Category Archives: New Harmony

Sunday with Robin & Rita

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A couple of weeks ago my good friends Rita and Robin invited me up to the farm for Sunday lunch. Beautiful weather, up at the top of the hill, lunch from the vegetable garden made by both of them — heavenly day.

But what I love about them is their immensely creative life. They live in the farmhouse where Robin grew up, surrounded by cornfields. Over the years they have transformed the house into a song of elegant simplicity with painted and stenciled floors, carefully selected antique items (often quite curious), and their artwork. Robin was trained as a ceramist and Rita is a self taught folk artist. Both now make their living at selling antiques, but their lives are those of artists. I always love creeping around and examining their work and their peculiar and wonderful objects. Here are some snip of that day’s “show and tell”.

Natural Dye Workshop with Michele Wipplinger

I have been off line so long you all must think I drowned in all of the spring rains I was complaining of!  It has been a summer devoted more to design than to art, and I write slightly more frequently about that work on my other blog, However, with a show scheduled at Patina Gallery in Santa Fe this October I am beginning to weave again in earnest and will begin posting about that soon. 

Earlier in June, however, we did have the natural dye workshop with Michele Wipplinger that I had posted about.  It was fascinating to be able to produce such a broad range of colors from her natural dye extracts.  We had participants from New York, Nepal, and Senegal, Docey Lewis having brought in colleagues from these places to catch up on dye technology.  Keith Recker, editor in chief of Hand/Eye magazine was among us too.  We worked in the lovely little Sarah Campbell Blaffer pottery studio in New Harmony, well lit and surprisingly well suited to our task.  We had some glorious cool sunny days and were able to spread out yarns out under a shade tree to dry.  And I want to point out the great fashion statement in the long red & yellow gloves!


three-quarters sick of rain. year at this time I wrote about New Harmony’s glorious peony fields.  Today I walked over — with wellington boots, raincoat and umbrella in a downpour — to see them.  The buds, just ready to burst, are in fear of their lives as the water rises.  It is predicted that it will crest tomorrow or Monday so perhaps not too much harm will be done.  The crops in the fields may be a literal washout, and my (old) beehives are being threatened as well. 

Half Sick of Rain

Life has been complicated this spring, and now it is raining, raining, raining.  I don’t even know how many inches have fallen in the last 7 days — and many many trees have fallen too.  The National Guard have been here and sandbagged along the river.  The river is now an ocean surrounding our beautiful buildings in many places, but it has not (yet) seeped in.  It breeds a sort of malaise.

My dear friend Sandra Brownlee just told me about this painting — in reference to my own work? — and I can’t resist posting it.  By the artist John William Waterhouse,  it is titled “I am half-sick of shadows, said the Lady of Shalott”, and her posture at her loom says it all.

“I Am Half-Sick of Shadows, Said the Lady of Shallot”

Dyeing as if the Earth Mattered with Michele Wipplinger

I am so lucky to live in this marvelous, creative and inspired Utopian community.  We are graced with restaurants, art galleries, antique shops, world class architecture, important social history, a fine Inn, and TWO textile designers, among our 900 residents.  Docey Lewis and myself have a great time sitting around coming up with creative ideas for spreading our textile wealth, and our latest idea is to begin a series of textile-based workshops led by prominent artists to bring new visitors to our magical town.

The first workshop will feature reknowned dyer Michele Wipplinger of Earthues.  Here’s the information, or you can go online to

Where:      Sara Campbell Blaffer Potter’s House, New Harmony, Indiana

Cost:  $500 ( includes tuition and materials fee); $680 (includes tuition, materials fee, and 3 nights double-occupancy + breakfast at the New Harmony Inn)

This workshop focuses on an ecological approach to natural dyeing by creating multiple color combinations in one dyebath. Using diverse fiber types such as wool, silk and cellulose substrates, in combination with Earthues’ natural dye extracts, four artful color combinations are possible, including an indigo overdye. This method uses one dye pot per team of two and two indigo vats.  From this simple, low water and low heat method, a multitude of hues emerge, creating a unique and diverse color palette.

Sponsor: New Harmony Artists Guild

Contact:  Docey Lewis 812-682-3868 or
Laura Nicholson 812-781-1348

Register online:

For room reservations contact the New Harmony Inn

T: 800-782-8605  (Six double rooms have been reserved. Mention Natural Dye Workshop)

This workshop is limited to the first 15 registrants.

Make checks payable to: New Harmony Artists Guild  

Mail to: Docey Lewis, Workshop Coordinator
             P.O. Box 6
             New Harmony, Indiana 47631


I have found myself tremendously gifted with friends, many of whom have helped me to understand the real meaning of the word “joy”. Today I am inspired to write about this, because of the passing of a dear woman whom I feel privileged to refer to as a my friend, Jane Blaffer Owen, who left us last night, during the summer solstice. Two months ago, another friend, Claudia Elliott, passed at dawn on Easter morning. The timeliness for each is metaphoric, and helps me to accept these losses with a sense of happiness at the rightness of the larger plan.

Both of these women were inspirations not only to myself but to many, many others, particularly in my new home of New Harmony. Claudia grew up in New Harmony, left it for more dynamic places while her mother Josephine Elliott was busy archiving the town’s history, and returned here as her parents faded. She and her husband John were deeply involved in the town’s creative musical life, as well as in the profound social network in this tiny place. As I got to know Claudia, and her brilliantly transparent, all-seeing eyes, she helped guide me through extremely difficult emotional times. Claudia was ill: disabled by the time I met her and living her rich life out of the confines of a broken body and a wheelchair, but her exceptional tenacity and creative exuberance never left her and I was deeply inspired by this gift of life & joy she gave to all around her. When her spirit left her body at dawn on Easter, the town made a collective, deep sigh of loss, but her memorial service was joyous and we all felt she had been set free. I was left to savor my good fortune in having known her, and to try to incorporate some of the insights she gave me into my own life.

Jane Owen is to be credited for bringing Ben and me here: yes, it was our own decision to change our busy urban lives in for rural peace, but she was the catalyst, the muse, perhaps the siren as I often jokingly said, who lured us here with glimpses of the joy and wonder of this Utopia we now endeavor to maintain.

Last night, a group of faithful friends and new acquaintances were walking the Cathedral Labyrinth in New Harmony — one of her many spiritual gifts to the town –bringing in the Summer Solstice. Mrs Owen’s dear friend, Phillip Newell, recited prayers and chimes were rung as the sun set. In Houston, Mrs Owen passed on, no doubt aware of the love and prayers being felt for her all over New Harmony.

For me, she was an example of the possibility of real joy. We all strive for “happiness”, success; I left Chicago looking for something else, for peace. We had met Jane Owen in visits to New Harmony — a fascinating place made more so by her myriad cultural and architectural projects — and she kindly assisted us in every imaginable way to make first the decision, and then the transition. She included us frequently at her table, where we met literary and spiritual lights, and her air of serenity and deep joie de vivre floated over us all like a magical charm. She honored me by endorsing my artwork, often climbing the 23 steps to my studio (at the age of 95!) and sending visitors and friends there frequently. She showed her trust in me by sharing the draft of her memoir with me, from which I learned her story in her own words, and some of the real difficulties as  well as the triumphs she had faced in her life. I felt by hearing her voice in those pages I knew her much better, and could imagine her as a dynamic younger woman, in her prime (at my age!) and working with great architects & artists to shape New Harmony.

There has been conversation for years about what might happen to New Harmony when she passed, as she has been so benficent here. My view has always been that she has been carefully building a generation of cultural successors who will be able to maintain, and more importantly add to, the town she so loved. I know Ben and I are deeply congnizant of wanting to make a lasting contribution here, and in our own ways we devote tremendous amounts of time & creative energy to the life here. We endeavor to bring people here — professional friends, close friends, students, colleagues — to show the world what is possible in a small rural town when imagination is set loose. I know I have huge ideas about what a creative Utopia means, and my friends & I regularly have long discussions about how our own activities might work to manifest good and make this town of 850 more self sustaining as well as more nurturing. To Mrs Owen, I pledge now to continue the joy and the generosity she has shown to me, and to try to share my own humble version of it wherever I go.


It’s May, which in my corner of Utopia means peonies. We have the great good fortune of living on the corner of Fragrant Farms, who grow peonies for market — blooms and plants to ship around the country. So on one side of my cabin are corn or soy fields, and the other side, acres of peonies. In May, they are ablaze and the colors and scents are staggering. We are repeatedly invited by Mrs Jane Owen, the owner of this glory, to pick as many full blown blooms as we please (the buds are shipped out, the full blooms are past that) and so the house, as I write this, is delicious with the un-reproducible scent of pure peony. Bouquets everywhere. When I say un-reproducible, I so wish that you could have peony-in-a-bottle for November, but of course that would make it less sublime when May rolled around again.

As I am a rather pathetic photographer, I have only shown you the deep pink peonies as the white ones don’t perform so well for my camera. So just as there are fields of this magenta, there are other blocks of palest pink, white, and candy pink. Heaven.

Historic Preservation

Next week, there will be a statewide historic preservation conference here in New Harmony — perfect place for it! –and the New Harmony Gallery of Contemporary Art is hosting a reception for it on Wednesday April 7, 5-7 pm. We are mounting a series of my rural architecture tapestries for the event. I think it will be a great audience for my work.

an ecstatic tree-hugger

What better activity for all-hallow’s eve and all saint’s day than to rake more leaf labyrinths? Ben created this sublime piece of work yesterday, Halloween, at the base of the most beautiful maple tree in New Harmony, on the grounds of our Granary building. Ben worked several hours simply determining where to position the entrance. The tree’s arms receive the visitor and the labyrinth echoes its embrace in a joyful dance.

The Granary was built by the Harmonists to store grain, and was lovingly restored ten years ago by the Rapp Owen Granary Foundation to become the most glorious interior space in town. Happy weddings take place there, along with concerts of all kinds during our winter nights. The acoustics are nearly perfect. Two weeks ago I had the intense pleasure of listing to the chamber music ensemble of the Evansville Philharmonic Orchestra play 3 of Bach’s Brandenburg concerti there one golden October afternoon. It brought me to tears. As does Ben’s work here.

Ben will continue work on this and maybe a new labyrinth all day today. Please come visit if you are in town!

pine needle labyrinth

Later in the day on Saturday, Ben made a labyrinth by raking the pine needles at the Harmonist Cemetery. These have withstood several days of wind & rain and still look fresh today. The leaf labyrinth has now been overlaid with a glimmering blanket of yellow leaves as the maple shed nearly everything in yesterday’s rain. It is still visible as a subtle raised pattern below the blanket of yellow.

Tomorrow Ben will resume raking meditatively for the three days he is home between teaching stints in Chicago.