Black Mountain College Project



Section 1. The Role of the Arts

  Josef Albers Design (Werkelehre) Classs. Courtesy: North Carolina State Archives. Black Mountain College Papers.  


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
    anticipation 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 ....    


Individual, Active Participation was Fostered but not Required

Wilfred HamlinBlack Mountain’s major experiment, firmly based in progressive education theory, had to do with making learning active: “Learning by doing” whenever possible. As I’ve suggested about Theatre, actors – accepting the notion that motion comes from emotion – became to a large degree the directors of the plays in which they took part. Students in literature wrote literary criticism, though they may not have called it that. Student poets taught each other, sometimes with interested critiques from a faculty member, often without. Students wrote, directed, and presented on the Asheville radio station a weekly half-hour program (I did several of these, and was “producer” for others). Printers learned graphic design by choosing and setting type and arranging and printing it. I wrote several of the periodic “Newsletters” that went to alumnae and “friends of the college,” and printed many of them; I also worked with Anni Albers in creating and printing an announcement for an exhibition in a New York gallery of jewelry she had made. Student photographers took pictures for college bulletins, with critical assistance from Josef Albers. Biology students helped a faculty member research the nervous systems of small organisms. We all worked on renovating old buildings and creating new ones.

Leonard BillingIn the music classes we went quite deeply into the analysis of the harmonic structure of the Brandenburg Concertos, by their scores. Then we had the exercise of composing small contrapuntal pieces to work out the harmonic resolutions. 

Robert Sunley: Whereas as Oberlin I saw no opportunity to study music, of which I knew little, at Black Mountain I could put much time into such study. John Evarts’ classes in music I found particularly valuable. Rather than the usual “music appreciation” course, he combined intense attention to listening and understanding a few pieces; and going along with that (which he did with his playing at the piano as well as records), we learned the elements of harmony, counterpoint, beginning composition, training of the ear, and so on. By trying my hand at a simple canon or fugue, or later, a simple atonal piano piece, I gained first hand a feel for and love of music which I doubt I could have gotten elsewhere unless I became a music “major.” 

Claude Stoller: Focus was on really “SEEING” and “THINKING” for oneself, not on the production of art. At  Black Mountain, Josef Albers was my faculty advisor who played an enormous role in my life as a teacher, friend, and, of course, advisor. Foremost at all times he was an intense teacher whose stubborn insistence was that his pupils “learn to see.”

Jane Mayhall: Mainly, what BMC offered was a forecast of what one desired. I received a profound education in music, better than in later legitimate Music Schools. Dewey’s theory of knowledge, as being the beginning point ant not the arrived achievement was certainly substantially what BMC offered. A process of “creating in students critical and inquisitive minds.”  As Dewey said: “To maintain such an education is the essence of morals. For conscious life is a continual beginning afresh.”  

Emil Willimetz:  Just as Rice’s writing class required a submission of work to attend, Albers classes met for three hours, twice a week and everyone had to bring work done. The work was spread around the room and each student had to explain his solution to the class assignment.

In the drawing class, my good friend Eva is huddled under a Mexican poncho as the model. Albers is admonishing one of his students: “No, no, see! She’s a potato!” with appropriate circular gesture, “See, a potato!”

Robert Bliss:  With Werklehre, Albers woke up, opened my eyes. Music with Evarts, made me a listener (no musical talent) and now a constant pleasure with CDs, symphony and chamber music. Larry Kocher’s arrival, his lectures and the design building program revealed architecture as a field in which my interests and abilities might mesh.

John Stix: Looking back, it was Albers’ teaching which ultimately shaped my life in its choice of physical surroundings. He made me see.


Robert Sunley:  Innovative and experimental teaching aimed at guiding students into thinking and experiencing for themselves. Teachers emphasized method, not neglecting content, but recognizing that learning how to process content would serve the student better in later life than the reverse emphasis. Those faculty most mentioned by the former students were the ones who on the whole stood for such emphasis in teaching – Rice, Albers, Evarts, Jalowetz, Wunsch, Kurtz, Schawinsky. The most mentioned courses were indeed typical of this approach: Rice’s Plato class and writing seminar; and Albers’ drawing and Werklehre classes. In music and drama also, the focus was on individual participation, direct experience, and understanding of the artistic process, rather than “appreciation” and an essentially passive learning.





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