The virtue of connection
Yesterday started off innocently enough, with a casual meander around Black Mountain, NC on the first day of my short stay here -- a quick cup of coffee and a token cruise along a small portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway north of Swannanoa. At one point we (my mom and I) had stopped at an overlook and I had two cameras and my phone out to take photos. Maybe a half hour later, reaching for my phone to take another photo in another place, I had the sudden ridiculously paralyzing realization that I had left my phone on the trunk of the car and we had driven off. The phone was gone. Annoyed and frustrated with my own carelessness at losing a brand new smartphone on the side of the road like so many chip packets or cigarette butts, we went back into town, manically stopping into the first dollar store I saw, trying to find disposable cameras. I dropped way too much cash at a CVS on three. To calm down, we grabbed lunch at the Black Mountain Bistro (kick ass seafood chowder), and as I was taking my first sip of beer, my mom's phone started ringing -- it was me! Cole, a Swannanoa resident who happened to be cycling Blue Ridge Parkway for the day, also happened to stop for a moment to check something in his pack and saw my phone on the side of the road. We set up a time to meet, and I enjoyed my lunch (and beer) considerably more knowing that things would work out, and that people are good.
Mom and I meandered around downtown Black Mountain the humid afternoon, stopping into shops and trying not to be outside when the rain came. We stopped into the Swannanoa Valley Museum, which sits in a historic fire house. A small Black Mountain College display sat front and center in the front room, and it was a pleasure chatting with the docent, who was the first Black Mountain resident who seemed genuinely interested in the history of the college. That is to say, the woman at the visitor center, where we stopped to find a map, was much more interested in talking about Scotland than about the college.
After the museum, we stopped into Black Mountain Books, a sweet little used and rare book shop on the main drag. I got to hold and page through (though could not afford) three different editions of the Black Mountain College Review, an extremely hard-to-come-by publication put out by the college itself in the mid 1950s. I could have bought a car for the price of all three together, but there's something valuable in the experience of being able to page through them at the very least.
It's still a little weird (coincidentally? cosmically?) that I landed here--academically, artistically, curiously--via Scotland. Not only did I find out about BMC through a Scottish writer, while taking a Scottish art class, in Scotland, but there is a major historical Scottish connection in this part of North Carolina as well. In what is certainly a coincidence, I ran across a book the other day at random, simply entitled "The Highland Scots of North Carolina." In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, Scottish Highlanders settled here, lending the current name "Highlands" to the area. Breweries and shops are named after it! Even Black Mountain Books, on their central display case inside the front door, has a shelf for books about North Carolina on one side, and books about Scotland on the other. So my finding BMC in Scotland was, although perhaps a little coincidental, maybe not so random after all.
Late in the afternoon, at the local coffee spot, I met two artists that I have been so excited to meet: Adam Void and Chelsea Ragan, both Black Mountain transplants who had met and spent time in the North (New York and Baltimore), but are unequivocally and proudly from the South. I'd been corresponding with both of them for some time due to an unexpected and brilliant mutual interest in Black Mountain College, which turned up initially in a couple of Young Space posts here and here. So incredibly (or maybe not-so-incredibly, which is even better) we had been sitting for coffee for all of fifteen minutes when Adam suggested we drive to the two Black Mountain College campuses -- both now working summer camps just outside of town. So we did.
We piled in a car and drove along winding roads and copses of trees to the immaculate whitewashed wooden fortress of the main building at Blue Ridge Assembly, formerly known as Robert E. Lee Hall. And then there was the Lake Eden campus--the faded Jean Charlot murals still visible beneath the Lawrence Kocher-designed Studies Building that BMC students and faculty built themselves over a 1 1/2-2 year period in the 1940s. It is an aging, fantastically modern wedge among the trees and rustic cottages and lodges.
We headed over to Chelsea and Adam's home/studio then and talked graffiti, zines, art, shows, Black Mountain, and what comes next. What has been done, and what can still be done? How can it be done? How does one look backward and honor the legacy of a movement, a time period, a group of people, a place, or an event... without getting sucked into a pointless cycle of nostalgic sentimentality about "the way things were then?" What can be done now that reflects what is done now, that doffs a hat to the past while being sensitive and responsive to movements and concerns of today?
Big things to come.