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Black Mountain College

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Black Mountain College
TypePrivate liberal arts college
DirectorJohn Andrew Rice (until 1940)
Administrative staff
about 30
Studentsabout 1,200 total
Location, ,
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, Ruth Asawa, John Cage, Robert Creeley, Merce Cunningham, Max Dehn, Elaine de Kooning, Willem de Kooning, Buckminster Fuller, Walter Gropius, Ray Johnson, Franz Kline, Robert Motherwell, Charles Olson, Robert Rauschenberg, Mary Caroline Richards, Dorothea Rockburne, Michael Rumaker, Aaron Siskind and Cy Twombly.

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 College 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] founded and owned by another progressive educator, Willis D. Weatherford.[17] [18]

In 1937, it purchased a 667-acre (270 ha) property across the valley at Lake Eden.[6]:8 This property, developed by E.W. Grove (of the Grove Park Inn and Grove Arcade in Asheville) as a summer resort for residents of his nearby Grovemont neighborhood, included a gate house, dining hall, sleeping lodges, several cottages and other structures.[19][20]

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 Over these 16 years, College faculty, staff, and students established a working farm and constructed new buildings, including the iconic Studies Building designed by architect A. Lawrence Kocher, music rehearsal cubicles (Paul Beidler), the Service Building (Lawrence Kocher), the Science Building (Paul Williams, Dan Rice, and Stan Vanderbeek), the Minimum House (designed by students), the Jalowetz House (Lawrence Kocher),[20] and the Quiet House (a memorial to Mark Dreier designed by Alex "Bill" Reed).[21][22]

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 (LEAF), 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 frescoes painted by Jean Charlot remain intact on the site.[23][24]


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.[25]

Buckminster Fuller at Black Mountain College in 1949


The Black Mountain College Museum & Arts Center, founded in 1933, 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 multidisciplinary open-access digital publication that publishes articles, essays, and creative work related to the school and the individuals associated with it.[26]

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.[27] The show later exhibited at the Hammer Museum from February 21 to May 15, 2016.[28]

Black Mountain College was featured in Nicholas Sparks' novel, The Longest Ride (2013) and the 2015 movie adaptation of the same name.[29]

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. October 16, 2006. Archived from the original on October 11, 2017. Retrieved October 22, 2017.
  3. ^ a b c d Kino, Carol (March 16, 2015). "In the Spirit of Black Mountain College, an Avant-Garde Incubator". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on April 14, 2019. Retrieved October 22, 2017.
  4. ^ Mary Seymour, "The Ghosts of Rollins (and Other Skeletons in the Closet)", Rollins Magazine, fall 2011, http://www.rollins.edu/magazine/fall-2011/ghosts-of-rollins-2.html 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 (December 25, 2014). The Experimenters: Chance and Design at Black Mountain College. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 9780226068039. Archived from the original on September 28, 2020. Retrieved September 21, 2020.
  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 September 28, 2020. Retrieved September 21, 2020.
  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 July 11, 2019. Retrieved July 11, 2019.
  8. ^ "Black Mountain Poets - Audio Recordings". Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center. June 2, 2014. Archived from the original on July 11, 2019. Retrieved July 11, 2019.
  9. ^ Bloch, Mark., White Hot Magazine: "January 2012: Black Mountain College and Its Legacy @ Loretta Howard Gallery" https://whitehotmagazine.com/articles/its-legacy-loretta-howard-gallery/2446 Retrieved 2022-1-13
  10. ^ "The Art Story: School - Black Mountain College". www.theartstory.org. Archived from the original on October 16, 2017. Retrieved October 23, 2017.
  11. ^ a b Cotter, Holland (December 17, 2015). "The Short Life and Long Legacy of Black Mountain College". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on October 22, 2017. Retrieved October 22, 2017.
  12. ^ "Josef and Anni Albers Foundation". ww.albersfoundation.org. Archived from the original on October 23, 2017. Retrieved October 22, 2017.
  13. ^ "Black Mountain College: A Brief Introduction - Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center". Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center. Archived from the original on October 22, 2017. Retrieved October 22, 2017.
  14. ^ "Black Mountain College: A Pioneer in Southern Racial Integration". The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education. 54: 46–48. JSTOR 25073557. It seems likely that Williams was the first black student in the Jim Crow era to enroll at an all-white college or university in the South.
  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 September 6, 2019. Retrieved September 13, 2019. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  16. ^ "Learning, the Black Mountain College Way". Our State Magazine. October 1, 2018. Archived from the original on December 27, 2019. Retrieved December 27, 2019.
  17. ^ "Willis D. Weatherford - Swannanoa Valley Museum & History Center". April 30, 2020. Retrieved December 5, 2023.
  18. ^ Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center (September 14, 2023). "ReVIEWING 14 Abstracts + Presenter Bios". Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center. Retrieved December 5, 2023. see abstract, "Thomas E. Frank: The Landlord: W. D. Weatherford and the Early Years of Black Mountain College"
  19. ^ "Transition to Lake Eden". Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center. Retrieved December 5, 2023.
  20. ^ a b Society of Architectural Historians (April 15, 2019). "Black Mountain College Studies Building". SAH ARCHIPEDIA. Retrieved December 5, 2023.
  21. ^ Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center (January 6, 2022). "Black Mountain College: Idea + Place". Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center. 1940s: A Place of Their Own. Retrieved December 5, 2023.
  22. ^ "Quiet House (inside view), Lake Eden campus, Black Mountain College - North Carolina Digital Collections". digital.ncdcr.gov. Retrieved December 5, 2023.
  23. ^ "Charlot Fresco Conservation + the Summer of 1944". Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center. December 6, 2017. Archived from the original on April 15, 2019. Retrieved April 24, 2019.
  24. ^ "Murals and Sculpture, timeline—Jean Charlot". jeancharlot.org. Archived from the original on May 31, 2020. Retrieved April 24, 2019.
  25. ^ Harris, Mary Emma (September 13, 2010). "North Carolina's Black Mountain College: A New Deal in American Education". Artes. Archived from the original on May 30, 2012. Retrieved April 22, 2013.
  26. ^ "The Journal of Black Mountain College Studies". Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center. Retrieved December 5, 2023.
  27. ^ 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)
  28. ^ "Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College 1933-1957". Hammer Museum. Los Angeles. 21 February 2016. Archived from the original on 4 April 2016. Retrieved 11 April 2016.
  29. ^ Creative, The Uprising. "The Longest Ride". Nicholas Sparks. Archived from the original on October 29, 2017. Retrieved October 21, 2017.
  30. ^ 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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