|Avery Drawings & Archives Collections|
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Series I: Manuscripts
Series II: Lectures and Notes
Series IV: Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man papers
At a Glance
Scope and Contents
The collection is rich in material related to Gurdjieff's teachings. It is mostly composed of manuscripts and typed lectures. It is unlikely that Gurdjieff wrote any of this material directly as his students were responsible for translating his work. Most notable is Solita Solano's notebook, which records daily life with Gurdjieff during the 1930s. There are manuscripts of each of Gurdjieff's three books, published posthumously, as well as a manuscript of P.D. Ousepneky's Fragments of an Unknown Teaching, which documents his complicated relationship with Gurdjieff. Alfred R. Orage's lectures on Gurdjieff's methods, given in New York, are included. The majority of the material are complete or partial lectures and notes, most likely recorded by his students. A long series of Q&A sessions records his methods, pedagogy, and beliefs. There is minimal material on the sacred dances.
Gurdjieff never revealed the sources of his ancient Eastern knowledge, and much of his writing can be summed up as science fiction, but he is best remembered as initiating the self-help movement. The content is primarily arranged typologically (manuscript, lectures, etc.) and secondarily by author. Series IV deviates from this arrangement as it encompasses the lectures, notes, and sacred dance material from the Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man. Finally, Series V includes work by Olgivanna Lloyd Wright, mostly from the 1950s. Due to the array of material present, it is very likely that this material comprised Olgivanna Lloyd Wright's personal collection on material related to her beloved teacher.
This collection forms part of the larger The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York).
Using the Collection
Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library
Conditions Governing Access
This collection is available for use by appointment in the Department of Drawings & Archives, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University. For further information and to make an appointment, please email email@example.com.
Conditions Governing Use
In addition to permission from Columbia University, permission of the copyright owner (if not Columbia University) and/or any holder of other rights (such as publicity and/or privacy rights) may also be required for reproduction, publication, distributions, and other uses. Responsibility for making an independent legal assessment of any item and securing any necessary permissions rests with the persons desiring to publish the item. Columbia University makes no warranties as to the accuracy of the materials or their fitness for a particular purpose.
About the Finding Aid / Processing Information
Columbia University Libraries, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library
This collection was processed by Zachary Torres (Graduate Student Intern) in 2023.
History / Biographical Note
Biographical / Historical
Gurdjieff was born between 1866 and 1877 to a family of Armenian-Greeks in Alexandropol. He grew up in Kars, the ethnically and religiously diverse Transcaucasus region. He became fluent in Armenian, Pontic Greek, Russian and Osmanli Turkish, and later developed some minimal working knowledge of French and English. Little is known about his early life besides what he notes in his own writings. Though, he was supposedly close to his father and a local priest. Gurdjieff allegedly traveled widely across Central Asia, Tibet, Iran, and India to learn ancient and esoteric knowledge. He states that he joined various ancient and secret brotherhoods, lived in monasteries, and encountered various other learned individuals. However, Gurdjieff never revealed his actual sources, and students like J.G. Bennett claimed his writings were metaphorical.
After returning to Russia in 1912, he transformed his learning into a philosophical system and began to gather a group of students in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Following the Bolshevik Revolution, Gurdjieff fled to Turkey, Germany, and England, the latter of which refused him residence, before settling in France. In 1922, he purchased a large property, Le Prieuré, near Fontainebleau. It was here that he formally established the Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man. Students lived, worked, and learned together in an almost communal environment, though he did maintain different degrees of relationships between his pupils. It is very likely that life at Le Prieuré influenced the Wrights' pedagogy at Taliesin. Within his closest circle were the de Hartmanns (Thomas de Hartmann composed his music) and the de Salzmanns (who, after his death, founded the Gurdjieff Institute). Gurdjieff gave lectures and readings from his manuscripts and students practiced the "sacred movements" that he had imported from the East. Students also worked on building projects to create a studio space for the movements.
Gurdjieff had fraught relationships with some of his students. Ouspensky, who was amongst the first to join him in Russia, later traveled to England to teach. However, Ouspensky grew disillusioned with the Institute and Gurdjieff's teachings and eventually began to separate himself, though he still maintained some connection. Gurdieff sent Alfred R. Orage, who he had met through Ouspensky, to teach in New York in 1924. However, after Gurdjieff's visit in 1930, he ousted Orage for inaccurately teaching his concepts of "self-observation" and "self-remembering" and disbanded the group.
Gurdjieff made multiple trips to the United States, mostly on fundraising campaigns. During one trip, he visited the Wrights at Taliesin. His most successful trip was in 1924 when his students performed the sacred movements to an astonished audience at the Neighborhood Playhouse. These movements were developed by Olgivanna and Iovanna Llyod Wright as part of Taliesin's performance program.
In 1926, Gurdjieff suffered a near fatal car accident and another in 1948, both from which he miraculously recovered.
In 1932, short on funds, Gurdjieff disbanded the Institute and sold Le Prieuré. He continued to live in an apartment in Paris and frequented cafes where he wrote and met students like Solita Solano who formed part of "The Rope," though this group only lasted until 1937. During World War II, he hosted more intimate meetings with a smaller number of pupils until his death on 29 October 1949 at the American Hospital.
Gurdjieff's writings verge on science fiction and his pedagogical techniques could be abrasive. Nonetheless, he developed a contingent of loyal students, amongst them Olgivanna Lloyd Wright, who would perpetuate his philosophy. After his death, his students organized and published his manuscripts as All and Everything.