March 5, 2022 | For immediate release
Kira Houston, Outreach Coordinator
828.350.8484 |

Black Mountain College: Idea + Place

Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center
Asheville, NC | February 11 – May 14, 2022

Digital Exhibition
Media Kit:  

Celebrating the role of place in Black Mountain College’s evolution, this exhibition showcases its two very different campuses, its influential predecessor the Bauhaus in Germany, and the post-BMC diaspora.

How can an idea inform a place? How can a place inform an idea? Would Black Mountain College have had the same identity and lifespan if it had been located in the urban Northeast, the desert Southwest, or coastal California? How did BMC’s rather isolated, rural, and mountainous setting during the era of the Great Depression and the Jim Crow South influence the college community’s decision-making and the evolution of ideas upon which it was based? This exhibition seeks to delve into these questions and others by exploring the places of Black Mountain College

The Bauhaus was a school of design founded in 1919 in Weimar, Germany by architect Walter Gropius. The school moved to Dessau in 1925, and then to Berlin in 1932. After just 14 years of existence, Bauhaus leaders opted to close the school in 1933 rather than succumb to pressure by the Nazis. This closure was to have a huge impact on Black Mountain College. In 1933, soon after the Bauhaus closed, Josef and Anni Albers were invited to come to the newly conceived Black Mountain College where Josef would head the art program and Anni the Weaving Workshop. Other Bauhaus artists would follow, and collectively their influence on the structure and ethos of BMC was tremendous.

Blue Ridge Assembly: Founded in 1933 by John Andrew Rice, an ousted professor of classics from Rollins College in Florida, and several colleagues, BMC opened its doors in September 1933 with 12 faculty members and 22 students. Rice was a follower of John Dewey’s ideas about progressive education and saw the new college as a place to put those ideas into action. With little time to fundraise, the founders needed to find a readymade facility for their startup college. That place was the Blue Ridge Assembly, a large complex of buildings owned by the YMCA, on the southern outskirts of Black Mountain, NC.

Lake Eden Campus: In June 1937 BMC purchased over 600 acres of land on the north side of the Swannanoa Valley; this would become their eventual new home. Over the next few years BMC worked to winterize the existing Grove buildings, establish a working farm on the property, and construct one wing of the large, Kocher-designed Studies Building complex for classrooms, faculty offices, and individual studies for each student. In the fall of 1941, the college finally moved to its new home at Lake Eden, where it would remain for 16 years. With the energy generated by the move to Lake Eden and the successful completion of the Studies Building, Black Mountain College entered a new phase of its evolution. As year-round owners rather than part-time renters, they would continue to build and renovate buildings and also begin to offer summer programs. The summer sessions of the 1940s and 1950s added immeasurably to the artistic dimensions of the college. Summer art, music, and dance faculty such as Willem and Elaine de Kooning, Robert Motherwell, Leo Amino, Merce Cunningham, John Cage, Franz Kline, Katherine Litz, Lou Harrison, Peter Voulkos, Jacob Lawrence and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence, Buckminster Fuller, Harry Callahan, Aaron Siskind, Ben Shahn, Jack Tworkov, Beaumont and Nancy Newhall, Walter Gropius, and many others injected thrilling new ideas and experiences into the Summer Institutes.

BMC’s Final Years: As the 1940’s drew to a close, the BMC community was dealing with more than the usual amount of turmoil. An ongoing disagreement boiled over into a factious feud as the future structure of the college was debated. Longtime BMC art instructors and central figures, Josef and Anni Albers, and Ted Dreier, the college treasurer and chief fundraiser, along with other faculty members and students, left in early 1949. In 1951, after teaching at BMC off and on since the fall of 1948, the charismatic poet Charles Olson emerged as the final leader of the BMC community. Over the next several years, his presence attracted a talented roster of writers to the college, notably the poet Robert Duncan, Robert Creeley, with whom Olson would work on the Black Mountain Review, and gifted students such as Jonathan Williams, Michael Rumaker, Francine du Plessix, Fielding Dawson, Suzi Gablik, Joel Oppenheimer, and others. The Summer Institutes continued on for a few more years, with milestone events taking place such as 1951’s focus on photography with instructors Harry Callahan, Aaron Siskind, Arthur Siegel, and faculty member Hazel Larsen Archer, who organized the session; John Cage and David Tudor’s influential 1952 “happening”, a multidisciplinary performance in the Dining Hall titled Theatre Piece No. 1, with participants including M.C. Richards, Robert Rauschenberg, Merce Cunningham, and Charles Olson; and the founding of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company in the summer of 1953.

During the 1950s, student enrollment and faculty numbers began to dwindle, fundraising was difficult, and the physical integrity of the sprawling campus began to deteriorate. Starting in 1955, the campus was sold off piecemeal to assume a new life as a boy’s camp (Camp Rockmont). Olson made arrangements to sell or donate the assets of the college, settle all final debts, and Black Mountain College officially closed in 1957.

Sprouted Seeds, The BMC diaspora: The energy, ideas, and impact of Black Mountain College were carried forth into the world by those who were there, whether in the 1930s, 1940s, or 1950s. These seeds from BMC then spread and sprouted widely in education, the arts of all kinds, and in ideas about living cooperatively in experimental communities. Before BMC closed, a new community deeply influenced by the college was forming in Rockland County, NY. Known as the Gate Hill Cooperative or The Land, it was founded by former BMC students Paul and Vera Williams who were joined by BMCers M.C. Richards, David Tudor, Karen Karnes, David Weinrib, John Cage, Patsy Lynch, Stan Vanderbeek, and others. This visionary community continues to this day with different members. Another community of former BMC alumni started in Oregon. Many alumni made their way to New York City to pursue lives in the arts, but places like San Francisco, Santa Fe, and Taos were also likely landing places.

The arts education pedagogy brought to the U.S. from the Bauhaus by Josef and Anni Albers has had a lasting impact on courses taught in art departments all over the world. Younger visual artists like Robert Rauschenberg, Susan Weil, Cy Twombly, Ruth Asawa, Jacob Lawrence, Kenneth Snelson, Stan Vanderbeek, and Ray Johnson further expanded our notions of materials exploration and art practice into new and thrilling territory. Similarly in music, dance, performance, and the literary arts, the freedom to experiment and collaborate that was ever present at BMC, led to some of the most innovative work of the 20th and 21st centuries, such as the collaborations between Merce Cunningham and John Cage and Jonathan Williams’ small press known as The Jargon Society, an incubator for collaborative work between writers and visual artists.

It is important to remember that beyond the famous names that are frequently referenced, the college’s legacy spread in less public ways through the powerful daily influence of BMC alumni in all fields of endeavor, enjoying process as much as product, and living life as a responsible citizen of the world. The reverberations from their work and influence continue to spread. In 1993 our museum was founded by Mary Holden Thompson to preserve and continue the history and legacy of Black Mountain College. In 2022 we will celebrate our 29th anniversary.