Louise March

Gurdjieff International Review

Louise March

By the Rochester Folk Art Guild

Mrs. March was born Louise Goepfert in Switzerland in 1900. She spent most of her childhood in Germany, and studied art history at Berlin University. After coming to the United States as a graduate exchange student in 1926, she did further study in art history at Smith College. Soon afterward, she joined the faculty of the art department at Hunter College in Manhattan.

During her first years in New York, she met the renowned photographer Alfred Stieglitz and the painter Georgia O’Keeffe (who would become a lifelong friend). With their help, she took a job as manager of the Opportunity Gallery in Manhattan, and became established within a circle of artists, writers, and society people in New York’s cultural scene.

One evening in early 1929, she was invited to the studios of Carnegie Hall, where G. I. Gurdjieff was hosting a recital of piano music composed with his pupil, Thomas de Hartmann. Her encounter with Gurdjieff, followed by subsequent meetings during the weeks of his stay in New York, proved to be a turning point. By late spring, at Gurdjieff’s invitation, she traveled across the Atlantic to live and study at the Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man in Fontainebleau, France.

During this period, on a daily basis, Gurdjieff was immersed in the writing and revision of his seminal work, All and Everything: Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson. In addition to serving as his secretary, Miss Goepfert was given the task of translating Gurdjieff’s writings into German and preparing them for publication—roles she undertook with unflagging dedication and exactness.

Her close relationship with Gurdjieff would continue until his death in October, 1949. Not long afterwards, she wrote an essay which contains the following passage:

To me, as the only living German speaking disciple and translator of his writings into German, falls the task to point to Gurdjieff (even if only very inadequately) for all of my brothers who speak the same language.

After Gurdjieff closed the Chateau de Prieuré, Louise Goepfert remained in Europe. In 1933, she married Walter March, a German architect she had met in New York several years earlier. The two settled in Berlin until 1936, when sensing the impending psychosis of war, they relocated to the United States. By 1939, the Marches had purchased property in Bloomingburg, New York, where they raised five children, operated a full-time working dairy farm, and maintained close contact with a small circle of Gurdjieff’s American pupils.

In 1957, Mrs. March began to visit Rochester, New York, where a handful of people interested in the ideas of Gurdjieff had been gathering. Under her direction, the group solidified its aim to explore man’s inner development, applying Gurdjieff’s ideas with practical emphasis on craftmaking and physical work activities. This marked the beginnings of the Rochester Folk Art Guild.

In 1967, Mrs. March and her pupils established a permanent home for the Guild at the 300-acre East Hill Farm in Middlesex, 45 miles south of Rochester in New York State’s Finger Lakes Region. Disciplined work in crafts and agriculture became a way of life for community members, many of whom started their own families at the Farm. Residences, craft shops and a Movements hall were designed and built with Mrs. March’s background in architecture and design a primary influence.

Movements HallMrs. March directed the activities of the Rochester Folk Art Guild and lived there until her death in 1987. Under her guidance the Guild grew to become a nationally recognized center for fine quality craftsmanship with work in museums, galleries and private collections throughout the United States and abroad. Now guided by a group of senior pupils, the Guild’s unique combination of craft work, community life, and the study of Gurdjieff’s teaching continues to attract people from all walks of life who are searching and questioning how to be truly human in today’s world.

In Her Own Words

For those fortunate enough to know her as a teacher, Mrs. March emanated great magnetism, presence, and insight. She saw deeply into the human condition; and without question, she possessed what Gurdjieff called ‘ableness’—even into her late eighties—to lead and inspire hundreds of people dedicated to a search for truth. It is worth sharing some of her statements that convey a measure of her individual qualities and of her transmission of Gurdjieff’s teaching:

From Mrs. March’s “Introduction to The Tibetan Book of the Dead,
containing some suggestions as to the right reading of Beelzebub’s Tales”

The first step is to ‘learn to listen,’ to wish to listen, to wish to drop the chaos in oneself in the same way that we drop the body at physical death. This step means that we won’t interfere any longer, will not change anything (in the beginning not even ourselves); that we will not quarrel, that we have no opinion to insist upon; that we will not translate what we hear into our automatic daily language—which would be equal to letting it go out the other ear. This step means that one stays quietly apart from the million-fold army of attacking thoughts and feelings and physical associations…

Excerpts from an essay on Gurdjieff, written by Mrs. March in 1950,
translated from German by the author in 1984.

Rather at the beginning of my work with him, while I was still amazed that Gurdjieff did not look for anything which constitutes the pleasures and strivings of all other men, he placed himself one day (when he was obviously tired) next to me after he returned from the café. We were on the terrace with the beautiful view of the garden at the Prieuré, where I was working on the translation of the first series of his writings. I asked him, ‘Why don’t you also work here with the view of the roses, the goldfish pond, and the trimmed rows of Sycamores, in such good air?’ He replied, ‘I always work in cafés, dance halls, and similar places where I see people, how they are; where I see those most drunk, most abnormal. Seeing them I can produce the impulse of love in me, and from that I write my books…’

Some chapters of the first series, especially the Chapter ‘The Arousing of Thought,’ called at first ‘Warning,’ he wrote and rewrote as many as twelve times. What an effort, until all the themes of his work (which doesn’t leave out any question) were touched upon and woven together in this introduction. By the changes he made it was obvious he wanted to ‘bury the bone deeper,’ which meant not to give it in an easy way… He who recognized a person with a single look knew that this process entails a tremendous undertaking, and the first series had the aim to ‘destroy mercilessly all of the century-old conceptions and images which are rooted in us about everything supposedly existing in the world,’ so that space can be created to be ready to accept something new and real.

During the eight years of writing, Gurdjieff asked daily before or after a meal, in a small circle, or for many guests, that one or another chapter be read aloud in one or another language. He then watched the listeners and recognized the degree of perfection of what he had written anew, as well as the exactness of the translation. He often chose a chapter corresponding to the type of person, or more likely the chapter about the nation of those present. New guests were amazed that he considered a small word or the flow of a sentence so very important, but the translators knew Gurdjieff already as the teacher of exactness. For us, the translation wasn’t done just for the sake of translation, but was our schooling which freed us from our subjective conceptions and views, and thanks to the creation of a new exact language brought us to an understanding which we could not even have imagined at the beginning…

Describing beginnings of the Rochester Folk Art Guild

I realized that one cannot only talk philosophy … that one needs the whole man, so we started with the crafts.

Quotes from articles about the Guild

Turned Bowl, Spalted Maple

To work concentratedly and do something that speaks truly to another man is a miracle.

Developed man is beyond like or dislike. He serves such as he can with his small powers and short years on earth.

Every human being is a speck in the universe. This makes us more modest—on our knees and open to higher influences.

When one enlarges one’s inner life, one finds an artist.

Certain qualities that should be characteristic of man may be lacking, such as awe, gratitude, reverence… I think the whole American culture is shy of feeling, afraid of feeling and afraid of suffering, which belongs to life. The moderns try to shut it out, and they suffer all the more.

From a talk on vision, given July 11, 1983

Vision is more than seeing. The two hang together. So we are like a tree standing in ourselves, and no one can help us except our own vision, our wishing to see. You can look backward to the beginning, from your birth on, through the different years of growing up and being in the middle of life. And you can turn to the other and now the second half, and know that it ends in death. The wish to make something with your life, to develop something that grows, that’s alive, that’s formed at the end is your goal. Your vision may see many mistakes you made, and that you’re going to make again—or not, if you have learned from the uselessness of the mistakes. So there where you stand inside yourself, life goes on. You cannot turn back. But you can have a different view as to what you wish to do with the rest of your days.

Here with all the crafts, including agriculture, you can wish to get to a perfection, to know the laws and to express something more than your own self. It shouldn’t be just an accident. It should be a vision: How large is the goblet or the cup. And these are reflections of yourself.

Doing this and many, many other things, we wake up a pathway in our brain: The most mysterious and misunderstood part of man is his brain. And every effort, physical and mental, rubs these fine strings to come on and wake. Sitting, right sitting, does it in an extreme. But besides that it needs work, the whole body, from toe to hair, every part.

We Are Blessed

Take a fish from water,
It is not a fish anymore.
Fish is part of water,
He can only be alive in his element.

Take air from a man,
He is not a man any longer.
Air is his element,
He is part of it.
We all take it in,
We all breathe it out.
It changes us,
We change it.

Where is mine or thine?
Where is greed or glory?
We search so far—it is so near.

When we meet it,
We shiver and bless it.
And we are blessed.

We are blessed to discover,
Something so good, so real,
Could be found in this life.

~ • ~


Later Years

A friend, Roger Lipsey, writes of this period of her life:

In those later years I was one of many who encouraged her desire to write her autobiography. I waited patiently for the pages to pour forth. There was in fact a trickle from time to time, then silence. I would ask after the progress of the project. This caused rather long pauses in the conversation. Then one day, when I was again able to visit the Guild, she showed me her latest work: dried flowers and petals arranged in patterns, framed under glass—an entire roomful of them. Some were solemn mandalas, others pleasing designs. Still others hinted at who knows what intuitions of the Logos that orders all things. Flower Picture - Protected core of the universe As a whole these were, it seemed, the autobiography I had hoped might be written in a more standard medium. They represent a wonderful “late period” of the artist/craftsperson she was—free and fearless, creative and earthy, symbolic and not symbolic at all.

I remember another of her projects in those years, her “indestructibles” as she called them. She somehow came up with the idea that if you carefully hollow out a gourd or squash and immerse it at length and repeatedly in fresh ashes, the hollow shell will shrink and harden into a durable, wood-like condition. It worked marvelously well. They are little masterpieces, furnishings for a fairy tale. It was clear that she appreciated the irony of calling these tough but tiny containers “indestructible.” She knew that nothing material is indestructible. But these little objects, and the immense care that went into producing them, must have kept her in mind of the general aim that concerned her—to find the truly indestructible in human nature. Gurdjieff spoke in his writings of “being-duty,” by which I believe he meant a persistent way of life that serves practical needs but also serves to develop the strengths and beauties of human nature. Louise March lived for that, and she shared what she understood of it with others.

Copyright © 2000 Rochester Folk Art Guild
This webpage © 2000 Gurdjieff Electronic Publishing
Featured: Spring 2000 Issue, Vol. III (2)
Revision: November 26, 2003