Thursday, July 15, 2010

Tribute to Jane Blaffer Owen

Dear Reader,
I am greatly saddened to report that Jane Blaffer Owen died a few weeks ago. 
So many influential people in my life have died recently that I simply have not felt moved to write a decent or worthy post.
I hope you understand that I cannot describe many personal details about Mrs. Owen at this time. I hope that in time, I will be able to put into words how I knew her, and recount a little of what she accomplished in her very BIG, wondrous life. 
She was the real deal. The stuff legends are made of ... a visionary who actually realized those visions.
I am posting one of her many obituaries herein. The following article originated in The Houston Chronicle. They have hit some of the highlights of her extraordinary life.
I will always remember the vision of Mrs. Owen driving a horse drawn carriage around New Harmony when I was living in that area. Her long blond hair, untamed by her sun hat, flowing.
She was a visionary, a treasure, and her absence will be conspicuous.....and felt by many of the people she so freely inspired.

The Houston Chronicle
June 26, 2010 

Jane Blaffer Owen's memorial service will be in Houston next month, where she grew up in eccentric splendor as an heiress to both the Humble and Texaco oil fortunes. Surely there will be talk of the good things that she supported in this city, many of them at the University of Houston.
But her greatest effect, everyone will agree, wasn't on Houston at all, but on a place that could be considered the anti-Houston: New Harmony, Ind. — a tiny, historic, spiritual town.
Owen met New Harmony in 1941, during her honeymoon. The hometown of her husband, K.D. Owen, it was the site of two - two! - long-gone utopias.
Harmonie was founded in 1814 by the Harmonists, a celibate religious group that emphasized hard work and sound building. Ten years later, convinced the world was ending, they sold their town to a pair of secular idealists who hoped to found a new "Community of Equality." Rechristened New Harmony, the town was to be a progressive gathering of scientists and intellectuals, and so idealistic that it banned the use of money. It lasted three years.
By 1941, New Harmony was a bedraggled little town, but its history resonated with the idealistic, spiritual Owen. She poured her considerable fortune and energy into the place, shoring up its lovely old Victorian buildings and adding works by cutting-edge architects Richard Meier and Philip Johnson. The town took on a Marfa-like vibe, based on spirituality instead of art. It became a place for seekers.
And it came back to life. The American Planning Association praised New Harmony as a "cultural town," resisting the homogenization of America. The National Trust for Historic Preservation awarded Owen its highest honor.
Late in her life, in an interview with the Houston Oral History Project, she described New Harmony in relation to hectic, fast-changing Houston. She invoked Joseph Campbell's "Hero with a Thousand Faces": In myths across the world, Campbell argued, heroes go on quests and return with gifts - "boons" - for their fellow man. "I felt that if I had any boons for Houston," Owen said, "I would have to bring them from that little town."
The most obvious of those boons is still being installed. In 1963 Owen commissioned visionary architect Frederick Kiesler to design a meditation grotto for New Harmony. Its centerpiece was to look like a giant shell - a no-right-angles design so far ahead of its time that it was deemed unbuildable. But in 2008, with Owen's support, a class of UH architecture students used 3-D design software and digital fabrication to do what once could not be done. Their interpretation of Kiesler's design now sits next to UH's architecture building, awaiting benches and a garden.
"It is going to be an oasis for the busy students at UH," Owen said with satisfaction. A meditative, spiritual place, a piece of New Harmony in Houston, it will be her last boon to our city. And we are grateful.

This post is dedicated to Jane Owen, Patron Saint on Earth to so many mortals.
Mrs. Owen, as I called her, was a force that helped shape my life in more ways than I can list here.
I have no idea what would have become of me without Mrs. Owen's hand in my life.

In Love, Truth, Beauty and Loss....