It wasn’t stone, it wasn’t welded steel, it wasn’t traditional sculpture. They thought it was craft, or something else, but not art. They couldn’t define it in the early fifties when I was starting out.

I’d get accepted [into a show] and then I’d get a call that I was disqualified because my work wasn’t sculpture… I don’t care whether or not someone says that my work is art or is not art. I am interested in finding solutions to problems.

— Ruth Asawa (Student 1946 -1949) A Conversation with Ruth Asawa, Artist (ArtWeek, 1995)

Black Mountain College had a lasting impact on the artists who searched for success in the art world of the 1950s and for decades thereafter. These artists, including Pat Passlof, Ruth Asawa, Elaine de Kooning, Susan Weil, Dorothea Rockburne, Suzi Gablik, and Jo Sandman all look back on their time at Black Mountain College as central to their studio practice, grounding them in an open yet rigorous exploration of process and materials, and challenging them to find their voice as artists and individuals. These went on to establish studios on the East and West Coast, became regulars at the Cedar Bar alongside their male contemporaries, became educators, art historians and, for some, mothers and mentors to a new generation of artists.

Notable artworks and ephemera

Exhibited in the Spring 2020 exhibition Question Everything! The Women of Black Mountain College

Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence (Faculty Spouse, Informal Dance Instructor 1946 Summer Session) (b.1913-d.2005), Lullaby, 1992. Offset lithograph on paper. Collection of Connie Bostic

Dorothea Rockburne (Student 1950-1954) (b.1932), Shadowed Perimeter, 2004 – 2008, Edition 63/70. Etching and silkscreen on Somerset paper. Collection of Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center. Gift of the Artist.

Jo Sandman (Student 1951 Summer Session) (b.1931), Untitled, 1952. Oil on canvas. Collection of Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center. Gift of the Artist. 

Susan Weil (Student 1948-1949) (b.1930), Musical Chairs, 1995. Acrylic on paper. Collection of Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center. Gift of the Artist.

Ruth Asawa (Student 1946-1949) (b.1926-d.2013), Untitled S. 390 (Hanging Tied Wire, Center Tied, Two Directional, Multi Branched), ca. 1960. Copper wire. Collection of Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center. Gift of Rita Newman.

Pat Passlof (Student 1948 Summer Session) (b.1928-d.2011), Eighth House #18, 2003. Oil on linen. Collection of Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center. Gift of the Milton Resnick and Pat Passlof Foundation.

Elaine de Kooning (Faculty Spouse Summer Session 1948) (b.1918-d.1989), Fairfield Porter, 1956. Ink and casein on paper. Collection of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas. Gift of Helen Porter and Jim Dyke, 2017.50.

Fannie Hillsmith (Faculty Painting 1945 Summer Session) (b.1911-d.2007), Sea Gate, 1966. Oil on canvas. Collection of Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center. Gift of Mary Holden Thompson.