Black Mountain College

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Black Mountain College
Black Mountain College seal.jpg
Type Liberal arts college
Active 1933–1957
Director John Andrew Rice (until 1940)
Administrative staff
about 30
Students about 1,200 total
Location Asheville and Black Mountain, North Carolina, United States
Black Mountain College Historic District
Nearest city Black Mountain, North Carolina
Area 586.9 acres (237.5 ha)
Built 1923
Architectural style Bungalow/craftsman, International Style
NRHP Reference # 82001281[1]
Added to NRHP October 5, 1982

Black Mountain College, a school founded in 1933 in Black Mountain, North Carolina (near Asheville, North Carolina), was a new kind of college in the United States in which the study of art was seen to be central to a liberal arts education, and in which John Dewey's principles of education played a major role. Many of the school's students and faculty were influential in the arts or other fields, or went on to become influential. Although notable even during its short life, the school closed in 1957 after only 24 years.[2] The history and legacy of Black Mountain College is preserved and extended through Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center, in downtown Asheville, NC.

The school's Lake Eden campus, used from 1941 to 1957, is now part of Camp Rockmont, a summer camp for boys and the adjacent Lake Eden Events & Lodging.


From 1933 to 1941, Black Mountain College was located at the YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly.
Its Lake Eden campus, used from 1941 to 1957, is now part of Camp Rockmont, a summer camp for boys.

Founded in 1933 by John Andrew Rice, Theodore Dreier, Frederick Georgia, and Ralph Lounsbury, all dismissed faculty members of Rollins College,[3] Black Mountain was experimental by nature and committed to an interdisciplinary approach, attracting a faculty that included many of America's leading visual artists, composers, poets, and designers, like Buckminster Fuller, who developed the geodesic dome.

Operating in a relatively isolated rural location with little budget, Black Mountain College inculcated an informal and collaborative spirit and over its lifetime attracted a venerable roster of instructors. Some of the innovations, relationships, and unexpected connections formed at Black Mountain would prove to have a lasting influence on the postwar American art scene, high culture, and eventually pop culture.[citation needed] Buckminster Fuller met student Kenneth Snelson at Black Mountain, and the result was their first geodesic dome (improvised out of Venetian blind slats in the school's back yard); Merce Cunningham formed his dance company; and John Cage staged his first happening[4] (the term itself is traceable to Cage's student Allan Kaprow, who applied it later to such events).

Not a haphazardly conceived venture, Black Mountain College was a consciously directed liberal arts school that grew out of the progressive education movement. In its day it was a unique educational experiment for the artists and writers who conducted it, and as such an important incubator for the American avant garde. 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 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 was founded the year before Black Mountain College based on the same philosophy.

For the first eight years, the college rented the YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly buildings south of Black Mountain, North Carolina. In 1941, it moved across the valley to its own campus at Lake Eden where it remained until its closing in 1956. The property was later purchased and converted to an ecumenical Christian boys' residential summer camp (Camp Rockmont), which later became a long-time location of the Black Mountain Festival and the Lake Eden Arts Festival. A number of the original structures are still in use as lodgings or administrative facilities.

The college suspended classes by court order in 1957. This was due to debts not sustained by the decreased number of students. In 1962, the school's books were finally closed, with all debts covered.[5]

The college was featured in the Nicholas Sparks movie, "The Longest Ride" in 2015.

Faculty and alumni[edit]

Among those who taught there in the 1940s and 1950s were:

Josef and Anni Albers, Eric Bentley, Ilya Bolotowsky, Josef Breitenbach, John Cage, Harry Callahan, Mary Callery, Fritz Cohen, Robert Creeley, Merce Cunningham, Edward Dahlberg, Max Dehn, Willem de Kooning, Robert Duncan, Buckminster Fuller, Walter Gropius, Trude Guermonprez[6] Lou Harrison, Wesley Huss Alfred Kazin, Franz Kline, Tony Landreau Jacob Lawrence, Richard Lippold, Alvin Lustig,[7] Beaumont Newhall, Charles Olson, M. C. Richards, Albert William Levi, Alexander Schawinsky, Ben Shahn, Arthur Siegel, Aaron Siskind, Theodoros Stamos, Jack Tworkov, Robert Motherwell, Emerson Woelffer and Stefan Wolpe William R. Wunsch.

Guest lecturers included Albert Einstein, Clement Greenberg, Bernard Rudofsky, Richard Lippold and William Carlos Williams.

Ceramic artists Peter Voulkos and Robert C. Turner taught there as well.

Notable alumni[edit]

The college ran summer institutes from 1944 until its closing in 1956. It was however influential to the founding of the Free University of New York.[10]

Black Mountain poets[edit]

Various avant-garde poets (subsequently known as the Black Mountain poets) were drawn to the school through the years, most notably Charles Olson, Robert Duncan, Denise Levertov, Jonathan Williams, Ed Dorn and Robert Creeley.[11] Creeley was hired to teach and to edit the Black Mountain Review in 1955, and when he left two years later for San Francisco, he became the link between the Black Mountain poets and the poets of the San Francisco Renaissance.


  1. ^ Staff (2010-07-09). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ Mary Seymour, "The Ghosts of Rollins (and Other Skeletons in the Closet)", Rollins Magazine, fall 2011,; 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
  4. ^ Harris, Mary Emma (2002). The Arts at Black Mountain College, p. 226. MIT Press.
  5. ^
  6. ^ "Trude Guermonprez". Collection. Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum. Retrieved 30 September 2012. 
  7. ^ Heller, Steven; Lustig Cohen, Elaine (2010). Born Modern: The Life and Design of Alvin Lustig. pp. 178–180. ISBN 978-0-8118-6127-4. 
  8. ^ "James Bishop". Annemarie Verna Gallery. Retrieved 26 July 2015. 
  9. ^ Fox, Margalit. "Jane Mayhall, Poet Who Gained Prominence Late in Life, Is Dead at 90", The New York Times, March 19, 2009. Accessed March 19, 2009.
  10. ^ Berke, Joseph (29 October 1965), "The Free University of New York", Peace News: 6–7  as reproduced in Jakobsen, Jakob (2012), Anti-University of Londin–Antihistory Tabloid, London: MayDay Rooms, pp. 6–7 
  11. ^ Harris (2002), p. 245.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]