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  Black Mountain College Project


1940s

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  1930s

Black Mountain College was an experimental college located near Asheville, North Carolina. Founded in the fall of 1933 by John Andrew Rice, Theodore Dreier and other faculty who had been fired or resigned from Rollins College the previous spring, the college sought to educate the whole student – head, heart and hand – through studies, the experience of living in a small community and manual work.

Although the founders - in a truly experimental spirit - did not wish to bind the college to a rigidly codified educational doctrine, they did have strong feelings and ideas about education. The college was to be owned and operated by the faculty. A Board of Fellows made up of faculty and one student formed the central governing body. An Advisory Board lent counsel to the community but had no legal authority. Decisions were based on consensus rather than a vote. Academic bookkeeping – grades and quality points – as a measure of an education were abolished (though grades were recorded for transfer purposes). Graduation was based on achievement of a project in the student’s area of specialization along with examinations – both written and oral – by the faculty and an outside examiner. Students, faculty and families ate in a common dining hall. Although there were cooks and other service personnel for those tasks requiring continuous attention, most of the general maintenance of the campus was performed by students and faculty. The arts were central to the educational experience rather than on the periphery.

For the first eight years, the college rented the Blue Ridge Assembly buildings located south of the village of Black Mountain. The main building with its three-story-high wooden columns, wide porch with a magnificent view of surrounding mountains, large gathering hall and plentiful rooms symbolized the vision of community which the college sought to embody. John Andrew Rice, Southerner, visionary, and iconoclast dominated college life. Classes were held in the mornings and evenings. Work program and other activities took place in the afternoon. For entertainment there was after dinner dancing during the week and parties, plays and concerts by community members on weekends. The surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains provided a natural setting for excursions and afternoon hikes. Dress was informal during the day although everyone dressed for dinner and in formal attire (long skirts and suits) on Saturday night. In the first year Norman Weston, a student, started a farm. Community meetings were often combative and seemingly interminable as issues concerning educational policy and daily activities were debated with equal passion. 

In 1933, the college brought Josef Albers, artist and former Bauhaus teacher, and his wife Anni Albers, a Bauhaus-trained textile designer and weaver, to teach. With their arrival, the college became a unique center for the transmission of Bauhaus teaching and philosophy. The presence of refugee artists and scholars was critical to the learning experience at Black Mountain throughout its history.