Hazel Larsen Archer

 

"Hazel Larsen was an intrinsic part of the Black Mountain experience."

-Merce Cunningham


Hazel Larsen Archer has been called the archetypal Black Mountain College photographer. More than any other single photographer associated with the college, Archer created a strikingly beautiful and historically important collection of images based on the place itself and the people who lived in the BMC community during the late 1940s and early 1950s. This long overdue exhibition will give an in-depth look at Archer’s photographs from her nine years at the college both as a student and a teacher.

Hazel Larsen Archer died in 2001 after a productive life spent primarily as a photographer and teacher in North Carolina and then Arizona. She first attended Black Mountain College in 1944 after hearing an enthusiastic report from another student at Milwaukee State Teachers’ College. She stayed at BMC for nine years, first as a student, then as a teacher of photography. Later describing her acceptance to the college, she said, “Unbeknownst to me, a blessed star fell on my head.”

Though certainly less known than other photographers who spent time at Black Mountain College (notably Harry Callahan and Aaron Siskind) Hazel Larsen Archer did something that they were unable to do simply because their time at BMC was limited. She photographed the life of the community, its people, and significant places.

She photographed Merce Cunningham dancing...in a sequential format to communicate movement through space and time. She photographed the doors of the Quiet House (a small meditation structure built in memory of a deceased faculty child) over and over, watching the changing patterns of light and shadow. She was particularly interested in photographic portraiture, close-up studies of people in the college community. Thus we have fine early portraits of John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Willem de Kooning, Ruth Asawa, Josef and Anni Albers, Buckminster Fuller surrounded by his amazing array of geometric models, and others. She was immersed in the life of the community and saw that her role included documenting the gifted individuals and their activities as life unfolded at BMC. It is interesting to note that Hazel Larsen Archer was a polio survivor, having contracted the disease at the age of ten, and was therefore limited to a wheelchair. This is certainly not apparent from the photos, however, and only comes to our attention through anecdotes told by her subjects.

Due to a fire in the science building which housed the college’s darkroom, most of the photographer’s early negatives were destroyed. Many of the remarkable images in this exhibition and book were made in the summer of 1948 during the Summer Institute arranged by Josef Albers. It was an extraordinary summer by any measure. Buckminster Fuller and his students attempted to build the first large-scale geodesic dome (it failed to rise and was thus named the Supine Dome); Arthur Penn co-directed (with Helen Livingston) a play by Erik Satie, The Ruse of Medusa, with cast members Buckminster Fuller, Merce Cunningham and Elaine de Kooning, piano accompaniment by John Cage and set design by Willem and Elaine de Kooning. Among the outstanding students enrolled that summer were artists Kenneth Noland, Ray Johnson, Pat Passlof, Kenneth Snelson, Joe Fiore, director Arthur Penn, and of course, photographer Hazel Larsen Archer. Also that summer, Cunningham and Cage were developing their collaborative projects as well as teaching dance and music composition; there were frequent concerts, lectures and performances all contributing to the fertile climate of creative challenge in the air.

The era during which Hazel Larsen Archer was at Black Mountain College is acknowledged by many as one of the college's peaks in terms of intellectual and artistic activity and synergistic, cross disciplinary innovation. The college was transitioning from a predominantly European sensibility to one that was distinctly American. These years at BMC were the genesis for much of American culture in the second half of the twentieth century. We at BMCM+AC feel fortunate that such a gifted photographer was present at Black Mountain College during this fertile time and that her images are now available to be seen and appreciated.

 

This exhibition and book have been made possible through the generous support of the following: Asheville Savings Bank, John Cram, Joe and Cynthia Kimmel, Joscelyn W. Hill, North Carolina Arts Council, Western Carolina University Fine Art Museum, Rob Pulleyn, Mary Holden Thompson, F/32 Photo Group, and Jack and Helga Beam'

 

 


 


John Cage
Hazel Larsen Archer
Vintage gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Estate of Hazel Larsen Archer


John Cage taught music in the BMC Summer Sessions of 1948 and 1952. He provoked controversy within the college community with his series of concerts of the music of Erik Satie and his lectures which were critical of the music of Beethoven. He often described his role within modern music as that of an “inventor”. Throughout a long career he continued to challenge and stretch artistic boundaries.

 



R. Buckminster Fuller
Hazel Larsen Archer
Summer 1948, Vintage gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Estate of Hazel Larsen Archer

Bucky Fuller taught architecture at BMC during the Summer Sessions of 1948 and 1949. His exuberance, optimism, wide-ranging knowledge, and ability to lecture non-stop for many hours attracted much attention. He was invited back to serve as Faculty Head of the 1949 Summer Session.


Josef Albers
Hazel Larsen Archer
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Estate of Hazel Larsen Archer

 

Josef Albers and his wife Anni were the first of many brilliant teachers to come to BMC as émigrés fleeing the Nazi dangers in Europe. Albers brought the modernist design philosophy of Germany’s Bauhaus to his teaching of art at the college from 1933 to 1949. He was perhaps the most influential of all the BMC faculty, finally leaving to head the Department of Design at Yale University and to continue his artistic career.

 


Anni Albers
Hazel Larsen Archer
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Estate of Hazel Larsen Archer

Anni Albers taught weaving and textile design at the college from 1933 to 1949. Like her husband Josef, she was a strong proponent of the Bauhaus-derived modern style of simplicity and abstraction. A number of her textile designs were put into production, and she also continued an active career as a fiber artist.

 


Willem de Kooning
Hazel Larsen Archer
Summer 1948, Vintage gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Estate of Hazel Larsen Archer

Willem de Kooning taught art at the college during the summer session of 1948. This was a brief but crucial period at BMC in which an amazing number of creative people came together, influenced one another and, like de Kooning, later became major 20th century artists.

 


Ray Johnson in his Study
Hazel Larsen Archer
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Estate of Hazel Larsen Archer

Ray Johnson was a student at BMC from 1946 to 1948. He became an enigmatic but important artist in the New York scene. He is perhaps best-known for his founding of the New York Correspondence School, creating the new medium of “mail art."

 


Paul Williams
Hazel Larsen Archer
Vintage gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Estate of Hazel Larsen Archer

Paul Williams began at BMC as a student, served as a student teacher of architecture in 1950, and was a guest lecturer in 1953. Williams also designed the campus Science Building and the Pottery Shop.



Buckminster Fuller inside his Geodesic Dome
Hazel Larsen Archer
Summer 1949, Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Estate of Hazel Larsen Archer

Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome of 1948, made of Venetian blinds, collapsed immediately because the materials were not strong enough. Undaunted, he returned for the summer of 1949 with a group of students and several domes made of new materials. These innovative and successful domes were erected on the campus throughout the summer to the delight of Fuller and the whole college community.

 


M.C. Richards
Hazel Larsen Archer
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Estate of Hazel Larsen Archer

M.C. Richards came from the University of Chicago to Black Mountain in 1945 and taught literature and drama until 1952. While there, she also became intensely interested in the creative process through making pottery. This led to her long and extraordinary career as an artist, philosopher, and writer. Just one of her many accomplishments was her ground-breaking 1964 book Centering, which is still in print.



Ruth Asawa
Hazel Larsen Archer
Vintage gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Estate of Hazel Larsen Archer

A Japanese-American, Ruth Asawa was released from a U.S. internment camp to attend college. After a stint at a Wisconsin school, Asawa came to BMC in 1946, where she studied art with Josef Albers and others. While at the college, she met her future husband Albert Lanier. In 1949 Asawa and Lanier moved to San Francisco, where they raised six children. Asawa has also carried on a noteworthy career as a sculptor and an educator.



Charles Olson
Hazel Larsen Archer
Vintage gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Estate of Hazel Larsen Archer

The poet Charles Olson was the dominant faculty figure at BMC in the 1950s. Imposing both in manner and in size (6’8” tall), Olson served as Rector of the college until its close in 1956. Olson was responsible for placing a much greater emphasis on the literary arts, and the college was one of the centers of activity for what became known as “the new American poetry.

 


Robert Rauschenberg
Hazel Larsen Archer
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Estate of Hazel Larsen Archer

The renowned artist Robert Rauschenberg studied at BMC in 1948-49 and during the summers of 1951 and 1952. He credits the college with giving him direction in his art and the confidence to become an iconoclastic figure in the turbulent New York City art scene of the 1950s. In turn he brought to the college an immense capacity for artistic innovation and enthusiasm for collaboration across the arts.

 


Joan Stack
Hazel Larsen Archer
Vintage gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Estate of Hazel Larsen Archer



Delores Fullman
Hazel Larsen Archer

Vintage gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Estate of Hazel Larsen Archer



Susan Weil
Hazel Larsen Archer
Vintage gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Estate of Hazel Larsen Archer

Sue Weil attended BMC during the school year 1948-49, with a focus on studying art with Josef Albers. Like many others, she found Albers a tough and demanding but stimulating teacher. Weil has continued to be active as a painter and printmaker in New York City.

 

 


 

 

 

 


Merce Cunningham Dancing
Hazel Larsen Archer
Vintage gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Estate of Hazel Larsen Archer


With his grace and style, Merce Cunningham was clearly one of Larsen Archer’s favorite photographic subjects. He taught dance at the college in the summers of 1948, 1952, and 1953. His artistic sensibility had a profound influence on the dance students as well as many other BMC artists. It was at the college that he formed the core group that would become the renowned Merce Cunningham Dance Company.

 


Elizabeth Schmitt Jennerjahn and Robert Rauschenberg

Hazel Larsen Archer
Vintage gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Estate of Hazel Larsen Archer



Elizabeth Schmitt Jennerjahn

Hazel Larsen Archer
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Estate of Hazel Larsen Archer




Katherine Litz in the Dining Hall

Hazel Larsen Archer
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Estate of Hazel Larsen Archer


Katherine Litz taught modern dance at the college in the years 1950-1952. She came to BMC as an accomplished dancer and continued a career as a dancer, choreographer, and teacher, primarily in the New York City area, where she also formed her own dance company.
 

Buckminster Fuller in "The Ruse of Medusa"
Hazel Larsen Archer
Vintage gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Estate of Hazel Larsen Archer

 


 

 

Hazel Larsen Archer's studio/office
Hazel Larsen Archer
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Estate of Hazel Larsen Archer

 


Studies Building Frescoes

Hazel Larsen Archer
Vintage gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Estate of Hazel Larsen Archer


The two frescoes created on pylons beneath the Studies Building are titled Learning and Inspiration. They were done during the summer of 1944 by visiting artist Jean Charlot.