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Dance? Kelpius?

I met recently with Bob Skiba to discuss Kelpius Society programs – and explore the potential for developing an original Kelpius dance performance!

Let me explain — first about Bob.  After moving to Philadelphia in 1998, Bob Skiba established the Mixed Pickles Vintage Dance Company, to research and perform social dance from the Colonial period to the 1950s.  You can learn more about that project by going to his website, at www.mixedpickles.com.  Bob publishes a blog relating to dance history, which you can find at philadancehistoryjournal.wordpress.com; his blog devoted to Philadelphia’s gay community is located at http://thegayborhoodguru.wordpress.com/.  Bob has varied professional experience as dancer, actor, designer, director, and musician within the dance, theater, and early music communities.  Before settling in Philadelphia he was a member of the Ex Machina Baroque Opera Company in Minneapolis, which produced innovative new work.  Bob is president of the Association of Philadelphia Tour Guides.

The word “Baroque” is significant here.  The Kelpius community was formed during the Baroque era, and their compositions fit snugly into that musical cosmos — keep in mind that much of the music composed during the Baroque was devotional in nature.  (Think Bach.)  And of course, dance has always played a vital role in ritual expression, as it did during the Baroque.  Did members of the Kelpius community dance to their music?  Probably not.  We do know, however, that we at the Kelpius Society want to push the envelope; break new ground with programming that interprets Kelpius in dramatic and compelling ways.  And so we’re interested in exploring how to choreograph his music, to create a performance modality that would communicate that story more effectively – and more memorably.

Since its founding the Kelpius Society has presented a number of well-received programs, culminating in a live performance at West Philadelphia of texts and music composed by Kelpius and members of his group.  These texts are a matter of record, but the musical settings have had to be painstakingly researched.  Fortunately, Lucy Carroll, one of our founding members, was able to create sensitive realizations of the music and restore it to live performance in our time.  But what if we were to go one step further, and marry that music with dance?  We think it’s quite feasible to erect an edifice of dance on the foundation of the Kelpius texts, in a way that would incarnate the music, and set it in motion.

We’ve only just begun to explore this relationship, and are optimistic that there’s a wealth of potential, moving in that direction.  Please check our website regularly for updates on this and other Kelpius Society initiatives.  We’re looking ahead toward exciting new vistas, and we’ll need your participation and support.

Tom Carroll

President

The Kelpius Society

Request for Research and Information

I met earlier this week with Daniel Richter, executive director of the McNeil Center for Early American Studies (MCEAS) at the University of Pennsylvania, to provide information about the Kelpius Society and discuss possible research initiatives relating to the 17th century Kelpius community.  Following that meeting, at Dr. Richter’s suggestion I prepared a brief message to be distributed to the MCEAS mailing list.  Here’s a copy of my message.  Please write to us if you have information such as research resources you’d like to share, if you’re currently doing research on a topic relating to Kelpius, or if you know of research already done in this area.

Request for Research Advice and Direction

Johannes Kelpius and a group of followers arrived in Philadelphia in 1694, and settled in what is now Roxborough, within the current boundaries of Fairmount Park.  They were dissenting Lutherans who self-identified as Pietists, and formed one of the earliest millenarian communities in North America; perhaps only the Labadists were earlier.  The Kelpius group established a medicinal herb garden (likely a progenitor of Bartram’s Garden), set up the earliest astronomical observatory, and wrote music that may have been the first composed on this continent by Europeans. 

The Kelpius story is part of the early history of Philadelphia, especially its hidden or esoteric dimension.  Our problem can be stated, what do we reliably know about Kelpius?  We have a grasp of the basic outlines of this history, and we have a generalized knowledge of the settlement area.  We’ve supported preliminary archaeological research at the site, but still lack comprehensive knowledge of what lies beneath the ground.  We’ll seek funding for a full archaeological survey some time soon, which should assist with site development and produce new research questions.

The provisional answer to the question, what do we reliably know about Kelpius, may lie in how we know what we know.  Our information mostly derives from the work of a single individual – Julius Frederick Sacshe –who was active in  Philadelphia around the turn of the 19th century.  Sacshe was an interesting figure who wrote on variety of subjects, but doubts have been raised about his work.

Religious scholar Arthur Versluis points out that the problem with Sachse’s work is that other scholars haven’t been able to examine his sources.  We agree. Sacshe’s book, The German Pietists of Provincial Pennsylvania, remains a standard reference on Kelpius.  But it’s the only comprehensive English language source we have, and so far as we know it hasn’t been critiqued.

We seek to address this lacuna by consulting with scholars of Early America to ask for suggestions and direction.  We want to establish a frame of inquiry that intersects with established scholarly practice and current research issues in Early American studies, in which Kelpius and his group will become visible and investigable.  We welcome all inquiries and suggestions on these matters from the scholarly and academic communities.

Sincere thanks,

Thomas Carroll

President

The Kelpius Society

Kelpius at the Franklin Inn Club

Last night Al Holm and I made a presentation on the Kelpius community at the Franklin Inn Club in Center City Philadelphia. Al and I are resident members of the Inn; Al is a founding member of the Kelpius Society.  Other Kelpius Society members attending last night’s meeting were Joanne Kellerman, our treasurer, Carol La Belle, corresponding secretary, Nick Bucci (Nick has deep knowledge of the Kelpius site and is available to give tours), and Don Sloan, a member of the Kelpius Society and current president of the Roxborough-Manayunk-Wissahickon Historical Society.

I began with a brief introduction to Kelpius, providing background on the Pietists in Germany and the motivations that lay behind their decision to emigrate from Europe to North America in 1694. I also talked about the activities of the Kelpius Society, which include a publications program (visit our website at http://www.kelpius.org to order books), public programs, site development and interpretation, and site archaeology and botany.

Al then showed a series of images which illustrate the history and significance of the Kelpius community, and their legacy. Our presentation, preceded by a buffet dinner, was well-attended and provoked lively discussion and debate.  You can find more information about us at the Kelpius Society website. New programs are being developed; we expect to post an events calendar soon.

The Franklin Inn club was established in 1902 by S. Weir Mitchell, noted author and physician. Edith Wharton was a friend of Weir’s and often dined at the club. Prominent members in past years have included Henry Charles Lea, E. Digby Baltzell, and N.C. Wyeth. Notable current members besides Al Holm include Daniel Hoffman (former poet laureate of the United States), Nathan Sivin, Thom Nickels, and Walton Van Winkle. The Inn was the first private club to admit women to membership, who now play vital roles there. You can learn more about the Franklin Inn Club and its history by going to their website at http://www.thefranklinin.org.  The image of the Inn posted below was painted by an unidentified artist.

Thomas Carroll
President
The Kelpius Society

The Inn

Welcome to the Kelpius Blog