GEORGE IVANOVICH GURDJIEFF
George Ivanovich (G.I.) Gurdjieff was a spiritual leader who advocated for achieving a higher state of consciousness through what he called “The Work” which was internal work on oneself. Born in Russia in the late 19th century to parents of Greek and Armenian origin, Gurdjieff taught in Russia, Georgia, Turkey, France, and eventually the United States.
Gurdjieff taught that the way to experience “The Work,” was actual physical labor. He emphasized strenuous labor combined with lectures, music, and sacred dance. His focus was to increase mindfulness and minimize daydreaming. Gurdjieff’s choreography, called “Movements,” was one method he used to help followers clear and focus their minds. The Movements were not intended for performance, but for spiritual contemplation. Practitioners would repeat movements over and over again until they were perfect and second-nature, allowing them to use the Movements as a form of meditation.
His followers included composer Thomas de Hartmann and his wife Olga, who became Gurdjieff’s secretary; Jeanne de Salzmann (who founded the Gurdjieff Foundation in 1949); Alfred Orage (who would eventually supervise The Work in New York); P.D. Ouspensky (one of Gurdjieff’s earliest followers) and many others. Among his early pupils was Jessmin Howarth, who became an expert on Gurdjieff’s Movements and how they should be performed. Other Movement students included Alfred Etievan and Marthe de Gainernon.
Jessmin Howarth began her career as a dancer in 1912 when she registered at the Institute of Dalcroze Eurythmics in Germany, which eventually led to a job with the Paris Opera in the early 1920s. In Paris, Howarth encountered Jeanne de Salzmann, who introduced her to Gurdjieff. She immediately began studying the Movements and assumed the task of teaching and preserving the Movements as they were created.
On a Movement Demonstration trip to New York in 1924, Howarth discovered she was pregnant with Gurdjieff’s child. After giving birth to her daughter Dushka Howarth later that year, she moved to California and then London, returning to the United States at the start of World War II.
After Gurdjieff’s death in 1949, Howarth set about compiling accurate Movement notations and recordings and supervised the training of Movement instructors, assistants, and pianists. She travelled to France to assist Jeanne de Salzmann with filming Movements for posterity. She was also a consultant on the 1979 film Meetings with Remarkable Men. She retired from teaching Movements at the Gurdjieff Foundation in 1978, but continued to lead Movement Seminars until her death in 1984.
Dushka Howarth was raised in the United States and London by her mother and had little contact with Gurdjieff as a child, though she learned of his teachings and the Movements. In 1949, she traveled to Paris with five other young women to train with Gurdjieff in the Movements, and went on to lead Movement classes in London. Howarth also worked as a tour guide in Paris, followed by a career as a folk singer under the name “Dushka, the Jet-Set Gypsy.”
In 1986, Jeanne de Salzmann’s daughter Nathalie de Etievan (wife of Alfred Etievan) asked Howarth to return to teaching Movements and join her in South America to help supervise and establish Movement classes. Howarth went on to visit South America many times over the next ten years and conducted Movement seminars, trained teachers, and recruited new pupils.
GURDJIEFF HERITAGE SOCIETY
Dushka Howarth was a founding member of the Gurdjieff Heritage Society, which sought to preserve the Movements and Gurdjieff’s teachings in their original form. To do this, members gathered original notes, photographs, music, and descriptions of Movements from around the world in order to compile definitive instructions for as many Movements as possible. The Society also lent resources and support to others undertaking Gurdjieff preservation projects, such as Gert-Jan Blom’s preservation of Gurdjieff’s harmonium recordings. As the artistic director of Netherland’s Metropole Orchestra, Blom was also able to produce full orchestra recordings of Gurdjieff’s music with assistance from the Society.
In 2009, the Gurdjieff Heritage Society published Dushka Howarth’s book It’s Up To Ourselves: A Mother, A Daughter, G.I. Gurdjieff, A Shared Memoir and Family Photo Album. Howarth researched the material for the book over a ten-year period and used her mother’s essays, correspondence, photographs, and the accounts of others to piece together the story of Jessmin Howarth’s life and her own experiences with Gurdjieff and his pupils. Dushka Howarth continued to work with the Gurdjieff Heritage Society until her death in 2010.
Scope and arrangement
The Howarth Gurdjieff Archive (1910-2010) holds notes and writings collected by Dushka and Jessmin Howarth and the Gurdjieff Heritage Society in order to preserve the integrity of G.I. Gurdjieff’s teachings and Movements (sacred dances), as well as Dushka and Jessmin Howarth’s family papers and research for the book It’s Up To Ourselves: A Mother, A Daughter, and G.I. Gurdjieff, A Shared Memoir and Family Photo Album.Audiovisual material from this collection has been separated. Inquiries regarding audiovisual material in the collection may be directed to the Jerome Robbins Dance Division (email@example.com). Audiovisual material will be subject to preservation evaluation and migration prior to access.
The Howarth Gurdjieff Archive is arranged in four series:
Series I: Movements
Series I contains material compiled by the Gurdjieff Heritage Society and Dushka and Jessmin Howarth with the intent of organizing and preserving the integrity of the Gurdjieff Movements. Movements, or sacred dances, constitute an integral part of the Gurdjieff Work.
Series II: Dushka and Jessmin Howarth Papers
The Dushka and Jessmin Howarth Papers include correspondence, scrapbooks, Gurdjieff memorabilia, photographs, and other materials belonging to and collected by them.Much of the correspondence is between Dushka and Jessmin Howarth from the late 1940s and early 1950s when Dushka was living in Europe and studying the Movements. The letters cover topics such as Jessmin’s health and work in New York, Dushka’s living arrangements and travels in Europe, and Gurdjieff’s failing health. There are also many letters to Dushka in the weeks after Gurdjieff’s death, describing the state of affairs among his followers in New York, and requesting reports on the situation in Europe. Later letters are remembrances about certain Movements, and Dushka’s descriptions of her time performing and working on cruise ships in the 1960s and 1970s.
Dushka Howarth’s correspondence from the 1980s to 2007 concerns the research, editing, and publication of It’s Up To Ourselves as well as conversations about preserving the integrity of Movements and inquiries from Movement students and instructors about discrepancies in teaching they have experienced. These discussions lead to the formation of the Gurdjieff Heritage Society. Frequent correspondents include her agent Billie Biderman and Walter Driscoll, editor of a Gurdjieff bibliography. There is also correspondence and flyers relating to Howarth’s membership and participation in the Gurdjieff Foundation, the Gurdjieff Heritage Society, and other related organizations. Gurdjieff Heritage Society material consists of original text files with website content as well as correspondence and photographs documenting the Society’s collaboration with Gert-Jan Blom.
Outside of her exchanges with Dushka, Jessmin Howarth’s other correspondence details life as a follower of Gurdjieff teachings. Some correspondence is outgoing only, as these letters were returned to Jessmin once she began working to reconstruct the Movements. Correspondence with Ethel Merston includes original letters, photocopies, and a notebook of transcribed letters in Jessmin’s hand.
This series holds a small selection of correspondence from Bernard Metz and Elizabeth Gordon to others which was collected by the Howarths. Metz was a note-taker at many of Gurdjieff’s early lectures. The letters from Gordon to Margaret Matthews date from 1924 to 1930 and were given to Jessmin Howarth by Margaret Matthews. Matthews and Gordon were both members of Gurdjieff’s all-female Work group, “The Rope.”
Other items include Jessmin and Dushka Howarth’s passports, appointment books, and address books; and programs, photographs, and contracts from Dushka’s time as a folk singer. Photographs include many images of Dushka Howarth as a child as well as reproductions of photographs of Gurdjieff and his followers. There is a set of labeled and mounted reproductions used for an unidentified exhibit in 2004. These photos depict Gurdjieff alongside his early followers. Gurdjieff memorabilia includes programs and posters from performances and lectures by Gurdjieff and others who transmitted and followed his Work.
Scrapbooks were given to Howarth by others and include a book that depicts the early group working in France, making costumes for the Movements, and performing in exhibitions from 1921 to 1924. A second scrapbook chronicles P.D. Ouspensky’s 1910 trip to India. Most images are of buildings and scenic views.
Series III: Research
Dushka Howarth’s research files consist of internet printouts and photocopies of articles with annotations which she used when writing It’s Up To Ourselves. Research was filed by subject (such as Fourth Way groups), or by individual (such as teachers Osha and John G. Bennett), though the bulk of the research was filed under “Gurdjieff.” These files include copies of articles (primarily from the internet) documenting his life, his work, and his influence. Arranged alphabetically by file title.
Series IV: Writings and Publications
Writings and publications consist of copies of articles, typescripts, and pamphlets collected by Dushka and Jessmin Howarth to preserve and share Gurdjieff research and drafts of It’s Up To Ourselves. The files include memoirs from former Gurdjieff followers such as Olga de Hartmann and Joyce Collin-Smith, as well as contemporary writers’ thoughts on the Gurdjieff methods and various film and theatre scripts about Gurdjieff’s life. There are also transcripts of lectures by Gurdjieff and Alfred Orage. Published journals on Gurdjieff and other related spiritual research are here, the bulk of which are copies of the Gurdjieff International Review. Arranged alphabetically by author or journal title.
Source of acquisition
Donated by Dushka Howarth and the Gurdjieff Heritage Society, Inc., 2012, 2014.
Compiled by Lea Jordan, 2015
The hard drive and floppy disks that comprise the Electronic Records were forensically imaged for preservation. Audiovisual material has been separated.
Gurdjieff, Georges Ivanovitch, 1872-1949
Gurdjieff Heritage Society
Dance — Religious aspects
Spiritual leaders and thinkers
Using the collection
Jerome Robbins Dance Division
New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center
40 Lincoln Center Plaza, New York, NY 10023-7498
Access to materials
Collection is open to the public. Library policy on photography and photocopying will apply. Advance notice may be required.
Conditions Governing Use
The author/creator retains copyright of materials. For information on obtaining permission to publish, contact the Dance Division at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Inquiries regarding audiovisual material in the collection may be directed to the Jerome Robbins Dance Division (email@example.com). Audiovisual material will be subject to preservation evaluation and migration prior to access.
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