbin estate, I learned that we could expect a third child in mid-May of 1950. My husband hoped for a boy, but gender did not matter to me. The arrival of a third daughter would not have dampened my jubilation. Whether male or female, the waxing fetus within me accompanied us on our walks over the farm, which were our unborn child’s first stage of “Owenization.” The poet-patriot of Englishness Rudyard Kipling would have called us advocates of “inherited continuity.”1

One November afternoon in 1949, shortly before our return to Houston, I climbed the crest of Indian Mound. Alone on the windswept hill shorn of October’s festive foliage, I remembered my covenant with Abraham, the patriarch of Jews, Muslims, and Christians. Whether my experience the year after my marriage was real or imagined, the indisputable reality of a bleak, turbulent world beyond the safe borders of rural Indiana stared at me accusingly that solitary afternoon. If I had been commanded to find common values between three Abrahamic religions and among compassionate people regardless of their beliefs, then I needed to act as though I had been commanded. But how, I kept asking, would I find an altar or build a place of welcome for all faiths without denying or slighting my well-rooted Episcopal tradition and Jesus, the anointed Christ? The question, overlarge for me, I laid upon my Lord’s ample lap, and I took comfort from knowing that it was seedtime for winter rye in Kenneth’s pastures and seedtime in me.

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10 Polio Epidemic

Jane Blaffer Owen Indiana University Press ePub

The greatest miracle of Lourdes is the look of resignation
on the faces of those who are not healed.

—Fulton Oursler, The Happy Grotto

 

A severe polio epidemic tore into Houston early summer of 1952, and, like a merciless hurricane, it crippled and killed.1 Each of our daughters succumbed, but our eldest daughter Janie, aged nine, was most seriously affected.2 Customarily, once school was out, we left for “up there,” as Janie and Carol, their forefingers pointing north, called New Harmony. This was the year, however, of their first private swimming pool and of relocating from our home on Shadow Lawn Street to a house that Kenneth had purchased in a then-wilderness area of Houston along Buffalo Bayou.3 Our daughters were loath to leave this unexplored wonderland and its nearness to adored cousins Joe and Lee Hudson, whose parents’ house was not far from the oyster-shell road that connected our Pinewold Lane with South Post Oak Lane.

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31 Art and Carol’s Garden

Jane Blaffer Owen Indiana University Press ePub

And in the beginning was love. Love made a sphere: all things grew within it; the sphere then encompassed beginnings and endings, beginning and end. Love had a compass whose whirling dance traced out a sphere of love in the void: in the center thereof rose a fountain.

—Robert Lax, The Circus of the Sun

 

Throughout history, grand old prophets have been an endangered species. Old Testament Israelites stoned them or ran them out of town. Latter-day prophets in Nazi Germany were imprisoned or executed, notably the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. His Letters and Papers from Prison—written from a military prison before he was transferred to a concentration camp, where he was executed—should be required reading. Bonhoeffer experienced the power of evil and manifested the power to resist it.

The voice of Paul Tillich was also heard from pulpits and lecture halls in the late 1920s and early 1930s. While a member of the Religious Socialist movement and dean of the faculty of philosophy at the University of Frankfurt, Tillich published The Socialist Decision in early January 1933. Shortly after Hitler came to power on January 30, 1933, Tillich was dismissed from his academic position. A Frankfurt newspaper had named Tillich the embodiment of the enemy. Unlike Bonhoeffer, Tillich was married and the father of a young daughter, and now their lives were in danger. Weighed with the obligation to care for his family, he accepted the urgent invitations from Reinhold Niebuhr at Union Theological Seminary and Horace Friess at Columbia to immigrate to America and leave the breeding ground of tragedy of Nazi Germany. He, Hannah, and Mutie arrived in November of that year. Upon leaving Germany, Tillich identified with the biblical Abraham.1

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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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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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