|About Black Mountain
The story of Black
Mountain College begins in 1933 and comprises a
fascinating chapter in the history of education and
the arts. Conceived by John A. Rice, a brilliant and
mercurial scholar who left Rollins College in a
storm of controversy, Black Mountain College was
born out of a desire to create a new type of college
based on John Dewey’s principles of progressive
education. The events that precipitated the
College’s founding occurred simultaneously with the
rise of Adolf Hitler, the closing of the Bauhaus by
the Nazis, and the beginning of the persecution of
artists and intellectuals on the European continent.
Some of these people found their way to Black
Mountain, either as students or faculty. Meanwhile,
the United States was mired in the Great Depression,
and Franklin Roosevelt, committed to putting people
back to work, established the Public Works Arts
Project (a precursor of the WPA).
The founders of the
College believed that the study and practice of art
were indispensable aspects of a student’s general
liberal arts education, and they hired Josef Albers
to be the first art teacher. Speaking not a word of
English, he and his wife Anni left the turmoil in
Hitler’s Germany and crossed the Atlantic Ocean by
boat to teach art at this small, rebellious college
in the mountains of North Carolina.
College was fundamentally different. It was owned
and operated by the faculty and was committed to
democratic governance and to the idea that the arts
are central to the experience of learning. There
were no grades, and each student participated fully
in their educational path and timetable. All members
of the College community took part in its operation,
including farm work, construction projects and
kitchen duty. Located in the midst of the beautiful
North Carolina mountains near Asheville, the
secluded environment fostered a strong sense of
individuality and creative intensity within the
small College community.
Legendary even in its
own time, Black Mountain College attracted and
created maverick spirits, some of whom went on to
become well-known and extremely influential
individuals in the latter half of the 20th century.
A partial list includes people such as Willem and
Elaine de Kooning, Robert Rauschenberg, Josef and
Anni Albers, Jacob Lawrence, Merce Cunningham, John
Cage, Cy Twombly, Kenneth Noland, Ben Shahn, Franz
Kline, Arthur Penn, Buckminster Fuller, M.C.
Richards, Francine du Plessix Gray, Charles Olson,
Dorothea Rockburne and many others, famous and
not-so-famous, who have impacted the world in a
significant way. Even now, decades after its closing
in 1956, the powerful influence of Black Mountain
College continues to reverberate.