Black Mountain College, An Experimental School

A psychology class at Black Mountain College, ca. 1942-1943. Image from the State ArchivesOn August 19, 1933, Black Mountain College was established in Buncombe County by disgruntled faculty from Rollins College in Florida. Unconventional by almost every standard, the college served as an alternative to traditional education and was one of the first schools in the nation to create an educational plan embodying the principles of progressive education. One of the major tenets of the school’s plan was to elevate the fine arts to full curricular status.

Weaving at Black Mountain College in the 1930s. Image from the State ArchivesOwing partly to the imbalance between the arts and sciences, Black Mountain College was never accredited. Despite that fact, many of its graduates enjoyed successful careers in the fine arts, education and letters. Among the artists who were either students or faculty were architects Buckminster Fuller and Walter Gropius; artists Anni and Josef Albers, Elaine and Willem DeKooning, Ruth Asawa, Robert Motherwell and Robert Rauschenberg; dancers Merce Cunningham and Paul Taylor; musician John Cage; filmmaker Arthur Penn; and writers Eric Bentley, Robert Creeley, Paul Goodman, Alfred Kazin, Charles Olson, Joel Oppenheimer and Jonathan Williams.

In 1941, the school moved to a large Internationalist-style building designed by faculty member W. Lawrence Kocher. The school fell into a period of decline following World War II, and it ceased operation in 1956.

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