Gurdjieff International Review

Olga de Hartmann

Final Journey of a Remarkable Woman

By Diane Marron

Here there is something else. Not only beauty; not only warmth. How can I say it? Here there is a feeling of an ancient presence. I had this feeling only once before when I visited the Holy Land. If I could have this feeling not only in the Holy Land, but also here, this must be a good place.

Olga de Hartmann


ere is a place where an enchanting stillness lies across the land and the forces of nature play out in brilliant and tumultuous displays across a vast landscape. Here the rain moves across the canvas, its dark shadow crawling over mountains and plateau while rays of a setting sun fan out, weaving through layers of clouds forming a brilliant display of light. Here lightning bolts fork out like roots of a tree, and chariots of thunder roll across the sky. Tall red rocks like sentinels line river valleys and the wind whispers in tones of an ancient presence.

Here is where Olga de Hartmann chose to spend the last part of her luminous life on this 7,000-foot-high plateau in Northern New Mexico.

Born in 1885 in St. Petersburg, Madame de Hartmann grew up in the aristocratic society of pre-revolutionary Russia. When she and her husband Thomas de Hartmann met G.I. Gurdjieff in 1917, Russia was torn by war and revolution. Their exodus from Russia was along with Gurdjieff and a small group of students; the twelve years following are presented in the de Hartmann’s book, Our Life with Mr. Gurdjieff.[1]

She was my friend and my mentor. I first met Mme. de Hartmann in her residence in New York City in 1972. Here at last I was in the presence of this remarkable woman about whom I had read and heard so much. She spoke with such passion and vitality in her heavy Russian accent that I sensed I was in the presence of someone quite out of the ordinary. Her frailness belied her powerful inner presence. And thus, began my relationship with a most remarkable woman whom I am honored to have known and who substantially influenced my life.

In the spring of 1973 Mme. de Hartmann arrived in New Mexico not only with her suitcases and the music of her late husband, Thomas de Hartmann, but also with the seeds of her years of experience, knowledge and understanding of the teaching of G.I. Gurdjieff. She and her companion Peter Colgrove, who was affiliated with the Gurdjieff Foundation of Canada, settled into an old adobe house in Nambe situated in a beautiful wide valley at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains 20 miles north of Santa Fe.

Several friends of Mme. de Hartmann had decided to leave Manhattan and move to Santa Fe. John and Reina Attias Menken arrived in 1972 and blazed the trail for the rest of us. Later Charles Van Maanen and I arrived just a month before Mme. de Hartmann’s arrival. We all lived in La Cienega, a village of farms south of Santa Fe.

Those early years were an exciting time for all of us, exploring this enchanting new land that is largely influenced by Spanish and Native American culture. The summer of 1973 saw an influx of Mme. de Hartmann’s students from New York and Montreal. Some of these students settled in New Mexico, and others stayed for the summer.

Mme. de Hartmann began meeting with us once a week at St. Bead’s Episcopal Church in Santa Fe. The children of the church kept rabbits in hutches. One of Mme. de Hartman’s students who was opposed to caged animals released the rabbits after one of our meetings. This resulted in us being expelled. Our meetings continued at Holy Faith Episcopal Church on Palace Avenue. This beautiful old stone building had a large hall perfect for Movements.

Mme. de Hartmann always stressed how important the Movements were. They demanded of one a certain attention and effort necessary for work on oneself. She arranged for Ruth Daly from Montreal to spend several weeks here in the summer to give us Movements, and then David MacKinnon who spent summers here and John Menken continued with the classes. We were all thankful that Mme. de Hartmann made such a strong effort to give us this opportunity.

After the Movements we would gather on the stage around Mme. de Hartmann and have a sitting followed by a reading often from early talks by Gurdjieff during the Prieuré days. One of our meetings was extraordinarily special when Mme. Jeanne de Salzmann attended. She and Mme. de Hartmann sat there, very composed, and stately, watching the movements after which we had a wonderful exchange. Mme. de Salzmann was in New Mexico to visit locations for the possible filming of Meetings with Remarkable Men.

During her seven years in New Mexico, Mme. de Hartmann was very active not only with her group but with many other interests and projects. During the second summer when Peter Colgrove was away teaching, Mme. de Hartmann obtained permission from her landlady to add an addition onto the house that would consist of a bedroom and bathroom for Colgrove. The house became a construction zone with Mme. de Hartmann in the midst of it all making suggestions to members of her group who tackled the project enthusiastically. By the end of the summer the beautiful addition was completed.

Early in 1976, preparation began for a concert featuring the music of Thomas de Hartmann and the Sacred Dance and Movements music of Gurdjieff that was created in collaboration with de Hartmann. The concert was scheduled for April 14th in the beautiful, acoustical, old-style Spanish/Indian hall, St. Francis Auditorium, in the Museum of Fine Arts on the plaza in Santa Fe. Mme. de Hartmann took charge of the preparations for the concert making it into a group work with an emphasis on executing everything with perfection and extreme attention to detail.

An imposing figure with babushka wrapped around her head, Mme. de Hartmann ordered the first three hand-carved wooden pews removed, and the rest of the pews re-arranged in a herringbone pattern, on the diagonal, the better to watch the performers. She had me buy some dark brown felt and attach it along the entire edge of the stage to hide the bare wood spots. At one point a museum employee approached me and asked: “Who are you people?”

The first half of the concert featured de Hartmann music, Sonata No. 32 “The Fourth Dimension” and “Two Nocturnes” played by Elan Sicroff, and songs performed by Soprano Lynn Schell. After the intermission Laurence Rosenthal, an American composer, arranger, and conductor, performed selections from three volumes of the Sacred Dance and Movements music of Gurdjieff/de Hartmann. After the concert the general public exited through the grand street doors of St. Francis Auditorium while special invited guests were ushered into the lobby gallery for the reception with champagne and homemade pastries which were artistically arranged on a long white covered table decorated with cut flowers.

Lawrence Rosenthal, Lynn Schell, Mme. de Hartmann, and Elan Sicroff – Santa Fe 1976.

Mme. de Hartmann devoted a good part of her life and energy promoting the music of her husband. During her time in New Mexico, she tried relentlessly to have de Hartmann’s opera “Esther” performed at the Santa Fe Opera but to no avail. I always thought this was a big disappointment to her.

Mme. de Hartmann always found time in her busy life to make road trips and celebrate special occasions. Russian Easter was one of these occasions and the first year she invited the whole group to celebrate this holiday with her and Colgrove at her house in Nambe. After that just a few of us would go to Nambe for the holiday and have the traditional Russian sweet, pashka and kulich. Reina would make the pashka, a sweetened cheese topping, and I would make the kulich, a dough-based cake baked in a coffee can which enabled the cake to mushroom out at the top. Sometimes Colgrove provided entertainment on the piano or one of the students would sing de Hartmann songs.

Echo Amphitheatre, located 15 miles north of the village of Abiquiu, was a favorite picnic destination for Mme. de Hartmann and Colgrove. The route there was extraordinary with its red rock canyons and vast views across the magical landscape. In the distance Pedernal Peak that rises above all in its majestic stillness was a favorite landmark of Mme. de Hartmann. Thoroughly enjoying these excursions to Echo Amphitheatre, Mme. de Hartmann sat very relaxed and happy at the picnic table watching me scramble up the rocks into the canyon and then letting my voice echo across the land.

In 1975 Charles and I moved into our large adobe house that we built on a small dirt road off Acequia Madre on the eastside of Santa Fe. Here in this beautiful house, we shared many holidays and events with Mme. de Hartmann and Colgrove. About twenty group members gathered to celebrate her eightieth birthday (which later we found out was really her ninetieth). A tray of cordial glasses of varying shapes and sizes was passed around. Some students took a long time to choose a glass. Mme. de Hartmann was amused by this ritual perhaps because of what the choice said about each individual. After the toasting Reina and I brought out the cake with eighty candles which Mme. de Hartmann proceeded to extinguish.

Celebrating Mme. de Hartmann’s ‘80th’ birthday.

Mme. de Hartmann stopped her meetings with the group two years before her death in 1979. She was getting weaker and wished to spend her remaining time and energy to finish her work on the new edition of Our Life with Mr. Gurdjieff. During this time Reina and I visited her once a week and together we read a section of the new material and tried to make constructive criticism. Our task became more and more difficult as Mme. de Hartmann had become quite sentimental about this period of her life and, in particular, about Thomas de Hartmann. Confronted with the task of being objective in the face of sentimentality, Reina and I decided we would just make basic grammar and editing corrections and leave the bigger task of editing the content to Tom Daly in Montreal.

Mme. de Hartmann possessed several qualities that manifested in all that she did, most notably her commanding presence. Wherever she went she was not unnoticed. There was a playfulness about her and often you could see a twinkle in her eye when she knew she was affecting a situation.

In 1974 Mme. de Hartmann travelled to Boulder, Colorado to attend the Black Crown Ceremony performed by His Holiness the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa, head of the Karma Kagyu Lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, during his first world tour. She seated herself on a high balcony overlooking the room below where the Karmapa was escorted to his high throne. The guards approached Mme. de Hartmann and told her it was not proper protocol for her to be sitting higher than the Karmapa. She refused to move. She said she would not be able to see anything down below. A commotion ensued. When the Karmapa was informed what was holding up the ceremony he looked up at her and smiled and said let her sit on the balcony. And I saw the twinkle in her eye. After the ceremony Mme. de Hartmann not only received a blessing from the Karmapa but was granted a private audience with him.

Mme. de Hartmann being blessed by His Holiness the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa.
The Ven. Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche is to the left of Mme. de Hartmann.

Another quality was her graciousness. She appreciated even the smallest thing you did for her and often showed her gratitude by giving you a small token, usually something of her own. But there were so many non-material gifts that Mme. de Hartmann bestowed and these gifts I treasure even more. They have given me material with which to work. The importance of “being,” non-attachment, action with attention, respect for the “sacred” and responsibility to the “Higher” are a few of these gifts.

Mme. de Hartmann chose to spend the last years of her life in New Mexico and establish roots from which the Work could grow. She was happy here in this enchanting land about which she said there is “a feeling of something sacred.” How appropriate!

Mme. de Hartmann visiting Charles Van Maanen and Diane Marron in their home in Santa Fe.

Diane Marron is a freelance writer, photographer, and documentary film maker. She studied television and field production at the University of New Mexico where she started working on her first documentary “Seeking God: The Way of the Monk at the Monastery of Christ in the Desert” which has been broadcast on PBS, EWTN and international television. Her latest documentary “A Story from Africa” opened at the Jean Cocteau Cinema in Santa Fe in October 2019.

[1] Thomas and Olga de Hartmann, Our Life with Mr. Gurdjieff (2008) Definitive Edition, Idaho: Sandpoint Press, 274p.


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Revision: July 24, 2021