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Old Economy, Ambrose, Pennsylvania, 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.


August 1995


Joel Sternfeld
American, born 1944

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Photography and Media


Joel Sternfeld


Old Economy, Ambrose, Pennsylvania, from the series "Sweet Earth: Experimental Utopias in America"


United States (Artist's nationality)


Made 1995


Chromogenic print


No markings recto or verso George Rapp and his followers came to America in order to practice their religion free of governmental persecution. They left Germany and made their way to Southern Indiana, arriving in 1814. Although their group was initially ravaged by malaria, they persevered and built a substantial town called Harmony. Relations with other communities were warm; the Harmonists gave financial assistance to other religious groups, and when they needed to make purchases, they did so from their co-communalists. But relations with distrustful neighbors proved highly problematic and, at times, violent. Particularly at issue was the Pentecostal Rappites’ commitment to celibacy. As Karl J. Arndt reports in America’s Communal Utopias, “One Indianan wrote to the state general assembly, urging the outlawing of celibacy: ‘as there is many young Girls of Ex[c]elent Conduct and Beheavor in [H]armony And many young men of Good is shurly not Right that those who are man and wife should not Enjoy [each] other as such [just to] please the old gentleman.’” In 1825, ongoing disputes with neighbors led the Rappites to sell Harmony to the socialist Robert Owen and to start over in Pennsylvania, where they built a new home, Economy. Once again they thrived, creating a community that in many respects, especially in its cultural and musical activities, resembled a European court. But the issues surrounding celibacy continued to trouble them, and this time the problems began to develop among the Rappites themselves. Some people, but not all, were allowed to elope and rejoin the community, and between 1826 and 1829, Rapp himself caused a major uproar because of his personal involvement with an unusually beautiful young woman, Hildegard Mutschler. He enraged many when he made her his personal assistant in alchemical experiments in search of the legendary “Philosopher's Stone,” said to turn base metals into gold. Despite increasing wealth, continued insistence on celibacy diminished the Rappites' numbers. In 1916 the society was disbanded and what remained of its property went to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Old Economy became a state historic site, rented out, on occasion, for wedding receptions. The formal garden pictured was meant to evoke the Garden of Eden. Among its many symbolic representations is the statue of Harmony, depicted as “a woman clothed with the sun.” 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.)

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Gift of Ralph and Nancy Segall

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