Indiana: It’s Not That Bad!

Workshop at a Carbonated Water Factory [source]

I read Alan Lightman’s Probable Impossibilities and sat for a while with the notion of an indifferent universe. I decided I was pretty okay with it.

It takes the pressure off. The cosmos does not care!

This weekend I wandered through the museum at the Working Men’s Institute in New Harmony, Indiana, a two-room display of bones and crystals and old paintings in ornate gilded frames, weapons from the Civil War, the skeleton of a horse named Fly who served in that war, the tooth of a woolly mammoth, plus the preserved body of a four-foot-long alligator gar, along with teacups and women’s shoes, and some questionable taxedermy.

Everything is interesting to someone!

In a gallery on Main Street there were mandalas made from plastic bottle caps and Mardi Gras beads by artist Diane Kahlo, whose best-known work is probably the traveling exhibit Las Desaparecidas de Ciudad Juárez: A Homage to the Missing and Murdered Girls of Juárez. Which goes to show: we can do serious work and still play with beads and bottle caps, still glue stuff to other stuff. It’s okay. The cosmos doesn’t care.

New Harmony is the site of two utopian communities, one religious, one secular, that were established in the early nineteenth century. Neither community lasted for more than a few years, failing for all the usual reasons. But many of the structures the residents left behind have been restored and maintained, not just as historical artifacts but as functional public spaces.

There are cabins, there is an opera house, a community house. These folks built things to last.

The Workingmen’s Institute, with the horse skeleton and teacups and alligator gar, was established by William McClure, one of the founders of the second community. He had the institute built just a few years after that last community disbanded. It contains Indiana’s oldest library and was inspired by the mechanics’ institute movement in Europe, which was creating lending libraries for the working class while Andrew Carnegie was still in short pants.

I have a decal on a corkboard in my art room that says, “Indiana: It’s not that bad!” And even though I drive on back roads past more than a few Trump yard signs to get there, New Harmony is one reason why.

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