Friday, October 7, 2016

Finding Harmony in New Harmony

A sketch of my cottage at New Harmony.

As fall arrives, I find I am wanting time alone to reflect and come into myself. Sometimes that means hunkering down at home and other times I long to be somewhere else. I have a friend who calls me The Queen of Retreats. One of my favorite places to go to 'get away' is New Harmony, Indiana.

I have been visiting New Harmony for many years and have often stayed at the inn there. In case you don't know it, New Harmony is located about two hours west of Louisville just off Interstate 64. It was founded in 1814 as a Utopian community and has quite a lively arts scene along with historic buildings, gardens, outdoor sculptures, and two labyrinths. It lies on the Wabash River, has a small smattering of shops and galleries along its main street, and sports a population of about 900.

In the spring of 2014 I had a chance to spend a week in a little cottage there. I shared a few photos (here) of my time then, but thought I would revisit that retreat in a little more depth. To prime the pump, so to speak.

What was I looking for during that week-long retreat?

First a bit of peace and quiet away from my daily routine without the distractions of deadlines, household chores and errands, and a never-ending To Do List. Second, I wanted to spend time with my sketchbook and watercolors and knew that there were plenty of artful spots in the small town to explore. Third, I wanted a place that held a bit of historic interest.

This is what I found:

Art is everywhere.

Peace and Quiet
There is plenty of this in New Harmony. Even the town's name offers up the idea of solitude and serenity. My cottage, the 1840's Guest House, was across from the town's Roofless Church at the corner of North Street and West Street. It consisted of a living room with a fireplace, a desk and bookshelves tucked into a hallway, an adequate kitchen, a bedroom with a comfortable four-poster bed and a fragrant lilac bush blooming outside its window, and the smallest bathroom I have ever seen. The best part was that it had a screened-in porch on the side that overlooked gardens and a small gazebo. There were no other houses in view. I spent every morning and evening sitting on the porch watching the wasps trying to get in to make my acquaintance. A few were successful, but I shooed them away. Here is where I did a bit sketching, reading, staring into space. Every morning I walked the two short, shady blocks to the New Harmony Inn for a breakfast of fruit, cereal, and muffin, but other than that, I ate my meals at the small table on the porch and thought I would be quite content to spend the rest of my days there.

The parabola dome of the Roofless Church.

Time with Sketchbook
New Harmony is home to visual artists of all stripes: potters, watercolorists, sculptors, weavers. There are two art galleries in the town and many impressive outdoor sculptures and gardens that just beg to be sketched, photographed, contemplated. My cottage was filled with a nice selection of art all painted or created by local artists. I carried my sketchbook with me and came away after a week with many renderings of places and people that I encountered.

A fountain garden for reflection.

Historic Interest
I admit to a curiosity about the past and how people lived. New Harmony has a great deal to satisfy that curiosity. There are restored nineteenth century buildings - a potter's shop, log cabins and barns, an opera house, the old granary which is now a museum and meeting space, and the Working Men's Institute, an imposing brick building built in the late 1800s that houses the town's library. I spent a few hours here one morning looking through flower and garden books trying to identify the plants and posies blooming in the cottage's garden. I was fortunate that during my stay the annual Heritage Artisan Days were held and the streets were filled with well-behaved school children visiting from all over the state. The fair featured booths with artisans demonstrating crafts such as tin punching, paper marbling, glazing of redware pottery, wood carving, and that wonderful paper-cutting craft done with tiny, tiny scissors, Scherenschnitte.

One day I rented a golf cart – the preferred mode of transportation – and toured the town at a stately speed of maybe five miles per hour enjoying the architecture, the scents of flower gardens, and the friendly waves from pedestrians. I found my way down to the banks of the Wabash River and spent more than a couple of reflective moments there.

Another piece of outdoor art.

I loved my time on this community-centered retreat. It was a wonderful week full of many quiet adventures.

I have already started thinking about when I can return. I did spend one night there last October but one night is not enough time to shake off the dust of big city life.

Next month I will be heading to the Abbey of Gethsemani for my annual Thanksgiving week retreat. You can read about last year's time away here.

What are you planning to do to quiet yourself and welcome in fall and winter? Any books on your list that you have been saving for the long nights to come?


  1. That sounds just about perfect to me. I love retreats, and don't make time for enough of them. (That infernal to-do list and guilt feelings for leaving my family behind...)

    I'm getting ready for a trip to visit my parents in California, and that will serve as my marker between summer and fall. The weather there is going to be so nice! Weather, for me, makes a huge difference to my level of energy and happiness. We've had nothing but heat, humidity, and storms for several months now, and I'm ready for a break. I'm taking my sketchbook, camera, journal, and plenty of reading material, so it should be a marvelous break. And, of course, I will enjoy seeng my parents, too :).

    Speaking of sketching, I've been thinking about you lately, Belle. I started sketching every day again, but this time only committing to five minutes. I even marked out some smaller squares on my sketchbook page in order to encourage simple, quick sketching. So far I've done it every day for two weeks, and done it joyfully rather than with an attitude of "I have to do this."

    1. Kathy, sounds like a marvelous trip home. I agree about weather affecting my mood and energy. I lived in California for a decade but I did get a little tired of the weather being the same every day. I missed the seasons! I never knew if it was July or Christmas...

      I have been doing some 'play along' art via YouTube videos. And I meet with a group of women once a month and everyone just brings her own creative project but we have the social aspect along with our time for making. We just started this year and it has proved to be very successful. One of the women is a retired art teacher and has a studio/workspace in her basement and that is where we meet.

      I am glad to hear you are sketching again. I had to pull out a sketchbook to find the image of the cottage in New Harmony and see that I had filled all the pages! Pat on the back. Your idea of small squares and quick sketches is perfect. I may steal it!

  2. Oddly enough, I'm going to read two of Alexandra Stoddard's books, which have been on my shelf for years. I just finished "Feeling at Home", and curious about Peter and Alexandra, I was Googling and found your blog.

    I'm in awe of your reading list, and I can't imagine how you get through so many books. You must be a speed reader.

    I like the way you write and will read your archives as time permits.

    I'm signing up for posts going forward.

    1. Hi, Patsy. Happy to have you here. Peter and Alexandra were delightful guests. Since that visit, though, he has died...I think maybe a year ago, maybe a bit longer.

      I am not a speed reader, but I do manage to read something every day. I have even made friends with my Kindle. Certainly saves on bookshelf space.

      Thanks for taking time to comment. I hope to hear from you again soon.