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145 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 En­ glish 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, trail-­ blazing 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 ChaptER 16 Violets Down the Lane 146 New Harmony, indiana and suggested that Lipchitz’s Lady would one day require an architect and a dwelling worthy of her status. Skilled in the art of persuasion and with a voice like Charles Boyer, Jean launched again into high praise of Philip Johnson, the architect who had built his Houston ­ house. The home would sustain five de Menil children and, as their parents became increasingly involved in the cultural life of their adopted city over the next de­cades, would also eventually welcome artists of distinction and heads of state, among them His Holiness the Dalai Lama and former president Jimmy Carter. The ­ single-­ story, boxlike but ­ well-­ tailored ­ house still lies half hidden from the street and gives no hint of the old and new art trea­ sures behind its brick walls. This understated Johnson ­ house, sad to say, was not the norm in an affluent neighborhood conspicuous for its m’as tu vu (have-­ you-­seen-­me) ­houses. I could identify with this restrained approach to domestic architecture , for I had grown up in a ­house almost completely covered with fig ivy. A passerby peering through its penetrable privet hedges might well have been disappointed and walked quickly on. By night the warm glow of candlelight from tall downstairs windows might have aroused a sense of wonder in the onlooker but surely not envy. Nor would he or she have hazarded a guess at the market value of such a ­house. My wise parents had taught me to look for interior riches, whether of people or of ­houses. Such remembrances prepared me for Jean de Menil’s evocation of Philip Johnson’s many gifts. “His background is as much in art history as in architecture,” he told me. “You would find Philip very sensitive to your most unexpressed wishes. I would go so far as to call him clairvoyant. He’ll be returning to Houston soon for the AFA convention.” The upcoming American Federation of Arts convention, which I also would be attending in April, was of great interest to art patrons. On the freeway home from the airport, my thoughts outraced the speeding cars. They flew back in time to my vow to build an altar in my adopted town and forward to the present, where my vow, though unfulfilled , stood at a threshold. John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress bequeaths us a classic prescription for­jump-­starting creativity. He said that the impulse for writing that immortal book came from his heart; from there it traveled to his mind, and “thence into [his] fingers trickled.” Fingers, hands, and skills other than Violets Down the Lane 147 mine ­were required, and because of that fateful flight with Jean de Menil, they ­were drawing closer. My taxi turned onto the feeder lane that would connect with our driveway , the last leg of my journey home. I expected a hushed ­house, for it was past Carol and Annie’s bedtime, and Kenneth was away at his ­ horse stables . Carol, however, had heard the crunch of car wheels on the driveway and was awaiting my arrival outside the front door in her scanty pajamas. She threw herself into my arms, and I soon held her head in my hands. I tilted...


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