Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Back to Black Mountain

Asheville, North Carolina is a favorite destination for me. Nestled in the mountains of western North Carolina this small city is not only beautiful for the mountain atmosphere but also a cultural gem in the region. There are more art galleries per capita than any other city on the east coast. Asheville is likened to Taos and Santa Fe. The now famous River Arts District's "Studio Stroll" draws art lovers from New York, Ann Arbor and as far away as California. The restaurants, hippies and street entertainers make Asheville a fun place to visit.

In 2006 I was visiting the Asheville area when by chance I discovered Black Mountain, NC. Black Mountain is a small town just east of Asheville and was home to one of this country's most avant garde colleges, Black Mountain College. I say was, as the school has been gone for over 50 years, but during it's twenty plus years it attracted some of the most forward thinkers and artists of the mid 20th century. The faculty and students were a veritable Who's Who of modernists and post modernists.

It was at Black Mountain College that Buckminster Fuller developed the geodesic dome. The first "happening" took place. Joseph Albers, Willem DeKooning and Robert Rauschenberg are just a few of the names associated with BMC.

I visited the former campus where little remains of the once controversial school. The bauhaus style, student built studies building remains as a testament to the radical vision that was Black Mountain College.

I highly recommend the following book.

The Arts at Black Mountain College
Mary Emma Harris

It was at Black Mountain College that Merce Cunningham formed his dance company, John Cage staged his first "happening," and Buckminster Fuller built his first dome. Although it lasted only twenty-four years (1933-1957) and enrolled fewer than 1,200 students, Black Mountain College launched a remarkable number of the artists who spearheaded the avant-garde in America of the 1960s. The faculty included such diverse talents as Anni and Josef Albers, Eric Bentley, Ilya Bolotowsky, Robert Creeley, Willem de Kooning, Robert Duncan, Lyonel Feininger, Paul Goodman, Walter Gropius, Franz Kline, Robert Motherwell, and Charles Olson. Among the students were Ruth Asawa, John Chamberlain, Francine du Plessix Gray, Kenneth Noland, Arthur Penn, Robert Rauschenberg, Kenneth Snelson, Cy Twombly, Stan Vanderbeek, and Jose Yglesias.

In this definitive account of the arts at Black Mountain College, back in print after many years, Mary Emma Harris describes a unique educational experiment and the artists and writers who conducted it. She replaces the myth of the college as a haphazardly conceived venture with a portrait of a consciously directed liberal arts school that grew out of the progressive education movement. Proceeding chronologically through the four major periods of the college's history, Harris covers every aspect of its extraordinary curriculum in the visual, literary, and performing arts.

About the Author

Independent scholar Mary Emma Harris is Chair and Director of the Black Mountain College Project.

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