BlackMountain College ( 1933- 1956 )

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The Black Mountain College Museum & Arts Center at 56 Broadway in downtown Asheville North Carolina, USA was established in 1993 to commemorate and publicize Black Mountain College's unique legacy of educational and artistic innovation.When Black Mountain College closed in 1956, its many accomplishments did not go into oblivion, but within the vicinity of Black Mountain there was a younger generation, who were unaware that such a small college had produced such a large number of scholars, writers, artists, and musicians. Those who were familiar with Black Mountain College were scattered throughout the western world.

When Mary Holden Thompson realized that Black Mountain College was better known abroad than in western North Carolina, she proposed that a museum be created to honor and preserve the legacy of the College. Other supporters were recruited, and after a year of discussion and organization, the Black Mountain College Museum & Arts Center was incorporated in 1993. The ultimate goal is a permanent home for the Museum & Arts Center where it can continue to:

Exhibit the artwork of Black Mountain faculty and students in all of the various media of paintings, sculpture, photographs, ceramics, weaving, and manuscripts.

Previous and current support for these activities has come from the North Carolina Arts Council, NC Department of Cultural Resources, Western Carolina University, Asheville Arts Council, Asheville Art Museum, and the generous donations of Black Mountain College students and friends.

Black Mountain College 1933 - 1956

A dispute over educational theories, college administration, academic freedom, and tenure at a small college in Florida was the genesis of the establishment of Black Mountain College in 1933 during the depression. Much of the organization and curriculum of Black Mountain College was based on John Rice's educational theories which combined the liberal arts with the fine arts. For the latter Mr. Rice was fortunate in adding Josef and Anni Albers who were fleeing Nazi Germany after the closing of the Bauhaus.

After the College moved to the Lake Eden site, summer sessions were started in the Forties, and these attracted a number of young and talented artists, musicians, and writers who came either as teachers or students. Their works and performances have been chronicled in several books and magazine articles, and after leaving Black Mountain College, these teachers and students continued to make noteworthy contributions in their field of endeavor. During the Fifties, in the final years of the College , Charles Olson became the mentor of a group of students, who became know as the Black Mountain writers.

Communal living, small and informal class setting, continuation of class discussions into the dining room and evening hours, lack of grades, but rigorous examination of the student before certification that course work had been completed were hallmarks of the educational experience at Black Mountain.At its essence, Black Mountain was an experiment in communal education. Boundaries between teacher and student were redefined as were most of the precepts of traditional western pedagogy. The innovations at Black Mountain are today accepted conventions. The story of Black Mountain College has been told in vivid detail by Martin Duberman in his history of the 23 year life of the school, Black Mountain:

>> Among those leaving Germany after the Nazis closed the Bauhaus in 1932 were Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer who went to the Harvard School of Design, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe who went to Chicago and the Illinois Institute of Technology. Bauhaus design or the international style was not unknown in the United States, but the arrival of these teachers and their training of a new generation of architects helped spread Bauhaus design principles in the following decades.

Bauhaus design was based on several theories: the combination of the fine arts and craftsmanship with industrial engineering, and the use of steel, glass, and prefabricated materials. Houses and commercial structures built in the Bauhaus style had flat roofs, smooth façades and cubic shapes. Colors were white, gray, beige, or black. Floor plans were open and furniture was functional. In Germany there was the social goal to create housing in the depression years following the first world war; in the United States, the international style is seen more frequently in commercial and institutional buildings

Josef and Anni Albers also came from the Bauhaus, and in 1933 went to western North Carolina and Black Mountain College, which had opened its doors a few months earlier. The junction of John Rice's progressive theories for a liberal education combined with art, and Josef Albers' disciplined approach to teaching art became the foundation of the legacy of Black Mountain College as an experimental college.

During the first third of its existence, the College rented space from the Blue Ridge Assembly where the buildings had been constructed in the antebellum neoclassic style associated with the plantation south. By 1937 the College had acquired the Lake Eden property west of Black Mountain, and as the lease for the Blue Ridge Assembly grounds was scheduled for expiration in 1941, the College considered several options, before making the realistic decision to move to Lake Eden with its two rustic lodges, dining hall, and several small summer cottages.

As there was need for additional space, Josef Albers contacted Walter Gropius and his partner Marcel Breuer in the Architects' Collaborative to develop plans for Black Mountain College at Lake Eden. Misunderstanding the scope and size of a new campus, Gropius and Breuer returned with plans and models for a group of buildings for class rooms, lecture and exhibit halls, dormitories, dining and other supporting facilities. The College community quickly realized that, with its limited financial resources, and the impending war conditions in Europe, something much smaller must suffice.Breuer/Gropius plans for "Lake Eden- Buildings". Lawrence Kocher was contacted, who in turn prepared the design for the Studies Building, and joined the faculty in 1940.



The first campus was rented from the Blue Ridge Assembly, and the Assembly continues as a YMCA facility for religious retreats, and as a meeting place for various social, educational, and non-profit organizations. The Lake Eden site was purchased from a camp, and when the College closed it was sold to Camp Rockmont, a boys' camp. The Lake Eden property had been a camp with a lake and several buildings on the grounds. After the College acquired the property, the faculty and students cultivated portions of the property for vegetables and kept cows for milk. The College moved to Lake Eden when its lease for the Blue Ridge Assembly expired in 1941. The existing dining hall and the two lodges were winterized and the Studies Building was built to provide classrooms and a study for each student. In the following years additional smaller buildings were constructed for laboratories, library, and housing. The small Round House next to the dining hall was used for music practice.


There were approximately 300 Black Mountain College faculty members during the 23 year existence of the College. The tenure of many teachers lasted only one or two years. Others stayed 15 to 16 years. A few students became members of the faculty.

The genesis of the college began when John Andrew Rice, controversial classics professor at Rollins College in Florida, decided to create a college "based on an idea of community among individuals working and learning together." A collection of buildings owned by the Blue Ridge Assembly of the Protestant Church in Black Mountain, North Carolina became the physical home for this idea.

Josef Albers: Painting teacher, Arrived Black Mountain College: 1933- Husband of Anni Albers. Albers, hired in 1933 to teach art, remained at the college for 16 years, finally departing in 1949. For the last six months of his tenure he was Rector of the college. His students included Robert Rauschenberg and Kenneth Noland. Another student, the novelist Peggy Bennett Cole said that Albers was "like a fatherly lover to each and every one of us, male and female alike. Stern, just, yet appreciative."

Anni Albers: Weaving teacher,Arrived Black Mountain College: 1933-Wife of Josef Albers.Because Anni was Jewish the Albers decided to leave their native Germany and go to America. Trained as a weaver she eventually taught that art at Black Mountain. Her style was innovative and experimental and she created weavings as art objects instead of "functional" products.

John Andrew Rice ,Classics teacher, Founded Black Mountain College: 1933. An iconoclast, John Andrew Rice "sought controversy more then most men seek repose…" It was Rice who was the primary force in the creation of Black Mountain College when in 1933 he left his teaching position at Rollins College under a dark cloud of controversy. He was no less controversial at Black Mountain where he was both admired and resented by different factions of the experimental educational community he helped create. With Theodore Dreier and F.R. Georgia, Rice wrote the original "Bylaws" of the college and served as an original member of the Board of Fellows. He became Rector of the college in 1934. However, by March of 1938 he had become effectively a persona non grata at Black Mountain, as much because of his abrasive personality as for his romantic affair with a student. Rice would later write a critically acclaimed autobiography. A charismatic and controversial figure, the origins of Black Mountain are intimately connected with Rice and his ideals of community and education.

John Cage, Music teacher, Arrived Black Mountain College: 1948. Cage studied with the Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg but abandoned the latter's 12-tone compositional style in the 1940s. Cage used rhythm and percussive textures as his prime concerns and experimented with accidental sounds. His work has been called "neodadaist." He used sounds of radios, animals, bicycles, etc. in his compositions. He is considered one of the first major figures in the genre of modern, experimental music. Examples of his work include Imaginary Landscapes (1942-1951), Sonatas and Interludes (1946-1948), Water Music (1952), Speech (1955), Etudes Australes (1974-1975). Cage frequently collaborated with Merce Cunningham. Much of their collaboration was done at Black Mountain.

Merce Cunningham,Dance teacher,Arrived Black Mountain College: 1948. Cunningham began dancing at age 8. From 1939-1945 he performed with the Martha Graham dance company. He choreographed Mysterious Adventure (1945) a dance that used an absence of motion as its technique. He frequently collaborated with John Cage and together they taught at Black Mountain. Cunningham is considered one of the major figures of modern dance. Examples of his creations include Sixteen Dances for Soloist and Company (1951), Summerspace (1958), Winterbranch (1965), and Tango (1978),

Richard Buckminster Fuller,Engineering teacher,Arrived Black Mountain College: 1948. A nonconformist from a traditional New England family, Fuller described himself as an "explorer in comprehensive anticipation design." He used technology and basic geometric principles to explore and design structures for the future. In 1927 he conceived of the Dymaxion house as a solution to the emerging housing problem. The Dymaxion automobile, a jet-like, three-wheeled vehicle never got off the drawing board. At Black Mountain he designed and attempted to erect the Supine Dome, a structure, under 100 pounds, that would be a "beautiful geometric pattern of varied colors and four types of triangles, and would soar fifty feet." But alas, the Supine Dome collapsed under its own weight before it could be completely erected. His later "geodesic" dome design was used for the United States' Pavilion at the Montreal Expo in 1967. Fuller wrote several books including Ideas and Integrities: A Spontaneous Autobiographical Disclosure (1963).