Sure, the Bauhaus just turned 100 years old, but what about "America's Bauhaus"?
If you are in the Charlotte (NC)-area next week, please check out Modernism in the Mountains, a public event sponsored by the Charlotte Museum of History. The evening features a panel discussion with experts on Black Mountain College followed by a reception at the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art. So mark your calendars- Thursday, April 18, 2019, and I will see you there.
Black Mountain College, the short-lived (and often overlooked) educational experiment that revolutionized America’s art scene stood deep in the secluded mountains of Buncombe County, North Carolina. An unlikely site made for a radical institution where art played a central role in the development of well-rounded human beings. Today, the legend of Black Mountain College and its brief existence on the fringes of American culture still fascinates and inspires, while its influence continues to shape artistic innovation, social engagement, and progressive ideals around the world. The story of the Appalachian avant-garde is really an incredible one (with too many threads to untangle in this post), so here are ten highlights.
1. Opened in 1933 by John Andrew Rice (and his merry band of dissident Rollins College professors).
Believing that art was an indispensable part of the learning experience, Rice, a brilliant (if not polarizing) firebrand, established Black Mountain College as an informal educational collaborative based on John Dewey’s principles of progressive education.
2. Bauhausers (and all around visionaries) Anni and Josef Albers were the first to be hired.
After the Bauhaus closed its doors under pressure from the Nazis in 1933, Anni and Josef Albers accepted an invitation to develop the curriculum for Black Mountain College's art department (on the recommendation of Philip Johnson, who was already wielding a considerable amount of influence). Incorporating the Bauhaus' interdisciplinary approach to the arts, the pioneering pair attracted artists from around the country with their daring and innovative work in painting and textiles. Josef and Anni Albers remained at the school until 1949. (That same year, Annie Albers would be the first female weaver to have a solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.)
3. Black Mountain College was owned and operated by the faculty (with substantial input from the students).
This meant no boards of regents, directors, or trustees. It also meant an unstructured learning environment, no grades, and a complete devotion to artistic rebellion.
4. Self-sufficiency played a central role.
Both students and faculty participated in the school's daily operations. Tasks included farm labor, kitchen duty, and work on construction and maintenance projects. Black Mountain College was a place of learning and doing.
5. The glittering roster of teachers, lecturers, and students included many of the nation's greatest artists and thinkers.
Anni and Josef Albers, John Cage, Ruth Asawa, Robert Creeley, Merce Cunningham, Buckminster Fuller, Paul Goodman, Xanti Schawinksy, Walter Gropius, Franz Kline, A. Lawrence Kocher, Willem and Elaine de Kooning, Jacob Lawrence, Robert Motherwell, Charles Olson, Robert Rauschenberg, M.C. Richards, Cy Twombly- the list goes on and on.
6. Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer were commissioned to design a complex of buildings for the Lake Eden campus.
But due to financial constraints, the plan was scrapped. Ultimately, architect and managing editor of Architectural Record, A. Lawrence Kocher (see the Aluminaire House) designed the “Studies Building” (still standing) in line with the same Bauhaus aesthetic.
7. The school was never accredited.
It's true. And out of the roughly 1,200 students who attended the Black Mountain College, few actually earned (the handmade) diplomas.
8. Students were at the center of some of the greatest artistic innovations of the twentieth century.
These included Buckminster Fuller’s Geodesic Dome, Charles Olson’s Projective Verse, John Cages’ first “Happening,” Willem de Kooning's early abstraction, "Asheville", and Robert Creeley's founding of the Black Mountain Review.
9. The FBI had a file on Black Mountain College.
Though not surprising, J. Edgar Hoover's Bureau was reportedly a mainstay on the Lake Eden campus and maintained files on a number of the school's faculty members. There are even stories of strange men in trench coats.
10. Closed in 1957.
By 1953, the number of students at Black Mountain College dwindled to just 15 and within just a few years the school closed its doors due to financial difficulties and disagreements about the institution's direction. Though it only lasted a couple of decades, the influence of Black Mountain College continues to reverberate today.
You can read more about Black Mountain College here (or come to our event next week). Have a good weekend!
Image at top: Buckminster Fuller's Dome, Demonstration of Plastic Skin, Black Mountain College, summer 1949. Courtesy of Western Regional Archives, State Archives of North Carolina.
This architectural historian cannot stop thinking about buildings, food, and that vintage rug she found online.