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81 W hen I at last knocked on his studio door at Twenty-­ third Street in September 1950, Lipchitz opened it himself , a courtly gentleman despite his working clothes. I felt like a small child in The Nutcracker ballet entering the magical world of the Snow Queen, for he was leading me into the wonderland of an artist’s powerful creation, filmy from the fairy dust of white plaster and dried clay; I have never shaken off that which fell on me. I proceeded straight to my reason for coming, and we soon reached an agreement about Our Lady, Notre Dame de Liesse.1 He asked me to approve the casting of three identical figures: one for New Harmony and one for himself in addition to the commission for Église Notre-Dame de Toute Grâce du Plateau d’Assy, a Catholic church in the small town of Haute-Savoie, France, known at that time principally for its tuberculosis sanatoriums. Former patients who had been cured wished to help build a church where they could bring their gratitude and prayers that others might be healed, and current patients wanted a place for worship. I mention this because the subsequent and justly deserved fame of the church has ChaptER 8 Lipchitz 82 New Harmony, indiana sometimes obscured the reason for its existence. We also tend to forget that the ­ star-­ studded cast of artists—Matisse, Léger, Lurçat, Richier, Vuillard, Rouault, Chagall, and Lipchitz—had not yet been represented in a church. When two remarkably enlightened Dominicans Marie-Alain Couturier and Jean Devémy asked Lipchitz through an emissary in 1946 (during Lipchitz’s return to France) if he would create a Virgin for their baptismal font, he reminded them he was a practicing Jew. According to Lipchitz’s account, they replied with a tolerance not always exhibited by church fathers: “You are the best sculptor for this. If it doesn’t disturb you, it doesn’t bother us.” I had heard of Père Couturier’s ecumenical zeal that included those of the Jewish faith through our mutual friends Jean “John” and Dominique de Menil. I had learned of Assy through them and later through publications. I felt privileged to consent to an agreement that would enable Lipchitz to give his time freely to such an endeavor.2 Unlike the other artists, who had contributed their works without requesting a fee, he had to rebuild his financial ­ house. Lipchitz had arrived in this country with only his genius and his courage. Yet he had been as unwilling to exhibit his design for Assy as I had been reluctant to seek a dealer. Two hesitations and two deeply felt needs ­were meeting. The realization of this sculpture depended on a commission from outside Assy. We reached our “formal” agreement without attorneys or extra copies (in those ­ pre-Xerox days), simply exchanging two pieces of brown wrapping paper with handwritten notes and our signatures in pencil.3 Before leaving, I added a condition of my own. If two of the castings ­ were destined for sacred places, Assy and Indian Mound, I did not wish the other, which he held in abeyance to benefit his daughter, sold to a museum or private collector. It must likewise occupy a site where spiritual values­were strong enough to overcome pride of own­ership and divisions of race, color, and creed. He gladly consented to this amendment. There ­were hurdles ahead, however, which neither Lipchitz nor I could clear without help from my husband. Indian Mound—or, as Lipchitz usually called it, la colline sacrée (holy hill)—belonged to Kenneth, not to me. Believing that two intelligent and charming men would come to an agreement if they could meet ­ face-­ to-­ face, I began plans for their encounter. I asked Lipchitz to hold the first week of October in reserve and called my husband in Lexington, where he customarily entered a trotter in the Kentucky Futurity. I asked him to meet me in New Harmony when the races Lipchitz 83­were over. After Kenneth answered that he could manage to arrive on the twelfth, I at once advised the sculptor in New York via tele­gram.4 In those days, Lipchitz did not travel by air, stating as his reason that it was too costly to insure his life, so I waited for him at the Evansville train station. I can still see him as he stepped down from the train. Deliberate in his...


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MARC Record
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