Black Mountain College was an experimental school located in Black Mountain, North Carolina. The college was established in 1933 by John A. Rice and others, many of whom were former students and faculty from Rollins College in Florida. The purpose of the college was to educate the whole person, with an emphasis on the role of the arts and creative thinking. Black Mountain College itself was owned by the faculty, with students playing a significant role in the decision making process. Although grades were kept for transfer purposes, they were not used to evaluate a student's progress. Both faculty and students participated in the work program, which included the daily chores necessary for the upkeep of the school at the Blue Ridge campus. Later, the college purchased land nearby and the work program was expanded to include the construction of college buildings and the maintenance of an inn and farm on the Lake Eden property. The college officially moved to the Lake Eden campus in 1941.
Despite the fact that Black Mountain College could rarely offer faculty more than room and board, a number of important teachers and artists were drawn to the school as part of the regular faculty or to participate in the school's Summer Institutes. Josef and Anni Albers, John Cage, Robert Creeley, Merce Cunningham, Max Dehn, Joseph Fiore, Buckminister Fuller, Edward Lowinsky, Robert Motherwell, Charles Olson, M.C. Richards, and Xanti Schawinsky were only a few of those who taught at Black Mountain College. In addition, the success of several of the college's students (such as Ruth Asawa, Edward Dorn, Kenneth Noland, and Robert Rauschenberg) helped to further the college's reputation in the area of the arts and the avant garde. The school was also one of the first in the South to be integrated, with both African American students and teachers.
The character and focus of Black Mountain College shifted over time, according to the make-up of the faculty and students. Personal and ideological conflicts were common and sometimes lead to major changes in the college community. Lack of funds added to the stress of the situation, as did the school's physical isolation and its sometimes strained relations with the local population. Eventually, the student enrollment and available funds dwindled until the college was forced to close in 1956.
After the college closed, its records were in storage until 1963 when they were given to the State Archives of North Carolina by Charles Olson on behalf of the trustees of the college. Since then, the registrar of the Archives has served as registrar of the college, providing transcripts and other information for former students. Although the student records are closed to the general public, the college records contain many other materials that are available for research. These materials include minutes from board meetings, general files, faculty files, treasurer's files and a large collection of photographs.
In addition, two collections of correspondence, interviews, and manuscripts give the background for the creation of two books about the Black Mountain experience -- one by Martin Duberman and one by Mervin Lane. The Black Mountain College Research Project, which was conducted by the North Carolina Museum of Art, includes hundreds of interviews, documents, and photographs. Mary Emma Harris, the primary researcher for the Black Mountain College Research Project, later published The Arts at Black Mountain College, which was republished in March, 2002. The archive also has personal papers from many of Black Mountain College's former students and faculty.
Note: the Black Mountain College collections have moved to the new Western Regional Archives. A complete list of collections (PDF) moved to the Western Regional Archives is available online; visit our blog for more information.
Last Modified: 06/12/2013
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