Claude Fayette Bragdon

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Claude Bragdon

Claude Fayette Bragdon was an American architect, artist, writer, and publisher who was active in the Theosophical Society in America. He operated the Manas Press in Rochester, New York, and was the first publisher of P. D. Ouspensky's work, Tertium Organum. Dr. James Cousins referred to him as "Claude Bragdon of America to whom Architecture is Theosophy in stone."[1]

Early life and education

Community singing events

Architectural career

Book jacket design

Design work

Book jackets

From the early days of his career, Bragdon designed "bindings for books" or book jackets, like these:

  • At the Sign of the Sphinx: A Book of Charades by Carolyn Wells, New York: Stone and Kimball, 1896.[2]
  • Stories from the Chap-book; Being a Miscellany of Curious and Interesting Tales, Histories, &c, a compilation by many authors. Chicago: Herbert S. Stone and Company, 1896. [3]
  • The Will of Song; a Dramatic Service of Community singing by Percy Mackay. New York: Boni and Liveright, 1910.
  • Dostoevsky by André Gide. New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 1926.
  • Cora by Ruth Suckow. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1929.
  • Silver Circus by A. E. Coppard. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1929.

Theatrical design

After giving up his architectural practice, Bragdon went to New York City, where he designed sets and costumes for Broadway plays. Among the productions were Hamlet, Cyrano de Bergerac, Caponsacchi, and Richilieu.[4] [5] [6] [7][8]

Theosophical Society work

CFB was admitted as a member of the American Theosophical Society on ............. He was always a very active member at local and national levels. He served on the American Editorial Committee for The Theosophist, along with H. Douglas Wild and Fritz Kunz.[9]

Much in demand as a lecturer, Bragdon spoke at many lodges in North America, such as Toronto, Hartford, and Buffalo; and in other venues like the International Hindustani Society and the Mecca Temple in New York. For many years his center of activity was New York City, where he frequently lectured at the lodges and at the New York Theosophical Federation. Topics were wide-ranging, such as yoga, mysticism, science, music, the fourth dimension, the machine age, education, and Emerson.

Lodge activities


Genesee Lodge worked with Rochester Lodge to draw high-caliber lecturers such as Irving S. Cooper and L. W. Rogers for public lectures and member classes.[10] Genesee was able to purchase a headquarters building in 1915, and established a policy that no other organization could rent space in it. "It was thought best to take no risk of giving the public the impression that Theosophy is allied to Rosicrucianism, New Thought or any other organizations however occult or progressive."[11] Bragdon was creative and successful in his efforts to increase lodge membership. In addition to lecturing for civic groups like the Century Club, he placed copies of some of his Theosophical writings in every hotel room in Rochester.

Manas Press

Blueprint of Entrance Arch, 1940

Impact on Theosophical Society headquarters campus

In 1926, when the American Theosophical Society was planning its new national center in Wheaton, Illinois, Bragdon was asked to serve as architect. He was then reorienting his career from architecture to stage design, so he declined. He recommended engaging Pond, Pond, Martin & Lloyd, the Chicago architectural firm headed by his friend Irving Kane Pond, and the Society followed his advice. The architects submitted two designs for consideration, and the Society's Board of Directors was evenly divided over which should be the finalist. President L. W. Rogers sent both drawings to Bragdon, who sent back a telegram saying that his preference would be the "asymmetrical" design, and that is the one that was built.

Bragdon did design an important structure at the headquarters campus that was unveiled for members in a Co-Masonic dedication ceremony at the summer convention in 1940. An arch was built at the Main Street entrance to the campus. The cost of the project was underwritten anonymously by a member from Portland, Oregon, later acknowledged to be John H. Mason. Two stone and brick support columns are topped by carved Platonic solids – a dodecahedron and an icosahedron. Between them is a wrought iron arch with the name of the Theosophical Society in America and the TS emblem in the center. Originally a lighted lantern hung from the emblem, but it had to be removed in later years when vehicles became taller.

In 1942, then-President Sidney A. Cook wrote:

As I look out my office window a car stops at our gateway, as cars often do, while its occupants read the bronze plaques on its pillars, moving from the one to the other to read the whole of the statements they contain as to the founding, the Founders and the principles. The car passes on, but our Headquarters has made its impression; the breadth and dignity of our principles have sown seed. [12]

In 1989, the entire gateway had to be moved a few feet to accommodate a turn lane in Main Street, when an apartment complex was built across the street. It remains one of the most admired features of the headquarters estate.

Later years

Mr. Bragdon passed away on September 17, 1946.

Tributes, reviews, and commentaries

Manly P. Hall

Basanta Koomar Roy related a story about Bragdon's meeting with Manly P. Hall:

The first question Mr. Claude Bragdon, American mystic, asked Mr. Hall immediately after their first meeting was:

"Mr. Hall, how do you know so much more about the mathematics of Pythagoras than even the authorities on the subject?"

Standing beside both these dear American friends of mine, I was wondering with trepidation in my heart what reply Mr. Hall would make.

"Mr. Bragdon," answered Mr. Hall quickly, unhesitatingly, and with a simultaneous flash of smile in his eyes and on his lips, "you are an occult philosopher. You know that it is easier to know things than to know how one knows those things."

In silence Claude Bragdon, the famous authority in the Fourth Dimension, looked at the radiant face, and into the fathomless eyes of Manly P. Hall; and in silence the four eyes spoke in the solemn language of the soul.[13]



Bragdon frequently wrote articles for Theosophical magazines. The Union Index of Theosophical Periodicals lists over 90 titles by or about Bragdon. Some of his books were serialized as "Theosophy and Architecture" and "H.P.B. and Theosophy." One interesting topic was "Camp Sherman," a military training facility in Ohio, which he visited in 1918

He frequently submitted essays to architectural and design journals.

  • "Some Chinese Letters of Willard Straight" Scribner's June 1919. On China and the "Spirit of the East."

Books and pamphlets

His books about architecture, art, and Theosophy are listed here in alphabetical order. Most are compilations of essays or lecture transcriptions. Major titles like Architecture and Democracy, The Beautiful Necessity, The Frozen Fountain, and Projective Ornament have been reprinted many times and translated into multiple languages.

  • The Arch Lectures: Eighteen Discourses on a Great Variety of Subjects Delivered in New York, During the winter of 1940'. New York, Creative Age Press, 1942.
  • Architecture and Democracy. New York, A. A. Knopf, 1918. Available at Internet Archive, Hathitrust,, and other sources.
  • Argentina from a British Point of View. [Place of publication not identified] : General Books, 2010.
  • The Beautiful Necessity: Seven Essays on Theosophy and Architecture. 1910. Rochester, NY: Manas Press. 109 p. Available at Internet Archive, Internet Archive, Hathitrust, Google Books, and Google Books.
  • A Brief Life of Annie Besant, President of the Theosophical Society. Rochester, N.Y.: The Manas Press, 1909. 20 pages. Pamphlet.
  • Delphic Woman. New York, London, A.A. Knopf, 1936. Twelve essays reprinted from The New Image and Old Lamps for New.
  • Details from Italian palaces. Rochester, N.Y.: Cutler Manufacturing Co., 1897.
  • Diary of Claude Fayette Bragdon. [Watertown, N.Y.], [Printed by the Watertown Daily Times], 1974. "This diary ... was printed serially in the Watertown Daily Times in October, November and December of 1972." Introduction and notes by Henry W. Bragdon.
  • An Educated Heart. Written with Katherine Susan Anthony. [New York] : [Dial Pub. Co.], 1910. Reviews of Visits to Walt Whitman in 1890-1891, by John Johnston and J.W. Wallace and The letters of Anne Gilchrist and Walt Whitman. In a whole issue of the Dial, v. 66, no. 781 (Jan. 11, 1919).
  • Episodes from an Unwritten History. Rochester, NY: Manas Press. In 1910, an enlarged second edition was published. Available at Internet Archive.
  • The Eternal Poles. New York, A.A. Knopf, 1931.
  • Explorations into the Fourth Dimension. Formerly Four Dimensional Vistas.
  • Four Dimensional Vistas. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1916. Available at Internet Archive, Hathitrust, and Internet Archive.
  • The Frozen Fountain. New York, A.A. Knopf, 1932. Available at Hathitrust.
  • The Gift of Asia. Rochester, N.Y.: Manas Press, 1914. Available at Google Books and Hathitrust.
  • The Golden Person of the Heart. Gouverneur, N.Y., Brothers of the Book, 1898. Available at Google Books and Hathitrust.
  • The Hamlet Problem from the Standpoint of the Artist in the Theatre. New York, McGraw-Hill, 1926. From The Architectural Record, Vol. 59, 1926, pp. 1-6.
  • The "Heathen" Invasion; an Open Letter to the Editor of the Hampton-Columbian Magazine. Rochester, N.Y.: Manas Press, 1911. 15 pages.
  • The Home of the Rochester Chamber of Commerce at Rochester, New York. Boston: Rogers and Manson, 1918. A reprint from the Architectural Forum Dec. 1917.
  • An Introduction to Yoga. New York, A.A. Knopf, 1933.
  • Karma Once More. 1915. Pamphlet.
  • Man and Death. 1915. Pamphlet.
  • Man the Square: a Higher Space Parable. Rochester, N.Y.: Manas Press, 1912. 34p. Available at Hathitrust and Google Books, both signed by author.
  • "The Master of the Blue Cape" [story]. This inspired two members of the St. Petersburg Lodge to stage an impromptu play on December 21, 1938.[14]
  • Merely Players. New York, A.A. Knopf, 1929. Essays continuing themes of "Old Lamps for New." Limited availability at Hathitrust.
  • The Message of Buddha. Rochester, N.Y.: Manas Press, 1914. 15 pages.
  • Minor Italian Palaces. Rochester, N.Y.: Cutler Manufacturing Co., 1897. Portfolio, 6 plates.
  • More Lives Than One. New York: A.A. Knopf, 1938. Available at Hathitrust.
  • The New Image. New York: A.A. Knopf, 1928. Available at Hathitrust and Google Books.
  • The New Rochester Chamber of Commerce Building. Rochester, NY: 1919. Available at Hathitrust and Google Books.
  • Old Lamps for New, or The Ancient Wisdom in the Modern World. New York, A.A. Knopf, 1925.
  • Oracle. Rochester, NY: Manas Press, 1921. 64 p. Portrait in frontispiece. Available at Internet Archive and Google Books. Bragdon collected messages that had been received by his deceased wife Eugenie Julier Macaulay Bragdon via automatic writing. Some are epigrammatic personal messages, and others are prophetic.
  • A Primer of Higher Space (the Fourth Dimension). Rochester, NY: Manas Press, 1913. 78 p. Illustrated. Available at Internet Archive. "The clearest and most capable presentation of the Fourth Dimension in our literature," per The Theosophical Messenger, November 1928.
  • Projective Ornament. Rochester NY: Manas Press, 1915. 78 p. Illustrated. Reprinted New York : A.A. Knopf, 1927.
  • Revival: an Introduction to Yoga. 1933.
  • The Secret Springs: an Autobiography. Rochester, N.Y.: Manas Press, 1917. Reprinted by New York: Cosimo Classics, 2005.
  • Self Education: An Address Given Before the Boston Architectural Club April the third 1909. 1910. Rochester, NY: Manas Press. 16 p. Available at Internet Archive.
  • Six Lectures on Architecture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1917. Scammon Lectures. Coauthors were Ralph Adams Cram and Thomas Hastings. Available at Internet Archive, Hathitrust, Google Books, and other sources. Bragdon lectures included "Organic Architecture" and "The Language of Form."
  • The Small Old Path. Rochester, NY: Manas Press, 1911. 2nd edition. available at Internet Archive, Internet Archive, Internet Archive, and Internet Archive.
  • Tapestry Brickwork. Boston: Fiske & Co., 1909. "Artistic Brickwork: Its Achievements and Possibilities / by Claude Bragdon."
  • Theosophy and the Theosophical Society. Rochester, NY: Manas Press, 1909. Available at Internet Archive.
  • Wake Up and Dream! [New York], [Outlook Co.], 1931. Available at Hathitrust.
  • Where Are You Going, My Pretty Maid?. Wheaton, Ill.: League for American Womanhood, 1941. 7 pages. "An address delivered by Claude Bragdon before the friends of Carman Barnes, at the Arch Headquarters, 170 East 78th Street, New York, on the twentieth day of November, nineteen hundred and forty... Inquiry into the interests, activities, aspirations (if she has any), of the modern young woman, and an indication of the direction in which I think she should be headed." 7 pages.
  • Yoga for You. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1943.

Forewords, chapters, translations, and other contributions

  • Brandon, Wilfred. Open the Door!. New York, A.A. Knopf, 1935. Introduction by Claude Bragdon. Available at Internet Archive and Open Library.
  • Gargano, James W. Critical Essays on Henry James: the Late Novels. Boston, Mass. : G.K. Hall, 1987. Essay "The Golden Bowl: Thought as the Novelist's Sole Material" by Claude Bragdon.
  • Hodson, Geoffrey, and Alexander Horne. Some Experiments in Four Dimensional Vision. Rider & co., 1933. Introduction by Claude Bragdon.
  • Mallgrave, Harry Francis. Architectural Theory. Oxford: Blackwell, 2007. Extract from Architecture and Democracy by Claude Bragdon.
  • Mumford, Lewis. Roots of Contemporary American Architecture: a Series of Thirty-seven Essays Dating from the Mid-nineteenth Century to the Present. New York : Reinhold, 1952. Essay "The Language of Form" by Claude Bragdon.
  • Ouspenskii, P. D. Tertium Organum: the Third Canon of Thought, a Key to the Enigmas of the World. Rochester, NY: Manas Press, 1920. Translated from the Russian by Nicholas Bessaraboff and Claude Bragdon ; with an introduction by Claude Bragdon. Available at Hathitrust, Google Books, and Hathitrust.
  • Parents Theosophical Research Group. A Theosophical Guide for Parents. Ojai, Calif.: Parents Theosophical Research Group, 1981, 1984. Essay "The Ritual of Play" by Claude Bragdon.
  • Perrine, Van Dearing. Van Dearing Perrine, the Light Years: [exhibition] November 2-December 16, 1989. New York, N.Y.: Graham, 1989. Text by Claude Bragdon.
  • Plummer, George Winslow. Consciously Creating Circumstances. West Hoathly [England] : Derricke Ridgway, 1953. Foreword by Claude Bragdon.
  • Roerich, Nicholas. Altai-Himalaya. New York: Frederick A. Stokes & Co., 1930. Introduction by Claude Bragdon.
  • Schmidt, Carl Frederick. Cobblestone Architecture. [Rochester, N.Y.], [Great lakes Press], 1944. Preface by Claude Bragdon.
  • Society for the Study of Myth and Tradition. Triad. New York, N.Y.: Society for the Study of Myth and Tradition, 1989. Essay "An Architecture of Changeless Change" by Claude Bragdon. From Parabola, the magazine of myth and tradition,; v. 14, no. 4.
  • Sullivan, Louis H. The Autobiography of an Idea. New York, Press of the American Institute of Architects, 1924. Reprinted New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1956. Foreword by Claude Bragdon.
  • Sullivan, Louis H. Kindergarten Chats on Architecture, Education and Democracy. [Lawrence? Kan.]: Scarab Fraternity Press, 1934. "First printed, in 1901, in fifty-two successive numbers of the Interstate architect and builder," per introduction. Edited and introduced by Claude F. Bragdon. Available at Hathitrust and Internet Archive.
  • Uhlfelder, Eric. The Origins of Modern Architecture: Selected Essays from "Architectural Record." Mineola, N.Y. : Dover Publications, 1998. Essay "The New Architecture" by Claude Bragdon.

Additional resources

  • Brown, Frank Chouteau. "Shakespeare, Hampden and Bragdon". The Drama. 11: March 1921: 197-199.
  • Chait, Richard. Rochester's Famed Bragdon Station: Its Architect, History, and Legacy. Fairfax : Allegra, 2018. 130 pages.
  • Costa, Erville. "Claude F. Bragdon, Architect, Stage Designer, and Mystic." Rochester ' 29' October 1967: 1-20.
  • Ellis, Eugenia Victoria. Claude Bragdon & the Beautiful Necessity: Eleven Essays. Rochester, NY: Rochester Institute of Technology, 2010.
  • Ellis, Eugenia Victoria. Squaring the Circle: the Regulating Lines of Claude Bragdon's Theosophic Architecture. Ph. D. dissertation; Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University; 2005. 389 pages.
  • Fuchs, Theodore. Stage Lighting. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1929; reprinted., New York: Benjamin Blom, Inc., 1957.
  • Massey, Jonathan. Art and Involution: Claude Bragdon's Projective Ornament. Ph. D. dissertation; Princeton University; 2001.
  • Massey, Jonathan. Crystal and Arabesque: Claude Bragdon, Ornament, and Modern Architecture. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2009. 336 pages. This is an excellent biography of Bragdon's life and work.
  • Massey, Jonathan. "Organic Architecture and Direct Democracy: Claude Bragdon's Festivals of Song and Light". Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians. Chicago, Ill.: Society of Architectural Historians, 2006. 65.2006, 4, 578-613.
  • Meyers, Carole. Wake Up and Dream!: Claude Bragdon's Idea of Theatre. Undergraduate dissertation, University of Rochester class of 1988. Department of English, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY, 1987.
  • Nixon, Mary. Technically Symbolic: the Significance of Schema and Claude Bragdon's Sinbad Drawings in The Frozen Fountain. Ph. D. dissertation in Architecture; University of Pennsylvania; 2005. 241 pages.
  • Oenslager, Donald. Stage Design, Four Centuries of Scenic Invention. New York: The Viking Press, 1975.
  • Siegfried, David Allen. Claude Bragdon, Artist-in-the-Theatre. Ph. D. dissertation; University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; 1979.

Archival records

  • Theosophical Society in America Archives has architectural drawings related to the arch that Bragdon designed, and also a limited amount of correspondence to/from or about Bragdon.
  • Bragdon Family Papers at the University of Rochester, The Department of Rare Books, Special Collections, and Preservation (RBSCP). This is a rich source of correspondence, drawings, photographs, and other materials.
  • May Bragdon Diaries at University of Rochester Libraries. See also "May Bragdon Diaries offer online window into Rochester’s past".


  1. James H. Cousins, "The Life and Work of Jean Delville, Theosophist Painter-Poet." The Theosophist47.3 (December 1925), 396.
  2. See title page of book at Internet Archive.
  3. See title page of book at Internet Archive, and Internet Archive.
  4. Walter Hampden in "Cyrano de Bergerac". New York: Arthur Klar, 1936. Theater program. Costumes and sets designed by Claude Bragdon.
  5. Walter Hampden in "Caponsacchi" and "Hamlet". New York: Arthur Klar, 1900. Theater program. Costumes and sets designed by Claude Bragdon.
  6. Catalog of an exhibition of drawings and designs for Walter Hampden's dramatic productions by Claude Bragdon. Buffalo : Buffalo Fine Arts Academy, Albright Art Gallery, 1927.
  7. Lytton, Edward Bulwer. Richilieu. New York: Appleton, 1930. Playbill. "Poli's Theatre, S.Z. Poli, proprietor, direction Messrs. Lee and J.J. Shubert, T.D. Bonneville, Mgr., Walter Hampden in "Richelieu," a new version of Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton's play of the same name by Arthur Goodrich, entire scenic production designed and supervised by Claude Bragdon, staged and directed by Mr. Goodrich and Mr. Hampden."
  8. Bragdon, Claude. "The Hamlet problem from the standpoint of the artist in the theatre." The Architectural Record, Vol. 59, 1926, pp. 1-6.
  9. "American Editorial Committee," The American Theosophist" 24.3 (March 1936), 70.
  10. Lillian B. Daily, "The Field," The Theosophic Messenger 11.12 (September, 1910), 759.
  11. "Lodge Notes from Here and There" The Messenger 11.12 (May 1924), 204.
  12. S.A.C.[Sidney A. Cook], "Our Gateway," The American Theosophist 30.3 (March, 1942), 70.
  13. Basanta Koomar Roy, "America's Timeless Philosopher." Horizon 1, no. 4 (November-December 1941), 15.
  14. Bulletin of the Florida Federation. January 15, 1939. From clipping in National Secretary's files for St. Petersburg Lodge. Theosophical Society in America.