Masato Nakagawa, students with first large-scale Geodesic Dome, built under the instruction of R. Buckminster Fuller. BMC Summer Session 1949. Western Regional Archives, State Archives of North Carolina.

Spaceship Earth: A Global Community

In the words of the philosopher and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, we are all passengers on Spaceship Earth. Like any spaceship, it requires maintenance, care, and attention. Most importantly, once resources are gone, they are gone forever. It’s up to us to crew spaceship earth with an eye to the future and in the best interest of our fellow beings and the natural world. On a smaller scale, Black Mountain College was its own craft, a community made possible by collective effort, sustainability, and intentional action. As a uniquely global community, BMC was acutely aware of the permeability of borders and the individual’s responsibility to the world as citizens, students, teachers, and artists.

Selections from the Exhibition

TAYO – Grace Villamil

Grace Villamil (b. 1978 Anaheim, CA)

TAYO, 2020

Directed by Marina Katz, Cinematography by Sam Falconi

TAYO, the inclusive “We” or “Us” in Tagalog, the language of the Philippines, (Grace’s background and where her parents emigrated from in the late 1960s) was a light+sound activation and ongoing community sculpture at Pauline Oliveros’ Deep Listening Plaza in Kingston NY. TAYO was created by artist Grace Villamil in collaboration with IONE (Pauline Oliveros’ life partner) and Lisa Kelley (founder of the Deep Listening Community) to bring awareness to the separation of children and families and give support to immigrant communities in Kingston and around the world. Most especially, this project directly addresses the immigration issue in the United States focusing on the children, women, and families who have been separated by ICE.

Director Marina Katz’s grandmother Betsy Williams, great uncle David Weinrib, and step-grandfather Paul Williams were alumni or faculty of Black Mountain College.

Navajo tradition meets Modernist teachings

Harrison Begay was a Diné (Navajo) illustrator, painter, and printmaker specializing in silkscreen and watercolor. He studied art under Dorothy Dunn at the Santa Fe Indian School, originally established as an institution for the assimilation of Native children to US culture. In 1932, Dunn established the “Studio School” where instruction was defined by the philosophy of Hoocągra painter Angel De Cora. De Cora enforced the idea that the cultural expression of Native artists should not be colonized by European aesthetics and instruction. Dunn, therefore, did not ask Native students to study subjects such as color theory, perspective, and life drawing.⁠

When Begay was encouraged to apply to Black Mountain College, prominent figures in the Native American arts community formally expressed concern that the teachings of artists like Josef Albers would influence Begay’s traditional aesthetics. Begay, however, was more interested in studying architecture, which he did from 1940-1941, though he did study with Albers and held a specific interest in contemporary art. Begay also taught Navajo during his time at the college, a course which was well-received on campus but raised suspicions by some outsiders due to the use of the Navajo language in classified transmissions of war. Begay later served in the U.S. Army Signal Corps during WWII from 1942 to 1945. He would enjoy commercial and critical success throughout his life, becoming one of the most famous Diné artists of his time.⁠

Unknown photographer, Harrison Begay sketching at Black Mountain College, ca. 1940. Digital print from archival scan. Western Regional Archive, State Archives of NC. | Comments attached to Harrison Begay’s application to Black Mountain College, 1940, Digital print from archival scan. Western Regional Archive, State Archives of NC

Integration at Black Mountain College

Black Mountain College made the decision to integrate its student body in 1944, inviting Alma Stone Williams to attend the Summer Music Institute on a scholarship from the Julius Rosenwald Fund. She became the first African American student to attend an all-white college in the Jim Crow South, a distinction befitting her remarkable life. After her summer at BMC, Williams went on to Julliard as a Rosenwald Fellow, and then returned to her long, distinguished career as a college professor, as she and her husband, Russell Williams, also raised a family. At BMC, the successful experiment in integration led to more students and teachers of color joining the college community over the next few years, including Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence, Mary Parks Washington, Quentin Miller, and Delores Fullman.

Statement of Opinion on the integration of Black Mountain College, 1944. Digital print from scan. Western Regional Archives, State Archives of NC | John H. McCray, “The Need for Changing” published in The Lighthouse, December 1946. Digital print from scan. Western Regional Archives, State Archives of NC.