Thursday, November 7, 2013

Blavatsky and the American West

A major exhibition on the interaction of Theosophy and the Arts will be held next year at the Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art at Utah State University. “Enchanted Modernities: Mysticism, Landscape and the American West” will be on view from April 14 to December 10, 2014. The focus will be “Theosophical thought and the western landscape.” The program explains:

 “…It is in America that the transformation will take place, and has already silently commenced.” —Madame Blavatsky. With these words, written in The Secret Doctrine in 1888, Helena Blavatsky drew a direct connection to the dynamic energy of 19th century Americanism and the Theosophical Society she founded. Later, she and her successors would specify the American West as the site for a rebirth and re-enchantment of humanity, drawing those seeking spiritual fulfillment outside of organized religion to the dramatic landscapes of California, Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico. The syncretic nature of Theosophy encouraged individualism in belief, fitting well the generalizations of individuality and personal agency often used to characterize the American West. 

Amongst those that came to the West seeking spiritual meaning were visual artists and composers inspired both by contact with Theosophical institutions or texts and the transcendent landscapes of the West. This exhibit will take as a point of departure this intersection of influences: Theosophical thought and the western landscape, as an invitation to explore the role of Theosophy on Western American art and music in the 20th century. 

The work of the Southern California landscape school, especially that of Maurice Braun (1877-1941), awaits examination. Braun spent time at the Theosophical community at Point Loma (where is his “Portrait of Dr. Hyman Lischner” ?), as did a fellow artist, Edith White (1855-1946). While White is overshadowed by Braun’s rugged California landscapes, her studies of roses still hold a charm of their own.

Edith White,  Red Roses 1902

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