Black Mountain College

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Black Mountain College
Black Mountain College.jpg
TypePrivate liberal arts college
DirectorJohn Andrew Rice (until 1940)
Administrative staff
about 30
Studentsabout 1,200 total
Location, ,
Black Mountain College seal.jpg
Black Mountain College Historic District
Black Mountain College is located in North Carolina
Black Mountain College
Black Mountain College is located in the United States
Black Mountain College
Nearest cityBlack Mountain, North Carolina
Area586.9 acres (237.5 ha)
Architectural styleBungalow, craftsman, International Style
NRHP reference No.82001281[1]
Added to NRHPOctober 5, 1982
Buckminster Fuller and students assemble a geodesic dome, 1948

Black Mountain College was a private liberal arts college in Black Mountain, North Carolina. It was founded in 1933 by John Andrew Rice, Theodore Dreier, and several others. The college was ideologically organized around John Dewey's educational philosophy, which emphasized holistic learning and the study of art as central to a liberal arts education.[2] Many of the college's faculty and students were or would go on to become highly influential in the arts, including Josef and Anni Albers, Charles Olson, Ruth Asawa, Max Dehn, Walter Gropius, Ray Johnson, Robert Motherwell, Dorothea Rockburne, Cy Twombly, Robert Rauschenberg, Susan Weil, Merce Cunningham, John Cage, Buckminster Fuller, Franz Kline, Aaron Siskind, Willem and Elaine de Kooning, and Mary Caroline Richards. Although it was quite notable during its lifetime, the school closed in 1957 after 24 years due to funding issues; Camp Rockmont for Boys now sits on the campus' site. The history and legacy of Black Mountain College are preserved and extended by the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center, located in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.[3]


Black Mountain was founded in 1933 by John Andrew Rice, Theodore Dreier, Frederick Georgia, and Ralph Lounsbury, who were dismissed as faculty from Rollins College in a seminal academic freedom incident, specifically for refusing to sign a loyalty pledge, for which Rollins was formally censured by the American Association of University Professors.[4] The institution was established to "avoid the pitfalls of autocratic chancellors and trustees and allow for a more flexible curriculum," and "with the holistic aim 'to educate a student as a person and a citizen.'"[5] The school was originally funded through a $10,000 gift from "Mac" Forbes, a former Rollins College faculty member, after the founders were unable to raise funds from traditional sources.[6]:7

Black Mountain was experimental in nature and committed to an interdisciplinary approach, prioritizing art-making as a necessary component of education and attracting a faculty and lecturers that included many of America's leading visual artists, composers, poets, and designers.[2] During the 1930s and 1940s the school flourished, becoming well known as an incubator for artistic talent. Notable events at the school were common; it was here that the first large-scale geodesic dome was made by faculty member Buckminster Fuller and students, where Merce Cunningham formed his dance company, and where John Cage staged his first musical happening.[3] In the 1950s, the focus of the school shifted to the literary arts under the rectorship of Charles Olson. Olson founded The Black Mountain Review in 1954[7] and, together with his colleague and student Robert Creeley, developed the poetic school of Black Mountain poets.[8]

Additionally, the College was an important incubator for the American avant-garde.[9] Black Mountain proved to be an important precursor to and prototype for many of the alternative colleges of today, ranging from College of the Atlantic, Naropa University, the University of California, Santa Cruz, and Marlboro College to The Evergreen State College, Hampshire College, Shimer College, Prescott College, Goddard College, World College West (1973-1992), and New College of Florida, among others, including Warren Wilson College located just minutes down the road from where Black Mountain College was located. Bennington College, based on the same philosophy, was founded one year before Black Mountain College.


Main Building of the former Black Mountain College, on the current grounds of Camp Rockmont

The school operated using non-hierarchical methodologies that placed students and educators on the same plane. Revolving around 20th-century ideals about the value and importance of balancing education, art, and cooperative labor, students were required to participate in farm work, construction projects, and kitchen duty as part of their holistic education.[10][3][11] The students were involved at all levels of institutional decision-making. They were also left in charge of deciding when they were ready to graduate, which notoriously few ever did. There were no course requirements, official grades (except for transfer purposes), or accredited degrees. Graduates were presented with handcrafted diplomas as purely ceremonial symbols of their achievement. The liberal arts program offered at Black Mountain was broad, and supplemented by art making as a means of cultivating creative thinking within all fields.[11] While Josef Albers led the school, the only two requirements were a course on materials and form taught by Albers and a course on Plato.[3]

From 1933 to 1941, Black Mountain College was located at the YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly.

Sociopolitical context[edit]

In 1933, the Nazis shut down the Bauhaus in Germany, a similarly progressive arts-based educational institution. Many of the school's faculty left Europe for the US, and a number of them settled at Black Mountain, most notably Josef Albers, who was selected to run the art program, and his wife Anni Albers, who taught weaving and textile design.[12]

Adolf Hitler's rise to power and the subsequent persecution taking place in Europe led many artists and intellectuals to flee and resettle in the US, populating Black Mountain College with an influx of both students and faculty.[13]

In addition, the college was operating in the South during the period of legal racial segregation at other colleges and universities in the region. While not immune from racial tensions, the student Alma Stone Williams, an African-American woman who enrolled at Black Mountain College in 1944, is considered by some to be the first black student to enroll in an all-white institution of higher education in the South during the Jim Crow era.[14] Notable African-American instructors included Carol Brice and Roland Hayes during the 1945 Summer Music Institute; Percy H. Baker, hired on full-time in 1945; Jacob Lawrence and Gwendolyn Knight during the 1946 Summer Art Institute; and Mark Oakland Fax for the Spring 1946 quarter. The Julius Rosenwald Fund provided African-American teachers' salaries as well as student scholarships.[15]


The college originally rented the YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly buildings south of Black Mountain, North Carolina.[16] In 1937, it purchased a 667-acre property across the valley at Lake Eden.[6]:8 In May 1941, following the end of their lease at Blue Ridge Assembly, the College moved its operations to Lake Eden, where it remained until its closing in 1957.[6]:8 The property was later purchased and converted to an ecumenical Christian boys' residential summer camp (Camp Rockmont). This has been used for years as the site of the Black Mountain Festival, the Lake Eden Arts Festival, and Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center's {Re}HAPPENING. A number of the original structures are still in use as lodgings or administrative facilities, and two frescos painted by Jean Charlot remain intact on the site.[17][18]


Black Mountain College closed in 1957, eight years after Albers left to direct the first design department at Yale. The college suspended classes by court order due to debts; the school was unable to sustain itself financially given the greatly decreased number of students. In 1962, the school's books were finally closed, with all debts covered.[19]

Buckminster Fuller at Black Mountain College in 1949


The Black Mountain College Museum & Arts Center, founded in 1993, continues the legacy of Black Mountain College through talks, exhibitions, performances, collection and preservation, and an annual fall conference that examines the college's history and impact. The Journal of Black Mountain College Studies is a peer-reviewed, open-access digital publication that publishes articles, essays, and creative work related to the school and the individuals associated with it.

Black Mountain College was the subject of the museum exhibition Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College 1933-1957, which opened at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston on October 10, 2015. The show was curated by Helen Molesworth with Ruth Erickson.[20] The show later exhibited at the Hammer Museum from February 21 to May 15, 2016.[21]

Black Mountain College was featured in Nicholas Sparks' novel, The Longest Ride (2013) and the 2015 movie adaptation of the same name.[22]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. July 9, 2010.
  2. ^ a b "The Artists of Black Mountain College | American Masters | PBS". American Masters. 2006-10-16. Archived from the original on 2017-10-11. Retrieved 2017-10-22.
  3. ^ a b c d Kino, Carol (2015-03-16). "In the Spirit of Black Mountain College, an Avant-Garde Incubator". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on 2019-04-14. Retrieved 2017-10-22.
  4. ^ Mary Seymour, "The Ghosts of Rollins (and Other Skeletons in the Closet)", Rollins Magazine, fall 2011, Archived 2014-04-21 at the Wayback Machine; John Andrew Rice, I Came Out of the Eighteenth Century (1942), reissued, with new introduction by Rice's grandson, William Craig Rice, University of South Carolina Press, 2014, ISBN 1611174368
  5. ^ Díaz, Eva (2014-12-25). The Experimenters: Chance and Design at Black Mountain College. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 9780226068039. Archived from the original on 2020-09-28. Retrieved 2020-09-21.
  6. ^ a b c South, Anne Chesky Smith and Heather (2014). Black Mountain College. Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 978-1-4671-2235-1. Archived from the original on 2020-09-28. Retrieved 2020-09-21.
  7. ^ ""Which is the Black Mountain?": A Scholarly Introduction for The Black Mountain College Anthology of Poetry by Alessandro Porco". BMCS. Archived from the original on 2019-07-11. Retrieved 2019-07-11.
  8. ^ "Black Mountain Poets - Audio Recordings". Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center. 2014-06-02. Archived from the original on 2019-07-11. Retrieved 2019-07-11.
  9. ^ Bloch, Mark., White Hot Magazine: "January 2012: Black Mountain College and Its Legacy @ Loretta Howard Gallery" Retrieved 2022-1-13
  10. ^ "The Art Story: School - Black Mountain College". Archived from the original on 2017-10-16. Retrieved 2017-10-23.
  11. ^ a b Cotter, Holland (2015-12-17). "The Short Life and Long Legacy of Black Mountain College". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on 2017-10-22. Retrieved 2017-10-22.
  12. ^ "Josef and Anni Albers Foundation". Archived from the original on 2017-10-23. Retrieved 2017-10-22.
  13. ^ "Black Mountain College: A Brief Introduction - Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center". Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center. Archived from the original on 2017-10-22. Retrieved 2017-10-22.
  14. ^ "Black Mountain College: A Pioneer in Southern Racial Integration". The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education. 54: 46–48. JSTOR 25073557.
  15. ^ Wilkins, Micah Wilford (March 23, 2014). "Social Justice at BMC Before the Civil Rights Age: Desegregation, Racial Inclusion, and Racial Equality at BMC". 6. Journal of Black Mountain College Studies. Archived from the original on 2019-09-06. Retrieved 2019-09-13. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  16. ^ "Learning, the Black Mountain College Way". Our State Magazine. 2018-10-01. Archived from the original on 2019-12-27. Retrieved 2019-12-27.
  17. ^ "Charlot Fresco Conservation + the Summer of 1944". Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center. 2017-12-06. Archived from the original on 2019-04-15. Retrieved 2019-04-24.
  18. ^ "Murals and Sculpture, timeline—Jean Charlot". Archived from the original on 2020-05-31. Retrieved 2019-04-24.
  19. ^ Harris, Mary Emma (13 September 2010). "North Carolina's Black Mountain College: A New Deal in American Education". Artes. Archived from the original on 2012-05-30. Retrieved 2013-04-22.
  20. ^ Swenson, Kirsten (December 16, 2015). "Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College 1933-1957". Art in America. Archived from the original on April 19, 2016. Retrieved April 10, 2016. (exhibit review)
  21. ^ "Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College 1933-1957". Hammer Museum. Los Angeles. Archived from the original on 4 April 2016. Retrieved 11 April 2016.
  22. ^ Creative, The Uprising. "The Longest Ride". Nicholas Sparks. Archived from the original on 2017-10-29. Retrieved 2017-10-21.
  23. ^ Vaughan, David. Merce Cunningham: Fifty Years. Melissa Harris, ed. Aperture, 1972? Page 15ff. Cunningham and Cage met at the Cornish School. "[Cunningham] remembers Miss Cornish saying that there were no grades, no schedules, ‘and I thought, if there’s a school like this in Seattle, imagine what there must be in New York. But I quickly found there was nothing like it there—in fact, the only other school I have found that offered the same kind of open experience was Black Mountain.’”


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