Notes for a Memoir: Isadora Duncan and Raymond Duncan

A person begins in the far reaches of human history, his genes and cultural and family traits having been given him from countless predecessors. I present today and in succeeding Notes several predecessors of whom I am most aware before I write of my own “self”—for they have surely shaped the tissue and character nominated as Ronald Alexander Pavellas.

I start with Isadora Duncan (1877-1927) and her brother, Raymond Duncan (1874-1966) because of the profound influence they had on the paternal grandmother I never knew and, to a lesser degree, on her sister, my well-remembered Great-aunt Genevieve.

Please click on all images

My father, Conrad H. Pavellas, before he died in year 2000 at age 87, gradually discarded most of his old family pictures. They included poses of his mother and aunt very similar to that of this statue in Stockholm’s Millesgården. I was struck with the memories of these pictures when I saw this figure earlier this year. Such poses were in the Greek tradition as presented by Isadora Duncan in her interpretation of Ancient Greek dance.

Isadora Duncan and Raymond Duncan innocently contributed to the travails and eventual madness and institutionalization of Clara Lucille Harpending Pavellas, my grandmother. Dad never forgave himself for his role in committing Lucille to California’s Napa State Hospital, where she died within less than two years.

Clara Lucille Harpending Pavellas (1872- 1934) at Stinson Beach, Marin County, California

The other innocent or, perhaps, not so innocent person was one George Demetrious Papageorge, a magnetic and influential person in the lives of the two sisters and their families and others in their social sphere. Papageorge (he was never referred to as “George” in the family) claimed to be, and might well have been, a one-time “business manager” to Raymond Duncan. He was clearly a promoter by nature. His is one of the stories I will be telling of more fully in a later installment of these Notes.

Isadora Duncan

Clara Lucille Harpending and Mary Genevieve Harpending were the pampered daughters of a colorful and wealthy speculator and investor, Asbury Harpending, Jr. who arrived in San Francisco from Caldwell County, Kentucky in 1857 at age 16. His life is chronicled here, in a true replication of his autobiography, The Great Diamond Hoax and Other Stirring Adventures in the life of Asbury Harpending.

The Harpending sisters, as with many aesthetically-oriented people at the time, were entranced with Isadora Duncan who was the toast of Europe in recreating a mode of dance based on Ancient Greek motifs and forms. Isadora’s life has been thoroughly chronicled, including in her autobiography, My Life, and the film Isadora, starring Vanessa Redgrave. Isadora died at age 50. A web page showing links to sources for Isadora and her timeline can be found here.

Isadora was at the height of her career and influence in 1909 when her brother, Raymond, visited California for two years and established a base in Oakland where the sisters then lived with their father at 2607 Fruitvale Avenue. Lucille and Genevieve attended lectures and took classes from him and, when at their Mill Valley residence, would don Raymond’s designs of ancient Greek clothing and dance and pose in the style of Isadora in the nearby fields and hilltops.

Raymond & Penelope Duncan with Son Menalkus

Raymond Duncan’s life, although much longer than his sister’s (she died at age 58, he at 92), is not as well reported, but at least two institutions have archived his works and letters: The Raymond Duncan Papers, 1948-1968 at Stanford University’s Library; and The Raymond Duncan Collection at Syracuse University.

Here are some edited biographical notes from Syracuse University’s website on the Duncan collection:

Raymond Duncan was a dancer, artist, poet, craftsman, and philosopher. Born in San Francisco, he was the third of four children of Joseph Charles Duncan and Mary Dora Gray. The other children were Elisabeth, Augustin, and Isadora. In 1891, at the age of 17, he developed a theory of movement which he called kinematics, “a remarkable synthesis of the movements of labor and of daily life.”

In 1898 he and his mother and siblings left America and worked for a time in London, Berlin, Athens, and Paris. Duncan’s theory of movement led him to work particularly closely with his sister Isadora, a noted dancer. He and his Greek wife, Penelope, lived in a villa outside Athens which they furnished in the manner of classical times. No one was permitted to enter the villa in modern dress, and they themselves dressed in classical Greek attire both at home and abroad.

In 1909 Raymond and Penelope returned to the United States for a series of performances of classical Greek plays in Philadelphia, Chicago, Kansas City, San Francisco and other cities. They also gave lectures and classes on folk music, weaving, dancing, and Greek music. In 1911 Duncan and Penelope returned to Paris and founded the Akademia Raymond Duncan.

Raymond Duncan left behind his erstwhile business manager, George D. Papageorge, to continue his work, after a fashion, in the the San Francisco-Oakland area. In 1909 Papageorge was 29 and his friend, Alexander Pavellas, was 33. Papageorge married Genevieve Harpending, seven years his junior and Alexander married Lucille Harpending, 4 years his senior.

In future offerings of these Notes I will tell the story of Lucille and Alexander, and of their son Constantinos, my father, whom they raised in the idealized Ancient Greek fashion—until the authorities interceded.


About Ron Pavellas

Expatriate Californian living in Sweden with wife. Retired from employment in the USA. Currently focused on blog articles, memoirs, and creative writing.
This entry was posted in Alexander K. Pavellas, Asbury Harpending, Jr., Conrad H. Pavellas, George D. Papageorge-Palladius, Mary Genevieve (Harpending) Papageorge-Palladius, Ronald A. Pavellas and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Notes for a Memoir: Isadora Duncan and Raymond Duncan

  1. Pingback: Notes for a memoir: Lucille and Alexander | Family Blog of Ron Pavellas

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