Dreaming of Black Mountain College

I'll be completely honest: the pit-stained Viking pretty much decided my dissertation thesis. I was perusing through images and essays on Black Mountain College, seeing all of the innovative designs by Buckminster Fuller and the amusing photos of Josef Albers teaching drawing. But then I saw the image the above image and I thought, why didn't I get invited to this party? Where's the beer? I wish I could have been at that college--I wish I could have seen it, at least, but oh, to be a part of it.

Black Mountain College has inevitably landed itself in the mythology of the early-mid twentieth century by now, wrapped up as it is with a combination of big-name artists to have studied or taught there like Franz Kline, Robert Rauschenberg, Cy Twombly or Willem de Kooning. The Black Mountain Poets are called as much for a pretty obvious reason. Buckminster Fuller constructed his first Geosidic dome there. John Cage staged the first 'happening.' All during a time period, from 1933-57, starting in the time of the Great Depression, continuing through World War II, McCarthyism and the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement. And yet it was a small, democratically-run arts college community in rural Black Mountain, North Carolina -- over 600 miles from the center of the art world in New York City.

It has a romantic place in American art history, propagated by the various memoirs that have come from students like Fielding Dawson and Michael Rumaker. As far removed as I am from that time period and the distinct political and economic climate, based on the literature I first found, BMC sounds a lot like a utopian artist commune in the mountains, shrouded in the heady mists of moonshine. There is a bit of scholarly literature out there already, much of it decades-old already, but of what there is, it's meticulously researched and top-notch information. I've already been having a blast sifting through, making heads and tails of what the college was actually like. And the best part? It's actually cooler than I thought.

My topic specifically centers (as of right now) on the college's famous summer sessions. Even though the school was suffering financially in later years and it became increasingly disorganized, it continued to draw the avant-gardes away from the trendy galleries of New York and into the rustic mountains of North Carolina for intensive art seminars. It was an experimental school that cropped up in an unexpected place, at a challenging time both politically and economically. It was the brainchild of an educator named John Rice who had been fired from his previous post, it brought a distinct European influence from Josef Albers who had been at the Bauhaus, and it gradually became something unequivocally American.

From above: Nigel Cox

From above: Nigel Cox