Black Mountain College Project

Construction of the Studies Building, Robert Babcock (left), Charles Godfrey (overalls). Photo courtesy North Carolina State Archives, Black Mountain College Papers 13.1.


Section 2: Teachers and Teaching: Outside the Classroom



Description of the Study by Robert Sunley
*   Letter to the Students
*   Guidelines
*   Brief Biographies of

*   Brief Biographies of
    Faculty Mentioned in
    the Memoirs


    Statement by Robert

The artistic process as
    a major goal.

*   Individual, active
    arnicipation was
    fostered but not

*   Focus on really “seeing”
    and “thinking” for
    oneself, not on the
    production of art.

Self-direction, self-
    discipline, initiative,
    development of the
    whole person....

The arts were diffused
    throughout the
    education ....    


The Work Program

Leonard Billing: As a student, I found the work program one of the most interesting and rewarding experiences there.... I was glad to get more experience as a carpenter on the new studies building, working under Charlie Godfrey, the local contractor, and under the influence of A. Lawrence Kocher.

Robert Bliss: The work program had greater educational value than recognized at the time and certainly instilled a responsibility for community service that remains with us.... I don't know how it really began, but it was surely invented by necessity to share chores for an economical and harmonious existence. The value of physical work, of the whole mind-body routine (as opposed to required PE credits) must have been embraced later. My introduction to the work was in gathering apples, converting them to cider through a hand-cranked press.... The next experience was more strenuous in emptying a railroad car of coal at the Black Mountain siding and transporting it up to Blue Ridge in the old Chevy truck. Of course there were the jobs such as serving and clearing four o'clock tea, and hauling wood for the great Lee Hall fireplace—the hearth of much pleasure as well as occasional pain during acrimonious general meetings.

Ruth O'Neill Burnett: The work program was sometimes interesting and sometimes boring, but there was always the feeling of accomplishment—and of camaraderie—of building something important even if the assignment for the day was only to dig potatoes at the farm. I remember one glorious afternoon when my job was to drive a large dump truck up and down those rocky roads. I was in my glory!

John Campbell: At BMC I enjoyed helping build the study building and then did most of the electrical wiring.

Mary Brett Daniels: The work program contributed to the sense of community. Not a token work at all, but real and necessary work that everyone shared, that had to be done. One fall I was part of a crew that cleared the hillside for a pasture. I had my turn as the plumber's helper. Bas Allen taught me how to put washers in toilets and install new toilet seats.

Alexander Eliot: Our custom of spending half-days at work on the farm, the road, or the forest, besides waiting on tables and performing our own housekeeping chores, brought economic sense and psychological balance....

Marilyn Bauer Greenwald: ... I think perhaps I gained more of lasting value from the work program than from many of my formal classes....

Will Hamlin: Our work program, my first year – voluntary, not mandatory like Goddard's – was helping design and then being trucked over to Lake Eden to work with the architect and a couple of local carpenters in constructing a "Studies Building" jutting out over the edge of the lake.

Gisela Kronenberg Herwitz:The work program was an important and exciting part of my life at BMC. I even enjoyed digging the ditches that became the foundations for the Study Building at Lake Eden.... Eventually I was put in charge of the tool shed and later worked with Bas Allen, the general maintenance man and an excellent teacher, learning to steamfit the lodge and other existing buildings, wire them, put in street lights, etc. I learned to put in subflooring, to drive a nail straight, and to do some masonry work with field stones on the Study Building. These accomplishments gave me a lot of confidence and some useful skills that have lasted me a lifetime.

Jane Mayhall: I much valued the work programs and enjoyed, to the extent that it was possible, working in the fields in the afternoons, picking corn, and getting rid of rocks that were hampering planting. It was great, going to classes in the morning and taking part in the rural life in the afternoon. Although I wasn't as much a participant in this as I wanted to be ... I found that this routine became my "ideal" for how to live years later. Living the life of an artist or intellectual but never losing contact with nature or some kind of physical work.

Martha Hunt Smith: My other big interest was the work program. I was active in organizing and working with both students and faculty, building the new building at Lake Eden – going over in the truck several afternoons a week, gathering rocks, building stone foundations, carrying lumber, sawing, hammering.... It all appealed to me and was a great alternative to studying, which was not my forte!

Claude Stoller: The Work Program was of major importance to me because of its construction component (although I also loved hauling coal up to Lee Hall). It was a means of relating theoretical design and structures studies to actual practice. We learned skills from the contractor Charlie Godfrey and his construction crew (along with a bit of Buncombe County folklore). This was an important part of the education of designers as well as good physical exercise. An unexpected bonus of the work program for me was the experience of working alongside a scientist who saw things such as relative capillarity in different soil strata or the comparative densities of rock which opened my eyes to new things; Albers's admonition once again.

Robert Sunley: Another part of life at BMC was the work program which perhaps was unusual in that it was not required, was not usually arduous or overtaxing, and was varied. My own experience was such that I did learn by doing, though the conclusion I reached was that I did not relish farm work and could not muster up any enthusiasm for the work despite its usefulness to the college. John Rice had evidently already reached the same conclusion – one of his succinct remarks was that "the gospel of work makes me tired" (referring obliquely to Ted Dreier's enthusiasm for physical work).

Norman Weston: The various work programs were a significant part of life at Black Mountain.... The farm was a major enterprise. We had dreams of becoming somewhat self-sufficient. It was located east of the main gate and had a farmhouse and sort of a shed that slept a few people in the summer ... we did grow an acre of tomatoes and enough wheat to hire the roving thrashers ... we raised some squab. Fattened a hog, killed her, butchered her, and ate her.

Renate Benfey Wilkins: The work program was a big part, especially the first two years when we all pitched in to build the building. We did everything from pouring concrete to nailing floorboards.

Harold Raymond: I took an active part in the work program and learned a great deal about people and a rather romantic ideal of work as a creative activity.




Formal Aspects of the

   Class Size 
   Junior Division  
   Senior Division  

Methods of Teaching

   John Andrew Rice 
   Josef Albers 
   Erwin Straus 
   Robert Wunsch 

Personalities of Faculty
John Rice  
   Josef Albers 

Outside the Classroom
   In General  
   The Work Program 
   Visitors -
   Lectures, Concerts 
   Informal Interchange