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Halcyon Temple of the People (Blue Star Memorial Temple), Halcyon, California, from the series "Sweet Earth: Experimental Utopias in America"

A work made of chromogenic print.

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  • A work made of chromogenic print.


January 1997


Joel Sternfeld
American, born 1944

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Photography and Media


Joel Sternfeld


Halcyon Temple of the People (Blue Star Memorial Temple), Halcyon, California, from the series "Sweet Earth: Experimental Utopias in America"


United States (Artist's nationality:)

Date  Dates are not always precisely known, but the Art Institute strives to present this information as consistently and legibly as possible. Dates may be represented as a range that spans decades, centuries, dynasties, or periods and may include qualifiers such as c. (circa) or BCE.

Made 1997


Chromogenic print


No markings recto or verso In 1873, Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, a Russian noblewoman and journalist who had recently arrived in New York from Paris, met Colonel Henry Steel Olcott at a séance. Two years later, they and others formed the Theosophical Society, dedicated to the exploration of spiritualism and the occult. In 1877, Blavatsky published Isis Unveiled, which contained the doctrines, teachings and practices of Theosophy, supposedly derived from a group of masters known as the Mahatmas of Tibet. Though Blavatsky claimed that the masters asked her to act as their conduit to western people, Theosophy has always been plagued by charges that its teachings were plagiarized from a hodgepodge of religious, philosophic and scientific sources. Despite such charges Theosophy has thrived, with approximately thirty-thousand current members, of whom four-thousand-three-hundred reside in the US. An element of its appeal is the notion that all religions are attempts by man to ascertain “the Divine,” and as such, each religion has a portion of the truth. Throughout its history, Theosophy has claimed many well-known artists as adherents, both in America and abroad, including Wassily Kandinsky, Piet Mondrian, Franz Kafka, T. S. Eliot, Arthur Dove, Wallace Stevens and W.B. Yeats. The Theosophists of Halcyon arrived in California in 1903 from Syracuse, New York. After acquiring a hundred acres, they organized the Temple Home Association according to socialist principles, with all property held in common. The Halcyon Temple was built in 1923–24. Its triangular shape is meant to symbolize the heart as well as the trinities that are central to many of the great religious teachings throughout history. The seven doors are symbolic of the “key number” of the universe (seven days in a week, seven notes between octaves, seven colors of light). All inside dimensions and angles are multiples of seven. The temple still functions as the center of the community. Though no longer a cooperative, half of the people currently living in the town are practicing Theosophists. From the portfolio, Sweet Earth: Experimental Utopias in America, 1982–2005


Image: 26.5 × 33.2 cm (10 7/16 × 13 1/8 in.); Paper: 27.9 × 35.5 cm (11 × 14 in.)

Credit Line

Gift of Ralph and Nancy Segall

Reference Number


Extended information about this artwork

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