This essay dialogically examines materials from Mary Hallock-Greenewalt's largely self-curated and reflexively annotated archive, illuminating overlooked facets of her life and work, in particular her bicultural upbringing, elements of syncretism that inform her oeuvre, and her practices of self-mythologizing. The text is divided into interconnected sections that explore the following facets of the spectral Middle East in Hallock-Greenewalt's life and work: the remembrance of the Syrian mother, the activation of pervasive Orientalist discourses, genealogical expansions through the figure of Hallock-Greenewalt as mother-inventor, and archival interventions. It argues that her autobiographical writings engage her mythologized past in service of the construction of hagiographic narratives of female agency.
A life lays out many strands, infinitely various, interacted upon by the infinitely various strands laid out by other lives and still again by an infinite number of varying individuals. Let me see how I can sum up in assistance of humanity these inter-crossed factors and the enlightening exposing of their value.—mary hallock-greenewalt, autobiography1
To date, the Syria-born inventor, performer, and writer Mary Hallock-Greenewalt (1871–1951) has received limited mention in media histories addressing the evolution of abstract film, visual music, and proto-multimedia in the United States in the early twentieth century. The primary purpose of this essay is not to defend the validity and innovation of her contributions across creative media and disciplines, as this is not in question. Hallock-Greenewalt herself, armed with a seemingly indefatigable will and sense of entitlement, set out to cathect and defend societal, cultural, and discursive spaces as a woman artist-inventor through relentless print-media publicity, networking, and litigation, as well as tactical self-exoticism. This essay dialogically examines materials from her largely self-curated and reflexively annotated archive; in doing so, it illuminates overlooked facets of her life and work, in particular her bicultural upbringing, elements of syncretism that inform her oeuvre, and her practices of self-mythologizing.2
My central research materials include drafts of Hallock-Greenewalt's unpublished, stylistically nonlinear, unfinished autobiography (which also includes transcripts of letters, diary entries, speeches, and other documents). I have also examined archival documents, including epistolary correspondence, photographs, and other writings by and about Hallock-Greenewalt, including textual layered annotations. Self-writing is not here taken as “fact” or “truth,” but as an act of memory reconstitution and positioning. Exploring connections between historiography and autobiography, this project reconstructs and narrativizes context, as well as particular identity vectors. My multi-modal approach employs archival research, close and against-the-grain textual and contextual analysis, and cultural critique. In doing so, it activates trans-discursive and interdisciplinary concepts to investigate the autobiographical “Middle East” or “Orient” as/in genealogy, memory, and their fictions; commodity and performance; and invention and collection. This essay is divided into interconnected sections that explore the following facets of the spectral Middle East in Hallock-Greenewalt's life-work: the remembrance of the Syrian mother, the activation of pervasive Orientalist discourses, genealogical expansions through the figure of Hallock-Greenewalt as mother-inventor, and archival interventions.
Mary Hallock was born to a Syrian mother, Sarah Tabet, and an American father, Samuel Hallock, in the small summer resort village of Bhamdoun (then part of Greater Syria, Asia Minor, and the Ottoman Empire) and raised in nearby Beirut. Her father, also born in the lands of the Ottoman Empire (Smyrna, specifically), served as US consul for the Palestine Syria region. He was drawn to the area because his family business was a colonial missionary enterprise committed to shaping Arabic-language print media in the Middle East for the American Bible Society. Hallock-Greenewalt's Syrian mother was the namesake of her most important invention, the Sarabet, and the inspiration for the performance of colored light she conceptualized through a portmanteau of Arabic words for light (nour) and essence (athar): Nourathar. Hallock-Greenewalt directly integrated constructions and perceptions of the Middle East into her public personae and performances. While she expressed cultural chauvinism and classism, she also was critical of the pathologizing of perceived otherness. Hallock-Greenewalt's alternative and auto-hagiographic genealogy of invention emphasizes her engagement with the “Near East” or “Middle East” or “Asia Minor.” Her family heritage is embedded in her inventions and writings, and is highlighted by her reflexive mediations.
THE FERTILE CRESCENT OF MEMORY
Mary Elizabeth Hallock arrived in the United States at the age of eleven, several years after her mother was shipped off to the United States to the State Hospital at Northampton (Massachusetts) psychiatric facility. Her brothers were sent to New England, while Mary, followed to the Mid-Atlantic region by her younger sister, Ethel (who would later marry into the prosperous du Pont family), was enrolled in a Quaker school in the Philadelphia suburbs. (Mary would subsequently study at the Philadelphia Musical Academy and with the pianist Theodor Leschetizky in Vienna.)
Documents such as Hallock-Greenewalt's unpublished autobiography in drafted manuscript form, and correspondence with the Northampton State Hospital, reveal that she was deeply invested in learning about her mother's fate. A letter from an administrator from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Department of Mental Disease records that Sarah died from consumption in July 1883, at just twenty-eight years old. While the institutional facility on a hill in western Massachusetts had progressive foundational ideals, focusing on the curative possibilities of light and air and nature, it was already desperately overcrowded (especially with immigrants) by the time it admitted Sarah as a patient, after she was unsuccessfully treated for a short period at a private sanitarium in England.3 Her symptoms included restlessness, the belief that her food was being poisoned, and a certainty that family and friends were being held somewhere in the hospital against their will. The cause of her last breakdown, as identified in a letter from the superintendent, Dr. Arthur Bell, dated July 30, 1935, in reply to Hallock-Greenewalt's plea for disclosure of the “root cause” of her mother's trouble, is listed as “lactation.”4 Bell speculated that (in more contemporary diagnostic terms) she may have been suffering from dementia praecox or a manic-depressive psychosis. (In her own letter dated July 27, 1935, Hallock-Greenewalt wrote that she “would be very glad if you would include what form her hallucinations took … for purposes of possible use to science.”) By all indications, Sarah Tabet Hallock was therefore a displaced young Syrian woman who experienced a psychic breakdown after bearing five children in quick succession (of whom Mary was the first), including increasing paranoia and hallucinations apparently sparked by postpartum depression and the pressures of complex intercultural social interactions.
Refusing to allow Sarah to be the “madwoman” relegated to the “attic” of repressed family history, Hallock-Greenewalt celebrated her mother's short life and lamented the tragedy and travesty of the circumstances that contributed to the onset of her illness. There is evidence that she hoped that her inventions, such as the Sarabet color organ and Nourathar art form, would honor her mother and be put to therapeutic (as well as artistic and commercial) use. Throughout Hallock-Greenewalt's life, she asserted her status as an inventor, positioning herself as a medium to creatively conjure the abstracted spectral and emotional memory of her mother. She also expressed a strategically applied essentialism, as in her neologistic interpretation of the mother tongue and heritage language, which she claimed never to have learned. She was trained as a classical pianist, particularly as an interpreter and performer of Frédéric Chopin.5 She turned to technology, patents, and artistic fusions she describes in her own archival annotations as the creation of the “fine art of using light-color intensity play as a means of human expression.”6
These efforts became a means to assert autonomy and historical inclusion, and to attempt to access the (m)other. In the words of the feminist literary historians Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar in their pioneering study of women writers of the nineteenth century, women writers represent “an embodiment of those extremes of mysterious and intransigent Otherness which culture confronts with worship or fear, love or loathing.”7 Throughout her career, Hallock-Greenewalt fought for self-creation and assertion of authority. She expressed “anxiety of authorship,” not so much in terms of any “radical fear that she cannot create,” but in the sense of never being properly recognized for her accomplishments in the male-dominated spheres of mediated art, science, and technology, presumably because she was a woman.8 Additionally, through her interpretation of her mother's life, Hallock-Greenewalt acknowledged that “patriarchal socialization literally makes women sick, physically and mentally.”9 As she witnessed her mother's life unraveling from the point of view of a small child (whose memories she later reconstructed as an adult), she recalled hearing from her father that the first signs of her mother's illness were allegations of his unfaithfulness.10 While not fully or specifically accusatory toward her father, Hallock-Greenewalt insists throughout her Autobiography that her mother was the victim of those who had the power to destroy her:
My mother was extremely beautiful. I have told you about this. She was also extremely fine in all that means careful nurture. She was an ornament to the diplomatic ballrooms…. I can imagine the malicious nucleation of the vulgar “would be's” in evil cabals and schemings, some things as germs form into nuclei that finally undermine the attached body. It had its effect on my mother.11
According to Hallock-Greenewalt, the envy and malice of Westerners around her mother contributed to an inferiority complex and a false belief that “she was not ‘as nice as the American women,’ and the effect on my mother was of deadly result.”12 In writing her own and her mother's stories in her Autobiography (which she commenced “hurriedly and at odd moments” in January 1935, according to her own archival annotations), and in the expression of the multisensory in the evolution of her artistic and technological inventions, Hallock-Greenewalt engaged in a diasporic recuperation through cultural production and performance, as a “prime location for the intersection of individual and collective memories, and for transforming traumas into triumphs.”13 For her, trauma seems to be defined by the crushing of finely hewn sensibilities, such as those of her Syrian mother. She viewed her mother's demise as evidence of the crude insensitivity of cultural imperialism and gender politics; the loss and effacement of the mother points further to an underlying threat of human extinction.14 In her own life-work narrative, Hallock-Greenewalt restores, consecrates, and interweaves her mother's story (fleshing out details beyond the crude travesty of motherhood leading to madness) with her own artistic, expressive, intellectual, and inventive impulses and struggles for power, ownership, and recognition. As her art became increasingly experimental, the colored light-play bathing the spectator was reminiscent of Hallock-Greenewalt's idealization of the maternal, and of Julia Kristeva's version of Plato's chora as a (variously described) “nourishing,” “unnameable,” and “matrix-like” space.15
Hallock-Greenewalt writes in her Autobiography: “My father had married an exquisite woman, born in and bred of that orient known as the cradle of civilization. Upstarts around and about had to couch the fact in terms not suited to the superlative of the case.”16 She underscores the exalted status of the Tabet family tree in the Middle East, tracing links with military leaders and Maronite clergy (including the patriarchal founder and namesake of the sect), as well as Protestant converts. Educated in a British Syrian school, Sarah Tabet spoke and wrote English, but was not confident in her fluency, nor in her mastery of the seemingly inscrutable rituals and unspoken rules governing social interactions in the expat realm her husband inhabited. She married Samuel Hallock, a much older widower, at age fifteen, and gave birth to baby Mary a year later, just days after her own mother had given birth again.
Born ten years after the Mount Lebanon civil war between Christian and Druze, Mary Hallock-Greenewalt recalled an early upbringing in an insulated domestic bubble of privilege, spoiled by the solicitations of servants who made themselves as “docile, humble, and amiable as possible.”17 In her archival documents, non-Christians from the region are largely effaced, and she expresses elitist attitudes informed, perhaps, by the mimicry and menace of cultural imperialism and hybridity.18 She opens her Autobiography by extolling exceptional qualities seemingly shared by people of the Levant:
Born around the region which was the birth place of the Christ, I have often taken time and occasion to wonder whether these patient and loving qualities of the people caused some of the characteristics of Jesus or whether Jesus caused these to grow in the people of his land because of His advent. I am inclined to think it was the former.19
One key auto-hagiographical rhetorical strategy Hallock-Greenewalt employs is stirring pathos for the lamenting daughter and lost mother while also making hyperbolic assertions that distance the reader, rendering the author seemingly inscrutable. For example, she repeatedly rhapsodizes about her mother's saintly comeliness of spirit, manner, and physical appearance, representing “the beauty essence of all the flowers all at one.” (She mentions that upon seeing Sarah with baby Mary in her lap, a woman once exclaimed, “Ah! A rose and a rose-bud.”)20 She emphasizes the aristocratic heritage, refinement, and innate artistry of her “queenly and dignified” mother, counterposing these to the cruel objectifications of the English.21 For example, she notes a highly developed sense of courtesy that her mother exhibited in a land the English “would gladly class as heathen.”22 She describes a lack of respect for her mother's attempts to learn English by flipping the cultural narrative:
Those upstart nations that fail to meet Asia Minor with the humble honor that is her due should note the English of a well born lady of the Orient of old and noble race. How many of them could do as well in Arabic, even with instructions? The attitude in which they retracted their footsteps to the Education from which they sprang does them little credit—is full of dishonesty and evil. They started schools for spreading further their own languages it is true, but they found an innate and highly cultured intelligence on which to graft a simplified tongue.23
In a metaphorized critique of the intolerable conduct of men, Hallock-Greenewalt mourns the loss of her mother through slow and deadly societal cruelty. She suggests that the pressures of cultural colonialism, including the imposition of English-language education and the Western superiority complex, pushed the sense of self-identity of the region's most “cultured” inhabitants into a state of crisis:
It was and is extremely hard to penetrate to the well born centres of the East. When America was subjected to an unendurable strain many jumped out of tenth story windows—in the Orient they retreated into themselves not, as I have said, without a terrific nervous toll being taken.24
Letters from Sarah's mother to family members reveal an apologetic anxiety about the impact of code-switching, as she negotiated a household where she spoke mainly English with her husband but Arabic with the servants. Writing about her baby to her mother-in-law (in a letter transcribed in her daughter's Autobiography), Sarah admits, “I am afraid that Mary will mix her English with Arabic.”25 Later, Hallock-Greenewalt claims that she actually never “learned to speak much Arabic” despite having a “native nurses,” and that she “never learned to write any Arabic whatsoever which I regret extremely.”26 Her westernized early academic education in Beirut was by German teachers and French textbooks in a Protestant school.
Upon arriving in Pennsylvania, her alien and exotic heritage and the “half a dozen” remembered Arabic sentences became a source of curiosity, as she was teased by pupils in the Quaker boarding school “to say something in that strangely foreign tongue.”27 Having perceived the United States as her birthright, she never seems to have completely viewed herself, or her exceptional mother for that matter, as “bint Arab” (Arab daughter).28 Her Autobiography, for example, transcribes a long letter from Sarah to her mother-in-law that refers to “some of the civilized Arabes” who asked the missionaries, including her organist husband Samuel, to finally take down a traditional red curtain separating men and women in the Arabic church.29 In another, earlier letter from her courtship period, Sarah writes to her future husband of the “very queer” behavior of “the Moslems praying and shouting” during a lunar eclipse.30
Yet while Hallock-Greenewalt never developed any consistent sense of Arab American or Syrian American identity, she also never forgot her mother's vulnerability and strength, infused with and informed by her own upbringing and cultural heritage. In her Autobiography, she repeatedly wishes she could have intervened and saved Sarah, and credits her mother for her own survival: “I could not have possibly survived the stress and strain of my arduous efforts and huge labors had I not had the gift of her pristine strength to go on.”31 She adds:
I have many many times wept tears of blood over my mother's crucifixion and I wish she knew of my understanding love. Had I been older, the New England in me might have held her up to save her.
And yet my father loved my mother in an unbelievably hallowed way till the end of his life, and he died a very old man. She was to him an almost holy experience, a glorious ineffably beautiful benediction.
To reason all things, to view them from the fundamental of the superb perpetuation of the human race—this, it is that has been too much, almost entirely lacking. Did this happen because of the supremacy, the right only to speak, of man? It is time the woman of the race saw to it that viewing as an accidental to a plaything the creation of the human race is wiped out of the human scheme of things entirely.32
Sarah's tragedy, according to her daughter, was not, essentially, early marriage and childbirth; it was the devaluation of her exceptional qualities. In Hallock-Greenewalt's articulation of her own composite makeup, the maternal and paternal are dichotomized. The more mystical and etherealized dimensions of artistic creation are rooted in her mother's sensitive but noble temperament and cultural heritage, bred in a country “old, romantic, and desired.”33
As for her paternal lineage, with its English roots and presence in the United States since the seventeenth century, Hallock-Greenewalt recognized traits she considered essential for innovators (and her own success), but also hinted at qualities shared by other interloping Occidentals in the Orient who did not fully appreciate its value, or the strain caused by their imposition:
A pride of family, a trait well-known as belonging in general to anyone by the name of Hallock. This is a characteristic common to all well known and successful pioneering family of known good blood. It is easily explained. They know better than anyone what it took of moral strength and physical fibre to impulse them forward into new lands, new ways, new originations and new inventions.34
In her Autobiography, “New England” represents hardiness, pragmatism, and pride. Hallock-Greenewalt thus positions herself as a fortunate beneficiary and intermediary of two Easts: the civilized Middle East and the cultured American Northeast. A book contained in her archive identifies Greenewalt's paternal grandfather, Homan Hallock (1803–1894), as an inventor of Arabic type (in collaboration with fellow American Protestant missionary Eli Smith) and printer of the first Arabic bible.35 Homan Hallock had an affinity for the Arab world and the Mediterranean. (Hallock-Greenewalt's paternal grandmother, Elizabeth Fleet, born in England of a “prominent and distinguished London family,” met her future husband while both were on missionary business in Malta, and moved with him to rural Massachusetts, where she bore ten children.)36 Both father and son were evangelical entrepreneurs; in his turn, Samuel Hallock “had charge of electrotyping the Arabic Bible in Syria for the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions” (and a patent for the improved mechanism for electrotyping), and later was appointed consul at Beirut.37 Collectively, in their enterprise of printing Arabic bibles, the Hallocks participated in the vernacularization (and a colonial iteration) of “print capitalism.”38
In her Autobiography, Hallock-Greenewalt herself notes the irony of repackaging Arabic in a culture in which the language “has been written since prehistoric times.39 She notes the hypocritical dimensions of the missionary enterprise and of her paternal family members’ entrepreneurship, as well as the palimpsestic nature of foundational stories and myths of Western civilization, appropriating from the “Orient” and standing “in the way of the land.”40 She writes in her Autobiography that “Arabic was written and had been written since prehistoric times. The convenience of multiplication through printing of painstaking calligraphy must have been plain to them.”41 Additionally, she is aware that the fraternal chivalric secret societies such as the Knights Templar (also known as the Freemasons), in which her father was an active participant, culturally mined the Middle East to construct pastiche narratives of (male) heroism and mystical ritual. Hallock-Greenewalt herself would claim her heritage as a source for reappropriations and hybrid reimaginings of the Middle East.
CRYPTO-ETHNICITY AND STRATEGIC ORIENTALISM
“Now when do you expect to visit our shores, the country of your birth?” wrote Uncle Negib in a 1901 letter to his niece Mary.42 After she arrived in the United States, Hallock-Greenewalt stayed connected with family in the Middle East through affectionate yet humble bragging and self-promotional epistolary correspondence, including with the uncles who sent photos from their travels (one, for instance, is a dandified snapshot taken by “my French lady friend” while visiting the zoo in Cairo). As Mary established a reputation as a concert pianist and writer-polemicist, Uncle Negib effused, “Your description of your brave effort for success has swelled my heart with pride and pleasure. I never meet an American tourist friend but mention to him the name and fame of my brilliant niece, and you may be sure that I met many of them who have already heard and read about you in the papers.”43
Uncles Negib and Nicola were willingly recruited to help spread the word about Mary's accomplishments, in part by publishing reviews of her publications in English and Arabic newspapers and cultural journals in the Middle East. Nicola, at the time an adjunct professor at the American College in Beirut, wrote in a 1905 letter, “Then all the daily papers will welcome you to the land that has a claim on you and your fame and success.”44 The same uncle, now in business with his brother, wrote later that year: “I hope that you will do your best to carry out your project to visit the land of your birth. You will have a great ovation & … find a great change in Beyrout for the better & in some respects for the worse as it is passing thru a state of transition.”45
By this time, Mary had become well established in the upper stratum of American urban cosmopolitan life. She had married Frank L. Greenewalt, a prominent Philadelphia physician, had given birth to her only child, Crawford Hallock Greenewalt (1902–1993), and was beginning her investigations into the emotional possibilities of gradated colored lighting as an art and a science. As another mediated marker of her rising public status, her portrait was painted in 1903 by Thomas Eakins, the celebrated realist painter, who apparently held her in high esteem, inscribing her name in Latin on the back of the painting.46
A decade later, realizing the limited appeal of marketing music as a single sensory medium (and her career limits as a classical pianist), Hallock-Greenewalt was not above the deployment of minstrelsy, conceiving the idea of adopting “Oriental costume” as a mode of self-presentation and an “extra-musical” dimension of performance.47 As early as 1910 she began shaping her image as a performer to enhance “some peculiarity in dress and appearance.”48 As revealed by a letter in her archive, Hallock-Greenewalt's Canadian tour manager, seeing self-Orientalizing as a clever “vaudeville stunt,” agreed that this would be effective “from a stage viewpoint, particularly with some Eastern background.”49 In an interview in the New York Times upon the debut of her Sarabet invention, a console that enabled live performance of lights of varying colors and intensities, she candidly explained her struggle to find a niche as a concert pianist, and the growing public demand for “something sensational and startling about the performer herself.”50
This use of Orientalist costume or masquerade registers as an example of “repatriation”—or rather “rematriation” and “re-identification”—harkening back to earlier aristocratic sartorial modes of “resisting the constricting mores provided by the male-dominated West.”51 Hallock-Greenewalt was clearly aware of the tactical possibilities of what Linda Hutcheon has called “crypto-ethnicity.”52 She expressed her multiple identities as white American and Middle Eastern, although the latter was not always immediately accessible, made visible, or validated. She could pass as exclusively white or be presented as subtly, indeterminately exotic. For example, an editorial notation in the article “Decorating Music with Light and Color” in a 1921 issue of Arts and Decoration magazine vaguely refers to Hallock-Greenewalt's coinage of the Nourathar “by reason of certain Oriental relationships.”53 Hallock-Greenewalt, who gave her color organ the name of a woman, has also been considered the only woman to make her own color organ.54
These complex facets of Hallock-Greenewalt's profile helped differentiate her versions of multimedia and multi-arts and technology from that of the Danish-born Thomas Wilfred and his Clavilux device and art of Lumia. For example, a caption on an illustration in a 1921 issue of the newspaper Musical America reads, “Mary Hallock-Greenewalt and Her Unique Inventions: The first picture shows Mrs. Greenewalt seated at the device which is capable of projecting a light scale, regularly varying in degrees of intensity. The second photograph depicts her in the act of adjusting her phonograph with automatic illuminating means to play a record of her own piano interpretations” (figs. 1 and 2).55 Although the order might suggest a succession, the first image actually depicts an early version of what would become Hallock-Greenewalt's favored mode of embodied performance of the Sarabet, with which the classically trained pianist would translate and channel the affective qualities of musical performance into the colors of light. The second image multiply foregrounds female agency with Hallock-Greenewalt at the phonograph device (playing a recording of her piano performance) and a kneeling, neoclassical statue of a woman holding a large egg-like structure on her back that opens to the device. This image references the Greek myth and iconography of Atlas, condemned to hold up the sky, as well as the struggles of Hallock-Greenewalt and her mother, and, more obliquely, one of the artist's favorite proverbial “Oriental” figures: the camel that struggles with a cumulative burden.
Hallock-Greenewalt's migration to the United States corresponded to the years of the Great Migration (1880 to 1924), during which many people from Greater Syria—mostly Lebanese, Syrian, and Palestinian Christians—arrived.56 According to Sarah Gualtieri, these immigrants “began to value whiteness once they were settled in the United States” at a time when American culture was also “fascinated by the ‘Orient.’”57 While Middle Easterners were officially classified as white in the United States, their racial status was (and arguably remains) “sinuous and tortured.”58 By the time Hallock-Greenewalt emigrated, Arab and other immigrants were treated with “suspicion and hostility,” with some high-profile politicians making inflammatory statements regarding “the Syrian and people from other parts of Asia Minor” as being “the most undesirable” and decrying the “degenerate progeny of the Asiatic hoards [sic] which, long ago, overran the shores of the Mediterranean … the spawn of the Phoenician curse.”59
In contrast to such whitening or disparaging of Arab identity, the writer and socialite Julian Hawthorne's 1892 novella The Golden Fleece: A Romance laments what he perceived to be the homogenization of race and celebrates the hybridity that he asserts can be still found through rapid transit, cosmopolitanism, and, especially, the national context of the United States. The author reportedly modeled multiple characters on Hallock-Greenewalt, including an Aztec princess and “a descendent of the Puritans … and a daughter of Irak-Ajemi.”60 In her own autobiographical writing, Hallock-Greenewalt herself asserts that the combination of Middle Eastern and Western (specifically Yankee American) background was instrumental to her artistic creation:
The light-color factor was certainly a new shoot in the cellular arrangement of my Hallock and Tabet brain. The music, the invention, the intrepid following of a new intellectual and aesthetic path, the richness of the romance of the East, the hard discipline of the New England Puritan path finder, all these and many others just were in the blood.61
The largest Arab migration to the Philadelphia area during Hallock-Greenewalt's lifetime was from the Levant region (as it is still today); however, according to her Autobiography and other archival materials, she did not seem to express a generalized affinity for the diasporic Middle Eastern community during her lifetime in the United States. She was, however, keenly interested in personalized access to maternal memory and in turn the spectral Middle East, and was surrounded by imitative or derivative cultural expressions and institutions of American (and European) Orientalism.
According to her Autobiography, Hallock-Greenewalt recalled learning how to play notes on the piano from her talented mother, and, as a small child, spontaneously imitating the “dancing of some of those belonging to the time and place” and being asked (to her embarrassment) to repeat this performance.62 In her Autobiography, she also recognizes “types of oriental dancing” she observed in the entertainments for US officers in her family's parlor and other gathering places, and in the amalgamations and appropriations of the modern dance of Ruth St. Denis, “brought from the Orient.”63 As Gaylyn Studlar writes, “Orientalism-infused aesthetic dancing became extremely popular in the early twentieth-century, with trends in concert dance demonstrating what Said describes as the imaginary Orient of ‘romance, exotic beings, haunting memories and landscapes, remarkable experiences.’”64
I have found little evidence of Hallock-Greenewalt acknowledging female peers’ synergic combinations of choreographed performance, material, and lighting effects, such as those of the serpentine dancer Annabelle Moore, a star of hand-tinted silent films, and, especially, fellow patent-holding innovator Loie Fuller.65 However, the latter's dances cannot have been lost on her, as they were “multimedia spectacles of color that mixed live performance with musical accompaniment and lantern-slide projection.”66 Both Hallock-Greenewalt and Fuller had a genius for creative syncretism and reinvention; however, Fuller as the “electric Salome” achieved fame on a much larger scale.67
In her own public persona and discussion of taste, Hallock-Greenewalt also elided—indeed, overtly distanced herself from—popular culture trends and phenomena. She preferred to present herself as an experimenter and a proponent for expressive and transcendent artistic performance. But her proprietary claim to having invented colored light as an elevated “sixth art”—after, and potentially in conjunction with, the arts of music, poetry, painting, architecture, and sculpture—was potentially undermined discursively and materially by her musical and light color instrument demonstrations being advertised as novelties in public commercial arenas. Additionally, she presented her work in theatrical, exhibition, and meeting venues with conspicuously Orientalist names and architectural and decorative profiles (such as the Egyptian Hall auditorium in Wanamaker's department store in downtown Philadelphia, or the Rajah Temple in Reading, Pennsylvania), where she performed piano recitals and/or demonstrated her painted film and color lighting experiments. She included in her recital repertoire pieces such as “Rondo alla Turca” (Turkish March), a European reimagination of Ottoman music.
Hallock-Greenewalt's career was initially launched and promoted in association with high-cultural currency as a soloist with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and the Philadelphia Symphony Society, specifically in her associations with a highly canonical repertoire of Chopin, Schumann, Tchaikovsky, Bach, and Liszt. An undated publicity brochure (found tucked in the archive in her copy of the 1926 book Color-Music: The Art of Light), probably from her time on the roster of classical music talent represented by the agency of Frederic Shipman, dubs her alliteratively a “pianist of power, poetry, and personality,” a pianist with an “individuality so unique and apart from all others”:
Daughter of an Oriental mother and an American father, born in Bhamdoun in the Lebanese Mountains, she brings to her chosen art all the warmth and imagination of the East, united with the intellectuality and perseverance of New England. Her childhood was spent in Asia Minor, where her natural mysticism and originality were fostered by her unusual and picturesque environment and the tales told her by her native nurses. All the rich and varied impressions of her early years seem revealed in her playing, which is instinct with the poetry and passion of the Orient and characterized by a subtle charm and a remarkable psychic power.
This text clearly served as a template for many newspaper reviews.68 The uncanny rhetorical repetition regarding her “Oriental” and “Eastern” qualities, characteristics, faintly tinged flavor, nature, facial type, spirituality, imagination, or mystical aura was certainly prompted and framed by publicity materials and audiovisual cues. Such discursive, ambient, experiential determinations continued as Hallock-Greenewalt presented colored light with her concerts, as in the example of coverage of “Colorful Musical Interpretation” in Public Opinion, the Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, daily newspaper:
Imagine a hall, in the background of which hang soft silken draperies. A woman dressed in a costume of Oriental hue, walks in and sits down at the piano. Silence settles upon the audience. The lights grow dim, flicker, and go out. A few minutes later the bass notes of the piano ring out in a martial strain, reminding one of Asiatics in costumes, rich in color and rare in quality, treading to wild drumbeats. At the same instant the stage in some strange fashion, becomes enveloped in the dull, rich glow of reds and purples. You feel at once the inherent harmony of the music and the colors. You are listening to Mozart's “Turkish March,” a composition noted for its Oriental richness.69
Hallock-Greenewalt's increasing position as quality controller and self-styled arbiter of taste, refinement, and subtlety is also evident in the hubristic positioning she demonstrated in public talks delivered on topics such as the aesthetics of “‘Good’ and ‘Bad’ Music” and esoteric written polemics on “Pulse in Verbal Rhythm” (published in Poet Lore, June 1905), her orations and treatises on self-taught scientific topics, and, ultimately, her 412-page opus Nourathar: The Fine Art of Light Color Playing (1946), in which she triumphantly asserts of color music: “It is I who have conceived it, originated it, exploited it, developed it, and patented it.”70
Throughout the evolution of Hallock-Greenewalt's public persona, the Middle East of her childhood memory was recast in romanticized terms, and her autobiographical memoryscape relied heavily on the sensory integration of visual and sound imagery. Throughout her career she increasingly came to represent sensation (and artistic invention) in a Merleau-Pontian sense, as “multi-sensory and naturally mixed.”71 She summoned the synesthesia of what Marita Sturken calls “memory tourism,” mixed with a touch of Arabian Nights, in her description of a visit to the “Orient” with son Crawford:
When my son and I last visited the Orient, I was awakened in the early morning by what sounded like a gentle rain. Since at that time of the year this was entirely unlikely—since the stars looked like large lanterns in the sky, I looked out and found that it was the soft music of the capacious foot pads of a camel train swishing gently on the loose sand of the road. Thank you kind camel. I remember the women with veils over their heads going to the spring in the cool of the afternoon with jugs on their heads.72
AUTODIDACT SYNTHESIS AND MOTHERS OF INVENTION
In her Autobiography, Hallock-Greenewalt admires the patient and knowing camel that “has been invaluable where nature was difficult and the notwithstanding cradling of civilization a miracle.” She queries, “Am I voicing a gratitude felt by my forbears for so many hundreds of years?”73 She also repeatedly invokes the metaphorical straw that broke the camel's back in referring to the tragic and incremental way her Syrian mother eventually “became nervously undone.”74 Hallock-Greenewalt's primary archive conveys an almost overwhelming sense of fortitude in her determination to convey a narrative of invention in the face of adversity, and to enact her own media archaeology. Her imbricated life-work, represented and constructed through her death in 1951 (with posthumous inclusion of obituary clippings) is caught up in an accumulation of what Lisa Gitelman calls artifacts of “paper knowledge,” including handwritten, typed, and carbon-copied sketches, notes, drafts, and correspondence; and it strains under the surfeit of litigation materials.75 Between 1919 and 1927, Hallock-Greenewalt would file for a dozen patents, including Light-Color Apparatus (Illuminating Means), Rheostat, Light-Score (Improved Notation for Indicating Lighting Effects), and others. The sequence of her inventions allowed for a progression of devices that enabled and refined her Sarabet, depicted in its last iteration from 1934, with the patent illustration containing traces of the embodied performer-inventor. (Later, in Nourathar, she claimed that electricians had called the internal wiring of the Sarabet apparatus a “Chinese puzzle,” “praised by experts.”)76
Starting in 1920, Hallock-Greenewalt also began regularly suing various individuals and companies for patent infringement, including her rival Thomas Wilfred (who she believed had never conceived a color organ), theater owners, and General Electric.77 (That last helped manufacture her rheostat and color-light devices, but Hallock-Greenewalt contended that the company infringed upon her patent for commercial use in theatrical lighting.)78 Her forays into women's rights advocacy, giving lectures to women's groups and serving as a delegate for the National Women's Party, were informed by the need to accrue cultural power to more effectively fight big business (for instance utility companies such as General Electric) and support her inventions and reputation. While the litigation processes were, by all indications, tortuous, she seems to have felt somewhat vindicated at finally receiving some acknowledgement of her contributions to color-light.79
In her book on Arab women filmmakers, Rebecca Hillauer asserts that the pioneers of Arab cinema, a handful of whom were women, were, by necessity, all “autodidacts,” working outside studio contexts and experimenting with new forms.80 It is intriguing to consider Hallock-Greenewalt as part of a larger Arab diasporic genealogy of composite art creators. Working in a constellated realm of media forms and nascent technologies, the autodidact processes and practices of what I call the “ugly epistemology” of trans-discursive and interdisciplinary conceptualizations were also critical for Hallock-Greenewalt to stake her pioneering claims. This yielded eclectic paper documents, as she attempted to express scientific illuminations in the pastel poetics of the archive (including scores of light scores and hand-colored images of devices), as well as the mechanical rigors of producing patent documents. She immersively educated herself in electrical engineering (becoming, for example, a member of the Society of Illuminating Engineers, the first woman to be elected to the organization), but also enlisted the support and capital of others in service to her vision.
Hallock-Greenewalt turned to her late mother as an inspirational source, but she also birthed a scientist and cultivated multiple alliances with another family deeply involved with the business and politics of science. There is not much specific mention of Hallock-Greenewalt's own maternal impulses in her Autobiography, other than some musings about exposing her son to the Middle East and family history through books and travel. She does, however, fleetingly allude to the ways career strains added to the “burden of childcare and nurture” in relation to her own life, especially, and in campaigns on behalf of women's rights more generally.81 Elsewhere in her Autobiography she suggests that childless marriages, such as her father's first, are unproductive; she disapproves of birth control; she hints that she would have liked to have had more than one child; and she generally asserts that women are essential to the survival of the human race. In other interviews and publications she advocates for marriage and motherhood, and simultaneously contends that work outside the home enriches motherhood.82
In her patent struggles, Hallock-Greenewalt recognized the potent collusion between law, science, and business. Her expanded genealogy includes a social network that brought her access to capital, clout, indulgence, and the opportunity to begin to realize the therapeutic and artistic potential of her inventions. For example, a color organ was installed in the Delaware State Hospital, and another was commissioned and installed in 1926 at Longwood Gardens, the multi-acre public horticultural venue founded by Pierre du Pont.83 Hallock-Greenewalt's class standing, her reputed work ethic, and the scientific credibility of her less-visible supporting team members helped keep her from being dismissed as a dilettante (although not from being marked an eccentric).
In her Autobiography, she reproduces the poignant epistolary correspondence from her parents’ courtship in Syria, emphasizing Sarah's innocence, intelligence, and integrity; she presents these attributes as being demolished by the cruelties of East-West relations. She herself seems to have taken a clear-eyed approach to the practical benefits, mobility, stability, and consolidation of cultural power that marriage could potentially afford and enable. She married a physician of high social standing; her sister married a du Pont. Her son, Crawford, did as well; after obtaining a degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he married the daughter of the president of DuPont Chemicals, Margaretta du Pont, a distant relative with whom he had been friendly since adolescence. At DuPont Chemicals, Crawford Greenewalt would work on prized projects, including the invention of new materials such as nylon, and the repurposing of chemicals such as plutonium for nuclear weapons research during wartime.
Crawford eventually rose to the position of president of DuPont, a fact that recharged and recast Mary Hallock-Greenewalt's own life. One obituary, recognizing her as a pioneer in the use of light as a means to enhance the emotional impact of music, reads, “Mrs. Greenewalt, Musician, Dies” with the subheading “Was Mother of Head Of duPont Company.”84 Apparently inheriting some of his mother's creative spirit and audacious (and entitled) autodidacticism, Crawford Greenewalt would also be recognized a noted expert on high-speed photography and hummingbirds, merging art and ornithology. Surprisingly, a documentary produced by the Atomic Heritage Foundation titled An Uncommon Man, after one of Crawford Greenewalt's books about the American spirit of self-actualization, primarily credits the inventive drive to other branches of the family tree and early influences: skipping back to Homan Hallock's (Mary's paternal grandfather's) Arabic typesetting inventions, and emphasizing Crawford's early schooling by German monks (followed by a posh private prep school and college at MIT), as well as engagement with the DuPont family's prescient early obsession with home movies.85 In turn, reconstructing the historical, material, and cultural histories of the spectral Middle East, Hallock-Greenewalt's grandson, Crawford (“Greenie”) Greenewalt Jr., would become a leading classical archaeologist, with research focusing in the region.
THE AUTO-ARCHIVAL IMPERATIVE
In her Autobiography, Hallock-Greenewalt's insists, “It is my desire to make the facts of this autobiographical recital not simply one of personal and genealogical record but to have the facts of broad application and use.”86 The unpublished text, bequeathed to the Pennsylvania Historical Society, became a decidedly reflexive, annotated, and curated archival document destined for a primary audience of researchers. Its author subsequently turned her attention elsewhere, including toward the monumental Nourathar: The Fine Art of Light Color Playing (1946), published in limited edition. Nourathar concludes with a discussion of the therapeutic possibilities of colored light play, directing the reader back to the archive and the author's reflexive interventions. It also contains multiple photographs, including one of the author's mother captioned “SARA TABET (MRS. SAMUEL HALLOCK), MOTHER OF THE AUTHOR, AFTER WHOM SHE HAS NAMED THE INSTRUMENT FOR LIGHT COLOR PLAY, FROM AN EARLY PHOTOGRAPH, ‘SHE WAS THE PRODUCT OF COUNTLESS PRUNED GENERATIONS TO WHOM THE TITLE OF PRINCESS CAN ADD NOTHING,’” and a school photo captioned “MARY ELIZABETH HALLOCK (LATER MRS. FRANK LINDSAY GREENEWALT, AT THE AGE OF NINE (9) YEARS, TAKEN IN BEYROUTH, SYRIA, WHERE HER EARLY LIFE WAS SPENT,” continuing as a cross-reference: “FOR OTHER PHOTOS SEE THE HISTORICAL SOCIETY OF PENNSYLVANIA.”87
The case of Mary Hallock-Greenewalt poses multiple challenges to accepted (Euro-American, male-centered) histories and institutions of nascent composite art and mediascapes in the United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The entwined narratives of her life and career point to a mediated transnational and transhistorical trajectory that leaves and returns again to the Middle East. Her extra-institutional patent seeking, lawsuit generating, and scientific knowledge curating served as radically symbolic acts of resistance to disciplinary gatekeepers, while her aesthetics tapped an inchoate but healing sense of choric connection to her lost mother and to the multisensory residue of her Syrian heritage. As demonstrated in this essay, Hallock-Greenewalt's autobiographical writings engage her mythologized past in service to the construction of hagiographic narratives of female agency.