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Unconventional Education

Student Don Page at a loom, doing work for a Black Mountain College weaving class

Editor's Note – In the summer of 2012, Ansley Wegner, a historian with our Research Branch, wrote a series of blog posts highlighting various historical destinations around the state. This is the eleventh post in that series. You can see all Wegner's posts on this page. 

I am fortunate to be able to spend a good deal of time in and around Black Mountain. I am always amazed at the breadth of talent and artistry in the area. It’s not uncommon for a small town to have a creative atmosphere, but I’m always reminded of the days when Black Mountain was home to a remarkable experimental center of learning.

The Supine Dome Model with Si Sillman (bending), Buckminster Fuller, Elaine de Kooning, Roger Lovelace, and Josef Albers, Black Mountain College, summer of 1948Founded in 1933, Black Mountain College focused on fine arts education—but the education was not always textbook, so to speak. The teachers and students lived together as a community and learned from one another. One writer stated:

As the college evolved, it assumed characteristics of a small college, a summer camp, a religious retreat, a pioneering community, an art colony and a farm school.

In a way, it defies categorizing—it is, simply, Black Mountain College. The list of teachers and students at Black Mountain College reads like a virtual who’s who of 20th century arts, including musicians, painters, poets, actors, dancers, fiber artists, sculptors and architects. Names like Robert Rauschenberg, Walter Gropius, Robert Motherwell, Josef Albers, John Cage, Charles Olson, Buckminster Fuller, Merce Cunningham and Willem de Kooning were all associated with the schools.

The State Archives accepted the college’s administrative records after it closed in 1956. The papers and the manuscript collections associated with students and faculty have long been popular with researchers who traveled to Raleigh from all over the world to study the influential college. 

Explore the Black Mountain College Digital Collection

The archives’ collections related to Black Mountain College recently have been transferred to the new Western Regional Archives, officially opening on August 13 in Asheville.

Having the documents and photographs close at hand will surely be a great complement to Asheville’s  Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center, a facility that explores and preserves the legacy of the college through exhibits and programs. 

And, of course, North Carolina is known around the world for the breadth of its traditional and contemporary arts.

Find Authentic Tar Heel Arts Experiences Near You

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