Below is a Preface by Cristina Biaggi to Mimi’s book, Spatial Archetypes: The Hidden Patterns of Psyche and Civilization. If you have a remembrance to add to this site, email it to John Lobell at JohnLobell@mac.com and he will put it up here.
Preface to Spatial Archetypes
This extraordinary book was twenty-five years in the making and the world and I have been waiting for another seventeen years since Mimi’s death for its publication. Finally, here it is in its entirety. This is a Magnum Opus, an elegantly written, sweeping compendium not just of architecture but of all aspects of civilization, comparable to the work of Oswald Spengler, Henry Adams, and Joseph Campbell. But because Mimi was a woman and a feminist, it employs a feminist lens. It is the epitome of an archaeomythological work, in the Marija Gimbutas sense, because it merges together disparate disciplines of knowledge into a harmonious, entirely new confluence of ideas.
The reception of this book will start with its enthusiastic adherents, and as it gets to be known, its popularity will mushroom to the stratospheric heights it deserves.
I feel so humbled in trying to express my enthusiasm about the originality of this work that instead of going on with heartfelt superlatives, which are bubbling out of me pell-mell, I will speak about how I met Mimi, our friendship and our collaboration.
I first met Mimi at a Goddess group gathering at Buffie Johnson’s house in New York City. Buffie was a fine artist and wrote her own book about the Goddess, The Lady of the Beasts. This was the second incarnation of the “Goddess Group” that had grown out of the magazine HERESIES: (A Feminist Publication on Art and Politics) published by the Heresies Collective, which had produced a special edition called The Great Goddess, now considered a classic. The group consisted of Buffie, Mimi, Grace Shenell, Donna Henes, Gail Dunlap, Mary Beth Edelson, Rosemary Dudley, Donna Wilshire, and myself. Most of these women had been part of the Heresies Collective and had contributed to the publication of the Goddess issue. Every one of these women was in the process of writing about the Goddess and a number of their works were being published. It was a heady time. I was drawn to each of these women for different reasons, and especially to Mimi. I was instantly impressed by Mimi’s brilliant mind and taken by her down-to-earth quality and her crystalline laugh.
Mimi and I started seeing each other socially and, as they say, hanging out. I attended her brilliant lectures and even presented talks and papers with her at various conferences and women spirituality events. She came to my gallery exhibitions and was interested in my artistic ideas.
One of the most interesting things we did as a collective was to go on a field trip to Malta in 1985 to attend the first International Conference on Archæology and Fertility Cult in the Ancient Mediterranean conference where Mimi, Buffie and I presented papers. It was there that we met the great archaeologist Marija Gimbutas and the dean of British archaeology Colin Renfrew. And it was there that I organized a two-hour ritual in the Hypogeum, attended only by women: our Goddess Group and Marija Gimbutas, and her two students/attendants. We got to know Marija well on that trip, and we all had wonderful meals together al fresco under the Maltese stars, having animated conversations and eating splendid food.
Subsequently, in 1986, Mimi was invited by Colin Renfrew to present a paper at the World Archaeological Congress in Southampton, England. Her paper, “Male-Biased Paradigms in Archaeology,” caused quite a stir. Much to her dismay, she was heavily criticized by not only the male “elite” scholars at the conference, but by some women scholars (who were toeing the “party line”) as well. I too presented a paper at that conference which was published by Ian Hodder in his book The Meaning of Things. Even though Mimi’s paper was far superior to mine in its originality and approach, it was not published because it was considered too radical and not “worthy.” But she had made her point brilliantly and forcefully. She had proved that she was a forward- thinking pioneer and an innovator.
As a part of my PhD dissertation I conceived and built what I called the Great Goddess Sculpture, a reclining female figure in the form of a negative shape which I covered over with a large amorphous- looking rock shape. All of this was built out of wood, chicken wire and papier-mâché, and measured 24’ x 14’ x 8.5’. Based on the idea of depicting a female figure as a negative space to be entered like a temple, I went on to create a maquette of a female figure in a birth-giving position. The piece was to be covered by an earth mound (see CristinaBiaggi.com).
Mimi was very excited about my idea and created spectacular architectural drawings depicting my vision. In addition, she wrote a brilliant architectural description of the proposed piece, computing all its solstices, equinoxes, and alignments, as well as its lunar metaphors. She carefully calculated the siting, the outward dimensions of the mound itself and the inside dimensions of the female figure in birth-giving position, to reflect the sunrises and sunsets at different times of the year, just as was the case with its prehistoric precedents. As Mimi elegantly put it, “The Mound’s astronomical metaphors are of two types: those involving proportional dimensions and those involving numerical motifs. Through these the Mound and Sanctuary honor two heavenly bodies traditionally associated with the Goddess: the moon and Venus.”
I was amazed and thrilled at Mimi’s taking my idea and making it so much richer with her archaeoastronomical calculations and lunar and stellar metaphors.
The Goddess Mound still has to be built somewhere, somehow. I am still actively trying to interest those who might help its realization. It will be a tribute to our inspired collaboration in the spirit of Goddess.
Let me state in conclusion that I am very grateful to John Lobell for all his diligent and hard work in bringing this “ovarian” book to life at long last.
Cristina Biaggi, 2017
Anthony Caradonna and Tom Harrahan
Tom Harrahan, Dean of the School of Architecture and Professor Anthony Caradonna who had been a student of Mimi’s at Pratt and was Chair of Undergraduate Architecture at Pratt when Mimi died as well as John Lobell spoke at her Memorial service. For their comments, click here.
In Honor of Professor Mimi Lobell
In the 1990’s, aside from the articles I had published, I was working on my musical drama, “Hypatia” and screenplay, “The Goddess in Exile”. In both works, I was profoundly influenced by my introduction to the Goddess by my sister-in-law, Mimi Lobell.
The valley of the spirit never dies;
It is the woman, primal mother
Her gateway is the root of heaven and earth.
It is like a veil barely seen.
Use it; it will never fail.
~ From the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tsu)
I was initiated as a Goddess feminist by my beloved sister-in-law, Mimi Lobell, first wife to my brother, John Lobell, in the early 1990s. As a tenured professor at Pratt Institute, author and lecturer she dedicated her career to research, discovery and promotion of feminine principles in architecture. Her theories and insight into prehistoric Goddess centered civilizations culminated in a vision that transformed the academic curricula of architectural study and women’s lives today.
She supported her friend, renowned scholar Marija Gimbutas, by entering the archeological debate as to the true interpretation of primitive figurines as relics of worldwide Goddess worshiping societies. Being close to her, I identified with her intellectual struggle and shared the discussion without being aware of its revolutionary impact. When she first gave me a picture book on the Goddess, I was intrigued by their powerful myths, yet shocked by images showing women’s bodies morphing with animals, their breasts and bellies often distorted in mammoth proportions. I felt I was traveling in new country and wanted to know more. Thus began my liberating exploration of the Goddess and the resulting book reviews, poems and drama I wrote in Her honor.
In her yet unpublished book entitled Spatial Archetypes, Mimi distinguished universal forms in architecture. During the time of the “Great Round”, primarily in the Neolithic era, preliterate Goddess-centered civilizations created megaliths; from temples in Malta, passage graves in Western Europe, burial mounds in the Americas, Stonehenge, Pueblo Kivas, Minoan Palaces and more. These monuments were built to honor female power in the earth, sky, time, space, being and non-being, creating a spiritual language in earth works and stone. In collaboration with Dr. Cristina Biaggi, she designed the Goddess Mound, a blueprint for a contemporary structure dedicated to this beautiful lost legacy.
Mimi believed that knowledge of sacred forms, their connection to astronomy, earth and life cycles could guide our consciousness to the temple within.
Although, she faced many obstacles in a male dominated profession, Mimi’s writing is vastly quoted in feminist literature by prominent authors and her contributions still ramify. In her honor, I share the following quote from a taped interview I did with her in the 1990’s.
“I started a career in architecture not even thinking there weren’t any women in this field or wondering why not. The obstacles I’ve overcome were never in my own mind, but in the outside world. I didn’t notice any discrimination until 1972. I had worked my way high enough in an architectural firm to be promoted and then I hit a glass ceiling. I went through the right motions, bringing clients into the office, performing competently, but I was never appointed Associate. Several women that I knew were having that experience, so we started meeting and after a year formed the Alliance for Women in Architecture, which is still in existence. Moving from offices to academia was just a way of sidestepping those obstacles. At Pratt today, I am the only woman professor at the School of Architecture as well as the only full-time one. It is easier for women to advance in architecture today, but basically it is manners that are changing, attitudes are fundamentally the same.
“It is fact that there was massive global Goddess worship that went on for thousands of years. The age of the Goddess, the Neolithic or New Stone Age, was the period when farming, animal domestication and pottery were developed. Neolithic life was characterized by communities of small homesteads that were equalitarian and matrilineal. There were no status differentiations in this life or the afterlife. This prehistoric legacy is actually being denied to us. I’ve been to archeological conferences to present my ideas and there is a wall of resistance. The Goddess was the first personification of the religious impulse.
“The female principle is violated when it is portrayed in such stereotypes as the barefoot earth goddess or in the Mary syndrome; the absolutely pure, compassionate, servicing female; or as Eve, the destructive wanton whore. These terrible distortions are the result of more than 4,000 years of male dominance. The Great Goddess was not just an earth Goddess, she was a heaven Goddess. She was not only nurturing, she made demands. She was a force that had to be appeased, not just the big-mama with a cookie jar.
“Now is the time for the feminine principle to resurface in world cultures and some people are early-warning instruments. I feel that I am one.”